Gather up the fragments that nothing remains

Whilst we were away down south, I took a very full car load of ‘stuff’ to the local ‘recycling centre’. It was very busy and there were categories for every manner of thing and no-one was allowed anywhere near the ‘general waste’ skip until all other options were exhausted.

Whilst we were away I was also reflecting on the Eucharist and what it means in a broader sense than just what happens at the altar whenever we celebrate as Jesus commanded.

“Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”

1 Corinthians 11:23-25

I was thinking about the way that we handle the communion elements and in particular what we do with the remaining elements if they are not to be reserved for those who aresick or otherwise unable to be in church. In the Communion service of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the minister is directed to “reverently eat and drink” what remains of the consecrated elements after the distribution of Communion.

This direction resonates with the passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus gave direction to the Disciples as to what to do with what remained after the Feeding of the Five Thousand: “Gather up the fragments that nothing remains” (John 6:12). 

You know, I think that this has more than a tangential bearing on the meaning of the Eucharist, and one that’s important in relation to how we ought to respond to one of the biggest environmental issues in the affluent West today – waste.  For instance it’s a singular abuse of stewardship to throw away nearly a third of all the food that’s produced.  This is often by the relatively affluent West and is at the expense of the global poor, and producing and distributing more than is required can only lead to depletion of resources and needlessdegradation of soils.

The war in Ukraine is having a huge impact on global food supply as Ukraine produces a significant amount of the wheat and sunflower seed (from which sunflower oil is extracted) that act as components of the staple diet of many around the world. For us in the West that means increased prices, but for many in poorer countries in for example Africa, it means starvation. Even in the West it is showing up the huge gap between rich and poor, with many in our country now struggling to put food on the table.

And so, it is in the light of these considerations that we should be able to see that how we, the worshipping community, handle and care for our spiritual food and drink, particularly in what remains and is left over from the Eucharistic Feast, is indicative of our attitude to the wider social and natural environment and supporting those in need both at home and abroad.

Blessings
James

Walking alongside each other

I was comparing some of the hymn books used in our churches and I started to notice a pattern. The later books no longer had as many of the hymns that contain war, battle, fight or armour imagery. So no “When a knight won his spurs” or “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” and you should see what liberties have been taken changing “Onward Christian soldiers” into “Onward Christian pilgrims”.

Well that all started me thinking about the wars in various parts of the world: Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan, to name but a few.

When he was Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said that the whole weight human failure couldn’t extinguish the creative love of God. In an Easter sermon he said that conflict and failure are part of the human condition, but that Jesus’ death and Resurrection turns that on its head: 

We share one human story in which we are all caught up in one sad tangle of selfishness and fear and so on. But God has entered that human story; he has lived a life of divine and unconditional life in a human life of flesh and blood.”

Rowan Williams

The lesson to be learnt from pain and conflict is that when people walk alongside each other and learn to really listen to other people’s stories and what drives them:

to learn an openness to discovering things about themselves they didn’t know, seeing themselves through the eyes of someone else. What they see may be fair or unfair, but it’s a reality that has been driving someone’s reactions and decisions. It may well be based on misconceptions, on prejudice on ignorance of the situation that someone, or perhaps a whole community is facing. We all need to listen better to each other’s stories, however painful or humiliating that experience may be”

Rowan Williams

The Resurrection doesn’t take away the reality of threat or risk or suffering; it’s just there and that’s one of the hardest things to accept. How can you or I feel ‘happy’ in a world so full of atrocity, aggression and injustice? How can you or I know ‘joy’ when we’re aware of our own failings, our own shabbiness, our own depression, in short the whole mess that our lives can sometimes seem to be?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but in reflecting on war and conflict I quickly came to the realisation that the conflict in places like Ukraine aren’t something entirely detached from what you and I do and feel in our own lives. It’s not just about a few places where bad people do terrible things to other (good) people.

I suspect that few of us aren’t involved, to some extent, in conflict in our homes and families, our work places, our neighbourhoods and communities and dare I say it, our churches. Yes churches are very good at conflict and schism.

So perhaps this Easter season as we pray for the people of Ukraine and other war-torn places, we might also do well to reflect on where we’re complicit in conflict in our lives and the lives of those around us. We might all be the better for it and our world can’t help but be a better place as a result.

Blessings
James

Ride on Ride on

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had occasion to travel down to Inverness a number of times and it brought a smile to my face when I saw that the donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary were out in the fields enjoying the warmer weather. Seeing donkeys always makes me think of the significant roles that these beautiful animals play in various stories in the bible. There’s the donkey that carried the heavily pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem for example. But did you know about the donkey who spoke? Balaam’s ass. You can read all about her in Numbers 22 – 24. She saw exactly what was going on – more than her boss did, in fact, and eventually spoke to draw his attention to the presence of an angel. 

Another donkey, one which we hear about as we step into Holy Week carried Jesus publicly into Jerusalem. It is well known that nearly all donkeys bear the mark of a cross on their backs and like them we carry the mark of the cross too, given to us at our baptism. Donkeys teach us a lot about discipleship. They remind us that we always carry Jesus invisibly, like Mary’s donkey, wherever we go. Every day Christ is carried into our world by us. As St Theresa said,

Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the feet on which he is to go about doing good, ours the eyes through which he is to look with compassion on the world, ours the hands with which he is to bless us now’.

St Theresa

So, on the days when we feel we’re carrying the world on our shoulders, we need to remember that we are also bearing Christ to meet the world’s pain and give people life.

There are times when, like Balaam’s ass, we shall see things that others can’t or won’t see. Then we have to do something about it. Balaam’s ass tried first of all to draw the boss’ attention to the demands of God, the angel standing in the way, and she got pretty rough treatment for her trouble. But then God gave her words to say, and Balaam began to take God seriously.

Being a Christian, being outspoken for God, isn’t always going to be easy or pleasant. Balaam was trying to maintain his reputation and wasn’t keen on anything standing in his way. We shall find ourselves challenging important people and vested interests – that can be very hard, like crucifixion.

The Palm Sunday donkey reminds us that when we go with Christ, there are no promises about easy rides. We know, however, that at the end of the suffering, after the death, there was resurrection. We know that Christ has promised to keep us company, but as we carry him with us in the world, he won’t avoid confrontation, or allow us to. ‘In the world’, he said, ‘you will have tribulation’. We know that, from personal experience, and from sharing in the pain of the world as people starve, exploit and kill each other. We shall have to hang on with some of the donkey’s stubbornness to the belief that Christ really has overcome the evil in the world, and that we shall share that victory.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

Blessings
Simon

A short service for Ukraine

A short service consisting of a psalm, a reading and a prayer, which you might like to incorporate elements of into your daily prayer, perhaps also lighting a candle for the people of Ukraine.

From Psalm 83

O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
Even now your enemies are in tumult;
those who hate you have raised their heads.

O God, do not keep silence

They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against those you protect.
They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more.’

O God, do not keep silence

Fill their faces with shame,
so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
Let them know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

O God, do not keep silence

​A Reading from Romans 12:14-21

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, 
but associate with the lowly; 
do not claim to be wiser than you are. 
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, 
but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, 
live peaceably with all. 

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, 
but leave room for the wrath of God; 
for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 
No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; 
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; 
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

A Prayer for the People of Ukraine

God of endless love and unchanging truth,

Our hearts despair at the extent of human wickedness,
And break for those who are being so tragically
and unjustly hurt and killed by the attack on Ukraine.

Yet we give you thanks that even in the midst of the horror,
there are so many glimpses of hope, 
in the human kindness and generosity that is being shown,
amongst a shocked and fearful people.

Today and in the days that follow,
We pray for every life that has been turn upside down 
or changed by injury or displacement, 
or loss of friends and loved ones
or fear for the future;

For those whose who are fearful and despairing;
For those who are selflessly responding to the needs of others, 
And will continue to provide care, support and healing.

We pray for all political and community leaders
And those who face the difficult task of protecting and defending their communities,
And nurturing those values on which their well-being depends.

Help us all to build a better world;
A world where difference is seen as an opportunity to broaden our understanding;
Disagreement as the chance to learn and grow,
Where faith is reclaimed to bring out the best of human flourishing,
And turn hearts to all that is good and true,

That your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in Heaven.

Our Father …

AMEN

Prayers for our Friends in Kyiv

Our friends from the Ukraine, the Kyiv Classic Accordion Duo made twelve visits to St Finnbarr’s to enthral all who heard them with skill and virtuosity and raise money for the charity Hippokrat, which supports survivors of the Chenobyl Nuclear Disaster.

About the Kyiv Classical Accordion Duo:
In 2006 Igor and Oleksii finished studying in the National Music Academy of Ukraine in Kiev. However they had begun performing professionally in 2002. Oleksii plays in the Orchestra of the National Radio of Ukraine; Igor works in the National Philharmonic of Ukraine. They decided to give the name Kyiv Duo Classic to the duo, however this doesn’t mean that Igor and Oleksiy perform only classical music; programmes of their concerts include music of Bach, Grieg, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov as well as traditional Ukrainian and Russian music. Two contemporary button accordions make it possible to produce a sound like a small squeezebox and at the same time, like a big church organ, a string quartet and even an orchestra.

About their charity – HIPPOKRAT:
The main purpose of the Kyiv Classic Accordion Duo UK tours was to raise money for the HIPPOKRAT Society of Mothers of Disabled Children who suffered as a result of the explosion in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Energy Plant. The Chernigiv region suffered most from the radiation fall out and since 1986 a large number of children have been born with mental and physical problems. Many of these children are now young adults and in need of support that the state is unable to provide.

Prayer for all in Ukraine

We pray for Igor and Oleskiy, their families and friends, those supported by Hippokrat and all the people of Ukraine in this time of  danger, fear and conflict.

Lord of all the earth,
be present with the people of Ukraine
at this time of danger, fear, and conflict.
Grant that wise and peaceable counsels may yet prevail,
and give to all suffering nations
the freedom they desire and deserve.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Holy God,

We hold before you all who live close to war and conflict;
and all who live close to the threat of war and violence.

We remember especially at this time, people in Ukraine and Russia.
We pray for nonviolence and peaceful resolutions of conflict.

Give us hearts of hospitality and sanctuary,
forgive us all our hostility and hatred.

Bring all people to the humanity you give us,
and to the reconciliation and healing for which you gave your life.

Strengthen us all to work with you to build justice and peace,
reconciliation and healing,
in our hearts and homes, in our streets,
in all communities, neighbourhoods and nations.

Bless all who live lives for the peace and wellbeing of others,
and make their service fruitful.

In the name of Christ.
Amen.

We pray that they beat their swords into ploughshares

The threat and the reality of exile resurface time and again in the Hebrew Bible. Historically, Israel and Judah experienced a number of major exiles.  The northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians around 720 BCE. These exiled people were deported and scattered within the Assyrian Empire, although we know little of their fate. In 597 BCE, the elite of the southern kingdom of Judah, including the prophet Ezekiel and those who had been in power, were exiled by the Babylonians as they asserted power over their weaker neighbour.

Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, was besieged in 589 BCE by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. The city fell after an eighteen-month siege and Nebuchadnezzar pillaged and destroyed the city and burned the First Temple. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Judeans were exiled to Babylon. The fallen kingdom was then annexed as a Babylonian province.  Some Judeans fled to Egypt, although some also managed to remain behind in Judah their homeland.

Clearly, the ‘People of God’ were no strangers to foreign aggression, occupation and exile. Much of the Book of Isaiah, as well as those of other prophets, give us insight into how the people reacted to and subsequently coped with these things.

The most important lesson that people coming into ministry have to learn (often the hard way) is that they often can’t do anything about the pain, the grief and the sorrow of those committed to their charge. It’s a hard lesson. When people are suffering, you want nothing more than to take their pain away and not being able to do so makes you feel useless, inadequate and impotent. It takes time to learn that what you need to do is to walk alongside them, give them the time and space to talk, as they work through what’s happening to them and adjust to their changed circumstances. 

Prayer, lament and more prayer are the tools that the people of Judah and Israel used as they adjusted to their new situation. These are the tools that the clergy and others in ministry use as they walk alongside others and offer a listening ear.

It’s for this reason that the last two Lent Study Groups (2020 and 2021) have focussed on Prayer and Lament respectively. These are the tools that we all need as we struggle to make sense of what is happening in Ukraine, when we feel powerless and impotent in the face of the Russian invasion and other situations. 

For those who weren’t able to take part in these groups, and those who did, but would like a refresher, the resources are all still available on our web site (https://episcopaldornochtain.org/study-group-resources/). If you’re unable to access them from there, or would like help, please get in touch with a member of the clergy. Meantime, if we can all take time to pray for the Ukrainian people both at home and abroad, it might “by the power of the one at work within us, accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Eph 3:20).

ALMIGHTY God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech thee, from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices; that we, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore from all perils, kindle, we pray thee, in the hearts of all people the true love of peace, and guide with thy pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquillity thy kingdom may go forward till the earth be filled with the knowledge of thy love; through the merits of thy only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Blessings
James

We saw a star in the East and came to worship him.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has just ended with a flourish, as a large group of Christians worshipped together on Zoom, in a service inspired by the Feast of the Epiphany and prepared by the Churches of the Middle East. For me, there is an interesting symbolism in this celebration of unity being centred on the Magi from the East, in that some strangers from afar who weren’t connected with the Jewish Tradition undertook long journeys to honour an extraordinary happening, God had become incarnate as a tiny baby. This was God being revealed to the wider gentile world – to all.

In thinking about unity, we shouldn’t however confuse unity with uniformity. Uniformity is all thinking the same and agreeing with each other. Unity is accepting and respecting difference in the pursuit of shared values and goals. In many areas, there’s a tendency for church congregations to be rather homogenous, though certainly in the Episcopal Church in the Highlands because there’s less scope for choosing a church to suit your preferences. Whilst homogeneity isn’t all bad, there are dangers in it: that we come to see what we like, what we choose and the way that we do things as ‘normal’, universally applicable and unchangeable for all time – ‘the proper way of doing things’. Sadly that results in folk becoming defensive and upset by anything or anybody that rocks the boat, challenges the ‘proper way’ or pushes us out of our comfort zone.

Our celebration on Tuesday evening brought together many people of different traditions and practices, to honour an extraordinary happening – the coming of God into our world as one of us – and what that has meant for people all over the world in the 2000 years since. It was a service that brought some of the riches of the Coptic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the French Ecumenical Taizé community and invited us to celebrate using elements that were unfamiliar to most of those present – but you know what, we all enjoyed the experience.

We met as people from across the Churches and Denominations in Sutherland and Easter Ross and one or two from further afield. We met as Christians united in a common faith. We met as part of

a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”.

Revelation 7:9

We met “united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

We met because before Jesus died, he prayed to his Father:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John 17:20-23

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity may have ended on Tuesday, but we need to continue in our effort to work more closely together.  In every encounter that I have with Christians in another fellowship, denomination or congregation, I realise what riches each have to share with their fellow travellers in Christ. Now where did I put the link to that 2 hour and 47 minute video of a Greek Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany?

Blessings
James

Made for Goodness

The 14th Dalai Lama with Desmond Tutu in 2004 – photo by Carey Linde

The start of a New Year and whilst that’s often a time for celebration, there’s also a tinge of sadness as we say goodbye to 2021, with all its highs and lows and all the things that have happened in each of our lives, in the lives of those around us and in the life of our Church and our nation.

Today in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, the funeral is being held of Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, who died last Sunday. For those gathered and for all the people of South Africa, there’ll be sadness at the death of the man who for many years was a very passionate and effective leader in the peaceful struggle to end apartheid, but there’ll also be a joyful celebration of his life and what he did for his nation, his family and for the Anglican Church.

Desmond Tutu will always be remembered as the clergyman who won the Nobel Peace Prize, who helped bring down apartheid and who served as a beacon of light in a divided nation, when everything seemed rather bleak. Yet for some reason he always seemed to be joyful and his cackling laugh was infectious. He was also an insightful observer of the human condition and almost always started his sermons with an amusing story, of which he seemed to have an endless supply.

When speaking to audiences around the world, the man who they called ‘Tata’ (father) who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and spoke out against corruption in the post-apartheid government just as he had against the apartheid one, was frequently asked the same questions:

Why are you so joyful?” “How do you keep your faith in people when you see so much injustice, oppression and cruelty?” “What makes you so certain that the world is going to get better?”.

In the preface of his book “Made for Goodness”, he asks:

What these questioners want to know is, What do I see that they’re missing? How do I see the world and my role in it? How do I see God? What is the faith that drives me? What are the spiritual practices that uphold me?  What do I see in the heart of humanity and the sweep of history that confirms my conviction that goodness will triumph?

“Made for Goodness” Desmond and Mpho Tutu

Questions that might be useful for each one of us to reflect on as we start 2022. Desmond Tutu’s answer is to be found in the stories of the goodness of ordinary people that he and his daughter Mpho have encountered in their lives and ministries and which they share in the book.

In the last couple of years, most of us have faced dark days as the Covid pandemic has waxed and waned repeatedly. But what’s really struck me is the stories of the goodness of ordinary people that I’ve heard from friends, neighbours, relatives and in the news. People who’ve given their time as volunteers in food banks and vaccination centres; people who’ve made sure that their elderly or vulnerable neighbours are kept supplied with the essentials that they need; all those doctors, nurses, pharmacists, workers in care homes and those visiting people at home, who’ve gone much further than just an extra mile and also those who’ve given generously whenever there was need.

Along the way new friendships have been formed, for example between people who’ve lived near each other for years but never really done more than say good morning. Yes there’ve been acts of selfishness and some people who’ve sought to exploit others, but to derive our view of the human condition from these would be to miss what Desmond Tutu calls the inherent goodness of people. He writes:

As we allow ourselves to accept God’s acceptance, we begin to accept our own goodness and beauty as God does.  With each glimpse of our own beauty, we can begin to see the goodness and beauty in others

“Made for Goodness” Desmond and Mpho Tutu

A happy New Year and may you face 2022 with acceptance, joy and laughter and perhaps see more of the inherent goodness in everyone, as both Jesus who called His Father Abba and Archbishop Tutu who South Africans often called ‘Tata’ did.

Blessings
James

A Thought for Advent

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. There is little doubt what most of us will be doing in the next four weeks – the Christmas rush to get everything organised – cards written, gifts bought and sent, the preparation of food, plans about whose turn it is to go visiting and anxieties about who’ll be offended if we don’t pay them enough attention etc etc…. The rush is on and it’s not surprising that there’s often a hint of panic in people’s conversations – “I’ll never be ready!”

In four weeks, it will all be over, in five a new year will have brought us another set of resolutions, in six the decorations will have come down, the furniture of life will be back in place and we’ll be back to – well, back to what?

Will life be just the same, or will we be changed?

If we take Advent seriously, there is a chance we will be changed because we will have had an opportunity to reflect again on what it means to say that God came into the world in the humility of the birth at Bethlehem and that he still comes into the world in all its mess and pain and joy, longing for us to recognise Him.

Advent is a godsend, a gift which stops us in our tracks and makes us realise that we hold dual citizenship (of this world and His kingdom) in awkward tension. We are all part of the scene – Christians sometimes appear to be rather superior about what we call ‘commercialisation’ and say that the real Christmas isn’t about that. But actually, if you think about it, the real Christmas is about precisely that: it’s about God coming into the real world. Not to a sanitised stable as we portray it in carols and on Christmas cards, but to a world that needed, and still needs, mucking out! Advent reminds us that the kingdom has other themes to add to the celebration, themes that are there in our scripture readings for the season: Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!

Advent reminds us that not only do we live in two worlds – the one that appears to be going mad all around us and the one that lives by the kingdom of God’s values, but that we operate in two different timescales, in chronological time and beyond it. And the point of intersection – where these two worlds meet is now. Scripture readings and prayers which are often used during Advent, remind us that now is the time when we have to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Now is when we meet God, because we have no other time.

At whatever level we operate, it’s a time for preparation – a time to put things right – to repair broken relationships or reach out to those with whom you have grown distant – and that might include working on your relationship with God.

Whatever else we have to do, there are only so many praying days to Christmas. It is prayer that gives us the opportunity to focus our recognition of God in every part of our lives. Prayer is not just what we do in what we call our prayer time. Prayer is how we give our relationship with God a chance to grow and develop and, just like any other relationship, it needs time. We don’t stop being related when we are not with the person concerned. We don’t stop being a partner, a wife, husband, child, parent or friend when that person is out of sight or when we are concentrating on something else. But we do become less of a related person if we never give them time.

So, Advent says, make time, create space so that our understanding of God’s love for us (and our love for God in response) can grow. The world is saying “Get on with it – don’t wait for Christmas to hold the celebrations”. Advent says, “Wait, be still, alert and expectant.”

The shopping days will come to an end – there will come a moment when we really can’t do any more. The point of praying or making a space is that we get into the habit of remembering God who comes to us every day and longs for us to respond with our love and service. Why not re-start your relationship with God by joining us at Dornoch Cathedral on Advent Sunday (28th November) at 6pm for a special Advent Carol Service? – Repent, be ready, keep awake, He comes!

Fr Simon

We will remember them

May the memory of two World Wars
strengthen our efforts for peace,

May the memory of those who died
inspire our service to the living,

May the memory of a past destruction
move us to build for the future,

May the first two atomic bombs
be the last two also,

May the first two World Wars
be the last two world wars.

O God of peace,
O Father of souls,
O builder of the Kingdom of Love.
Amen.

George Appleton – 1902-1993