Lent 2018 – Holy Week – the nails

Reading: Mark 15:20b-27

Then they led him out to crucify him.
A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.
They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.

26th March – Monday

Singing the Faith 267
Psalm 130 (StF 832)

I’m not the first person to be struck by the irony of Jesus, a carpenter, the son of a carpenter being killed by being nailed to a piece of wood.
As he waited for the cross beam to be fixed to his back, did he notice the smells and sounds of the carpenter’s workshop?
If he was sufficiently conscious did he notice the tools and the sub-standard materials being used? Did he despair at the poor skills of the those tasked with cutting the wood and making the nails?
I wonder if his mind wandered back over the years to when he was a young boy being taught by Joseph how to hold the hammer and the chisel, learning to drive a nail in straight, building the muscles needed for sawing and planning?
I wonder if he thought about Joseph, bringing him up as his own child, know that Jesus was not his flesh and blood?
I wonder if he drew some comfort from remembering the love that he was shown as he learned his ‘father’s’ trade? Or did he remember how Joseph (and Mary for that matter) missed the point when he stayed back in Jerusalem when he was 12 years old?
Did he recollect hours of labour, days of satisfaction of craft and creation?
Did he miss those days? Did he wish he was still nothing more than a village carpenter?
Or was his focus so strongly on the will of his Father that he was only living in that moment?
He had asked the Father if there was another way – there was not.
So, amongst the familiar sawdust and splinters, wood shavings and timber, Jesus is prepared for his final journey.

FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for all those in our community who are bereaved. We pray especially for those who have recently lost loved ones, but acknowledge and honour all bereavements. We thank God for precious and loving relationships and pray comfort to those who mourn.
FOR THE WORLD We pray for all of those throughout our world who mourn the loss of a friend or family member. We pray especially for those who mourn alone and we thank God for people who stand alongside others in their grief, offering comfort practical support and a listening ear.

27th March – Tuesday

Forced to carry Jesus’ cross. How would you feel?
Any soldier had the right to co-opt a citizen from an occupied territory to carry a load for a specified distance. But I have no idea how many Jews were co-opted to carry a cross for a criminal too badly beaten to walk the distance to the place of execution carrying their own cross-beam. Perhaps it was common-place?
In any case, Simon found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was probably angry at being made to deviate from his intended route, angry at soldier who grabbed him at that moment. Perhaps he was worried that, having done his duty to the hated Romans that he would be mistaken for the criminal and crucified by mistake!
Did he pity Jesus or was he just annoyed that he didn’t have the strength to drag more than his own body weight up the hill?
Why do we know his name? Why would this stranger in the crowd be remembered by name and for his place of birth by the early Church? Why did Mark write this detail down when he wrote his Gospel?
There is only one likely answer to that question. Simon must have been a follower of Christ – or become one, following that day. He must have been known to the Christian community. Perhaps he was a notable member of a church in Cyrene?
Did he enter Jerusalem that day to make his sacrifice at the Temple, to sacrifice a lamb in thanks to God for freeing his people from Egypt only to discover another sacrificial lamb – the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
If so, what made the difference? Did he see something in Jesus face, or in the tears of the women who lined the streets? Did he hear what Jesus said to the thief on the cross or what the Centurion said?
What happened that day as he lifted Jesus cross on his back to change his life forever?
Would he look back in gratitude that he was chosen and conclude that he was in the RIGHT place at the RIGHT time?

Pray… FOR OUR COMMUNITY We think today of all of those who use our church buildings. We thank God that our premises offer a warm and welcoming environment for such a variety of groups and pray that all who use our building may know that they are a valued and important part of our community.
FOR THE WORLD Take a while to consider a huge variety of opportunities we have for friendship, hospitality, music, arts, sport and learning. We thank God for all of those who teach or run activities for others and we pray especially for creative therapies or those activities which offer help in situations that seem hopeless.

28th March – Wednesday

Jesus carried his cross, at least for a while, and with it he carried all the sin of the world – all its grubby deceit and downright wickedness. He took it all on his shoulders and dragged it to be dealt with forever.
Isaiah said, generations before:

He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

When I first heard that passage, I assumed that it was from the New Testament. I could not believe how such an accurate description of what happened to Jesus could have been written long before. I marvelled at the God who knows our hearts well enough to know what would happen to him. And more than that, I marvelled that God, knowing his creation so well would send his Son amongst such people and sacrifice him for them.
How could he love us that much?
But the cross is not just a sort of heavenly Valentine that says: ‘I love you, please be mine.’ it’s also a challenge. Because Jesus said that whoever wants to follow him must pick up their cross – and be prepared to suffer for the Kingdom of God.
We are not like Simon – compelled to carry a cross. We are invited to become part of the movement that is prepared to go to any lengths to serve God and offer his love and challenge to others.
It’s hard to think of Jesus dragging himself (or being dragged) up that hill to his death. We would perhaps prefer to look the other way until Easter Sunday and celebrate the resurrection.
But we cannot have the resurrection without the crucifixion. And we can’t have the joy of relationship with God without accepting the responsibility of bringing others to him, too.

Pray… FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for those in our community who are pastoral visitors. We thank God for the work that they do visiting those who are members of our church and keeping those who are housebound connected with our church community.
FOR THE WORLD We pray for all of those worldwide who are good neighbours, visiting others and ensuring people stay in touch with their communities. We pray for the ways in which we can nurture and encourage each other through friendship.

29th March – Maundy Thursday

The longest journeys can be the ones that take us to something wonderful and long-anticipated – a holiday or to see a loved one. The day of travel seems forever in arriving and the hours drag.
But the hardest journeys are the ones that take us where we would prefer not to go. They are the most uncomfortable and trying – even if we would rather keep travelling than arrive at the dreaded destination.
Jesus journey to Jerusalem was one of anticipation and resolution. He ‘set his face’ towards Jerusalem and was determined to fulfil his purpose. So, in that way, it was the journey towards a longed-for goal.
But his journey from the upper room, via the garden of Gethsemane to the hill of Golgotha must have been long and exhausting because he knew what awaited him there.
He didn’t want to go through the pain and humiliation – though he was not afraid to die. In one of the most human passages about him in the Bible, it is his conversation with his Father in the garden that gives us the greatest insight to his feelings.
Emotionally he falters – just for a moment. ‘Isn’t there another way? Can’t this suffering be avoided?’
But Jesus taught his disciples to pray ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done’ and now, like any good teacher, he puts his teaching into practice. ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’
And, receiving the strength he needs, he gets up and continues the journey.
Almost at the end, he falters again – but this time, physically. No human being could have the physical strength to match his inner strength. And he was fully human.
The journey continued to the place of execution and the last hours dragged on until the mercy of death. But before his final breath, he uttered the words: ‘It is finished.’ Not in defeat, but in triumph – ‘I’ve done it. This longest journey is over’.

Pray… FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for our building project. We pray that our building may be a place where all are welcomed, and pray that we may continually seek new ways in which to utilize our premises to serve our community.
FOR THE WORLD We pray for all of the places in the world where your love and compassion is demonstrated. We thank God for so many signs of hope in the growth and development of new churches and congregations.

30th March – Good Friday

There are few words to truly express how we feel today, Father.
– deep and profound sadness at the death of the best friend we could ever have.
– for the disciples – they had tried their best, even if they failed. They didn’t understand what was going to happen and for them this was the end.
– for Mary – being the mother of the Son of God was not ever going to be easy. But to watch him die in this way – we can hardly imagine worse suffering
– And we feel something of your sadness, Father – sadness that the people you created had strayed so far from your way that we needed him to come and die to bring us back.
– because it was our sin that led him to the cross – because it was for our sake that he died.
– that even knowing all that Jesus did for us, we still go our own way and need again and again to come to you for forgiveness.
– the guilt of Judas the betrayer, the guilt of Peter the coward, the guilt of Pilate, too weak to stand up to the Sanhedrin, the guilt of the Sanhedrin in their blindness.
– for your love – because you didn’t abandon us in our rebellion and foolishness.
– for the rescue plan that enables us to live in hope.
– that we know you through Jesus.
– for all that you are.

Pray… FOR OUR COMMUNITY Pray today for those who struggle to accept the reality of the cross – and those who have yet to understand the way it impacts on their lives. Pray for the ‘Passion Retold’ event in Southampton Guildhall later today. Pray for protection for all involved and that lives will be changed.
FOR THE WORLD We pray for the many people who will go about their daily lives with no concept of their need for forgiveness and your love in their lives – those without faith in anything beyond what they can see and touch.

31st March – Saturday

There is a sense of emptiness on this day – of being lost in the hiatus between the horror of Good Friday and the Glory of Easter Day.
I imagine the women, anxious to do the last service they could for Jesus – to anoint and wrap his body according to their customs. How frustrated they must have been that the Sabbath meant that they must wait until the next day.
Their grief was suspended by inactivity and the sense of something unfinished.
They were wrung out and exhausted by crying and fear. They had cried all the tears they had as they sensed hope draining away. Even as they wept and wailed on the road to Golgotha they had clung to the tiniest hope that he would somehow escape what logic said was inevitable. Their horror at the passing of the death sentence and the struggle to take in the awful truth that he wasn’t going to escape consumed them.
They had clung to each other at the foot of the cross, huddled in tearing grief that all but overwhelmed them. They couldn’t watch – couldn’t look away. They begged God to spare him – begged him to free him – begged him to let him die.
Their legs ached from standing for so many hours. They were faint with hunger and dangerously dehydrated. But nothing could move them from their place at his feet until he was declared dead and hauled down from the cross.
They washed his wounds with their tears, as Mary held his dislocated body for one last time. They were too sick with grief to express they’re thanks to the stranger who offered his tomb. All they could do was to take note of it and hurry away in the fading light in order to keep the Sabbath Law.
There had been no hope of sleep and they had sat in silence as the fire went out. The light had gone out of their lives. They only hope they clung to was of giving him the honour and dignity of a proper burial. And that would have to wait.

Pray… FOR OUR COMMUNITY We pray for all of those members of our community who have died. We do acknowledge with gratitude all that they have given and taught over the years. Take a while to think of people you have known and thank God for the precious memories that you have of them.
FOR THE WORLD We thank God for all of those whose lives have enriched our world; for those whose actions and beliefs have made a positive difference.