Worship for Sunday April 19, 2020

link to worship video

We begin our worship with Jeff Gorick offering a lively version of “This Little Light of Mine”

Then Gillian Lamoure reads our Gospel Lesson for the day:

Doubting ThomasOur reading is from the Gospel of John in the 20th chapter, as found in the translation called “The Message”. It tells the story of an encounter between the Risen Christ, and the person who has often been called “Doubting Thomas”. May God bless each of us, as we listen for meaning and hope in these words.

 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

Thanks be to God for being with us in the reading and the hearing of these words. Amen

Zoom cartoon doubting thomas

Rev. Darrow’s Learning Time: “Helpful Signs”

Thomas wasn’t with Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. She’d gone out, well before the sun was up, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Instead of that sad task, she had an encounter with a mysterious figure outside the tomb.  When he spoke her name, Mary recognized him as her teacher and friend, somehow risen from death. But Thomas did not see what Mary saw, or hear what she heard.

Thomas wasn’t there on the next day either, when some of the disciples were gathered together behind closed doors, and Jesus appeared to them, and wished them peace. Thomas was not in the room, when these things happened. He did not hear or see what they did.

The other disciples told him about seeing Jesus, and he’d likely also heard Mary Magdalene’s story. Thomas said to his friends,

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

More than 20 centuries after the first Easter morning, and at least 1900 years since the stories were first written down, modern followers of Jesus have often labelled this disciple as “Doubting Thomas”. There have been a lot of “don’t be like Thomas” sermons over the centuries.

To be honest, I’d be with Thomas. I’d be asking questions, and wanting a little more to go on than, “really Tom, we really saw him, honest!”

There’s nothing wrong with expressing doubt, or wanting more information before drawing your own conclusion. Thinking for yourself does not make you less faithful. I would argue that God gives us all our faculties, and we are meant to use our minds at least as much as we use our hearts in our sincere efforts to understand, and to draw conclusions.

Thomas did not see or hear all that his friends had, but he would have clear and powerful memories of watching Jesus die a painful death on a Roman cross. That was the last time he’d seen Jesus. It would be a huge mental and emotional leap to go from those profoundly disturbing memories, to placing trust in what he was being told, that Jesus had somehow been resurrected.

Can we blame Thomas for hesitating, for wanting more evidence, before trusting what he was being told, about the next chapter in the story of Jesus? Life as Thomas had known it, as a disciple of Jesus, his friend and teacher, had been suddenly, violently disrupted, interrupted, and taken away.

You and I are living in this strange time, in which so much we have taken for granted has been interrupted, or taken away. Some things may never be the same. We may hope for a new life, beyond the current crisis, but what will it look like? I certainly do not envy our national, provincial, municipal leaders, who are called upon to make decisions and plans, and offer us comfort and reassurance. We should keep praying for them!

I can relate to Thomas, who may want to believe there is something coming up, some kind of “next”, to which he can look forward.  If he can see the Risen Christ for himself, perhaps all is not lost. I find myself looking for signs of hope, signs of life that transcend, and point beyond our current reality. I want to believe we will be okay, even if things are different than I have been used to, and never go quite back to the old “normal”.

On Easter Sunday, police in Toronto were called to a grocery store that had been inadvertently left unlocked, with all the lights on. The owner had meant to comply with Premier Ford’s order that grocery stores remain closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to give workers time to rest and be with their families. Something happened, or didn’t, and on Sunday morning, people found they could walk in and shop. The escalators were even running- it’s a big store.toronto loblaws

People calmly made the rounds with their carts, picking up necessities. It was only when they returned to the front of the store that it sunk in there were no cashiers, and none of the self-check out machines were working. People wrote out lists of what they had put in their carts, saying they’d be back when the store was actually open for business, to settle up.

I love this story. I love that the first people who found the open, un-staffed grocery store did not call all their friends to come on down and loot the place. I love that no one grabbed all the toilet paper, or steaks, or hand sanitizer. People just did their shopping, and then puzzled out how to pay for it later. Someone even called the police, to report the problem, to see that the store was protected.

It wasn’t as if this was Sanford’s, our neighborhood grocer. That store in Toronto is owned by one of the big faceless corporations. It might have been easy to rationalize emptying the shelves, in Robin Hood style, stealing from the ultra-rich to meet the needs of simple folks just trying to get by.

The good news is that people who went to that grocery store on Easter morning did not abandon their decency, their morality, their sense of fair play. Even in these strange times, they held on to the best part of themselves, what might be called the better angels of our nature.

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas was offered what he needed, to believe what his friends had told him. I like to think the experience also gave him confidence, the ability to trust  that the love he had known through Jesus, and the community that surrounded him, this love that came from God, was going to go on. Thomas and his friends might only see and hear the Risen Christ a few more times, but the love would always be with them.

I believe that for most of us, most of the time, the clearest evidence we can have that God’s love is real, and active in the world, is how we are with each other. The old saying “we are the hands and feet of Christ” reminds us that by our words and actions, we can allow God’s love to flow through us.

This is a time when the world, and all the people we love in the world, and all the people we don’t even know, need, perhaps more than ever, all the signs of God’s love they can get. The world needs us, the people around us, need people like us, to let God’s love flow through.

We need to see the best in people, and they need to see the best in us. I have no doubt about that. Amen

hands and feet poster

Prayer for April 19, 2020

In our Gospel reading for today, there is a beautiful line that says that when the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples in that locked room, he took a deep breath and breathed into them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

There is a form of prayer that I find especially helpful these days, adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice called Tonglen.

It is something we can do, to be with others, to be helpful to the world, in this challenging time. It is as simple as breathing, offering good intentions.

We breathe in, and accept the pain and sadness of those we know, those we are worried for.

Breathing out, we pray for peace.

Breathing in, we accept the pain and suffering of those we don’t know, who need help.

Breathing out, we pray for healing.

Breathing in, we accept the confusion and frustration of those who are doing their best and finding it hard.

Breathing out, we pray for calm, for courage, for confidence.

Breathing in, we accept the doubts, the worries, the fear of those around us, especially those who are working on the front lines, to keep us safe, and to make sure we have what we need.

Breathing out, we pray for strength, for reassurance, for hope.

We make these prayers in the name of the Risen Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words Jesus gave us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen

There are some announcements on the video, following the close of worship.

 

More like a marathon than a sprint

Over the Easter weekend, I had virtual chats with some clergy colleagues, and a common theme was that most of us are busier than ever, and are having to learn new ways to function, in this strange time.

couch-potatoIn my early forties I started running long distance, after having been a happy and plump couch potato, for quite a while. The process of training to build the capacity to run 42.2 kilometres taught me a lot.

I remember from my marathon preparation that I need both consistency and variety in my training regime. Consistency requires setting up a schedule, so that I know what I am meant to do each day. Variety means not doing the same thing with each block of training time.

So I am working on my own schedule, so that there is a structure to my days, but not boring, grueling, sameness. I am building in blocks of time dedicated to leading classes, creating worship, reaching out with pastoral phone calls, working with congregational leaders and colleagues, as well as doing things for the good of mind, body, and spirit.

I have some ideas to share with the Harrow United Church faith community, that I hope may help us make this time of enforced (and necessary) isolation more like a retreat, and less like jail.

I will offer a weekly online “bible study” based on one of the scripture passages I will talk about in my “learning time” in the weekly worship resource. This would be a video chat, so we can hear and see each other. 

digital bible study All you need is your computer, tablet, or smart phone, an internet connection, a bible, and paper and pen.

If you want to be part of this ZOOM based online discussion, email me and I will send you a link.   revdww@gmail.com

The first online Bible study will be next Wednesday,  April 22 from 10:30 to 11:30 am. Bring your own coffee (or beverage of choice).  The passage we will talk about is Luke 24:13-35, which is the story of an encounter with the Risen Christ, on the Emmaus Road. Here is a link to the scripture, as found on Bible Gateway.

Emmaus Road story

I am also looking into the possibility of offering an online Sunday School class. Please let me know if there are kids in your house who would want to take part. (It may require a big person to be with them, to help with activities.) The idea would be to drop off a shoebox at your house containing what you would need for the at home crafts and activities, then we’d all meet online at the same time (In a ZOOM room) for the class. We are calling this ShoeBox Sunday School, but that does not mean it has to happen on Sunday- although it could!

Shoebox-1000(In related news, if ShoeBox Sunday School happens, we will need some shoeboxes. I know we have a few in my house, but may require more.)

 

 

I like the look of this free online course, for those who like to read, and may even enjoy writing their own poetry:

A Fierce and Enduring Gratitude (A free on-demand eCourse: How Poetry Supports Us In Good Times and Bad with Dale Biron)

 We’ve all experienced difficulties and losses in our lives. From health challenges to losing friends and loved ones. From career and business setbacks to divorces. Perhaps our most heroic act in the face of such loss is simply allowing our hearts to break and then transforming that pain into compassion, healing and finally service. In this eCourse, we will explore poems as wise and timeless tools that can support us on our path back to gratitude, happiness and yes, even joy.

poetry e-course link

If you are more into creating something visual or working with your hands, you may want to check out these “art therapy” suggestions. I would love it if you tried a project, and sent me a photo of the results.

Art Therapy link

Many people, young and old, enjoy colouring as a spiritual practice, as a stress-reliever, or just as a fun way to pass the time. It’s a little less daunting than creating our own art from “scratch”. I would love to see photos of your masterpieces!

colouring pages

Finally:

pub quizMy family is taking part in a weekly trivia game with some friends spread across the country, that is something like a pub trivia night. We are doing this as a video chat, and it works quite well. (My adult children are very adept at using the technology!)

I was thinking that if Harrow United Church folks are interested, we could set one up for the congregation. (You’d need to provide your own beverages and snacks!) Again, email me if that is something you’d like to do, or help with. revdww@gmail.com

Harrow United Church Easter 2020 Worship Service

easter stained glass HUCThere is a link below to the video of this service. The video opens with a wonderful “virtual choir” singing Morning Has Broken. Our scripture lesson is read by the members of our confirmation class. I recorded a sermon in the sanctuary, which is followed by “Thine is the Glory”, with piano and vocals by Naomi Woods, and trumpet and vocals by Joel Woods. The sermon and pastoral prayers for today will be included in this post. After the pastoral prayer, I have included an Easter Treat. Nicole Wells, who was a member of the choir and congregation at Applewood United Church in Mississauga, made a video of her singing a song by John Legend which carries a good message for the time in which we are living. I liked it so much I asked her if we could have it as part of our worship for this Easter morning.

Link to Video of Easter Worship

Scripture Lesson:   John 20:1-18

Sermon

At the end of the verses the confirmation class just read, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to him, because he had not yet ascended to the Father.

In this season of social distancing, and self-isolation, we can relate to the awkward sadness of wanting to reach out and offer someone a hug, and it not being possible.

Things have changed, and we are living in a new normal, that we do not understand, and to which it will take some time to adjust. We are hearing that phrase a lot these days.

After the first Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples faced a new normal, without their beloved teacher.

They’d enjoyed an amazing three years of travelling with him from village to village, town to town. They met thousands of people. They shared intimate moments with their teacher and friend, and grew to love and trust him, and each other. They built a tight-knit community, a family of the heart, and they were learning, slowly, hesitantly to offer love to people beyond their cozy circle.

Great things were happening. Everywhere they went, crowds gathered to get a glimpse, hear a word, have the experience of being with Jesus. There was an aura of peace, of love around their teacher, in which they felt safe, and blessed. They may have come to believe that anything was possible, as long as they were with him, and he was with them.

But not everyone was so enthused about Jesus, and his message of God’s unlimited, unconditional love, that burst through barriers of class and privilege, race and religion. Jesus was shaking things up.

Powerful people, with much to lose, conspired to silence the persuasive, subversive voice, that threatened to topple the carefully balanced system of officially sanctioned religion, puppet kings, and Roman imperial control.

Jesus was arrested on phony charges, subjected to a mock trial, and sentenced to public execution on the cross. He was beaten, humiliated, stripped of his clothing, and crucified. His closest family and friends watched his body breathe its last, and the saw to the burial of his dead body.

Then Jesus’ followers went away, most of them, and hid. At least one of them even denied ever knowing Jesus. That part of their lives was over, behind them, and they were going to have to sort out what to do next, once they were no longer stuck behind closed doors. We can relate these days to being stuck behind closed doors.

Jesus’ companions were paralyzed by grief, by fear, by the shock that comes when you lose a loved one, when your hopes about how life was supposed to be are dashed.

Have you ever got so deep into the plot of a good book or movie, or tv show, that you kind of lose track of time? Ever feel like you just want to stay with story, and maybe hope it never ends? I remember when the Harry Potter books were first coming out, and at our house we all read them, and we could not get them fast enough.  I can remember wanting to go from one to the next, with as little break in between as possible- so the spell, the charm of that imaginary reality would be sustained.

I have friends who are ardent sports fans. They are sad these days, because so much of what they almost live for, is suspended. No games to watch, listen to, read about, talk about right now. In the old normal, I can remember how some of them would follow a favorite team all the way through regular season play, and then into play offs. If their team was eliminated, they’d choose another to cheer on, if only so they could remain a little longer in that charged up fan-space.

A friend told me once, at the end of a play-off series in which his team actually did come out the victor, that it was bitter-sweet for him. He was thrilled his team came out on top, but also sad, because the time of heightened excitement was over. There would be next year, or he could change his focus to another sport- but it wasn’t the same.

These things we love, all seem to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Our earthly lives are like that as well- we are being reminded of that on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis lately. The fact that there will be, at some point, an end to our earthly life can make it all seem more precious. Every moment counts!

When I was little, and still sometimes as an old guy, there were, and are, the days when I resist going to sleep. My body may be tired, but I don’t want to let go. Eventually, my weary eyes and bones win the argument, and I do sink into slumber. I repeat the cycle of day, and night, and full day.

That’s the way of things. Day, night, new day. Spring and summer, autumn and winter, then spring again. Live, rest, wake up. Grow, blossom, wilt and fade. Life, death and new life. Sunrise, the glory of a new day, sunset, and then the new day.

There is no going backwards, and no staying still. The wheel keeps turning, the cycle continues. We see it at this time of year. Seeds planted in dark soil, in which they decay enough to break open with new growth, burst upward to find the light of day. Caterpillars that will cocoon themselves, and be transformed, and emerge as something new, that flies off into the warm wind.

Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb where his body had been laid out for burial. When she realized who he was, she was overjoyed, and wanted to reach out, and hold him tight. He warned her against clinging to him. Things were different. A new normal.

We don’t always feel ready for the new life, the new normal. We aren’t done grieving, aren’t ready to let go of the old. We don’t want to lay our head on the pillow and let go of the day we are in.

Left on our own, we might not. We might try to stay awake, and not let go of the day. We might try to hold on to the way things were, and deny that change, and death, are the way of things. We might be that way, left on our own, and if we were in charge.

But the Easter story reminds us that we are not left on our own, and that we are not in charge. God is in charge, of life, and death and new life. The new normal.

Jesus appeared again, in a new way, on that first Easter morning. He showed to Mary Magdalene, and then to a few more of his close friends, that there was more to come.

Resurrection is a weird word. It’s not the same as resuscitation, or restoration. It has nothing at all to do with a return to the way things were, before the pain, the death, the grief. There is no promise to freeze time, and keep everything the way it used to be.

When it sank in with Jesus’ friends that there was a new normal, it startled them out of their sad stuck place, and energized them. They moved beyond the closed, tight, hidden circle, and out from behind their closed doors, and shared the message of new life, and God’s love, with thousands and thousands more people. A whole new movement, bigger than anything that had happened during Jesus earthly life, began to grow, and spread. It was like nothing any of Jesus’ first friends and followers could have possibly imagined.

I’m thinking about the food drive we had here at the church last week for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. So many people responded to the call, and drove up, and dropped off food. They dropped off cash and cheque donations. So many people offering kindness, to help people they have never met, and may never meet.

Perhaps in this time when we are all being reminded of our shared vulnerability, there is an opportunity to embrace being more kind, more generous, more thoughtful. How wonderful it would be if these qualities became more evident in our new normal.

That’s the deal, with new life. It’s not the old life. It’s new. It’s what comes next, not what happened before.  The Easter story reminds us God is still with us, offering us the energy, and inspiration, and possibility of the new day, the new normal. God is in it with us.

That’s the hope and promise of our faith, as expressed in the New Creed of the United Church of Canada:

We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

Naomi and Joel sing “Thine is the Glory”

Pastoral Prayers

God of Love, and Hope, and New Life;

We pray for people we know who are especially challenged these days. Those who live alone. Those who are in isolation. Those who cannot visit loved ones. Those who are sick. Those who are dying. Those who are grieving. We remember the families of Delight Cracknell and Roberta McLean.

We pray for those who feel alone. Those who feel unsafe in their homes. Those who worry about their loved ones, whose work places them at risk.

We pray for our leaders, and all in positions of responsibility, authority, and duty. We pray for our communities, our county, province, nation, and all the nations. We pray for a spirit of cooperation and common cause to be at work in the conversations between levels of government, and between nations, that will nudge out the tendency towards rivalry and self-interest.

We pray for our church, and all other communities of faith who are discovering new ways to share hope and bring joy, and offer pastoral care and practical help to people in need. Bless the leaders of our church, and all other faith communities.

God who Creates, and is always at work in creation, in this season of new life, we remember that Jesus talked about ordinary things like mustard seeds and grains of wheat to encourage us to look closer at life, and the world around us, to see you at work.

If we open our hearts, and look around with loving eyes, there is much to see.

Like the persistent plants that somehow find their way to grow up through cracks in broken concrete, your love finds a way, to break through all that is weighing us down.

There is kindness in this world. People are buying groceries for their neighbours, to save them a trip to store.

There is generosity in this world. People are making donations of money, food, protective gear, to help where it is needed.

There is compassion in this world. Ordinary people with hearts of love are doing their jobs, many going beyond the call of duty, to make sure that the necessities of life are available. Brave souls with loved ones of their own, leave their homes each day to care for the sick.

There is humour, and lightness of heart in this world. Where we are still able to laugh, to make each other smile, we can live through almost anything.

There is ingenuity and curiousity at work in this world. People are setting aside the pursuit of profit and personal gain, to dedicate their efforts to make things that relieve suffering, protect the vulnerable, and make people who work on the front lines safer.

We are your people, and in this strange time in which we live, we give thanks for the glimpses of resurrection that are all around us. Let us use this time in which many of us are compelled by circumstances to lay low, sit still, and be safe, to be more watchful for those signs, more grateful when we notice them, and more bold in sharing the good news of what we see.

We make these prayer in the name of the Risen Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words Jesus gave us:

Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen

Lyrics to the John Legend song: If You’re Out There

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late

We’ve been looking for a song to sing
Searched for a melody
Searched for someone to lead
We’ve been looking for the world to change
If you feel the same
Then go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

No more broken promises
No more call to war
Unless it’s love and peace that we’re really fighting for
We can destroy hunger
We can conquer hate
Put down the arms and raise your voice
We’re joining hands today

Oh I was looking for a song to sing
I searched for a leader
But the leader was me
We were looking for the world to change
We can be heroes
Just go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

Oh now, now

If you’re ready we can shake the world
Believe again
It starts within
We don’t have to wait for destiny
We should be the change that we want to see

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
And you’re ready now
Say it loud
Scream it out

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
If you’re out there

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late

Songwriters: MARCUS JOHN BRYANT, DEVON HARRIS, KAWAN PRATHER, JOHN STEPHENS

Good Friday Worship

HUC logo color FINAL@2x

I enlisted the help of Larry Anderson, the musician at Harrow United Church, and Naomi Woods, to create a simple worship service for this Good Friday, April 10, 2020.

 

Here is a link to the audio file: audio file of Good Friday Worship

Naomi read the scripture for us:

John 19:17-30 (NIV)

Larry Anderson played a beautiful, meditative instrumental version of “Were You There” for us, which we are using as an interlude between the scripture reading and the Learning Time.

While everyone we love is living, and while some are dying under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic, what does it mean to place ourselves in the shadow of the cross?

Crucifixion was both a very public, and a very lonely way to die. The Romans deliberately made this form of execution a spectacle. They mounted crosses on a hill, for all to see, from any direction. People who loved Jesus, and the others executed that day, could look on from a distance, but do nothing to ease their agony, or change the outcome.

These days, many of us have people in our lives we can’t visit. If someone you love is in a nursing home, or hospital, you can’t be with them, face to face. If they have a smart phone, and the faculties to use it, you might be able to facetime.

Many of us are missing coming to the church building, for worship services like the one we wanted to have today. Afterwards, we were planning to have hot cross buns, and coffee and tea. We did that last Good Friday, and it was a lovely of warmth and fellowship, after dwelling on the chilling story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Stories of pain and death shake us, and send chills through us. We find comfort in huddling together, in the company of fellow mortals- except now, we can’t. We are still sorting out how to be a faith community when we can’t gather in the same physical space.

There is a moment in John’s story of the crucifixion, when Jesus cried out that he was thirsty. The story doesn’t say who proffered a sponge on a stick towards Jesus’ mouth- the sponge was soaked in cheap wine.  My guess is it was a guard.  Jesus’ friends would not be allowed that close. I marvel at this moment of human kindness, in the context of a story of terrible, violent cruelty. It says to me that is in our human nature- we are made, most of us, to be kind and as helpful as we can.

These days most of us are observers, while a brave few leave their homes every day, to try to help the very sick. Our hearts are with them, and our prayers.

How does it feel for those folks who are on the wrong side of the hospital doors, when someone they love, and can’t be with, is on the other side? They can’t even do what the guard did, and offer the sponge on a stick.

What was it like for Jesus’ loved ones, to watch his slow, agonizing death?

How was it for God, to watch Jesus die? Did God feel helpless?

For centuries, people have tried to save God’s reputation by saying that everything happens for a reason, according to a divine plan. They say that about the crucifixion, but I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t think Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s idea. God’s ideas are all about love, not about causing pain.

Jesus was crucified because powerful people with evil intentions made it happen. Best as I can tell, God doesn’t stop people, weak or strong, from making their own choices. God always offers us better options, but does not prevent us from doing the wrong thing.

God’s response to what we do, or don’t do, for good or for bad, is always love. I suspect God gets frustrated with us, even so, because we do so many regrettable things.

Could God have stopped the crucifixion? I don’t think that’s the right question. I think the question is actually, when will humans stop hurting each other? We have the power of choice, and we make really terrible choices, to act, or do nothing, and there are consequences.

So what was God doing, while Jesus’ friends watched him die, and prayed for him, wishing for things to be different, and crying their eyes out?

I think God was crying too. I think that God hates seeing us hurt each other, and sorrows when we act so poorly, and wishes we would do better.

We might ask, “What is God doing right now, while our world is in such a mess?” Well, what we are going through is terrible, but honestly, for a lot of people who don’t live with our level of privilege and comfort, the world must always seem likes it’s a mess.

God has always been with all the people who have been hungry and homeless and sick, those living in war zones and disaster areas and in abject poverty long before this new crisis came along, to touch our lives. There is a lot from which most of us have been insulated. There is a lot more we should have, could have been doing, all along, to alleviate suffering, to improve living conditions, and allow more people access to proper nutrition, shelter, sanitation, education, equal rights, fair pay, and many other things we have taken for granted.

I looked it up yesterday. The numbers are changing, but worldwide, around 108,000 people have died of the Coronavirus. That is horrible. But another number is much worse. Each day, 21,000 people die of starvation. We don’t have a cure for COVID-19, but we have always had a cure for hunger. The harsh reality is that every day, under circumstances we have accepted as normal, far more people die because of things we can do something about, like poverty, war, domestic violence, hate crimes, and neglect. God cries for all of them

God has always been there, quietly pointing us in the right direction, giving us the tools and abilities we can use to make things better, kinder and more fair and just for everyone.

I think God is as frustrated as you and I are about how these things go, and how it takes humans so long to get our collective act together. So many of the efforts to clean up the messes in the world are slowed down by politics, and greed, and pride, and ego. We can be grateful in our county, province, nation, to have leaders who are doing the best they can, with this current crisis. It is remarkable to see partisan politics taking a back seat.

I think these days God is cheering on the folks who are working so bravely, and diligently to help others right now, and applying their God-given intellect and ingenuity to find the ways to bring us out from underneath the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is also incredibly inspiring to see how ordinary people like you and I are reaching out to help others as we can. When I have trouble settling down to sleep at night I think about the over 500 pounds of food we gathered a week ago, in our Food Drive for the Downtown Mission, and I remember that God really is at work in the world, in big ways and small ways. Maybe like the Roman guard daring to hold the sponge up so that Jesus could wet his parched throat. We should so what we can- even if our part is to stay in isolation.

God is love, and God has always loved us, and always will. God will never abandon us. God has big hopes for us, that we will use the gifts we have been given, to do better.

Today we reflect on Jesus being crucified, knowing that it is not anywhere near the end of the story. There is sorrow now, and death, and grief and tears, but Easter is coming, and new life is on the way.

Thanks be to God. Amen

This worship resource concludes with the full recording of “Were You There”.

An illustration I’m leaving out of my Good Friday sermon

toilet-plungerI had a moment this week when I needed to unclog a toilet, and couldn’t a find a plunger. We haven’t needed one since we moved to our new home. I don’t remember unpacking it.

Rather than being thankful we haven’t needed one for that long, or that this was the biggest problem in our house that night- I became very frustrated, because I couldn’t find a plunger.

I pondered how onerous a task it would be to order one online, and pick it up at the hardware. I found myself resenting how so much has changed in such a short time.

I get it that we have to keep each other safe, but right then, it felt like too much. Why couldn’t I just go buy a plunger?

All my stored up worry and anxiety, and concern for people I love, and for my kid’s futures, and the well-being of our communities, and my long term job prospects, and the amount in our bank account, and where I am going to get more toilet paper anyway, if I can even get the toilet unclogged, all came roiling up, overflowing. I was very crabby to my wife.

I was just frustrated, exasperated, scared.

When I paused, caught my breath, and settled down, I was able to unclog the toilet. (I used the long cleaning brush to get that back and forth suction action going.) It felt lovely to watch that water swirl away.

If only we could flush away the actual problems in the world so easily. I hate feeling powerless. I hate feeling unable to protect the people I love from terrible things. I hate when things change and nobody’s checked with me.

The Palm Parade

20200405_120454The first photo challenge of Rev. Lexie’s Holy Week Scavenger Hunt is to re-create the scene of the Palm Parade- when Jesus was greeted by the crowds, as he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, for the Passover Festival.

Here is a link to a video that Rev. Lexie and Rev. Darrow made after they set up the scene, using toys their kids used to play with. (Thank you to Naomi and Joel for the loan of these treasured collector’s items!)

Palm parade video

Rev. Lexie read the story from Matthew 21:1-11, as found in the International Children’s Bible. You can read it here:

Matthew 21:1-11

We hope that your family will take up the Holy Week Scavenger Hunt Challenge. You can read about it here:

The Holy Week Scavenger Hunt

Palm Sunday Worship Video

The link on this page will take you to a YouTube video that is our worship resource for Palm Sunday. It includes a wonderful anthem from the senior choir, a reading by Gillian Lamoure, and a clip of the children’s time, all taken from last year’s Palm Sunday worship service.

On Friday afternoon, after our very successful food drive for Windsor’s Downtown Mission, I recorded a “tiny pulpit” learning time.

The video ends with a clip of “Mercy Now” as recorded by Steve Bell, who has granted permission for its use.

Link to Worship Video

20200404_185142Roberta McLean, a much-loved member of the Harrow United congregation is quite ill in hospital in Leamington. I ask for prayers for Roberta, and for her family.

 

 

 

If there are people or situations for which you would like prayer, or you wish to speak with your pastor, please let me know.

A Holy Week Scavenger Hunt for Your Family

This post is the work of the Rev. Lexie Chamberlain, and is based on an event she created for the Sunday School and congregation she served for many years in Oakville.

When our children were younger, they loved scavenger hunts.  Some were designed with clues they had to solve, which gave them directions to the next clue, and the clues would ultimately lead to a reward at the end.  Others required them to hunt for, and gather special items.

One storm day, when school was cancelled because of a layer of ice, I created a scavenger hunt for which I gave the children my phone and they were tasked with taking photos of items of interest in the neighbourhood.  (e.g.  swing set, dog, nearest stop sign).

I thought it might be interesting to offer a scavenger hunt based on the events of Holy Week.  You might work with one story each day from Palm Sunday until Easter, or you could do all the stories in one day, perhaps as your Good Friday devotion time.  Either way, it would be great if on Easter Saturday you posted the pictures you create on Facebook.

Palm Sunday palms-story

There is a version of the Palm Sunday in each of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) but they are not all the same.  If you asked four people to write a story about an event, each person would have their own style and approach.

One interesting example is that in Luke’s gospel, there is no mention of Palms. Instead, people took off their cloaks and lay them on the path ahead of Jesus.  You might want to read the story in all four gospels. You can find them here:

Matthew 21:1-11

Mark 11:1-11

Luke 19:28-44

John 12:12-19

If you are doing this with children, don’t read all four gospels to them!  (that would be a little much and since this is the first lesson you want to keep their interest!)  I suggest you stick with Matthew’s story.  If your children enjoy reading and you have a children’s Bible at home, you could perhaps read the story of Palm Sunday there.  If you do not have a children’s Bible, then here is a link to The International Children’s Bible which is found on BibleGateway.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+21%3A1-11&version=ICB

digital slr camera in hand clipartToday’s “Scavenger Hunt” Challenges:

Young Children:  Set up a parade picture with Lego, Little People, or some other toys. See if you have a donkey, if not improvise!  You could also colour or cut out palm branches to be place in the picture.

Older children and adults:  pose or create a picture representing humbleness, kindness.

jerusalem templeMonday:  Jesus in the Temple

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke (which if you want to impress people, you could call them the Synoptic Gospels) the Palm Sunday story is followed by the account of Jesus going to the temple and “shaking things up”.  This story offers a glimpse as to why some people found Jesus challenging.  We often think of Jesus as being calm and gentle but this story shows that Jesus had a whole range of emotions, and sometimes he may have gotten frustrated.    

In this story, you will hear the word temple.  The temple was where the Jewish people went to worship but it was also a center of all kinds of activities.  During Jesus earthly life, people thought they needed to offer animal sacrifices to God because their prayers would go up to God with the smoke from the sacrifice.  It may sound silly to us now, but that was part of their tradition from a long time ago.  People would travel long distances to get to the temple, and when they arrived they would have to buy animals to make their sacrificial prayers.  It was acceptable to buy and sell animals in the temple.  Jesus objected to people taking advantage of others.  You had to have Jewish shekels to purchase animals at the temple, and the money-changers charge high rates of exchange for the Roman coins most people carried. They were money gouging!  If you are reading this story to children, I would suggest reading it from Matthew’s gospel.  You can find the story here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+21%3A12-15&version=ICB

digital slr camera in hand clipartToday’s “Scavenger Hunt” Challenge:

Take a photo of someplace you collect coins in your house. i.e. drawer, piggy bank; jar.

SedertableTuesday:  Preparing the Passover Meal

Jesus was a Jewish person who grew up with the traditions and customs of his culture.  Each year, Jewish people would celebrate the Passover.  Families and friends would come together for a special meal and remember the story of how God had helped their ancestors a long time ago.  The story of Jesus celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples is found in all four gospels.  You can find the story in these places

Matthew 26:17-30

Mark 14:12-25

Luke 22:7-20

John 13:1-30

Today we are only going to focus on a part of the story.  Today, our focus scripture will be Luke 22:7-13.  Here is a link to that story:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+22%3A7-13&version=ICB

digital slr camera in hand clipartToday’s “Scavenger Hunt” Challenge:

Take a photo of a dinner table set for either a meal or for tea.

Wednesday:  The Last Supperpicture-of-the-last-supper

We are going to continue the story of the Passover meal, which is the basis of our Christian tradition of communion.  As Jesus was eating with his disciples he took bread and wine and shared it with them.  In most of the gospels the story says that Jesus spoke of how the bread represents his body and the wine represents his blood.  When we share in communion we use bread and wine as symbols to remember God’s love for us.  God’s love nourishes our souls; God’s love helps to quench the deep thirst for love and meaning within our lives.

Today, we will read about the last supper here:  Luke 22:14-20.

digital slr camera in hand clipartToday’s “Scavenger Hunt” Challenge:

Take a photo of  bread and juice/wine.

maundy thursday clip artThursday:  Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is a special day set aside to remember the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet.  This story only happens in the gospel of John.  The way John tells the story, Jesus was having his least meal with his disciples when he decided to wash their feet.  Read the story as found at this link: John 13:4-17.

 

A little later in John’s gospel, Jesus gave his friends instructions of what they are supposed to do.  Some people might say that this is the Christian Mandate. Mandate means command, or rule to follow.  The word Maundy, for Maundy Thursday, comes from the same Latin word.  The Mandate Jesus gave his disciples is this:

“I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.  All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.”  (John 13:  34-35)

digital slr camera in hand clipartToday’s “Scavenger Hunt” Challenges:

Younger children:  Take a photo of washing your feet or washing someone else’s feet

Older children/adults:  Take a photo to represent “Love one another”.

Good FridayGood Friday

This is a difficult day because the story of Good Friday is a sad story.  It is the story of Jesus dying.  Many people have asked why this day is called “Good” when it is actually a challenging day.  Some people will answer that question by saying that “the good” represents God.  Some people might even think that it was God’s plan for Jesus death to happen, but I don’t read the story that way.  The good that I can see in the story for today is that Jesus was willing to be a good follower of God’s way, even when the world was being mean.  I don’t think it was God’s plan for people to be mean to Jesus.  I don’t think God wanted people to hurt Jesus so badly that he died.  I think that God is love and that God wants us to show love to others.  Jesus didn’t lash out and hurt others when they were being mean to him.  Jesus didn’t say mean things when others were being rude.  Jesus continued to be faithful to God.  He continued to show love.  Jesus faced challenges with dignity.

This is a hard story to read and it is a long story.  The story of Jesus death is found in all four gospels.    All of the stories are long and I think they would be very disturbing for young children.  Before you read the story to a child make sure you read it yourself and decide if it is something you want to read with your child.  If you are comfortable, I would suggest reading from Mark’s gospel.  It is a shorter version. You can find it here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark+15%3A6-47&version=ICB

If you find the story too difficult to read to your child then I might suggest you talk to your child about this story.  I have also written a “child-friendly” version:

Jesus was a teacher who taught people about God’s ways of love and justice.  He taught that all people were loved by God.  Rich people, poor people, sick people, healthy people,  old people, young people,  everyone is a wonderful child of God and loved by God.  Jesus also taught that we are to help one another.  Jesus was always going around helping people and he taught his followers that we were to do the same.  This sometimes challenged the leaders of his time because they liked to keep their own power and their own wealth.  Jesus teachings were so radical, that some people thought it would be better if they silenced him.

Jesus knew he was challenging some people but he would not stop talking about God’s love.  After he had had the special supper with his friends, Jesus went to a garden to pray.  While he was praying, some soldiers came and arrested Jesus.  They took him to the place where the Roman governor Pilate lived.  People saw Jesus being taken to Pilates place, and they started to yell at Jesus.  Some people were so mean, they called out “kill him”.

Pilate spoke to Jesus and Pilate couldn’t understand why the people were so upset.  He went out to the crowds of people who had gathered and said, “I don’t see anything wrong with this person.  He has done no wrong.”  The crowds would not listen.  They wanted Jesus silenced.  They were loud, and mean and Pilate listened to them instead of going with his own judgement.  Pilate decided to please the crowds so he told some soldier to take Jesus out to a hill and to crucify him.

The soldiers took Jesus and hurt his body.  They placed a crown of thorns on his head, they hurt his hands, his feet and they put him on a cross.  Jesus was so badly hurt that he died.

After he had died, some of Jesus friends took his body off the cross and they  put it in a cave.   Sometimes we say the cave was a tomb.  They put a great big rock in front of the entrance to the cave.  Jesus friends were very sad, and they were very scared.  It was a very awful day.

digital slr camera in hand clipartToday’s “Scavenger Hunt” Challenges:

Take photos of brokenness and sadness.  If this is too difficult for younger children you might ask them to draw a picture of what makes them sad.

 

facebook logoThank you for doing this Holy Week Scavenger Hunt with your family. Please take time to post your photos on Facebook, or send them to me at:  revlexie4@gmail.com

 

Are you running in circles yet?

seabrook drive imageI once had to miss a half marathon for which I’d trained hard, so I ran it as 20 laps of the street we used to live on, which was actually part of a rectangle pieced together around a little park.

Advantages of a run in my neighbourhood included not worrying about traffic, and not having to wear my hydration belt- I left water bottles on a lawn chair on our front yard.

 

The disadvantages included wondering if my neighbours thought I was losing it, and getting very bored, running the same very short route, over and over.

james campbell in his back garden 2This morning I read about James Campbell, an athlete in Cheltenham, England, who celebrated his 32nd birthday, and also raised over 18,000 pounds for the National Health Service efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, by running a full marathon in his back garden.

Campbell worked out he’d need to do 7000 laps, because his yard is just 6 metres, or about 20 feet deep. (A full marathon is 42.1 kilometres.) He did it, over the course of five hours, while thousands watched, and cheered him on, via livestream.

james campbell in his back gardenIf I’d read this yesterday I would have assumed it was an April Fools joke, but it’s been reported by a number of credible sites, including the BBC.

I woke this morning with an urge to go outside, and work off some of the nervous energy that’s been gathering within me. I also want to hear birdsong, and breathe fresh air. My wife and I get out for evening walks, and I have also made good use of the treadmill in our basement, but I think I will be getting out later, on my bike. I probably won’t go 42 km. I am grateful that I can out, and move, and sweat.

I spoke this morning with someone from my church, who lives in a senior’s residence. She told me that residents are now confined to their rooms, and will have their meals brought to them. She hopes she will be allowed to use the hallway outside her door for her exercises.

I chatted with another person, who is an active farmer. He said while some folks he knows are doing jig-saws, he’s been working on the big puzzle of how to get all his spring work done.

What are you doing, with your nervous energy? How are you coping with your current circumstances? I’d love to hear.

I’d also like to know if there are things happening in your life, and in the lives of those you love, for which you’d like prayer. I will keep your requests confidential.

 

Signs of Hope and New Life

sidewalk chalk

My wife and I were out for a walk one evening this week, and I began to take pictures with my phone, of the signs of hope and new life I saw. The image above is one of my favourites. The concrete driveway in front of this house was covered with messages and pictures. We talked (at a safe distance) to one of the homeowners, who said his daughter was having great fun putting happy things on their driveway. I asked him to tell her that she had made my evening.

I think the little girl has it right. It is important to put to positive images and words out there. Not to block out the bad news, but to keep it context.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countless signs of hope and new life. I believe that, and I see it everyday.

I want your help in spreading the Good News. Please send me your photos, of things you encounter in your life, that are signs of hope and new life. I’d like to put them into a slide show that could be part of our Worship for Easter morning.

Please send your photos to me at:

darrow@revdarrow.com