turning point

Trees are growing.  

Dark branches gnarling and criss-crossing .. twisting in strange forms.

They watch, through knotted eyes, an event roller coaster. 

ImageThey watch humanity hobble on an inevitable journey of hurts and costly joys. 

The journey began somewhere ……. 

Bethpage, Jerusalem, Gethsamane, or back in time, forever back and forwards.

The trees watch the hobbling steps of creation to an inevitable turning point.

Each moment they watch, as the Creator shoulders darkness, patiently and constantly.

The trees watch. 

They will play their part…….

fresh branches for a pathway,

trunk and branches, heavy and spreading, for pain ……. but full of liberation…..

and fallen leaves,

decomposing as another turning point.


Learning to judge

The flocks were headed back to the fold for the night, straggling though they followed their leader, quite a young lad. It was rather different to the eager way they bounced out in the morning, after having been milked. All of them lop eared, with pronounced noses.

We were sitting out in the cool of evening, catching our breath after a hard day of it. I loved these quiet evenings when it was just us best, though the days were more exciting. But in the evenings, when it was cool, and Jesus was unwinding – that was when he would teach us most, I thought.

‘The sheep and goats know which is which,’ said Jesus lazily, watching them peel off into the right fold. The shepherds separated the lambs out, keeping them apart so they could milk the adults in the mornings. They knew the routine and went with few protests. The adults plodded into their folds. At a distance, it was no always obvious to us which the goats were, which the sheep, but they all knew.

‘There you go,’ said Jesus, the lashes once again sweeping down, ‘the judgement you have always wanted. Sheep and goats divided. It seems they judge themselves.’

We shot each other glances. Jesus had been having a bash at ‘not judging others’ and ‘being forgiving’ that day and we were not as convinced as we might have been. We said little but he knew of course. He always knew.

‘So do we judge ourselves?’ asked Andrew, ‘Because I think the shepherd is really the one who decides.’

‘Um,’ said Jesus, ‘Right, you lot, all jump up. Go on, go on!’

Somewhat reluctantly we heaved ourselves up and stood there looking, well looking sheepish.

‘Right,’ he said, ‘All of you who have ever given a thirsty friend, or a beggar, a cup of water, go to the right. You are, lets see, you are the sheep.’

That was easy, we all straggled off to the right. ‘O.K.,’ said Jesus, ‘All of you who ever at any time passed by a beggar who looked thirsty and did not buy a drink, go to the left. You are goats.’ We eyed each other. Of course we had all, at some time, gone past a beggar and given nothing. We all straggled embarrassed to the left.

‘OK,’ says Jesus, ‘Now let us try with the sick. Who has gone to help a sick friend? Who has avoided helping.’ He kept us at it for ages, straggling right, straggling left. Remarkable, Judas once made it as simply a good sheep. He had had friends banged up on suspicion of insurrection, and never failed to visit despite the risk to himself. Every other category we always found ourselves both sheep and goats.

In the end he let us sink down and rest. By now the flocks were settling down for the night safe in pens.

‘People are not quite so easily categorised,’ said Jesus, ‘I do believe in judgement, but you have to learn to judge yourselves. Really, what matters is not simply getting it right (well done Judas, by the way! The only one to be just a sheep in any category).’ Judas gave an ironic little bow. ‘No, what matters is – learning what matters. Seeing clearly what needs to be done, and trying to do it. Keeping your priorities. Because, really sheep and goats are very alike. But what to do, how to live, that is where the difference is.’


“All you need at this time of Lent is stamina,” sayeth Bishop Kevin to me this morning. And he’s right. We are into the fifth week of Lent and it is about this time that we might be wearying. Whatever we gave up or took on is starting to take its toll. One of my little flock committed to coming to Morning Prayer every day in Lent. “We don’t have it next week, though?” she asked, a little hopefully I thought. “Oh yes we do,” sayeth I. And I saw her face fall. “It seems to be longer than six weeks I’ve been getting up early.”

Some have already fallen by the wayside. No alcohol has become no alcohol during the week. Unlikely Feast days have been sought to break the fast. But why is it important to keep on going? To not cheat? To keep on living out the promises we may to God and ourselves on Ash Wednesday? I mean, my little offering doesn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things. Nobody will notice if I don’t keep up with my Lenten discipline.

Well, let me share with you a Jewish story…

Once upon a time in the old country, there was a town in a wine-producing region of Eastern Europe. The villagers in this region heard that a very famous rabbi was going to be on a grand tour early the following year and would be passing through their town. So they called a town meeting and said, “We must have some kind of great celebration in the rabbi’s honour.”

Then one of the villagers suggested, “Since we all make wine, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had some kind of wine festival where we tasted the very best of wine?”

And then someone countered, “But each family only  makes a little wine each year. A big celebration would use up one family’s entire supply of wine for a year.”

So they devised a plan. They put a big oak barrel in the centre of the town, and every week, just before Shabbat, every household was to bring a small pitcher of wine and pour it into the cask. Then, by the end of the six months, they would have a great cask of wine.

But in one of the village families, the husband went home and he said to his wife, “Listen, you know that everyone is going to be bringing wine, and we are not a rich family. There’s going to be so much wine in that cask, ours certainly will make no difference. Why don’t we just fill our pitcher up with water? When I take it to the cask, I’ll pour it in right at the lip – I guarantee that no one will see.” And that’s what he did, every week.

Six month’s later the big day arrived. They set up a stand in the centre of town and put the cask on top of it. Right on schedule, the famous rabbi appeared. The townspeople were all proud of their village, their wine, and the rabbi. They presented him with a beautiful, ceremonial kiddish cup to taste the wine and inaugurate the celebration. He put the lovely cup underneath the spigot, filled it up, and lifted it high.

Suddenly there was a gasp from the crowd: his cup was filled to the brim with water.

from Because God Loves Stories edited by Steve Zeitlin

kiddish cup

unbound and dancing

‘Unbind him and let him go.’

Lazarus … dead … in his wrappings. He is neatly bound, dressed with love and care, bound and unmoving……
tight wrapped, soft wrappings, swathed with love and tears, like cotton wool, but tight.

It’s a place of waiting he’s in, waiting, not doing. Waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Waiting in the death, in the absence of life.
What is desired now for this much loved brother and friend?


Even in precious life we tie up our loved ones, wrapping them in our desires.

This will be better, won’t it! I really care, so better behave in this way! It will be for the best, you’ll see!

So many restrictions …. do it this way … here’s your timetable … don’t be late!

It’s because I love you, you see!

Clip the wings … no flying … no risks or excitement … only the place of restriction.

Unbind me … Unbind me ……
I want to move, wriggle, stretch and be free.


Christ-love does not hold in restriction. Christ-love brings escape from the bindings, giving freedom to flight and lightness to life.

Love one another …… love and let go.

‘Release him and let him go!’

And Lazarus danced with life and delight, released by those who loved him.

John 11.1-45

Even in the darkness, we can still see the Light (like a chink through the trees); that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

The Gospel reading for the Eucharist today is John 11.1-45; the death and the raising of Lazarus. Though we’re still journeying on in these Lenten days preceding Easter, we look forward to realising afresh that where there is death, Christ has the victory.