Sunday 29th March
At first glance, this image is one of serenity, even transcendence. The very night sky seems to worship Jesus, as at his Nativity. The flowers glow, and he kneels in the centre, translucent, like a jewel.
Yet Jesus’ brow shows beads of blood; he is troubled, 'even unto death'. All that we can see of him - fragile head, hands and feet - are soon to be brutalised by nails and thorns. And he kneels alone. His friends sleep, Peter clutching a sword that says maybe he never understood anything. An angel is sent to strengthen, but he seems rather far off: glory lies the other side of suffering. And how close is Judas' mob; how soon they are to crash in to the scene.
More than anything, this vision of the fragility and the preciousness of Jesus reminds me of Mary of Bethany's anointing of his body with nard, doing so with a simple devotion that is the opposite of Judas' betraying kiss. So for me, the image is an invitation to make a devotional space, between Lenten repentance and Easter glory.
Wednesday Communicate at St Stephen’s Church, Works locally at the DWP
Monday 30th March
Anger, anguish, and quiet all form a thick tension in Jean Pénicaud’s The Agony in the Garden. Judas leads an angry mob approaching from the left. To the right three disciples serenely asleep: Peter knife in hand. In the center, Jesus agonizes about the fate held before him. His future crucifixion hangs suspended in the night. All seems quiet, too quiet.
How similar this scene is to our time? Many are angry. Such hate always risks tipping into the crucifixion of a figurehead or hated group. Others are asleep, choose avoidance. Then there are those, like Jesus, who sufferer. They suffer under lapsed promises and hateful vindictiveness. The powerless who serve only to move onlookers’ anger or complacency. May we learn to follow Jesus in anguish, sadness, and love rather than hate or indifference.
Calvyn du Toit, Musician & Theologian, Holy Trinity
Tuesday 31st March
Agony. Not a word you use lightly.
Extreme suffering: physical, emotional, spiritual.
Christ prays alone.
His friends, asleep.
His foes, approaching.
“Let this cup pass.”
Yet he knows he must drink.
Above, the deep night sky:
alive with stars, exquisite in clarity and beauty.
Below, the man in prayer:
every nerve alive, unique in humanity and divinity.
Feet that he washed will soon run away.
Lips that swore loyalty will soon deny.
Those who hate will soon be satisfied.
Those who love will soon be horrified.
What is the sound that finally rouses him from prayer?
His friends’ breath, heavy with sleep?
His betrayer’s footsteps, leading the soldiers?
His own blood, sweat and tears, hitting the ground?
Or maybe, just maybe, the whisper of wings?
The Revd Lindsay Meader
Assistant Priest at St Stephen’s, Chaplain to the London Theatres
Wednesday 1st April
You should take no notice of the temptation to give up prayer and should thank God for your desire of practicing it. Be assured that your will wishes to pray and loves to be in God’s presence. Nature complains at the idea of using self-constraint. When you feel oppressed, you should move occasionally to some place where you can look at the sky and should walk about for a short time. This will not break off your prayer, and human frailty must be humored lest nature succumb. We are seeking God by such means since we take them for His sake, and the soul must be led gently.
Teresa of Avila, Letter to Don Teutonio de Braganza, 1574
Thursday 2nd April
We are in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ prays to God whilst Peter, James and John are asleep on turf dotted with white flowers. Christ’s eyes focus on the cross held by an angel, whilst Judas and the crowd approach through the gate.
Having told the disciples that anything they ask in His name the Father will grant them, Christ, asking that the cup of suffering may be taken from him, knows that is the one thing that cannot be granted. Penicaud shows beads of bloody sweat running down over Christ’s forehead.
In our anxious world we seek calm. Some through mindfulness, some through prayer, some through both. In mindful meditation it is hard to silence intrusive thoughts. Those who pray may succumb to verbosity in fear of silence. When, after praying, there is no immediate ‘answer’ to latch on to we need to remember that there will be one. We have Christ’s word. Yet even he, on the cross, asked why God had forsaken him.
Andrew Brown, 8am Communicant and coordinator of St Stephen’s Healing Team
Thursday, 3rd April
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
From “A Prayer for Fellow Prisoners” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
the German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident,
who was hanged by the Nazis April 9, 1945.
A simple version of this prayer is often sung
in the Sunday 6 pm service at Holy Trinity.
Saturday 4th April
Even though Judas and the soldiers are at the gates of the Garden of Gethsemane the overriding atmosphere in this small enamel painting on copper is one of peace and serenity. As the angel swoops down bearing the cross, a symbol of Christ’s fate, he is consoled by a flow of curving forms - the fabric of the sleeping disciples, their golden haloes, the white rocks, the clods of grass, and pools of water. Everywhere harmonies
of luscious greens and blues. Christ’s deep ink blue robe, his cobalt halo, a tapestry of golden stars set on a deepest ultramarine night sky, above a carpet of viridian and emerald moss, grass and a constellation of small white flowers. Everything feels tangible and near to the surface like a Samuel Palmer. He seems to have already reached Paradise on earth.
Marc Woodhead, Educator at the National Gallery