Friday, 30 June 2017

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Ephesians 3 Prayer

This is my favourite passage of scripture, so I thought I'd have a little play with it this morning.

We kneel before you, Father
We’re named in your love, our whole family in you
In heaven and on earth.
Out of your glorious riches, too exquisite to behold
May you restore us with your power
Through your Spirit in our inmost being.
May you, Christ Jesus, abide in our deepest hearts
Through faith alone.
And may we who are rooted and grounded in you,
Established in the love which never gives up on us
May we grasp the power you freely bestow,
Together with all the saints, now and forever through history and eternity,
The power to seize hold of
How wide and long and high and deep
How immense and immeasurable and boundless and profound
How sweeping and towering and soaring and unfathomable
Is your love, Lord Jesus.
And may we know this great love that transcends wisdom
That outweighs knowledge
That eclipses learning –
That we may be filled to bursting point
Saturated with copious profusion
Completed with the fullness of you, our God.
Now to you – to you, our glorious God, to you who is able to do
Limitlessly more
Than all we could ever ask,
And all we could ever imagine,
All we could even conceive of or envisage or wildly dream of,
According to your power
At work within us, around us, without us, in front and behind,
Dancing with us, all-containing, everywhere we go and everything we do,
To you be the glory!
To you be the honour, the praise, the acclaim and the exaltation,
In the church, your bride waiting for you with baited breath,
And in Christ Jesus
Throughout all generations, through history, stretching back and forth to eternity,
And eternity.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A camping life gone by

We're selling our old folding camper and dragged it out this morning, a beautiful sunshiney day, the canvas dense with the scent of happiness and summer and family. Thus please do excuse the self-indulgent I-can't-believe-they've-all-grown-up post.

Because I'm a bit teary. I'm teary as I pull out the box of old games, piles of sand pouring out between my fingers, lone Uno cards and old drawings my daughter worked so carefully on in the years she danced around campsites in Disney dresses bearing water guns. A small badge lies amidst the debris at the bottom; a New Wine Groundbreakers badge a small person once wore, skipping happily off to their group. A Club Penguin card covered in something I don't want to think about is stuck to the floor, and a ping pong ball, broken Frisbee and half pack of London 2012 playing cards jostle for space in the box.

None of these things are remarkable, but all of them are ours. All of them say something about sun-filled days and rain-battered nights, of children running free and unencumbered by life and grown-up stuff.

In the front box, more sand abounds, and a small pile of pebbles along with a jumble of buckets and spades, long since discarded and disdained. Once upon a time we made sandcastles and buried one another in the sand and made water channels for Castle moats. The sight of the buckets and spades makes my heart ache a little bit.

There's an old broken kite, and a few cracked water pistols and bits of cricket sets. Once these were shiny and new, and now they're forgotten, left behind as their owners have no more need. Forgive me for going all Toy Story 2 on you, but it's a little bit sad.

And a lot happy. As I contemplate all the stuff, I think about what made all these family holidays, all these memories, and know that it's not just sand from Dorset circa 2009, but it's the love which cemented us and always will. And them growing up is far from a tragedy, but a wonder-filled season where they come into their own, never losing the joy of what made their childhoods, because it is an intrinsic part of them. Bring it on, I say. Bring on the growing up and the fun we have now. Buckets and spades may have been discarded, but the days still shine with the joy of who they are and who they were and who they will be. Bring it on.

I'm going to stop, now, before anyone barfs at the sickly nature of this post.

But I will allow myself a little sadness as we wave goodbye to our camper and sweep up those last little bits of sand and pebbles and memories.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Day of Hopelessness

I don't understand.

Don't get it.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The story wasn't supposed to end this way. I thought there would be more, that he would escape, he would show them all who he was. He raised the dead. He bound up the broken-hearted. He healed the sick.

But he let them murder him.

I sit here in this garden, watching the place I never wanted to see, the stone sealing the cold tomb, his broken body laid out inside. I saw it all. Saw them take him down, saw them anoint him, saw them place him in there. The scent of myrrh lingers in my nostrils, the smell of death weaves around my body.

Hes gone, and I don't understand.

I remember one starry night so long ago, my arms full of this precious load, the knowledge heavy on me of who he was. Who he would be. The miracle of Immanuel. That night, the skies rang out in praise, the moon and stars bowed in homage and perfect peace wrapped itself around my soul. That starry night, hope was born.

But where is hope now?

I watched him die. I watched my son, his face wreathed in the most unimaginable pain, so broken, blood running down his face and dripping onto his devastated body. I watched as they mocked him, sneered, sniggered, pointed, hated. I watched with my hands squeezed against my eyes, tears spilling out between my fingers as he spoke words I could not understand but still shocked me with their power.

It is finished. 

The disciple he loved stood with his hand on my shoulder, holding me steady as I wobbled, my joy and my light fleeing away and leaving me with nothing but bones like water and eyes red-raw and a heart like a sunken stone. Here is your mother, my son had said to him, ever so watchful of me, pouring his love over me even in the worst of moments.

Why? Why did this happen?

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

I remembered the words which curled through my spirit, one sun-streaked day so long ago. My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - Holy is his name. 
But they won't call me blessed now, will they? They won't look back on a starry night and grasp the magnitude, the sheer holiness of a tiny baby. Not now.

Not now he's gone.

I look up. Two Roman soldiers guard the tomb, mouths set in grim lines as they scan the landscape. They reckon we might steal the body. But we would never do that. Never. He is my son. My beloved. Why would I disturb his peace?

I am hidden from them as I watch, crouched behind a grove of olive trees. They stand in their finery, spears at the ready, chins held high in the pride of their station. I wonder if they know who they are guarding. Wonder if they know he was the brightest light, the miracle child, the son of God, the man who loved and restored and healed and forgave. Wonder if they know what they did.

My tears are my food.

But then I recall a starry night, a night when my arms were heavy with a precious load, a night when angels sang to shepherds and I gazed at the night sky, so pendulous with hope. I recall my heart pounding with fierce love and more; a love so great it overshadowed and overwhelmed and held me so close I could not speak. I remember that love, and I burrow deep into my heaving grief to find it. To locate the hope that never, ever dies.

And then I remember words he said, walking along a dust-covered road one scorching day. Words about suffering and death. But there was more. There was something about raising.

I gaze at the tomb, so still in the hushed air of a sultry afternoon. Could it be...?
Surely not. I am looking for something where there is nothing.

But his weight is in my arms and his love presses down on me.

On this Saturday of hopelessness, dare I look for light? Dare I gather up my pain and pour it into hope?

Dare I live in pain-washed expectancy?

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Virtual Maundy Thursday Labyrinth

Many churches partake in a ‘Labyrinth’ on Maundy Thursday. People are invited to walk through pathways, usually in a church/hall, and pause at certain ‘stations’ to contemplate on Jesus’ journey through this day.

Well, I can't always get out to a church, and I reckon a fair few of you can’t, either. So instead of going to the Labyrinth, I’m attempting to bring the Labyrinth to you. And to me. I hope that your journey through this virtual Labyrinth brings you the peace and time of reflection on this Maundy Thursday that you crave. I don’t know about you, but my Facebook feed makes me feel sad on days like these, sad because once again, I am on the outside looking in, I am the excluded one, I am the one not caught up in the busyness and the creativity and the community of all that Holy Week can bring.

But why should I be on the outside looking in? I have decided to turn the perspective around, to no longer dwell on all that cannot be, to find instead the fullness of what this day can bring. As I experience fairly hideous chest pain, surely I can turn this round to reflect on the hideous pain Jesus experienced – not only on the cross, but on that day before Good Friday?

So, here we are then. The Virtual Labyrinth.
A prayer labyrinth is not a maze, more of a journey with twists and turns, and no dead ends. There is only one way in, and one way out.

The winding path symbolizes a journey. As you negotiate the twists and turns take time to sink yourself into the mystery of Christ and his last days on earth. Think of the journey inwards to the centre as a time to let go of anything you need to let go of, the centre as a time to connect with God and the journey outwards as a time to take on the peace and protection you need to walk forwards into your life and to share that journey with others.
So we walk into the Labyrinth. We pause at the first bend where we think upon the Noise. The noise, the busyness of life, the fast paced race all around us (and sometimes not including us). Think about all the messages and information that fill our lives, competing for attention, clamouring in every day. Now is the time to turn the noise off, to pause, to shake it away.

We step forwards to another twist. We collect up our worries, our doubts, our grief, and our pain. Jesus says ‘come to me, all who are burdened, and I will give you rest.’ We lay our burdens down. You can visualise taking a bag from your shoulders and putting it on the floor, or taking off heavy shoes, or you can write down your worries on some paper and fold it up, not necessarily to throw away, but to put aside.

It may feel strange, this letting go, and not knowing what the path ahead holds. Try to trust the path, and to trust the God who you are seeking. We are taking steps, what takes place in our mind and spirit as authentic as anything our bodies can – or cannot – do.

We keep on walking, round corners, round twisting paths. Perhaps it would be helpful to begin to physically breathe in God’s presence. Slow down your breathing, and intentionally breathe out the remains of what you didn’t quite manage to leave behind at the last stop. Breathe out that niggling voice, that continuing pain. And breathe in God. Breathe out – Breathe in. Breathe out – Breathe in.
So we come to the centre. 

It’s time to sit down (I am sitting already, but taking a virtual comfy armchair in my head) and reflect.

Start by imagining a waterfall.
Psalm 42:7 says
‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all of your waves and breakers have swept over me.'

 Imagine immersing yourself in the waterfall, the rushing waters being God’s love, pouring over you, quenching your pain, cleaning your soul.

Then, think about a candle.

– imagine it’s the only light in the darkness. Live it, breathe it. You may want to light a ‘real’ candle at this point. Virtual is good though!

We think on these words from John 13.
‘3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Reflect on this verse and this image. Immerse yourself in the scene – in the sights and sounds. In the awe and mystery amidst the normalcy of the Passover Supper. Jesus is washing your feet. Perhaps you would like to take a bowl and gently wash your own feet at this stage.

There now follows a series of verses from these Maundy Thursday passages, from John 13 and Mark 14. We can take as much time as we need over each one, intentionally breathing in God’s presence as we take the words in. Each section is accompanied by an image to contemplate upon in addition to the words.

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba,  Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

43 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him.

Are we able to watch with Jesus, this day and night? Can we, in the centre of this labyrinth, put aside our wants, desires, our very lives, to watch, to wait?

The centre of the Labyrinth. The centre of history.


When we are ready, we begin to walk out of the Labyrinth. We take with us our tears, our shame, our peace, all that we have found and experienced as we journeyed through. We keep breathing in God’s presence. We take the memory of Jesus washing feet and the waterfall of grace washing us clean.
We come to the place we laid down our fears, our worries, pain, doubt, grief. Perhaps we decide to pick up our folded piece of paper and keep it with us once again, yet with all that we have contemplated here superimposed upon it. The pain is with us, and yet so is the mystery. So is the waterfall, the breakers. So is the agonised Jesus. Where does that leave our pain?

So we take it upon us, and we take it outwards. We walk to the Noise again. Can we take less of it back upon ourselves than we came in with? Can we leave some of the messages, some of the script, shaken off at our feet as we leave? Can we replace it with all that we breathed in, and with the mourning that comes with the watching and waiting, for now? Can we see all the ground we walk upon as holy ground, as stepping out with all we have inside, as taking it with us?

We leave the Labyrinth.

So, who said we’re not able to join in? We’re far from the outside. We’re on the inside, looking out. We’re watching and waiting with Jesus, we’re holding our pain and we’re living in the great mystery of Maundy Thursday, today.


The Upper Room

A man with a jar of water.

That's who we're looking for. That's who Jesus told us would meet us. Thing is, you just don't see that. A bloke, I mean, with a water jar. It's always the women.

I sometimes don't get him.

I glance over at John, who shrugs at me, drawing his hand over his sweat-soaked brow. 'Can you see anyone?'

He shakes his head.

We drag ourselves onwards, the heat of the day pounding us, wrapping itself around our aching limbs. It's been a long walk into the city, and its heaving. Crowds everywhere, people yelling and hawking and getting into your face. It's Passover, and everyone's getting ready. There's a hum in the air, a kind of buzz, like an expectation hanging over us. A small bolt of excitement pulses through my belly, but I don't know why.

Something's going to happen.

'There.' John nudges me, points at someone far ahead of us, a stooped figure with a water urn on his left shoulder. A man.

My stomach flips and my feet speed up to catch him. To follow him. That's what Jesus said, wasn't it? Follow him. To a house. Then go in and talk to the owner. Yep. Go into some random house and tell the owner we're using his room. Of course. I can't help grinning at the thought of it, at how typical this is. Just the other day he had us go and nick this colt. So very random. So very fascinating.

At the house, we pause at the door, looking at one another. John regards me with a raised eyebrow, and I nod. We're going to do this. We're going to do what he said. I swallow, and call out through the open courtyard: 'Hello?'

I'm expecting a servant, someone who will tell us to be on our way, but a heavyset chap with a thick black beard walks towards us, and there's a glint in his eye and a smile curving his generous mouth. 'Welcome,' he says, as if he expected us, as if we are supposed to be here. 'Come in.'

I swallow again, and force out the words he told us to say. 'Um... the Teacher... the Teacher asks...'

He smiles wider. 'Do spit it out.'

'The Teacher asked me to ask you where your guest room is? I mean, where the Teacher can eat the Passover meal, um... with us? I mean, with his disciples?' I stumble over my words, and he laughs out loud at me.

This is it. This is where he throws us out. We can't just go up to a stranger and demand the use of his room.

But he doesn't. He says nothing, just beckons to us as he turns on his heel and walks towards an arched entrance in the far side of the courtyard. Up some rough-hewn stone steps to an upper room. Inside, he nods to us, his smile unrelenting, and sweeps his arm around the space. A sumptuous room, furnished with a large table and dozens of reclining cushions. This is it. Just like he said.

Why am I surprised? Surely I know better, by now?

The owner, who remains silent, summons one of his servants to show us where to find things, and we prepare the meal. The Passover lamb, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the wine. Tonight we will celebrate the liberation of the children of Israel. The freedom God gave us. The knot in my stomach tightens for some inexplicable reason. What? What is really happening here?

Later, when the rest turn up, the candles are lit and the table filled, and we wait for Jesus to sit. For a moment, he stands, regarding us all, his dark eyes soft in the flickering light. There's a sadness etched on his face tonight, something not quite right. I wring my hands behind my back and ignore the sense of foreboding in the room. There's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing. I mean, yes, he has been saying some odd things lately, but everything is fine. Surely.

We recline at the table, relaxing into the cushions. There's a quietness to the room, a weighty sort of silence settled upon us. We all look to Jesus, sat at the centre of us, so very still, the peace upon him tangible. I want some of that peace.

He gets to his feet, and I start to stand with him. He gestures at me to sit, and I sink back into the cushion, watching him as he removes his cloak and wraps a towel around his waist. Without saying a word, he pours some water into a basin, and the sound of the water rushes through my veins. I inhale sharply as he takes the basin to James and crouches at his feet, then takes his foot and begins to wash it, gently scooping water from the basin and stroking it over James' foot. James sits mesmerised, staring at Jesus, a light in his eyes.

Jesus does the same with Matthew, then Nathanael, and I can see him coming closer and closer to me. I bring my hands together, squeezing them as he kneels before me. 'No,' I say, my voice a rasp. 'You shouldn't be doing this. Are you really going to wash my feet?'

'You don't realise what I'm doing now, but later, you'll get it,' he says, and tears prick the backs of my eyes.

'No,' I say again, but my voice is broken. 'You'll never wash my feet.' He can't do this. I can't let him. It's not right. I should be serving him.

Jesus smiles at me, his eyes full of sparkle.

I take a deep breath. 'Then my hands too. And my head.' I want more. I want all he can give. All this life he has for me.

Later, he tells us we should all wash one another's feet. We should serve one another. Love one another. We glance around helplessly, knowing we can't do this without his strength.

'I've been waiting for this,' he says, when he is finished and sat with us again, his voice a soft breath in the hush of the space. 'Having this meal with you, before I have to suffer.'

Suffer? What does he mean?

We wait in the stillness.

'I tell you this,' he says. 'I won't eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.'

What does that even mean?

None of us say anything. It's like there's an unspoken rule, a pact between us, to listen. To be still. The opulent room with its colourful tapestries and floor coverings presses in on me, the herb-scented air almost sucked from the space, and yet there's something at the edges. Not a feeling of oppression, but a spark of something else. Something like light. Like hope. I raise my aching head and look at him. His eyes are on me, something unfathomable lying in the depths, and I tear my gaze away, confused.

His voice breaks into the silence, and his words are shocking. 'One of you here now will betray me. That's the truth.'

An audible gasp runs between us as we catch one another's eyes. My heart thumps. He can't mean me? I would never do that. Never.

All of them deny it. Say surely he couldn't mean them. Confusion weaves its way around us, snaking through us. 'It is one of the twelve,' he says, and we shake our heads, so vehemently, so assuredly. He must be wrong. But then Judas says to him, 'Surely not I, Lord?' and Jesus turns to him, gazes long into his eyes until he flinches.

'Yes, you,' he says, and it's barely a whisper. Judas leans back, crossing his arms and setting his face like a stone.

We are sombre as he does something strange with the bread and the cup of wine. Something I've never seen before. The bread is his body, he says, and shares it among us, and as I take my piece something surges through me like a fire taking hold. The cup is his blood, he says, of the covenant. The promise. We share it among ourselves and a strange awareness catches hold of us, a feeling running between us we cannot explain, and I know I will never leave him. Never let him down. I know something intimate has passed between us. Something otherworldly, that I am unable to put words to. It's changed me.

But then he says the words which fall too hard on me, like rocks on my head. 'I have to go away, and you'll all leave me.'

I won't. I won't. I say it. 'I will not.'

He looks into my eyes; deeper than before, and I shrink back. His words are soft but devastating. 'Peter. Before the cock crows twice, you will disown me three times.'

Horror floods me. Never. I gather up my outrage. 'No. Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you. Never.'

Later, I look back at that upper room, the night that changed me. I look back and remember Jesus' eyes, even as he told me what he knew would happen, eyes full of love. Nothing but love. There was never anger in those eyes as he told me what I would do. Only grace.

Always grace.

And I did do it. I did let him down. But there was never a question, never a doubt that he loved me anyway, that I need bear no burden of guilt.

That night, we celebrated the liberation of the children of Israel, and something more. We ate a meal which anticipated an even greater liberation; a freedom for everyone, in every time and every place, a freedom which ran through the meal then through the hideous events of the next day, then burst into joyous life in what happened on the Sunday, streaming through history with resurrection power. And each time we do it, each time we eat that meal we are remembering. Remembering that God's plan was always for freedom. Always for grace. Always for love.

Always for you.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Tale Older than Time

Beauty and the Beast? I'm going to do that thing where you say 'Ah! That's a bit like Jesus, that is.' Sorry.

So Adventure Girl and I finally went to see the new movie version. The 90s cartoon version was her favourite film as a little girl, and the movie took me back to hazy Sunday afternoons slumped on the sofa, catching up on sleep while my little girl with her endless energy spun around the room in her somewhat torn yellow Belle dress, the songs whirling through my dozy, tiny-children-sleep-deprived head. As I watched the new film, some of these words came back to me, conjuring up the taste of yearning the story always left me with. I want adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere, I want it more than I can say, Belle sings to a sweeping backdrop of stunning mountain scenery. It struck me that in our lives we are all longing for the great wide somewhere, we are all looking for the big adventure, all drawn towards the soul-level keening for more, and that every story we tell reflects this hidden truth deep within humanity: We are made for more.

Jaded cynics' comments regarding Stockholm Syndrome aside, I thought about some of the themes in the film and wondered why they always grabbed hold of me so. I think the central motifs are of redemption and restoration. Here we have a prince, a bit of a nasty piece of work by all accounts, selfish and rude, turning away an ugly old hag begging for shelter and getting something of a shock when she morphs into a fearful - if beautiful - enchantress and curses him and the entire castle in one fell swoop. It's only when and if he learns to love that they will be released from their bonds, she says, but he'd better do it by the time this rose drops its final petal. So we get the rather grumpy beast who can't find it in him to treat people very nicely, including Belle's father and Belle herself when they drop in. Belle, of course, is a poor village girl, shunned by others for being 'different'. Adventure Girl always liked her the best of all the Disney Princesses 'because she has some sass about her'.

You know the story - Beauty melts Beast's hard heart. You see it beginning to soften, amid the harshness of perpetual winter over the enchanted castle. Love is doing its unique thing, weaving around hearts and minds with transformative power, leaving little room for doubt or fear. And this is where it differs from the norm, where justice is done and the baddies go down: this baddy is changed. This baddy is redeemed. He's given another chance, grace is extended to him freely and gloriously as Belle makes the decision to forget his previous bad behaviour and love him anyway.

You can see where this is going...

That unconditional love is something we can all grasp hold of and all be changed by, poured down over us like morning dew. God is all about redemption. Second chances. Lavish grace.

And then there's the restoration, the dazzling, triumphant restoration. As the beast is transformed, not only back into human form but into something different than before, something softer, something capable of love - so the enchantment is broken and the castle is set free. The imagery is startling; dark grotesque gargoyles utterly remodelled into golden, stunning eagles and angels and cherubs, broken pieces fallen to the ground in the misery of despair and disrepair swept up and re-attached to where they belong, reminding me of a passage in Isaiah:

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
  and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.

The sense of joy as the ruins are rebuilt and renewed is tangible. The castle is set free from its bondage to decay, from its constant winter, and spring comes quickly, flowers opening in delight all over the awakening gardens, darkness fleeing in the face of the light flooding in. Things are put right, restored to their former glory and beyond. The beast is given a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Even the enchantress is redeemed in the new version, breaking the spell herself even when it seems too late, even when the final petal has fallen and the cursed objects lay too still on the battered ground. She observes a love stronger than death and chooses life. She goes against her own law of the curse, and chooses freedom.

Tale as old as time, tune as old as song, Mrs Potts sings over the couple twirling through the larger-than-life ballroom. The truth is, we are in that tale, the story as old as time, the song older still. The God outside time who made us for the great wide somewhere, made us for more than this. Made us for glorious relationship with him and with each other. J.R.R Tolkien said that we’re all searching for an overarching story, a story where things are made right in the end, because that will be our story, where justice will be done and mourning will be no more. That’s why we love stories with happy endings, we want things to be resolved, we’re desperate for injustice to be wiped away and for the poor village girl to get her prince.

I love that they added some words to Tale as old as Time in the new version, right at the end. 'Winter turns to spring,' sings Mrs Potts, 'famine turns to feast.' How glorious a picture of our faith and the hope it holds, the life in its fullness offered, the transformative power of the gospel.

May we know our winter turning to spring, our famine turning to feast. May we choose to live in the story which will end with love winning. Even though we're in the battle still, the conflict where the beast is still trapped in his enchanted cage and the village girl is desperate and afraid, we’re trapped in our seasons of pain and mourning and fear, yet may we know times of provision and laughter and hope as we wait for the story to come to its yearned for climax, the ending which carries us through to eternity in a contentment we can’t even conceive of in this life.

Tale as old as time? Or a story even older. Song as old as rhyme? Or the song which streams through history and beyond, bringing redemption and restoration, hope in the darkness and as many second chances as we ask for. Irradicable, indestructible hope and love which never, ever fails us.