Virtual Service 9 May

Good morning everyone.

In our Gospel today Jesus at the Last Supper says to his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, I have called you friends” (John 15. 15).

In these words Jesus moves us away from any idea that we might have got in our heads that our job was to cower in the corner and do what the overlord God is shouting at us to do. If you’re going to be a servant that’s OK but that’s not what Jesus wants: I do not call you servants; I call you friends.

So from now on we’re in the friendship game. God is interested in friendship, not fury. Whatever you have been told, this is where God is: in friendship.

In Martin’s sermon today we see how his perception of Paul and Linda is changed by being with them, by his friendship with them. To say I am your friend is to say “I am allowing myself to be changed by knowing you”.

In our epistle today from the book of Acts the apostle Peter is made to face his own prejudices. As a result of this he was changed. “I am allowing myself to be changed by knowing you” … my life is going to be re-shaped because of my commitment, my covenant with you.

God’s life is reshaped by being with us. That is what Jesus’s coming to us is, the reshaping of God’s own life to be in covenant with us. From now on we’re in the friendship game. It’s all there in our Gospel today.

A prayer for the week ahead on the theme of friendship:

Jesus, our faithful friend,
we thank you for the precious gift of friendship,
for the people who accept us as we are,
love us even in our least attractive moments,
help us to laugh at ourselves and to laugh at life,
encourage us, support us, believe in us, value us.
Lord, help us never to take friendship for granted
but to tend it as a beautiful plant.  Amen.



Tom

Virtual Service 2 May

Hello everyone.

In our Gospel this morning Jesus talks about abiding with us. The whole sweep of the Bible teaches us that God has chosen to abide with us. John’s Gospel develops this rich theme “and the word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1.14) – God has come to dwell with us: he has sat with us, eaten with us, walked with us. 

I was looking for hymns this morning that were about abiding and came up with two versions the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord’s my shepherd”. One that you will know (“In heavenly love abiding”) and one that you may not know (“Because the Lord is my shepherd” with the chorus “You are my friend … I want to follow you always”). 

The second verse of “In heavenly love abiding” is a wonderful translation of the first verse of Psalm 23 begins: Wherever he may guide me, no want shall turn me back; my Shepherd is beside me, and nothing can I lack. This hymn is also about hope, with that memorable phrase “my hope I cannot measure”. And puts flesh on that hope: “my Saviour will walk with me” – if God abides with us he walks alongside us every step of the way. 

Jesus is made known to his disciples at the end of John’s Gospel in the everyday as much as in the extraordinary. A prayer about meeting God in the everyday, acknowledging that sometimes in the casual ordinary encounters we have discovered we have met with God in Christ:

Everyday God,                                                                                            
you are with us each new day,                                                                        
in the ordinary as much as the extraordinary,                                                  
help us to discern you in our lives as we live them                                            
as much as in those revelations on the mountaintop,                                          
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



Tom

Virtual Service 25 April

Hello everyone.

Today, Sunday 25 April, is St Mark’s Day. The Gospel reading for today honours the young man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their earliest missionary journeys and the person who wrote the first ever Gospel. In all likelihood two different people, but both evangelists, both people who spread good news.

The Gospel on St Mark’s Day (Mark chapter 13 reading from verse 5) is part of the longest speech that Jesus gives in Mark’s Gospel: pure unadulterated words of Jesus from start to finish. Today’s reading ends with this verse: “the one that endures to the end shall be saved” (Mark chapter 13 verse 13).

Jesus’ words are spoken in the context of persecution. The ‘endurance to the end’ that Jesus speaks of here isn’t about salvation by our own efforts, more sheer physical survival. It is a bleak context but these words carry a confidence in being saved, of deliverance. They bring comfort as a promise.

Claire Gilbert in a recent book Miles to go before I sleep writes of her journey through diagnosis of myeloma and a brutal round of stem cell treatment. She is an authority on Julian of Norwich and her book, Revelations of Divine Love. Claire writes:

How are we to understand “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”? This isn’t an unreasonable, unthinking optimism that “everything’s going to be all right”. Rather it will be all right in the end, and if its not all right, its not the end.

That insight gives hope in our current covid context where everything is clearly not all right. Yet trusting that in God’s good time one day we will be through it and that “all manner of thing shall be well”.

Keep safe.

Tom

Virtual Service 18 April

Hello everyone.  

This weekend we remember Prince Philip and the many decades he supported the Queen. People have been reassessing what he accomplished in his life, not least because the Duke of Edinburgh himself played down his own achievements. He once said “our only distinction was that we did what we were told to do, to the very best of our ability, and kept on doing it.” We give thanks this weekend for a remarkable man and for those many years of public service since he said those words (in 1948 – he had been referring to his service in the Royal Navy).
 
Jonathan reminds us in his sermon that our Gospel reading today follows on from the story of the road to Emmaus where Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread. I am pleased to say that we now have a date from which we will resume communion services here in Church, and that is the first Sunday in May. We will be able to celebrate again the sign by which Jesus became present in the midst of his disciples – at the breaking of the bread.
 
The following prayer was written during lockdown and seems appropriate as we look forward to celebrating holy communion services in Church again:
 
Lord,
as we have wrestled with the destruction of our familiar routines,
show us how to be your disciples in new ways.
Be with us as we break bread in our homes.
Comfort and sustain us until we reach that day
when we will break bread together. 
 
Amen.

Tom

Virtual Service 11 April

Hello everyone,

This week the Gospel is about my namesake Thomas meeting the risen Christ, and that moment when Thomas cries out “My Lord and my God”. 

We give thanks for Thomas and for this statement of faith articulating Jesus’s divinity in a way that none of the disciples achieve in Mark’s Gospel, the Gospel we are following this year.

We also give thanks for all the memorable words of Jesus in our Gospel reading, and the reassurance they bring to us:  “peace be with you” … “I am sending you” … “Receive the Holy Spirit” … “Reach out and touch” … “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”…
 
Perhaps through a particular phrase Jesus speaks to you today and into your life and the situations you face this week. 

If we feel afraid… Jesus says “peace be with you”. If we feel God is calling us… Jesus says “I am sending you”. If we feel we have let God down… Jesus says “peace be with you”. If we feel empty or inadequate… Jesus says “Receive the Holy Spirit”. If we feel we have been shutting God out of our lives… Jesus says “peace be with you”.

An Easter blessing:

Risen Christ, 
for whom no door is locked, 
no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts
that we may seek the good of others
to the praise of God the Father.  Amen.



Tom
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 10 June 1921-9 April 2021

Easter Day 4 April

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Happy Easter everyone. Our thanks to Marva Fuller, Sara Leefe and Joy Smith for decorating the Church with Easter flowers – which coincides with a return to Church today.

I am sorry to report that Dudley Reyner died earlier this week at home with Betty beside him.  We remember Betty and the family in our prayers.  May Dudley rest in peace and rise in glory.

Easter this year will be a subdued affair, falling so close to the national anniversary of those we remember who have died from Covid-19 since that first lockdown. We can’t sing congregational hymns and our return to Church won’t be with a celebration of communion. So we have to continue to dig deep. One way in which we can do this is to reflect on what keeps us steady, and to reflect on happier Easters in years past.

I have invited members of the St Giles’s communications team, Jenni and Gill and Sarah, and my wife Helen to share their experiences of a memorable Easter. As you listen to their stories I trust it might inspire memories for you that bring resurrection hope and joy.

An Easter Collect

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.   Amen.



Tom

Good Friday Reflections 2 April

Good Friday Reflections Hello Everyone,

Of all the Gospels it is perhaps Mark’s Gospel that is most suited to the year we have just had. Mark is the only Gospel to resist having a happy ending, with the women running terrified from the tomb, and the last words of Jesus are a cry of dereliction from the cross. Mark’s Gospel helps us to stay with Good Friday before we move too quickly to Easter Sunday.

If we had been in Church this year the spoken and sung elements would have been interspersed with space for silence and reflection. So in between the musical and spoken elements that follow you may wish to spend a little time in silent reflection.

Two of the songs I have chosen are well known contemporary songs and two of the songs have words that may be unfamiliar – although you will recognise the tune to “When you prayed beneath the trees”. I chose a less familiar song – a hymn from Malawi – “Holy Lamb of God”, because I thought the tune captured the mood of Good Friday, particularly the sorrow of that cry of dereliction from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”.

The focus running through the three reflections is to explore what we find distinctive about Mark’s passion narrative. I conclude with a poetic reflection on Psalm 22 and the way in which the poet Malcolm Guite links the psalm with the two psalms on either side, in order to see better how “Christ himself is crying through this Psalm”.
  With Very Best Wishes,
Tom
Please read Genesis 22: 1-18 Genesis-22-1-to-18.pdf (stgilesbramhope.org.uk)
Please read Psalms 21 and 22 Psalm-21-22-2-April-21.pdf (stgilesbramhope.org.uk)

Virtual Service 28 March Palm Sunday

Good morning everyone,

This Holy Week is my last one here at St Giles’s. I intend to simply share two things that you probably know mean a lot to me: music and poetry. 

The music is a reflection on the passion I have been involved with preparing for with the Leeds Festival Chorus, an event called “The Easter Journey” with music and readings appropriate for Holy Week. We have included the contact details of Fiona Kirby the person who can send on a zoom invitation if you would like to join in as a guest.

The poetry is from Malcolm Guite’s book on the Psalms, “David’s Crown”. I would like to reflect on psalms that Jesus would have sung with his disciples after the last supper on Maundy Thursday, on psalm 22 on Good Friday, and finally two ‘resurrection’ psalms on Easter Sunday.

On Maundy Thursday evening we will produce a virtual communion which would work well following an evening meal that day. To join in I would encourage you to please set aside a little bread and wine – or something special to drink after the meal.

At Good Friday there will be a pre-recorded series of three reflections accompanied by music which will go out at 12noon. This year we will be reflecting on the Passion narrative in Mark’s Gospel alongside Psalm 22.

On Sunday morning as well as our usual virtual worship to celebrate Easter morning, there will be a live act of worship in Church at 9.30am.

Today we remember the important role of the donkey as Jesus enters Jerusalem in fulfilment of prophecy. Zechariah chapter 9 and verse 9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.”

The donkey is a humble creature. The donkey points us to Christ, the one who humbled himself taking the form of a servant and who dies on a cross to bring about our salvation. 

A Palm Sunday collect as we together move forward into Holy Week:

Lord Jesus Christ, 
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant, 
and in obedience died on a cross for our salvation: 
give us the mind to follow you and to proclaim you as Lord and King
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


I shall look forward to seeing some of you face to face next week. We will keep going with the virtual services for a while yet.
 
Keep safe.

Tom

Maundy Thursday

Hello Everyone,

“Stay here with me, remain here with me, watch and pray”

Tonight we commemorate the night on which Jesus instituted the meal by which we remember him. The attached liturgy for holy communion has its roots in the Passover meal where children are invited to ask questions about why this meal of all meals is celebrated, and where the Prayer of Thanksgiving over the gifts provides a response.

I was greatly inspired by Bishop Paul’s reflection for today and have included his words as a sermon.

And our thanks as a parish to Val for the beautiful prayers for Maundy Thursday.

Every blessing in Holy Week

Tom

Bishop Paul’s Reflection for Maundy Thursday

Virtual Service 21 March

Good morning everyone
 
Today, 21 March, marks exactly a year since we went into that first lockdown. A lot has happened in that time. I feel I have learnt a lot about myself, I feel I have drawn closer to the people I care about, and closer to God. I feel like I have been able to sift out what is important to me and to cherish it. I trust that we will be able to build on all that we have learnt this year.

We have some good news to share this week: it’s official, we are “re-opening” the Church, and hope to start back in the Church building for worship at 9.30am on Easter Sunday. We will also keep going with the virtual services for the time being.

In line with a phased return, our live worship will be a “Service of the Word” to start with, sadly not a communion service just yet. As in previous lockdowns we continue the practice of no congregational singing, wearing face masks inside the building and observing physical distancing as before. I really look forward to a time when I will no longer have to phrase things in terms of prohibitions… We trust that this time this is really it: now that the Church is open we will stay open. I am really looking forward to seeing you all again.

It is officially spring this week: having more than 12 hours of daylight each day certainly helps. My blessing for this week is in the form of a poem that both celebrates spring and anticipates the end of lockdown. 

“Unlocked” by Hannah Stone:

I am unlocked when frogspawn bubbles in puddles and ponds,
I am unlocked when the first daffodil                                                                
    blows its trumpet from a muddy pit,
I am unlocked when catkins confer unearned epaulettes
   of golden dust on passing shoulders,
I am unlocked when song-birds pierce the dawning day
   with messages about nests,
I am unlocked when I observe new ivy tendrils
   strengthen their hold on falling trees,
I am unlocked when I no longer count the minutes spent outside,
I am unlocked when I no longer flinch 
    at two-tone sirens passing in the street,
I am unlocked when sketchy plans begin to colour themselves in,
I am unlocked when a hand extended is grasped and clasped,
I am unlocked when my hands are no longer empty.



Tom