an extraordinary cup of Ribena

The town was quiet this morning – streets empty, bells ringing to air. Bells ringing: the bells from Great St Mary’s church, peals of clear-ringing sound evoking memories from years ago. The memories of walking through this same place, aged three or four or five, with my parents, to church. The feelings returned, feelings of being little and at home and joy-full in my small-but-big life, loved by my parents and on the way to church.

The church’s interior appeared vast and very blue (guess which church, Cambridge people?!) to my little perspective. One time I particularly remember from that blue, vast church was one Sunday’s children’s church. Jane was teaching us four and five year olds what communion was; what it meant when our parents drank from the special cup and ate the different bread.

She had a cup of red liquid to show us. ‘This is Jesus’ blood, in communion’, she explained.

Wait a sec – blood?! To a small person’s mind, that cup of red liquid was all of a sudden quite terrifying. God wants us to drink Jesus’ blood?! But I thought God was kind? And Jane, our gentle family friend, she would surely not just have a cup of blood right there, in her hands?!

I had no idea that the red liquid was actually Ribena. I was so traumatised that I remember the occasion exactly even fifteen or sixteen years later.

The bells brought back this (hilarious) memory as they rung colourful sound across Cambridge town. The last chimes faded as I stepped towards the peace and holy ground of Clare Chapel. A handful of us were there for the weekly College communion service, ready to hear the Bible, eat the bread, take the cup.

Before the communion liturgy a sermon was spoken. Arthur spoke on John 14:15-21, about Jesus being close to us by his Spirit, real to us even though sometimes God feels distant amongst the tangible, earthy things of the world. The streets and the bells, the altar candles and Bible – they’re all touchable, holdable, visible. Where is God in this world of heavy things?

God is with us in the Spirit imparted to us, the Spirit who is an advocate who comforts, teaches, speaks for us. Who doesn’t allow us to be left as orphans, but who makes us children of God. Who cries out ‘Father’ from the depths of us continuously, recognising and encouraging us to be his own. This is how God is with us and close, in the Son’s Spirit given to our hearts.

And then, communion. The tangible objects of wafer-bread and wine, the sacrament-action that becomes a ‘thin place’ where Jesus is revealed to us, where Jesus is present. The eight or nine of us in Clare Chapel eat the bread and drink of the cup, taking into ourselves a touchable, tangible, and closely present reminder of who Jesus is and how he made us his own children. A reminder of his strength in our weakness; his sufficiency over against our inadequacy.

All of this is remembered as we eat and drink, and Jesus is recognised as who he is. The disciples who journeyed with Jesus on the Emmaus road saw him truly when the bread was broken, and we see him truly as we share in this symbol and sacrament.

This in turn makes God present in a new way: in the church. As we eat and drink the bread and wine, we are also reminded that we are made into one body, whose head is Christ. God is present in this body – in the prayer, comfort, encouragement, suffering and joy we share together, having eaten the same bread and drunk the same wine.

God has been present today in his body: in the signs of peace given to each other in Clare’s communion service; in the breakfast, conversation and laughter we enjoyed afterwards; in the prayer and worship after Mike Pilavachi’s sermon at Holy Trinity; in the picnic lunch on Jesus Green with lots of HT students. (Loving how church is coupled with food?!)

In every gathering across the world where Jesus is known as Christ and where his people share equally in the gifts of adoption that the Spirit gives, there is this unity and joy, and the presence of God draws close.

So as I now sit on King’s wall, the streets full and the bells silent, I have this new memory and meaning growing beyond the roots of what Jane taught little me years ago. Communion is no longer an extraordinarily terrifying cup of Ribena but a deeply beautiful symbol and moment, making real the presence of God; making one his kingdom on earth.

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barefoot’s my favourite kind of walking

Last night I walked barefoot through King’s College to catch the edge of the sunset with some friends. It was ideal and wonderful – the sky was golden and blue over Clare College, and in the dusk we chatted and laughed much. Despite the gravel between my toes and the muddier ground by the river, it was warm and fun to walk barefoot, carrying flip flops idly back through town.

Today, however, I have totally regretted my choice of footwear. I slipped on my flip flops thoughtlessly as I rushed out the door – but quickly realised that they are not really that great for rainy, cold weather. My feet are now not their normal colour; it’s kind of grim.

At risk of plucking theology out of thin air, these experiences of walking barefoot have made me reflect on two quite Bible-y things. The first, perhaps obviously, is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The second I’ll come to later.

After a day’s walking, the disciples’ feet would have been super grimy. The combination of sandal-like footwear with a road-dust-and-animal-muck ground made for feet far worse than mine today (and that’s saying something). They’d have toes coated in the soil and toil of the journey, feet weary and dirty and probably quite smelly.

Yet Jesus, God-made-flesh, knelt to wash those feet. Knelt to wash the grime and the muck completely away, making clean his disciples through becoming their servant. He washed their feet and by doing so he both welcomed them as they were, and transformed them into clean-footed and clean-hearted people.

Jesus cared for those feet that had walked the journey thus far with him; he deeply loved the disciples that sat around the table. Knowing that he had all authority from the Father, he still became the servant of those he loved.

The second thing my feet made me think of today is a few words a friend gave me at a Just Love event last week. We’d been chatting about coveting and comparison in relation to body image and self-esteem, and at the end we had a time of creative reflective encouragement. The words my friend wrote for me are these:

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your steps are made firm by the Lord, for he delights in your ways – this is your adornment (all creative credit to the wonderful Harriet)

‘This is your adornment’: to step faithfully with God; to walk with him consistently, in patterns and habits of faithfulness that he makes firm.

Walking this way is not always easy. It’s easy to get it wrong or to feel insecure about it – to feel like I’m not doing enough to be close to God, or like my feet are too weary to take another step. To speak metaphorically, as I walk through each day my feet pick up the dust of the road. It can make my feet feel heavy sometimes, too heavy, or like I’m walking too quickly to be able to stop and clean off my feet.

God’s path is like this: joy-full and hard, smooth and gravelly, grassy and muddy. It’s both light and dark – the path is made up of everyday moments, full of collections of impressions of truth, quick decisions and slow processes. Grief and surprises, laughter and vulnerability.

My feet pick up all of this as I walk – how can this be my adornment or my beauty, when my feet feel heavy with the weight of the day and I have little time to stop and catch a breath, brush off the dust?

This is where that Jesus story comes back in. When the road is too quick and feet are worn out, Jesus waits with servant hands and a heart that beats love. He waits with a quieter space and there he shares in the joy of the joy-full; offers rest for the weary; provides peace for the lost; and watches the sunset with you if you just need to stop and be.

Jesus’ hands are healing hands which wipe the muck off of our feet and give us space to be in his life-giving presence before we head back out along the road. It’s amazing that we can say and know and write this of Godbut this is who he has revealed himself to be: the one who loves sacrificially and servant-heartedly, with all Father-love and sovereign righteousness.

These words and this love are what I’ll remember from this day of cold, muddy feet. To walk in faithfulness to God is my adornment, wholly because Jesus cares for me as I walk in his way, giving me rest on the journey and his vision to go on.

I’ll also take with me the lesson that on rainy days, I need to think more about my footwear choices.

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