15 Days with Francis of Assisi

I’ve just finished this helpful devotional book, and I’d like to share it with you.

One of a series, 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Francis of Assisi aims to lead you (over fifteen prayer periods) to a place where prayer is possible. But, if you already have a regular experience and practice of prayer, to lead you to a deeper place, a more intimate relationship with the Lord.

The following prayer and reflective questions (which end each chapter of exposition) will give you a taste of the book:

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour, and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no one is worthy to praise your name.

Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to your creatures.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

How do ecological issues such as global warming, famine, air quality and nuclear detonations affect the quality of your spiritual life and the survival of our planet? Is it easier to find God in the beauty and harmony of creation than it is in the suffering and struggles of our dark nights? In the sufferings of the poor, the dying, the hungry? As you ponder the beauty of creation, what does this mean for your spiritual life? “Beauty will save the world” (Dostoevsky), what does this mean for you? Of all the elements (earth, air, fire, water) which is the one to which you most relate? Is death a sister or a friend for you?

The Road to Holy Island

Following on from my popular post about Celtic Morning Prayer yesterday, a recollection of a family holiday in August 2019 in a caravan at Haggerston Castle Holiday Park. We had a great time, and you can see from the photo that it was a typical British summer!

Note: You can expand and magnify the photo by clicking on it (opens in a new tab).

The holiday park is very near the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, commonly known as either Holy Island or simply Lindisfarne. It’s a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, close to the border with Scotland, and was an important centre of Celtic Christianity.

[The island] measures 3.0 miles from east to west and 1.5 miles from north to south, and comprises approximately 1,000 acres at high tide. The nearest point to the mainland is about 0.8 miles. It is accessible at low tide by a modern causeway and an ancient pilgrims’ path that run over sand and mudflats and which are covered with water at high tide. Lindisfarne is surrounded by the 8,750-acre Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, which protects the island’s sand dunes and the adjacent intertidal habitats. Source

When I took the photo it wasn’t possible to drive to the island, but we drove over another time on a lovely sunny evening.

Warning signs urge visitors walking to the island to keep to the marked path, to check tide times and weather carefully, and to seek local advice if in doubt. For drivers, tide tables are prominently displayed at both ends of the causeway and also where the Holy Island road leaves the A1 Great North Road at Beal. The causeway is generally open from about three hours after high tide until two hours before the next high tide, but the period of closure may be extended during stormy weather. Source

The road to the island is evocative of the both our physical and spiritual journey through life, so this traditional Gaelic blessing is an appropriate way to conclude:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Celtic Morning Prayer

I’ve posted before about the Northumbria Community, a dispersed, worldwide, network Christian Community, committed to a new way for living. Source

Over the years, I’ve found their Daily Prayer books and website helpful, especially in troubled times when they provide much needed grounding and routine.

The Daily Office – Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer – is at the core of the life of the Northumbria Community. A regular cycle of daily prayers constitutes the essential rhythm of life around which other activities can take their proper place. Source

In this simple Sunday devotional I would like to point you to their Morning Prayer, which can be used by individuals or groups.

Why not take some time to thoughtfully pray this today and in the coming days?

Peace be with you

This Sunday’s devotional comes from a Lectionary reading for the Third Sunday of Easter (2021), namely Luke 24:36-48 in my preferred translation (NIVUK):

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

This is one of the post-resurrection appearances of the Risen Jesus recorded in the New Testament. But, before you read on, you might like to read the preceding verses and last Sunday’s devotional Walk humbly with God.

The news of Jesus’ resurrection was becoming known; the disciples were gossiping the good news and enjoying wonderful moments of fellowship and food.

As Christians, the moments we share with each other in worship, fellowship and feasting are so important. The Last Supper in the upper room was a highly significant occasion, as well as being a tremendously poignant one. As we meet together, we’re sharing something divine. The Risen Christ comes and blesses us with his presence.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’

Jesus spoke about peace on many occasions. In the Beatitudes he challenged his hearers to be peacemakers, not just peace lovers.

On Palm Sunday he wept over Jerusalem he longed that they might have peace, but it was hidden from their eyes. They didn’t want to see it.

In a passage from John’s Gospel, where Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, he says to the disciples: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Later he says: ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33

What incredible moments these must have been as they gathered in the presence of the Risen Lord. Such moments of collective insight and clarity, everything falling into place, especially as Jesus opened up the Hebrew scriptures to them.

The lights came on in their hearts and lives, and he outlined the message they were to declare to the world.

Thinking about the peace Jesus brings, I conclude with these later words of Paul: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Philippians 4:6-8

See also The Letter of Joy (Chapter 4) and Peace (Henry Vaughan)

Funeral of Prince Philip

I write this immediately following the funeral of Prince Philip on Saturday 17 April 2021, one defined by coronavirus restrictions with only 30 mourners.

The image of the Queen on her own is a very profound and significant one. Whilst no one should be allowed to grieve alone, a solitary Queen served as a powerful identification with so many of her people during the ongoing pandemic.

Prior to the service I posted on Facebook: Whatever your views about the monarchy (and that’s a debate for another day) we currently have a Royal Family, and we pay them respect. Not because they are better than us, but because the Queen is our head of state. Although not perfect, she and Prince Philip have served us well over the years in a variety of ways.

Let me share some words of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on BBC Radio 4: To set aside your own rights and interests in order to serve others is always difficult, but as we reflect on the life of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, we are reminded of how much it is possible to achieve when we dedicate our lives to larger causes than ourselves. Prince Philip shows how someone dedicated to bringing people together and encouraging the journeys of others achieved so much more than we can ever hope to on our own.

You can read the whole text here.

Walk humbly with God

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Bible Reading: Micah 6:6-8

This Old Testament passage from the Prophet Micah is one of the most well-known texts of the twelve Minor Prophets. Although much less is known about the Micah than the Major Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah (for example), he can be dated to approximately 721 BCE, the time period of the deportation of the northern part of the land of Israel during the oppression of the nation of Assyria.

Micah was a prophet in the southern part of the country, Judah, but he would have been well aware of the devastation and oppression caused by Assyria in the northern part of his country. Micah speaks out from God’s perspective against idolatry, injustice, rebellion and empty worship, but he also proclaims God’s delight in pardoning the penitent.

The wonderful thing about the prophets is that, although they spoke to a specific historical situation, their words are timeless. So it is with Micah.

Micah addressed the people of God with the message that their hearts and their worship must be right, because only then can we truly connect with God and be his people in the world. Only when our hearts and worship are right will we have the strength, creativity and passion to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.

After Easter we often consider the lovely story in Luke’s Gospel of the Walk to Emmaus. It’s a story of an actual walk, but it also describes a journey of faith. You can read it in Luke 24:13-35.

Walking was the main method of transportation then. It would be normal for many conversations to take place as people walked together. And so it was on that day that two of Jesus’ followers are journeying home to Emmaus. They are talking and grieving over the fact that the unthinkable has happened, that Jesus had been captured, tortured and crucified.

They tell the stranger who joins them on their journey that, equally unthinkable, some of the women of their group had reported an empty tomb, a fact that was confirmed by some of the men of their group (women’s testimony being unacceptable then).

Their physical walk turns into a spiritual journey through the Scriptures, as Jesus in his unrecognized reality, reminds them that they are too slow to believe all that the prophets have declared. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

It’s when the journey is complete, when the walking is done, that Jesus’ followers recognize him in his action of the breaking of the bread. He opened the Scriptures to them during the journey, and that opening enabled them to truly recognize him and believe.

As followers of Jesus, we journey together as all brothers and sisters in Christ, responding, as his diverse and united people, to the call to walk with the vulnerable, to proclaim his name, and move forward in vibrant faith.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28

This beautiful and familiar passage from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that are united in Christ, and move forward together.

Although it doesn’t overtly use the vocabulary of walking or journeying, it’s about God always making the divine way towards us. God approached the Galatians in an unmerited and unconditional way, and approaches us in a like manner.

We are all different, but our unity in Christ should draw us closer in our respect for each another, recognising and celebrating our differences.

We are all Easter people in a Good Friday world.

In a world of injustice, there is hope. It’s at the point where God’s love and justice meet, in the Cross of Jesus. That symbol of vulnerability is at the heart of our faith, the place where God’s love was demonstrated and his justice shown.

Let’s make sure we walk together as Christians, and with all those who are seeking peace, justice and righteousness in the world.

Easter Sunday 2021

One of the main things which sent the first disciples out into the world with the message of salvation was the conviction embodied in the first Christian creed: Jesus is Lord!

It’s found in Acts 2 in one of the first sermons ever preached…let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, who you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

For those first disciples, this Lordship of Jesus was at the heart of everything.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 2 Corinthians 4:5

Belief and theology can get very complicated. The Church of England has 39 Articles of Belief, the Salvation Army has 11 Doctrines. The early church had just three words: Jesus is Lord!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Of course, it was only after the Resurrection that Jesus was called LORD as the highest title for him. When the word was used in the gospels, its meaning was nearer to ‘Sir’ or ‘Master’, it was only later that Jesus was distinctively and characteristically called ‘The Lord’.

There are so many names for Jesus, ‘Saviour’ being especially associated with Good Friday, and ‘Lord’ with Easter Sunday. Saviour and Lord are both important. Just like Good Friday and Easter, they go together. Accepting Jesus as Saviour implies crowning him as Lord.

We accept Jesus as Saviour on Good Friday and crown him as Lord on Easter Sunday. The two go together. On this Easter Sunday, let’s humbly bow before him and crown him Lord of all.

See also: Resurrection (Rob Bell)

Holy Saturday 2021

Wait for it…it’s not Easter yet!

Today is Holy Saturday, not Easter Saturday. Easter starts with the resurrection of Jesus when darkness is turned to light. In stillness, earth awaits the resurrection.

For Holy Saturday this year, I simply share some of the German libretto with an English translation (as I did yesterday for Good Friday).

67 Recitative [Bass, Tenor, Alto, Soprano] and Chorus

Bass:
Nun ist der Herr zur Ruh gebracht.
Now is the Lord brought to peace.
Mein Jesu, gute Nacht!
My Jesus, goodnight!

Evangelist:
Die Müh ist aus, die unsre Sünden ihm gemacht.
The trouble is over, which our sins caused for him.
Mein Jesu, gute Nacht!
My Jesus, goodnight!

Alto:
O selige Gebeine,
O sacred bones,
Seht, wie ich euch mit Buß und Reu beweine,
See how I weep for you with penance and remorse,
Dass euch mein Fall in solche Not gebracht!
That my fall has brought you into such distress!
Mein Jesu, gute Nacht!
My Jesus, goodnight!

Soprano:
Habt lebenslang,
As long as life lasts,
Vor euer Leiden tausend Dank,
Have a thousand thanks for your sufferings,
Dass ihr mein Seelenheil so wert geacht’.
For having valued so highly the salvation of my soul
Mein Jesu, gute Nacht!
My Jesus, goodnight!

68 Chorus

Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder
We sit down with tears
Und rufen dir im Grabe zu:
And call to you in your tomb:
Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh!
Rest gently, gently rest!
Ruht, ihr ausgesognen Glieder!
Rest, you exhausted limbs!
Euer Grab und Leichenstein
Your grave and tombstone
Soll dem ängstlichen Gewissen
For our anguished conscience shall be
Ein bequemes Ruhekissen
A pillow that gives peace and comfort
Und der Seelen Ruhstatt sein.
And the place where our souls find rest.
Höchst vergnügt schlummern da die Augen ein.
With the greatest content there our eyes will close in sleep.

Good Friday 2021

I mentioned in my Maundy Thursday 2021 post that my music of choice on Good Friday is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It selects itself, and still has the power to shock and move the human spirit. 

For Good Friday this year, I simply share some of the German libretto with an English translation. See also here.

40 Chorale

Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen,
Although I have strayed from you,
Stell ich mich doch wieder ein;
Yet I turn back once again;
Hat uns doch dein Sohn verglichen
Your son has settled the account for us
Durch sein’ Angst und Todespein.
Through his anguish and death agony.
Ich verleugne nicht die Schuld;
I do not deny my guilt;
Aber deine Gnad und Huld
But your grace and favour
Ist viel größer als die Sünde,
is much greater than the sins
Die ich stets in mir befinde.
I find constantly in myself.

51 Recitative [Alto]

Erbarm es Gott!
Have mercy, God!
Hier steht der Heiland angebunden.
Here stands the saviour, bound,
O Geißelung, o Schläg, o Wunden!
O scourging,o blows, o wounds!
Ihr Henker, haltet ein!
You executioners, stop!
Erweichet euch
Are you not softened by
Der Seelen Schmerz,
The soul’s agony,
Der Anblick solches Jammers nicht?
The sight of such misery?
Ach ja! ihr habt ein Herz,
Ah yes! You have a heart
Das muss der Martersäule gleich
That must be like the post used for torture
Und noch viel härter sein.
And even far harder still.
Erbarmt euch, haltet ein!
Have mercy, stop!

65 Aria [Bass]

Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,
Make yourself pure, my heart
Ich will Jesum selbst begraben,
I want to bury Jesus himself within me,
Denn er soll nunmehr in mir
For he now within me
Für und für
Forever
Seine süße Ruhe haben.
Shall have his sweet rest.
Welt, geh aus, lass Jesum ein!
World, depart from my heart, let Jesus enter!

Maundy Thursday 2021

In the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane we begin to glimpse something of what he went through spiritually, mentally and emotionally before his physical suffering and death on the cross.

Bible Reading: Luke 22:39-46

But let’s go back to Palm Sunday as Jesus rode into Jerusalem in defiance of the people’s expectations, they misunderstood the nature of his coming and purpose. He came as the Prince of Peace, having previously set his face towards Jerusalem, resolved to go the way of the cross.

Jesus never took the easy way out of a situation; he wasn’t going to be turned from this final challenge. He knew the direction his life was taking, he wasn’t a weak-minded person overtaken by events, he was in full command of what was happening. This resolve was thoroughly tested in Gethsemane, but his mind had already been made up.

Holy Week is not just about the victory of Easter morning, but the victory Jesus secured when he set his face towards Jerusalem.

In Gethsemane we see both his humanity and divinity; his humanity telling him to escape the situation, his divinity telling him to obey. Luke tells us that Jesus, being in anguish, prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

We can’t attempt to fathom the depths of his suffering at this time, as the hymn says, ‘We do not know, we cannot tell, what pains he had to bear’.

My music of choice on Good Friday is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It selects itself, and still has the power to shock and move the human spirit. This moment is powerfully expressed:

He is ready to taste the bitterness of death,
to drink the cup into which the sins of this world,
hideously stinking, have been poured.

Here we have the paradox of a loving God and a suffering Christ, something we can’t fully explain, yet:

We believe it was for us,
he hung and suffered there.

Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Sin separates us from God. As Jesus took on our sin it separated him from his heavenly Father, a moment of true abandonment. But the psalm has a positive ending, it’s victorious. It foreshadows the Resurrection, and this was why Jesus was able to say ‘your will be done’ in Gethsemane.

Note: A reworking of material from here.