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How Ecclesiastes speaks during Covid-19

 

Guest column from Georgie C.

In the last weeks the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes has repeatedly come into my mind. It starts at the beginning of Chapter 3 with these words:

Everything that happens in this world happens at a time God chooses.

He sets the time for birth and the time for death

A time for planting and a time for pulling up

A time for killing and a time for healing

…and so it goes on.

If nothing else in these past weeks, we have all been given time to reflect.  For me, these reflections have brought both sad memories and some very happy ones. Sometimes the reflections made me feel guilty about missed opportunities and sometimes I have felt proud of past achievements.

For all of us I believe this time has enabled us to concentrate in a more focussed way about the things in life that really matter.

For most this time has heightened the awareness of how important other people are to us.  This includes not only family and friends but all those who touch our lives without our really being aware of them - our neighbours in a biblical sense.  The importance of other people in our lives matters not only to the most extrovert of characters but also to the shyest recluse.

Fighting the pandemic has been likened to fighting an enemy.  As in any war, there are usually a large number of heart-breaking casualties.  As a mark of respect to those who have tragically died in this pandemic, let us try to improve on some of our old ways.  We have been given time to reflect on better ways of doing things (including being more considerate to planet Earth).  In our hearts we all know what these ‘ways’ are. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes believed in God but did not have the privilege that we have of knowing that Jesus came to restore our hope in a brighter future.  Christianity is very simple (although others may tell you differently). Follow the teaching of Jesus and believe and all will be well with you.

We are living through an extraordinary time.

Georgie C.

 

May letter

Because of all the restrictions put onto the churches and their services, as a Parish we have continued our church services on our Youtube channel, which is easy accessible via this website.

During the restrictions may we remind ourselves that whatever restrictions authorities or others put on us, even with the best options, it will not hinder God to be accessible.

It depends on our own attitude whether we continue communication between God and us. On quite a few places the Bible tells us that God is not away from us.

In the Old Testament for example in Psalm 9:10 it says that ‘those who know You will put their trust in You, for You Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You’. IN the New Testament in James 4:8 we are reminded to ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’.

May the current situation not deter us from seeking God, or let slip our relationship with Him. And even in times of being reluctant to keep our eyes on God for whatever reason, let us remember how He will never leave us. Jesus spoke to His friends in the Gospel of Matthew 28:20, ‘I am with you always even to the end of the age’. Through Jesus Christ, God will be always there for us.

Gospel reading for 3rd May and some reflections on it for the service from Lillingstone Daryell on that date.

 

 

John 10:1-10 The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

 

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  

 

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 

 

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 

 

 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 

 

But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.” 

 

Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

 

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 

 

All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 

 

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 

 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

------------------------------

Hello. It is good to be writing to you even if rfom my isolation at home.

 

As I prepared my thoughts for today, a number of things crossed my mind.

 

I now wake up each morning to the sound of silence, apart from the birds. No traffic noise. I have no feeling that I have to rush to get on with one of the many tasks that are normally there.

 

All I can hear is the sound of the wind in the trees and of the birds. Particularly pigeons, a pair of which are nesting in our back garden.

If you sit quietly and watch them, you see their anxiety in everything they do. Always stopping and checking that it is safe to enter the nest. Always out and about seeking nesting materials and food! A bit like all of us at the moment in lockdown! Anxious about what is to happen next!

 

If we do nothing else different at this difficult time, let us stop and observe the beauty of nature and the rhythms of life all around us which we are usually to busy to look for and observe. It reminds us how wonderful creation is. Watching the pigeons I feel closer to nature and I feel closer to God, 

 

Our Gospel reading today reflects that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.

 

In the old testament the concept of the shepherd was often used to symbolise a caretaker of God’s people. Have a look at Ezekiel 34! It tells us that God had given great responsibility to the leaders, the shepherds of Israel to care for the people of Israel. This they hadn’t done. And so he promised to provide a true Shepherd, Jesus, to care for the sheep. 

 

In our reading, Jesus is speaking to those who were supposed to be the guardians of the holy law. The moral leaders! To be the shepherds! But as we read too often in the bible, they were hidebound by their misguided perception of the law, without basic understanding and humanity.

 

There are two images in this text.  In 10:1-5 Jesus simply speaks a truth that his hearers would have known and relied upon.  Because Judean's highly valued their sheep as a main source of their food and their clothing  they would have known each one of them and they would have protected them with their lives. There are also a couple of interesting things about the shepherd with whom Jesus identifies himself. 

 

First, this shepherd has the well-being of the sheep at heart, rather than his own well-being.  This shepherd is neither thief nor bandit who would steal sheep, considered a profoundly anti-social act and one in which the sheep would only come to a bad end.  Jesus emphasises the difference between the bandit and shepherd:  the shepherd enters rightly, properly, and openly into the sheepfold. All is open and above board, a cooperative effort with an obliging doorkeeper and sheep who respond to the sound of their name.  

 

There is a relationship of trust among all parties here.  Notice that the sheep are not presented as stupid.  They "know" whom they can trust. In verse 4, their trust is validated and emphasised by another piece of the shepherd's behaviour: He brings the sheep out of the fold and then goes before them. The sheep do not simply escape some confinement or hasten out of the fold to brave the larger world on their own.  Their shepherd leads them out and then goes in front of them, to lead them.  The sheep are not abandoned.

 

The text tells us that the audience didn’t understand this analogy so Jesus tries again to contrast himself with thieving leaders.  He becomes very specific about those who had come before him as the thieves and bandits that he had mentioned in verse 1 and were described in Ezekiel,  from whom the sheep rightly fled. 

 

Jesus says I am the gate, the proper way, the right way, the only way into the sheep fold.  Pasture, that is life, is through me, the gate.  Those who enter are being saved, brought into pasture and life rather than for their destruction. Jesus speaks of the gate to help clarify the image of shepherd.  In both cases it is about the trustworthy one. Whether the one who leads or the one who sets the right path that will lead his followers into ample pasture. 

 

All of us need to follow a good path that leads to good spiritual sustenance.. It is easy to be sidetracked. At the start of the epidemic much good was seen, in caring for those less able. 

Whether it be by simple telephone calls or bringing food and medicines.

 

We did it because it was the right thing to do. Something that instinctively we knew, Jesus would have wanted us to do. He had shown us at this moment in time the right gate to pass through and encouraged us to follow him through it and so many people did. 

 

We must not let that care and compassion fall away.

 

Remember the gate which Jesus wants us to pass through, and do so with confidence and with the certainty that only he can give us, that it is the right thing to do and that he will be there before us to lead us, not just in the current emergency but in everything that we do.

 

This is his promise to us. I will show you the right path and I will open the gate and lead you through it.

 

Let us pray

 

O Lord open my eyes so that I can see the needs of others.

Open my ears so that I may hear their cries.

Open my heart so that they need not be without succour.

Show me where love and faith and hope are needed, and use me to bring them to these places.

Open my eyes and ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for you.

 

I also pray that we may soon meet again in fellowship within our churches and community.

 

In Jesus name I pray Amen

 

Ian

 

 

Words of reflection

Words of reflection on Luke 24: 13 – 35.

A number of people recently have asked: “ Where is God ?” “ Why are our churches closed”? Indeed they are questions I have asked, myself. Perhaps our reading from Luke’s gospel can help us find some answers to these and other questions.

Two disciples after witnessing the events in Jerusalem, of unrest, brutality, and crucifictions, especially of their friend and teacher Jesus. Their hopes were dashed, they had hoped Jesus was going to restore Israel, bring peace and freedom. They were bewildered, disillusioned and grieving.

We can often find ourselves bewildered, disillusioned, anxious and maybe grieving. Feeling someone or something has let us down. This may be especially true in the circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment with lockdown, isolation and the fear of getting the Corona Virus.

Jesus comes and walks beside them, helping them to think through and recall what was written in scripture and spoken by Jesus . Not recognising hat it was the risen Jesus walking and talking with them.

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, the risen Jesus says; “ all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; therefore go and make disiples of all nations; baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age”. This was Jesus promise to his disciples and to us. As we think through the situation we find ourselves in and seek answers to our questions; God is walking beside us in the form of the Holy Spirit now, helping us to understand a little more as we read scripture and discuss with others.

When the disciple reached their home they invited Jesus for supper. This was the point that they recognised the risen Lord and they couldn’t wait to rush back the 7miles they had travelled to tell their fellow disciples. We all have free will and can choose to invite Jesus into our lives, ( this is not as difficult as trying to download skype or zoom, as I have been trying to do recently, ) No we just talk to him anywhere as if he is a neighbour or a friend, invite him in and communicate by reading and praying. We may not recognise Him at first, but he is there, especially in difficult times. He can be a guest in anyone’s home not just in church.

In Such An Hour by Fay Inchfawn

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;

When fat, good-tempered Jane is glum,

And butcher's man forgets to come.

Sometimes, I say, on days like these,

I get a sudden gleam of bliss.

"Not on some sunny day of ease,

He'll come . . but on a day like this!"

Reflections on John 20

When you look for sermons on our reading from John 20 from :19 to the end of this gospel, you’ll find many are about Thomas and his unbelief. However, the story shows that the disciples were not having much more faith than Thomas; they weren’t great believers either. 

It says that on the evening of that day they were shut inside because of fear. Although in the morning they were told the Lord has risen, it didn’t brought them great happiness. Instead, they were behind locked doors because of fear. And in the midst of their fear, hiding behind locked doors; Jesus comes in their midst and says; Peace be with you.   

One of the most remarkable things in the story is that Jesus is not saying to the disciples; have I not told You I would rise on the 3rd day, so why didn’t you believe? There’s no accusation of unbelief or reproach by Jesus when He sees His friends again for the fist time after His resurrection. The first time He sees them again, His first words to them are; Peace be with you.  

Today in the fear of the outbreak of the Corona virus and many are locked inside in their homes, in fear of the virus, Jesus wants to stand in your midst speaking the same words again; Peace be with you. Jesus will not reproach us when we fall in doubt or show signs of unbelief. He’s not saying to us; why didn’t you belief? His words to all those who invite Jesus in their lives are the simple words; Peace be with you. It might sound a simple sentence, but the depth of these words reaches an enormous reservoir of peace, hope, trust and any other comfort we might ever need that only God can give.  

Peace be with you Jesus says; a peace of God no one and nothing else can provide.   

His peace be with you.

A special Prayer for Easter Midweek

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the message of Easter, of the risen Christ among us. Especially today in the middle of Easter week, we are conscious that there is so much that is uncertain, so much we can not predict and so much we neither know nor understand. Lord in Your great mercy, assure us of the victory of Christ.

Remind us once more in this week of Easter, that in all the changes and chances of our nation only You are our unchanging Rock, an unfailing Deliverer and our eternal hope. Lord in Your great mercy, assure us of the victory of Christ.

Help us to continue to celebrate Easter in the next few days of this Easter week. Knowing that Your love continues through all things, Your power continues through all things and Your presence is with us in all things. Lord in Your great mercy, assure us of the victory of Christ.

Give us today a sense of Your great care towards us, a recognition of all You have done and a confidence in all you will do. Be among us now, we pray, through the risen Christ. Help us to hear His voice and to offer You our praise. And guide us to understand that our hope is in You alone and to live in that assurance. Lord in Your great mercy, assure us of the victory of Christ.

Easter

Easter is about surprises. If you go out for a walk today, surprise one of the people you meet on the road (from a 2 meter distance) and say to him or her; Happy Easter because the Lord is risen today. I don’t know whether the other will respond with; He is risen indeed. But, he or she will at least be surprised by what you say.

What happened to the disciples on Easter morning was not less surprising.

The experience of this surprise was for the disciples a kind of spiritual experience which we might better call a spiritual distortion, because their whole world view turned upside down. It’s not normal that dead people re-appear on the 3rd day after their funeral and greet their friends.  

Churches are generally not good at letting people doubt and pastors or ministers are expected to know exactly who God is and how He works with and for His people in this world. Doubt and confusion do not really fit into this pattern. But that’s exactly what the first Easter is all about; doubt and confusion.

Doubt about the resurrection of Jesus and confusion about how and what had happened.

Take for example the witness of the 2 Mary’s who went to the grave to pay their last tribute to the corps of Jesus, as we read in Mark. In those days no one wishing to convince someone of an event would use women as witnesses. 

The doubt and confusion of the resurrection was accompanied by an overturning of certain fixed rules of behaviour in that society.   

The disciples didn’t believe the story at first and it made them think very hard. This experience is a powerful reminder to us. God wants us to be aware of the reality of the risen Lord that we become enthusiastic witnesses.

The disciples and other friends of Jesus have gone through the doubt and confusion for us at the first Easter. But, it didn’t hold them down. Their doubt and confusion turned into the greatest incentive ever seen in this world of convincing others of this truth. They did not go alone, because it was the risen Christ Who appeared to them and helped them overcoming all doubt and confusion. 

As the disciples so many years ago we can overcome doubt and confusion to rejoice and be thankful for what the resurrection really means; sin and evil, all leading to death, have been overcome through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Hans

 

A very different Easter

The empty tomb

Three years ago, my wife Anna and I celebrated Easter somewhere very different.

On Easter Day, we attended a sunrise service on the banks of the Chobe River in Botswana, just over the border from Namibia. It was a mix of traditional hymns and African singing, local people mingling with elderly British ex-pats, with the sermon preached by a visiting, evangelical American pastor. Despite the location, the sun was concealed behind grey cloud, which made us feel strangely at home, as did the hot cross buns and miniature Easter eggs that were handed out after the service!

I thought then about how different it was from the villages where we worship week after week: different – and yet, essentially the same, with people gathering to witness their faith and celebrate the most extraordinary event in recorded history. This is the story that has spread to the farthest reaches of every continent; the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the implications that these events have for how we live, how we treat each other and for our relationship with God.

Three years on, this Easter is very different again: but this time, it’s unlike any other – no gatherings in churches anywhere this weekend, but services held only online, along with TV recordings made in previous years. Yet despite the challenges of the uncertain times we are living in, the key messages of Easter remain undiminished – the two central propositions of the Christian faith.

·      Firstly, that Jesus was not just another radical who challenged the authorities and became difficult, but that it was God himself who had entered His creation in the person of Jesus Christ. This is not a God who is remote and unknowable, but a God who, in that human incarnation, lived what we would recognise as a normal life for 30-plus years and then suffered the very worst that any of us could experience – torture and violent death. If the story ended with that violent death, then it would indeed all make little sense. But of course, that is not where the story ends.

·     The second central claim of the Easter story and the Christian faith is that Jesus then rose physically from the tomb: that on that first Easter morning and on some ten subsequent occasions was witnessed walking, talking and even eating with the disciples and others. Death had truly been overcome – it was a very real and tangible demonstration that death was not the end.

Without the resurrection, nothing about Christianity makes sense. If it’s not true, then nothing matters. But if you accept the Resurrection, then you see everything from a quite different viewpoint: it changes everything. I have been re-reading Rowan Williams’ thoughts on the Easter story recently. Sometimes, he cuts through the difficulties with an extraordinary clarity – no less than when he observed that “all Christian theology is essentially reflection on Easter”. For at Easter we realise that although Jesus’ crucifixion seemed to mean that the whole purpose of His life and mission had been defeated, the resurrection then demonstrated victory, over both the worst that humans can do to each other and over the apparent finality of death. The impact of this is immense – as are the implications for the life that it challenges us to lead.

We have seen in these last three weeks how people of all faiths or none are responding to the challenge that Christians recognise in the commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself”: the immense generosity of spirit demonstrated by so many acts of kindness and selflessness all over the country.  That is truly something to celebrate this Easter. For, in Rowan Williams’ words, this is a time when we can “simply ask for whatever healing it is that you need, whatever grace and hope you need … then step towards your neighbour. Easter reveals a God who is ready to give you that grace and to walk with you.”

May we all receive and celebrate that grace this Easter; and may it sustain us as we await the better times that will surely lie ahead. Amen.

Good Friday

When writing my PhD many years ago, I came across a sentence from Prof. Dr. Carl Braaten on whom I did my research, describing in a few words the heart of the message of Good Friday and Easter. Braaten wrote: Without the light of the Easter morning the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth would probably have remained eclipsed forever by the blackout on Friday noon. The blackout of Friday noon is of course the moment on which Jesus Christ died on the cross.  

There are many theories about the question of what is the real purpose of the death of Christ? Some of those theories are varied with some mutually compatible, when others are very complex, but each of those theories offer a different interpretations on the death of Christ. In this jungle of different theories and theologies about why Jesus had to die on the cross, all of these are perhaps encompassed in the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury during WWII, William Temple, who once wrote: Nothing can achieve a power at all comparable to that of the love of God unveiled in Jesus Christ, and above all in His death. There, we see what sin mean to God and how He bears it. And as we see we are won out of our selfishness to a love which answers His.  

As Braaten showed in his sentence, without the message of Easter the ministry of Jesus Christ would perhaps never even been mentioned in the history books and no one would have ever heard about Him. He then would have been like one of the many advocates for liberation from oppressing powers, or one of the freedom fighters, but without using weaponry.  Easter is only within a few days, but now at Good Friday we should already look ahead to what happened on that day. Without Easter, Good Friday can be nothing more than a day of mourning or remembrance. But, with Easter in view, the meaning of Good Friday becomes a day of looking forward to a glorious day, even when it feels a day of sobriety and sadness.  

Hans

Maundy Thursday

A few years ago, one of our church members, showed me a small leather purse with some new coins in it.  It was Maundy Money, presented to her by the queen at a special ceremony in one of the Cathedrals. 

The word Maundy derives from the Latin Mandatum, which means command and it refers to the command Jesus gave His disciples to love another as recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 34.   Queens Maundy Money, as it is officially called, are coins which are legal tender but do not circulate because of their silver content and numismatic value. The first Royal Maundy money ceremony took place in the reign of Charles II, when the king gave people undated hammered coins in 1662. The coins were a four penny, three penny, two penny and one penny piece.  

Today, those who receive Royal Maundy Money, are men and women in the older age bracket, who are chosen because of their Christian service they have given to the Church and to the community. The ceremony takes place once a year at Maundy Thursday and there are as many recipients as there are years in the sovereign’s age. At the ceremony, the queen gives each recipient two small leather string purses. A red purse contains ordinary coins, while a white one contains the silver Maundy coins, amounting to the same number of pence as the queen’s age.   

The ceremony is a symbol of the queen her role to serve the people and is based on the command Jesus gave to His disciples to love another. Jesus not only gave this command, but He also showed them what He meant by washing the feet of His disciples.  The ritual of washing feet before dinner was normal in those days, like washing hands before going to eat, but it was performed by one of the servants in the household and certainly not by the host. Jesus however turned this upside down and instead washed the feet of those whom He had invited by Himself. In doing so, Jesus could rightly say; love another....as I have loved you.

There should be no servant/master relationship between those who put their trust in Christ and Jesus gave the example by washing the disciples feet. A Maundy Service in church would have reminded us of this practice and of its symbolic significance. Bill organises this service every year and instead of washing each others feet, we share food prepared by each participant to share with each other before we finish with a short service.  

Because this year we’re not allowed to have service in Church, Bill has made a service for us to be watched as a video on Youtube, via the website, via Facebook, or directly on Youtube. The service reminds us all, that as a church we’re serving each other and there is no relationship like master or servant, but we should all be caring for each other as one. 

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