theology

Bow the Knee

A few weeks ago I was privileged to take part in a very special online 'gathering'.

The senior choir - the Songsters - at The Salvation Army church in Felixstowe in Suffolk in England meet every week online ... they can't meet in person because of the coronavirus, so they meet 'viritually' to stay in touch, be inspired and occasionally to hear from someone different.

So, I had the honour to speak to them, actually about my books, and then to lead them in a prayer 'devotion'. It was, I hope, 'different'.

Bow the kneeFor months a certain song has been travelling with me and has meant so much especially during the lockdowns and the uncertainty of the pandemic, so I chose this song to share with them.

This week especially it kept popping up all over the place, including on the random selection on my music library on my I-Phone. Like someone is trying to tell me something!

It's sometimes hard to pray and trust when life seems out of your control. But these words encourage me to keep trusting God however uncertain life may be. And to keep 'talking' to God and praying and believing.

So this Sunday I simply share it with you and hope it encourages you too.

The full lyrics are beneath the music video... but  the words of the chorus are worth repeating, and repeating, and repeating ...

Be blessed!

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

 

Bow the Knee

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev'ry step we take
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us
As we try to understand each move He makes
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

Bow the Knee

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev'ry step we take
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us
As we try to understand each move He makes
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

 

(words and music by Michael Harland and Christopher Machen)

 


What we Love ...

Most of us, even if we're not religious, may have heard of St Francis of Assisi.

You know who I'm talking about ... the 12/13th century Italian Catholic friar, mystic and preacher who is best known these days for being the Patron Saint of Animals because of his close association with nature and the natural environment and animals. 

In addition,  his 'Prayer of St Francis' ... Make Me a Channel of your Peace ...  is now widely known as a Christian prayer for peace.

It was on this day - July 16th - in 1228, just two years after his death, that Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX

But did you know that one of  the first followers of Francis was a young woman called Clare, who was actually born on this day in 1194?

Clare, like Francis, hailed from the town of Assisi in central Italy and was from a rich and ancient Roman family whose homes included a palace in Assisi. Clare would have been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and apparently was very devout even as a child. Although undoubtedly she would have been destined for a rich marriage, instead when she was what we would now call a 'teenager', Clare decided on a religious life.

She apparently heard Francis speak at a church service during Lent, the period running up to Easter, and was inspired to give her life completely to God. She was just 17 but on the evening of Palm Sunday, 20 March 1212, she left her father's house and, accompanied by her aunt Bianca and another companion, went to the chapel of the Porziuncula in Assisi to meet Francis.

There, so history tells us, Clare's hair was cut, she removed her rich clothing and instead took on a plain robe and veil, indicating that she was turning her back on her previous life of luxury and was committing herself to a life of poverty and service to humanity.

Her father was furious. He tracked her down at a convent in San Paulo near Bastia where she had been placed in the care of Benedictine nuns ... but she refused to return home, and continued to profess that she would have no other 'husband' but Jesus Christ. She implored Francis to send her to an even more secluded religious community  - Sant' Angelo in Panzo - where she was soon joined by her sister Catarina, who changed her name to 'Agnes'. Both Clare and Agnes would eventually be canonized!

They remained with the Benedictines until a small dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano near their hometown of Assisi.  Here Clare and Agnes gathered other religious women around them, they lived a life of poverty and seclusion from the world and they became known as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano". Later, ten years after Clare's death in August 1253, it would become known as the Order of Saint Clare. These days the contemplative order of nuns is in 75 countries across the world but it began with just one woman and a vision from God.

While the Franciscan friars travelled around the country to preach, Saint Clare's 'sisters' existed in isolation from the world, where they lived a life of manual labour and prayer. They were barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. At one point the Pope of the day,  Gregory IX, offered Clare a 'dispensation' from the vow of strict poverty. She declined, and eventually the Pope instead granted them something called the 'Privilegium Pauperitatis' — a ruling that nobody could oblige the Clares to accept any possession. 

It's hard to imagine these days, when we're so wrapped up in belongings and 'stuff' and 'freewill', that a live of solitude and austerity could be appealing ...  but in fact Clare and her followers inspired many to join them, including more members of her own family.

Another sister, Beatrix, also joined the order and after their father's death, their mother Ortolana also entered the convent at San Damiano which followed the Franciscan monastic religious order. It was here that Clare would write their  Rule of Life, which are believed to be the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. 

Many words of wisdom have passed down the centuries from St Clare but I think one of my favourite thoughts from this wise Woman of God are those below.

It's such a profound thought, and could have been written for the 21st century. 

I invite you today to read these words, and reflect, as I am doing.

What is it that I 'love'? What is shaping me?

Is it 'things', possessions, power, status, money?

Is that what is shaping our lives?

Or is it just simply ... love? Compassion for others? And maybe God? 

It's a tough one ... and although it might not necessarily mean a life of seclusion and poverty, it might help us to think about what is important in our lives and what we hold dear!

 

St Clare of Assisi


May God give you .....

This past week I was having a conversation with a friend and in usual fashion, we chatted about anything and everything. Work, frustrations, our health (physical and mental health) ... and along the way the subject of Celtic Christianity came up.

Rather random, I grant you, but it's once again made me think about the ancient faith of many of our British forefathers and mothers, a spiritual tradition and theology which is connected not just to God but also to the earth and nature, the elements and the natural environment around us. 

I love this tradition and the sentiments and prayers which come out of it. These days you might often see these defined and described as 'Irish' blessings and prayers, but many of these come if not directly, then indirectly from the Celtic tradition. The fact that many of these blessings are based on very old spiritual traditions inspires me as I realise these prayers have been spoken silently and out loud for many hundreds of years by the faithful. They have brought inspiration and comfort, challenge and affirmation in equal measure.

I don't know anything about you, dear reader, or how you are feeling right now. But what I've learned down the years is that God sometimes gives us a thought which, without knowing it, will help someone else if passed on.

So today I bring you one of those blessings and trust it will bring you whatever YOU need.

Be Blessed Today!

 

Sunday blessing


All Shall be Well

There's a great quote which has over the years given me great comfort, especially during difficult times and periods of 'trial' in my life.

Julian of norwich quote May 13

The quote, as you may see. is attributed to a Christian mystic and theologian called Julian of Norwich and it wasn't until I actually moved to the 'Fair City' of Norwich in the county of Norfolk in England that I took the time to find out more about her.

Julian lived in the 14th century and resided for most of her life in the city, which has a history as a commercial centre as well as a place with a vibrant religious life. 

So the story goes, it was when Julian - possibly not her real name although we don't really know much about her - was aged around 32 when she became seriously ill. It was the year 1373 and on her deathbed when she received a series of visions of Jesus, or what was described as "shewings" of the Passion of Christ - visions relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

And actually it's on May 13th in 1373 that it's reckoned she received those visions which is why I'm thinking about this especially today.

Miraculously Julian recovered and wrote two versions of her experiences, one which we think was completed very soon after her illness and another written years later. The book was entitled Revelations of Divine Love. It contains a series of Christian devotions and thoughts.

Although she was probably religious before all this, it's thought the experiences eventually led Julian to become what is called an 'anchorite', or 'anchoress' living in permanent seclusion in a cell which was attached to a chapel known as St Julian's Church, Norwich.

Julian was not unique in her Christian calling and not the only person who chose this lifestyle. The anchorite was and is someone who withdraws from secular society to devote their life to intense prayer and the ascetic lifestyle where they choose a frugal life without possessions and 'sensual pleasures' in favour of spiritual pursuit and enlightenment. 

This choice to separate from ordinary life is not just a Christian concept, we find it in many religions but in the case of Julian and other Christians, becoming an anchorite ... a kind of hermit who stays one place ... was about a focus on the Christian Eucharist as well as prayer and devotion. Often these people became considered a kind of living saint. The earliest anchorites are recorded in the 11th century but by the 13th century when Julian was living, it's reckoned there could have been as many as 200 anchorites in England alone. The anchoritic life is considered to be one of the earliest forms of Christian monasticism and in fact some still exist today ... in the Roman Catholic Church it's described as one of the "Other Forms of Consecrated Life".

Regardless of the fact that she was separate from society, Julian did make an impact. Although she apparently preferred to write anonymously even in her own lifetime she was influential. There are surviving records of four wills in which she was named and there's an account by another celebrated mystic called Margery Kempe who writes about the advice and counsel she received from Julian.

While Julian remained separate, her 'anchorage' was attached to the side of the chapel so she was still able to play a part in the life of the church - she could receive communion and hear Mass. By the time she died, sometime after 1416, she had been in her cell for about 25 years!  

Although little known outside of Norwich and East Anglia in her lifetime and for many centuries,  Julian of Norwich's Revelations, including her second 'Long Text' in which she revealed a few personal details as well, have fortunately been handed down to this generation.  In the 17th century she became popular and loads of people translated her work. She did disappear from view for a while in the mid to late 19th century but was 're-discovered' in 1901 when a manuscript in the British Museum was transcribed and published with notes by an editor and translator called Grace Warrack.

Since then many more translations of Revelations of Divine Love  (which is also known under other titles) have been produced and Julian is now very popular. Her spirituality and thoughts and reflections appear to ring true with 21st century seekers after truth.   

Since 1980, Julian has been remembered in the Calendar of Saints in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on May 8th, and she is also commemorated on that day in the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA. While she has not been formally beatified or canonised in the Roman Catholic Church,  she is venerated by Catholics as a holy woman of God, and is sometimes referred to as "Saint", "Blessed", or "Mother" Julian.. In the Roman Catholic tradition her feast day is today - May 13th. And if you visit the magnificent Anglican cathedral in Norwich, at the West Porch you'll find a statue of Julian created by the local sculptor David Holgate and commissioned to commemorate the new millennium. 

There are many quotes from Julian of Norwich from her Revelations that have made it online but I still love this one more than others. 

Julian chose a hard, prayerful and thoughtful life but she was still a human being, a woman, and it must have been tough at times. Detached from the world, sitting in a cold cell in the perishing Norfolk winter and sweltering in the summer. Not following her own will, but that of God. 

Although I'm sure her resolve and faith were strong, she maybe at times did feel isolated and perhaps even, occasionally, wondered if she was spending her life usefully.

Most of us can recognise and perhaps empathise with those emotions.

So today I imagine Julian receiving this message and finding the comfort and peace and courage to move forward in life.

"In my folly, afore this time often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well. This stirring was much to be forsaken, but nevertheless mourning and sorrow I made therefor, without reason and discretion. But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." (The Thirteenth Revelation, Chapter 27)

 


Celebrating Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.

Every year since 1970 this has been annual event designed for us all to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It's grown over the decades and lots of important environmental events have happened on Earth Day.

This year on Earth Day, today, there will be a Global Climate Summit, convened by the US President Joe Biden and held virtually I'm guessing because of coronavirus. Among other things it is designed to be a 'critical stepping stone for the U.S. to re-join the world in combating the climate crisis', having agreed to re-sign the Paris Agreement.  It's just one of the events being planned today and just one example of how Earth Day continues to be a momentous and unifying day every year.  These days it's reckoned that 1 billion people in more than 193 countries will mark Earth Day in some way.

And so to MY contribution.

A couple of years ago, I recorded a series for BBC Radio Jersey with the Jersey artist and iconographer Karen Blampied.

She has created something called The Earthday Icon ... inspired by the ancient nature embedded in the Eastern Orthodox Church Calendar, which each September celebrates Creation and which has a three year cycle, ending every year with the feast of St Francis of Assisi and the Blessing of the Animals. During this liturgical time of Creation, each Sunday is dedicated to a specific aspect of creation and the Earthday icons depicts forests, land, wilderness, rivers, skies, mountains, the universe, animals, storms, oceans and more, all with spiritual significance.

Karen's inspiration is to 'highlight the need of all people to be stewards of the Earth' and this really inspires ME.

I loved working with Karen on this series and the audio we produced is still on the BBC Radio Jersey website.

So today, to mark Earth Day, I'm including the links to the programme features.

You will have to click on each link to listen ... hope you don't mind doing that. But it's really interesting!

Enjoy! And be inspired and blessed!


Earthday icon KBlampiedEarthday Icon #1 - Ocean - Karen chats to me about the role of the sea in the Creation story

Earthday Icon #2 - Flora & Fauna - Karen in conversation with me about her icon

Earthday Icon #3 Storm - Karen chats to me about depicting weather & climate in her icon

Earthday Icon #4 Cosmos - Karen talks to me about depicting God and the heavens in her icon

Earthday Icon #5 Blessing of the Animals - Discovering Karen's inspiration for the animals in her icon

 

*Earthday icon image copyright - Karen Blampied


A Hope and a Future

Over the years I've experienced many changes in my life. 

Some good, some not so great.

But there's a verse from the Bible which has walked with me and which never fails to give me strength and fill me with optimism.

Whatever valley I walk through, whatever uncertainty I'm feeling inside and whatever hurdles I face,  this verse from scripture not only comforts but challenges me.

God knows what He's doing, even if I have not a clue. There is hope, even if I can't feel or see it right now.

So today I share this verse, and hope if YOU need a word of encouragement or are going through difficult times, this will help you too, and give you the hope you need to get through today!

Have a great day everyone!

ForIknow the plans Jeremiah


I'll Fight

I've done quite a few jobs down the years. Worked in newspapers, radio, television, PR and communications, training. I'm also an author.

My first book was about the founders of The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation, William and Catherine Booth.

William and catherine book coverWeirdly it was called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Monarch/Lion Hudson 2013) ... and yes it was based on the letters the couple wrote to each other from the time they met and throughout their engagement and long marriage.

The letters are full of their love and family life, but also show how that love, and a love for and faith in God, led to the creation of The Salvation Army, from very humble beginnings in the East End of Victorian London to a 'movement' which today can be found in more than 130 countries. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because today - April 10th - is William Booth's birthday! Born this day in 1829 in Nottingham in England, he was a man on a mission. Having become a Christian when he was what we today would call a 'teenager', he was determined to spend his life in God's service.

He yearned to be an evangelist and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tried hard to fit into the Methodist Church, but he was such an individualist that, ultimately, that just didn't work. Finally, after years of struggle and ministry, he and Catherine found themselves in London where William began to really see the plight of the poor and to be challenged into a response. He and Catherine had realised their 'calling' in life was to champion the hoards of people excluded from church and society, marginalised, ignored, undervalued and even abused.

In 1865 the Booths created the East London Christian Mission, among other things to preach to, feed and support the poor. In 1878 it was renamed and became 'The Salvation Army' and from that moment it really took off, with its quasi military structure and distinctive character. Uniforms and brass bands were among the features which captured the public imagination and attracted not just people from the poverty stricken part of the population but also those from the higher echelons of society who felt that 'church' should be more than just ritual and Sunday attendance at services.  Christian faith in this context was to be shared, and to make a difference in the world. In modern parlance, Christian faith is '24/7' and is to influence what you get up to and how you interact with the world.

The Booths and their followers (known as 'Salvationists') faced much opposition, from society and even the church. Among other things, The Salvation Army asked, and still asks, it's members to give up the booze and that didn't go down well with publicans! Salvation Army members were imprisoned for their faith, and attacked by those who opposed them, including groups calling themselves 'The Skeleton Army'.

But by the time William was an old man he was revered. He and Catherine (she had died in 1890) and their children and followers had developed not just what was effectively a church with many hundreds of 'corps' across the globe, but a mission which helped to pick people up from poverty and equip them for a future where they could look after themselves and their families. Not just a 'hand out' in charity, but a 'hand up'. 

WIlliam's last speech = albert hall ihq imageAnd even as an old man, William Booth never lost the spirit to fight for the marginalised, people who no one else would champion.

On May 9th 1912, just a few months before he died, William ... the 'General' of The Salvation Army ... appeared before a huge crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had just completed a tour of Europe and it's reckoned around 7,000 Salvationists packed into the venue to hear what would be their leader's final address. 

It was here he was reported to have said something which would sum up his 60-year Christian ministry, and the mission of The Salvation Army.

And it still inspires today 

While women weep,
as they do now, I’ll fight.

While little children go hungry,
as they do now, I’ll fight.
While men go to prison, in and
out, in and out, as they do now,
I’ll fight.
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl
upon the streets,
While there remains one dark
soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!

Quite a few years ago, I was employed as the Head of Media for The Salvation Army in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and we produced a video for a big event (a 'congress') which brought together Salvation Army members and friends from across the UK and the British Isles. 

It was called the 'I'll Fight' Congress and it's theme was that great speech made by General William Booth at the start of the 1900s.

But, big question  - is the sentiment of the speech still relevant for the 21st century?

Well of course there are still 'poor lost girls' ... in fact today The Salvation Army is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, the modern slave trade, across the world. People still go hungry, still go to prison and end up isolated. Drugs, alcohol abuse, homelessness, unemployment ... these are unfortunately still issues which The Salvation Army helps to address day on day. 

And for that 'congress' we re-worked the original Booth speech to suit the times. It was some years ago, so apologies to the children who kindly helped me on this project. They are now grown adults. 

But it still works ... and it still challenges ... 

 

*image above and film embedded in the video copyright The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre


Written in Red

On Good Friday, as Christians we are remembering how Jesus Christ was crucified on a hill outside of the city of Jerusalem.

It's perhaps the holiest day of the year for Christians, and some people might think that it's strange to call a solemn holy day that commemorates a death a 'good day'.

JOhn 3 16Lots of deep theological and historical and cultural reasons for that, but for me the 'good' is there because actually it comes a few days before the main revelation of Christianity. Which is  ... that Jesus didn't stay dead!

Yes he died, but then he pushed through death, proving that it didn't have to be the end of existence.

By coming back to life he 'conquered' death which means that if we believe in Jesus we also ultimately can push back death. Dying doesn't have to be the end of it all for us. We can be God's person here on earth,  but we may also live eternally in the spirit world after we have shrugged off this mortal coil

It's an astonishing thing! Difficult to comprehend, supernatural, but when embraced, an outrageous concept of optimism and hope.

Christians believe that although Jesus lived as a man for about 33 years, including 30 as a member of a family, a working man, followed by three years as an itinerant preacher, teacher and miracle worker and healer in the place we now know as The Holy Land (modern day Israel) ... he actually was more than a man. He was the Son of God, or God himself in human form.

We Christians do believe that Jesus was the best example of a human being that ever existed and we are encouraged to emulate his compassion, love and life of service. We also believe that his death (and ultimate resurrection on the day we call 'Easter Sunday') not only shows his divinity, but also paves the way for us to embrace eternal life ... if we would only believe in Jesus and follow him.

If you've been reading my blog a bit this week you might have picked up that by the time he reached Jerusalem in the final days of his life - the time we call 'Holy Week' in the church - the religious leaders of the day were determined to get rid of Jesus.

There were rumours that people believed that Jesus - the poor itinerant preacher - was actually the Messiah. This was the person that ancient scripture said would be sent by God to save the people of Israel. Not to mention those claims that Jesus could actually be God in human form, or the Son of God. For the Jewish religious leaders this was blasphemy and Jesus' popularity threatened their control over the population.

Ultimately they wanted rid of him. And by the day we call 'Good Friday' they had had him tried before the local and the Roman authorities and he found himself being beaten, a crown of thorns rammed onto his head (an ironic reference to the fact that some saw him as a 'King') and he had to carry his own cross through the streets of Jerusalem, through the crowds, being mocked and taunted and laughed at!

The story of Jesus' final hours and his death on that cross at a place called Calvary outside the Jerusalem city walls is documented in the New Testament of the Bible, including in the book of Matthew and Chapters 26 and 27 ,  if you have time to do so, please do read that account today.

It was a horrible death, bloody and brutal, designed not just to punish the person being nailed to a cross of wood and left to hang until they died, but also to warn those watching that THIS is what was in store for them if they, too, dared to defy authority.

There are many songs associated with this day, some very traditional. But this one and this particular version by the Gaither Vocal Band, always stirs my heart as on Good Friday I once again think about what Jesus did two thousand years ago, and what he's still doing for me today.

No pictures on this video. Maybe just close your eyes and listen to the words.

And be blessed!

*this song now on my You Tube channel 


Spy Wednesday

Today is Wednesday ... but not just any old Wednesday.

Some call today 'Holy Wednesday', others know it as 'Spy Wednesday'.  

But why? SPy Wednesday

Well, as you may know by now, this is Holy Week - or Passion Week. It's the time  Christians remember the final days of Jesus Christ on earth. From the crowds cheering him into Jerusalem on what we call 'Palm Sunday', to his trial and hideous death on a cross outside the city, in the company of criminals. 

But in between there are significant moments. We remember that in the last week of Jesus' life, he turfed out traders from the holy temple, he preached and taught, he spent time with his followers and friends. He was arrested and tried in a kangaroo court.

And somewhere in the middle, he was betrayed by one of his friends and followers, a man called Judas Iscariot.

Judas was one of the original 12 friends and followers, the disciples of Jesus. Hand picked by Jesus to share his ministry and learn from him, and eventually be there to continue the work and the mission when Jesus was no longer around. Judas had been with Jesus for three years.

So why did he turn against him?

Remember a few days ago I was saying that among the people who followed Jesus were those who hoped that he would be not just a teacher and preacher or even a miracle worker, but that he would become a focal figure in a revolution against the Romans and the Jewish religious establishment? Well, it's thought that Judas might have been among those who hoped his 'Rabbi', his spiritual leader, would be more than just a healer and an itinerant preacher.

But as Judas lived and worked with Jesus, he maybe began to realise that this gentle, charismatic personality didn't want or seek political power. He wasn't about that. He was about love and compassion and bringing people to God. His message was about community, and people being kind and helping each other out. He was about caring for the sick and the poor and the isolated. Jesus was about loving the unloved. Not about power and status, or money and possessions.

This must have frustrated Judas no end. Seeing the crowds around Jesus, he must have had hopes that it would become more. He disagreed with Jesus' generosity, and as the one in the group that looked after the money he was the man who criticised Jesus when he allowed a woman called Mary to pour a bottle of expensive perfume over him. This 'anointing' was a sign of love, but also a symbolic gesture that seemed to foretell the sacrifice that Jesus would make in giving up his life. But all Judas could see was the waste of money.

It must have been common knowledge among the followers of Jesus that he was putting himself in danger by going to Jerusalem. Jesus had narked off the religious authorities, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, and they were looking for a way to arrest him. But the sacred Jewish festival of Passover was approaching and they wouldn't want to arrest him in public, especially as Jesus was so popular with ordinary people. They risked a riot.

So they decided to get him while he was pretty much undefended.

Jesus and his followers, as Jews, would be preparing to observe the Passover. The festival begins with a meal - the Seder  - which is a ritual observation on the eve of Passover. This particular meal taken by Jesus and his friend has become known as The Last Supper. Then Jesus and some of the disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane - on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem - where Jesus wanted to pray. He knew what was coming and he needed that time apart to prepare himself.

But Judas had already gone. He'd been with the religious leaders, accepted thirty pieces of silver as a payment for betraying Jesus. After midnight, Judas arrived in the Garden accompanied by armed officers and other men provided by the religious leaders. Judas, as a signal of which person to arrest, gave Jesus a kiss. Jesus is arrested, turned over to the Roman authorities, tired, and within days is killed - crucified.

And, realising the ill he had done, Judas hanged himself. Perhaps he didn't realise the priests wanted Jesus dead. Regretting his part in the arrest of Jesus, he tried to return the money but the religious leaders refused to take it. Judas threw the money into the temple and hanged himself.

So today on this 'Spy Wednesday' we remember Judas and his part in Jesus' story. But that word 'spy' is so interesting.

These days we think of spies as secret agents, and Judas was certainly no James Bond. Not a glamorous personality at all.

But the word 'spy' means more  - it can also mean 'plant', 'snooper', 'fifth columnist', someone who is in a group but whose motives are to undermine the group. That could describe Judas. A spy in the camp. And the word 'spy' can also mean 'ambush' and 'ensnare' which is certainly what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Down the centuries, theologians and philosophers have discussed Judas' part in the events that led to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and Judas' motives. Greed? A love of money? A lust for power? Some sort of twisted theology? Some have even concluded that it was somehow in 'the Plan' - there are references in the Bible that Jesus knew one of his closest friends would betray him. That's hard to even think about. 

Judas has gone down in history as a pariah, an outcast, a devil.

But the question that always comes to my mind when I think about him is this ... am I so perfect?

Have I always been true to my faith, represented Jesus, been the person he might want me to be ... a person like him - loving, caring, compassionate, truth-seeking? Someone who thinks of others before themselves? And have I always stood up for my faith? Always stood up for Jesus? Have I never denied him, even by my silence when I needed to speak up? 

It's a hard one to face but on this 'Spy Wednesday', halfway through Holy Week, halfway to the crucifixion of Jesus and ahead of Easter ... it's a question I need to keep asking myself.