Reconciliation - or the bringing back into harmonious and peaceful relationship, those who have been at-odds, estranged or opposed to one another - is one of the gifts given to humanity through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a tragedy of the Christian Church that in its chequered history it has not always modelled reconciliation and peace, and all too often it's institutions and leaders have abused power and status and oppressed those who should have been treated with gentleness and love.
The transformation of our church and our world into a place where difference is celebrated, and where people with differing backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, opinions, lifestyles and social or economic power, can join together joyfully to share in God's love for every uniquely created human being, is perhaps, still a long way away. Yet a celebration of the wonderful diversity of human life is something that every parish church should be modelling in the 21st Century.
Jesus prayed to God for his followers that; '...so that they may be one, just as you and I are one' and again, '...in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me' ( John 17. 22-23 Good News Bible)
So if we find ourselves on a bus, in a pub, in a church, at school, at home, ...or at any other gathering where there is someone to whom we need to be reconciled, let us hope and pray to have the courage to rejoice that we are each different, yet equally loved by God.
The Easter Cards from our church family of St Peter (Seaview), and St Helena (St Helens), are being distributed as I write. The cards have been wonderfully Illustrated with a triptych painted by Lynn New. The left panel, filled with ominous dark clouds and the purple hues of penitence depicts the desolation of Good Friday and reminds us of Christ's suffering on the cross - when he, fully human yet fully divine, dies at human hands upon the cross. Amidst the horror and pain of his final hours, Jesus last words show us the depth of God's love even for the authors of such pain and suffering. 'Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing'
From the cross, Jesus restores and creates new relationships and brings healing to human lives: 'Here is your Mother', 'Woman, behold your son' Jesus brings new relationship to his friend John and his own grieving mother. On the cross also, Jesus declares that God's work to rescue humanity from itself is completed, 'It is finished'.
The story continues in the far-right panel. Here we see the brightness of the first Easter dawn, bursting from the empty tomb in the radiant light of Christ's resurrection. Golden light shines from within the tomb, and in contrast to the stark wood of the crosses in the first panel, this one displays a tree newly-leaved in green, whilst the impact of what has happened on earth sends shards of Gold healing light into the sky above the tomb.
Both these panels show the cosmological impact of the cross and resurrection - the entire created world is changed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Central Panel shows Mary Magdalene who has come to anoint Jesus' body, - she is distraught at finding the tomb empty, his body gone. She is shown, kneeling - collapsed under the weight of her grief, in front of her the jars of precious oils and ointments she had brought with her to prepare Jesus body for burial. Then; there is Jesus beside her, quietly, gently asking her why she weeps. She does not at first recognise Jesus, but it is when he calls her by name, 'Mary' that she suddenly knows who he is and that He is alive. He is alive for evermore, and evermore a loving presence with her.
As Lynn's painting shows, what Jesus has done for us through his death and resurrection affects creation on both a grand, 'cosmological' scale, and at an intimate personal level.
Whatever you personally are experiencing in your life as you read this, your life is bound-up in the Easter story. Whether you are more able to relate at the moment to the Joy of Easter morning, or the desolation of Good Friday, Jesus came for you, died for you, and rose again for YOU. He is alive for evermore, and evermore a loving presence with YOU.
Jesus, risen to eternal life, enables us through his Holy Spirit, to meet with him through prayer; through art, through music, through friend and stranger, through those we love and through everything which is loving and life-giving. Coming together in worship as a community is an important part of sharing as the body of Christ, and sharing in His story and our stories, our colours blending and enhancing one another like a marvellous painting or tapestry. And even those who are unable or do not wish to get to a church service are woven together in the tapestry of God's love. It is when our individual personal lives meet with the risen Lord Jesus, that not only are we healed and changed, but we are enabled and empowered to help bring healing and change to others.
Anthea, Luke and I wish you all, and those you love a very HAPPY EASTER!
God loves us. God's love for each one of us is infinitely greater than our capacity to love ourselves, one another, or God.
Like a loving parent, God still loves us even when we have done or said things that are wrong and unloving, (towards others, ourselves, or God).
God wants to shower us with God's love and forgiveness. In order for us to receive that cleansing and healing 'shower' of love and forgiveness, we need to cast off the mantle or burden of guilt which so often acts as a barrier between us and God.
It is not that God needs us to repent (or say 'Sorry'), but rather that unless we say sorry, we are still clinging to our clothing of guilt.
To repent, sincerely and honestly is not a mournful thing, or a 'putting-down' of oneself, (though we do so in humility). Repentance is an affirmation of self-worth, because we lay down our guilt in the knowledge of God's love for us, and that through Jesus we are forgiven, healed and restored.
In this 'Penitential Season of Lent' let us joyfully say sorry to God and one-another, and joyfully forgive and be forgiven.
Time to close church buildings, or time to cherish them?
It was Saint Valentine's day (almost a year ago as I write), that I came to visit the parishes of St Helens and Seaview and as part of a mutual process, to meet with and get to know the people and the buildings of each parish church.
St Valentine's day is often associated with the idea of 'falling-in-love' and on Valentine's day last year, I rounded a corner of a path and got my first proper sight of St Helen's Church. I gasped and got a deep sense of being called to this place and a sense of belonging. It was, if you like, a case of 'love at first-sight' and the feeling deepened when I stepped into the church, and it continues to deepen. Later that day I was at St Peter's, and similar feelings came to me as I participated in Evening Prayer in the Lady Chapel, and spoke with people from the community in St Peter's Hall. I know too, from my conversations over the past year, how widely St Helen's and St Peter's Churches are loved. Many people with family links in the parishes choose to marry at St Peter's or St Helen's, or have children baptised there, even though they themselves live elsewhere. Many returning visitors and second-home owners value St Peter's and St Helen's as their 'home-church'.
These buildings hold and trigger people's memories of life's 'big occasions' and along with the Churchyard are places where people come to remember loved ones or to sit and think, or to pray quietly by themselves. We are fortunate to be able to keep the buildings open during daylight hours, for anyone to visit. The buildings themselves seem to enable a sense of peace and comfort. I'd love to learn from more people, what St Helen's or St Peter's Churches or what St Catherine's Chapel mean for them.
Yet 'The Church' is a body of people not a building. The church is made up of people learning about God's love for them, and learning to share that love with others. It is the people God loves. The buildings are part of God's provision for us but the people who go in and out of the doors matter most.
All over Britain, Anglican Dioceses and individual parishes are asking whether their Church buildings can best serve the Gospel and Community by remaining open, or whether their demands upon human and financial sources are just too-great and the Church Commissioners would do better to 'sell-off' expensive-to-maintain buildings and use the money for other forms of mission.
We're not yet at that point in Saint Helen's or Seaview and my vision for the future sees both churches being increasingly used by individuals and groups from our community not just for weddings, funerals, Baptisms and Sunday/Weekday Worship. Yet if that vision is to become a reality we need the help of everyone who wishes the buildings to remain as places which serve the local Community - Christians and those of other faiths or no-faith, alike. The Church buildings, as Parish Churches are for everyone.
This year will see the start of major capital campaigns at both churches. St Peter's Seaview needs to raise something in the order of £100,000 for repairs to walls, the undercroft, and for windows, and St Helen's church is looking for something in the region of £280,000 for repairs, and for the addition of toilet facilities and space for children and other groups.
Alongside this we need to find more people who want to help us meet the needs of our communities by being part of our Parochial Church Council at each church. I'd also really value hearing the thoughts and feelings of people from Nettlestone, Seaview, and St Helens about how the churches (Buildings and People) can best serve both present and future communities in our villages.
Jesus, of course spent at least as much of his time preaching and teaching and healing outside the religious buildings of his community (Synagogue and Temple) as he did inside them, and the future for our parish churches must include what we do outside them.
I shall be spending a lot of time in thought, prayer and discussion on these matters over the coming weeks, and months. I welcome anyone, residents or visitors, young or old joining me in this process. I wish you and those you love every blessing and God's strength for the challenges you also may be facing this year.