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

A shaft of sunlight

Today we see a glimpse of the light that is to come and then …

Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.

This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

The LORD is God, and he has given us light.

Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;

you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 118:19, 23, 26-28

Looking forward together in Christ

On 11th March it was the 10th anniversary of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami which caused much devastation in small fishing communities up and down Japan’s Pacific coast. By the time I visited some of these communities in November 2011, quite a bit of progress had been made in rebuilding facilities and infrastructure, though there was still much to do in restoring people’s homes and livelihoods.

Given the scale of the damage and disruption to people’s lives, I wondered how hope had emerged from all the chaos and despair. In discussion with several Japanese people, what emerged was that a crucial factor was the timing. The Tsunami hit just before the arrival of the ‘sakura-zensen” the ‘cherry blossom front’.

In Japan the arrival of the cherry blossom (sakura) is greeted with great reverence, with people camping out for several days so as to be in the best place when it happens. There are parties (hanami parties) with groups of family or friends picnicking under trees laden with blossom. There’s a virtual wave as the sakura-zensen which sweeps north from the southern island of Kyushu in early March up through the main archipelago to Hokkaido in the north by some time in May. Daily reports of the location of the sakura-zensen are broadcast on the news, so that people can track it’s progress and be ready for it when it arrives.

The meaning and significance of cherry blossom in Japan runs deep, making the country’s national flower a cultural icon revered not just for its beauty, but for its enduring symbolism. Cherry blossom symbolises for them, life, death and renewal, and the delicate balance between the fragility and impermanence of our existence and new life and hope. Sakura are have been revered for many centuries in Japanese folk religions, as a symbol of rebirth, believed to represent the mountain deities that transformed into the gods of rice paddies and guaranteed the year’s harvest.

Sakura have therefore always signalled the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism. So with the blooming in 2011 coming shortly after the tsunami, it engendered this spirit of optimism and renewal bringing with it new hope and new dreams. When cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the future is bursting with possibilities. When the Japanese gather under the cherry blossom trees each year, they’re also commemorating the loss of loved ones and reflecting on their own lives with a sense of wonder whilst also laying aside the disappointments of the past to focus on a promising new start.

Given all that has happened over the last year, as we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, let us likewise look forward with hope and optimism, laying aside our own disappointments and looking forward to all the new possibilities together in Christ.

Blessings
James

Women and Mothers

In the NIV translation of the Bible, Psalm 68:5 is rendered

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

Psalm 68:5

And it is these words that inspired Graham Kendrick to write his worship song “Father Me (O father of the fatherless)”.

Well if God may be described as “Father to the Fatherless”, then why not also “Mother to the Motherless”?

In this time when women are very much in our minds: International Women’s Day last week, the murder of Sarah Everard and the vigils and calls for action that have followed, a study of Scripture reveals the many ways in which God is described as like a Woman or a Mother.

Here are a selection of examples to reflect on as we all consider the implications of the events of the last week or two:

Women and men are both created in the image of God

Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.

Genesis 1:27

God is described as a Mother eagle

Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.

Deuteronomy 32:11-12

It’s God who gives birth

You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.

Deuteronomy 32:18

God is described as a Mother

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

Hosea 11:3-4

God is described as a Mother bear

Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…

Hosea 13:8

God is as a Woman in labour

For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labour, I will gasp and pant.

Isaiah 42:14

God is compared to a nursing Mother

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Isaiah 49:15

God’s described as a comforting Mother

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 66:13

God likened to a Woman

As the eyes of a servant looks to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to you, YHWH, until you show us your mercy!

Psalm 123:2-3

God is described as a Mother

But I’ve calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

Psalm 131:2

Jesus likens God to a Mother hen

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Matthew 23:37 & Luke 13:34

Jesus likens God to a Woman who’s lost a coin

Or what woman having ten silver coins, is she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

Luke 15:8-10

A huge thank you to all those who lovingly prepared the Mothering Sunday posies (pictured above), those who kindly supplied the flowers and greenery and those who have given their time to distribute and are continuing to distribute them far and wide – it is much appreciated by everyone.

On the Loss of Lament

What happens when appreciation of the lament as a form of speech and faith is lost, as I think it is largely lost in contemporary usage? What happens when the speech forms that redress power distribution have been silenced and eliminated?

One loss that results from the absence of lament is the loss of genuine covenant interaction, since the second party to the covenant (the petitioner) has become voiceless or has a voice that is permitted to speak only praise and doxology.

Where lament is absent, covenant comes into being only as a celebration of joy and well-being. Or in political categories, the greater party is surrounded by subjects who are always “yes-men and women” from whom “never is heard a discouraging word.

Since such a celebrative, consenting silence does not square with reality, covenant minus lament is finally a practice of denial, cover-up, and pretense, which sanctions social control.

Where the cry is not voiced, heaven is not moved and history is not initiated. The end is hopelessness.

Where the cry is seriously voiced, heaven may answer and earth may have a new chance. The new resolve in heaven and the new possibility on earth depend on the initiation of protest.

The Costly Loss of Lament” Walter Brueggemann

… But joy comes with the morning

I expect that many of you, like me, have been feeling a profound sense of loss in relation to the many people, activities and freedoms that you have lost over the past year.

One day, when I was working at the University of Glasgow, I emerged from the building where I worked into the sunshine and encountered a colleague taking a break. As I greeted him there was something in the way he responded that indicated that a simple exchange of ‘good morning’ wasn’t enough. He then poured out a list of dreadful things that had happened in his family, ending by saying “I just want to yell at God”. “Well why don’t you?” I replied, to which he said “Is that allowed?”.

The answer is: “Of course its allowed, the people of the Hebrew Bible were doing it all the time”. You should have seen the look of relief on his face.

It’s now Lent and our Lent Study this year is ‘Lament and the Psalms’. Lament is a process for addressing what my colleague was feeling and also how I’ve been feeling, however it’s not just another way of being miserable. Lament has a discernable form and purpose, seen very clearly in the 40 or so Psalms of lament.

Firstly, the psalmist cries out to God in anguish, pain or despair, often unable to articulate exactly what’s wrong. A good example is verse 1 of Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the Cross – “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”. The psalmist just wants to be heard and helped.

Secondly, he lists one or more complaints, often pulling no punches and accompanied by a list of reasons why the complaints should be heard and responded to.

There follows a recollection of past times when God has come to the rescue and perhaps the realisation and trust that He might again this time. Finally the psalmist remembers the good times when they felt better about the world and this usually blossoms into thanksgiving and praise.

So lament is a process, which may take place over a period of hours, days, weeks or months, by which overwhelming sadness, grief and pain gradually transform into memory of and thanksgiving for the many good things experienced and received. Lament in the lands of the Bible isn’t primarily an individual process and is often communal. Some people may be sharing in the loss or anguish or grief directly, but there will be others lamenting with them to support them in the process. Of course we see this at work in many communities in the mourning that takes place when one of our own has been taken from us.

Lament can be a powerful process to help with any sense of loss, so give it a go, you’ll probably feel better for it. As Psalm 30 says: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Whilst I’ve been writing this, the sun has come out, it’s started to feel quite warm and I’m beginning to remember the good times and trust God that they’ll return in some form.

Blessings
James

Grief and Courage

I have been reading an important and fascinating book about the effects of human activity on the planet that we share. This book isn’t a long list of statistics and dire warnings; it contains no graphs or tables or maps. This is a book of stories, from individuals across the word; thirty-five stories in fact. They are stories told by Christians who have experienced some of the direct and indirect effects of man’s activities on their neighbourhoods, their environment and their way of life.

Words for a Dying World” is, as it’s byline says, a collection of “Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church”. You can probably see why I find this book fascinating, but why do I think it’s important? The reason is, because these stories are told not as complaint, not to attribute blame and not as answers to specific problems, but as lament. In his story about his Grandma’s oil well, Kyle Lambelet writes:

Lament is one of Scripture’s primary modes of prayer. The psalms are full of them. God laments over creation before the flood; Rachel weeps over her children; Jeremiah cries out in exile; Job denounces God’s abusive sovereignty. Laments are prayers at the end of human agency. They confront the reality of our situation in recognition that things are not as they should be.

My Grandma’s Oil WellKyle Lambelet (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

Lament is an important part of grieving and something which our current Western culture struggles with. Lament is a way of dealing with grief and, as Kyle says, was an important part of the culture of the peoples of the Old Testament. Lament names the grief, shares the grief in community, talks about that which is lost and acknowledges the loss. But as Hannah Malcolm the editor of this book says:

We grieve the death of particular things, whether creatures or places, and, until we understand this, our relationship between others and ourselves, we will continue to flounder in slogans and simplifications. If grief is an expression of love, our grief takes on the shape of the places and creatures to whom we intimately belong.

Introduction: The End of the World?” (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

In the last year we have all experienced the loss of people, things, activities and important aspects of our lives, as a result of the global pandemic that is Covid-19. It is important for all of us to find the time and the place to name those losses in the company of others, and since each of us experiences an individual set of losses, and the same loss affects each of us in different ways, it’s important that we have the opportunity to share our stories and our sadness. But lament isn’t simply a maudlin introspection on what is no more, but it also allows us to work through our grief at the loss and see hope beyond it.

Our new Eucharistic Prayer for Lament affirms this in the following petition:

Glory and thanksgiving be to you,
most loving Father,
for you have redeemed us through your Son.

By his life and sacrificial death,
he conquered the powers of darkness,
transforming our lament
and freeing us to praise you.

SEC Eucharistic Prayer for Lament

We learn from the psalms, that biblical lament comes in many forms. Some is directed toward an enemy; some toward God; some is individual and isolated; some is communal and comprehensive. Lament is a response to the full range of problems in the human condition. The psalms specifically name: isolation, shame, despair, danger, physical impairment, and death as cause for lament.

Lament may be a helpful way to reflected on any loss, and there are both personal and community aspects to that. With this in mind, our Lent Study this year will explore Lament, both in general and in particular and use the Psalms as an import source of helpful material.

I leave the final word to Hannah, as she writes in the conclusion:

If we cannot bring ourselves to be truthful about our broken histories, or the current trauma we face and perpetuate, we cannot begin to heal. Survival, compassion, honesty. These are all good reasons to grieve. But the conviction that Christ’s resurrection marked the death of death also contains the hope that our works of love in the present are not consigned to destruction. They participate in a transformed future.”

Conclusion: World without End?” (in “Words for a Dying World ed Hannah Malcolm)

Blessings
James