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Sermons - March 2020

Sermon 1st March 2020, Lent I

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 01 MARCH 2020, LENT I

“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
Matthew 4

Looking out over the pews of St Columba’s,
I am not sure if we are a big fight kind of crowd;
not sure, if many rose at 4am last weekend,
and paid £25 for pay-to-view TV
and settled onto the sofa to heavyweight boxing bonanza -
in one corner, American, Deontay Wilder, the Bronze Bomber -
in the other, and Britain’s own Tyson Fury – the Gypsy King.
If you did watch the goings on, in that wild city in the desert, Las Vegas,
you would have witnessed Wilder take the walk to the ringside
dressed in armour, a menacing mask, with red-lighted eyes and a crown.
Fury, meanwhile was carried to the ring on a throne!
Inflated, bombastic, showbiz, spectacular – all of the above.
Though, once the bell rings there is nothing pantomime about what happens next.

A different desert; a different heavyweight contest:
The Tempted v the Tempter – Christ v Satan; it also sounds box office.
Inspired by such images, on Wednesday this week,
at the Hill House weekly school assembly,
I attempted (perhaps misguidedly) to play out this gospel story,
by portraying Jesus, surrounded by three circling figures.
As it happened, all roles were played by girls – Jesus and her three combatants.
[Rehearsal time was approximately one minute in the vestry,
before going live in front of the whole school.]
My actors were undoubtedly up for it,
though the menace of their threats, a little diminished,
by their giggles, as they circled, air-jabbing, the kneeling Christ.

However, we visualise this prize fight in the wilderness,
the scene stands in a central place in Matthew’s gospel –
between baptism and the beginning of ministry,
At his baptism, Jesus is given the absolute truth about who he is.
Heavens opened, Spirit-dove descending, and the Voice from above:
“This is my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
An epiphany, and a covenant.

Now, almost immediately, comes the assault on that truth.
As the memory of his Father’s voice fades,
Jesus must learn – is tested - to be God’s beloved,
in a lonely wasteland.
Biblically, the wilderness is regularly a place of significant encounter;
and forty days, like forty years – clue to sacred moments.
(Let those who have ears, understand.)

For Jesus, a deliberate drawing aside;
not a hiding place – rather, a place of fierce self-examination.
If I am God’s beloved – what choices and decisions will follow?
If I am the messiah – what sort of Messiah will I be?

Once in the ring, the combatants circling warily.
We know the Tempter’s punches; we know Jesus’ parries.
Stones and bread, towers and tumbles, kingdoms and loyalties –
feed; dazzle, rule.

In the garden of Eden (also read this morning.)
The Serpent poses the question to the earthlings:
“Can you be like God?”
Now, to the exhausted Son of God, a shrewd inversion:
“Can you be like humans?
The Tempter does not dispute Jesus’ identity;
Instead, entices with upgrades and short cuts,
that will fatally distance him from humanity,
“Sure, it was noble indeed, to join the line,
step down into the baptismal waters of the Jordan, along with everybody else -
But, enough is enough:
Why abdicate power, exercise restraint, settle for obscurity –
when you could achieve so much more with the choices I offer?”

Choose to be: Bullet-proof, lofted on a throne, the crown, a mask to hide behind.
Why be mere mortal – vulnerable, human, humane?
I give you: A Crown, without a Cross.
Take Easter, without Good Friday.

Matthew’s fable warns us Jesus won’t correspond to the Messiah
we often want him to be.
“Jesus remains maddeningly himself.
Or more accurately, he remains steadfastly God’s.” (Journey with Jesus, Debie Thomas)

In an era of anxiety, whether political, health related, big, picture or close-to-home personal, In the list of concerns to which we might add what is the future of our congregation or denomination or more broadly – the Church in the West – there is understandable desire to search for a magic formula that would make things bright and shiny – grant us unshadowed lives and pews bursting with like-minded folk.
Spectacular success , so much easier to digest that discreet, unheralded service.

A retired Church of Scotland minister, Revd David Donald Scott
blogged this week about a new film entitled, A Hidden Life.
It tells the story of an Austrian farmer, Franz Jagerstatter.
Jagerstatter was a devout Roman Catholic.
And during WWII he refused to take an oath to Hitler – a conscientious objector.
Ultimately he was condemned to death,
leaving his aged mother, young wife and three small children
as well as the responsibility for their work-hungry farm.
No-one knew anything about him, except a few people
in a very small agricultural corner in the Austrian Alps.
His story raises the questions:
What difference did his sacrifice make to the outcome of the war,
the relief of endemic racism, or the shape of our world?
Was the sorrow he bestowed upon his family, justified?
It is by all accounts both a moving and challenging film.

It ends with a quotation from the nineteenth century author, George Eliot.
“…the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts;
…that things are not so ill with you and me…
is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life,
and rest in unvisited tombs.”

At the outset of Lent, as we take the first, tentative steps towards the Cross:
We are reminded of Christ’s choices:
Deprivation over ease.
Vulnerability over rescue.
Obscurity over honour.

As disciples of today require to understand,
much of the faithful life will go unseen,
in time, almost certainly, be forgotten – unhistoric acts;
But such faithfulness belongs to God,
and God is love,
and love is eternal.

Sermon 8th March 2020

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET, , 08.03.20
“RIGHTEOUSNESS THROUGH FAITH”, Romans 3.19-26

How many of you recognise the name Alex Honnold? He is the subject and hero of the film “Free Solo” which won an American Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature two years ago. It tells the story of the professional rock climber, Alex Honnold, who, in June 2017, climbed the 3000-foot vertical rock face, El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park in California.

El Capitan is one of the most famous, and ferocious, rock climbs in the world. Some of you may have seen pictures of it, or visited it, and you know that it looks unclimbable. Indeed, until 1958 it was thought to be unclimbable. But since then many have climbed it, though, I believe, 28 people have died in the attempt. That’s how dangerous it is. 

The remarkable thing, the truly remarkable thing, about Alex Honnold’s climb was that he was the first person to climb El Capitan solo, that is, without ropes, without aids or support of any kind. It took him four hours. Simply unbelievable!           

In the film, there is a remarkable phrase used: “perfection or death”. One mistake, one slip, one slight error of judgement, and Alex died. “Perfection or death.” That phrase gives us a very good introduction to the text I want us to look at this morning, that remarkable passage in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 3, headed, “Righteousness Through Faith”. 

And, incidentally, I think Lent, these weeks leading up to Easter, to the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, is a good time to reflect on what this means. Let me pick up from verse 21 of our text.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  

One Bible commentator, Leon Morris, has called this “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.” That’s some claim! Martin Luther, the great German reformer, wrestled with this very passage as he re-discovered and redefined the great Christian doctrine, justification by faith alone. 

What do these words mean? St Paul had a brilliant mind, and a profound intellect. In his letters in the New Testament he sets down for us, he clarifies who exactly Jesus is, what he came to do, and why it’s so very important. But you may we’ll be thinking to yourself that you find this text difficult, too “theological”. Let me put it as simply as I can.

The Bible story tells us that God created the world, and everything in it, including us, men and women, and, as Genesis tells us, what God created was “very good”, it was a paradise, and it had a name, the Garden of Eden. But our ancestors, Adam and Eve, spoilt it with their disobedience. They ate the forbidden fruit, and paradise was lost. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, and sin entered the henceforth fallen and sinful world. Violence, corruption, injustice, unfaithfulness became rampant.

But God, who is love, still loves his world. He wants none to perish, but all to come to salvation, so he devises a rescue plan, a plan that reaches its climax and fulfilment in Jesus Christ. It’s summarised in that well-known, familiar verse, “God so loved the world that he gave us his only son, Jesus Christ, and whoever believes in him, whoever put his trust in him, will not perish, will not come under God’s rightful condemnation, but he will have eternal life.”  We can taste that life now, in this life. We will find it fulfilled completely, and perfectly, in the life to come.   

This rescue plan begins with Abraham, whom God calls, and through whose descendants God makes a people for himself, the ancient Jews, the Israelites. God tells them how they are to worship him, through a system of sacrifices. He sends them prophets, and he gives them the law. In the Ten Commandments, and in the commandments that follow from them, God shows his people how to live and please him, how to be righteous. Obeying the law is righteousness, it makes us right with God, it gives us acceptance and peace with God. Perfection, through the perfect keeping of the law, is the way of righteousness. 

God looks for perfection from his people. But, in the Bible story, it is quickly established that the law is impossible to keep. God is holy, just, perfect himself. The smallest sin, when we make mistakes, and slip up, and make misjudgments, these things bring God’s wrath, his condemnation, his judgment upon us. 

But God wants none to perish. He loves us, and provides an answer, another way. Not the law, good though law is, but we cannot keep the law. There’s another way: Jesus!

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Do these words make a bit more sense to us now? “Possibly the most important single paragraph ever written?” “Perfection or death?” We are put right with God, obtain perfect righteousness not by law — it fails! — but by faith, trust, believing in Jesus, through his death on the cross and resurrection, the events of Easter. That’s good news! The Gospel! The way of grace, not law. It comes to us as a gift. All we have to do is receive it. No other religious faith gives us that! 

Let me turn to 3 little pictures which Paul gives to us in the passage to help us understand what’s going on, each picture is associated with a long word, but conveys a simple idea or a simple truth. 

The first picture is from the law courts. The long word is “justification”. But the simple idea, and profound truth, is that we are justified, we are declared not guilty in the eyes of the court, the judgement is that we are innocent, and we go free. Now you may say, but we are guilty! And we are! But the court judges us to be innocent, we are acquitted, and we go free.

The second picture that Paul gives us is from the slave market, where, in the ancient world, slaves were bought and sold. It would, sadly, have been a familiar sight to Paul’s first readers of his letter. And the long word is “redemption.” 

I am sure we can grasp the idea here. Slaves can be redeemed, they can be bought out of their slavery, they can be set free and become free men, and women, through redemption, through being bought out. We have that lovely verse from Paul elsewhere (1 Corinthians 7.23), “You were bought for a price.” We are slaves to sin, and our freedom, our forgiveness, our righteousness has been bought by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And to the third picture that Paul gives us, from the temple, and, again, a familiar picture to those first Christians. It’s a picture of sacrifice, temple sacrifice. The long word is “atonement”, or, and I think this is better, some translations have the word “propitiation”.        

The idea of God having to be appeased, or propitiated, having his anger and condemnation on our sins turned away from us through the sacrifice of his innocence Son,  that idea is one that some people find very difficult. Some people reject it. Where is the justice there, they say. But it seems to me clearly taught here, as elsewhere in the new Testament, and I find it very helpful picture, conveying a truth that is comforting in the extreme. Jesus’ sacrifice atones for my sin, and I am forgiven.

Let me summarise. “Perfection or death.” God demands our perfect obedience to his holy law. But we cannot, and do not, fulfil that requirement. We fail, and so come under his condemnation. God provides another way, another righteousness, that comes through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  

I end with this.

The Coronavirus is creating growing concern, and even alarm, across our nation and, indeed, across the world. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, caught up in this, and are properly fearful about what lies ahead. There is uncertainty, and anxiety, in equal measure.

But, as Christians, we face this with trust in a loving, sovereign God, and in the hope of the gospel which he has given to us in Jesus Christ. This hope embraces everything in this life, and the life to come. It comforts us, but it also changes us. 

The Coronavirus will present us with opportunities for helping and serving others around us in their need. We, as Christians, can witness to our Lord Jesus Christ in the way we serve, even sacrifice, for the needs of our neighbours around us. It’s an opportunity for the church, and for us as members of the church, to share and show to the world the great hope that we have.

Let’s think on that this coming week, and what we are going to do about it.

Sermon 15th March 2020, Lent III

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 15 MAR 2020, LENT III

The Samaritan woman said to Jesus, 
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" 
(Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)  John 4:9 

Wedding yesterday – beautiful music, a happy couple, 
a goodly number of guests – though some absences due to travel restrictions.
Earlier in the week anxious phone calls: Can we go ahead?
Yesterday, after the ceremonial part of the service was complete, 
I spoke of the cartoon sent this week:
Minister, bride and groom all at a wedding altar, all wearing masks: 
the minister delivering the instruction – 
“You may now wink at the bride!”

In these days of social distancing – health regulations – rules of separation – disruption,
there is quite an irony, that the gospel set for today is about the breaking of rules, 
social enhancement, not social hindrance.

The heroine is the woman at the well.
Hers is the longest encounter with an individual, described in John’s gospel.
Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman longer than he talks to his twelve disciples, 
or to his accusers, or even to his own family members.  
She is the first person (and the first ethnic/religious outsider) 
to whom Jesus reveals his identity in John’s Gospel.  
She is also the first believer in any of the Gospels 
to straightaway become an evangelist.
She represents all the boundaries 
that must not be transgressed in the religious life.  
All the spiritual taboos that must not be broken.  
Jesus breaks them anyway.
[“If I were asked to pick one story that shows us the most about who Jesus is, 
it would be this one.”]

Before/preceding the woman, Nicodemus.
Nicodemus – male, named, titled, entitled – comes by night.
She – an anonymous woman, a foreigner, 
a different, despised (In Jewish eyes) faith tradition – 
the fierce glare of noon.
That she must collect water at the least hospitable time of the day – 
symbolic of her ostracizing, outsider status.

The contrast in their two conversations is pronounced.
Nicodemus, the religious insider seems unable to move 
beyond the confines of his religious belief system; 
she, on the other hand, is prepared to move outside her religious expectations.

It starts with a basic human need – thirst and the request for water. 
Exhausted by the journey, Jesus waits by the well.

That Jesus, a Jew, would talk to a Samaritan shocked the woman (4:9.) 
and surprised his own disciples (4:27). 
Jesus seems aware that, through death or divorce, 
she has burned through multiple marriages 
and now living with a man who is not her husband (4:18.)
Yet he conveys no hint of judgement or condemnation.

He cuts through gender discrimination, 
ritual purity (sharing a drinking cup with a Samaritan), 
socio-economic poverty (any woman married five times was poor), 
religious hostility, and the moral stigma of failed relationships.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" 
By making himself vulnerable, Jesus sets her at ease.
By showing her that she has something to offer, 
she is free to engage.
The request for a cup of water in the heat of the day 
becomes a way to speak about profound realities and yearnings -  
for a life to be refreshed and liberated. Hers – and perhaps Jesus’.

In the course of their conversation her past comes to light.
Jesus’ breach of protocol is so unexpected, 
his attention to her so apparent, 
that she goes beyond her initial self-presentation; 
trusting him with her truth.

He does not make her feel exposed, but shielded;  
not diminished, but restored; 
not judged, but loved. 
He doesn’t ignore the painful, broken stuff.  
Instead he allows the truth of who she is to come to the surface.  

From isolated and impoverished, the woman is emboldened and unshackled.
Conveyed perhaps in her own words:
“Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did…
and loved me anyway.”
She does not say those last words, but they are implicit. 
That is what saves her life.

So to today – 
As disciples of Christ we are called to be faithful. 
Faithful to what we see in Jesus – 
both in times of plenty, and in time of crisis. 
How might we do that? 

Perhaps, by maintaining perspective, appreciating what we have, 
remaining prayerful 
and in looking out for the needs of others, 
particularly those feeling vulnerable and isolated. 
“Social distancing” may have sensible health grounds, 
but minimising physical contact 
certainly does not prevent other ways of meaningful communication and support. 
Telephone calls, a note, an e-mail, a check to make sure someone has food – 
all these will help. 
We also have the gift of prayer; it appears in our Order of Service.

Dear God our Shield and our Defender, 
guide and protect my neighbour in this time of health emergency; 
deliver them from all harm 
and may your love and care ever grow in this place. 
Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.

At St Columba’s we will continue to follow
both government and Church of Scotland guidance 
and be vigilant with hygiene and safety. 
And in the light of our faith, as long as we are able - 
we will aim to maintain an open and welcoming building for prayer and activity, 
as well as a strengthened and supported community, beyond our walls. 

Ironically/fortuitously - if we manage to make our services available via the internet – 
the very process we use will be a reminder:
Live stream: Living Water.

Jesus said: “The water that I will give 
will become in you a spring of water 
gushing up to eternal life.” John 4:14

Sermon 22nd March 2020, Lent IV, Mothering Sunday

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 22 MAR 2020, LENT IV, MOTHERING SUNDAY

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." John 9:5

Each of us will be collecting moments and images from recent days 
that perhaps encapsulate the strangeness of these times – 
from the news coverage or shared clip on social media, or closer to home.
About a week ago I answered the bell at home.
On the doorstep two figures, one clutching a large bag.
Both wore medical masks – eyes only, visible.
It took me a moment to realise they were our delightful new neighbours.
They explained that they were returning home, 
would be away for some months 
and wanted us to have a collection of supplies that they wouldn’t use – 
disposable gloves, face masks and loo roll! 
The home city of these new, neighbourly neighbours is Beijing. 

A parishioner messaged the church this week:
“We hope you. your families and friends keep well
during a time none of us could ever have imagined - 
it certainly shakes one out of their comfort zone.”
Oras an eight-year-old, on learning that her school was closing, summed it up:
“I feel like I am in a tumble dryer.”

Not all sights have been as edifying as neighbours unexpectedly calling round.
Empty supermarket shelves, 
squabbling over packets of loo rolls 
or driving off with unnecessarily large stocks of food.
It is a powerful reminder that when we are frightened 
we do not automatically do the right thing.
As people have observed, the Corona Virus will bring out 
both the best and worst in ourselves.

Sight and insight are at the heart of the gospel read this morning.
a revelation, that can be received, or rejected.

The story begins with some cruel theology – 
blindness/disability is the sign of God’s anger and punishment.
The disciples ask Jesus: Who sinned, this man or his parents?
In the eyes of his peers, the man is contaminated, burdensome, 
somehow deserving of his circumstance.  

Jesus is categorical: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; 
he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Jesus doesn’t explain away the great Why? question
Instead, takes the things of life, earth and spittle, 
then with firm touch and gentle command 
sends the man towards the light.
The one blind from birth, judged by his religion, excluded from his community, 
is brought back;
a wonderful restoration, an amazing grace.

But very soon, a volley of questions - not all of them kind.
His neighbours barely recognise him.
They don’t know how to see him without his disability.  
Who are you? How did this happen? Why you? Who is responsible? 
The man called Jesus. 

The man’s word is not enough; neighbours need validation.
So, the religious authorities are invoked, and intimacy banished. 

Interrogation/Debate No.1: 
This man is not from God – he does not observe the Sabbath.
Alternatively: But a sinner couldn’t perform such signs.
The Pharisees - opticians of the nation’s spiritual sight are divided.
They know an awkward truth; 
sight to the blind, is one of the herald calls of the Messiah.
If this “sign/miracle” is pukka – Jerusalem, we have a problem.
This is not the Messiah they anticipated; nor the type they desire.

The drama rolls on; parents are summoned reluctantly into the spotlight.
If they validate their son, they support the messiah conspiracy; 
eviction from synagogue and community, their reward.
Not our call. Ask the boy - he is of age.
Fear casts out love. 
How did the son hear those parental words?

Interrogation/Debate No. 2: vested interest, rising threat:
Give credit to God; not credence to Jesus, the sinner.
The immortal reply:
“I do not know whether he is a sinner. 
One thing I do know; I was blind, but now I see.”

Sadly, there is no voice to raise an Alleluia, 
no singing, Thanks be to God.
Instead the stewards of the Mystery of Life 
reject the miracle as an affront to their preconceived certainties.

They spiral downwards: 
What trickery has he performed or persuaded you to pretend?

What thoughts went on behind those new-minted eyes?
Why can’t you accept what I am saying/be happy for me?
How many times must I explain? Are you also eager to be his disciples? 
That was incendiary.

No. You are his disciple. We are faithful followers of Moses 
and we do not know where this imposter comes from.

Really!? You have no clue about him and yet he opened my eyes. 
“If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
How dare you lecture us! And they drove him out.

[… the last act crowns the play. Francis Quarles]

Jesus hears that the man is once more isolated – 
The man blind from birth who on his first day of sight 
had been treated to the face of ugly and angry prejudice.
His world has changed so swiftly, 
but his solitary confinement appears renewed.
Now the one with no place to rest his head 
seeks out the excluded one;
outcast Shepherd, seeks lost sheep.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
One more question, trailing a trip net?
No - the voice is different. 
And the man is expert in weighing voices.
The question sounds like an invitation not an accusation.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Tell me who he is, that I may believe.
You know him – he stands before you.
Lord, I believe.

“…this is one of the rare and beautiful moments in the Gospels 
when Jesus himself is truly seen.” Debie Thomas
He alone, the one formerly blind, sees Jesus as the Son of Man and calls him, “Lord.”

In many countries and cultures, in time of trouble, fear or sorrow,
local communities place a lighted candle in the windows of their homes.
Presidents of Churches Together in England have issued an invitation to make today 
both a National Day of Prayer 
and to mark it by lighting a candle in the window of our homes at 7pm this evening . 
A visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, 
our source and hope in prayer. 

One meditation puts it:
“As we travel, the Lord lights the way ahead of us. 
He turns on the lamps as we need them. 
He does not light them all at once, at the start, 
when they are not yet needed. 
He does not waste light, but bestows it at the proper time.”
(Blessed James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family)
And one message from a member of the congregation - 
“We shall endeavour to watch and listen to the services 
thus making us and many folks still feel connected wherever we are.   
Will also try to keep in touch with people, especially by letters and cards.”
And the sign off: 
“Best wishes, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jesus said: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:5)

Sermon 29th March 2020, Lent V

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET
SUN 29 MAR 2020, LENT V

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. 
It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” John 11:38-39 

 “Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Abba Moses.
This is one of the recorded sayings of the so-called Desert Fathers & Mothers, the first Christian monks and nuns who from the C2nd onwards withdrew from mainstream life into the hermitages and small communities of the deserts of Egypt and Syria.

“Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Abba Moses.
In a week of home schooling (already alluded to) 
this saying may somewhat raise an eyebrow.
Yet maybe it speaks to us as we commune this morning after a week where
we tried to maintain routines or establish new ones; 
spoke to/smiled at people, or didn’t; 
watched the news or switched off.
What have we learnt?

That we are fragile; 
more interdependent, more interconnected, 
than we previously acknowledged or understood.
That our daily choices have consequences for others.
That there are a bunch of things we have taken for granted.
[There is a lovely meditation from America this week:]

When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbours
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine checkup
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
Life itself.

And what might we learn from the cell of this sanctuary, this morning?
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent, Passion Sunday; 
The gospel set for today is the extended description of Jesus’ response 
to the illness and death of his friend Lazarus. 

It is about the grief of things lost, and the tears of Christ.
Recorded only in John’s gospel, it forms a bridge 
between the public ministry of Jesus 
and the final days of Jerusalem – 
Holy Week; Last Supper, arrest, trial, execution, the tomb – and beyond.
Both stories have tombs locked by stones;
Both stories have stones rolled away.
Spoiler alert - Lazarus’ resurrection prefigures of the resurrection.

Famously, in the face of the death of a loved one 
and the grief of the sisters, Mary and Martha,
Jesus wept.
As an Army chaplain, soldiers were forever apologizing to me for swearing 
because of my dog collar.
In the parish, swearing is replaced by tears – 
and people are forever apologising for crying. 
To which I try to respond: “If you can’t weep in church where can you?” 

Jesus wept, even while he prayed to the Father for restoration of life.
Jesus recognises and knows human grief; 
He laments - both standing with the broken-hearted, 
and broken-hearted himself – 
“See how he loved him”, the onlookers’ verdict.

The tears of Jesus “…assure Mary and Martha, 
their beloved brother is worth crying for, 
AND that they are worth crying with. “ (Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus, Mar 2020) 
Perhaps we are called to do likewise.

The front cover of the children’s news magazine - Week Junior – 
Carries a rainbow. 
Above it is the now familiar headline:
We’re all in this TOGETHER.
And below: As the UK goes into lockdown, people unleash their creativity and compassion.
It is uncoloured in.- clearly an invitation to bring it to vivid life.

Jesus wept:
When Jesus weeps, he respects the necessity of silence, 
the sanctity of the wordless and the unsayable
Sometimes there is nothing to be said in the face of loss; 
tears our best and most honourable language.  
Silence, too, is faithful.  
Sometimes, silence is love.   

Jesus wept:
When Jesus weeps, he acknowledges his own mortality.  
In John’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus is the precipitating event 
that leads to Jesus’s own arrest and crucifixion. 

When word spreads about the miracle in Bethany, 
the authorities decide that enough is enough; 
Jesus must be stopped.  
The choice to go to Judea; the choice to restore the life of his friend is essentially a trading of his own life. Greater love hath no man…

In crying, he asserts powerfully that it is okay to yearn for life.  
It’s okay to cling to this beautiful world.  
It’s okay to feel a sense of wrongness and injustice in the face of death — death is the enemy, the aberration, the thief.  
(Family diagnosis: But I have so much to live for.)

Finally, when Jesus wept, 
he shows us that sorrow is a powerful catalyst for change.  
Can our current sorrow at all that we are losing, 
lead to a revitalised life when this is over?
More immediately, a rejuvenated sense of life in these days of restriction? 

Elderly member of the congregation:
“I am just sorry that everybody is so worried.”
Older generation – often reported as the ones on who our attention should be – actually far more resilient than we give them credit for – a generation who have seen and endured much; a generation who have earnt and learnt perspective.

And Olivia Giles, founder of our lent Charity – 500 Miles.
She contracted a life-threatening illness that led to her hands and feet being amputated, 
But since has dedicated her life to ensuring 
that the aftercare and rehabilitation she received in Scotland 
was made available to people in some of the world’s poorest areas. 
[Abhorrent inequality.]
For children the chance to enter education; 
for adults the chance to return to a workplace. – life transforming. 

“First day that I took a step – the best day of my life.

I’ve learnt that the human spirit is phenomenal, 
the instinct to survive and make the best of things is powerful 
and if you have something you want to do, 
today is a good day to get on with it.”

“Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Abba Moses.

Believe in the one who wept.
Unleash your creativity and compassion – colour the rainbow.
As we make our Pilgrim’s Progress,
both in the shadow of the Cross and the light of Easter,
trust the one who said: "I am the resurrection and the life. 

Opening Hours

The office is open from
9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m,
Monday to Friday.

There is a 24-hour answering machine service.

Connect with us

Find us

St Columba’s is located on Pont Street in Knightsbridge in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The Church is within easy reach of three London Underground stations – Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line), South Kensington (Piccadilly, Circle and District Lines) and Sloane Square (Circle and District Lines).

St. Columba's
Pont Street
London SW1X 0BD
+44 (0)20-7584-2321
office@stcolumbas.org.uk

Getting here by tube

Knightsbridge Station

Take the Harrods exit if open (front car if coming from the East, rear car if coming from the West). Come up the stairs to street level, carry on keeping Harrods on your right. Turn right into Basil Street. Carry straight on into Walton Place with St Saviour’s Church on your left. At the traffic lights, St Columba’s is to your left across the street. If the Harrods exit is closed, take the Sloane Street exit, turn right into Basil Street. Carry straight on past Harrods with the shop on your right, into Walton Place as before.

South Kensington Station

Come up the stairs out of the station and turn left into the shopping arcade. Turn left again into Pelham Street. At the traffic lights at the end of Pelham Street cross Brompton Road, turn left then immediately right into the narrow street of Draycott Avenue. After just a few yards turn left into Walton Street. Carry on walking up Walton Street until the traffic lights at the corner of Pont Street. Turn right and after a few steps you will be at St Columba’s!

Sloane Square Station

Cross over the square into Sloane Street. Walk along Sloane Street until the traffic lights at the corner of Pont Street. Turn left into Pont Street. St Columba’s will then be in sight.

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