You can join this week’s worship service by clicking here. Thank you to Kyle Johnsen for sharing the gift of music with us. There’s also a short video for children which you can watch by clicking here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection based on the scripture for this week, as well as Steve’s pastoral prayers. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll happily add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Scripture: Matthew 21, 26 & 27 (select verses)
Music: Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (VU 123); My Jesus I Love Thee, People Get Ready
Musician: Kyle Johnsen
One day last week, I walked into our living room and just stood there. According to Jenny, I had that faraway look that suggests deep thought, but in this case that look indicated exactly the opposite. I was in a realm of no-thought; the only description I can offer is that I had come to the end of knowing what to do, what to say, what to think and feel. The end of all my resources. The bottom just fell out of my container, my reserve of know-how, energy, initiative.
Now, I should say, we are incredibly fortunate as a family. We’re healthy. We’re together. We have a secure source of food and water. We have comfortable shelter and the means to connect with all the people we love, even though we can’t be with them. We are better off than 95% of the world right now. So, from a global perspective, there was nothing particularly wrong that day. Except that the world was, and is, upside down.
The way we’ve always done our work – can’t do it. The routine of school for the kids – gone. The first and overriding instinct to gather in times of crisis – the one thing we can’t do. In fact, the only way to stand together right now is to stay apart. It is the opposite of every natural and learned instinct we have. The world is upside down.
Now, I’ve also been trying to “ac-centuate the positive”: we’re finding creative ways to connect; talented people are doing very fine things online like organizing Zoom singing groups; people are posing in tableaux of famous masterpieces in their homes. So many people are making the best of this need for physical distancing. So many people are talking about renewed awareness, too, for the simple joys of fresh air and sunshine, connecting more frequently (albeit virtually) with people we love, enjoying life more with less.
All of this is also true. And then the bottom falls out. Isolation, or at the very least distance; fear, or at least uncertainty; and a dawning realization that the world will never be the same. Not in two weeks, not in six months, not five years from now. Things will be different in some good ways, perhaps. Optimists are talking about the healing of the planet in this time of reduced travel and consumption; perhaps our future patterns of work and life will better suit the environment. But in this moment, that feels a long way off, and very vague. And before we get there, we also anticipate facing our mortality, and the limits of our ingenuity.
For the past month, our Gospel stories have shown Jesus with his face turned toward Jerusalem. Literally, he is making his way to his judgment by the powers of empire, to the Cross, and to the Empty Tomb. Figuratively, his attention is focused on revealing what he calls the kingdom; something he has been trying to get his friends, his followers and we, the faithful, to see, consider and perhaps even discover in their living and in their midst.
It’s been difficult for his friends and followers to see what he means, because often the way Jesus reveals the kingdom is by subverting our expectations. At a wedding banquet, when familiarity breeds contempt, his answer is to provide new wine. When a member of the community is ostracized, and compassion has long since left the neighbourhood, Jesus offers friendship in broken bread. In a crowd of hungry thousands panicked by scarcity, Jesus brings abundance into focus.
And all of these, says Jesus – the wine, the bread, the friends, the sheer abundance of life – all of these were already here, already with us and within us. Already here but, for various reasons, not yet fully realized.
On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem to a conquering hero’s welcome, though the donkey (instead of a horse suggests) both humility and a desire for peace. Later this week, with absolutely no evidence to demonstrate its reality, we’ll hear Jesus again refer to “his kingdom”; not with friends and followers, but during his sham trial, at the hands of a Roman consul and crowd who couldn’t care any less. From a cross, he will assure a thief that he will be with him, that day, in Paradise.
And yet, in the mouth of the one who gives his life for others, his words and actions are not tragic, or deserving of our pity. Rather, they are simple and penetrating: “the world I see is justice, peace, love. It is of God, and it is also immediately at hand.” Already here, and not yet fulfilled; the possibility of something greater, revealed in the simple truth we have already experienced: that our life is only fulfilled insofar as our neighbour’s is, as well.
In this time of the world turned upside down, Jesus points us toward a world turned right-side up; moments of what our life together could be, should be, and in many ways must be, and must become. The world is beginning to heal itself in the absence of so much of our activity. We are being reminded of how our lives are fulfilled not by more but by less. We are learning, again and probably not for the last time, that we don’t have to be ruled by the routines and expectations we have inherited, or fallen backwards into.
And we are being asked – again, and probably not for the last time – in what kind of world do we want to live? Amen.
The Kingdom R.S. Thomas
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
God of love, as we enter Holy Week, we remember how confusing and tumultuous it must have been for Jesus. From his triumphal entry into Jerusalem cheered on by the crowds, to his betrayal on Holy Thursday and then Good Friday when he was tortured, crucified and died.
This current time is filled with turmoil, confusion and fear. We have gone from the triumph of soaring financial markets to people wondering how they will survive financially. Many are afraid for their own health and that of their family and friends. We are confused by what we can and cannot do and we worry if we are being careful enough.
So, we turn to you Holy God, just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane:
We pray for our friends and families and for the whole of the world. Where there is anxiety – we ask for a sense of calm.
Where there is fear – we pray for your love and strength.
For those who feel alone, may they sense your presence and know that you are with them and that we are never alone.
For those who are unwell that they may receive the care they need.
This week especially, we remember the darkness that Jesus faced and we ask that you bless us with a sense of hope that he embodies for us.
We give thanks for all of those who are working on our behalf;
the doctors, nurses, researchers and all who work in medical and care facilities;
the store clerks, truck drivers and warehouse staff who put themselves at risk in order to provide us with those things we truly need,
and for those in government seeking to help people through this time.
Be with all of us O God, help us to act with compassion and true concern for the well-being of all people and creation. Give us the wisdom to realize that we are all in this together and help transform us to change ourselves, our community and our world to be a reflection of your desire for peace and wholeness and a more equitable sharing of the wealth of this world.
God of love lift us from this present darkness into the light and peace of your presence. We pray these things in the words that Jesus taught us, Our Father…