This morning yet again we don’t gather in worship. We sit in isolation from each other and pray, or do daily readings, maybe we just listen… the birds are so loud! We do not gather and it will be some considerable time before we do. Some of you have been told that you must not venture out for twelve weeks and there are eight weeks to go and we have all been told that for the next three weeks we must continue to stay in. When we do reemerge, if it is this summer, there will be no ‘herd immunity’ and no vaccine so gatherings are likely to still be restricted and the demographic of the rural churches means that they will be diminished in size should they reopen. Because of this there is a huge emphasis on technology as a way of keeping in touch and of ‘doing church’ but I wonder if the texture and the tone of these meetings allows for the nuances of human interaction that we are really longing for.
I am reminded as I write this of our church services and how we enjoyed them. It is never about content, at least not from a single person or even a group who lead the worship. It was about all of us IN worship, in voice, in silence, in motion, at the communion, over coffee and in prayer. Sometimes this lead to times of worship that truly put a smile on our faces, filled us with an assurance of Gods presence and inspired us.
So I suppose that this short comment, this Sunday morning, is really and apology for not producing on-line worship for you all to watch. I just don’t feel that anything I do alone will replicate the ‘gathering’, the place, the ‘communion’ that we have experienced and loved. I would rather look to how we can live our faith in new ways than seek to replicate, in a very limited way, the ‘performances’ that happen in our worship on a Sunday.
As I sit here this morning I lovingly picture you all, the odd collection that we are. So different in so many ways. across all the social strata of our society, holding very different views, living diverse lives. I thank God for you all. I thank God that we are different and that our Gathering is a witness to diversity and tolerance, that is is a clear sign to a divided world that a common vision of humanity loving God and neighbour is possible. I love that we disagree, that we grumble and get bored, I love that we go round in circles in our decision-making and take ages to get things done. I love that people matter more than progress and as a family we have to learn to live together.
So lets gather on a Sunday in solidarity… over a cup of tea and remember each other and be in communion with one another.
On Good Friday I had a discussion with my 5 yr old grandchild Tessa. She has long known about 'Jesus crosses' and this year we talked about death. Earlier last month I had spoken to the children at Nettlestone nursery about how Easter was about death and life. For Tessa and for a little girl in the nursery death was a recent and real event, both had recently lost animals. Tessa had watched an orphan lamb die and the little girl had lost a pet cat. At the nursery she cried as she told us and was comforted and cared for by the staff and other children as we encouraged and reassured her, for Tessa there had been the ritual of burial and flowers that she described for me.
This year our whole society is obsessed by death... by the fear of death, of contagion from each other as we are reminded day on day of the death toll from the virus. Each week in the UK approximately 10,500 people die in total and in March this year this figure was lower than last year but as the Covid 19 virus continues to have an impact so the figures will rise. I remember standing in the Imperial War museum years ago and seeing the clock that ticks with the number of deaths world wide through war and I am reminded that if we had daily updates showing death from poverty, exploitation, war and obesity then our perception of the safe and cosy world we live in may be different.
At the moment it feels like our whole lives are controlled by computer models and statistics as deaths are logged and plotted; but not all deaths are the same and not all deaths are a tragedy.
As I talked to Tessa I told her about visit that I had at a death bed, an elderly lady who was leaving her frail body. I am not one for creating images of the unknowable as even from Jesus we get very little to go on when it comes to an afterlife but I told Tessa about this ladies smile as she listened to the story of Mary and Jesus, as Jesus meets her after his death (as told by John) and I told her that we need not be afraid to let go. Death is terrible, awesome and incredibly sad but it is absolutely the one true reality of our lives.... we and those that we love will die.
Easter is about DEATH... about death and Resurrection. Easter is about premature, brutal, unjust death, the worst death of all; a young person mourned by his family and dearest friends, killed by torture for a crime he did not commit, taken at the prime of his life in the fullness of his strength. In this image all death, the peaceful passing of the elderly to the still born baby are held before us and we are terrified by it. Our fear is justified, we wonder how the pain will ever heal and it may stay with us forever because death scars us and may break us. All our deaths, the death of relationships, the death of dreams. the loss of health, the futures denied us are here in this image. This present crisis has killed so many more things than people. It has killed livelihoods, shattered hope, broken relationships and filled us with fear.... and after grief and fear comes anger and we are seeing that start to build.
I have always said that the greatest gift of our faith is the way that we can't avoid the Cross. The centrality of our faith all year is Death and Ressurection; not immortality, not blessing without cost or a fairy tale of miraculous wonders. Jesus spoke about this again and again and all year we hear His words and turn to face our fear of lifes' deaths.
Into this reality of death and the fear that is all around us comes the something that many of us have already recognized.... LIFE..... Life bursts forth. I have spoken about the Good in life about true life of relationships, of appreciation of nature and of the acts of service, the love of neighbour that we are created for. In this time of death and fear there has been a revolution in our society, we have noticed the spring and are walking in natural environments and we are desperate to do so. We have cherished our families and friends making contact any way that we can and committing to moving in together 'for the duration'. We have learnt that we can't live by bread alone, that we need each other. We are educating the children that we have brought into being, spending more time with them that we ever have, finding out who they are and learning how to live together.
We are experiencing RESURRECTION. It is not an abstract concept wrapped up in religious language. It is not a joyful frivolity that is an addition to our already blessed lives. Through death and loss we are coming to NEW LIFE.
This year what will your New Life look like? What has died? What has been born again?
In front of us all is the possibility of a completely new future, don't cling to the old, I finish with this beautiful story from John's Gospel.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Prayers for you to use at 10 a.m. on Easter Day when our Church Bells ring
There ore two alternative sets: you might like to use both, or if you don't have much time, choose one or two bits you like.
I. Recollection on Easter morning
Yesterday I was crucified with Christ;
today I am glorified with him.
Yesterday I was dead with Christ;
today I am sharing in his resurrection.
Yesterday I was buried with him;
today I am waking with him from the sleep of death. Gregory of Nazionzus (A.D. 389)
If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. St Paul, writing to First Century Christians - Colossions 3.1-4
Christ yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega,
all time belongs to you,
and all ages;
to you be glory and power
through every age and for ever.
May the risen Christ give us his peace.
All: Alleluia. Amen.
II. Praise God
Blessed are you, Sovereign Lord,
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to you be glory and praise for ever.
From the deep waters of death
you brought your people to new birth
by raising your Son to life in triumph.
Through him dark death has been destroyed
and radiant life is everywhere restored.
As you call us out of darkness into his marvellous light
may our lives reflect his glory
and our lips repeat the endless song.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
All: Blessed be God for ever.
The Lord's Prayer - for ourselves, and for all whom we love
Rejoicing in God's new creation,
let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
All: Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory
for ever and ever.
May the risen Christ grant us the joys of eternal life.
Let us bless the Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia!
All: Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!
I hope that you are all bearing up and finding the riches possible in this exceptional time. I know that some of you are isolated while some are very busy as front line and essential workers and some of you like me will be finding that life has slowed down to a strange new rhythm.
I am sending this out to remind you that on line through subscribing to The Haven Eco-Church Blog (which is free and secure and means that you will get the emails I send out) you can stay connected to some of the things that help us to recognize the depth of our human condition, our worth beyond the labels of the world and our true meaning below our fanatic activity.
I have recently added a lovely booklet for praying outdoors, a Passover meal order of service and a beautiful Tenebrae reflection created by the team in Ventnor.
On Good Friday you will see crosses in St Mary's Community Garden and outside the community center in St Helens and there will be baskets of palm crosses there for you to take one if you wish. On Easter Sunday the crosses can be covered in flowers if you are passing and wish to add a contribution from your garden. You will also see in St Peter's Garden on Sunday morning beautiful pots of Flowers that were grown for us by Nettlestone school nursery children whom I had the pleasure of sharing the Easter story with...... And remember that the Labyrinth in St Helen's Graveyard is always there for you should you need time to reflect on how this pandemic has created new pathways in your life (I will put up the leaflet for walking this on the Eco-Church Blog on Saturday. The information conatined within this leaflet can also be accessed here on this website. On Sunday morning your ministers will ring the bells in the churches for 10 minutes at 10am... this is not a call to worship but a call of rejoicing.
You are all now well used to the rules on Social distancing and staying at home and walking in your local environment.... Please respect those at all times. Also along side this know that you have Spiritual needs and longings and in this time of huge transition recognize that ritual is important for calming the mind. Take time, enjoy our churches' outside spaces and stay well mentally and physically.
“Life is full of ups and downs, sometimes we smile, sometimes we frown….” Lines from a song I sang in my youth dressed up as a frog !!!! But oh so true. At the beginning of Lent when I told Astrid I would be giving up chocolate he responded … “ I am going to give up two things this year..”
“Oh yes ?” I asked, to be told “school and church!” But, as Oscar Wilde said “Be careful what you wish” It was initially good news when both were closed but two weeks in I suspect the novelty is beginning to wear off … !
Those early disciples who had spent three years with Jesus through all the ups and downs of his earthly ministry certainly knew this to be true – the baptism of Jesus, the feeding of the 5,000, the people he healed or even raised from the dead….there were plenty of highs. But, let’s not forget the lows …. the constant fault finding of the religious authorities, the disciples’ failure to understand so much of his teaching, the failure of the disciples to really trust him …. And that is before we begin Holy Week when his closest disciples fell asleep when he needed them most, denied they ever knew him, ran away and betrayed him. And even Palm Sunday itself follows this same pattern. We have the exciting story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds, hailed as a king and Messiah; branches and cloaks strewn on the road and a real sense of excitement and joy in His wake. Every year as I worship on Palm Sunday I just get into the thrill and excitement of worship with the words Hosanna, hosanna……when I am plunged into the depths of misery in the reading of the Passion story and those dreadful events of Holy week. The ups and downs of just one day become so real. Yes the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem was to end just 5 days later with his leaving under the weight of that brutal and cruel cross, and for those first disciples the end of their Lord and Master. Can we begin to imagine what it must have been like for them?
They must have been in something of the confusion, turmoil and anxiety that we are feeling in these strange times of Spring 2020. Easter day will be very different for us this year and Alleluias may be in short supply but we KNOW the end of the story, which gives us hope for the future. And the biggest up of all in our Christian Faith – I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES
Prayer for Palm Sunday 2020.
Jesus said “ in as much as you do it for one of these the least of my brothers, you do it for me……”
And so in these troubled and confused days we remember all those who are working to keep things going:
Those working in the NHS and those around it helping to keep things working,
those keeping our streets clean and collecting our rubbish,
those harvesting, delivering and seling the food in our shops,
those keeping us secure and our utilities functioning,
those looking after the children of key workers,
those helping to care for the elderly and vulnerable,
clergy of all faiths and religions seeking to minister in difficult times….