Sunday 29th March 2020

Scottish Christians* are encouraged to light a candle and place it in their window at 7pm** each Sunday in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are urged to “join in prayerful solidarity with this witness”, describing the candle as “a visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, the source of hope in this life.

The following prayer can be used when lighting the candle:

For all that is good in life, thank you,
For the love of family and friends, thank you,
For the kindness of good neighbour and Samaritan stranger, thank you.

May those who are vulnerable, hungry or homeless, experience support,
May those who are sick, know healing,
May those who are anxious or bereaved, sense comfort.

Bless and guide political leaders and decision-makers, with wisdom,
Bless and guide health workers and key workers, with strength and well-being,
Bless and guide each one of us, as we adapt to a new way of living.

And may the light shining from our windows,
across road and wynd, glen and ben, kyle and isle,
be reflected in our hearts and hands and hopes.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

* These include the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, the United Free Church, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Union of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Society of Friends (Quakers), Congregational Federation in Scotland, the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, and Redeemed Christian Church of God.

** Please take all necessary fire precautions when using a lit candle. Ensure you remain with the lit candle at all times, and do not leave it to burn if you leave the room. Ensure there are no fabrics or materials such as curtains near the candle.

With the people on his heart

During this time of crisis, Simon and James are each separately celebrating the Eucharist each week, “standing before God with the people on his heart“.  It’s difficult for both us and you not being able to share the Eucharist together.  However we should be clear as to role of the priest in the Eucharist as (in some sense) representing Christ to the people, and also as representing the people to God (“standing before God with the people on his/her heart“).

No priest does this because of inherent goodness or other qualities they possess or because of any dignity or status.  Priests who preside at the Eucharist do so in the full knowledge of their own unworthiness and as participants in the sinfulness of the world. In the Liturgy, the priest represents the incarnate Christ in his identification with the people, not as someone standing over them, but as belonging to them, and they to him/her.

Michael Ramsey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961-1974, from wrote in his book “The Christian Priest Today“, that “Being with God with the people on your heart is the meaning of the daily office, of the Eucharist and of every part of your prayer and service of people.”  Sound advice, which is why the book, first published in 1972, is still on the recommended reading list of those in training for ministry in the Church.

As we celebrate the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour in this ‘socially distanced’ way, it’s instructive to read the rubrics in the service for “Communion of the sick” in the Scottish Prayer Book, dealing with the situation where someone is unable to “receive the Sacrament with his mouth“:

“If a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the Priest, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood: the Priest shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and stedfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefor; he doth eat and drink the Body and Bread of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.”

Rubrics in Communion of the sick” in the Scottish Prayer Book 1929.

Blessings
James

The Annunciation – a reflection by Rev Nicholas Court

On Wednesday this week, it will be exactly 9 months to go to Christmas – and I have been invited to share a few musings with you, reflecting upon the lovely Feast of the Annunciation which this Wednesday brings us. It is a feast of great encouragement, because centre-stage is Mary, and it serves to remind us that we find in Her the sort of disciple weare all called to be. We see in this teenage Mother our own potential as Christians – all that we can be and become if we only open our hearts in loving trust to God as She did, despite the human doubts and weaknesses that are part of who we are. Mary is full of questions – when Mary receives the visit from Gabriel at the Annunciation – ‘How can this be?’ is Her questioning response. And She continues to question when Her Son wanders off into the Temple – ‘Why have you done this?’

At Cana She offers us the perfect model of prayer – “They have no wine” – and during His public ministry Jesus does not single His Mother out for honour because of Her biological role, but responds to Her as someone who hears God’s word and gives it flesh and bones.

Like all the disciples of Jesus, the Mary we meet in the Gospels walks by faith and not by sight. She treasures what words She has received from and about Jesus, and ponders them in Her heart. You can hear the Mary of the Magnificat glorying in the power of God who lovingly overturns all the signs of toxic power within society. The Mary of the Magnificat is not some simpering waif of a virgin but more like a warrior queen, robustly challenging the forces of sin and human greed in the name of the God whose power transforms our world. It’s as if Mary says, “Make my song yours too, because as Gabriel told me – ‘With God no thing shall be impossible’.”

We were reminded in last Sunday’s Gospel of that devastating scene atop Calvary, where She stands grieving at the foot of Her Son’s cross. The beloved disciple, another model for all followers of Christ, is told by the dying Jesus to cherish Mary as his Mother, and She is told to care for him as Her own. When the church is born with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Mary is there again, at the heart of the community, no longer grieving, but worshipping Her Son.

Mary’s questions at the Annunciation are our questions too – how is it that God can work through such weak instruments as we too often feel ourselves to be – something we feel particularly acutely as we face our current crisis? Well, just look where else we encounter Mary. She is there, watching as the tasteless water of our lives is turned into the life-giving wine of Her Son’s grace. Like Mary, we are invited to treasure all that we know of Jesus and ponder it in our hearts. Her Magnificat blesses us, not because by some accident of birth we are members of the Church, but because we too are part of the humanity in which She and Her Son shared – and this is something to really celebrate!

Before I conclude, I’d like to leave you with a lovely and whimsical poem, written by an Anglican Priest called Penelope Dent – whom it is my guess may not a fashionable size zero (but I may be wrong)! She conjures up a Mary who is so very human – much more of a Mother, and less of a queen – a Mary who knows what it is to be thoroughly human, and who like a best friend, prays daily for us, out of love, to Her Son. It’s called My Fat Virgin Mary:

I’m tired of skinny Virgin Marys,
Medieval, milk-mild.
The one I want has a bosom and a heart.
Brooding, maternal and magnificent.
You listen, you love
And you understand.

O most funny,
Glorious, vulgar fat Lady.
I love you
And the God who made your commodious bosom,
Head rest, heart rest
For the uncomforted.

Hold us and love us,
You who dare to be big
And despise corsets.
You who love life
And bottles of stout, pork pies
and bags of greasy chips,
Wrapped in newspaper.

Belligerently beautiful,
Queen of all fat women,
Defender of the unloved.
Accuser of the small-minded, sawdust people,
Who never get involved nor find the time to love your Son,

Wrapped in themselves.
O most funny Lady, most funny Lady,
Mother of mothers,
Praise be to you for showing us your acceptance,
Your grief and your rejoicing.
Praise be to you for daring to be big,
Proud of your girth
And all Glorious within.

Churches Now Closed

Following the directive from Boris Johnson this evening (23rd March) and updated guidance from the College of Bishops, our Churches will no longer be open to the public for either services or private prayer.  So from now on we must all pray at home.

Two prayers from the Scottish Prayer Book

In the time of any common Plague or Sickness.

O ALMIGHTY and merciful God, with whom are the issues of life and death: Grant us, we beseech thee, help and deliverance in this time of grievous sickness and mortality, and sanctify to us this affliction, that in our sore distress we may turn our hearts unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

For Hospitals and Infirmaries.

ALMIGHTY God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ went about doing good, and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people: Continue, we beseech thee, his gracious work among us in all hospitals and infirmaries; console and heal the sufferers; grant to the physicians, surgeons, and nurses, wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience; prosper their work, O Lord, with thy continual blessing; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Church Services on Radio, TV and on-line

Radio and TV Worship Services

Sunday

BBC Radio Scotland at 6:30 – New Every Sunday: a service of worship

BBC Radio 4 at 8:10 – Sunday Worship

BBC ONE at 13:15 – Songs of Praise

BBC Radio 3 at 15:00 – Evensong (a repeat of the Wednesday afternoon broadcast)

Monday – Saturday

BBC Radio 4 at 5:43 – Prayer for the Day

Monday – Friday

BBC Radio 4 (LW only) at 9:45 – Daily Service

Wednesday

BBC Radio 3 at 15:00 – Evensong

On-line Worship

An SEC Eucharist Service will be broadcast at 11.00am on each Sunday at: https://www.scotland.anglican.org/broadcast-sunday-worship/
The service will subsequently be available to download at the above address in video and audio formats.

Church of Scotland list of Streamed Services

Sunday Eucharist from Trinity Wall Street – starts at 11:15 (New York is generally five hours behind us except 2nd Sunday to last Sunday in March when it’s four hours)  Currently this service is broadcast live from 15:15 GMT.

 

Lent 4A – 22nd March 2020

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Coronavirus has made all familiar things strange”, so wrote Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times yesterday, he also observed that “It should not take something as terrible as this to awake us to life’s inherent fragility”.

What was once familiar now appears very strange indeed and what was unthinkable a few weeks ago is now our reality.

Today isn’t an easy day for the Church. For all of us, this is the day when the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic hits home. Our Churches (and the places of worship of other religions) are closed. This is unprecented, even World Wars haven’t closed places of worship on this scale.

Little did we realise that when, last week, we heard the words “The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”, that these would seem be fulfilled as our reality a mere 48 hours later.

Today’s readings include the dramatic story of a man healed of his blindness in John’s Gospel and the story of God’s choice of the young shepherd boy David to be king of Israel. Nestling between them we have many people’s favourite Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd …”, a prayer of hope in troubled times. Also there’s a passage from the letter to the Ephesians which begins with two instructions: “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord,” and “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness,” both of which Christians in every age are called to do, no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. Rest assured that many believers have found themselves in circumstances every bit as challenging as those we are facing today.

Living in a “world of darkness”, there’s a tendency to turn in on yourself, to no longer see those around you, to fail to grasp the bigger picture. On the other hand, when you’re living “in the Lord,” the horizon widens: you see other people, community becomes possible and you can step with hope into the unknown. It’s these conditions that allow us to tune in to “what is pleasing to the Lord”.

Perhaps, a Lent in which what was once familiar now appears very strange indeed is a good time to reflect on the question that the Disciples ask Jesus, “How then should we live?” “Live”, says Ephesians, “as children of light”. This whole passage is about what “Living as children of light” means for people of faith in their daily life and no more so than today.

Ephesus was a large city of diverse populations, home to numerous shrines and deities, and especially to the great temple of Artemis. In this sophisticated, pluralistic city, Christians were nothing more than a distinctive minority. Many Christians today might feel the same way in the diverse, ‘sophisticated’ world in which we live. “Living as children of light” doesn’t call for fear, hiding in safe places, keeping things quiet. It calls for sharing the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ to a frightened and anxious world, tempted to selfishly stockpile.

Today is Mothering Sunday, the mid-point of our Lenten journey. Those of us that have been taking Mothering Sunday posies to people within and also on the fringes of our congregations, have found beaming smiles and recipients so grateful to see a suitably ‘social-distanced’ person at the door bearing a tiny posy and a copy of Simon’s short Mothering Sunday piece about being flowers in our world, suggesting that we “fill the world with fragrance, and give flavour to life”. Yes that’s “living a children of light”.

In the exhortation to live as children of the light, the Ephesians are expected to care for one another as family. But we as people of faith are not just any old family. The Christian Family and especially the Church, is called to “speak the truth in love”, as a mother does to her child, as a means to grow and as a goal for growing. Only in this way can we mature into the body of Christ we’re called and enabled to be.

This lifestyle isn’t a mystery. It’s been described in every kind of literature from poetry, to novels, to self-help books, to the Bible, over and over again. We all know what it looks like, even if we only catch glimpses of it now and again. We see it in the seemingly random acts of kindness towards strangers and the smiles and camaraderie of people united in adversity. We see it in the unexpected and in those things that we so easily overlook. We see it in the delicate, ephemeral spring blossom, that “awake us” each year “to life’s inherent fragility”, as it appears and then it’s gone.

So, even if we’re unable to meet as congregations, to hold services in Church and to do many of the things that we’ve become used to doing, we can use every other means at our disposal, to pay attention, to listen to one another, to seek one another’s well-being, without fear or favour, not judging whether someone does or does not ‘deserve’ this kind of attention. We and all those around us are Children of God. As Simon put it in his Mothering Sunday piece: “There is an important place for our individual response to God, but when we come together as a church we discover new things about ourselves as we relate to each other as well as to God. Like a flower arrangement, we can bring out the best in each other, and complement and support each other.” We need to find ways to do just that, without endangering ourselves and others.

Our reading from Samuel speaks of a time when chaos engulfed Israel in a way that’s become all too familiar over the past week. God sent Samuel with his response and as Samuel tries to do what God seems to be asking him; he gets more and more confused – the obvious doesn’t appear to be what God wants.

As he works through Jesse’s sons from the oldest downwards, he gets increasingly frustrated as God seems to be rejecting them one by one saying: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart”.

It’s only when they get to the bottom of the barrel to the ignored and forgotten David, whose looking after the sheep in the field, the least and the unexpected, it’s only then that the answer comes. As the days, weeks and months go by and more and more of what was once familiar becomes very strange indeed, we need to remember that it’s in the least and the unexpected that the miraculous will happen – though perhaps not in the way that Donald Trump predicted of Covid-19 on 27th February: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.Amen.

A smile is contagious

Sunday is Mothering Sunday and I’ve spent the last two days distributing Mothering Sunday Posies, and you know it would have been worth it for just one of the smiles returned by those who received one, but I’ve had dozens of smiles and feel so blessed.

For the fit and healthy, there are posies in St Andrew’s, Tain and St Finnbarr’s, Dornoch, so please feel free to drop by at some time on Sunday (between 10am and 4pm), to offer a prayer and pick one up (whilst stocks last:-)

Must rush as I have to go out round and about again, no handshakes, no cups of coffee, just a brief chat and a beaming smile at the door – God Bless.