The Sunday after Ascension

Down to earth faith

The Ascension by Eric Gill (1882-1940)

John Chapter 17 verses 1-11

 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father protect them in the name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Reflection

Many years ago, I learned a lesson about power the hard way! In our busy photographers shop we were always running out of fuses, so rather than taking the trouble of going out and buying new ones from time to time we used a little trick. If you roll up a piece of silver foil in a certain way and squeeze it to the right size, you can insert it into a plug and it will work just like a fuse. Please don’t try this at home my friends because it is highly dangerous as I discovered one day to my cost. I had done this procedure many times but as the old saying goes ‘familiarity breeds contempt!’ The plug went in, the switch went on and a significant voltage shot up my arm literally and for a few moments I saw stars! I survived to tell the tale, but it taught me a very important lesson, electricity always needs to be grounded or ‘earthed’.

Faith needs to be grounded too, and this is why I love Eric Gill’s depiction of the Ascension. Here although Jesus is rising into the heavens his feet are still on the earth. I like to think they are worn and dirty feet because they have walked many ministry miles. Having walked up the mountainside I like to imagine Jesus ascended in just the same way as he walked about on earth doing good, in a dusty pair of well-worn sandals. In Eric Gill’s work the feet are wounded, and if we take a look the hands, we will see that they are scarred too.  Far from, in the words of the famous hymn being ‘parted from our sight far above the starry height’, this is a Christ who not only understands but has experienced life in all its fullness: love, anger, laughter and pain. Furthermore, he treasures each human experience and carries it with him back to his father.

Equally he knows that those who will walk in his footsteps are going to need all the help they can get, which is why, even after he ascends, he continues to pray, (to intercede),  for his followers. See how the hand held up is blessing the very ones who, because they are ‘only human’, failed to keep watch when they were tired, fled under pressure because they were scared and denied their lord when they were afraid to commit. I can’t help wondering in Christ’s eyes, as depicted by the artist if, even as he pronounces his blessing, there isn’t still a hint of a doubt that these folks will be ready for the roller coaster that lies ahead.

Within the course of 11 days, if we take the scriptural timeline literally, we might imagine that these unpromising disciples threw aside their fears and were instantly transformed into a bunch of confident, top-notch evangelists. However, reading through John’s gospel I suspect the process took a whole lot longer; a period of gestation, imagination, and realization before they got from a to b.

John’s gospel features 4 long chapters known as the farewell discourses in which Jesus prepares his disciples by teaching them and demonstrating in a very practical way, (as he puts his robe aside, kneels before them and washes their feet) that he will become as a servant for all, laying down his life for the world. It may seem strange that today our lectionary re-visits the passage in which Jesus shares his farewell supper with his disciples on the eve of the crucifixion. Yet reading this passage in the light of the ascension we realize that Jesus is preparing them for the time beyond the resurrection when he will be gone. I will not leave you as orphans he tells them in an earlier place and today’s passage contains a powerful prayer for protection and unity. ‘Holy Father protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’

Most of us understand what it’s like to be with someone as they prepare to die. There are important conversations. A desire to set the record straight, to ask for or to offer forgiveness, reassurence, or even to tell someone that we love them. It’s not a time to waste time on peripheries. Later in this chapter Jesus will pray to his father for his disciples ‘sanctify them by your truth, for your word is truth’. Moments of crisis teach us truths; this was so for the first disciples and it is for us. Crisis can bring clarity and fresh understanding of truth. In John’s gospel Jesus himself is the way, the truth and the life. Through his death and resurrection, the disciples discover that the worst thing never has the final word, because in Christ all things are being made new.

Perhaps right now in these strange times we are also discovering fresh truths about what is important and what is less so, about what we can live with and live without, new ways of being and doing and ways of being united with one another even when we have to be apart, but it’s not an easy process.

 After Jesus has ascended the disciples look around open mouthed first at the sky and then at each other with a kind of ‘what on earth happens now?” It takes an angel to bring them back down to earth with the question: ‘Why are you looking up toward heaven?’ (Acts 1:11). It’s Ok to not know what to do next, it’s Ok to be still, it’s Ok to put one foot in front of the other and muddle along and it’s Ok to be taken aback by physical separation from those we love and whose presence comforts us. At least it’s Ok for a while, but then the moment comes to move on. We can stand gazing up into heaven or we can believe the promise of Jesus: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses”. Our faith needs to be grounded, our love for God needs to find its outworking in action.

Nobody knew this better than John Wesley whose life, together with that of his brother Charles, we celebrate today. Prayer and practicality were Wesley’s watchwords. His emphasis on personal devotion and prayerfulness was matched by his desire to share the gospel not only in words but in practical ways, his interest was in the whole person body, mind and spirit. Throughout his life and ministry Wesley had a passion for education and raising social standards, he was a keen advocate of the abolition of slavery and a supporter of women preachers. Besides their use in worship the words of the hymns he composed with his brother became a means of teaching, of raising spirits and inspiring minds. Among his many wise sayings these are two of my favourites: “Prayer is where the action is” and ”the best thing of all is that God is with us”. Wesley’s faith was never about ‘being so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly use’ rather it was grounded in love for God and for his fellow human beings. Wesley believed that we are all one in Christ and furthermore that in Christ neither death nor life, nor anything in all creation (he might add today, nor even pandemics) can separate us from God’s love. It is estimated that during his lifetime Wesley preached around 40,000 sermons and travelled over 250,000 miles on roads that were often little more than muddy ruts, sometimes facing great dangers.  In all of this he constantly affirmed that God was with him and travelled with him wherever he went. This confidence was based on a deep relationship with God and also on a very grounded faith.

The Prayer of John Wesley.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.

“A Covenant with God” Methodist Church in Britain. Retrieved 6 January 2014

Methodist Chapel St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly
depiction of John Wesley’s visit to the Islands in September 1743


I am including for today Charles Wesley’s famous Ascension hymn ‘Hail the day that sees him rise’ in a shortened version.

1 Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!
to his throne above the skies. Alleluia!
Christ, the Lamb for sinners given, Alleluia!
enters now the highest heaven. Alleluia!

2 There for him high triumph waits; Alleluia!
lift your heads, eternal gates. Alleluia!
He has conquered death and sin; Alleluia!
take the King of glory in. Alleluia!

3 See the heaven its Lord receives; Alleluia!
yet he loves the earth he leaves. Alleluia!
Though returning to his throne, Alleluia!
still he calls the world his own. Alleluia!

Question to ponder.

How grounded is our faith?
Do we affirm in our lives that our Lord is with us and travels with us wherever we go?
Would we ever be courageous enough to pray a prayer like John Wesley’s prayer and mean it?

Prayers

The prayer for the Sunday after Ascension Day

Risen, ascended Lord, as we rejoice at your triumph
fill your church on earth with power and compassion,
that all who are estranged by sin
may find forgiveness and know your peace
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

A prayer commemorating the lives of John and Charles Wesley.

God of mercy, who inspired John and Charles Wesley with zeal for your gospel:
grant to all people boldness to proclaim your word
and a heart ever to rejoice in singing your praises:
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


From Exciting Holiness
Collects and readings for festivals and lesser festivals
of the Church of England
©Canterbury Press, Norwich 1997

We take a moment to hold in our prayers those who are especially in our thoughts today.

If we are joining with the Thy Kingdom Come prayer initiative, we may like to remember the five people we are praying for during this period between Ascension and Pentecost.

We also remember those who are unwell either at home or in hospital.

And we pray for all affected by coronavirus:
Those who are having to self-isolate or shield.
All doctors, nurses and carers.
For scientists working to find a vaccine against coronavirus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you taught us to love our neighbour
and to care for those in need as if we were caring for you.
Give us strength to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick
and to assure the isolated of our love and your love.
Give strength and wisdom also to all involved in medical research
that a vaccine may be found and lives saved.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

 A Prayer for ourselves. 

When we stand gazing upwards,
bring us down to earth:
with the love of a friend,
through the songs of the sorrowing,
in the faces of the suffering.

When we look to you for action,
demand some work from us:
by your touch of fire
your glance of reproof,
your fearful longing.

As ruler over all:
love us into action,
fire us with your zeal,
enrich us with your grace
and make us willing subjects of your rule.

Prayer for Ascension-tide by Janet Nightingale.
The Book of a thousand Prayers

©Angela Ashwin Zondervan publications 1996.

Thursday May 21st

The Ascension

Luke Chapter 24 verses 44-53

Jesus said to his disciples ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so, stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Reflection

Although it’s a red-letter day in the Christian year for many in our world the feast of the Ascension tends to pass without much attention. Having been educated in my early years at a Roman Catholic Convent school my thoughts about the day are permanently linked with having to attend a long and elaborate Mass in the morning but being rewarded with having the rest of the day off from studies. On a lighter note it’s also linked with a print of a famous painting adorning the walls of our convent chapel. The Ascension of Christ by the 16th century German artist Hans Suss Von Kulmbach. The disciples look in on a mixture of wonder, terror, and disbelief as the disembodied feet of Christ dangle ethereally down through a cloud. For my 8-year-old imagination this did nothing whatsoever for my understanding of the Ascension, it just made it rather ridiculous. I have to confess even today when I look at the painting it still makes me giggle irreverently, (for those who are old enough to remember there’s a sense of Monty Python) just remember that foot, take a look and you may well see what I mean!

Over the last few years our thoughts about what the Ascension means have become more grounded. For Christians across the world the 11 day period between Ascension and Pentecost has been set aside as a time to reflect on Jesus words to his disciples ‘You will receive power and when the Holy Spirit comes you will be my witnesses’
(Acts 1:8)

Under the title ‘Thy Kingdom come’ this movement has grown into a world-wide wave of prayer (65 different denominations in 178 countries), a time of focusing on the different ways in which we can pray and invite the Holy Spirit to move in new ways amoung nations, countries, churches, communities and in people’s lives.

In the early church this period was set aside as a time of prayer and preparation especially for those who were about to take their first steps as Christians in the baptism services at Pentecost. The focus was on expectation and anticipation of all the great things God can do. When we stop to think about it this message is right on point just now. Out and about on my parish walks in various conversations people have said to me ‘I’ve been praying’. People who don’t necessarily come to church have found new ways of praying and realised that prayer is important. Sometimes it seems a time of crisis brings out the best prayers in us all, even those who have never prayed before.

This year our ways of praying will be very different, and ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ has been adapted for the various challenges of our coronavirus situation.

You can find lots of resources online, just put Thy Kingdom Come 2020 into the search box. 

But if, like me, you find the simplest things are often the best here are a few suggestions.

  1. During the course of the next 10 days make a time to pray for 5 people. They could be family or friends, people in positions of responsibility, those working for the NHS, someone who is in your thoughts right now.

     You may like to use a simple prayer based on the word: ‘Bless’

Asking a blessing on:
Their physical wellbeing
Their work/daily life pattern
Their emotional wellbeing 
Their social wellbeing, relationships with their nearest and dearest, spouses or partners, parents, children, friends.

Finally pray for their spiritual life.
That wherever they are right now they will know that God is with them.
That they will gain a sense of fresh hope through a conversation, something they read or see or something they hear.
That those who have feelings of doubt or guilt will be able to recognise that God accepts all of us just as we are.

And most important of all that every one of us can know that sense of God’s love and forgiveness. As a famous poster slogan put it ‘Today is the start of the rest of your life’. Today can be a new beginning with God for anyone. It’s never too late to begin.

          — Body –
          — Labour –
          — Emotional –
          — Social –
          — Spiritual –

b   Another way of praying is to find five small stones (light coloured ones are best) and write the names of each person you wish to pray for on one of the stones.

Place the stones on your desk, bedside table or fireplace as a reminder to pray.          Alternatively, you could place each stone in a different room of your home and pray for each person as you enter or leave the room.

c Many of us over the past few weeks have been making a practise of lighting a candle at 7p.m. and saying a special prayer for health workers/carers and for others.

During the course of the next 11 days it would be good to re-visit this and re-double our efforts, remembering in our prayers not only issues related to coronavirus but praying for the coming of God’s kingdom and for the movement of God’s Spirit in the world, in our nation, in our churches, in our local communities and in our own lives.

There are many prayer suggestions online, but you may like to use the following prayer.

O God the source of all light,
May we bring salt and light to your world,
drawing out your presence in the everyday.
As we offer you our lives
shape us as your disciples,
that we may reveal your goodness
and reflect your light.
In Jesus name. Amen.

Or if you would like something really simple based on a very familiar prayer just listen to this short thought from Archbishop Dr John Sentamu.

Finally, for those who like a good sing on the following link you will find words written to celebrate ‘Thy Kingdom come’ to a very familiar tune.

Sunday May 17th 2020

Rogation Sunday

A Little Weston sheep

A reading from Psalm 148

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his host!

 Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for he commanded, and they were created.

He established them forever and ever;
    he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

 Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
      fire and hail, snow and frost,
     stormy wind fulfilling his command!

 Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
    old and young together!

 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

Reflection

Rogation is a special time in country parishes and here in our benefice Rogation often involves pulling on our welly boots and having an outdoor service hosted by one of our local farms. Here we give thanks and pray for our farmers, we hear about the farm, the farming year, the hard work and skill that is involved in getting our food from pasture to plate. We also sometimes walk around the village blessing animals, orchards, gardens, and the local community. Rogation is one of my favourite seasons in the agricultural year. While Harvest is the more popular, we have some great harvest hymns and it is a time of celebration, all is safely gathered in, job done, home and dry, Rogation is all about future hopes and possibilities.

 As part of the service normally we have 3 little bowls: one filled with earth, one with seed and one with water. At the start of the growing season we pray that the earth will nourish the seed, that in its turn the seed will give a generous yield and the rain will also play its part in falling at the right time and in the right amount to nurture crops and animals, (this usually brings a chuckle especially when we have a wet Rogation service and we’re all huddled into the barn).

 We also read passages from the scriptures reminding us of how God is ultimately the creator and sustainer of all life, also the timeless stories of Jesus about the sower who went out to sow his seed, the good shepherd, the lost sheep. Rogation is also a time to remember our calling and partnership with God as stewards of his creation.

Over the past few years in our ‘all age’ services children, and adults too, have enjoyed getting out in the fresh air, meeting the farm animals, sometimes sitting on a tractor, on one of our farms we also bless the cider press.  Sadly, this year none of this will be possible.

However, many people I’ve spoken to out and about on our daily exercise have been more aware of the importance of our farmers and food providers, the great work they are doing and the wonder and miracle of nature than ever before. Here in our little corner of Somerset we are so blessed to be surrounded by stunning scenery. Yet often, I confess, we take it for granted rushing from one thing to the other. For me it has been a real revelation as the pace of life has slowed to have the opportunity to get out with the camera and take time to photograph many bright and beautiful things and creatures great and small. Here in our parishes one of the positives about this strange period, for those who are able to get out, has been having the opportunity to re-learn to appreciate what is right here on our doorstep and count our many blessings.   

But I digress, back to Rogation, and a little bit of history. The word ‘Rogation’ comes from the Latin ’rogare’ meaning to beseech or to ask for. Like many Christian festival the origins of Rogation lay way back in the mists of time with pagan/Druid festivals. The oldest written record of a Rogation procession dates from around the 12th century. It sounds a bit like a glorious mishmash of local tradition and religion. At the head of the procession was often a dragon (representing Pontius Pilate) this was followed by a huge lion (representing Christ). Large firey torches and incense also played a big part in the celebrations.

The feast would involve villagers cleansing the land by beating out the demons with sticks and making a loud noise with drums, praying against mould, rust or mildew in their crops and generally celebrating the fact that spring and new life had arrived.  

You will not be surprised to learn that with the coming of the Reformation Rogation began to be criticized. In 1547 King Edward VI felt the feast was far too colourful. Not only was it pagan, it tended to get a bit out of hand with outbreaks of debauchery and folk getting drunk, possibly on the cider from the local cider press! And so, the celebrations were banned. 

Yet for the people Rogation was important.

First.  It reminded them of the connection between the spiritual and the natural world.

Second.   In days when there were frequent disputes about land boundaries it provided an opportunity for people to make peace with their neighbour.

Third.   The ‘beating of the bounds’ or walking of the boundaries set out clear markers as to where a property started and ended.

Finally.   Rogation encouraged generosity, as part of the local celebrations food and money were given to those in need.

And so, a few years later under Elizabeth I Rogation was reinstated. Clergy were encouraged to bring their congregations together for large’ interparish processions’.
They were instructed to remind their flock of the need to be thankful and to pray for God’s blessing. In particular Psalms 103 and 104 were sung and clergy were instructed to preach homilies (sermons) ‘on the curses inflicted in the Bible upon those who trespassed upon or stole their neighbour’s property.’

All of this is far removed from the way we do Rogation today. Thankfully when we bless our  local cider press, down on the farm at Little Weston I don’t recall, in recent years, too many outbreaks of ‘drunkenness or debauchery’.  

Yet Rogation still serves to remind us of several important things: The vital link between God and our everyday world. One of the most valuable lessons many have learned during this period when our churches have been closed is that God is not restricted to buildings. Yes, it will be wonderful when once again we can throw open our church doors and gather for worship but in the meantime, God can be found anywhere and everywhere if we take time to look. In the beauty of a butterfly, the reds and golds of sunrise or sunset, in a quiet space in a garden and I’m guessing over the past few weeks you may have discovered this.

Rogation also serves to reminds us of how dependant and interdependent we are on God, on the natural world and on one another. If ever we are in danger of forgetting this coronavirus has sent us a message that no man or woman is an island. Like a glorious jig-saw puzzle composed of a variety of pieces, different people, different races, colours and creeds drawn into a beautiful pattern, we are all dependent and interdependent on one another and on God.  

Finally, Rogation reminds us of the fragility of nature and the importance of respecting and cherishing it. Right now we owe a great debt of gratitude to all who have been providing for us, our farmers and our farm shops, supermarkets, transporters, even our local pubs who have been delivering meals to people who are shielding. They’ve been having a difficult time but also have keep our nation fed and alongside our NHS workers they have been heroes.

The 6th century Celtic saint Columbanus once wrote “if you want to understand the Creator, first understand the created things.”  Looking around on my walks this year, in spite of all the prophets of doom about the state of our countryside, there have been butterflies, insects and blossom, wildflowers, and lush green pasture. Most of the farmers I speak with in our parishes have been farming for generations and are true stewards/custodians of the land. They know their land and their animals and how treating both with love and respect ensures that they produce their best.

And so, on this Rogation Sunday I want to say a big thankyou to our farmers and as we pray this coming year for God’s blessing on the earth, we continue to hold you in our prayers as we take a little look at some local familiar scenes captured by a local photographer.

Prayers for Rogation Sunday

Collect:

God of the universe,
We thank You for Your many good gifts –

For the beauty of Creation and its rich and varied fruits,
For clean water and fresh air, for food and shelter, animals and plants.

Forgive us for the times we have taken the earth’s resources
for granted and wasted your blessings
Transform our hearts and minds so that we may learn to care and share,
To treat the earth with gentleness and with love,
Respecting all living things.

We pray for all those who suffer as a result of our waste,
greed and indifference,
And we pray that the day will come when everyone has enough food and clean water.
Help us to respect the rights of all people and all species, and help us to willingly share your gifts, today and always

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We ask God’s blessing on all farms. We pray for farmers who are going through difficult times, who work long hours and receive poor payment for their efforts. May we always be thankful and appreciative for all that is produced and those who produce it.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Looking to our wider community, we pray for our local towns and cities where people labour to produce the things we enjoy. We remember those who live in crowded areas and who long to experience the peace and beauty of the wide-open spaces which we enjoy every day of our lives.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We remember those who live in countries where food is scarce and starvation is real, where poverty means that children die young and adults work hard to survive. We pray for lands that have been affected by natural disaster, for countries torn by conflict where people live in fear. We also pray for those who have been made homeless because of war or persecution. Inspire us Lord to work for justice in your world in whatever way we can.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We hold before God all in need of our prayers today.
We remember those who are unwell, those who are anxious or fearful and those who mourn the loss of loved ones.

We continue to pray for all working to produce tests and vaccines in order to combat the coronavirus. We pray also for all on the front line working in the NHS and caring professions, seeking to bring healing to those who are sick.

Gracious God, give skill, sympathy and resilience to all who are caring for the sick and your wisdom to those searching for a cure. Strengthen them with your Spirit, that through their work many will be restored to health.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

A Celtic blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

When the great day came the sun shone, the sky was blue the birds sang, and whilst there may not have quite been ‘bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover’ we managed to join in the celebrations in all kinds of wonderful ways.

In his speech on VE day in 1945 Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the nation saying, ‘we may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing’.

I think whilst our rejoicing may have not quite worked out the way we’d planned or wished it was none the less heartfelt and meaningful. As one person said  ‘it brought a bit of light in the darkness, reminding us of the power of unity and community, that when it comes to adversity, whether it be fighting a war or a virus we work best when we work together’.  

Many thanks for sending in your wonderful photos capturing the spirit of the celebrations, here are just a few highlights from across the Cam Vale benefice.

Flags were out, all shapes and sizes. Some being really creative managed to celebrate both VE day and our wonderful NHS.

Some flags were big

Some were a bit smaller

People were out in their gardens.

There were celebrations with afternoon tea

One village went a little up market with a glass of Prosecco and nibbles, (big thank you Frances and team). Being unable to ring the church bells they celebrated with car horns instead! Even the Teddy bears joined in the picnic.

And one photographer couldn’t resist just a little bit of fun.

All of this serves to remind us although we have to be apart, we are more united in spirit than perhaps we ever were. And for the sake of everyone right now whilst things are looking more positive, we do still need to maintain patience and discipline in our communities and churches, for this has seen us through so far.

When this whole corona roller coaster journey is ended books will be written, statistics collected, and various conclusions drawn but hopefully we will remember the things that held us all together: humour, humanity, and hope

“This is the core of the human spirit… if we can find something to live for-if we can find some meaning to put at the centre of our lives- even the worst kind of suffering becomes bearable’.

Viktor Frankl
Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor
1905-1997

Friday May 8th, 2020

75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe day

Isaiah Chapter 2 verses 2-4

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,  to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways  and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Reflection

‘We had all kinds of lovely things planned but now this wretched virus has spoilt everything” someone said to me recently. I paused for a while and then replied “Well, not quite everything!” Even with social distancing we can still be together through social media and certainly in spirit, some have even remarked that we are more together now than we ever have been. We can raise a glass and a toast, share stories and memories. In our village because we are unable to ring the church bells, we’ve decided to sound our car horns instead, we can learn, and we can look forward. 

During this week, like many of you, I should have been out and about joining in various VE day celebrations, offering prayers and a reflection around our 6 parishes. When plans for these events first got underway, I remember saying to Alan, after VE day the diet begins, there’s only so many cream teas a girl can eat before the effects begin to show! Little did we know back then that we would be facing a period rather reminiscent of the stories told by our parents and grandparents about life during the 2nd World War. Queuing for groceries, facing various shortages, (loo rolls and flour in our case), following government guidelines for the sake of everyone’s safety, trying to keep spirits up, remembering that we’re in this together.

There have been lots of comparisons drawn between our current situation and life during the 2nd World War. From the’ keep calm and carry on’ mentality among most of the population to channelling the Churchill mentality by those in positions of leadership, standing firm and facing an invisible but deadly enemy. Anything that encourages people to hold the line right now has to be good and we owe a great debt of gratitude to our modern day heroes and heroines in the NHS, the Armed Forces, the Police and those who supply our food, our farmers and our retailers and to many others who are all working to keep us safe and help life to carry on as normally as possible.

However, listening on Tuesday morning to an interview on Radio 4’s Today Programme drawing comparisons between wartime and Corona time suddenly put things into perspective.

The interviewee was Stephen Frank who was born in 1935 in Amsterdam. The son of a well-known Dutch Lawyer Stephen was raised in a secular Jewish family.   His mother was the daughter of professional musicians who emigrated to Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century. He had an elder and a younger brother. At the outbreak of war, the family, despite having ample opportunity to flee to Britain, decided to remain in Holland mainly because Stephen’s father was the legal member of a board that governed one of the most advanced Jewish mental hospitals in the world and many workers in the field of mental health visited this place.

Steven’s father joined the Dutch Resistance where he organised the issue of false papers to enable people to escape across the border to the safety of Switzerland. He also helped Jews to find hiding places and even hid Jews in his own home. At the same time, he was working, reluctantly, for the Jewish Council of Amsterdam, which was forced to carry out Nazi orders. In 1942 he was betrayed and arrested in his office in Amsterdam. He was imprisoned, tortured and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where, due to his poor physical condition, he was gassed in January 1943.

Stephen and the remaining members of his family were taken to Barneveld and in September 1943 were sent from there to Westerbork, transit camp. In September 1944 they were sent to Terezín (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia where the whole family survived and were liberated by the Red Army on 9th May 1945.

When asked what he was doing on VE day Stephen said, “you must understand, that at that moment when people in Britain and across Europe were elated, we were still under German occupation. The whole system in the camp had broken down, there was no food, there was death and disease. In the 6 hours between hearing, through a smuggled in radio, that the German forces had unconditionally surrendered and the actual liberation of the camp by Russian troops we were in fear for our lives. Such was the climate of hatred by the Nazi’s we wondered if there would be mass executions.”

When invited to compare the Corona virus situation with that of his wartime experience Stephen replied: When people speak of mental health problems because of being stuck in a flat you have to remember that in those years in Europe people had to remain hidden, not in the comfort of their homes but sometimes under floorboards, under haylofts, in fear of their life. Life in ‘lockdown’ lasted not for weeks or even months but in some cases for years, so there’s really no comparison.1

Today as we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE day many of us will have mixed emotions. I was born in Portsmouth, a city which bore the brunt of the German bombing raids. I can remember growing up in the 1960s, visiting my grandparents and seeing the still gutted buildings and expanses of wasteland where house and shops had previously been. I also remember my family speaking of friends and relatives who were killed on active service during in the war, most of them were in their late teens.  One story that particularly sticks in my mind was told to me by my grandfather.

Bombing in Portsmouth during the war

Grandpa Ted owned a bicycle shop and before the war, during the season, onion sellers would arrive over on the boats from France. Grandpa Ted looked after their bikes and in the off season, a fleet of about 30 bikes would be parked up in his shop for maintenance and general care. When the onion season started again the men would come back for their bicycles.  At the outbreak of the war the leader of the team, a man named Pierre Greche, came to my grandpa, with tears in his eyes, “we don’t know when we’ll be back”, he said,” but please look after our bicycles and when we return, we’ll drink some wine together.” Sadly, neither Pierre Greche nor any of his team returned, grandpa never did trace them all but subsequently discovered that by the end of the war most of them had been killed.

For me and I guess for most today is a time of celebration, and yes we are right to celebrate the defeat of Hitler and Nazism with its pernicious ideology based on the superiority of one race leading to the brutalization of others. But it’s also a time of commemoration, a time for remembering and reflection.  A time to recall how easily national pride, which in itself is a very good thing, can be twisted into something sinister and evil and to be aware that still in the world today there are Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups who thrive on a doctrine of tribalism and hate. Equally it’s a time to give thanks for the peace we celebrate today-75 years- the longest period of peace in Western Europe since the Roman Legions departed, and as we do so to commit ourselves to work and pray together to support and maintain that peace.

Our passage from Isaiah speaks of how we meet the challenge of building a world of peace and hope. These words were written against a background of war and occupation by a foreign power-and yet they contain a promise of a different future, for every nation, not just one. God calls his people to learn from the past in order to move on to a future where in the fullness of time there will be no more mourning or crying or pain or war because Christ has shown us a different way.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote ‘Nothing we can do, however virtuous can be accomplished alone- we are saved by love.’  At 11.00a.m. as we raise our glasses there will I am sure be many words spoken,  in our house we will be offering a toast to freedom, unity, and peace, to those who gave their lives for it and all who seek to maintain it today’.

Whatever you are doing tomorrow have a good day, keep safe and keep well.

1.Link to Stephen Frank https://www.het.org.uk/survivors-steven-frank

A short act of worship for VE Day

Introduction

 God has been our refuge and our strength:
A present help in time of trouble.

Dear friends, we have come together on this day to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, when the sounds of war fell silent on this continent.
We come together conscious of our need for God’s forgiveness for the sin and the desire to dominate others that leads to conflict between people, and war between nations.
And as we remember the many soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave their lives restraining evil and opposing tyranny, so we also come in thanksgiving for the years of peace that the nations of Europe have enjoyed since the Second World War. We gather joyfully today, as those who gathered on that first Victory day, glad of each other’s company, and grateful for the laughter and love that follows times of sadness and loss.
But above all things, let us pray that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven, as we join our voices together and say:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever
Amen.

The Prayers (some or all may be used)

O Lord our God,
as we remember, teach us the ways of peace.
As we treasure memories, teach us to hope.
As we give thanks for the sacrifices of the past,
help us to make your future in this world,
until your kingdom come.
Amen.

For those who served and died in World War II

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those men and women
who have died in active service,
particularly in the Second World War,
whose sacrifice brought Victory in Europe.
As we honour their courage and cherish their memory,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.
Amen.

For those who serve today

O Lord God of Hosts,
stretch forth, we pray, your almighty arm
to strengthen and protect our service men and women.
Support them in times of conflict,
and in their rest and training keep them safe from all evil;
endue them with courage and loyalty;
and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

The Naval Prayer

O Eternal Lord God,
who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea;
who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end;
be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection
the persons of us Thy servants,
and the Fleet in which we serve.
Preserve us from the dangers of the sea and of the air,
and from the violence of the enemy;
that we may be a safeguard
unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth,
and her Dominions,
and a security for such as pass upon the seas upon their lawful occasions;
that the inhabitants of our islands and Commonwealth
may in peace and quietness
serve Thee our God;
and that we may return in safety
to enjoy the blessings of the land,
with the fruits of our labours,
and with a thankful remembrance of Thy mercies
to praise and glorify Thy Holy Name;
Amen.

An Army Collect

Almighty God, whose command is overall and whose love never fails,
let us be aware of your presence and obedient to your will.
Help us to accept our share of responsibility with strong heart and cheerful mind.
Make us considerate of those with whom we live and serve,
and faithful to the duties our country has entrusted to us.
Let our uniform remind us daily of the traditions of the Army in which we serve.
When we are tempted to sin, let us resist.
When we fail, give us courage to try again.
Guide us with the light of your truth,
and keep before us the example of Jesus
in whose name we pray and in whom we trust.
Amen.

Royal Air Force Collect

Almighty God, who has promised that they who wait upon thee shall renew their strength and mount up with wings, as eagles, we commend to thy fatherly protection all who serve in the Royal Air Force. Uplift and support us in our endeavour, that we may be a safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth and a sure defence to our homeland. Help us to fulfil our several duties with honour, goodwill and integrity, and grant that we may prove to be worthy successors of those who by their valour and sacrifice did nobly save their day and generation: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Almighty God who is constantly making everything new, we pray that you will renew us. Give us hope in your future when the world is dark; give us confidence in your truth when we’re tempted to doubt; give us joy in your presence when we feel we’re alone: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

An Act of Commitment

Let us pledge ourselves anew to the service of God and our fellow men and women: that we may help, encourage and comfort others, and support those working for the relief of the needy and for the peace and welfare of the nations.

Lord God our Father,
we pledge ourselves to serve you and all humankind,
in the cause of peace,
for the relief of want and suffering,
and for the praise of your name.
Guide us by your Spirit;
give us wisdom;
give us courage;
give us hope;
and keep us faithful now and always.
Amen.

A prayer for the Sovereign

Almighty God, the fountain of all goodness,
bless our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth,
and all who are in authority under her;
that they may order all things
in wisdom and equity, righteousness and peace,
to the honour of your name,
and the good of your Church and people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

The National Anthem may be sung

The Blessing

God grant to the living, grace; to the departed, rest;
to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth,
and all people, peace and concord;
and to us and all his servants, life everlasting;
and the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
come down upon you and remain with you always.
Amen.

For our closing hymn please follow link to All my hope on God is founded https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3LCGh02Vew

Fourth Sunday of Easter

On Shepherds and sheep

John Chapter 10 verses 1-16

 “Truly, truly I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. When he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them. The sheep follow him, for they know his voice, they will never follow a stranger but will run away from him. For they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

 Then Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. But he who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd and who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and runs away. So, the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because he is a hired hand and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and am known by my own. Even as the Father knows me, so I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep who are not of this fold. I must also bring them in and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd.”

Reflection

Over the course of the last few weeks, in fact pretty much since lockdown began, we have been surrounded by sheep.  As life has become more leisurely, no church meetings and many of the things that previously filled so much of our calendar, we have had more time to get to know our four-footed neighbours.  It’s become a real education, not to mention a source of great delight, especially as lambs have begun to arrive.

If ever you imagined all sheep are the same, I can assure you that this is very far from the case, sheep are certainly characters!  The ones in the field opposite our house, are owned by ‘Mr James’ and they are Texel/ Border Leicester cross. In many ways they are the traditional ‘picture postcard’ sheep, commercially raised for their wool and excellent meat. When they ‘re pregnant, they look like large fluffy white clouds with a leg at each corner and when their lambs arrive, they look like this and everyone goes ‘AHHHHH’ aren’t they cute!  

The sheep in the field behind our house are very different. By co-incidence, their shepherd is also a ‘Mr James’. This small and far from commercial flock is a combination of Manx and Shetland sheep. The Manx sheep (Manx Loughtan to give them their proper name) are long legged, fine boned and described as a primitive breed. They have splendid horns and a rather superior expression which indicates that they know they are special.  They’re never going to get too friendly, but very occasionally they might deign to allow the lady photographer who lives in the house behind their field to sneak up and take a picture. 

The other half of the flock are Shetlands. They eat pretty much everything put in front of them apart from thistles (and farmers have to be very careful to weed out any noxious plants before they let them out to pasture).  Once they get to know you, they are extremely friendly and curious. They are also quite balletic; they can stand on both or even one hind leg to reach those tasty parts of a hedge that no other sheep would bother to reach. 

Shetland sheep don’t flock (bunch helpfully together) in the same ways that normal commercial breeds tend to do when you are moving them. They will scatter, particularly if you’re in a hurry to gather them in for inspection, or when you’ve decided to do this ‘one small thing’ at the beginning of a long list of jobs. 1

The Shetland colours are beautiful and when their lambs are born, they look like a cross between a teddy bear and a ball of fluff. They are so tiny that they can ‘accidentally’ fall through the smallest hole in the garden fence without even trying too hard, whereupon the kind farmer shepherd has to rescue them and hand them over the fence back to mum.

This Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday, among the readings set for the day are the familiar and favourite Psalm 23 ‘The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want’ and John chapter 10, where Jesus speaks about being the good shepherd.

I always find it interesting that someone who spent his growing up years in the carpentry trade and chose mainly fisherman for his closest companions spent so much time talking about shepherds and sheep. In John chapter 21 when, after a BBQ breakfast on the beach, Jesus draws Simon Peter aside, having forgiven him for disowning him on the eve of the crucifixion, he then commissions him with these words ‘feed my sheep, feed my lambs’. For some reason, (maybe it’s too many visits to the highlands and islands)  I can always picture Peter with a Scottish accent saying  ‘Lord, I ken all too well about fish but what on earth do I ken of the sheep.’   

Some people assume that sheep are rather ‘air brained’ yet this is very far from the case. Whilst cows have to be herded from behind, sheep have to be led, they have an amazing ability for recognizing faces and voices and they know the voice of their own shepherd.

“In Palestine today it’s still possible to witness a scene that Jesus almost certainly saw two thousand years ago, that of Bedouin shepherds bringing their flocks home from the various pastures they have grazed during the day. Often those flocks will all end up at the same watering hole around dusk, so they all get mixed up together-eight or nine small flocks turning into a convention of thirsty sheep. The shepherds don’t worry about the mix up. When it’s time to go home, each one issues his or her own distinctive call-a special trill or whistle, or a particular tune on a reed pipe and that shepherd’s sheep recognize the sound immediately and know that it’s time to follow their shepherd home. They know who they belong to; they know their shepherd’s voice and that is the only one they will follow.”2

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and am known by my own’ says Jesus. When John wrote his gospel, he had an important reason for including these words. John’s own flock, the church that he founded, had been infiltrated by false shepherds, teachers who were perpetuating a message contrary to all that Jesus had taught and the sad thing was that some of John’s flock were beginning to believe them, they’d stopped listening to the true shepherd and were being lured away. There were all kinds of distractions around, not least the threat of persecution, and all kinds of conflicting voices. Yet here Jesus spells out the hallmarks of the good shepherd. When danger comes, he won’t put his own safety before that of the sheep, run away and desert them. He will literally lay down his life even if it means laying down at night across the entrance of the sheep fold in order to keep thieves and wild animals out.

The voice of the good shepherd is unmistakable in its calm and measured manner. It’s a voice that brings hope and reassurance, it casts out fear, it offers forgiveness and it can always be trusted.  Yet still it can sometimes be difficult to discern, all kinds of things can get in the way, impatience, anxiety, fear, panic in a time of crisis,  the sense that maybe the grass is greener on the others side of the fence, or even doubt. Many of us want to hear our shepherd’s voice but can’t always manage to make it out. ‘You wind up at the watering hole at the end of the day and you don’t know quite who you belong to’.3 Have you ever thought you heard God’s voice only to later decide you’d been wrong? When you experience doubt is it doubt that the Scripture is really God’s voice, or is it doubt of a different sort?

Perhap you feel that your faith is so weak it’s practically non-existent. Surely believers are meant to be strong? Aren’t believers meant to be constantly in touch with God, understanding what happens to them every day, or even when they don’t, having enough faith to accept it gracefully, never doubtful or afraid? Surely believers are meant to live in total confidence that they’re in God’s hands and when they say their prayers at night God talks back to them. Believers act on everything they hear in the sermon, mean every word of the apostle’s creed and their hearts are strangely warmed every time they take communion? Believers never ever loose their place in the service book, they never feel bored or cranky or left out. They have an unfailing sense of belonging to God and to one another…don’t they? Might it be because somewhere along the way you’ve picked up this impression that you simply feel you can’t belong?

If you truly really believe this, may I let you in on a secret. For most believers, clergy included, faith tends to have its ups and downs. On a good day it might be strong enough to move a mountain (or more realistically a very small hill) on other days it’s hardly strong enough to get you out of bed. Most of the time it’s far less about certainty than about ambiguity. We’re betting our lives on something we can’t see or prove. Most of the time the best we can do is live ‘as if’ it were all true, and when we do, it all becomes truer somehow.

‘So, if you’re having trouble hearing the voice of your shepherd be patient with yourself and while you’re at it be patient with the rest of us too. You can’t follow a shepherd all by yourself, after all. You’re stuck with this flock, or some other flock and everyone knows sheep are sheep, they panic easily and refuse to be pushed.  They make most of their decisions based on their stomachs and they tend to rush into head butting contests for no reason at all. But stick with the flock, it’s where your shepherd can be found and that makes it your best bet not only for survival, but for happiness.

The God of all creation, the God made known to us in Jesus Christ, is the gatekeeper, gate, and the shepherd. It’s his responsibility to watch the gate, gather the flock, tend the fold, decide who’s in and who’s out, bringing in critters a lot like us and plenty of others too.

Finally, if you’re in any doubt, just listen to what we are promised; green pastures to nourish us, cool water to restore and refresh our spirits, goodness and mercy to follow us all the days of our abundant lives and a shepherd who will lay down his life for our sake, as promises go, my woolly friends, it seems to me that’s not at all bad.’ 4

I’m going to be taking a week out from my Sunday blog next week, back again Sunday May 17th but in the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a couple of questions to ponder:

What is the one voice that if you heard it, you would always immediately recognize?
Have you ever heard God speaking to you? If so, how?
What’s the one thing you might say this week to someone that will echo the voice of our shepherd?

1. Five reasons to keep Shetland sheep-and five reasons not to.
Debbie Hicks https://www.stokehill.com/single-post/2016/1/30.
2 The voice of the Shepherd in The Preaching life.

Barbara Brown Taylor: Cowley publications 1993
3 As above

4 As above

Prayers for the 4th Sunday of Easter

Prayer for the day

Risen Christ, faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command
that all your people may be gathered into one flock
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Good Shepherd,
Teach us to follow you
to care for all that are close to us,
to protect those who are threatened,
to welcome those who are rejected,
to forgive those who are burdened by guilt,
to heal those who are broken and sick,
to share with those who have little or nothing,
to take the time to really know one another
and love as you have loved us.

Good Shepherd,
Teach us to follow you
to spread compassion to those who are far away
to speak for those who are voiceless,
to defend those who are oppressed and abused,
to work for justice for those who are exploited,
to make peace for those who suffer violence,
to take the time to recognise our connectedness,
and to love as you have loved us.

Good Shepherd,
Teach us to follow you
and to be faithful to the calling you gave us
to be shepherds in your name. Amen.

—John van de Laar, © 2009 on his Sacredise.com website.

Prayers for the present time

Gracious God, give skill, sympathy and resilience to all who are caring for the sick or the vulnerable and your wisdom to those searching for a cure.
Strengthen them with your Spirit that through their work many will be restored to health through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

And we pray for those on our hearts at this time, members of our local communities, our
families and friends and especially those in need of strength and comfort.

Lord Jesus, God of hope, no one is a stranger to you.
In your mercy, watch over all who are separated from loved ones, all who are isolated, all who feel lost.
Where there is loneliness, may we know your presence.
Where there is fear, may we know your comfort.
Where we lose hope, may we know your hope.
Where there is despair, may we know your love. 
Make yourself known to us, O Lord, in these difficult times and sustain us with your healing presence. Amen. 

To conclude our prayers I am including a link the Lord is my shepherd together with pictures by Sir Stanley Spencer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8nhMX_ogqE

The 3rd Sunday of Easter

‘On the road to Emmaus’ Helge Boe

The sunset road that turned to dawn.

Luke Chapter 24 verses 13-35.

 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So, he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Reflection

To this day no one is quite sure where the village of Emmaus is. The road isn’t on any map, several places have been suggested as ‘possibles’ but the only fact we know for sure is that it was connected by a road to Jerusalem and appears to have been about 7 miles from the city, although even this varies with different translations.

I can’t help thinking Luke would have revelled in this mystery. A consummate raconteur, ( think the parables of the prodigal son and the good Samaritan), Luke always seems to manage to record the most memorable of Jesus stories. I think if I could be granted the opportunity of interviewing just one of the gospel writers, it would have to be Luke, and he alone mentions this account. By not spelling out the precise location of the village it means that, in many ways, it could be anywhere. In a sense each of us at some stage in our lives may have walked along that road and had our own Emmaus experience. It’s the road you walk when your team has lost, or your candidate has been defeated, when you’ve missed out on that job you always wanted, when your loved one has died, or left. It’s the road of deep disappointment and sorrow, a road of brokenness and dashed hopes, a road which this April 2020 more than a few are walking right now.

It may seem strange two weeks after Easter that our Gospel draws us back to Easter day and to two pilgrims (some commentators have suggested they could be husband and wife) trudging their weary way back home. The walk would have taken several hours, long enough to mull over the roller coaster of events which had taken place during the past few days: the trial, the crucifixion, the death, and the silent procession to the tomb. And then the women’s vision of angels, the empty tomb, and rumours of resurrection. Round and round it goes in their minds trying to find an explanation, trying to make sense of something that apparently makes no sense at all. Somebody said that the tomb was empty but that could mean anything, maybe his body was stolen, maybe he revived and walked away. It was the women who first broke the story. Mary and a few others, they wanted to believe them and yet… Well, everyone knew that women were considered unreliable witnesses, this is why their evidence was inadmissible in a court of law. And, after all, the senior disciples (all men) didn’t take it seriously “A foolish tale,” that’s what they said. The two disciples were so absorbed in their conversation that they failed to notice a stranger coming up behind them until he broke in on their thoughts.

‘What are you discussing?’ asked the stranger, and the two disciples were astounded. Where on earth had this man been for the last few days? Had he been asleep or hiding under a rock, how come he hadn’t heard the news? Yet, wanting to hear their story, the stranger begins to walk along with them. He turns out to be a good listener and they start to pour out their grief. Their story begins with the words “We had hoped”….We had hoped! Hope in the past tense is one of the saddest sounds a human being can make. We had hoped that he was the one. We had believed things might really change. But we were wrong, he died, it’s over. No more fairy tales, nor more illusion, it’s back to business as usual.

All the while the stranger gives them space. He doesn’t interrupt or try to trump their conversation. He doesn’t break in with “Helloooo! do you realize who you’re’ taking to here?” He listens, he takes time to hear and through the hearing a healing begins. The stranger approaches the two pilgrim/disciples not in order to be right or victorious but in order to be loving and transformative.  It’s only after they’ve said all they need to say that he begins to challenge them. ‘Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.’

I wonder how those words were said? In a tone of annoyance, or just with sad and weary resignation? We will never know, likewise we will never know exactly what he says when he opens the scriptures to them ‘beginning with Moses and the prophets’. Again Luke keeps us guessing. The stranger’s a gifted preacher, no doubt, but maybe it isn’t so much what he says as the manner of the saying.

Right now, these 2 disciples are wounded, weighed down with disappointment, with a sense that everything is lost. Yet maybe everything isn’t lost, maybe the rumours are true, maybe there is reason to hope. Whatever he says it warms their hearts, so much that by the time they reach their home and he turns to bid them farewell they feel they simply can’t let him go and so they invite him to stay for a meal.

He’s a strange kind of guest, though. It’s their house, their food and normally the host would break, bless, and share the bread. But when all of them sit down together, it’s the stranger who acts as the host. He reaches out and takes the bread says a blessing, breaks it and hands it around. In that moment, they recognize who he is but as soon as they do, he’s gone. Is it something about the way he breaks the bread or the wording of the blessing he offers? Something they’ve seen or heard before in an upper room or on a hillside where loaves and fish were broken and blessed and a multitude of people were fed? Whatever it is in this taking, blessing, and breaking of bread suddenly he’s a stranger no longer. The stone is rolled away from their hearts and from their eyes so they can also say ‘We have seen the Lord’. And even though it’s getting late and their legs are very tired, they know they must share the good news with others, so they hasten back to Jerusalem.

Of all the post-resurrection stories this is one of my favourites there’s something about these two disciples and their sense of puzzlement, disappointment and sheer ‘lost-ness’ that speaks to our hearts. Who among us faced with the same situation would not have reacted in just the same way? We had hoped but our hopes came to nothing, let’s go back home and get on with life.

In this particular post Easter season this story not only speaks to our hearts it may also bring tears to our eyes. The central themes of walking together, eating together, sharing communion together, at this present time, are a memory. I don’t imagine many of us ( before we heard of Covid 19)  ever realized just how important these things would turn out to be and how much we would miss them. Speaking with friends I know how much they long to be able to meet once again with friends over a meal. For others there’s a sense of deep sadness that right now we can’t physically meet together as a church fellowship to share the breaking of bread. Back in the days BC (before Covid)  running around 2-3 communion services most Sundays if someone had said to me’ Rose one day you’re really going to miss all this’ I would have been surprised how much I actually do. Worship on line goes some way to redressing the balance, it’s about the best we can do right now, yet still we all know it’s not the same thing. In today’s Church Times (April 24th 2020) I was interested to read Angela Tilby’s words ‘Not receiving communion is hard to bear at this time, but perhaps we are learning afresh what a sacrament is. Perhaps at this time, we honour the eucharist best not by insisting that it is our right to consume it at the flick of a switch but by honouring the space that separates us.’

On the shelves in my study there’s an ancient bible commentary by Professor William Barclay. When he comes to today’s passage, he entitles it ‘the Sunset Road that turned to dawn’. Towards the end he quotes a poem by Fay Inchfaw. Born in Portishead in 1880, she lived most of her life in the west country and died in 1978. Fay had a way of making poetry connect with ordinary people there’s nothing’ high flown about her style. This poem is very much of its time and reflects an age where women had a particular role and often were not able to fully express their callings or their gifts, somehow Fay managed to rise above this and here she conveys a sense of how the divine can break in to the mess and ordinariness of life.

“Sometimes, when everything goes wrong;
When days are short and nights are long;
When wash-day brings so dull a sky
That not a single thing will dry.

And when the kitchen chimney smokes!
And when there’s naught so ‘queer’ as folks!
When friends deplore my faded youth,
and when the baby cuts a tooth.

While John, the baby last but one,
Clings round my skirts, till day is done;

And fat good-tempered Jane is glum,
And the butcher’s-man forgets to come.
sometimes I say on days like this,
I get a sudden gleam of bliss.
Not on some sunny day of ease,
He’ll come…but on a day like this.

My reflection today could have been all about the fact that Jesus seems to gravitate towards those who lives are split open by sickness, loss or disappointment. That it’s in the cracks of our humanity that the divine, resurrected life shines brightest. However, a colleague reminded me just this past week that all this talk of death can seem rather mawkish and surely as Easter people we should be focusing on life and looking forward.

There is light at the end of the road, after the sunset dawn will come. One of the things I’m looking forward to is reflected in this series of pictures.

Next year on Easter morning I’m hanging on in there in the hope that we will be sharing in our dawn service, looking down from Corton Beacon. Here, amid spectacular views, we will bless and break some bread, meet friends and sing a hymn or two, maybe we’ll even share a few stories and as the sun rises in glorious splendour we will proclaim “The Lord is risen,” and know that wherever we are on the road he is with us on the journey.

Here comes the sun!

Prayer for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Risen Christ, you filled your disciples with boldness and fresh hope,
strengthen us to proclaim our risen life and fill us with your peace to the glory of God the Father
Amen.

Love never fails
Even in the darkest moments, love gives hope. 
Love compels us to fight against coronavirus alongside our sisters and brothers living in poverty.
Love compels us to stand together in prayer with our neighbours near and far.
Love compels us to give and act as one. 
Now, it is clear that our futures are bound together more tightly than ever before. 
As we pray in our individual homes – around the nation and around the world – we are united as one family.
So, let us pause and find a moment of peace, as we lift up our hearts together in prayer.

Loving God,
strengthen our innermost being
with your love that bears all things
even the weight of this global pandemic
even the long haul of watching for symptoms
of patiently waiting for this to pass
watching and waiting,
keeping our gaze fixed on you,
and looking out for our neighbours
near and far.

Instil in our shaken souls
the belief and hope that all things
are possible with your creative love
for strangers to become friends
for science to source solutions
for resources to be generously shared
so everyone, everywhere, may have what they need
for your perfect love that knows no borders
may cast out any fear and selfishness that divides.

May your love that never ends
be our comfort, strength and guide
for the wellbeing of all and the glory of God.
Amen.

Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession

For the health workers tending the seriously ill
for the scientists working on a vaccination 
for the researchers analysing data and identifying trends
for the media outlets working to communicate reality
for the supermarket workers, hygiene, and sanitation providers
for the good news stories of recoveries and effective planning
for the singing from balconies by locked-down communities
for the recognition that isolation doesn’t need to mean loneliness
for the notes through letterboxes offering help and support 
for the internet and telephones and technology that connects
for the awakened appreciation of what is truly important
Thanks be to God.

For those who are unwell and concerned for loved ones
for those who were already very anxious
for those immune suppressed or compromised
for those vulnerable because of underlying conditions
for those in the ‘most at risk to coronavirus’ categories
for those watching their entire income stream dry up
for those who have no choice but to go out to work
for those who are afraid to be at home 
for those who are more lonely than they’ve ever been
for those who are bereaved and grieving.
God be their healer, comfort and protection,
be their strength, shield and provision
be their security, safety and close companion

And raise up your Church
to be your well-washed hands and faithful feet 
to be present to the pain
to respond with love in action
if even from a safe distance.

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Loving God, we seek your presence
in the silence beyond words
looking to you for comfort,
strength, protection and reassurance
breathing with gratitude
holding on to hope
trusting with faith
that you are still God
in the midst of the turmoil
and that your love reaches
to the ends of the earth.
Be present with us now and those who are especially on our hearts this day….

(Silence)

Pour out upon us and those we pray for your healing, comfort, strength and peace.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Prayers adapted from Christian Aid Prayers in a time of coronavirus.
https://www.christianaid.org.uk/pray/churches/coronavirus-prayers

Our risen Lord greeted his disciples with the words ‘Peace be with you’, normally we would be sharing his peace with one another today, as we are unable to do this I am including John Rutter’s beautiful setting of the Celtic blessing with pictures which you can find at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNMxKQ8RjUc

Butterflies

A reflection
Wednesday 22nd April 2020

Yesterday was our 36th wedding anniversary, normally we ‘d go out for a little celebration but last night we celebrated at home. We worked out a special menu. Alan was in charge of the wine, chef Rose was in charge of the food, but over a candle and a glass we had a really great evening, talking about all kinds of things, putting the world to rights and taking time to enjoy each other’s company.

One of the features of the lockdown for us has been making a regular time every day for 2 very important things: Praying together at 7p.m. lighting a candle in the window and bringing to God the thoughts of the day and the people we want to remember/support.

But also going out for a walk. By the time we get through this virus we’re going to be a whole lot fitter and hopefully slimmer (dream on) because out here in the countryside we have the real blessing of being able to roam free whilst observing social distancing, just giving a ‘Hi’ to those that you meet. However, on our walks, we also have some really good conversations which, I have to admit that normally, when both of us are running from one thing to another most of the time we tend to miss.

Talking of missing the moment, back to the butterflies.

Out and about with my camera I have noticed many different butterflies. I guess they were there all the time, but I simply didn’t see them. Rushing past in the car, on an important mission/ pastoral visit, travelling to one meeting or another, who would notice a butterfly?

But here they are in all their glory, a reminder in the season of Easter of new hope and new life. When I stop to consider, butterflies have been a major part of my life. On our wedding day butterflies were part of the theme, a symbol of moving from the old life to the new. There were butterflies on our wedding cake and woven into the design of my wedding veil but the one thing that we could never have anticipated was that in the glorious April sunshine, half way through the wedding service, a butterfly appeared in church and fluttered around on my wedding veil.

At the other end of life one of the most meaningful funerals I ever conducted was one when a lovely lady was called from this life far too early. In her memory her family wanted butterflies to be released at her funeral service. Having agreed to this I had the little moment of dread. How environmentally friendly would this be? On a very practical note what if the butterflies were dead when they arrived in their box?

My doubts were completely unfounded. On a beautiful morning right on cue the butterflies were released they soared and hovered over the trees and there they stayed throughout the service and for quite a while afterwards. One of our funeral directors still says to me ‘Hey Rose, do you remember the funeral when the butterflies were set free that was truly magical.’ And actually, it really was.

Just at this moment when so much around us in the news speaks of death and decay butterflies are a wonderful reminder that we are in the Easter/resurrection season of the year.

In ancient Greek and Roman culture, it was believed that the soul left the body in the form of a butterfly. Australian Aborigines regarded the butterfly as the soul returning from the afterlife.

An ancient Indian legend tells of how if anyone desires a wish to come true, they must capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. Since they make no sound, they can’t tell the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit. So, by making the wish and releasing the butterfly it will be taken to the heavens and be granted.

The butterfly is depicted on many ancient Christian tombs symbolizing the resurrection of Christ and of believers. The caterpillar disappears into a cocoon, appearing dead, just as Christ is laid in the tomb after the crucifixion. Later it emerges, having transformed into something more beautiful and powerful than it was.

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. (2 Corinthians chapter 5 v17)

“What the caterpillar perceives as the end to the butterfly is just the beginning.” Lao Tzu.

Enjoy the pictures, the sunshine, and the butterflies.

Above all keep safe and keep well.

Peacock Butterfly
Orange Tip male and female enjoying the sunshine.
Red Admiral enjoying Frank and Shirley’s wisteria.

The Sunday after Easter

Locked in fear or free in faith?

 

John Chapter 20 verses 19-29.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So, the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Reflection

Like everyone else right now, all those in ministry are having to discover ways of doing what we normally do in a new way. Compared with the challenges faced by those on the front line in the NHS our challenges pale into insignificance. However, over the past few weeks, several of us have had to cope with tearful brides with weddings postponed. One or two colleagues I have spoken to have had to deal with stroppy parishioners, who can’t understand why their church is closed, despite the well-publicized government warnings about social gatherings, the fact that Corvid 19 can survive on surfaces for approx. 72 hours and it’s a massive undertaking to deep clean any large building most especially an ancient one. And then of course there are funerals, the most difficult part of all. How to help families say a dignified farewell to a loved one while balancing the importance of social distancing and keeping everyone safe, is proving to be quite a challenge. When it comes to worship some are taking to live streaming. Others, who are more ‘low tech’ are communicating by blog, email, or good old-fashioned telephone.

One of the things that has been really interesting has been having the opportunity to experience a whole range of worship and sermons online and over the Easter period.
A common theme has been the fact that on the evening of Easter day the disciples were met ‘behind locked doors’.

Parallels have been drawn with the locked doors of our churches and also with the fact that the freedom of movement we normally enjoy has been much restricted. Yet two things occur to me here, first, when the disciples met, they were locked in whereas most of us can still get out for daily exercise or essential needs.

Second, and more important, the disciples were locked down because of fear. They were afraid that at any moment there could be a knock on the door which would lead to imprisonment, torture, or death because they were followers of Jesus. Like many persecuted minorities they weren’t even safe in their own homes. Far from being a little sanctuary set apart from danger, the disciples could never be confident that even behind closed doors they would be safe. So, for all the parallels we might try to draw between the disciples situation and ours I suspect we need to look elsewhere for our reflection this first Sunday of Easter, which brings me to Thomas.

Of all the Gospel writers John alone mentions Jesus appearance to Thomas. Writing towards the end of the 1st century John was addressing people who, for the most part, had never seen Jesus or heard him speak, in other words people just like us. Many of John’s readers were born after Jesus had died, so the stories they heard came second or third hand. There were still a few eyewitnesses, but those trusty souls were getting on in years. A child who was six years old on that first Easter morning would have been close to seventy by the time John wrote his gospel. So, John’s problem was the problem of encouraging people to keep the faith, especially in a time of fear, when Jesus was no longer around to be seen or touched. Thomas story gave him a way of doing this. By writing about the reluctant disciple’s doubt, John took the words right out of his readers mouths and gave them to Thomas, so each one had (and has) the opportunity to think about how we do (or do not) come to believe.

Thomas wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to his disciples he was the only one of the 11 who wasn’t and that tells us something about his character.  Like Peter, Thomas distinguished himself by saying the things no one else was prepared to say. When Jesus was set on going to Lazarus’ home in Bethany-deep in enemy territory- and everyone else was trying to talk him out of it: Thomas spoke up and said, “let us all go so we may die with him”. When Jesus sat down at the last supper and told his friends not to be afraid because they knew the way to the place he was going, it was Thomas who spoke up and said: “ Lord we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” In other words, Thomas was not a ‘natural’ follower. A brave and literal minded maverick, Thomas could always be counted on to do ‘the right thing’, but only after he’d convinced himself that it really was ‘the right thing after all.’

Perhaps you have known someone like that, perhaps you are a bit like that yourself? You just can’t bring yourself to go along with the crowd until you are absolutely sure that it’s the right thing to do, even when it’s been blindingly obvious to everyone else that it’s been the right thing to do all the way along. Call it integrity, call it obstinacy, that is the way it is for you.

The disciples who were present that first Easter evening saw the risen Lord and were so convinced that it was him that when they saw Thomas afterwards, they were sure he would believe them. Jesus was back, still wounded but very much alive, and what is more, although they thought he might punish them for deserting him, he didn’t, instead he forgave them. Far from being “shame on you”, his words had been “peace be with you!” He had healed them, given them back their lives again and invited them to be his partners in his mission to the world.

What is not to like about that? “We have seen the Lord!” they told Thomas, in utter amazement, believing that Thomas response would be: “All 10 of you saw him at the same time? Well, that’s good enough for me; Ok I believe you, so what do we do next?”

But of course, he didn’t say that, instead he said, “unless I see, I will not believe.” Which makes Thomas a kind of ‘stand in’ for us. Or at least for those of us who want to see something with our own eyes before we decide whether it is true or not and I have a sense that may be more of us than we care to admit. During my life and ministry, I’ve heard stories of all kinds of things, some of them really wonderful things, and I’ve really wanted to believe that they were true. However, there’s that nagging little voice somewhere inside saying: “Yeh, Ok! But you never actually saw it happen, did you?” And whilst I was reluctant to totally dismiss these things, some of them later turned out to be true, right at that moment they would have seemed a lot truer if I’d actually seen them with my own eyes.

Sometimes people claim that because of all our modern scientific knowledge we find it harder to take things on trust. I wonder, I can’t help thinking that for people in John’s day it wasn’t that different and that’s why he told us about Thomas. Even Jesus understood this, in one of his most gracious moves ever, he didn’t write Thomas off for failing to trust what the others had told him. On the contrary Jesus made sure that Thomas was included by coming back and repeating the whole scene for his benefit. In the end Thomas didn’t have to take anyone else’s word for anything, everyone saw for themselves and believed.

So far so good, and yet, what about all the people who weren’t there? Those who would never lay hands or eyes on Jesus in person because they are outside the circle of the story? What about those who have missed the boat, as it were, by several thousand years. Well, in his final words I think Jesus includes us also. Speaking over Thomas shoulder to the rest of us Jesus says “Thomas, have you believed because you had seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen but have come to believe!” In other words, us, those who have never seen him in the flesh and only have the testimony of others to rely on. People who were there at the time and who, although they are now long dead, still beg us to take their word for what they are sure they saw. They knew that something extraordinary had happened and that it was up to them to keep the story of it alive somehow. So that they and their children’s children could be part of the wonders they had witnessed.

We can thank God they didn’t do it by reducing Jesus life to 5 easy to remember slogans and pickling them for all eternity or relying on tomes of doctrine or dogma. Instead, they collected all the stories that they could remember, especially those in which Jesus was most the person that he was. They wrote them down with all the power still in them, so when they read them aloud, they could feel their hearts racing and their palms sweating. They left plenty of stories intact, even the ones they found puzzling, troubling or downright offensive, because they knew that these were the ones that stood the best chance of staying alive. People would not be able to leave them alone, they would keep coming back to them over and over again, discovering some fresh insight every time they did. If you are a lover of stories, then you know this is true. A good story doesn’t just tell you about something that happened long ago and far away, it brings that time back to life so you can walk around in it and experience it for yourself.

You finish a novel like Les Misérables, or Gone with the Wind and you feel lonely for days, you miss Jean Valjean or Scarlett O Hara or Rhet. Try reading Yan Martell’s the life of Pi, you feel the terror of young Pi Patel, the Tamil boy who finds himself stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean with a 450 lb Bengal tiger for company. You even feel for the tiger when he gets seasick. That’s the power of the word, and when the word concerns Jesus, that power belongs to God. Scripture is like a message our ancestors rolled up and put in a bottle for us, because they wanted us to experience the person of Jesus- if not in the flesh, then in the word.

Reading what they set down for us all those years ago, we are free to believe it…or not; free to believe them or not. But one thing this gospel story tells us is that seeing is not superior to hearing. You can trust either sense, you can come to believe either way. Where Jesus is concerned, only a precious few saw him in the flesh, either before or after his resurrection, but millions more have discovered him not in the flesh but in the stories, which have a way of jumping off the page. Rooted in history, they are more than history, Jesus lives through them with the power to make us weep, rejoice, hope, and act, perhaps that is why we call both him and the stories about him the living word of God.

Put your finger here and see my hand, reach out your hand and put it in my side.
Can we really do that? No!
Can the story make us feel as if we can? Yes!
If we open ourselves up to it and if we believe.

With or without us, the story’s already alive and God wants us to be part of it.

At the top of today’s blog, I have included a picture, The doubting Thomas by the Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890). Here Thomas has his head buried in Jesus robe cowering in a sense of wonder, awe, penitence, maybe fear. It’s a beautiful painting however I much prefer this image of Thomas.

It speaks of one, who having met with his risen Lord, is ready to step out beyond those locked doors in a spirit of faith.

Let me end with the words of Barbara Brown Taylor whose thoughts have inspired much of this reflection and challenge us to think about how the resurrection may speak to us in new ways today.

‘So, the brave, fragile, testimony continues to be heard down the ages and indeed to change lives.
‘We have seen the Lord!’
In the flesh? No
In the story? Possibly.
In our life together? Absolutely. ‘

thoughts inspired by Believing in the Word
Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way ©SPCK 2011

The Prayer for Today

Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred; open the doors of our hearts that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father.
Amen.

A prayer for medical workers and those involved in research

Gracious God,
give skill, sympathy and resilience
to all who are caring for the sick,
and your wisdom to those searching for a cure.
Strengthen them with your Spirit,
that through their work many will be restored to health;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.     

For those who are ill

Merciful God, we entrust to your tender care
those who are ill or in pain,
knowing that whenever danger threatens
your everlasting arms are there to hold them safe.
Comfort and heal them,
and restore them to health and strength;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

A Prayer for Christ’s presence in difficult times

Christ our guide, stay with us on our pilgrimage through life;
when we falter, encourage us,
when we stumble, steady us
and when we have fallen, raise us up.
Help us to become, step by step, more truly ourselves,
and remind us that you have travelled this way before us.
Amen.

Easter Hope

Some Easter stories in our parishes

So many people have been sharing lovely stories and been out and about with their cameras over Easter and so, in spite of all the bad and sad news, smiles have still been brought to faces and there’s been a spirit of hope around. One person commented that ‘the lockdown’ should really be called ‘physical distancing’ not ‘social distancing’ because we are all socialising and communicating more than ever, over the internet and in other creative ways too.

I couldn’t resist sharing a little compilation of pictures that have come across my desk over the holiday.

Although we couldn’t meet in church to sing and had to social distance Easter day was greeted with singing:

Singing in Weston Bampfylde
Singing in Little Weston
Singing in Sparkford

Some made a very special effort to dress up for Easter

Some got a little over heated and had to cool off.

Others couldn’t wait to join in.

One or two were a bit too young, so mum kept a close eye.

But all the while the sun shone and the blossom shimmered

And one particular tree had it’s own story of resurrection.

The mulberry tree in the foreground split and collapsed three years ago, since when it has appeared doomed.  The branches on each side lay on the ground gradually being overrun with nettles, brambles and ash seedlings.  But quietly, in the centre it was restoring itself, sending vertical shoots towards the light.  A few weeks ago, a small group of people reshaped it and now we see it as a picture of Resurrection for 2020. (from Stephen Rymer)

An Easter Affirmation

We believe in a bright and amazing God
who has been to the depths of despair on our behalf;
who has risen in splendour and majesty;
who decorates the universe with sparkling water, clear white light,
twinkling stars and sharp colours,
over and over and over again.

We believe that Jesus is the light of the world;
that God believes in us and trusts us,
even though we make the same mistakes over and over again.

We commit ourselves to Jesus,
to one another as brothers and sisters,
and to the Maker’s business in the world.
God said: let here be light,
Amen.

From Lent and Easter readings from Iona. Affirmation by Helen Lambie. Wild Goose Publications 2001

Photo of Sutton Montis church by Trevor Strelley