God of Joy, who created a world infused with Joy in nature, nurture and the name of Jesus, teach us how to rejoice in Joy today.
When it is easy, dance with us in our ecstasy. Sing with us in our gleeful expression. Celebrate with us in our appreciation and revel with us in out abundance.
When it is so, so hard, encourage us to keep looking. Draw us to your light. Call us to notice the blessings around us, and never let us forget the potential for Joy again.
May we be a people of Joy Seekers, not in wealth or aspiration, but in spirit and peace, finding our Joy in the flowers in the cracks, the birdsong on damp mornings and the candle that flickers in the dark.
God who celebrates us as we are – whole, scarred, confident, nervous, joyful, angry, and everything in between – be with us this day.
Be with the bereaved, as we are given a stark reminder this week that death comes to us all. Bless all those who mourn, from the Royal family to our closest neighbours. For all are treasured by you.
Be with the uncertain, as more restrictions lift this week and we each have our own responses to navigate. Temper our enthusiasm with wisdom, and soothe our anxiety with peace. For all are treasured by you.
Be with the vulnerable, the ones watching from their windows as they feel life returning to normal for everyone else. Reassure us, Jesus, you are walking with us at our own pace, and we are never alone. In each individual journey there is meaning and purpose. For all are treasured by you.
God who celebrates us as we are, who was resurrected to us scarred in Jesus so we could know wholeness as we are, may we learn not to stick our fingers in our own wounds today, but to have faith in your presence above all. Draw our gaze to you. In Love.
TW: There are some mild references in this blog to sexual abuse and rape which you may find disturbing. Please use your discretion in reading further. Peace be with you, and blessings should you need them.
Have you ever wondered why the Romans dressed Jesus up, only to put his clothes back on him? Seems a little strange don’t you think? Have you ever considered this means Jesus was stripped naked three times over, in public circumstances, for an intensely private man from an intensely private culture. He was beaten naked. I doubt his genitals were avoided. What would we call this, if not sexual abuse? The question posed by this book, is how far did the abuse go?
In a way, that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t say that to diminish it, I found it incredibly compelling in the potential presented (importantly, nothing claimed as fact) for Jesus as a victim of rape in the Roman praetorium, and it made sense of a lot of things for me that didn’t quite sit right before. This is shocking. I fully accept for some people it is a step too far, and that is absolutely your right to feel that way. Just, stay with me a moment though, please.
The sensitivity with which this book spoke about real survivor issues was just so touching. It radiated from every page, almost visible like the warmth from a candle. When I read about Thomas needing to touch Jesus’ hands to believe, and that being related to victims of rape having to undergo rape kits in the aftermath of their traumatic experience as part of their ‘proof’, I got that completely. When the book wondered if any reference to Jesus being a victim of rape had to be erased because that would make him less believable in our collective psyche, I got that completely too. How many women take the stand in rape cases knowing the actual person on trial for the truth is them? If they get that far …
I know there are concerns that this is a can of worms we really don’t want to open. Women I massively respect and care about have shared that view, and I want to honour that. This is a hugely sensitive subject with massively personal resonances that we must engage with carefully and prayerfully – or perhaps choose not to at all. Women’s experiences are being eroded all around us, and to bring focus on Jesus as a victim of sexual violence at a time when women are crying out to be heard on the issue may well have been a little unfortunate in the timing. That isn’t anyone’s fault, just the way it happened. My view, for what it is worth, is that if anyone of any gender expression has been subject to the power violation that underpins sexual violence, then embracing their need is a more urgent response than the political agenda of Feminism. But the latter must still be championed. Nothing is ever simple, but love is greater than struggle. I hope we can find a way to better balance the two demands.
Because for some of us, this is the most healing, the most true, the most empowering, the most engaging, the most direct and the most beautiful book that has drawn us the closest to Jesus we have been in years. And I repeat, in a way, the detail of what did or didn’t happen in that Praetorium, or how we interpret the penetration of nails into Jesus’ skin, or how we define enforced public nakedness, isn’t what matters. What matters is that we can have the conversation. What matters is that the potential for Jesus’ voice to be heard as part of the #MeToo movement is being recognised. What matters is that all of the noise in my head around my own experiences, life story and the somewhat radical theology I have developed to make sense of it all has just been reflected back to me in a book and I thank God for it.
And if you disagree, that’s ok. You are loved, and I thank God for you too.
I sat up on Easter Monday and realised I hadn’t done my blog prayers on Easter Sunday! And I smiled. For there was no guilt, no shame. I wasn’t going to beat myself up for that. Alleluia! He is risen indeed.
For what an Easter journey it has been. I have felt so disconnected. Lost. Apart from it all. I have been working very closely with an online community, The Ordinary Office (find them on twitter @Ord_Off or online at https://www.anordinaryoffice.co.uk) and have been honoured to preach for their online services, in particular on Easter Sunday. God was at the heart of it, and They delivered. But at times it all felt so abstract. Unreal.
Yet, there is nothing more real than the pattern of Easter. Of complete searing loss, devastation, emptiness. Of finding a way to live again after that was seemingly impossible. We do it all the time. After a relationship breakdown. After a redundancy. After a death. Granted, not usually literally. But once Easter had passed, and the expectations were over, the traditions were fulfilled and the routines were complete, once I had the space to look at my own life, look where death was looming and declaring victory, and pray resurrection into it, then I could see Easter for what I needed it to be.
Not an observance of a story in the Bible, the Church’s response to that, and society’s commercialisation of a springtide tradition. But my heart’s reflection on the darkness in my life and the Spirit within me’s reassurance that life would win. If I let it.
This week, I have lived like I am letting it. It has only been three days. But I am happier, my home is breezier, and my soul is lighter. Easter has never lifted me before like it has this year. Not from traditional Church, but from Online Community. Not from following rites and communion but from following where the Spirit led and engaging actively in Twitter community/the community in my street, on my doorstep. Not just from the Bible, but from scholarly books actively engaging in discourse around the Easter narratives – more on that later!
Now I am no longer tied to a Church, a tradition, a denomination, I am free to live Easter in the Wilderness and just see how God wants to speak to me, 1:1, just us. As Jesus did, as John did, as Moses did. It’s amazing. The journey to the wilderness is tough. But once you get used to it out here, it’s a fine place to be. I’m gonna stay for a little while …
We’re hanging on by our fingertips, God. They’re bruised and sore. Soothe them, Spirit of healing. Smother them with balm and cover them in silken wrappings, that they may be refreshed and made whole again. Keep us fit for the road ahead as we walk alongside you Jesus, and our fellow pilgrims.
We keep haulin’, God. We’re aching and tired. Restore us, Spirit of life. Enliven us with joy and embue us with hope, that we may envision the fruits of our labours and keep strong as we toil in the dim light. Sing our shanties with us Jesus, in chorus with our fellow pilgrims.
We keep pacing ourselves, God. Never knowing when this will end or the next blip will come. Enrich us, Spirit of wisdom. Bless us with your insight and give us enough light for the next step, that we may use the grace we have for today and not waste worry on tomorrow. Rest with us when the day is done, Jesus, amongs your pilgrims.
On this day, I sit and reflect on why we need to pull out Racial Justice as a single thread. Social Justice as a whole is our reason for being as followers of Christ, after all.
Yet who can look back over the furore surrounding Jarel Robinson-Brown in recent weeks and deny a discourse around race, justice, society and faith is sorely needed; this is why we need a focus on racial justice God. Spirit, rain your wisdom down on us.
I look at my nephew and niece, beautiful mixed-race English children, and know their treatment will not aways be equal to their same-race English cousins; that is why we need a focus on racial justice God. Spirit, rain your wisdom down on us.
I consider my almost-teenage son’s peers from non-white ethnicities. The different experiences they share with my boy, the cruelties of the world he has newly experienced through their stories. How their mothers may feel when their sons leave the house compared to how I feel; that is why we need a focus on racial justice God. Spirit, rain your wisdom down on us.
I look to all the other needs in society, the calls for justice for those with disabilities, those in the lgbtq+ communities, those in poverty, and so many more. I see the intersections with race and other needs and I weep for my complicitness in the society which empowers me over others purely because of how I was born; that is why we need a focus on racial justice God. Spirit, rain your wisdom down on us.
In this prayer, as in everything, I acknowledge my ignorance and ask for increased understanding. Jesus, teach me as I sit at your feet, not the blue eyed white man of my childhood stories but the brown Nazrene Jew of my learned experience. Give me more exposure to teachers of other ethnicities and cultures so I may know more of their context and hold tight to less of my own. And in everything, may I discern more of you, share more of you and draw closer to you.