Monthly Archives: March 2013

Reflections on the Good Friday and Easter Gospels

Good Friday: John 18 & 19

Powerlessness, suffering and injustice are experiences the human race knows very well.  And they lie at the heart of these stories.  Jesus is revealed, not as a far-off ruler, but as someone who is with us in the midst of these things.

He is human—and so bears these experiences alongside us.  But he is also divine—and so his bearing of judgment, hatred and violence also vanquishes them.

Jesus becomes our sacrifice.  He is scapegoated by humans unnerved and disappointed by his message.  Some are unnerved because his truth-telling challenges their lies and their manipulation.  Others are disappointed, having expected Jesus to be a very different kind of Messiah.They thought he would impose God’s Kingdom at the end of a sword.  But, as Jesus tells his disciples, those who live by the sword die by the sword.  A Kingdom imposed by violence and fear could not be God’s Kingdom.

The Kingdom Jesus brings in is one where domination, violence and judgement are conquered by self-giving love.  This is his new creation, born in the water and the blood which flow from his side.  As we are reminded on Maundy Thursday, we taste and see this new creation both in the sacramental life of the church and in practical acts of love.

Easter Vigil: Luke 24.1-12   Easter Day: John 20.1-9

The Easter Gospels are joyful; but they are also filled with confusion and even fear.  Expectations are upset. What was secure is turned upside-down.   Jesus’ journey from death to new life is foreshadowed by the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  That too was a disorienting experience—an uncertain journey, requiring courage and faith.

Neither exodus nor Easter spell an immediate end to struggle and pain.  The early Church soon faced the realities of persecution and violence.

Resurrection life is found where human beings cease to see their good as something to be won over against others, and cease to scapegoat those who are unlike them.  Our risen Lord was the ultimate scapegoat – the friend and healer of those his society rejected, the one crucified ‘outside the gate’.  The Gospels make the extraordinary claim that this radical and sacrificial identification with outcasts and scapegoats is the way to life all its fullness.

400th Near Neighbours grant awarded

A group of mothers from diverse backgrounds were on hand to welcome the Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi to east London this week.

The visit marked the award of the 400th Near Neighbours grant. The scheme is administered by four centres across the country – the Contextual Theology Centre co-ordinates the programme in London.

Baroness Warsi 3

The visit took place at Departure arts cafe in Limehouse, where represetatives from five Near Neighbours projects were able to meet eachother, talk about their work and meet the visiting guests. They ate wonderful food together and even sang together.

One of the very first Near Neighbours supported projects – Baby Song – sees mothers and young children join together to sing and learn about eachother. This group, led by Captain Kerry Coke from Stepney Salvation Army, helped Baroness Warsi and other present to learn a new song – and even play the spoons!

Baroness Warsi 5

The 400th project to receive the grant is a group of mothers of Bengali, Chinese, Turkish, Somali, Japanese, Russian, Kurdish, Italian and Lithuanian backgrounds. They all have children at the same school in Stepney but did not previously engage directly with each other. With encouragement, the mothers applied for a Near Neighbours grant to take excursions to key London landmarks and used the opportunity to learn about each other’s backgrounds and develop friendships.

Near Neighbours is a three-year initiative that aims to bring people together from diverse backgrounds, helping them to build relationships and collaborate to improve the community they live in. The Near Neighbours charity was created by Church Urban Fund following the award of £5m by the Department for Communities and Local Government in February 2011.

The latest grant builds on the recent work of a group of fathers with equally diverse backgrounds living in Stepney, who used the funding to take a camping trip together with their children, developing a tight friendship group of parents who now work to support each other and their respective children.

Baroness Warsi said: “Near Neighbours grants are benefiting so many people from different backgrounds, faiths and cultures helping to build stronger and more supportive communities. It was fantastic to hear first-hand how these small grants are making such a big difference to the lives of local people and I’m sure they will have a lasting effect on everyone involved.”

Baroness Warsi 1

Revd Canon Paul Hackwood, Trustee of Near Neighbours said: “Mums and Dads are the backbone of strong communities and it is great to see people really getting to know each other for the first time and forming strong family friendships in the local community through this work. Projects like this help us to build a stronger, more compassionate society from the ground up.”

Alison Jones, the coordinator for the project said: “At the first coffee morning there were 17 mothers from 11 countries- we had to find an atlas to learn where Uzbekistan and Eritrea were. The Portuguese mum and the Iranian mum discovered that they both spoke Italian and so helped each other out with translating into English. After the first meeting one Somali mum said ‘now I know some Bengali parents so I will say hello to them in the playground.’ ”

The East London advertiser reported on the event here.

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Prayers for Palm Sunday

This is the fortieth and last of our daily Lenten blogs, with prayers for projects connected with the Contextual Theology Centre and the Church Urban Fund.  Do take a look back at them all, to get some sense of the extraordinary breadth and depth of Christian engagement with local communities on issues of social justice.

As CTC and CUF’s partner churches enter into Holy Week, pray that for us all, this work of social transformation may be rooted in the extraordinary and transformative work done by Jesus Christ.

CTC’s theme this Lent has been Contemplation and Action, and this blog post by the Bishop of Stepney captures the importance of placing Jesus’ death and resurrection at the heart of all we do as Christians and as congregations.

Almighty God, as we stand at the foot of the cross of your Son, teach us to see and know his love for us, that with humility, love and joy we may place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  (from Daily Office SSF)


Prayers for Day 39 of Lent

Pray for ‘Spruce’, a gardening and landscaping training project to help long term unemployed people in Durham to get work experience and be helped into work.  It has been set up by Handcrafted Projects with support from the Church Urban Fund.

Pray also for the growing links between ARC (one of CTC’s Pentecostal partner churches) and churches and College chapels in Oxford University – which are deepening understanding across very different parts of the Body of Christ.  Young people from ARC visited Oxford last term, and will be singing at a special Eucharist in one of Oxford’s city centre churches in May.  In addition, three students  from Oxford have served as CTC interns at ARC, with one going on to work there as a Church-based Community Organiser.

Prayers for Day 38 of Lent

Pray for ‘The Changing Room’ – a project based at a Methodist Church near Penzance which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund.  It has been piloted for the last 18 months and is addressing long term issues of poverty in West Penwith such as child poverty, homelesness, unemployment and domestic abuse, by running activities such as a carers and children drop in, sessions for teenagers, a Food bank, and women’s clothes swaps. Many women who attend these activities are unemployed, on benefits or have suffered domestic abuse, and there are links with Penzance Women’s Refuge. With support from the Church Urban Fund, it is now increasing its activities to include homeless work, and ‘back to work’ sessions (requested by MIND & Addaction).

Pray also for the Catholic Parish of Manor Park, as Contextual Theology Centre staff assist the parish priest and congregation (the church has around 1200 regular attendees) in discerning how to use their building more effectively for ministry and mission.  Pray for the discussions and prayer going on within the church, and for God’s guidance on the process – in one of London’s most diverse and economically deprived neighbourhoods.

Prayers for Day 37 of Lent

Pray for Rubies in the Rubble – a project in one of CTC’s partner churches which is being supported by the Church Urban Fund.  Rubies in the Rubble makes preserves out of surplus fruit and vegetables from London’s wholesale markets – providing work for vulnerable long-term unemployed women in the community. This is a safe supportive environment where the women can work and build their pride and  confidence. St Peter’s Bethnal Green is involved through providing low-rent storage space, promotion and prayer in services, produce stalls at parish events, and volunteering by church members.


Reflections on the Palm Sunday Gospels

‘What do you really want?’  That is the question the crowds face on Palm Sunday, and the disciples face as Jesus goes to the cross.  In what do they place their deepest hopes and trust?

The ongoing financial crisis poses these questions to us all.  Our society is reaping the harvest of a financial system which has spun out of control – a system which placed its trust in things and disregarded people.  The Palm Sunday and Easter readings speak to us of a God who breaks through the narrowness and greed of human hearts, not to judge and condemn but to offer ‘the life that really is life’ (1 Timothy 6.19) .

The Palm Sunday Gospel readings are Luke 19.28-40 (Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem) and Luke 23.1-49 (Gospel of the Passion)

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, what is it that the crowd think they see?  They think they see a king – perhaps a military leader who will end the rule of the Romans.  But Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations. What they are after is not what he provides.  His arrival on a donkey overturns their expectations, but the reality takes some time to sink in.

Of course, we read this with the benefit of hindsight – but the Gospel poses this question to  each of us every bit as much as it does to them.  ‘What are you after?’  What do we seek from Jesus?  And are we willing to allow him to challenge, and to disappoint our expectations?  As the disciples learn, it is in not giving us what we are after that Jesus gives us what we truly need.

Prayers for Day 36 of Lent

Pray for the  Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) , whose work has a particular focus on refugees and asylum seekers. The Church Urban Fund is supporting a pilot project in London, which will enable Jewish doctors to provide mentoring to 15 refugee doctors to help them overcome the hurdles to finding employment. This project builds on mentoring they already provide to young asylum seekers.

Pray also for the New Citizens Legal Service (NCLS), an initiative of Citizens UK which has been supported by CTC staff and interns.  NCLS aims to address the lack of information available and access to high quality affordable legal advice that is experienced by some members of communities. Often leaders within diaspora communities lack the confidence and knowledge to assist members who are in need of immigration advice.  Citizens UK been training up immigration ‘sign posters’ in its diaspora communities, who will not be giving advice, but will help people navigate the immigration system and obtain the services of an accredited adviser.

Prayers for Day 35 of Lent

The Church Urban Fund is pioneering a programme of Joint Ventures – working in partnership with Dioceses throughout England to provide long-term sustainable support for Christians working in the country’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Pray for these joint ventures, and in particular for the Joint Ventures developing in Southwark and London Dioceses, and for the partner parishes of CTC involved in this work.

Praying and working for justice

Yesterday, some of the churches who are taking part in our ‘Money Talks’ process, or doing the longer ‘Seeing Change’ course this Lent, gathered under the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – where this important work was held in prayer at the 6pm Eucharist.

We reproduce Canon Michael Hampel’s sermon below (the readings were Isaiah 43: 16-21 and John 12: 1-8)

The Fifth Sunday of Lent marks a gear change in our observance of Lent. The pace of our journey to the cross, following in the footsteps of Christ, quickens as we focus on Jerusalem and the final events of Christ’s earthly ministry. Today, in the Church’s calendar, Passiontide begins.

The word ‘passion’ may seem a strange word to use to describe the darkest part of the Gospel story. We often use the word today to describe emotional excitement but, at root, the word means ‘suffering’ – this case, Christ’s suffering in betrayal and death.

The word, then, has a sense about it of both the agony and the ecstasy: the agony being the very real experience of so many of the world’s people and the ecstasy being those moments when we try to stand outside of ourselves and look at how the world could really be if only we could rebuild the city and truly be the people whom God intends us to be.

On this gear-changing moment in Lent, then, perhaps we should try to stand outside of ourselves and consider – both in prayer to God and in collaboration with each other – how to redeem the agony and ensure that every human life is transformed from the darkness of Good Friday into the new life of Easter Day.

Those of you who are following the Lent course developed by the Contextual Theology Centre know about the importance of listening to people’s stories and about working together in order to respond to people’s needs. And both halves of that equation are crucial. It’s no good just criticising the Government for trying to resolve an economic crisis to which most of us have contributed without also proposing alternative solutions to the problems of recession. We must listen to people’s stories and, together, work out how to respond.

Perhaps something along those lines is going on in this evening’s Gospel lesson. The problem of the poor is placed on the table by Judas – not, we’re told, for particularly charitable reasons – but the solution to the problem is far more valuable and effective than a quick bit of fund-raising and the solution to the problem is sitting at the table. It is Jesus.

Why? Because Jesus both in his life and in his death turned upside down all conventional theories about leadership, politics, economics, law and order, relationship, community – well, and everything in fact – by coming among us as one who serves and by dispensing grace, mercy and truth as gifts from God.

It sounds very simple but it is vastly more effective than raising three hundred denarii by selling a jar of costly perfume because our discipleship of Christ obliges us as faithful people to make ourselves responsible for the plight of our neighbour and by not resting – even if it kills us – until our neighbour has his equal share of the grace, mercy and truth which flow from the generous God who made heaven and earth and who came among us as one who serves.

As one former Bishop of Durham has said, “You may not feel up to it but God is certainly down to it!”