Lent reflections

Bishops Libby and Malcolm have been reflecting on the gospel readings set for the principal service for the Sundays in Lent.


It has been a privilege for +Malcolm and I to engage with others, laity and clergy, on these passages of scripture. We have valued reflecting on our own study and wisdom and sharing what we had heard and taught in services over each weekend. I have appreciated the rich conversation and personal stories being offered as we listen, discuss and pray.

As we heard the story of the first disciples interaction with those around them, we wondered who are ‘Greeks’ among us?

Would they know to come to us if they want to see Jesus? Will they feel able to come to ask us about Jesus?

Perhaps ‘Greeks’ are all and any who are looking, who are seeking understanding. In fact we don’t know what these Greeks wanted Jesus for.

Their seeking may have been shallow or selfish or even harmful. Whatever their motivation this passage helps us to see that all our seeking is only ever a response to God’s first seeking us.

Jesus is God seeking out everyone “I will draw all people to myself”.

We considered who are the people we go to to share in the work of witness, if like Philip, we are approached by someone who wants to know more of Jesus. Who supports us as we share our faith?

We also wondered if we sometimes act as ‘gatekeepers’ to Jesus, putting barriers between those who are seeking and the possibility of meeting Jesus for themselves – in this account, do these enquiring Greeks actually get to see Jesus?

A grain of wheat is still a powerful image that, for example, can offer hope in facing death. We also saw in this the connection with the Eucharist as grains of wheat are given new purpose in the bread that may be broken to feed many.

We recognised that in this passage we have moved into a narrative that is clouded over by Jesus’ approaching passion – knowing what is to come everything we see, heard, felt, in light of knowing what Jesus is choosing to bear for us all. All is now read in the knowledge that Jesus is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground to bring new life and fruitfulness.

We noticed that increasing urgency of this passage, now ... now … now repeated throughout. The voice from heaven speaks and makes engagement immediate. ‘Pay attention, wake up, take notice’ it seems to demand – the hour has come!  

We wondered how that hour which was for for the glory of God connects to my ‘now’ and the ‘now’ of the world today – can our time be ‘this hour’ too?  What is validity of imagining ourselves into this story, and into passion story? If that hour is our hour, how are we to understand letting go of/ hating love of life in this world that we might gain eternal life?

Perhaps that is in partnering with God in what God is doing, for ‘where I am, there will my servant be’. We speak in the church sometimes of ‘finding out with what God is doing and joining in with it’? But does that suggest that God is only at work in some places and not others? How do we inhabit what feels like failure, ‘the way of the cross’, and find God there?

The forces of darkness did ‘win’ Jesus’ death but that was Jesus’ victory. Do we believe God is everywhere at work, even – or especially – in those places that look like failure?

In John’s gospel not always clear when is Jesus speaking and when is John commenting, but at the end of this passage we have an explicit commentary from the evangelist, ‘he said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die’.

Does John mean that Jesus words point to the mechanism of his coming death ie crucifixion by which he would be physically ‘lifted up from the earth’? And/or is John drawing attention to the nature and purpose of Jesus’ death, that it will ‘draw all people to myself’?

As we reflected together for the last time this Lent John had drawn us to a place where we were preparing both to face the terrible practical realities of Jesus suffering, trial and crucifixion – the means of His death, and to consider afresh the implications of Jesus’ sacrifice -what His death means.


John 12.20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Last modified on Monday, 01 April 2024 01:37

Bishops Libby and Malcolm have been reflecting on the gospel readings set for the principal service for the Sundays in Lent.

Lent 4 Reflection

Bishop Malcolm and I were pleased to gather again online with people from across the diocese to study, discuss and pray. We are blessed by the sharing of insight and understanding.

We began by considering how, in scripture, serpents represent all that diminishes and dehumanises us, and all that divides us from God.

We recalled with wonder and thanksgiving that all this Jesus defeats through love on the cross.

We often read and hear John 3.16 as a ‘stand-alone’ verse but ‘God so loved’ is a commentary on the previous verse that looks all the way back to Moses.

We are therefore reminded that Jesus stands in the long story of salvation history: the same God was saving God’s people in the despair of a snake infested wilderness came for our salvation in Jesus.

We reflected a while on the imagery of light and darkness. It is not darkness itself that is evil but actions, behaviours and attitudes that people would ‘hide’.

These verses also gave hope that all evil may be redeemed when it is brought close to Jesus who can transform and forgive, bringing wholeness and forgiveness.

A personal story was shared by a caver remembering an occasion of being trapped underground and the relief of light as a rescuer appeared in darkness.

As we considered the intersection of light and darkness, we referenced the insights from the national church Lent resource ‘Watch and Pray’ which has brought to our attention the risk of unthinkingly equating ‘dark’ with bad and ‘light’ with good as such imagery may feed underlying ethnic prejudices.

We wondered about the benefits of darkness. It is in the dark that restoration and recreation can occur.

The dark can allow space and possibility to abide, to think, to learn, to be changed shielded from unhelpful and distracting stimulation.

We recalled that God’s creativity emerged out of darkness. Bishop Malcolm remembered seeing light shining from windows of churches on gloomy grey Sundays, and offered that as an illustration, week by week, of the continuing draw of God’s love into the communities we are called to witness to and serve.

We noticed how frequently the word ‘world’ appears in this passage. From the start John speaks of the big picture, of the whole world.

As we read John, we think not just of ourself or even of all ourselves but of the whole world beset by ‘darkness’ and beloved by God - all created order not just humanity.

When John writes ‘God so loved the world’ we hear not just that God so loved people but that whole creation.

How might we respond to the challenge to manifest God’s love that isn’t self-concerned?

The image of love as a three-legged race was shared, of love as being completely in step, of matching ourselves to the pace, direction and rhythm of another.

How can we love God by being in step with God’s love for the whole of creation?

It’s too easy to condemn. But Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.

In the television series ‘Rev’, the journey to Easter begins before Christmas when the main character resists a culture of condemnation saying, “I will not do another sermon condemning the secularisation of Christmas”.

It is possible that we can feel closest to God at moments of temptation. Temptation can be vicious tool of Satan to highlight sin and increase guilt and shame that makes us feel not worthy to be close to God.

But this passage reminds us that God does not condemn but draw us to the light.

We pondered the reality that Jesus forsaken on the cross is, in fact, God on the cross. The cross is how God so loved the world.


John 3.14-21

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’


Last modified on Monday, 25 March 2024 10:59

On Mondays through Lent, +Libby and +Malcolm are hosting online forums to reflect together on the gospel readings set for the principal service of the previous Sunday.


Lent 3 Reflection - Monday, 4 March 2024

It continues to be a privilege to gather on Monday mornings and evenings with colleagues, lay and ordained, from across the diocese to study and reflect on the gospel readings set for the previous Sunday.

We moved from Mark’s gospel to John for the 3rd Sunday of Lent. In John’s gospel we recognised that the entirety of Jesus’ ministry is an integrated whole. Even this early teaching, his public ministry and first ‘signs’ directly connect to his passion, crucifixion and resurrection to come. What’s more, all of Jesus ministry arises from Passover as the fulfilment of God’s saving work for all humanity.

We realised in this passage the challenge that we exercise tyranny as well as suffer tyranny. That means the presence of God is not always easy or reassuring to us.

We noticed in the gospel passage, that the disciples remember inherited teaching to understand Jesus better in the aftermath of this occasion. The perspective of a long view enabled them to make better sense of current events. We recognised that again in the commentary that after the resurrection they remember this teaching to understand Jesus better then too. We were encouraged in our own stumbling and evolving understandings of Jesus in reading that it was only after his death and resurrection the disciples, even though they were with him in the moment, began to understand, in retrospect, with hindsight what Jesus meant by ‘this temple’.

We spoke of wanting to connect the disciples experience to our own experience of coming to scripture. We considered how we might encounter Jesus’ life and teaching as if for the first time to discover how to proclaim afresh in this generation the good news of the Kingdom.

We wondered where is ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ in this passage? We recalled the John Bell song, with the words:

Jesus Christ is raging, raging in the streets, where injustice spirals and real hope retreats. Listen, Lord Jesus, I am angry too. In the Kingdom's causes let me rage with you. 
John L. Bell and Graham Maule © 1988 Wild Goose Resource Group, The Iona Community, Glasgow G51 3UU

We found hope in the word’ overturned’ as it suggests that is nothing beyond Jesus’ intervention and transformation. We asked ourselves, therefore, what are the injustices that Jesus would ‘overturn’ today?

We further wondered what is the ‘clutter’, the accumulation of stuff or practice (even that with good intention) that separates us and others from God, that requires Jesus to clear out? It seemed that all the readings (not only this set gospel) of the 3rd Sunday of Lent came together around a theme of not being distracted from God and the need to keep God at the centre. We saw that in the 10 commandments offering framework to keep God’s people’s attention on God and in in Paul’s writing about both the foolishness of world and the trappings of religion distracting us from God.

If Jesus overturned the currency of the temple, it was to replace it with the currency of Kingdom, which is love. We were struck by the evocative language of this passage. In the graphic description we can almost hear the coins scattering, clinking, rolling across the floor. Jesus was pouring away the currency of coins that belong to a regime that took people away from God to replace with the currency of God’s Kingdom values.


John 2.13-25

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’

His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body.

After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Last modified on Monday, 25 March 2024 10:27

On Mondays through Lent, +Libby and +Malcolm are hosting online forums to reflect together on the gospel readings set for the principal service of the previous Sunday.

Mark 8.31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’


Reflections on the reading from Mark
‘said this all quite openly’, ‘took him aside and began to rebuke him’, ‘called the crows with his disciples and said to them’ - different approaches for different conversations and encounters.
Notice that Peter able to express how he feels clearly – Jesus has created a safe space for questioning and listening, for disagreement as healthy aspect of community.

nb relationship with Peter not undermined (a few days later accompany Jesus at Transfiguration).

Jesus spoke robustly into articulation of misinformation; he broke down tendency towards ‘group think’ and broke open disruptive or damaging discourse in silos or factions = model of Pastoral Principles.

Sometimes see in own circumstances an echo of Peter’s difficulty in accepting situations that don’t match our expectations.

Perhaps Jesus was able to resist temptation to avoid the path to Jerusalem in the context of the community of disciples – so looked to his community to find strength to speak his ‘no’ to Satan.

‘take up your cross’...

Anything that is difficult in life, Anything that I’m disagreed with about
- ‘martyr complex.

But needs to fit with ‘fullness of life’.

Navalny conversion from atheism to Christianity.

Risk of thinking that what we struggle with or that our burdens are doing the work of the cross ie conferring salvation – only Jesus’ death and resurrection has won that.

Nothing we can give to ‘pay for’ our salvation. Jesus making clear, pointing in direction, of what will give life (in all its fullness for eternity) ie his own suffering, death and resurrection.

Last modified on Monday, 25 March 2024 10:36

On Mondays through Lent, +Malcolm and I are hosting online forums to reflect together on the gospel readings set for the principal service of the previous Sunday.

Yesterday we gathered for the first time to study and explore Mark 1. 9-15

We considered the wider context of the passage which is set between a concise introduction to ‘the good news about Jesus the Messiah, Son of God’ that condenses all of God’s work in salvation history into a few verses describing the vocation and ministry of John the Baptiser and a simple narrative of the calling of the first disciples.

We noted that, like all Mark’s gospel, this narrative is distilled into few words but replete with both a driving momentum and profound meaning.

We reflected on Jesus’ growing understanding of his own relationship with the One who calls him ‘Son’ as it is set so explicitly between the prophets and the disciples. And we reflected on his emerging vocation being shaped by that relationship.

We thought about how our individual relationships with God, and our subsequent vocations are transformed, or more fully understood and received, when set in context of relationship with God’s people, those who have gone before us and those who travel with us.

We thought about this passage being read during Lent and what we might learn from it to aid self-examination and penitence.

How does this passage help us to be honest with ourselves and with God?

What can this passage teach us about the times when we are in difficult, ‘wilderness’ places?

We read here that Jesus is called ‘beloved’ but then driven into wilderness. It was not failure or fault that led to wilderness; he was not being punished.

Maybe we are not to interpret such experiences with guilt expect them, and pray that when we do experience then that somehow ‘angels will be with us’ too.

We took comfort from this passage that we need not pretend before God when we find ourselves in places we might not choose to be.

We considered how Jesus met the grace of God in both the highs of the affirmation of his baptism and in the lows of temptation in the wilderness.

We recognised that in both our struggles and our successes the Kingdom of God may come near.

There were some specific phrases we wondered about: what does that mean that the ‘heavens were torn apart’?

What would it feel like to experience such a thing? Why are we told that Jesus was ‘with the wild beasts’?

Are they part of the threat of being tempted by Satan or part of succour of the angels who ‘waited on him’?

We concluded, as the passage itself does, with a yearning to discover and participate in the life of the Kingdom of God.

We returned to where we began our reflections, thankful for the opportunity again through Lent to re-examine the invitation to repent and believe and so share more fully in ‘the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God’.“

First Sunday in Lent: Mark 1.9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Last modified on Monday, 25 March 2024 10:21

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