Palm Sunday

Originally published as a reflection in the MCC North London newsletter, 25th March 2010

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven! – Luke 19:37-38

Throughout Lent we have been looking at what it means to follow Jesus and asking, what are we prepared to do for him? This week, as we head into Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we have the opportunity to follow Jesus in triumph in his final entry into Jerusalem.
This was the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry, the paradoxical moment at which his followers were rejoicing in his arrival and he was beginning to prepare for his betrayal and violent departure. To follow him at this moment, to be walking with him as his followers were spreading their cloaks out for him in the road, waving palms, shouting and praising God, must have been the most incredible privilege. For a group of poor men from small towns outside Jerusalem to be greeted like that in the holy city itself, I can’t imagine how that must have felt.

It would have been a moment when it was easy to follow Jesus, when there was reflected glory to bathe in, when the disciples felt like the most important men in the world. All Jesus’ followers in the city – men, women and children, from all social classes – at that moment really committed to Jesus. They were a strong group with faith; strong enough to put the wind up the Pharisees.
And so it was the turning point in the Pharisees’ attitude to Jesus. They realised that he had a strong and loyal band of followers; they were scared that he threatened their monopoly on religious teaching in the city, they were scared of losing their power and influence in Jewish society. This was the moment when a group of Pharisees decided it was time to approach Herod and Pilate and tell them that Jesus was leading a band of rebels, that he threatened the stability of Roman rule in Palestine and that their only option was to arrest him as a dangerous revolutionary. 
There is no doubt in my mind that the Pharisees really believed that Jesus was dangerous, and I know his teachings were revolutionary. We are blessed that they did not succeed in stifling Jesus’ message, nor in halting the spread of his name across the empire, but for a time it must have looked like they had succeeded.
In one short week, Jesus went from entering Jerusalem in triumph to being arrested, sentenced and publicly executed. In one short week, the followers who were so committed to him on Sunday had disappeared by Friday. They were prepared to follow him in times of joy, but were too scared to stand beside him and share the burden of his punishment. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, many more withdrew and pretended he had never been their leader. People felt let down, they couldn’t see past the arrest and execution to realise that Jesus was still the Messiah and their saviour. Jesus knew this, and knew that he was alone on his final walk that Friday, There were people following, and mourning, but they no longer felt like his disciples – his pupils – they were weeping for their loss, for their mistaken faith in a man who was fallible. ‘Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”‘ (Luke 30:28), he was reminding them that it was not his frailty that had led to this moment, but humanity’s dark and selfish heart. 
I wonder how many people truly heard that message? I believe Simon of Cyrene understood, when he carried the cross for Jesus. I believe that the women who stood at the foot of the cross understood. Eventually, I know that the disciples came to understand, but they had to see the resurrected Christ first.
So when we get into Palm Sunday, remember that Jesus had this wonderful moment of triumph and glory. Remember that it is wonderful to follow Jesus when life is going well. But also take some time to think about what it means to follow Jesus when times are hard. Could we take up his cross? Could we still have faith as we watched him die? I pray that I could, and I pray that I will find the strength in times of darkness in my own life to have the strength of Simon and Mary, a faith that doesn’t weaken when this world is cruel and cold.

Jerusalem today (taken December 2008)

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Some bad jokes

A collection of bad jokes from tonight’s funtimes in a bar in Soho (and others).

“What’s the difference between a lesbian and a duck?
Spelling.” – The Wife

Me: I’m not at church this week, it’s my week off.
Scottish friend coughs in a pathetic sort of way… ‘wee cough’, get it?


“Did you hear about the lesbian who knitted a scarf?
It itched.” – According to above-referenced Scottish friend this is a very funny joke that I fail to understand.


“How many musicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
Oh, it’s an obscure number, I don’t expect you to know it…” – Girl Housemate

Canals

Dad at the Thames with Andante, enjoying the sunshine.


I don’t know what it is about canals, but I really love them. I think it’s something to do with the fact that they are such an important part of the cityscape in Britain. In London especially, you can walk along the canal for a while and forget where you are. It’s a different way to see the architecture and you get a real sense of what it was like when the city centred around the waterways and the warehouses. There’s something creepy about all the abandoned warehouses, particularly around Camden, but they’re also really picturesque and imposing.

I also love looking at boat names. Mum and Dad’s is called Andante (‘walking’ in Italian, musical term for ‘walking pace’), because that’s the name they inherited but Mum wants to call it Moby Duck. Then there’s all the retirement boats called things like Dunworkin’, the boats named after poems (we once took a boat out for a weekend called Macavity), or those that seem to be named after family members.

I went for my first run in my bid to do 7 miles for Iain Rennie Hospice at Home on the 20th June (Fathers’ Day), and managed about 4km in 30 minutes, which isn’t too bad. I ran along from Thornhill Road near Kings Cross past St. Pancras and up to Camden Road. I haven’t run properly since October but I need to get back into doing intervals and increasing daily until I’m ready. According to a training guide Mum has, I should have plenty of time to get to the point I can run 10km (which is ≈ 7 miles).

I think I might start walking to church that way, it’s really not far and I’ll take some photos to plague you all with.

Run, Rowley, run, Rowley, run, run, run….

Right, I have a Cunning Plan. As many of you know, my Grandad sadly died on Valentine’s Day this year. He had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis for a couple of years and in the last 5-6 months he and Grandma were lucky to have excellent support from Iain Rennie Hospice at Home, who provided a hospital bed, nursing care and emergency doctors if needed. Three of the nurses then came to the funeral, and were kind enough to tell us that they had enjoyed Grandad’s company.

We were so lucky that Grandad had all that support without needing to leave Grandma and their home, so I’ve decided to do something for them and I will commit to at least enter the Penn and Tylers Green Fun Run (3.5 miles), but aim to enter the Penn 7 (7 miles), both of which are held on Father’s Day each year in aid of Iain Rennie.

I will be starting with a run tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!

A new commandment

Originally published as a reflection in the MCC North London newsletter, 4th March 2010. The Lenten reflections were on the theme of the hymn Will You Come and Follow Me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?

Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?

Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,

and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Sometimes I think that the responsibility given to us as Christians is almost impossible to fulfil. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) That doesn’t sound so bad until you start to look at it in detail and really think about what is being said. What does he mean when he says, “as I have loved you”?

Jesus’ life and ministry was completely rooted in love. Everything he did was for the love of humanity, from enduring tests in the wilderness from Satan until the day he died in agony on the cross. The seasons of Lent and Easter are all about the raw emotion that is at the heart of our faith; love.

Jesus showed that love in many different ways, some of which are easy to follow and some of which are almost impossible for us. He spent time with the people at the lowest end of the social scale; sinners, tax collectors, women, fishermen, people who were ill or disabled, and the list goes on. He broke bread with them, he taught them the will of God and he tended to their needs. Would we dare to look after those we consider beneath us, no matter what the cost? Would we wash the feet of anyone we don’t know, let alone those we don’t like? Would we kiss a person with a deforming and debilitating highly-contagious skin condition?

Jesus healed in the name of God. He resurrected Lazarus, healed all sorts of disabilities and debilitating illnesses. He continued to travel around healing those he loved, even when he knew that Herod was looking for him, and that he was soon to be arrested and executed. Would we have the faith to heal someone in the name of God? Would we have the strength of will to carry on doing this if it would cost us our lives?

And if we did do all these things, if we fulfilled the commandment to love one another and truly showed the love of Christ to all our neighbours, would that be enough? No. Jesus says that not only should we do these things, but we should do them unseen, out of no desire but to please God. We should not seek the recognition of people, or the thanks of the healed. There should be no reward for this work but the knowledge that it is the work of God we are doing. The only thing we should be seen to proclaim loudly and without fear in the face of the public is the love of Jesus Christ. We should admit what he means to us all day, every day. We should not be too embarrassed to tell our non-Christian friends we’ll pray for them, nor too ashamed to admit we go to church. We have to come out as Christians, even if we are persecuted. And if we lose everything, even our lives, we will have lost nothing as long as we have loved the world and our God, and lived that love in every aspect of our lives.