I love Shakespeare’s sonnets and post them regularly on this site, they are listed on this page or you can use the search box.
Naomi recently bought me this little book containing a selection of his sonnets, and I’ve just finished reading it.
I guess Shakespeare is best known for his plays, but it’s likely that his sonnets were what earned him the admiration of his contemporaries. Writing plays was the way to pay the bills, sonnets were the way to gain literary prestige. They were shared privately to impress, and were only later collected and published.
This book is an excellent anthology, with each sonnet presented on two facing pages, a lovely edition to have lying around to easily dip into.
My Soul, there is a country Afar beyond the stars, Where stands a winged sentry All skillful in the wars; There, above noise and danger Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles, And One born in a manger Commands the beauteous files. He is thy gracious friend And (O my Soul awake!) Did in pure love descend, To die here for thy sake. If thou canst get but thither, There grows the flow’r of peace, The rose that cannot wither, Thy fortress, and thy ease. Leave then thy foolish ranges, For none can thee secure, But One, who never changes, Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
For Good Friday this year, I simply share some of the German libretto with an English translation. See also here.
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!
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.
This week’s Sunday devotional is a reworking from part of a previous online worship service in preparation for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter. Bible Reading: John 3:14-21
This Bible reading contains one of the most well-known verses from the New Testament: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
But the short passage we shared is not the whole story, you might like to read the whole chapter for context. It had no mention of Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night seeking answers to his questions and no mention of being born again.
Instead, the teaching of Jesus is linked to the story of Moses in the wilderness having to deal with a discontented people found in Numbers 21:4-9.
Life used to be better for them, but now they have left Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses they have achieved freedom. They are no longer slaves. This was what they longed for, the fulfilment of their hopes. But now they are hungry. What food they have is boring. It’s not like the good old days in Egypt when at least they had good, interesting food to eat. The memories of their hardships have faded and all they know is that their bellies are empty and life is tough.
They are and should be people who are journeying towards a high destiny. They’ve been called by God for his purposes. They must reach out to the future and not dwell in the past, particularly on unrealistic memories of the past.
Moses is told by God to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten by a poisonous serpent looked at this bronze serpent they would live. For many centuries this symbol has been used by those involved in healing and health care as their sign. One of the explanations of this clearly links it to the story in Numbers.
The symbol is still used widely today and maybe part of what it’s intended to convey is that health and healing are gifts. It was God’s gift of healing to an undeserving people, a rebellious, complaining, petty-minded people. Here it was a gift that would help them to become what they were capable of being, God’s chosen people that now includes all who name Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
In the Bible reading (John 3:14-21) Jesus refers to this passage from Numbers and sees it pointing to his own destiny. The Son of Man will be lifted up and whoever believes in him will have eternal life.
This is a recurring theme in the gospels, that believing is what brings about the change in people and in their situations. Believing is the gift of God, the grace of God, and with that gift of grace all sorts of things become possible in people’s lives.
God loved us so much that he gave his only son. But that’s in the past tense, it needs to be in the present tense, because the activities of God are always in the eternal now. God loves the world so much that he gives his only son. That love is from eternity to eternity and nothing can separate us from that love.
This is an additional resource to go with An instrument of your peace posted yesterday (Sunday 14 March 2021). It’s an expanded version of the well-known prayer from Pax Christi USA. Please read it slowly, prayerfully, and reflectively.
Lord, make me a means of your peace.
Where there is hatred caused by fear and intolerance, let me sow love, in your gentleness.
Where there is vengefulness caused by injustice, let me sow forgiveness, which brings reconciliation.
Where there are doubts about the power of love over weapons in resolving conflicts, let me sow the faith that comes with knowing that you, who are mightier than all things, are love itself.
Where there is despair of being able to do anything to turn human hearts away from war, let me sow the hope that comes with realisation that we are not alone, for you are working with us and through us.
Where there is the darkness caused by the shadow of war, and where there is sadness caused by death let me sow the light of your wisdom that illuminates for us the way of peace.
In violence and conflicts, let me sow the joy of your promise of new and eternal life.
Father, we can do these things if you help us to realise that it is in giving them to others that we, in turn, receive them too, that it is in pardoning others who harm or upset us that we are pardoned by you. And that it is in giving our whole lives to you, be to spent bringing your message of love and peace for all people, and not just your friends – in short, dying to ourselves, that we are given eternal life in your kingdom.
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see, For all the day they view things unrespected; But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee, And darkly bright are bright in dark directed; Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright, How would thy shadow’s form form happy show To the clear day with thy much clearer light, When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so? How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made By looking on thee in the living day, When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay? All days are nights to see till I see thee, And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past, I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste: Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow, For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night, And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe, And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight; Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan, Which I new pay as if not paid before. But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.
Love it or loathe it, you’ll know that today (14 February) is St Valentine’s Day. It’s a Christian festival, but also a huge marketing opportunity for shops and online retailers. While I was a corps officer and leading worship, it was always helpful when this day fell on a Sunday, and this year (2021) it does just that.
Although there was a Saint Valentine, there are several after whom the day may have been named. I’ll focus on the traditional attribution, but you can find out more here.
Legend has it that the emperor was dismayed that the men of Rome were not enlisting for the army, because they loved their wives and families too much to become soldiers. So he decreed that engagements and marriages were against the law. Valentine was a priest and doctor in Rome, and he refused to obey. He went on marrying young men and women because he believed that was God’s way. He got dragged before the authorities in Rome on 14 February 270 (actual date not known) and, having refused to change his ways, paid the price.
We’ll never know how true the legend is, but Saint Valentine has been associated with this lovers’ festival for many centuries. As Christians, the one love story that we especially celebrate is that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great love for us, he was prepared to sacrifice himself in life and on the cross.
Paul wrote: […] live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
The love expressed on Valentine’s Day might be deep and meaningful, it might just be shallow and expected, and it might even be it might be a joke or a bit of fun. But the one thing we can be sure of is that we are all loved with the very love of Jesus. No one deserves it and no one is left out.
None of us are perfect, none of us deserve this love, because we are all flawed human beings. Sometimes we don’t recognise our collective failings, thus making it difficult to cope with human weakness, both in ourselves and others. Sometimes we ascribe sinfulness to others and not to ourselves, it’s the oldest human failing.
Of course, there’s clearly goodness in individuals, but we are all flawed because of our basic humanity. This is a big subject, and the discussion of inherent evil or inherent good is for another time and place.
Christian teaching shows us that we are insignificant and worthless in relation to the universe, but significant and of infinite value to God, even though flawed and without any claim on grace.
Edward Norman has written: The supreme loveliness of the life of Christ exhibited the sacrifice of God himself for creatures who were undeserving. It was not because men and women were good that Christ died for them. How can it have been? On the hills of Galilee and in the desert places of Judea the Saviour had loved those whose lives encouraged no love and inspired no pity. Nothing in human nature has changed, and it is not going to. Jesus came into the world precisely because we were not good, and because we are not capable of self-correction. People today will begin to cope with the evils of existence if only they will bring themselves to accept that their own natures are inherently flawed. And the hand of God himself extends from the cross to lift and save those who reach out to him.
Accepting responsibility for our own sinfulness can open the floodgates of God’s mercy and love in Jesus, and we can be transformed. We can also better accept the sinfulness of others. Although we don’t deserve it, God offers us love through Jesus, and he challenges us to live a life of love in response, loving him, others, and ourselves.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:15-20
On this Valentine’s Day, do we need to give more of ourselves to God? Giving ourselves to him as a fragrant offering and sacrifice? As Rick Warren has written, let’s move from smelling the odour of waste to the bouquet of grace.