by Michael N. Jagessar
For the last two Sundays, moderatorial visits took me to the joyful and complex world of shared ministry gatherings. On April 6th I joined the North Lea Valley Area (Hertford, Broxbourne and Cheshunt) gathering at Broxbourne URC. And on April 13th it a long an pleasant train ride took me to the North Derbyshire Cluster (Wirksworth, St. Andrew’ and Holymoorside) joining in their Palm Sunday worship at Wirksworth
At Broxbourne it was a full church with music, lively singing, active lay participation and a well-crafted liturgy which was followed by an overflowing table of food and lively conversations. With a variety of musical instruments – grand piano, organ, guitar, flute, tambourines and even the keys in one’s possession – the congregation sang with enough fervour to rock the whole building. Among the memories I will carry is the ingenious invitation of the minister (the Revd David Bradburn) for all to take their car or house keys and accompany the closing hymn “I’ll go out in the strength of the Lord”. It was just brilliant! I can imagine St. Peter feeling jealous with his ‘one lone key’ unable to make melody as the congregation at Broxbourne did with their bundle of keys! I now need to lengthen my strap-line about us: “we are a small church, with a large heart” to “we are small church, with a large heart and plenty musical keys”.
One of the lectionary readings for this Sunday (Ezekiel 37:1-14. I) offered a timely opportunity to share some encouraging words at a time when many may be experiencing a sense of “tiredness”. Hence, my reflection which was titled “Thus says the Lord…breathing hope and new life”. I invited us to seriously consider that if God can animate dry bones and if Jesus can bring about the restoration of dead flesh (Lazarus story), how about imagining what the Spirit can do for a tired congregation, for a group of weary and battered disciples, and for the communities in which our congregations are rooted! We all agreed that the day we lose our ability to envision a better tomorrow is the day we deny that we really believe in the resurrection and the offer of abundant life!
My North Derbyshire jaunt started on Saturday afternoon with a delightful train ride, the latter part of which was on a rural train line (Beeston to Cromford) chugging along to the more familiar sound of train on tracks. An early evening arrival meant a good opportunity to “soak in” the delightful environment! The Palm Sunday gathering was a warm, pleasant, ‘alert’ gathering with a good turnout from the three churches filling-out the pews of this historic and well-kept church in the market town of Wirksworth. The presiding ministers were the Revd Camilla Veitch and the Revd John Cook. A specially crafted service included embodied “rejoicing and singing” of “triumphant” Palm Sunday hymns (both traditional and contemporary), waving ingeniously made palm branches and streamers from colourful papers, a dramatized reading of the gospel reading, active participation by a group of children and young people and another amazing spread of food. I am yet to turn up at a URC congregation where food runs out – as we have perfected the art of multiplying loaves and more than fish!
Following the Palm Sunday theme, I re-read the narrative in the contexts of despair, conflicting expectations, and an attempt to suck Jesus into the energy and excitement of a different oikonomia – when Jesus’ clearly advances a kin(g)dom that calls for a radical conversion of the heart, where the last is the first and where one has to lose to gain. I suggested that Palm Sunday happens when we discover that God has come to call us back to do God’s work (not ours), and when what is routine in our daily lives is disturbed, when God’s Spirit challenges the ways our faith is tied to diaries, credit cards and organised religion that serve our own interest. If we are not disturbed and the way of think of life and ourselves remain untouched, we are probably still waiting to meet the donkey-riding Jesus!
I was very impressed with the group of children and young people – very alert, especially as we imagined together what sort of questions the donkey Jesus sat may wish to ask. Their suggestions would get most current biblical commentators I have read (and I have read many) to rethink their interpretative angle on the narrative. And, the group did come back before the end of the service and shared (pictorially) how they imagined the triumphal entry would have happened today – Jesus as a wheel chair user, probably with no permission to lead a procession into the town centre and not allowed any branches from trees as these would have been protected! And one young person even worked out a timely quiz for us to use. You can just imagined the buzz and conversations after worship and as we gather for lunch in the Glenorchy Centre.