Sermon for Pentecost 4B – Sunday 20th June 2021

Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41

As a sea-faring nation, we have a history that is full of great stories about expeditions and military victories out at sea. It’s in the very life blood of the British to instinctively celebrate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805 and, a little more close to home, Jellicoe’s triumph over the German Fleet in 1916 (though both sides claimed victory in that particular campaign). Equally Cook’s voyages in the Endeavour and Darwin’s expeditions aboard HMS Beagle instil in us a sense of pride in our nation’s great sea-faring achievements.

But we also know that with the opportunities that travel by sea offers us come great risks – not only in times of war, but sometimes as a result of human error. Most of you will be familiar with the infamous Meikle Ferry tragedy of 1809, when the Ferry crossing the Dornoch Firth was overloaded and capsized with a loss of 111 lives.

But even when we get everything right, we know that ultimately those at sea are at the mercy of the weather (even in our day of modern navigational technology).

Take the HMS Prince for example, which, in 1854, was torn from her anchorage by a hurricane force storm and dashed against the rocks – only six of 150 souls aboard were saved.

In 1980 the largest British Ship ever to be lost at sea (MV Derbyshire – 91,655 tons) sank in a Typhoon in the South China Sea – all 44 crew were lost.

And as late as 2009 the Bulgaria went down in a storm in Russia with the loss of 112 souls although not British – this disaster still serves as a warning to us.

In our annual commemorations and remembrances we are reminded of the dangers seafarers face and you yourself may have endured stormy conditions or sadly endured the loss of someone at the mercy of the sea.

We know something of the fear, the terror that being caught in a storm at sea can bring.

In our gospel reading today Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee and the disciples are experiencing that same terror that harsh weather out at sea brings. But of course, as always, there is a deeper meaning to what we have been hearing about. They are moving from the Jewish side to the Gentile side. From the side where they are at home to the side where they are strangers- the side where life is familiar to the side where it is new, different and unfamiliar. Now we may have never crossed the Sea of Galilee, but I’m pretty sure that most of us have at some point been in that boat.

Of course, this is not just a story about the weather and a boat trip. It is a story about life, a story about faith and it’s a story about fear. Wherever you find one of those – life, faith, fear – you will usually find the other two. They cannot be separated.

Sometimes the sea of life is rough. The wind is strong. The waves are high. The boat is taking on water and sinking. We all know what that is like. I’m sure each one of us could tell a story about a stormy time in our lives.

Some of our stories will begin with a telephone call, a doctor’s visit or news we did not want to hear. Some of them will start with the choices we have made, our mistakes and our sins. Other stories will tell about the difficulty of relationships, hopes and plans that fell apart. Some storms seem to arise out of nowhere and take us by surprise. Other storms build and gather as we sit by and watch.

Storms happen. Storms of loss and sorrow. Storms of suffering and confusion, of failure or disappointment. Storms of loneliness and uncertainty.

Regardless of when or how they arise, storms are about changing conditions. Life can feel overwhelming and out of control when things don’t go our way. Order can give way to chaos and we can feel like we are sinking. The water is deep and the new shore is a distant horizon.

In our gospel story, the disciples are quick to make the storm about Jesus. “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

We’ve probably all echoed their words in the storms of our lives. Praying, calling out to Him “Do something. Fix it. Make it better.” In the midst of the storm Jesus seems absent – passive and uncaring. How can he sleep at a time like this? Sleeping Jesus is not what the disciples or what we want.

But Sleeping Jesus is in the same boat and the same storm as the disciples. He is surrounded by the same water as the disciples, blown by the same wind, beaten by the same waves.  What is different is how he responds. While the disciples fret and worry, he sleeps. The disciples want action. Jesus sleeps in peace and stillness.

His sleep reveals that the greater storm and the real threat is not the wind, waves and water around us – the circumstances in which we find ourselves – no, the greater threat lies within us. The real storm, the more threatening storm is always the one that churns and rages within our minds and souls.

That inward storm is the one that blows us off course, rages against our faith and threatens to drown us. Fear, vulnerability, and powerlessness blow within us. A sense of abandonment, the unknown, judgment and criticism of ourselves and others are the waves that pound us. And too often anger, isolation, cynicism or denial become our shelter from the storm.

“Peace! Be still!” Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea. Jesus isn’t changing the weather as much as inviting the disciples to change. He’s speaking to the wind and the waves within them. The disciples have been pointing to what is going on outside of them. Jesus now points to what is going on inside them. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Jesus’ words are more about us than the circumstances of our lives – the storms we meet. Storms happen. Faith does not eliminate the storms in our lives. Faith does not change the storm. But it can change us. Faith does not take us around the storm, but it can steer us through. Faith allows us to see and know that Jesus is there with us. Faith is what allows us to be still, to be peaceful, even in the midst of the storm.

In faith, the Spirit of God blows through and within us more mightily than the winds of any storm. The power of God is stronger than any wave that lashes us. The love of God is deeper than any water that threatens to drown us and each one of us has a duty to share that love with each other at all times, in every storm, through the practical and prayerful support we must offer to each other.

 In every storm that comes your way, remember, Jesus is present and his response is always the same.

Peace! Be still!

May God Bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

Sermon for Pentecost 3B – Sunday 13th June 2021

Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; Mark 4:26-34

WLANL - MicheleLovesArt - Van Gogh Museum - The sower, 1888

Willie and his wife moved into a new house and to put it mildly, the garden was a terrible mess of weeds and brambles and such like, ‘cos the house hadn’t been lived in for maybe eight years, you know; there was thistles five foot high! So Willie got a book on gardening and quickly found that he had a talent for it and he created a garden that everyone for miles around wandered past, just to look over the neat hedges at the beautifully tended flower beds, lawn and shrubbery. Anyway one day the new rector came wandering past and sticks ‘his head over the hedge “Arr Willie,” he says, “Its wonderful what God can do in a garden, with a little help, isn’t it?” And Willie replies “Arr, but you should’ve seen it when ‘e did it all by hisself.

Our Gospel today contains two parables, both of which say something about gardening. In the first, the gardener sprinkles seed on the ground and then without any further need for effort leaves the rest up to God until it’s time to harvest the crop. God takes care of the germination, does the watering and supplies the necessary heat so that the leaves develop, the stems grow and the seed heads form, swell and ripen.

Anna’s response to this would be similar to that of Willie in the story with which I started – “you just try scattering the seed and doing nothing and see what happens!

In the second one, the smallest of seeds – mustard but not the plant that you used to grow along with cress on wet blotting paper in school, but black mustard which is a large annual plant which grows up to 9 feet tall. So the tiny dust-like seed grows up into very large plants that birds can nest in the shade of. Jesus frequently uses parables that concern the ordinary things of the daily lives of those to whom he’s speaking and these two are no exception. But parables aren’t simply illustrations, they contain important messages, hidden – if you like – within them.

Several times in the gospels, we hear that Jesus spoke in parables so that many of his hearers (such as the Scribes and the Pharisees) wouldn’t understand exactly what he was talking about . Which is possibly just as well since it was quite often about them and usually not too complimentary.

At the end of today’s passage we hear:

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

So Jesus explained what his real message was to just his followers and so I suppose that’s what I should be doing now.

Last week we were away visiting our seven-month-old grand daughter Alanna and of course her parents, but then it was Alanna that was the star attraction because we’ve seen Andrew and Tracey before. She is growing fast and is starting to out-grow some of her clothes.

So last Sunday, I found myself at the nine-o’clock service in a very traditional-looking parish church. Inside it was anything but. There was no altar, no font and the sanctuary was filled with keyboards, microphone stands and a drum kit. As I sat there wondering what might happen, and praying that it wouldn’t be too noisy, I was reminded of a passage from one of Annie Dillard’s books:

I have overcome a fiercely anti-Catholic upbringing in order to attend Mass simply and solely to escape Protestant guitars. Why am I here? Who gave these nice Catholics guitars? Why are they not mumbling in Latin and performing superstitious rituals? What is the Pope thinking of?

Anyway, to some extent my prayers were answered, all this stuff was for the 10:30am family friendly service.

In Churches, one often finds that there’s a considerable industry trying to makes things happen and in particular to find suitable magic to make the congregation grow in number. The Church is often obsessed by numbers in the pews, but that’s not what we are about. As Martyn Percy wrote when he was Principle of the Oxford theological college – Ripon College, Cuddesdon:

The beguiling attraction of the very first Christian heresies and heterodoxies lay in their simplicity. They presented the most attractive solution to any immediate and apparently unsolvable problems. For us as a Church today, the presenting problem appears to be declining numbers in our congregations. Ergo, an urgent emphasis on numerical church growth must be the answer. Right, surely? But wrong, actually. The first priority of the Church is to follow Jesus Christ. This may be a costly calling, involving self-denial, depletion, and death. Following Jesus may not lead us to any numerical growth. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbours as ourselves. There is no greater commandment. So the numerical growth of the Church cannot be a greater priority than the foundational mandate set before us by Jesus.

The spiritual growth that happens in people’s lives is (like the growth of the seeds in the first parable) entirely the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility is to plant some seeds by the things that we do and when the work of the Holy Spirit brings forth a harvest, to notice and to gather it in.

And just in case you were thinking that perhaps you were ‘mature enough’ to leave all the harvesting to ‘younger folk’ take another look at psalm 92:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap.

Parables of sowers and seeds may seem a little quaint, but many artists have been captivated by the growth of seeds and plants. Van Gogh had a special interest in sowers throughout his artistic career. All in all, he made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme.

He painted The Sower in the autumn of 1888. This picture is mysterious, but somehow also luminous. In it, Van Gogh uses colours that are usually meant to express emotion and passion. His sky is greenish-yellow and the field a shade of purple. The bright yellow sun above the sower’s head looks like a halo, turning the sower into a saint. It’s a painting of a quite ordinary scene, but at the same time there’s something really mysterious about it.

There is something mysterious about growth isn’t there. Do you remember at school putting a broad bean seed in a jam jar wedged in by a roll of blotting paper and after watering it and putting it in a dark cupboard, taking it out from time to time to see it produce a long feathery root and a shoot – magic?

The mysterious nature of seed growth is part of what these parables of the Kingdom of God are about. Like the Kingdom, a seed once planted is a mystery slowly being revealed. It unfolds by its own operation in the soil. Its planter may sleep and rise, but the seed’s work goes on whatever Willie or Anna do, much as our grass did whilst we were away.

Amen

Sermon for 6th June 2021 (Ordinary Time)

Fr Simon

What is your greatest fear?

What a question to start us off today!

According to one survey the top three greatest fears are:

  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of heights

Maybe like hundreds of thousands of people around the world one of these three is your greatest fear!

Facing our fears can be really difficult, but some people do give it a really good go. Take Mr Cameron for example – he had the most irrational fear of the speed bump in his road – yes, fear of a speed bump – but he slowly got over it! Or Miss Fraser – she was terrified of lifts in tall buildings – so she took some steps to avoid them.

There are all sorts of irrational fears out there – take Dr Macdonald – she was afraid of German sausage – always fearing the wurst! And Mrs McInnes – she was afraid of giants – had a terrible case of FeeFiphobia!

In all seriousness, fear is something that can paralyse us and stop us from leading fruitful lives. I remember a man I knew telling me that his greatest fear was that someday he would be found out. “What do you mean?” I asked him. “That they will know I’m not who I say I am; that I’m not who I want them to think I am; that I’m not who I want to be,” he answered.

Beneath his fear he knew there were ‘cracks in his house’. He knew that a divided house cannot stand and a divided kingdom would most certainly crumble.

From the beginning of his ministry Jesus had been dealing with divided houses and kingdoms. He cast out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, cleansed a leper and caused a paralysed man to walk. The houses and kingdoms of these people were divided. Their lives were not their own. They lived with inner conflict and turmoil and been separated from their communities and all that gave them security and identity. Their outer conditions of illness, paralysis and possession pointed to an inner conflict – the battle between health and disease, not just physical health and disease but spiritual health and disease!

The battle within us, the conflict between good and evil has been raging ever since Adam and Eve separated themselves from God and hid amongst the trees of the garden. It was evident when the nation of Israel demanded a king so it could be like all the other nations; forgetting that it had a unique calling, that it was to be different from other nations, that it was through Israel, the people of God, that God would act for the benefit of all people.

Division and inner conflict is a reality of today’s world and of each of our lives. A relationship with another divided breaks down rapidly. A nation divided results in vitriolic politics and in the extreme – civil war. An economy divided yields poverty and injustice. A community divided becomes individualism and tribalism, prejudice and violence. Humanity divided is all these things on a global level. Faith divided is sin.

We all know what it is like to live divided lives. Think about those times in your life when your outside and your inside simply don’t match up? That’s what it means to be a house divided. You’re one person at work,  another at home. You act one way with certain people and a different way with other people. Life gets divided into pieces. Behaviour, beliefs, and ethics become situational. There is the work life, the family life, the prayer life, the personal life, the social life and pretty soon we’re left with a life in pieces.

It can seem that we are forever trying to put the pieces of our lives back  together. That’s why, in our gospel reading this morning, the crowd has gathered around Jesus. That’s why the religious authorities oppose him. That’s why his family tries to restrain him. In their own way each is trying to put the pieces of their lives together, but it’s not working. They won’t fit. They have been found out. Their lives and their world are neither what they thought they were, nor what Jesus knows they could be. One reality has fallen and a new one is ready to rise!

Jesus always stands before us as the image of unity and wholeness. He is the stronger one. If we will allow Him, He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He will put our lives and our houses back in order. Jesus offers a different image of what life might look like. He does so by revealing the division in our lives, the houses that cannot stand and the crumbling of our kingdoms.

It’s hard to look at the division and inner conflict within our lives. But the beginning of wholeness comes in acknowledging our brokenness.

Where is your own house divided? How and to what extent have you created conflict and division within your relationships? In what ways do you live a fragmented life? What is it that shatters your life? Anger and resentment? Greed? Insecurity, perfectionism, sorrow or loss? Maybe it’s fear, envy, guilt or loneliness.

There are all sorts of forces, things, events, sometimes even people by which our lives are broken and through which we are separated from God, others, and our self. But be assured that Jesus Christ is stronger than anything that fragments our lives. He binds the forces that divide, heals the wounds that separate, and refashions pieces into a new whole. There is nothing about your life or my life that cannot be put back together by the love of God in Christ. Come to Him, offer every part of who you are and He will make you whole.

Amen

May God Bless you and those you hold dear in this coming week.

Fr Simon

Grasping and Comprehending

The Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost – we’ve travelled a long way in our journey with Christ since Palm Sunday on 28th March. Back then we were in lockdown, now the restrictions are easing and joy of joys, we were able to have our first wedding in church last week after a gap of nearly two years.

In many ways, living under restrictions is ‘easy’ You have a long list of things that you can’t do and also a list of things you must do and, as we’ve all done over the last 15 months, you learn to live your life doing what you must and trying not to do what’s not permitted. So at one level, it’s ‘easy’ but at a deeper level it’s very hard indeed. Not being able to see loved ones, not being able to do things that have been part of our lives for years and apparently small, but very significant things like being able to sit where you want in church or shake someone’s hand when you meet them.

Under the Old Covenant of Moses, the people of Israel lived under ‘The Law’. So in Exodus, we have 10 Commandments but there are 613 statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice (or Mitzvot) contained in the Torah (mostly Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus) (248 of these are positive – things that one should do – and 365 negative – things that one shouldn’t do).

The purpose of these ‘rules’ is however to try to help people to find God through encounters with the holy. In a sense the summary of the Law, that we use at some times of year in our liturgy, is a pointer to the underlying principles, which is why Jesus came not to abolish the rules rather it refocus people on those principles.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The second is this:

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

There is no other commandment greater than these.

SEC 1982 Liturgy

Living by rules, as opposed to something closer to the essence of things, has a tendency to separate the observer of rule from the real purpose of the rule, which in itself althoughrecognisable, is much more difficult to define. The practices that Jesus was reacting against, were a set of rules which, although they may have at some time had a role in helping people to approach the holy, had long since become somewhat divorced from that purpose and an end in themselves.

As Covid restrictions are relaxed, we’ll have to make more decisions for ourselves as to what to do and what not to do, without as rigid a framework as we’ve had. That means that we’ll have to understand the purpose or ‘spirit’ of the rules we’ve been used to and the likely effect of deviating from them. To use religious language, we’ll have to ‘discern’ what we should do in order to continue to keep ourselves and others safe, rather than be told what to do. There’ll still be rules, just fewer of them and we’ll have to continue to live our lives within them. However, just because a politician says that you’re allowed to hug other people, that doesn’t mean that you must or even that most of the time you should. The careful and judicious use of new and very welcome freedoms is what discernment is about.

Perhaps the simplest definition discernment is that it’s nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure, it’s the ability to judge people and situations well. In the religious context however it’s no more or less than knowing or attempting to know the mind of God.

Under the New Covenant of Jesus, it’s not the rules that are important, it’s this seeking to know the mind of God. Religious practice isn’t in itself a route to the holy, but may help to get us to a place where an encounter with the holy may happen. Not the only route and absolutely no guarantees. We use practices that have traditionally been helpful, rather than trying to conjure up encounters with the holy all on our own.

Our joint task in ministry is to walk with others as they try to encounter something that neither they or we can ever fully understand – the Mystery of God, that unseen and unknowable force at the very centre of our being. That’s always going to be a pretty tricky task, just as is trying to protect ourselves and those that we care for, from an unseen and ultimately unknowable danger!

Blessings
James

A Prayer for Israel and Palestine

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Ephesians 2:14

O God the creator of all life

We bring before you all the people who call Israel and Palestine home.
We particularly remember those living in those parts of this land who are facing the constant fear of armed conflict.

We ask your forgiveness for the anger, hatred and violence that all of us have the potential to carry within us.

We beseech you to soften hearts and open minds so that the sanctity of life is always protected, the right to freedom of worship upheld and the security of a safe home defended.

We pray that justice will flow like rivers. That human dignity will be respected and, that each of us may strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you our God.

Amen

Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter 2021

Acts 10:44-48  • Psalm 98  • 1 John 5:1-6  • John 15:9-17

For a variety of different reasons, this week has been one of those weeks when my family has constantly been on my mind.

Worries about things that are happening right now to family members on the other side of the world, exciting future hopes for my family as it continues to grow and comforting memories about family members from years gone by.

Last Thursday I was thinking about one of my grandmother’s – my mum’s mum – Nanny Ball we called her. She was the great matriarch of the family and I had lived with her for the first few years of my life so I was particularly close to her.

Nanny Ball always had a treat for her favourite grandson, and every time I visited she would bring out a glass jar that the treat had been put into. It wasn’t a special jar – very plain – I think it was an old sweet shop jar that she had found from somewhere – it had lost it’s label and was a very ordinary, everyday kind of thing. But on every visit, out it would come and some special sweetie or small gift would be wrapped up inside.

Some weeks after my Nan had died (I think when I was about 9 years old) my mum was sorting through Nan’s belongings – some treasured possessions were kept and other things were put in boxes for the charity shop. The glass jar was put in one of these boxes. I asked my mum if I could have it and she said I could. Of all the things from my Nan’s house, this very plain, unimpressive glass jar was all that I wanted. This object was the one that I associated with my dear Nan – I had to keep it. I believed that somehow it carried her presence. It reminded me of all the treats that she gave to me, one of the last things I remember her holding, and felt like my connection to her.

At a deeper level, holding on to that glass jar revealed my desire to be connected, to be remembered, to have and to know my place in life.

And don’t we all want that? Regardless of how old we are or the circumstances of our lives we want to know: Who am I? What are the connections that will sustain my life? Where is my place in this world?

Those are the questions Jesus is addressing as he speaks to his disciples in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Jesus is speaking his final words, one last sermon, to his disciples. He is preparing them for life without his physical presence, foreshadowing what resurrected life, Easter life, is to be like. He offers some direct answers to those questions:

You are my friends.

Abiding love –  laying down life kind of love – is the connection that will sustain you.

I am your place in this world.

Most of us spend a lifetime searching for those answers and trying to make them our own. They must, however, become more than intellectual answers. They must become lived answers. We learn to trust and live those answers in our relationships with one another. Life is a school for learning to love.

Our search for those answers is ultimately our search for Christ. That searching is always there, but it becomes more acute in times of change: the death of a loved one, children growing up and moving out, a new job, retirement, a debilitating illness, a move to a new town, a marriage or a breakdown in a relationship. In those moments we want something to hold on to, something to comfort, encourage, and reassure us; a glass jar that will guide us through life.

When I was about 18 and packing up my possessions to take to  university, I was talking to my mum, telling her about how important the now cracked jar with no lid was to me and wondering if I should take it with me. As I was talking to her I realised in a new way that the glass jar was not the important gift, the thing that carried my nan’s presence. I was. I was the last thing I remember her touching when she hugged and kissed me. I was the one who received her cuddles and gentle whispers “I love you.” My life, my actions, my very being somehow carried her presence and our shared love. The connection was and always had been within me – not in a glass jar.

Sadness, fear, and desperation often causes us to grasp for glass jars in one form or another. We put them away in the back of the cupboards,  hoping and trying to create a connection that actually already exists, maintain a presence that is already eternal, and hang on to a love that is already immortal.

We do this not only with one another but also with Christ. With each glass jar we collect we can forget that our lives embody the shared and mutual love of Christ and one another. In that love is the fullness of presence; a presence, the disciples will learn, that transcends time, distance and even death.

Treasured possessions can be important and remind us of those who have gone before us, but at some point we must throw away the glass jars we hold on to so that we can hear, experience, and live the deeper truth. Our lives, our actions, our love carry and reveal the presence of divine love. Jesus does not give us something, he says we are something. We are the gift. We are the connection. Think about what he tells the disciples:

  • I love you with the same love that the Father loves me – You have what I have.
  • I give to you the joy that my Father and I share – You are a part of us.
  • You are my joy, my life, and my purpose.
  • I want your joy to be full, complete, whole, and perfect.
  • You are my friends, my peers, my equals.
  • I have told you everything. Nothing is held back or kept secret.
  • I chose you. I picked you. I wanted you.
  • I appointed, ordained, commissioned, and sent you to bear fruit, to love another. I trust and believe you can do this.

It’s all about us – in the best sense of those words. We are the love of Christ. Our belief in Jesus’ words changes how we see ourselves, one another, the world, and the circumstances of our lives. That belief is what allows us to keep his commandment to love one another. When we know these things about ourselves our only response is love. We can do nothing else. We are free to live and more fully become the love of Christ.

The challenge of our search is not to find the answers, but to believe and live them.

Who are we? The love of Christ.

What are the connections that will sustain our lives? The love of Christ.

Where is my place in this world? The love of Christ.

As St Julian of Norwich puts it – In, by, with, and through the love of Christ “all shall be well, all shall be well, every manner of thing shall be well.

Amen

May God bless you and those you hold dear in this coming week.

Fr Simon

The Resurrection Life?

Anna and I are very excited, because we now have a definite plan to travel south in June to meet our granddaughter Alanna for the first time. We have been able to start making travel plans because of the gradual relaxation of the rules on travelling and visiting, as a result of the relative success of the lockdown and the vaccine rollout.

Over the last year the majority of the population have had to make considerable sacrifices to protect each other from what has turned out to be a very infectious virus. We are now moving into a more settled phase, as the restrictions are relaxed, but we all need to stay vigilant. The need to avoid complacency is underlined for us in the news reports, as we see how easily Covid can pop up again in areas of our country and in countries around the word.

Simon and I are very grateful to all of you for the support that you have given us in very challenging times, when many of out familiar patterns of church activity have had to be modified or curtailed. We have gradually been restoring patterns of worship, but we have still a little way to go and things will never return to exactly how they were before. Over the next few months we will be taking stock and looking at how under the new circumstances that we and our communities find ourselves in, we can be faithful witnesses to the God who made us and who cares for us. This will include renewing our commitment to the folk on the North Coast by finding a suitable venue for our monthly gatherings.

For some of you new opportunities have opened up with on-line services and we will continue to develop these as they have enable people who are unable to get to services in church or other venue because of health issues or travelling distance to worship with us. You will all have received an email with details of our Zoom Morning and Evening Prayer services. 

Even if you don’t join these services in person, you can join them in spirit. Morning and Evening Prayer are said daily in some form by clergy and many lay people around the world, so however you engage with them, you are joining “such a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). To make it easier for you, a list of the Psalms and Readings for these services is attached to this newsletter and you will find a similar list in each month’s edition.

We have had some success with online social activities, the longest-running of these being the Tuesday Coffee Mornings at 10:30am (now preceded by Morning Prayer at 10am). On those Tuesdays where other business prevents me from joining in, I do miss the lively chat and camaraderie that is always evident. We have also had successful on-line Advent and Lent Study Groups and this way of doing things can bring together people who would not ordinarily want to travel long distances on cold winter night, though I am sure that we have all missed activities where we can be physically in the same room together – it just isn’t the same on-line.

We’re now of course in the Season of Easter, when as Christians we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. What we all need in the coming weeks is resurrection in our lives as we take steps in the direction of a life beyond lockdowns and restrictions on mixing and movement. For the disciples of Jesus, Resurrection didn’t mean returning to life as it had been, but to a new life of hope, in which all sorts of new possibilities opened up, possibilities that they could never have imagined. 

For all of us, the old life that we lived can never return. The experience of the last year has changed all of us and so much else beside. However as we start to forge a future for ourselves, the wonderful thing is – who knows what might happen? Maybe, just maybe, the world might be a better place for everyone.

Blessings
James

Stations of the Resurrection

We are now in the 40 days from the Resurrection at Easter until the Ascension.  In this time Jesus appeared many times to individuals and groups, as our Eucharistic Prayer for this season puts it so beautifully:

Making himself known in the breaking of the bread,
speaking peace to the fearful disciples,
welcoming weary fishers on the shore,
he renewed the promise of his presence,
and of new birth in the Spirit
who sets the seal of freedom on your sons and daughters.

Using some of the passages describing these events, together with short reflections and prayers and some rather wonderful paintings by the French Artist Tissot, Stations of the Resurrection provides the opportunity to see how Jesus came to the Disciples as they tried to make sense of all that had happened and tried to return to their old lives.  Their dreams had been shattered and they found themselves feeling ineffective and discouraged.  If that is how you have been feeling over the past year or so then maybe it will give you renewed hope in the future.

Will no-one stay awake

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Mark 14:32-42