The breaking of the wave

2020 has been a tough year for so many reasons. Tonight we leave it and move into 2021.

As I was praying this morning, I felt like 2020 was a bit like the dying part of a wave where all the water is dragged back and sucked up before the new wave breaks. It has been a painful stripping back, and many of us feel like we have been dragged across the rocks.

But the new wave is coming, and anyone who has swum in an even slightly rough sea knows that the crashing of a wave can cause pain and disorientation. But it can also transform the coast it crashes against and wash away unhealthy debris.

In 2020 I have found that whenever I tried to push through in my own strength, I became stressed and weary. Instead I had to keep taking time over and over again to draw close to Jesus and receive from him the life that I needed to get through. I want to express my deep love and thanks to my wonderful husband James who entertained the three year old who is constantly asking questions or wanting a story, and my amazing friend Amy who always spotted when I needed to take the time to be refreshed.

But now I urge all of you – don’t put all your hopes in the change of the calendar year, because it really isn’t solid ground. Instead, put your hope in Jesus who is the fountain of all life, and the source of joy and peace when all around you seems to come crashing down. He is the light of the world, and the darkness cannot stand against him. And we look forward to not a new calendar year, but the day when he will come again in glory to make all things new.

Face to Face with the King

We join the crowd lining a glorious avenue of trees. The day feels fresh and new, and the world is young again – colours dazzle, and all of the senses we never knew had dimmed are renewed with vigour and life. Anticipation and excitement hang on the air as the crowd look down the road with expectation.

A figure approaches along the road. He is glorious. He is young and yet full of the wisdom of ages. He is a mighty warrior, and yet gentle and humble. His form is perfect and yet he bears terrible scars. I could gaze upon him forever.

And I have plenty of time to do so, because he stops before each person. And each person is treated differently, because he knows. He knows the sorrows and the joys, the triumphs and the losses.

Some, he wraps up in an enormous bear hug – embracing them in the way they remember from their childhood, or in the way they wish they could remember from their childhood.

For some he looks deeply into tear-filled eyes, and gently wipes away the pain and grief of years.

Others instinctively shy away, crouching down low so as not to be noticed. For them, he kneels, places his hand upon their cheek and carefully lifts their head. ‘Even that.’ He whispers, ‘Even that can be forgiven.’

And for me? We dance. Not a slow dance or an awkward school disco shuffle, but something more like the ‘swing your partners’ at a Ceilidh. It is exuberant and joyful, laughter bubbling up to erase the cares and worries brought about by living too much from my own resources and not his.

We celebrate together – celebrate his remarkable coronation and his irresistible power, goodness and holiness that overthrew Satan and all the works of darkness that kept the world in bondage.

And as I watch him greet each person in turn, I realise that my King, my wonderful Lord, is finally completing my life’s work, and the work of his church down the centuries. He is proclaiming good news for the poor, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the oppressed. He is comforting those who mourn and providing for those who grieve.

This, to me is Christ the King. I partner with him in his mission to the world, and none of it is wasted as I put my hope in his future glory and the putting right of all things.

Remembering (or not)

The saxophonist picks up her instrument. The drummer begins the count, and she is lost. The song, Autumn Leaves, is so familiar her body plays as if asleep – her breathing, fingers, and embouchure working together effortlessly. The song moves on, and she begins to move away from the head, improvising over the internalised chord structure. Her mind may wander to leaves drifting down from an avenue of maples, but it is memories that fill her. Memories of hearing this song played live by a band in a packed jazz club in Chicago. Memories of studying all the great interpretations of this song by so many that have gone before her – Miles Davis, Erroll Garner, Eva Cassidy. And now it is her turn to weave the threads of memory together into a new creation, something beautiful, something her own, yet part of a greater whole.

Like the Jazz musician, we too are part of a tradition of memory. The Psalms are like the Jazz Standards of our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and every Christian songwriter is building on all that has gone before. Every year we retell the story through the Christian festivals, and take our place in the ancient melody.

Why do we remember?

Today is Armistice Day, and we remember the costly impact of particularly the first World War, as well as the sacrifices made by so many of our ancestors and those serving in the armed forces in defence of our nation. It is an emotional day – both patriotic and confessional. We are thankful that a great evil was overcome, and yet we mourn for our own failures as a nation over centuries. We remember to celebrate, we remember to confess, and we remember to change. In Revelation 3 when speaking to the church in Sardis, Jesus tells them to “Remember what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.”

I’ve just been reading through 2 Chronicles, and I’ve been struck by the repetition – it mostly focuses on the people of Judah, and the way they lurch from one king to another; one who leads them away to serve foreign gods, and then another who leads them to remember the Lord and come back to him. I was particularly struck by Josiah – he leads them to reinstate worship in the temple, and as they do so they discover the book of the law. They read it, they remember, they mourn and then they change.

We also remember to heal. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in 1995 in post-apartheid South Africa gave the chance for victims to be heard and perpetrators to confess. The process brought much healing and reconciliation, although the process of collective remembering was painful.

Psychiatrists and counsellors often encourage their clients to share their stories, to delve into painful memories. This is because sometimes events are so horrific our brains do not process properly, and we almost need to reset. In a Christian prayer ministry setting, it can be important to remember painful things in order to identify where lies of the enemy have taken hold, or where we have made agreements – cursed ourselves, if you like – and need to break free. Someone who has been abandoned by a parent may tell themselves that they aren’t worthy of love anyway – and in doing so they partner with the enemy and need the healing the Spirit brings to fully receive and accept the love of God and also the love of others.

The children of Israel are repeatedly told to ‘Remember you were slaves in Egypt.’ This act of remembrance reminded them of many things, including how far they had come, and how the God they serve is a God of deliverance.

Every week (lockdown permitting), the church around the world shares in an act of remembrance – communion. In this act we take our place in the tradition of centuries of Christian worship, remembering the passion of Jesus, his body broken and his blood outpoured. We remember that our God is one of mercy, grace and love. We remember and we adore.

But our remembering isn’t my only focus today. I did a word study of ‘remember’ in the Bible and I was thrilled by what I found. We serve a God who both remembers, and doesn’t remember. He sees the rainbow and remembers his promise never to flood the earth again. He remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and remains faithful to his people, and to us. He remembers the evil and wickedness of the enemies of his people.

But then he doesn’t remember. In Jeremiah 31 we have these incredible words:

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbour,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

The new covenant, mysteriously symbolised in bread and wine, is the outworking of God’s choice not to remember. Where before he would look at the rainbow and remember his promise not to flood, or he would look at his people and remember his covenant with the patriarchs, now he looks at us and instead of remembering our wickedness, he remembers his son on the cross. He remembers thorns, nails, whips, and blood poured out. No matter how big or small the evil deeds we have committed, he remembers Jesus.

So we pause to remember body broken and blood shed. And we give thanks.

Our father in heaven pauses to remember body broken and blood shed. And he forgives, heals and welcomes us into his very presence. Come, he says, and know me.

Allowing ourselves to hope

“It taught me to hope,” said he, “as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.” Mr. Darcy – Pride and Prejudice” ― Jane Austen

A poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

I envy not in any moods
         The captive void of noble rage,
         The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
         His license in the field of time,
         Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
         The heart that never plighted troth
         But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
         I feel it, when I sorrow most;
         ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

This poem is, of course, most famous for its final stanza. There is something about loving that is so good for the heart, even if we then lose the person or thing that we have loved. It is in loving, where that love is selfless and pure, that our hearts are at their most whole.

But my question today does not completely focus on love. I have been pondering whether it is better to have hoped for something and then grieved its loss or non-emergence, than not to have allowed ourselves to hope at all. I write this when it seems like the world is plunging into a second time of lockdown as Coronavirus cases increase once again. Those on waiting lists for minor, yet life-changing operations have to wait yet more. Small business owners who launched last year with such hope and expectation, now find those hopes once more put on hold, or dashed altogether.

This week is also baby loss awareness week. In 2016 I lost my first baby the day before we were due to have our 12-week scan. It was an awful time, but I kept the British stiff-upper-lip and carried on. It is hard to properly grieve a life you never knew, and I suppose what I was grieving was lost hope. Then, when I became pregnant again a couple of months later, I told almost no-one, and found hoping incredibly difficult. I remember the relief at the first scan when I was told the baby was alive and had a heartbeat. But even then, I did not allow hope to flourish too strongly, and it wasn’t until my maternity leave that I actually began to prepare properly – we are indebted to some good friends who emptied their baby equipment into our house, as we had virtually nothing.

Now I look back, I wonder why hope is so hard. If I had allowed myself to hope a bit more, what would the difference have been? I don’t remember that second pregnancy with great joy, although my symptoms were reasonably easy. The months were grey, pierced occasionally by the bright light of God’s presence as he taught me how to forgive negligent medical staff during the miscarriage and acknowledge my sadness and grief at the lost life. Hope, I now realise, brings life and colour. It brings joy and excitement, which is good for the heart.

A friend of mine asked whether the pain of grief or rejection is less if you stifle hope, or if you allow it to blossom. It is impossible to compare like for like. But I have come to believe that a heart that hopes is healthier than a heart that supresses all hope. If we allow ourselves to hope, and the outcome is not what we hoped for, the difference between the height and the depth is greater and that is frightening. However, if we suppress all hope and live instead in anxiety and fear, we spend our life in the depths and never experience the heights. And the joyful emotions – when they do come – are somehow deadened and not long-lasting.  So even if the outcome is grief once again, I believe that a heart that had been released to hope is in a better place to properly deal with the grief than one that had spent so much time in a prison of darkness.

Isaiah 40:31
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Lamentations 3:21-23
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

At least I don’t live by the sea!

Thank God I don’t live by the sea! This was the very thought I had whilst driving down the M42 back towards my home in the midlands, just over 30 miles away from the place deemed the ‘furthest away from the coast’ by ordnance survey. Now I know it’s a really weird thought to have, and I particularly love the sea and hearing the waves, but seriously – living by the sea would be a really dangerous thing for me right now. You see, recently I made the decision to start stepping out in faith and as a result, God has been showing me new and amazing things. But with this decision has also come the huge hurdle of actually stepping out and doing whatever God wants or leads me to.

Cue the large whale…or in my case, whales!

You probably all know the story of Jonah and how he ran away in fear of the Lord, eventually being eaten by a whale for three days until he agreed to do what was asked…well you guessed it, I am pretty much like him, and possibly even worse because unlike Jonah, I do this on a regularly basis! And like this picture, I’m not sure the whale would be too happy about being near me either!

The thing is that making the choice to do all that God wants, was initially difficult. The decisions to put my life (and especially my control!) into God’s hands was not an easy one to do, and even now, I must intentionally continue to do it. But it turns out that this was, and is, the easy part. Ever since making this choice I have been thrust into an ever-increasing battle between doing what God wants and asks of me and at the same time not wanting to do anything risky or that would make me look like a complete plonker! I long to do great things for God and to reveal His glory to those around me, but how do I do so when it is often contrary to everything in the world around me and almost certainly a risky business in all earthly senses?

It is often hard for me to read about the amazing people in the Bible, particularly those in the New Testament, who had to endure great trials and hardships when doing all that God asked of them. I am a mother to an amazing two year old girl, and the thought of being imprisoned or shipwrecked (yet another reason to live in the middle of the UK!) or to endure any kind of suffering for God is not one I want her to go through. As her mother, I want to be there for her and to watch her grow and to witness the woman she becomes. I want to protect her from the evil of the world and the great pain that it can, and often does bring. And yet, I also want to be the best role model I can for her, and this includes showing her that our faith and relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in our lives. In Luke chapter 9, Jesus says:

 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

It is inevitable that when we choose to step out in faith and do all that God asks of us and all that He calls us to, we must deny all the things we deem as risky (as well as the things that are often desirable) and instead, offer them to the Lord and align them with His will. And to be honest, this isn’t something I am able to fully do yet. I am desperately trying to give all I have to God, including my family, my circumstances as well as my hopes and my fears, and yet I know that in less than half an hour of doing so, I am clawing back the control with every ounce of strength I have and trying to put safety measures in place and write ‘to do’ lists galore. Well… thank goodness for the grace and mercy of Christ!

From those I have spoken to, I know that I am not alone in this struggle and it is both encouraging and strengthening to know that I am not the only one who battles with it. We all must work hard to continually give ourselves to the Lord and rejoice in the victories (both small and large) that we gain. For me, this could be as huge as not taking control back for an hour, or a victory on a gigantic scale of speaking to someone about God when the Spirit prompts me to. Both of these things would be huge victories for me (I am currently at serious risk of being whale bait from the latter at present) and are goals I would love to achieve. But until then, I rest in the knowledge that there are smaller victories we can all achieve and whilst I know that nothing is impossible with God….at least I don’t live by the sea!

Reaching for hope

For years I have been bleeding. A constant dirtiness, impurity, shame. The kind of dirtiness that cuts me off from family, friends and loved ones. I cannot come close in case I damage them somehow and I am afraid. I have tried everything to get clean – washing, scrubbing, doctors, but still it remains and I can do nothing about it.

But then, hope comes. I hear of his miracles, his power, his purity. I hear of his heart, his character, his beauty. Maybe, just maybe, he would be willing to turn his eyes and his heart towards me?

I hear the sound, the clamour that announces his arrival. The sound of expectancy that grows and I dare to let hope rise in my heart. In my dirtiness I get up and walk towards the promise of healing and belonging. I push through the crowd, my eyes fixed on him, and on him alone.

Suddenly he is there and I am there. I barely notice the crowds of others, so strong is the hope propelling me forward. But then the feelings overwhelm me:
You are dirty.
You should be hiding away.
This can’t be for you.
He will punish you.

I can’t do it – I can’t stop him and talk to him. The words stick in my throat. The moment is passing and I freeze. But I see something in him – the perfection and holiness that I so desperately need and desire. In my shame I drop to my knees, and there I see it – the hem of his robe. With all my strength I reach for it. My hand trembling, time seems to stand still. But it is just a robe, nothing special. The fabric slips from between my fingers.

But then I feel it – a warmth in my belly like no other. The spark of hope becomes a fire within me and I know. I just know.

So does he. He stops and looks around. He knows what has been kindled in my heart. Fear rises within me – will he punish or want me to pay? Somehow I know my healing won’t be complete until I see him face to face. I take a deep breath and stand my ground. Finally the words flow. “Lord, I touched you. This is my dirtiness and shame.”

“And this I have taken away,” he says. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

I run home, bathe, and remove the dirty rags that have so long been part of who I am. I no longer need them. And in removing them I realise the incredible release I have been given. I am free – free to know friendship, love, welcome. Free to worship. My shame has been taken away and replaced with radiant beauty. Just one encounter with him, and I am transformed. Life begins. Where will it take me?

Life is like a ‘zoom’ call

By now, many of you will be used to doing life electronically, having meetings on zoom or skype and seeing loved ones through a variety of video calls, picture messages and cards and because of this digital world we have been thrust into, life for me seems busier than ever – and that’s before I throw my very active 20month old into the equation! But as I reflect on things now, I’ve realised that our lives have not only changed, but altered in such a way that God can come and use the ‘slower pace’ of life to show us many things.

Life before lockdown was often busy and full of many problems and challenges but there was a joy in the freedom we had. Outside of the vast array of activities we could do, it was also our choice as to who our friends and our neighbours were, who we confided in and who we chose to be in close relation with. And for me, this brought great comfort as I knew who I could share my joys as well as my sorrows with and knew that if I was having a particularly hard day, I could look forward to seeing those I love or chatting through things over a nice drink in a café somewhere.

And in many ways I would say that ‘lockdown’ has taken all of that away. I feel perhaps more distant than ever to my friends, even my family. People are struggling under the weight of looking after children, juggling work, home and even church commitments. Pain, loneliness, resentment, frustration and grief are all given the opportunity to grow and take root because the world has slowed down enough to allow them in, and lets face it, no amount of video calling can ever replace the human need for physical company, comfort and touch. But in this period of difficulty and at times, great hardship, God has showed me that this season can also be like a ‘zoom’ or video call. Where we would once meet with someone and see only that which they allowed you to see, now with God’s help, we are able to see more than just the person. When we video call someone, we of course see them, but we also see the physical place that they are in. For me this is usually the sofa or in our bedroom when im needing some peace and quiet and today it is in our daughter’s room so that I can have my phone balanced on many boxes and have enough light. But in this period of change and slowing of pace for the world, we are challenged to follow suit, allowing God to dwell within in us and allow us to be able to spend time not only looking at the person, but to consider their surroundings as well; their hopes and fears, their greatest joys or their deepest longings. In the book of Acts, chapter 20, it says to

‘pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which He obtained with His blood.’ (Acts 20:28)

In the past when I was upset, my husband always seemed to ask me if I am ok. Of course I am not ok as I would not be crying otherwise, and the fact that he even asked me this question only seeks to make me more upset and annoyed. Whilst his question is his way of coming close and trying to help, it often felt like he was just not looking or paying attention. Thankfully, my husband is amazing and over time has now learnt to just come and see what I need, whether that be a hug, some space or even a cup of tea. But its interesting that in this lockdown period, and especially now as we make the slow transition to a period that will become more busy, though still full of many challenges, uncertainty and many ups and downs, God continues to call us to ‘pay careful attention’ not only to ourselves, but to each other; to look not only at the person we are communicating with, but to consider all that can be seen and allow God to show us all that cannot be seen. And though we may not have full insight or a way of helping them, we know that the Lord will never leave them nor forsake them and thankfully, does not need to apply social distancing either! He can meet us all right here, right now.

Reflecting the light

We are pilgrims on a journey,
And companions on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

~ Richard Gillard

This is my first blog post in a long time.  Life has been busy and it still is.  Looking after a small boy, working nearly full time in Christian ministry, regularly preaching in the Methodist Circuit or at my own fellowship – these things take up a lot of time.  But these aren’t the reasons.  The reason is that I have been on a journey – a journey of deepening love and spiritual growth.

The deepening love in my heart is unusual, and it has come over a great deal of time caring for one person.  And I don’t mean my husband or my son, even though I love them more than ever.  No, this love is for my closest friend.  She and I have known each other for a very long time, but only in recent years has she become close.  This closeness has come through the gradual unfolding of a story, her story, through many different tellings and re-tellings, prayer times and night-time conversations.

Her story is nothing short of horrific.  I did not know such evil existed in the world to be unleashed against one innocent person.  The weight of pain and grief is unbearable, and impossible to carry alone.

And so she no longer carries it alone.  I am called to walk with her.

I will hold the Christlight for you
In the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

The journey has been long and tiring, and we are not yet through.  But every day I see the smallest steps made into freedom, healing and wholeness, and every day I am changed by what I see.  You see, this story is becoming my story.  In walking the road with someone struggling with depression, anxiety, grief and chronic illness, I am becoming someone new.

I am learning empathy and love.  I am learning just how real the spiritual battle around me is, and how essential it is to fight.  I am learning to sing songs of healing when the spoken word is not enough.  I am learning to listen to the subtle cries for help from someone who has been forced into silence.  I am learning how to walk in step with Jesus, the only one who can save from the depths of darkness.

And I am learning just how relentlessly and single-mindedly our God pursues even the most fragile and broken of hearts.

I will weep when you are weeping,
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joys and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.

So now, after much prayer and consideration, the time has come to bring something new to birth, and this blog post is the start.

I’ve been pondering the title of my blog, ‘Reflected light’.  Originally, I think I had in mind the way Moses’ face glowed when he had been in close communion with God.  But now, I’ve come to understand something different in this title.  I am called to walk alongside someone who has been in deepest darkness.  For so many nights I have prayed her to sleep, invoking the light of Christ to shine in her heart and mind, to drive away the despair brought about by intense pain and agony.  And Christ’s light does shine.  But there are places in her that she can’t bring into the light on her own.  I need to hold, to support, and to comfort.  She must not be alone in her struggles.

I am reflecting the Lord’s light on to her from my own angles and perspective.

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony,

Born of all we’ve known together
of Christ’s love and agony.

So, while her story is her own to tell, part of it is also mine.  Particularly the parts where I have learned how to be a companion on the road marked with suffering.  She has given me permission to share things, but I will be sparing.  However, I pray that through my [occasional] posts she might see that her fight for freedom is already bearing fruit beyond her own life.  God is taking the violence, pain and brokenness, transforming it, and already bringing light and healing.

The Torn Curtain

One day when I was about 14 years old, some friends came to visit – two boys, the older one, Luke, was my age and the younger one, Simon, was my sister’s age.  We went to the local park together without our parents, and as they were sporty types, they brought along some balls to play with.  One of the things they brought was a cricket set – ball, bat, stumps and bails – probably some wicket keeper pads and gloves too knowing them.  Our local park was lovely – it had a great play area, a basketball court, another multi-purpose games area and two lovely big cricket pitches.  So naturally we went straight to one of the cricket pitches. We got the stumps out and hammered them into the ground with the bat – bang, bang, bang.  Then we took it in turns to stand guard while someone else bowled.  It was brilliant.  I’d never played on a proper pitch before.  Then, after a while, I looked up to see a very red-faced man approaching on a roller.  After hurling not an insignificant amount of abuse at us, he proceeded to roll over the area where we had been playing for the next half an hour, as we sheepishly moved off elsewhere to play football.  It appears we unwittingly desecrated the hallowed turf of Birstall Village Cricket Club.

In my school, just as in any school, there was a special place that no children could enter.  The staff room.  If we needed a teacher urgently we would go and stand at the end of the corridor that led to the staff room and hope to catch another teacher on their way in so they could pass on the message.  I always felt quite embarrassed when I had to do this – they were never happy passing a message on, and the teacher I needed almost never wanted to be disturbed.St_Mary_and_St_Pancras_Primary_School_044

A couple of years after I left the school, I returned for a special event, and I was asked to go and wait IN the staff room.  For the first time ever, I entered the forbidden corridor.  My heart beating fast, I slowly walked down it and round the corner, and into the inner sanctum itself.  There were comfy chairs.  There was a kettle.  There were fascinating lists up all over the walls – lists of exceptionally bright children.  I had been permitted in to the sanctuary but I still did not feel like I belonged.  I didn’t settle down into a comfy chair – I perched on the edge of one.  It simply did not feel like home.

There are some places you just can’t go unless you are qualified.  And there is a place we can go that we just shouldn’t ever be able to.  That is into the presence of Almighty God.  Just a little glance around us at the beauty and glory of creation makes us wonder quite how much more glorious the one who created it must be.  Just a little think about everyday life and how hard it is to live honestly and selflessly makes us wonder quite how wonderful Jesus, the one who lived without sin, must be.  Just a little glance inward at our own hearts reveals the complexity of feeling – what it means to have an inner life, to have a spirit – and this makes us wonder how much more incredible the Holy Spirit must be.

But the amazing miracle of it all is that not only has a way been opened for us to come into the presence of the Almighty, but we are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to feel at home.

Hebrews 10:19-23 says this:

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

The curtain was a feature of worship for the children of Israel right from when they first built a tabernacle in the wilderness to carry around with them.  Ordinary people were able to come in to the outer courts area to worship the Lord, and then specially consecrated priests were able go further into the Holy of Holies, but then there was an impenetrable barrier – the curtain – which blocked the way to the Most Holy Place.  Apart from on very rare, very special occasions, no one could go beyond the curtain.

At the time of Jesus the temple had a huge curtain.  Josephus, the Jewish historian living roughly at that time describes the curtain as incredibly beautiful, embroidered and woven in different colours that represent fire, earth, air and sea.  Other ancient Jewish sources say it was 60ft tall, 30ft wide and about 4 inches thick.  That is a serious curtain!

Some words from Luke 23:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’

42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

43 Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.

I love the little detail of the criminals hanging beside Jesus.  I love how it showed Jesus knew what was going on and what he was about to achieve.  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  This criminal, the last person who would be able to enter in to the Most Holy Place is invited into glory by Jesus himself.

Two verses later, the curtain is torn.  That 4 inch thick curtain rips from top to bottom.  God, through Jesus has re-written the rules of holiness.  The criminal finds himself welcomed with open arms and we too can find the grace and mercy that is required.

When I was a teenager I attended a conference called Easter People at the Spa Centre in Scarborough.  One night I remember going into the ballroom and sitting upstairs.  We had a wonderful evening of worship and Bible teaching, and I remember towards the end the band were singing ‘Be still.’  When the second verse began I distinctly remember sensing the ‘glory of the Lord shining all around’.  In my mind’s eye I could see the most amazing light shining in the centre of the space.  Everyone was worshipping, basking in his presence.  I simply did not want to leave.  I wanted it to go on for ever.  I was home.  Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.

We are not invited into the Most Holy Place as sheepish schoolchildren sneaking in to the staff room.  God’s presence is our home.  There is no better place to be.  And Jesus has made the way.

Pearl of great price

On Sunday this week we were thinking about maintaining a good life/work balance.  I was looking after my 15 month-old son and he was absolutely determined to get out of the church and into the sunshine so I couldn’t stay and listen to the sermon, but what I did hear was enough.  The preacher shared this poem by R. S. Thomas:

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

I’m not that great at understanding poems, but this one made me stop and consider.  So often nowadays when I seem to spend all of my time helping my son walk up and down steps or watch him pick up stones, I find myself getting bored and frustrated.  But actually, I should always be on the lookout for the ‘Pearl of great price’ – that ray of sunshine that is kissing my day.

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells these short parables:

44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

I guess I can’t sell everything I have when I spot these moments, but what I can do is temporarily put it down and fully be present.  That look of complete enjoyment on my son’s face, the beautiful taste of one of my own freshly picked strawberries, the moment of speed and freedom going downhill on my bike.

Engage.  Live.  Enjoy.  Savour.

Be thankful.