Monthly Archives: March 2015

Palm Sunday and Holy Week (Mark 11:1-11)

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One of the early experiences I remember well is watching Doctor Who. I always sat on the settee, with a cushion close at hand – and when things seemed to be getting to frightening I’d bring the cushion up to my face and peep over the top. If things looked really bad I’d hide behind the back of the settee – peeping out occasionally – with my imagination running riot!

I’ve carried this forward into adult life – some friends and I went to the cinema to watch Braveheart. The film has some very graphic and dramatic battle scenes. I was unaware of how I was responding. Each time an axe hit someone’s torso I was apparently jumping in my seat. At one point, I looked along the row of friends to find that they were all watching me rather than the screen.

I always get engrossed in what I’m watching on TV or at the cinema – and I find that I can usually anticipate the story line. My imagination works overtime – and if I’m not careful when I am watching TV, I find that the anticipation has got the better of me – I’ve got up from my seat and left the room. Before I even realize what I’m doing, I am in the kitchen putting the kettle on to boil!  In some things we watch on TV it is easy to get ahead of the action, anticipate what is going to happen and react accordingly.

We have a similar, but greater, problem with Holy Week and the Easter story. We can anticipate everything that is going to happen. It’s not that the plot is predictable or easy to anticipate – for us it’s the problem of hindsight.

We know that Palm Sunday’s jubilation was followed by the despair of Good Friday. We know that the seeming failure of Good Friday was quickly overtaken by the triumph of the first Easter Day. Hindsight is supposed to be beneficial – but in the case of the Easter story it robs us of the possibility of living through the events as they happened.

img_mouseover3What was going through the disciple’s minds as they came into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday? What was Jesus feeling as he rode into Jerusalem on that donkey? Our danger is that knowing the outcome we minimize the intensity of the events and feelings of Holy Week because we know it turned out OK in the end.

What was Jesus feeling as he entered Jerusalem knowing what the week ahead would hold? Was he was already feeling that overwhelming sense of loneliness that comes when we are completely misunderstood.

How many times had he told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to die? How often had they failed to hear what he said?

Palm Sunday dramatizes for us the chasm in understanding which existed between Jesus and everyone around him – his disciples and the happy shouting crowds. … Jesus was alone. Really alone – no one understood what he was doing – no one grasped what was about to happen!

When we talk of Christ’s suffering – we think primarily of the Cross. We miss the agony of the anticipation, the loneliness of the last week of his life. The shame of abandonment and torture. … And because we miss his anguish we minimize the significance of many of the events of that last week. With the benefit of hindsight we rush on to the resurrection – to the good news.

1dc2b2a68ab7fd0b323a3e9778c579faAs Jesus repeatedly talks about his death his disciples remain at best confused, at worst oblivious to what he is saying. And the loneliness Jesus felt in the crowd of Palm Sunday, gets replaced by the loneliness of the garden of Gethsemane. Only he can walk this road. No one will walk it with him!

When we grasp this, we will begin to be able to believe that Jesus understands our loneliness. … He knows the loneliness of the cell for those in solitary confinement; those condemned to die for their faith. But more than that – he feels the dark loneliness of depression; he is with us in the loneliness of the hospital bed; he knows the loneliness of watching other people=s pain; and he knows the loneliness of being misunderstood. It=s not just that he cares – he knows what we go through. He is the one that has gone before – he is the one who calls us on – in spite of the darkness or the pain – to continue to serve, to continue to love, to continue to hope.

So, as we live through this Holy Week, lets not get to far ahead of the plot anticipating the final outcome. Let’s rather to the best of our ability stay with the story watching and feeling it unfold. For then, perhaps only then, will we really begin to understand how much God loves us.

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John 2:13-22 – Jesus in the Temple.

Have you ever experienced what it is like to be an outsider? The first time I went to Uganda in 1994, I had people’s warnings ringing in my ears. “Be careful travelling on the buses.” … “Everyone’ll be out to get what they can from you.” “Don’t walk around on your own at night.” I also had had my own fears about going to a different culture. And, yes, I did feel like an outsider. I was white, everyone else was black. I was treated like an oddity because I was different. A reversal of what many black and Asian people felt in coming here.

You may have experienced something like this – perhaps joining a new club, going to a new job, or a new town/city, going to the hospital for the first time. Unease in unfamiliar surroundings is something many of us experience. Often it isn’t helped by the way that those in the know, those who already belong, behave.

What would it have felt like as a Gentile coming into the temple in Jerusalem for the first time? An unfamiliar place with strange customs. It can’t be too hard to imagine some of the confusion and uncertainty that any Gentile must have felt.

The temple had its barriers even at the best of times – there was the Holy of Holies at the centre – where only God and the occasional male priest could go, next, separated by a richly embroidered curtain was the Holy Place where offerings to God were left by the priests (all of whom were male), next was the court where the altar sat – Jewish men were welcome here – then there was an outer court where Jewish women were allowed, and out beyond this – in the outermost court of the temple Gentiles were permitted. The temple system reinforced these divides, both gender and nationality. A place that was intended to proclaim God’s welcome had become a place where barriers obstructed access to God.

No doubt the Temple was a place of familiarity and comfort for those who attended regularly, particularly Jewish men. Everything had a structure and a place – it was somewhere safe and secure. But those very structures created barriers for others and a hierarchy of access to God. Rather than seeing the different outer courts as places of welcome for the outsider, Jews began to see those courts of lesser significance – and the Gentile Court, rather than being a place for worship, had become a place of business. The place where Gentiles could worship had become a market place.

In our reading, Jesus erupts into this outer court, turning over tables and setting animals and birds free. And his comment in Mark’s version of the story reinforces his concern for the outsider; “It is written,” he says “God’s house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The temple, says Jesus, is not to be a barrier to worship but a place of worship. The way the temple is run, the way things are done, needs to draw in the outsider.

Later, Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, at the moment of Jesus death, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom – opening the path for everyone directly into God’s presence. No longer could anyone justify barriers which restricted access to God.

The Jews had allowed their place of worship to become a place that created barriers between God and those who came seeking him.

These short verses In John’s Gospel are a direct challenge to us: “How open are we to welcoming the outsider? Are we as welcoming as we think? What barriers do we place between God and those who seek him? Are we no better than the temple authorities?”

How hard is it for new people to get their heads around our liturgy? How keen are we to have people in our services who don’t know what to do? What do we do to help those who are new? In a lot of our churches you can tell who is new … the regulars pick the seats at the back of church. I’m not sure why we see those as the best, but we hardly ever sit on the front row, do we. Often a guest will come into church and see the front seats clear and chose to sit there – anywhere else they’d be the best seats! It is only once the service starts that they realise their mistake – which bit of paper am I supposed to look at now, which book, do I stand or sit at this point in the service? Our guests end up feeling embarrassed. …. Is it any surprise that they choose not to return?

What happens after our services? Who talks to whom? Who seeks to include the outsider? Bishop Chris Edmondson tells a story about his wife, early in his ministry in the Diocese of Manchester he attended one church to preach and his wife went with him. At the end of the service she went to get her coffee and was very politely served and then she stood to one side, quietly drinking her coffee, and no one spoke to her. When Bishop Chris introduced her to a few people, one woman said, “If only I’d known you were the Bishop’s wife, I’d have come over to talk to you.” I wonder whether she had any real idea what she had just said about her own, and her church’s, attitude to the outsider.

How do we respond when children are noisy? How do we cope if someone sits in our regular seat? Do you have baptisms in your main church service? If so, what do you feel about Baptism families? Are we quicker to comment that they are bound not to return – rather than to welcome them, understanding just how alien the service must feel to them? How welcome do we make people feel? Are we really as helpful and welcoming as we=d like to think we are? We need to try to imagine what a newcomer sees and feels as they enter our buildings.

These short verses in our reading challenge each of us to take a step back to look at we do in God’s church, God’s temple. To try to look at what we do through the eyes of the outsider.

Jesus gave priority to the Gentile, to the outsider. He explodes in anger over the ugly barriers that religious people had created almost without thinking.

If nothing else, these short verses in our reading demonstrate that Jesus longs that we and all his followers will give priority, not to our own hopes and desires, but to those of our community and the wider world. Priority to drawing them into relationship with God.

Penny and Tracy – Attracting priests to the North?

Living and working in the North West of the Country has many benefits!

St Chrysostom's Church News and Views

We are proud at St C’s to see two women priests (Tracy Charnock, former curate and Penny King, former parish assistant) with a Chrysostom’s connection featured on a Church of England website seeking to attract clergy to the north. In today’s edition of ‘The Times’ the story is taken up. Here is the article from The Times (28 Feb 15)

The Church of England has launched a campaign to attract young vicars to take up long-unfilled posts in the north

Penny Penny – a poster girl?

When Penny King told her university friends in Canterbury that she was moving to Manchester, they were horrified. “They said ‘you’ll get shot! You’ll get mugged! It’s depressing. It’s all grey and the weather’s awful’. ”

The perception that life is “grim up north” has greatly damaged the Church of England’s attempts to fill posts in the north, where some jobs for vicars…

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