Reflection on Galatians 3: 23-29 – from Sunday’s Service of healing and wholeness

We seem to have had a succession of special Sundays at Church recently. Last week was Trinity Sunday, when we thought about the completeness of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, and the union of love in our lives with him.  We have taken with us into that relationship, from the week before, the many tongues of Pentecost through which the Holy Spirit communicates, witnessing to and revealing Jesus in places and people we did not expect; calling out, as the Isaiah writer describes, “Here I am, Here I am.” (Isaiah 65:1) We also have celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi this week, where the union of body, mind and spirit in the Eucharist could hardly be more compelling or more intimate.  And from there, having been so fed, and loved, as our true selves, we have responded to the call as best we can to feed, love, nurture and affirm others as God has made us all to reflect and embody glimpses of his glory.

So, coming to today’s reading from Galatians, I have been trying to let some of those things settle in my mind.  Paul is writing to a Church whose ideas of how people who did not come from the Jewish faith or tradition could be part of the newly-formed Christian Church were being processed and tested.  Then, as now, challenges about what hoops people need to jump through to be accepted were beginning to come to the fore, as the Gospel went out to the Gentiles, continuing Jesus’ healing miracles and conversations from his ministry on earth.  Paul addresses this in this passage, with the language of love; and, it struck me, with language that seems to evoke a kind of mothering from God.  So, a in a challenge to a patriarchal society, where there were men who thanked God they were not born a woman, a slave, or a gentile, the ideas and practice of division are directly contradicted.  In talking about the ongoing revelation of God’s promises, through Abraham, Moses, and now Jesus, the language draws on images of children being guided by a loving, nurturing presence towards spiritual maturity.  There is quite a lot about children – our identity as God’s children, each one of whom has the full rights of inheritance – which surely speaks to us of equality in all senses, including social justice, human rights and issues relating to social class, disability, gender and race.  It is quite a radical statement.  In fact, Martin Luther King alluded to it in his “I have a dream” civil rights speech in 1963.

We can perhaps see this step-by-step revelation, that Paul places in the context of God working throughout history, as a form of guidance and instruction.  It is not too far off from the idea we see in Proverbs (Proverbs 1:20-21), of Wisdom crying out to her children, raising her voice in public places of debate, interaction and commerce –  and where markers have been put in as boundaries, such as the walls and gates of the city.  Wisdom is traditionally personified as female, and Scriptural references such as this borrow from, and add to that.  When I was studying, I had to read a book, written nearly 500 years after St Paul wrote to the Galatians, by a Roman statesman and scholar who was thrown into prison on a false charge.  His name was Boethius, and he wrote that while in prison and in despair, “there appeared standing over my head a woman’s form, whose countenance was full of majesty, whose eyes shone as with fire and whose power of insight surpassed that of all men…”  (1) This is Lady Philosophy, and the book is called, The Consolation of Philosophy.  Philosophy of course, being, the love of wisdom.  This feminine aspect of the divine is an ever-present undercurrent, sometimes hidden, sometimes rising to the surface when we listen out for her, or appearing when we are in our own kinds of prisons or without hope.  She is not afraid to cry out.  She is an advocate for those on the margins, and challenges those who flock together in their comfort zones.  She is on the look-out.  She is not afraid of the new.  Wisdom is not a monologue.  She lives in community.  Wisdom calls us to life.  If it is the forces of death that divide us – then Paul asserts in these verses, it is our life in the body of Christ which unites us.  It is both a personal, and a corporate healing.  And from that, as we learn to respond and speak our own name in Christ, we can be both healed, and healers.

I mentioned at the beginning that we have celebrated Corpus Christi this week, a day of thanksgiving for the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Church.  Staying with the Book of Proverbs, I came across a section subtitled Wisdom’s Feast, which is in Chapter 9:

“Wisdom has … set her table… She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:1-6)

Some churches celebrating Corpus Christi scatter rose petals before the procession.  A link with the feminine, and a symbol of love that finds its fulfilment at the altar.  Because, whatever else Wisdom is, she is undivided love.  May we walk with her in the way of insight, and grow in love and maturity.

God the Holy Trinity, is undivided; and so, St Paul says, are we, in our lives together; because God, the Unity, is Goodness in all things.  In strangeness, and in familiarity, it is God who speaks, who calls out, “I am here, I am here.” (Isaiah 65:1)

I will end with a quote, which is just the last few verses of Maya Angelou’s well-known poem, Human Family (2):

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

(1) Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, tr V W Cooper, J M Dent and Company London, 1902, p.2, accessed 23/6/19

(2), accessed 23/6/19

Next Service 23rd June

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts

through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us

– Romans 5:5

Our next Service of Healing and Wholeness will be this Sunday, 23rd June, at 6pm. Do come and join us, everyone is welcome.

This is a simple, said service, with candles and using a liturgy from the Iona Community. Come and listen and respond to God as we allow the Holy Spirit to bring our prayers of hope and healing into God’s heart of love for all he has made.

Beautiful Flowers

In anticipation of our Festival in September, here are some photographs taken recently at Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isaiah 40 verse 5, celebrating the glorious diversity of God in creation

The Sending Out


Traditionally, Pentecost is celebrated for a week after Pentecost Sunday, so here are some words from the liturgy as we move forward in the power of the Spirit:

We have celebrated the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over the powers of sin and death. We have proclaimed God’s mighty acts and we have prayed that the power that was at work when God raised Jesus from the dead might be at work in us.

By the Spirit’s power, may we live out what we proclaim:

by word and example;

by seeking and serving Christ in all people;

by prayer for the world and its leaders;

by defending the weak;

and by pursuing peace and justice in human society.

Inclusive Church: Pentecost

Here is a poem by RS Thomas (1913-2000), poet and Anglican Priest, as we consider prayerfully as a Church, the expression of our community life and mission through joining Inclusive Church.

It is a poem that speaks of the enlivening, transformative coming of the Holy Spirit, with his exuberant fluency, in and through all our human experience. It resonates with discovery, of a God who makes all things new, and the healing journey which we all share together. We think of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the diversity of vernacular, and the cascade of blessing and creativity which followed – as we humbly, at this time, recommit ourselves to the purposes of the “One who is.”

With acknowledgement to The Revd Dr Hannah Lewis, Chaplain for the Deaf Church in Liverpool, who posted this poem for Pentecost

O Worship the Lord

A deeply moving choral evensong today at Church, using the timelessly beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer. Its poetry echoed through the centuries, uniting us with the whole company of heaven, and re-dedicating us to God’s heart of love, and purposes for the future.

These are the words of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War, one of our darkest times in recent history. On this Day of Pentecost, let us take to heart his prophetic message of love in action:

Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose – all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.

A Reflection on Psalm 118

Talk given at this month’s Service on Sunday:

Today I want to think about the process of healing. We had our St John’s Annual Parochial Church Meeting today – a chance to take stock, review and plan ways forward for our Church, our partnerships in the community, and ways forward working with God’s Spirit to bring healing and hope to others through our Church. Psalm 118 is the appointed Psalm for today, full of praise for our faithful God, and images of celebrating his love and worshipping together as a family of believers. It begins with a call to the congregation, to declare God’s never-ending mercy. Without him, we would not have got to this point – a point where our individual journeys of faith, our hopes and fears, all unique to our experience and to who we really are in God, start to come together in a new journey; no longer “mine,” but ours.

William Blake, the poet and visionary, wrote that, “without contraries, there is no progression,” and this Psalm talks about that idea too: that we can feel besieged and surrounded, hard-pressed, about to fall, afraid – and God’s love still is there for us: our salvation, our strength and defence.

As a Church, we are in process. We are responding to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We are called to persevere and be brave. In our relationship with Jesus, we are asked to offer ourselves daily, to rejoice and give thanks. Not because everything is easy – but because God is working within us to bring to the light what he wants us to work with him to change, to form new habits with him, to ask us every day what we want to work on with him today, so that the old may fall away and the new ways be built. That’s why we can say, as in verse 24, “The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” We are not being asked to do everything all at once, to make commitments we cannot keep, or to think too much about tomorrow’s troubles and temptations; but simply, just for today, to live in this grace and give thanks – and as in this Psalm of community celebration, to do what we can, together, and to be glad and joyful in that and in one another.

On the question of contraries, let us not forget that this is Jesus’ Psalm, a reference to the Holy Week journey we have just shared, incorporating Jesus’ Crucifixion – and now his Resurrection. From his rejection, to the radical acceptance and inclusion that is the new life for all that his death and Resurrection bring:

The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvellous in our eyes.
The LORD has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
LORD, save us!
LORD, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.

This is a glorious word for us, as we look for confirmation of our way forward as a Church, and indeed for the healing ministry that goes out from here. We embrace the inclusion being offered to us through Jesus, because he is our cornerstone. We embrace it because God has done it, and it is marvellous in our eyes. We rejoice because God has done it this very day; and tomorrow he will do it again, and then again, as the contraries and hurdles we encounter become points of progression and blessing. We see God’s healing and opportunity through every person who comes to us, and to our Churches, as we trust that whoever comes, comes in his name to bring us closer to his purposes. We will bless and be blessed by every person who comes because they come as Christ to us. As a gift from God. We remember that Jesus’ rejection by the authorities was a process – those in power did not approve of his origins, of his lack of formal education, of his disregard for traditions; or of his choice of friends. So our acceptance and inclusion of others, our call to open the “gates of the Lord,” is a process. Moreover, this Psalm tells us that it is a two-way process, that by opening those gates to others we actually open them to ourselves. To liberate others to be themselves is a liberation for us to be ourselves too – a step towards the abundant life in Christ, the wholeness and healing for which we yearn.

The Psalm goes on:
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

This is a wonderful image of our praise and worship being renewed and processing up to the altar. We are laying out the red carpet for honoured guests, those from the “back roads and lanes” (Luke 14:23). People young and old, who have been passed over for whatever reason, or have not thought that Church is for them, God wants us to invite and welcome, to fill his House with praise. Though there is debate about what the horns of the altar in this verse actually are, it seems that were used, at the time this Psalm was written, in the consecration of priests and were also a place of refuge. Today’s reading from Revelation talks about God making us priests in his Kingdom (Revelation 1:6), and of course, living in and ministering from the gifts God gives us is a way of being priests to one another. And the idea of people coming to our churches as places of safety and refuge if they have not found a welcome elsewhere, or have been hurt, is part of our ministry of healing and hospitality.

This is a picture by the artist Michael Cook, just so that we can start to visualise this idea of radical acceptance and inclusion from the Gospel story this illustrates:

An Idle Tale by Michael Cook

It’s called “An Idle Tale,” and is a painting from Luke’s Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, who told the Apostles that Jesus had risen from the dead, and were dismissed as telling “an idle tale,” in other words, utter nonsense. But to this group of women was entrusted the message of new birth: the mystery of the Gospel that blesses the poor, the marginalised, the judged, condemned and dismissed. Let us take this message to our hearts today, as these women, symbols of all who find what’s important to them devalued or who struggle to make their voices heard, fling open the gates to proclaim the Risen Christ. With this Psalm on our lips, let us praise God and say,

The LORD’s right hand is lifted high;
the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!”
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.

C Barracliffe 28/4/19

Healing & Wholeness

Don’t forget todays evening service, Sunday 28th April at 6.00pm. A chance to gather and pray for healing, peace and reconciliation in our world and in our lives.

Creating Community

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has just launched a new initiative to address the current housing crisis.

Academics, housing experts and theologians are to meet over an 18-month period to examine how the Church of England can build on its own work in housing and contribute to the national debate on policy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community will explore a Christian perspective on housing policy with a particular focus on providing good homes – a foundation of equality and justice – and promoting thriving communities. Charlie Arbuthnot, an expert in the financing of social housing, and Chair of the Commission, said at Tuesday’s launch that the Church could make a unique contribution to the debate on housing, offering a distinctive narrative, with a presence in every community, and possessing key assets: “What if through this we could re-empower and reimagine Church?” he asked. The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed his hope that the outcomes of the work would be “imaginative, thoughtful, and radical.”

“As the Church,” he said, “we have one primary motivation: in the words of St Paul, the love of Christ compels us. The example of Jesus draws us on and leads us not just to speak of God’s love, but to demonstrate it by reaching out in compassion to those who are in greatest need.”