What is this love? Just this we know that love transcends all pomp and show, that love exists, above below, love was and is and is to be, by grace we are both loved and free.
What is this love? It precedes life, it overcomes all dark and strife, love is the Spirit’s keenest knife, pure love has brightness in its eyes, yet breathes forever, never dies.
Love is the interface of change, no difference rests beyond its range, its nature gracious, other, strange, it holds birth, death and all between, here all is safe: both hidden, seen.
Love is the point where hell is breached, where joy is glimpsed and heaven reached, the outcasts find they’re unimpeached, on this wide earth the lost are found for love is safe, is solid ground.
Andrew Pratt 17/4/2022
Easter Rainbow Cross Suffocating night smothering, obliterating the broken bloody body hammered hard, staining scarlet that cross of rough-cut wood and thunder crashed the doom of death. Then darkness fractured, light splintered, fragments of colour shot out into the brilliance of a multi-coloured Easter morning in a green garden. And an empty cross rainbow-wrapped, images the promise of the death-defying dawn of new hope. Marjorie Dobson © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. From Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019.
Quite early one morning © Andrew Pratt
A strange new day This is the day when perfume remained unopened, spices were no longer needed, cloths and sponges were unused. This is the day when stone was no barrier, soldiers abandoned guard duty, grave clothes and tomb were empty. This is the day when the unexpected became reality, a man asked awkward questions, uttered unlikely proclamations. This is the day when bewilderment ruled, fear was ever-present, obedience the only option. This is the day when women left hurriedly, uncertain and warily, to tell a strange story to an unbelieving audience, For they did not know it, but this is the day when everything changed: death was defeated, new life was beginning, hope overwhelming despair. This is the day of resurrection. Marjorie Dobson © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England email@example.com. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. From Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019. Come in the morning Come in the morning. Come see the dawning. Come to the garden – life has broken through. Jesus, dead and buried. To his grave they hurried. Anxious women found that life had broken through. Chorus Soldiers could not keep him for they were found sleepiing and the tomb was open – life had broken through. Chorus Peter, unbelieving, left, still full of grieving. Nothing would convince him life had broken through. Chorus Mary, greatly shaken, thought he had been taken. Heard his voice that told her life had broken through. Chorus Where there was despairing, grief and horror sharing, now there is a rumour life has broken through. Chorus So God’s word is spoken, when our hearts are broken there will come a time when new life will break through. Chorus Marjorie Dobson © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. From Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019. Metre: 6 6 6 5 and chorus 5 5 5 5 Tune: Dance to thi’ Daddy (When the boat comes in) Mary Magdalene My name is Mary, common enough in my time to need to be identified by place, or family. Mine is such a name. They call me the Magdalene. People call me other names. Some claim I was a prostitute, perhaps because the town whose name I bear is famous for that trade. Others question my sanity and ask why it was necessary for that exorcism of troubling devils to be performed. They probably call me mad. The other followers, male, of course, know me as ‘one of the women’, useful for everyday tasks, but mainly disregarded. So on that day - when all hope had drained after his execution, the future seemed bleak and empty and even the tomb appeared to have been raided and his body stolen – it was hardly surprising that the men ignored me, ran back to the city and left me to weep alone. The voice was kind and questioning and I sobbed my story, not expecting help. But it came, in one word. ‘Mary,’ from one who spoke my name as if it mattered. My name is Mary. His name was and is and always will be, Jesus. Marjorie Dobson © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England email@example.com. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. From Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019. Safe, locked inside that upper room Safe, locked inside that upper room, too scared to let the truth be known, disciples had to see their Lord before that truth could be their own. And Thomas, still so full of doubt, would not believe the tales they told till Christ appeared, to show his wounds - then his conviction made him bold. Yet doubts and fears returned again. Once more they locked themselves away until the Holy Spirit came on that inspiring, vital day. The truth is now a living fact. The love of God can never die. So bold apostles stood their ground – their living Lord is not a lie. We have not seen, but we believe and we must witness by our faith to living truth we have received, awakened by the Spirit’s breath. Marjorie Dobson © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. From Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019. Metre: LM Tune: NIAGARA Poem: When what we thought was mystery When what we thought was mystery is rooted in the common place, and God is found in those who love, and those we love by grace; then we have grasped the Christmas story, reached its heart, beheld its glory. When scourge and cross are recognised in images from round the earth. When we admit complicity and gauge compassions' dearth; then we have grasped the Easter story, reached its heart, and felt its glory. When love and justice magnify and even mercy has no end; when hostages find liberty and enemies are friends; then we have grasped the Spirit's story, reached its heart, expressed its glory. Andrew Pratt © 2004 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England email@example.com. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
(commissioned for the Mid-Cheshire Circuit of the Methodist Church in the UK, for March 31st 2021 - Humanity into eternity or Death into Life - this is a personal reflection of the author) Read by Andrew Pratt - click here This week leads us up to the excitement of Easter Sunday, but to get there we need to get through Good Friday. Far from the hymn language of ‘glorious scars’ and a ‘wondrous cross’ this day is almost impossible for me. You see, I do not believe in a vindictive God who sacrifices his Son. I do trust, through faith, in the incarnation – God being human. The language we use to explain this enigma is taut, strained – a baby in a manger, ‘the Word made flesh’. But if this is our starting point then it is God who hung on a cross on that first ‘good Friday’. I cannot cope with some vast plan of salvation that requires the sacrifice of a child, even an adult child. What I can understand is a God of love, from whom we can never be separated (Romans 8, 38). So where does that leave us? For me Jesus embodies God’s love completely. Such love has to be totally selfless and this is what I see in Jesus. It is the sort of love that challenges all hypocrisy, injustice and indignity to which we are exposed, and which we still experience. But there is a problem here. The moment we start to love those whom others do not, or cannot, love we become a threat to them. We either have to acknowledge that love and ally ourselves with it, or ignore it, oppose it. We are inherently selfish. Humanly we seek our own preservation. That is a biological imperative. So when Jesus challenged the powers, those around him by challenging their economy, their culture it was threatening. You remember the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers? But they were only going about their normal business. Or his emphasis on the importance of the widow’s tiny gift; surely the gifts of the rich were more important? Or again, when he paused to heal a woman, whom religion said was unclean, who had touched him in the crowd. And he had been called to heal the daughter of a leader of the synagogue! His priorities seemed all wrong. In all these ways it felt as if he was a threat to the culture and religion, the very economy of the people. He was a threat to their way of life. How they behaved was no different from how we, in similar situations, behave today. They and we behave, literally, naturally. And Jesus response was the only possible response of complete and utter, unconditional, all-inclusive love: that is forgiveness – ‘forgive them for they literally don’t know what they’re doing’! And we, for all our protestations, are so often no different. And the cross becomes wondrous, not as some great theological bargain, or the culmination of a cosmic plan of sacrifice, but in the revelation of the nature of total love that we are called to follow. And the human response to this call to love, because of all the sacrifice it requires us to make, is at best half-hearted, at worst vicious, for here, in our neighbour ‘spurned, derided God is dying… Tortured, beaten, scarred and tainted, not a picture deftly painted, more a tattered, battered being, torn, disfigured, stark, unseeing. Muscles twisted, strained, contorted, body dangling, bruised, distorted. Life blood drying, sun-baked, stinging, hatred, bitter hatred, flinging. Crowds insensate, tempers vented, full of anger, discontented. Curses scattered, insults flying, spurned, derided, God is dying.
And the world is shrouded in darkness, inevitably for in darkness we cannot see. If God is dead this really is the end. And this is why theologians, then and now, you and I, seek to explain away this horror. Yet Jurgen Moltmann, some years ago in a book which still deserves to be read, The Crucified God, sees the cross as the test of all that deserves to be called Christian, rather than the resurrection. Here we see God’s utter love and willingness to be vulnerable, even unto death in order to be one with us, in order not to deny love even for those who killed him. And the scandal and uniqueness is that gods are not meant to die! Wondrous love! Wondrous God, indeed! Love divine, all loves excelling! ********************* So where does that leave us on that wonderful dawn of Easter Sunday, when round the world people will greet the sunrise with hallelujahs? Firstly, that death is not the end! NOT THE END OF LOVE! An empty tomb was not, in the first instance, assuring. Read what Mark says: ‘Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid’ (Mark 16, 8). In another gospel Jesus, mistaken for a gardener speaks: He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (John 20: 15-16) Jesus continues …’Do not hold on to me...’ (John 20: 17). The language is that of leaving and, for the moment we put aside the stories of Jesus appearing to other disciples, women and men, the ongoing message is one of ‘what next’? And the answer of the gospels and Acts is not the recollection of a dead God but the continuing active living out in humanity of the sort of life that Jesus showed was possible for every human being, that risky life of utter love of neighbour of every race or creed, of those like us and unlike us so that as Brian Wren wrote, ‘there’s a Spirit in the air…when a hungry child is fed’. And yet in this past year it has taken those outside of government and the church to prompt those of power to remember that simple message. Resurrection was not a one off theological ‘thing’ but comes about every time someone Christian, or other, offers a simple gift of love. For me this reality came about after an operation when, in its aftermath, a nurse, whose name I do not know, put her hand on my shoulder saying, ‘it will pass’…and the sun streamed in the window: Each hour marks a mighty resurrection, a time of overcoming fate and fear, the dawning of a common understanding in which the grace of God is drawing near. Each morning brings a sense of new creation. New life, new love, encompasses the earth. New time, new light illuminates the distance, as though the world is coming, fresh, to birth. Each evening brings a stunning revelation, as stars and planets hove into our view, beyond imagination and reflection, these scattered bangles flung against the blue. Each season brings a sense of co-existence, relatedness of heartbeat, rhythm, rhyme; and every year the cycle goes on spinning, affirming faith and love through endless time.
Reflection, text and audio: Andrew Pratt; Poems: Andrew E Pratt © Stainer & Bell Ltd; Paintings: © Andrew Pratt from Words, Images and Imagination.
This hymn, by Graham Adams, arose from an ‘Empire’ module at Luther King House in Manchester last week. Graham says, “feel free to use as you wish!’ It connects with the Passion/Easter season. It was particularly stimulated by a discussion around whether ‘the alternative realm’ (God’s basileia/kingdom/empire) is ‘a quaint dream’ or something more ‘threatening’ – and the destabilising language of poetry spoke to this”.
The people wanted soldiers so hope might come as curse, to smash the occupation – but change turned up as Verse: the poetry of yeasting, the parabolic sword, no match for Pax Romana* and yet this Lamb still roared. Although it claims possession of mind and heart and soul, the Empire’s grip has limits – it can’t control the whole: the surplus lives as Poem for those with ears to hear, resisting final closure, declaring what is near: This dream of re-creation, this threat of life set free, disturbing tame religion, confounding how we see: it won’t succumb to cliché where purities abound, but glimpsed in seeds’ potential, it ruptures solid ground. Where empires grow by violence, where systems blame the last and close down other futures by editing the past, the Poem can’t be silenced, though quietly it dies, and dances through the fissures to teach us how to rise! Graham Adams (2021) … prompted by the conversations during the Empire module Potential tunes: THORNBURY, CRUGER… *Pax Romana is ‘the peace of Rome’ secured through military violence; if it’s easier to replace this with ‘crucifixion’, the meaning still works.