Words for Good Friday

Beautiful words for this Good Friday from my friend Beth Barnett

a man who doubts
a man who cries
a man who shouts
in desperation to the skies
a man
who dies
this is our God

a world at war
a world that groans
a world in pain
a world alone
a world
without a home
this is God’s world

see him naked
sore abused
despised rejected
justice refused
look at him now
is this God’s face?
this is our God
this is God’s grace

my heart so black
my heart that’s worn
my heart so bleak
my heart forlorn
and yet
a soul reborn
this is God’s grace

Image: ‘The crucified Jesus’ by Jan van Eyck (c1390-1441)


Words for Maundy Thursday

At the end of our Maundy Thursday service tonight, after the sacraments of foot washing and communion, we will conclude with this reflection on the story of Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14.32-52).

The Boy Mark

That night, lamp bright, in the upper room
I served him with meat and wine,
When he told the Twelve of his coming doom
Their grief was mine.

Unsleeping, weeping, I lay and listened
As they talked and the hours moved on;
Till the moon rose and the white roofs glistened
And the last man had gone.

Then catching, snatching a sheet about me,
Which doorways, walls concealed,
I tracked their swift shadows until they brought me
Here to the oil-press field.

Hidden, unbidden, among silvered trees
I tensed as he strode my way:
But a bough’s length distant he dropped on his knees
And parted his lips to pray.

These words I heard on the moonlit hill:
‘Father, hear thy son!
Remove this cup, and yet thy will
Not mine be done!’

Now, on his brow, great pearls of sweat
Glisten like drops of dew.
Silently, under Olivet,
My tears are falling too.

Three times he climbs from his lonely prayers
To Peter, James and John,
Sighs, and returns, and leaves as theirs
The ground they sleep upon.

Then a sound rebounds on the cool night air –
A cry from the Kedron bridge,
Torches, like hearthless fires, flare,
Winding towards the ridge.

I see, through my tree, where the leaves hang dumb
And moveless as the dead,
The dark, torch-blooded soldiers come,
With Judas at their head.

Proud, uncowed, he keeps his tryst
In the flarelight and the moon.
I know, too late, that he is the Christ
Too late, or else too soon.

No friend, at the end, to give him hope!
Then clutching my tangled sheet,
I fling myself wildly down the slope
And land at his friendless feet. . .

Yes, he smiled at the child, at the boy’s whim,
A smile in which love prevailed,
But I saw the men who surrounded him,
And my courage failed

At the jeering, sneering, flickering sight,
And here where this cypress is,
I left my robe in their hands that night,
And my soul in his.

Author unknown

Image: ‘The arrest of Christ’ by Bosch  (c1530)


Robert Farrar Capon on the onion … and paying attention

“Between the onion and the parsley, I shall give the summation of my case for paying attention. Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely. If an hour can be spent on one onion, think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St Basil’s Cathedral. Or how much more curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the insides of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses and the juice of pine trees to realise he could turn them into the first fiddle. No doubt his wife urged him to get up and do something useful. I am sure that he was a stalwart enough lover of things to pay no attention at all to her nagging; but how wonderful it would have been if he had known what we know now about his dawdling. He could have silenced her with the greatest riposte of all time: ‘Don’t bother me. I am creating the possibility of the Bach unaccompanied sonatas.’”

41OOmnnYfqL._SL160_Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Entertainment, New York: Doubleday, 1969, 19.

Some images and words for today

An early morning fog over the city today.  It felt appropriate to this Wednesday of Holy Week.

Words from the poet Mary Oliver:

Lord God, mercy is in your hands.
Pour me a little,
and tenderness too.
My need is great.
Beauty walks so freely
and with such gentleness.
Impatience puts a halter on my face
and I run over the green fields
wanting your voice,
your tenderness,
but having to do only with the sweet grasses
of the fields against my body.
When I first found you
I was filled with light.
Now the darkness grows,
and it is filled with crooked things,
bitter and weak, each one bearing my name.

And a prayer for today:

God of light,
shine your light today
into the darkest corners of my heart.
God of grace,
clear away the bitter and shadowy things.
God of love,
fill me with the presence of your spirit.
God of hope,
lead me into this day
as your servant in the world.

Palm Sunday March for Refugees

Today members of my congregation at Collins Streeet joined with thousands of Melburnians to express solidarity with asylum seekers languishing in off-shore detention centres and to call our government to a more humane and welcoming approach to refugees. Similar marches took place today all across the country.  One can only hope that those in power are listening.

Personally, I can’t think of a better way to embody the spirit of Palm Sunday and to begin the journey of Holy Week.

54. Jesus Entry to Jerusalem.

A Prayer for Palm Sunday

Lord Jesus, we greet your coming,
pilgrim messiah, servant king, rejected saviour.

Lord Jesus,
help us to follow you.

You trod the way of a pilgrim
and ascended the hill of the Lord;
you followed the path of your calling
even though Mount Zion gave way to the hill of Calvary.

Lord Jesus,
help us to follow you.

You rode into Jerusalem on a donkey,
symbol of humility and lowliness,
mocking our dream of pomp and glory,
demonstrating the foolishness of God before the eyes of the world.
You have shown us the way of humble service,
the way of true greatness.

Lord Jesus,
help us to follow you.

The cries of ‘Hosanna’ soon turned to ‘Crucify’.
The acclamation of the crowds gave way to fear and contempt.
You have shown us the cost of love
and you have called us to follow in your way:
pilgrims of the kingdom,
living out the foolishness of God,
and trusting only in your forgiving faithfulness.

Lord Jesus,
help us to follow you:
grant us humility;
grant us courage;
and grant us your grace sufficient for the journey.

Adapted from Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for a Community of Disciples, Baptist Union of Great Britain, 2005.

Palm Sunday in art

This Sunday is the sixth Sunday of Lent, and the last before Holy Week begins. It’s traditionally called Palm Sunday and recalls Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – the place of his crucifixion – on the back of a donkey.

It’s an evocative story, especially for those of us who work out our faith in the centre of the city. Street parades abound here, celebrating all sorts of things. Parades signal the beginning of Moomba and herald the ‘heroes’ of the Melbourne Cup, the AFL Grand Final and the Grand Prix. But this one … this one set long ago is so full of awkward contradiction given the violent and tragic events that follow.

I confess that as a preacher, it’s a story I struggle with. I’ve always thought it wiser to leave it to the poets and artists.

Here are some artworks that tell the story differently.



Sorting Wash

Out of the hamper onto the floor,
the wash lies in a heap and I must sort
the dark clothes from the light,
the delicate from the ordinary
before they are washed.

Categories –
I think about how much we use them.
This is not that.
This belongs. That does not.
We cannot do without sorting,
without categories,
without definitions.
Even in this activity I know that without sorting,
the colours could bleed in the wash.
They have to be separated according to kind.

In how many countless situations
have I named, separated and judged
instead of celebrated.
In how many ways have I observed,
evaluated, sorted, and pulled away.
My preferences rule me.

Amidst this pile of wash I want to learn again
to participate and to be open to difference:
to celebrate the dark, to honour the light,
to bow to the delicate as well as the sturdy,
to appreciate texture and weight.
To be more equally
with the various and the strange.

Soon the clothes will be drenched
in water and soap.
It will be a different time,
and sorting will no longer matter
in the midst of the wash cycle.
I need to learn this in life:
when to recognise, to name, and to sort –
and when to immerse, to soak, to tumble,
and be rinsed free of opinions.
Grant that I may as much as possible
honour You in all things.

Gunilla Norris, Being Home: A Book of Meditations, New York: Bell Tower, 1991, 30-31.

Keneally on Mothers

Coffee 3286 - Version 2‘There was a debate when I was young about whether sex or survival was the major driver of human motivation. But for me there is no doubt that, unless there has been total alienation between parent and child and not even then, pleasing one’s parents is an intense motivation. Some are also driven to please God or gods, but that’s no different: parents are gods. A mother is the goddess, even if her name is Elsie …’

‘Elsie or Denise or Judy, the mother is the person who, above all, gives unity to our childhoods. And since in her presence we never cease to be her child, she never ceases to be a given of the universe we inhabit. They’ll never make a bullet to get her, any more than they could make a bullet to get Aphrodite or Minerva.’

Thomas Keneally, ‘Independence Days’ in My Mother, My Father: On Losing a Parent, edited by Susan Wyndham, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2013, 27-41.


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