Monday, 7 March 2016


A reflection on the Wilderness Generation.

I am Rebekah. I am ten years old, the eldest of eight children.

When I was seven I began working in the fields. Each day before dawn I would be woken with the gentle calling of my name, ‘Rebekah.’ I would slip on my tunic and step into my sandals while the younger children stirred. I’d emerge to find my mother and the other women preparing breakfast for the field workers. The men who built with brick and mortar in Pithom and Rameses had long since left.

That early morning meal was my favourite time of the day. The smell of baked bread and boiled eggs made my belly rumble before I even had time to wipe the sleep from my eyes.

The air was cool and fresh.We spoke to one another in hushed tones, and laughed as silently as we could so as to not disturb those who slept. Before long the babies would be up calling, ‘Amma! Amma!’ and the ladies would be comforting one child while another clung to their legs.

It’s been that way for three years, and now there are three more of us in my family: another girl and two more boys. Every day, except the Sabbath, I walk to the fields outside Goshen with my aunts and older cousins. We talk all the way there. They tell us stories about what Egypt used to be like, about Joseph and Jacobs other sons and how they’d come from Canaan because of the famine, about Abraham and God’s promise to him that his descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky and how that certainly seems to be the case because the children of Israel keep growing and growing and growing and growing.

But why are there all these people and yet we have no place of our own, no place to call home?

It’s hot out in the fields and I long for the cool, dark rooms of our house. My legs burn as I bend low to pull the weeds from among the wheat. My muscles strain and the skin on my hands is raw and enflamed. As I work beneath the beat of the sun the anger in me begins to smoulder; a small fire of frustration.

‘Pharaoh,’ I curse under my breath. He forces us to work, and what’s worse is he is trying to control us like we are cattle. He gave a decree to kill off our baby boys. My brothers are safe for now, but for how long?

How long?
How long will my people be enslaved?
How long will we be oppressed?
How long will our men be beaten and abused while they build cities for this slave-driving empire?
How long, O Lord? Have you seen what it happening to us? Have you heard us as we cry out to you, ‘come and save us! Come and deliver us!’?
Are you really more powerful than Pharaoh? Are you really willing to redeem your people?

I hope so! Because, if you can’t, or won’t, I don’t know what we will do. God, we need you! Will you send someone to save us?


I am Rebekah. When I was twenty years old something strange and wonderful began. It started when Moses – one of our own – returned home. He was a Levite babe who’d been laid in a papyrus basket and place in the Nile – that fertile and dreadful river, and found by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter. The same Pharaoh who’d forced us into hard labour.

Rumour has it that Moses fled to the wilderness and met God. Filled with the fear of the Lord he returned to Pharaoh’s court and declared, ‘let my people go!’ It wasn’t that easy though. Pharaoh said no. We were forced to work harder and the beatings were harsher than ever before. Such trouble was brought on us!

Moses insisted that God would deliver us from our yoke of slavery and bring us to the land he swore to Abraham. But we didn’t believe him. We were bruised and abused. We were bitter. We’d become like the master we were bonded to. (It took too long to shake those chains.) For as long as I could remember we had been crying out to God to keep his covenant, to come to our rescue. We pleaded with God to hear us, and when God finally spoke we could not fathom it.

There were the plagues, ten of them in total, ending with the death of the first born – the most destructive of all. I will never forget the sound of those who keened and grieved: the awful wail of lament.

And then we left: the great exodus. I was in a daze. We’d done what Moses had asked. We slaughtered a lamb and smeared its blood on the door posts of our houses. We ate the roast meat and bread without yeast like we were on the run – cloak, belt, sandals, staff. We ate in haste.

We left in haste, carrying what we could down the long desert road toward the Red Sea. The Lord led us: a pillar of cloud by day to guide us, a pillar of fire by night to give us light and illuminate the way. One night, encamped by the sea, we heard the Egyptian stampede, the pounding steps as death rushed towards us.

I remember clamouring for my children and holding them close and wondering what I had done. I hadn’t brought them here to die in the desert like an injured animal. I should’ve stayed and served the Egyptians. I would have died inside but at least my children would have survived. I closed my eyes.

Moses stood and said, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” He stretched out his hand over the sea and there began a strong wind from the east. The waters were divided: we walked through  without getting wet. The Egyptian army was swallowed into the sea and we were safe on the other side. God had truly delivered us!

We went into the desert, and our cry for deliverance became a grumble. We were hungry and there was nothing to eat. We were thirsty and there was nothing to drink. ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt?’ we grumbled, ‘to make us and our children and our livestock die of thirst? If only we had died by the Lords hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve us to death.’

We’d seen and experienced the mighty hand of God. We knew the miraculous power of the Lord Almighty. But this place was nothing like the land we had been promised. Yes, God had delivered us, but what was God doing, giving us a leader like this? Someone to lead us to our death?

And so we are still here in this wasteland, this wilderness, with no place to call home. We came close once, right to the edge of Canaan, our ancestral home, the land where we belong. But we couldn’t go in. We were too scared. It was safer in Egypt. We were safe when we were slaves, we didn’t know what it meant to be saved.


I am Rebekah. Now I am fifty years old. Fifty years, five children, a few handfuls of grandchildren. Their childhood is so different from mine. They are free to wander and roam. They are forced to wander and roam. Every few months we pack up the tents and the tabernacle and move on. It’s been that way for thirty years.

When we walk through the wilderness I am reminded of the exodus from Egypt when we first loaded the carts and drove the cattle. Now there is no hurry or haste. My bones are older and my body does not move at the same pace. Now we walk and we wait and we remember. We remember the covenant God made with our ancestor Abraham and we remember our unfaithfulness. We remember the Passover and how God rescued us from oppression. We remember our rebellion and our recalcitrance. We remember all too well that we were the ones who reneged.

Yet, strangely, God has remained faithful. Or perhaps it’s not so strange after all. Our God is the great I Am. Our God’s very name means, ‘I am who I am. I will be who I will be.’ Our God is faithful and true. Yahweh keeps his promise. Yahweh keeps his word. Yahweh is with us in the wilderness. Even here, in the emptiness of it all, we are not alone, we are not abandoned.

God has heard our cry, has come to rescue us and we will remember his faithfulness. Our people will enter the land that has been promised to us, just not this generation. The wilderness is our home; the wilderness is where we belong. But our descendants won’t dwell in the desert forever.

I will. I will die out here. One day I will draw my last breath from this warm desert wind, my body will become a part of the earth beneath me, and I will be one with the wilderness where I have spent most of my life. I will never set foot in the Promised Land. I will never set my eyes on the green fields and foothills. I will never hear the gush of the sweet water springs or the sound of the cedars during a gust of wind. I will never taste the milk and honey I have heard of and hoped for. I have forgotten their sensation and have now only the words.

But my death, and the death of my generation, will be a kind of redemption that leads to a new way of life. One day my children, our children, Israel’s children, will be set free to romp and roam in a land that they can call home. Once again, God will deliver his people. Our God truly is the one who saves.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015


Jesus was a refugee. Not long after he was born his parents were forced to flee to Egypt because Israel was no longer a safe place to be – it hadn’t been for a while. There were kings and rulers vying for control and the people were caught in the crossfire. The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, called for a census of the entire Roman world so he could keep track of all those under his rule and keep them under his thumb. The King over the Jews, Herod the Great, called for nationwide infanticide so he could eliminate any potential usurper and protect his position on the throne. There was trouble, all kinds of trouble.

It is understandable that Mary and Joseph fled. A person would do almost anything to protect their family. What is strange, however, is where they found refuge. It wasn’t the first time the descendants of Israel had sought shelter among the Egyptians. Thousands of years before there had been a severe drought and the Israelites made Egypt their home; the land was fertile and the cities were safe. Yet, within a few generations the Israelites were slaves, living lives of submission. Why would Mary and Joseph return to the place where their forebears were oppressed? Why seek asylum in Egypt of all places, among enemies and adversaries? Perhaps it is safer to be a foreigner in a strange land than to remain amidst the conflict of your own kin. 

Imagine the fear, the insecurity, the sense of dread that grips your diaphragm like you’re winded all the time. How can people live like that?! God knows! Yet, witness the stamina and the fortitude of the family. Such courage! Such determination! Such resolve!

This story of a refugee family from the Middle East during a time of great social, political and religious turbulence is not so foreign to us. Despite the angels and the stars and the strangeness of it all, the Christmas story is no fairytale. Into our world of instability and unrest God has come. The stories of our violence and our vulnerability are not foreign to God. Jesus knows our need, Jesus experiences our struggle. In Jesus there is true peace amidst turmoil, deep joy during great suffering, pervasive love among enemies, and hope; pure, honest, earnest hope.

Do not be afraid, there is good news that will bring great joy to all people: God is with us, God will restore us.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Mary the Mother of Jesus

I love you, but I can’t look at you.
I can’t look at you, but I can’t leave you.
You are my child, my son, my own flesh, my...blood.
You are a part of me.
You will always be a part of me.
So how can I look upon your face
when your flesh is ripped to shreds
and your bones are on display?
Oh, the unspeakable ache!
This pain is worse than childbirth.
At least that pain had a purpose.
But is happening to you...
What’s the point?!
In pain I brought you into this world
and with a deeper pain still all I can do is watch
as you are ripped from it.
But I can’t watch.
I can’t look.
I love you, but I can’t look at you.

What is a mother to do?
Once I held you in my womb.
Once I held you in my hands.
But now, now you are beyond my grasp.
I cannot reach you.
You cry out in agony and I cannot comfort you.
I cannot cradle you in my arms and hold you close to my heart.
I cannot soothe you and speak tenderly to you.
What is a mother to do?
Abandon you?
Abandon you like everyone else?
They have all left.
All the so-called faithful have left.
You are betrayed.
There are only a few of us who have stayed.
They said I was blessed, but I must be cursed.
I thought I was blessed, but I must be cursed.
What a fool I was!
I was so foolish to be so faithful!
I was only a child then,
when the messenger came bearing the good news that I would bear a son.
How foolish I was to believe that I had found favour with God.
God, I trusted you! I trusted you!
But where are you now?!
Where are you now, O Mighty One?
Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress (Ps 102).
Once you looked upon me with favour.
Will you ever look at me again?
Let your face shine on your servant,
save me in your unfailing love (Ps 31).
Save me.
Save your servant.
Save my son.
Save your son.
If you love me, will you not look at me?

You look at me.
You, my son, whom I love,
and in these moments before you die, you look at me.
With your dark and endearing eyes you comfort me.
In this darkening light you soothe me.
I am held in your gaze and my fear goes away.
With tender words
- with a genuine affection and a gut-wrenching ache -
you speak and console.
‘Dear women,’ you say, ‘here is your son.’
You speak of yourself and the one whom you love.
I love you.
I can’t help but look at you.
I lift my eyes and I wonder,
where does our help come from?
I wait, in hope, to see.
© Catherine Burton March 2015

The Good Thief

How did I end up here?
Up here.
People looking up to me.
My whole life I have been hiding,
                Shifting through the dark,
                committing sin, always...always stuffing it up!  
But now I am on display,
                my whole life is open and exposed for all the world to see.
In the harsh light of day, the course of my miserable life is marked out for me.
X marks the spot.
I am held to this cross.
There will be no sly escape.
I am ready to face my guilt.
I am ready to take the blame,
                because I have brought such shame on my family’s good name.
Oh, my deeds of disgrace!

That’s how I ended up here.
Up here, with people looking up to me.
Don’t look up to me!
I am a malicious man with a murderous spirit.
I am a man in desperate need of mercy.
Justice has been served.
This is what I deserve.
I am the one who has done wrong.
‘Guilty,’ I plead, as my body breathes and bleeds.
I am charged with guilt.
My whole being is flawed and defected, covered in imperfection.
Soon my breath will end.
Soon my blood will congeal.
Soon my life will be over,
                it will finish,
                this suffering will finish and I...I don’t know...
maybe when it all ends it will be alright.
Maybe all will be right in the end.
Hell! I hope this is the end!

It is the end for me, and righteousness is right here beside me.
We made the long, staggering journey toward our deaths, the three of us together.
Through the crowded streets where people called our names,
or called us any name under the sun.

‘Sons of whores!’
‘Sons of hell!’
‘Son of God!’ some would yell.
He’s doing it now.
My contemporary, my colleague, my partner in crime.
‘You say you’re the Son of God. Save yourself! And save us!’

He’s saying the words I want to say, but in a different way.
‘You say you’re the Son of God.
Will you save yourself?
Will you save us?
Will you?’
What a strange place to meet a saviour.

How did I end up here?
Up here, with this lot.
A trio: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Our lot has been cast.
The good one, he got it bad.
Fixed to a cross like a sail to a mast.
A cut-throat death for an unblemished lamb.
The other, his words are ugly; he casts insults and hurls abuse.
‘Don’t you respect God?
Don’t you know this man next to us is innocent?’
I can’t help it. I cry out.
‘Jesus, when your kingdom comes, will you remember me?’
When your freedom comes, will you remember me?
Will you?
Because my judgement has come, justice has been done.
I am done.
My whole life I have been hiding.
My whole life I have been seeking.
I’ve always had this inkling,
                that life is more than what I can snatch and grab.
I want my life to be for your taking and keeping.
‘Truly,’ you say, ‘you will be with me today.’
I’ve never been so sure as right now,
when you are right here, next to me.
Right across from me.
A cross...
Here, for the first time in my life I feel free.
Here, for the first time in my life I know mercy.
How did I end up here?
I look to you.
© Catherine Burton March 2015

Simon of Cyrene

I am a good Jewish boy with good Jewish boys.
I keep my Lord’s decrees.
I obey my God’s commands.
And my sons are just like me;
We come from Cyrene,
Famous for its fertile soil and its school of philosophy.
Most Cyrenians think they know everything that there is to know.
But they don’t.
They don’t know what it means to fear God;
to follow the Torah, to keep the law.
But I do, I’m a good Jewish boy, and my boys are too.
I obey my God’s commands.

It has been good to come here;
to the country of our forefathers,
to the land we left long ago.
We’ve never been here before, my boys and I,
but this is the place where we belong.
We’re on a pilgrimage.
We’ve come for the Passover.
We’ve come to be a part of the procession.
And we’ve come to get away from the Roman oppression.
But the Roman rule runs far and wide.
We cannot hide.
These bronze brutes with spears and boots are here too.  
They enforce the laws of a mad man
and execute his crazy plans.
Caesar says he’s our lord,
he says he’s our god.
He says we must obey his commands.
But how can I?
There is only one God, and I obey his commands.
I am a good Jewish boy with good Jewish boys.
That’s why we’re here.
We’re come to worship our God and King, the Lord Almighty.

But today there is another procession
crawling through these crowded streets.
A convoy of men condemned to die.
I’ve heard about these crucifixions before:
The blood, the cross beams, the broken bones.
I don’t want my boys to know.
They are good boys, good Jewish boys.
But before I can usher them away
a Roman soldier taps me on the shoulder.
The flat of his spear fills me with fear.
I must obey his command.
I am just a pilgrim, just a passerby,
forced to carry the cross bar for this criminal.
And he’s a Jew, just like me,
but he must be guilty of something.
He must be a lawbreaker, unlike me.
The crowd are taunting him, calling him the King.
“King of the Jews!” they accuse.
“The Christ! The King!” they spit and tease.
I am so close I can hear him wheeze.
I see him struggling beside me.
I wonder what crime he has committed.
Up close he looks so innocent,
not the naive kind of innocence,
the blameless kind.
He looks very kind.
His look is very kind.
There is something in those eyes.
Maybe you are a good Jewish boy.
A good Jewish boy obeying your God,
defying the Roman world and dying for it.
Obediently walking the road to your death.
Well, lead the way. I will follow.
© Catherine Burton March 2015