Stop for a moment. Close your eyes. And listen. Just listen.
If you are like me, it can take awhile to tune into the sounds around me. There is so much chatter in my head. So many thoughts cluttering the spaciousness of my surroundings. But when I can settle into the listening, that's when I might hear God.
Prayer has two parts. The talking part, and the listening part. We are really good at the talking part. We are good at words. Good at getting our point across and listing our requests. There is much to pray for in our world. We want God to know what is on our hearts. We want God to know what we celebrate and what we yearn for. What grieves us and for whom we desire peace and healing. This is important, but I dare say that God wants us to know what is on God's heart too. This is why we need to listen.
It takes practice. But it is worth it. It brings our hearts closer to God's heart. It makes our relationship stronger. And when our relationship with God is strengthened, our relationship with all Creation is made stronger. Compassion and joy overflows.
Stop for a moment. Close your eyes. And listen. Do this for 5 minutes every day. And see what happens. You may be surprised!
Many North American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the early Greek Christians --- "Bright Sunday" or "Holy Humor Sunday" celebrations on the Sunday after Easter. For centuries in all Christian faith traditions, the week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter" with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus' resurrection
The custom is rooted in the writings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh," the early theologians called it.
God smiles, this much I know
for God created laughter
so that we might join in the enjoyment of Holy creative energy
those wonderful colour schemes of bird butterfly and flower.
The shapes and expressions on so many creatures and insects
These weren't created by a boring God
they were drawn by a God with a sense of humour
and that's a comforting thought! (John Birch)
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
This wonderful old African-American Spiritual tells the Good Friday story with profound simplicity. With it's questions it not only engages us in the drama of the ancient story but calls us to examine how and where we fall short of our participation in the life of the resurrected Christ - the post-Easter Jesus.
Don't rush through these last days of Holy Week. It is not that I want you to wallow in the darkness of the events of Good Friday. It is that we cannot truly understand what Easter is all about if we do not accompany Jesus and his friends through the events of the days that proceeded Easter: The bond of love that surrounded this company of friends at the Last Supper. The subsequent betrayal by many of those friends. Jesus' arrest and sentencing. And finally his violent beating, then crucifixion and his death.
These are hard stories. They are hard because they uncover parts of ourselves that we do not want to recognize, and that we want to leave deeply buried. But these things - these traits - are part of what makes us human. They are our teachers. When we recognize within us the same behaviours as Jesus' disciples at their worst we are able to learn from them. We see how to move through them just as Peter, and Mary and the rest were able to do. It was not easy but these friends eventually became Jesus' best champions, working tirelessly for the same things that Jesus had (and through them continued to do so). For compassion. For peace. For justice. For love. For the Kingdom of God among us. This is the work that gave them new life. This was their Easter.
What "Easter" waits for you this year? What "Easter" waits for Aylmer United Church? How will Jesus' ministry come alive within us in these next weeks and months?
For Christian people, Holy Week is the most important week of the year! It is the week before Easter beginning with Palm Sunday. This year it starts this Sunday. It is a time when we celebrate in a special way the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We remember his actions, reflect on his messages, and recommit to living as faithful disciples in the world today.
On Palm Sunday we remember the gospel story when Jesus was welcomed by the people with cheers and palms - a symbol of victory and sign that "all is well". Palm-bearing date trees were valued for their dignity, beauty and shade and were used at special occasions to welcome heroes and royalty.
Maundy Thursday takes its name from the latin Mandatum (commandment) in reference to the "new" commandment that Jesus gives disciples (all of us!) at the Last Supper. This is the time when we remember the story of Jesus washing the feet of his friends, offering them the love and compassion of God. We celebrate a simple eucharist (communion) and leave the church quietly and reflectively as we prepare for the events of Good Friday.
Good Friday is when we remember the story of the Passion of Christ. All the events from Jesus arrest and betrayal by his friends and the religious authorities, his trial and proclamation of the death sentence, the long journey to the place of crucifixion, the sounds of the nails as he is put on the cross. The story culminates in Jesus' death witnessed by the women who were his closest friends and loved ones. This is a day for introspection and deep reverence. This is a day when our hearts are laid bare. This is a day when if we remain open, we sense the mysterious Spirit of God deep in our bones.
If you stood at the cross on which Jesus hung, what would you say to him? How does it feel to touch the cross? What does this mean to you?
Holy Saturday Before we get to the happy celebrations of Easter Sunday we still have Holy Saturday. In some churches it is known as Easter Vigil. Some churches stay open the whole day and night as people come and go to pray or read the Bible. Traditionally a fire was lit but now we usually use a candle. This is where the tradition of the Christ Candle came from.
I hope you will join us for our special observances of Holy Week. Come Thursday night at 7:00 for a reflective Maundy Thursday Communion service.
Gather at 11:00 Friday morning at St Paul's Church with hundred's of your neighbours from various churches in Aylmer to carry the cross, to hear scripture and to pray together.
I offer this prayer from the Celtic tradition as a companion through Holy Week. Keep it with you and pray it often.
O Christ you are a bright flame before me
You are a guiding star above me
You are the light and love
I see in other's eyes.
Keep me O Christ
in a love that is tender
Keep me O Christ
in a love that is true
Keep me O Christ
in a love that is strong
Tonight, tomorrow and always. Amen.
(J. Philip Newell in Celtic Prayers from Iona)
God of love,
as in Jesus Christ you gave yourself to us,
so may we give ourselves to you,
living according to your holy will.
Keep our feet firmly in the way
where Christ leads us;
help our lips speak the truth
that Christ teaches us;
fill our bodies with the life
that is Christ within us.
Amen. Voices United #110
As you journey through Lent remember to follow the "Count Your Blessings" Lenten Calendar that the Sunday School prepared for us. Boyd and I have been having some fun with ours. It is on our fridge in the kitchen where we post all our important reminders along with pictures of special people. I was amazed by all the words Boyd found in the word "water"!
If you can't find yours ask Trudy for another one. Then count your blessings everyday by doing the activity and putting aside a donation.
The Sunday School will receive your donations to support a project in the United Church Gifts Wth Vision catalogue. Thanks Sunday School people for inspiring us!
A prayer for being half-way through Lent:
God of the journey,
we wander through the wilderness,
thirsty and in need of nourishment.
As we search,
sustain us with your loving presence,
lift us by your grace, and
save us from our time of trial.
—a prayer from Why I Believe: Daily Devotions on Faith & Discipleship (UCPH, 2017)
We are half-way through Lent. Half-way through that season of the church year when we remember the story of Jesus on his 40 day spiritual retreat in the wilderness, having been "driven" there by the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:12).
Where is the Spirit "driving" you during this Lenten time? Where is the Spirit
driving" Aylmer United Church? How do you know when the Holy Spirit is around you? Engaging with you? Pulling you? Prodding you? Leading you? Pushing you? Inviting you?
Sometimes it is through the voices of other people. Sometimes it is in the quietness of prayer. Sometimes it is in the silence of simply being. Sometimes it is when we least expect it.
I have discovered that there is nothing more surprising than the Spirit of God. Just when I think I have her pinned down, she blows a new thought, and new challenge, a new blessing right into my life. I can resist, but I know that in the end there is no point. I will be unsettled and restless until I work through my resistance and commit to working in partnership with this new thing I am called to do, or this new way I'm called to be. Sometimes I resist for a long time. You would think that by now I would have learned.
Thanks be that the Spirit's persistence is greater than my resistance!
Every once in awhile something pops up in my inbox that stops me in my tracks. Last week this arrived. We talk a lot about God's love for us. What about our love for God? Think about it. Pray about it.
Blessings on your Lenten journey.
Do you love God?
Not watch out for God, like your boss,
not worship God like a god,
but desire God, like a lover?
Do you forget things because you're in love?
Do you want what's best for God?
Do you think of God at odd moments,
look for God everywhere,
plot how to bump into them?
Do you love being with God,
just hanging out, hearing her voice?
What do you love about God,
his sense of humor?
Their blessed shapeshifting?
Do you care about what happens to God?
About what it's like from their point of view?
Do you think God is just
the most beautiful thing in the world?
What kinds of things do you do for God?
Special favors?... little surprises?...
constant acts of faithful love and devotion?
Do you play jokes on them? Have a pet name?
Do you do stuff together?
Is God, like, totally inside your head?
Do you want God?
Do you want God for God, not just for you?
Do you love God?
Some of you may have seen a post on FaceBook lately about Pope Francis' advice on what to give up for Lent. It is taken from a sermon he gave a few years ago, and has been boiled down significantly, but the advice is still very appropriate.
Here it is - what will you give up for Lent?
Give up hurting words and say kind words.
Give up sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Give up anger and be filled with patience.
Give up pessimism and be filled with hope.
Give up worries and trust in God.
Give up complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Give up pressures and be prayerful.
Give up bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Give up selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Give up grudges and be reconciled.
Give up words and be silent so you can listen.
Come Sunday morning to church and together we will walk this Lenten journey.
God bless you!
Come to church on Sunday as we at Aylmer United Church celebrate Black History Month.
Every February since 1996, the Government of Canada invites Canadians to participate in Black History Month festivities and events that honour the legacy of Black Canadians, past and present. For 2018, the theme of the Government of Canada’s Black History Month campaign is Black Canadian Women: Stories of Strength, Courage and Vision. Black history month is also celebrated in the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, and the USA.
I quote from a United Church of Canada Minute for Mission:
"Let us take time to remember African-Canadian history, the struggles and the haunting legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Black people have been part of the United Church from its beginning and continue to play a vital role in the church today. We celebrate this history by sharing the story of Union United Church in Montreal, Quebec.
This church was created in 1907 and was known as Union Congregational Church. From the start Union led the way in reaching out to the Black railway porters and their families who were segregated from the rest of Montreal, offering them a place of worship and a place to call their own.
We sing thanksgiving for the foundation of Black people who have led the way toward The United Church of Canada becoming an intercultural church, a church where all are welcome!"
See you Sunday!
I have a colleague whose favourite holiday is Groundhog Day. At first I thought this was crazy. But when I heard the reason I began to understand. Groundhog Day has very few expectations. The greeting card companies have not made a major campaign out of it (yet - let's hope they leave this one alone). There are no expectations of gifts, or special rituals. There are no extra services for ministers to prepare. It is just a fun and rather whimsical day - if you even remember it. In most parts of Canada it boggles the mind to think that spring could be just around the corner on February 2.
Do you remember the 1993 movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell? Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself caught in a time loop, repeating the same day again and again. After many adventures and attempts at getting himself out of the loop of same-old, same-old craziness, he begins to re-examine his life and priorities. It is Rita, played by MacDowell who is the inspiration for him to get his life back on track.
And craziness it was. There is a definition of insanity that says "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." In the movie poor Phil starts to display some of the signs and symptoms of insanity. But with great effort and with some major soul searching and determination to do things differently he was able to break out of the time loop and find a happier and healthier way.
Are you stuck in a time loop? Is the church? Are we doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results?