• Upside Down Kingdom

    Upside Down Kingdom

    I live in Southern California, in Orange County, close enough to Disneyland to hear the fireworks each night at 9:30 pm. We call it the Magic Kingdom, the happiest place on earth.

    Whenever I've traveled "down under" to Australia or New Zealand, I've been aware of the reversal, the disorientation. We are the same in so many ways. And things are not always as expected. Driving, light switches, door knobs, all seem counter-intuitive. Travel north and the weather warms; go south it gets cooler. In New Zealand you can see the Milky Way and the Southern Cross, but not Polaris and the Ursa Major and Minor. 

    Holy Week began on Sunday. It seems impossible to me to think of Easter as coming in the Autumn. In the North, Easter is spring time, new life, bunnies, eggs, and chicks. That northern influence seems the default, perhaps unfortunately. Those living in the global south must always feel down under; those of us in the global north can't imagine not being on top. Travel helps us see our own normal in a new way, to rethink our perspective, to realize we are not the center of the universe.

    North, South, East, or West, Holy Week is a remembering of Jesus' upside down kingdom. Hailed as a king, he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a humble ruler, mighty in mercy. Even then, folk wanted a new emperor, a political upheaval, power, justice. But Jesus said, "my kingdom is not of this world." The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a grain of wheat, a bit of yeast. The reign of Christ is about suffering love, about the small but forceful signs of new life in every season, about the hope of shalom, a future of right relations.

    The passion narratives ask us to view the world from God's perspective, with the loving eyes of Christ, from the Spirit's vantage point. Ours is not a mighty warrior God who rules from above. Jesus came to remind us that our God is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. The suffering love of God we observe during Holy Week teaches us again and again that compassion for the weak and the vulnerable are signs of God's reign. Not the kingdom of this world, of my own nation, to be sure.

    Just so, we remember Bonhoeffer's words from that prison cell, "only a suffering God can help us...and that is the way, the only way that God is with us and for us."

    My prayer for this Holy Week, is that I, we, might walk through each day with humility, with a deep sense of God's love for us and for all creation, and with renewed compassion for those who are truly "on the bottom" wherever they may be.

    © Rebecca Button Prichard

  • The Anointing at Bethany

    The Rev. Malcolm Guite 15 April 2019

    The Anointing at Bethany

    Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
    So close the candles stir with their soft breath
    And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
    Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
    For beauty now begins the final movement
    In quietness and intimate encounter
    The alabaster jar of precious ointment
    Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

    The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
    With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
    The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
    Here at the very centre of all things,
    Here at the meeting place of love and loss
    We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

    ©Malcolm Guite, from Sounding the Seasons, CanterburyPress 2012
    Image Mary Anointing Jesus at Bethany, Daniel F. Gerhartz

  • Holy Saturday

    Holy Saturday

    We find ourselves with Mary, the mother of Jesus and the others who loved him, in a place of many overwhelmings this day.

    The death of love, the brokenness of life, fear of the unknown, the fading of beauty, paradise lost, the going down into hell.

    So many words to describe that word, hell. Underworld, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, Abraham’s bosom. A place where we come face to face with our deepest dark, our fragility, our captivity to diminishment. A place of abandonment, no fragment of light.

    Was Jesus’ death a dread defeat, a victory for demonic forces, a chilling vindication of those who destroy Christ, then or now? Not delivering on his promise to provide a new ordering of life, restoration, forgiveness?

    On this day between crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus harrowed out of hell all the dead held captive there since the creation of the world. He took them by the hand and led them to Life.

    ‘When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone.’[i]

    On this Holy Saturday, may we remember the ones

    …who know their need, for theirs is the grace of heaven.
    …who weep, for their tears will be wiped away.
    …who are humble, for they are close to the sacred earth.
    …who hunger for earth’s oneness, for they will be satisfied.
    …who are forgiving, for they are free.
    …who are clear in heart, for they see the Living Presence.
    …who are the peacemakers, for they are born of God.[ii]

    And so we wait for the Third Day
    in stillness
    with a fragment of light
    trusting and hoping…

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Candle Light, Hans Vivek, Unsplash.com

    [i] Cyril of Alexandria, Ancient Commentary on Scripture 11.107

    [ii] The Casa del Sol Blessings of Jesus, based on St. Matthew 5: 3 – 9 from the American Spirituality Center of Casa del Sol at Ghost Ranch.

  • A Shadowed Path

    A Shadowed Path

    Dawn on the Otago Peninsula. We awoke to the clarion call of a cockerel, heralding the blessing of a golden Autumn day. Jonathan Livingston Seagull shared wisdom in the sky. White feathered kotuku-ngutupapa or Royal Spoonbills, swept the low tide line of the harbour for breakfast. In the court of heaven on earth, four Royal Albatross or toroa, glided through the air, with what Herman Melville in Moby Dick, described as vast archangel wings.

    William Wales, a tutor to the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the astronomer on HMS Resolution, voyaged with Captain James Cook to the land of ice, the southernmost continent we now call, Antarctica. Inspired by hearing stories of the sea and a fabled land, Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an epic tale about an albatross and the sailor who kills it with a crossbow.

    The poem is replete with imagery, allegory, superstition, and allusion. The punishment for what the sailor has done is to wear the dead bird around his neck and the rest of his life becomes one of penance as he wanders the earth, telling his salutary tale. He learns wisdom along the way, that God's creation is a beautiful gift, to be cherished.

    On Palm Sunday, we attended Choral Eucharist in St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin and sang, Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Sacrificial theology excepting, one line stood out for me,

         Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
         The wingèd squadrons of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.

    I imagined that an albatross with vast archangel wings might be amongst the sorrowing company of heaven.

    In the mystery of this week we call Holy, with its darkening shadows of pain and fear, abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal, and death, might we somehow contemplate in the stories, something of the novelist, Jeanette Winterson's words, the nearness of the wound to the gift?[i]

    - Mary gently caressing the feet of Jesus with her long hair and extravagantly scented perfume, preparing him for what lies ahead.
    - Jesus, with intimacy, humility, and oneness, washing the dust from the feet of his disciples.
    - The mystery of the memory and substance of Jesus’ presence, as he and his friends share food and wine.
    - John, the disciple, whom Jesus especially loved, placing his head on Jesus’ breast in closeness, affection and love, hearing the heartbeat of God.
    - Veronica, tenderly wiping the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil, his likeness forever imprinted on her heart.
    - Simon of Cyrene, forced to carry the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem when Jesus could no longer bear the weight of it. His life changed forever.
    - Jesus' mother Mary, the other faithful women, and John, accompanying Jesus every step of the way, hearing his loving words of familial care and loyalty. 
    - In his dying moments, self-giving love and grace shared with a thief, crucified beside him.

    Then the night of deepest loneliness. A total absence of his spirit and his life.

    At dawn, wounds become places where the light enters us. Grace takes us to the cherishing of life and the nurturing of love. The images and the echo of words we thought we had lost or left behind create a sanctuary of memory in our hearts.

    His eyes sparkle again. He tells stories by the sea. He blesses us with Love.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Around the Shag Rocks, Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Keith Shackleton, 1979. Nature in Art, Gloucester, UK. 


    [i] Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeannette Winterson, 230pp, Grove Press.

  • The Sum of All Five Senses: A Meditation for Monday of Holy Week

    The Sum of All Five Senses: A Meditation for Monday of Holy Week

    Try experiencing this Holy Week with all five of your senses...

    See it.

    • the palm branches waving
    • the moneychangers wheeling and dealing
    • the upper room,
    • the mockery of a trial
    • the stations of the cross and Calvary itself

    Smell it.

    • the burning flesh of the sacrifices offered in the Temple
    • the animals being traded in the forecourt
    • the spiced breath of the traders
    • the body odour of the travellers
    • the scent of Gethsemane
    • the air as the sky darkens around three crosses on a hillside

    Touch it.

    • being jostled in a crowd
    • counting silver coins to pay a traitor
    • carrying a wooden gibbet on a weary shoulder

    Hear it.

    • the adulation of Palm Sunday
    • the traders bartering for the best deal
    • the crashing of tables and of money spilling down the steps
    • the hostile cries of Crucify Him

    Taste it.

    • lamb and bitter herbs for a Passover
    • bread and wine for a memorial
    • vinegar offered to a dying man

    It is the sum of all five senses which confirms in our sixth sense that we are loved by God made known in Christ.

    ©The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers is a former Principal Clerk and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

    Image Jamethelin Reskp on Unsplash.com

    This meditation was also published in the April 2018 edition of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland. 


  • Holy Week - The harrowing

    Holy Week - The harrowing

    Joseph saw him first,
    the man who was an unexpected baby,
    boy in a carpenter’s shop. 

    John, recently passed,

    recognized his cousin, playmate,
    friend rising from the Jordan
    with a dove in his hair.

    Then perhaps Abel,
    dead since the beginning of brothers —
    time not meaning anything in hell —
    also, Cain.

    Maybe Miriam, playing
    the shade of her tambourine,
    paused at the shape
    of the Word from the beginning,

    Isaiah, saw a suffering servant.

    Tamar, Rahab, Ruth,
    and Bathsheba
    reached out a translucent blessing
    from his matrilineage,

    and thousands upon thousands
    of every era and race,
    of every faith and way of loving,
    manner of life and death,

    turned to him.

    Peter mentioned in his letter
    that Jesus preached,
    but not his sermon title —
    maybe a familiar parable
    or the beatitudes,
    or the prayer he taught his disciples.

    The dead are already salt of the earth,
    and probably know
    intimately all four kinds of soil.
    and how they’ve treated

    the hungry and the naked,
    recognized God’s face
    in the least,
    built their bigger barns,
    or put treasure
    in right or wrong places
    is past for them, as it is for those

    we love who have gone before us.

    If Jesus had a message
    for this sweet and holy Saturday,

    I imagine it was the same short homily
    he once used before –
    talitha cumi – get up little ones.

    God, for the communion of saints,
    and not so saintly ones, we give thanks,

    for they have known in part,
    and now they know face to face,
    and none is left behind.

    © Maren Tirabassi
    Image Abbey Candles, David Coleman


  • Moments: Mary, of Bethany, at your feet a third time

    Andrea Skevington 6 April 2020

    Moments: Mary, of Bethany, at your feet a third time

    And so you come once more to Bethany,
    and share a meal with Lazarus,
    a resurrection feast,
    foreshadowing, foreshining
    all those kingdom feasts you told of:
    wedding banquets with long tables
    set wide with good things,
    with room enough for all,
    welcome at your table.

    Now, in Bethany, the house is ablaze with light,
    shutters and doors thrown open,
    all wide open with joy unspeakable,
    music, laughter, dancing, wild thanksgiving
    for one who was dead is alive again,

    And all night, while crowds pour in from Jerusalem,
    the feast goes on, and on,
    as Mary enters now, cheeks glistening with joy,
    past her brother at your side, back from the grave.

    She kneels at your feet again,
    pours out extravagant nard,
    scandalous anointing of your warm, living feet,
    unbinds her hair and lets it flow like water
    over them, wiping them in such reckless
    and tender thanksgiving.

    Fragrance fills the room, the house, the night,
    as more people pour from Jerusalem to you,
    to you, who comes to us in our weeping,
    who shares our bread with us,
    and brings us to such joy as this.

    St. John 12: 1 – 11

    ©Andrea Skevington
    Image Mary Anointing Jesus, wikimedia commons

  • Moments: Would You Mind If I Wash Your Feet?

    Moments: Would You Mind If I Wash Your Feet?

    If Christ should suddenly stand before me with a towel thrown over his shoulder and a pan of water in his hands, would I have the humility to take off my shoes and really let him wash my feet? Or, like Peter would I say: ”Wash my feet, Lord? Never!”

    Christ has stood in front of me on many a day. It hasn’t always been a pan of water that he’s held in front of me, for water is only one symbol of a way to be cleansed and healed. Sometimes he holds a Bible, or sends a letter, or calls me on the telephone. Sometimes she holds a loaf of bread, or a cup of tea, or gives me her shoulder to cry on. Christ comes in so many ways, in so many people, always holding out that basin of water, and asking that same embarrassing question: “Would you mind if I wash your feet?”.

    The beautiful thing about that burning, persistent, foot-washing question is that eventually it calls forth the same question from your heart. Then you discover that your basin is full of water and your heart is full of a call: a call to wash feet.

    ©Macrina Wiederkehr OSB, first published in Seasons Of Your Heart, Harper Collins, 1991.
    Image Christ Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown, 1821 – 1893

    Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, is a member of St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA.

  • Moments: Simon and Veronica

    Moments: Simon and Veronica

    ‘In a dark wood wandering’
    Or as it is for me
    On a dark road
    This cross and me

    Others were there
    How it would end
    Now I’m vulnerable
    And God nowhere
    to be seen

    In dark places
    Lost places
    Condemned places
    Who will walk

    Not Simon
    Not really!
    He did not want to see;
    ‘Who me?’
    But they pushed
    Him to it

    And I loved him.
    Like Veronica
    Seeing me,
    A human too,
    And touched
    my face

    of such loving
    grace is made;
    taking the weight
    wiping the tears
    and risking

    all that might be
    in a moment
    for the least
    of you

    and the least
    of me

    © Erice Fairbrother SCL
    Image The Way of the Cross, Henri Matisse

  • Moments: Betwixt

    Moments: Betwixt

    Between Palm Sunday Hosannas and Easter Alleluias, Holy Saturday is a day of many overwhelmings. Mary, the mother of Jesus, John, his beloved friend, Mary Magdalene, the disciples and all the ones who loved Jesus were grieving his death. They did not know what to expect, if anything on the third day.

    We too live in a betwixt time of unknowing. Like them, we are grieving. Whatever our circumstances, life as we have known it, emotions as we have known them have become unfamiliar and bewildering. We may feel vulnerable, fragile, uncertain, fearful, fatigued and anxious about today and what the future will bring.

    From sundown this evening until sunrise tomorrow, people throughout the world, together in their separateness, will keep vigil during these in-between hours. They will give thanks for Jesus and gather the sorrowing Mary and those who loved him to their hearts. They will wait in the stillness, trusting that the ancient rhythm of the rising light and the Risen Christ will bless them and this hurting yet still beautiful world. Tomorrow, because of cloud or storm, you and I may not see the sun rise yet we too can trust that it will rise as it always has and that we also will be blessed.   

    And the day shall come when the wounds of body, mind and spirit will become places where the light enters us, where all that we thought we had lost or left behind has created a palace of memory in our hearts to which we may often return.   

    Faith, hope and love will always abide. They will have the last word.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image pixabay, free to use