Happy Easter!

Have a wonderful Easter, beginning with attending a service tomorrow! Linda and Kenny are travelling to Wales for four days on Sunday afternoon. A wedding to attend to! (NOT the Royal one!) It all carries on without them!

Holy Week Services

Holy Tuesday: 7pm: Service in the West Kirk. Preacher: Revd Brian Rodgers

Holy Wednesday: 10.30am Eucharist in St Augustine’s

7pm: Service in the UF Church, Dalreoch. Preacher: Revd Eleanor McMahon

Maundy Thursday: 7pm: A Contemporary Celebration for Maundy Thursday (Passover Supper, the Eucharist of the Last Supper, the Stripping of the Altar, and the Watch until Midnight.)

Good Friday: 2pm: The Last Hour

7pm: Service of Good Friday and Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament

Holy Saturday: 9pm: Easter Ceremonies including the New Fire, and lighting of the Paschal Candle. We begin in the hall! This is probably one of the most dramatic Liturgies in the Christian year, and is well worth attending!

The Cross

So here I stand. It is as if everyone else has departed and I am alone at the foot of the cross. The day is almost over, and Jesus waits upon me. He looks at me with such tenderness. He won’t make this decision for me. He just waits. And until that day when God gathers together all the scattered fragments of his creation he will go on waiting. HIs offer remains the same. There is nothing I need to do to earn it or deserve it. It is just there, carried by this cross. I feel the weight of it. I see the extent of it; and I am faced with a choice. It is the same choice that every person faces or avoids; the same choice those criminals either side of him encountered as their lives inched towards death: shall we sneer, or shall we ask to be remembered?

Sermon – Revd Anne Tomlinson – 3/4/11

It is all too easy when preaching on Mothering Sunday to fall into a sloppy kind of sentimentality – the kind of thing that gets said in curlicues on greetings cards; pink greetings cards. And that is not helpful. For one thing, it doesn’t connect with the experience of those sitting in every congregation whose experience of being mothered – or being mothers themselves – has been much harsher than that. Andsecondly it harms those, again present in every congregation, who long to be mothers and know that they can’t. Preaching sentimentally or sloppily about motherhood is not helpful.

But nor is it biblical. Our readings today don’t allow us to preach a ‘motherhood and apple pie’ message. Far from it. They speak of a much tougher love.
First, we heard of Hannah, one of Elkanah’s two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had no difficulty conceiving and bore oodles of favoured sons, the trophy heirs. Peninnah used to tease Hannah mercilessly, unrelentingly, shoving her barrenness in her face. And ‘so it went on year after year’ (verse 7) until we get to the time of our reading this morning when Hannah has finally brought Samuel to birth. Great rejoicing – but short-lived. True to her earlier promise to the Lord, no sooner has she weaned him – so we’re talking infanthood here – off she goes to the house of the Lord at Shiloh with several other ‘offerings’, and hands her son and the other gifts over to the Lord.
And then comes that line: “She left him there for the Lord’. The sorrow of that parting doesn’t bear thinking of. The walking away. We know that memories of her beloved kept ‘gnawing at (her) mind’. If you read on to verse 19 in the next chapter, you get a tragic little vignette: Hannah used to make Samuel a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up to Shiloh with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice
Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and then they would return to their house.
That repeated parting; the wound reopening annually.
And then our second mother, Mary, again presenting her new-born in the Temple. Yes, she gets to take him home to Nazareth but not before Simeon has declared his awful blessing:
This child is destined for the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

If these two readings offer counter-cultural pictures of motherhood, then the third is even more challenging. It speaks of a God who offers us motherly love, ‘who consoles us in all our affliction’, wiping away the tears from our eyes as She cuddles us on Her lap … but then comes the rider: ‘so that we may be able toconsole those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by’.

I am with you today to see how you have progressed in mission and outreach since my last visit in December 2009, to see how far you have grown in consoling those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which you yourselves are consoled by. And to set this work in the context of the forthcoming Diocesan Growth Strategy.

In case some of you can’t stay for that, let me say a little about the strategy now. It is based on the very simple – but totally amazing – concept of God’s grace. God, ‘gift in motion’, showers us with goodness, abundantly, generously, profligately, and as creatures we exist by participating in that action. Rowan Williams likens our living to a crevice halfway down Niagara Falls which is being absolutely saturatedand soaked by water descending and passing on. He writes:

There’s not a great deal of point in the rocky crevice halfway down saying, “Well, I think I would like to hold on to some of this water.” You really haven’t got much option. It falls on you and it bounces off, that’s what waterfalls do! It’s given to us to be givers, to pass on an intensity of outpouring.

We are Eucharistic people, caught up in a wonderful exchange, caught up in that intensity of outpouring. We who know ourselves to be loved and accepted by God are part of a cycle of grace. We are called to share the fullness of life with others who as yet do not know that love.

And as a diocese, we need reminding of that. We have been good at enjoying the gifts; of sitting in God’s lap and having our tears wiped away, being consoled in our affliction. We do this by way of enormously beautiful liturgies and measured ceremony. We do this in the house of the Lord ……and we stay there. Perfectly content to play round our Mother’s legs, to remain as infants, safe at home. And all the while our Mother is longing for us to grow up, to leave Her house and go out into the world with all its fear and anger and grief, just as our foremothers Hannah and Mary did. To engage in mission.

Becoming more mission-minded is what the Strategy is all about. Thinking about those people who are beyond the walls of our Mother’s house, of how we can tell them that they too are beloved children. Of how we can use the gifts that we have been showered with for them, not for us. Gifts like your beautiful hall, like this magnificent building, like the friendship that you enjoy with one with another: the closeness and the warmth and the fun and the parties; all the things that go to make St Aggies the amazing congregation that you are. Drawing others in to the family of God and enjoying seeing them becoming who they are called to be, sisters and brothers in our Mother’s house. Equally beloved, equally favoured.

And that takes hard work. One of the six strands of the strategy is about numerical increase, welcome and integration. There are others – about discipleship and missional leadership and children’s work – but I think that probably this one, especially that word ‘integration’, is the toughest because it asks of us some of the most hard-hitting questions. Do we really want others to play at our Mother’s feet alongside us? Can we banish all sibling rivalry and open our hearts to the new baby, making her, making him, welcome and truly a part of us? Can we rid ourselves of the elder son’s mentality? “For all these years I have been working              like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. I have polished the brasses for years and baked endless cakes for coffee mornings and now these newcomers come in and you  invite them them on to the Vestry.”

And God answers from Her prodigal love ‘Son, daughter, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

The Growth Strategy is nothing more than a way of reminding us of the generosity of God – and nothing less than such a reminder. Like the crevice halfway down Niagara Falls, we are all called to be a conduit for the onwards cascading of that grace – and what a mighty calling that is! And a hard one too. None of this will be easy; not for congregations like yourselves or for those of us who work for the diocese. But we will work on this together, supporting each other across Regions and from the centre outwards, strengthened by that sense of solidarity which St Paul expressed so beautifully in our Epistle:

Our hope in you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings so also may you share in our consolation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of mercies and the God of all consolation. Amen.