This April (of the year 2017), Easter Day falls almost exactly in the middle of the month. There are fifteen April days before Easter, and fourteen April days afterwards. Easter Day is, this year, the hinge or lynch-pin of the whole month of April. The 'before and after' effect of the Resurrection seem somehow brought into focus by this 'accident' of the calendar, and April this-year mirrors the distinction between pre-resurrection history and post-resurrection future.
For those of us who believe that God loves us so much that he became one of us, took into the heart of God the worst that human beings can inflict upon themselves or God, and in return showered love, mercy and forgiveness from the cross; then Easter Day is the vindication of that love and the flowering of that love.
Early on Easter morning, Mary carries despair and sorrow with her when she goes to the garden tomb to anoint the corpse of her saviour-friend. So great is her grief that it blinds her to a new-reality and she mistakes Jesus for a gardener. Her despair and sorrow is transformed when Jesus, risen from that tomb, calls her name and calls her to new-life.
Perhaps it is less puzzling that human beings should believe in God, than that God should believe in human beings! Yet there God is undaunted, risen, glorious and loving us just as much as ever despite the horror and cruelty of which we are capable.
Somehow, mysteriously, God has not given up on us - not even now, centuries later even in our mixed up, cynical and war-torn world, God still speaks to us, - gentle as a friend, as earthbound and creative as a gardener, and calls our name, and calls us to new life, and new hope.
Whatever the lead-up to Easter is like for you, whatever worries, burdens or delights come your way, my prayer is that you and those you love will hear the call of God's love to you, and that you will be filled with Easter joy and Easter hope.........Happy Easter!
'For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also'. Matthew 6.v21.
Jesus' advice to his followers clearly points to the value of non-material things - such as human relationships and the relationship between humanity and God. These two categories are designed to be rooted in God's love for all people, but too-often, worldly notions and values have pointed in an altogether different, destructive and unholy area.
It is not simply material goods and wealth which may (in some cases they might not), interfere with 'loving our neighbour as oneself'. Our opinions can do so also. We live in a world where political, religious and social views are ever more polarised and debate between those of difference is increasingly vitriolic and painful.
Yet this is not how Christ wants us to be, and perhaps when we grasp just how much each one of us is loved by God (despite our innate prejudices and opinions), then we will be better able to converse lovingly with those with whom we differ. How do we do this? Well, by locating ourselves not in the argument itself, or upon one side of it or another, but in God; in the source of love who relishes diversity and difference.
In March, we enter into Lent - a time of repenting for the sins we have committed personally and as corporate members of the global village. As part of our repentance can we try to move (counter-culturally) away from the triumphal declaration of personal life choice or political/ religious opinion? Can we try to move away from the 'Me-first' movement which equates nationhood with isolationism? And which turns 'belonging' into 'behating'?
Let our starting point for all debate and interaction be God's great love for all God's Children and let us locate ourselves in that place of love.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding be with you all, evermore.
Turning on my computer each day always brings something unexpected - either via email, or by news-feeds from media organisations. By these means I am provided with all sorts of information, most of which is of little use or interest, (it is entirely irrelevant to me, that one of the games likely to be released in February through PlayStation Plus will be called 'Salt and Sanctuary'!), and some by which I am disturbed.
We are now, (apparently), in a 'Post-Truth Era' or an age of 'False News' - so who do I turn to, to be informed and enlightened about the world, and equipped to live and love as well as I can in this onslaught of opinion and information?
Well, if I am at home or in the car at the right time, then I'll be listening to 'Woman's Hour' which has been like a third-parent to me since my childhood, and should probably be compulsory listening for every male as soon as they have learnt to speak! It is wonderful in its diversity, and Godly in its compassion for all people and creatures great and small.
I listen to those whom I can trust to be truthful; my wife, my son, colleagues and friends. Most importantly I try to listen to God; to hear God's voice through reading the scriptures and commentaries on them, and through prayer. In particular I hold before myself the life and words of Jesus, who declares the truth that God loves us all, right or wrong, good or bad.
Jesus words, spoken during his lifetime 2000, years ago still bring 'Salt' (value and wisdom), and 'Sanctuary' to us today. Try reading Matthew 5 1 -15 (in a contemporary translation such as the NRSV, rather than the King James version), and you will find reassurance and peace for these confusing times.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
Whatever news or information comes to you this February, I pray that God will grant you his peace and his Joy.
God, will of course be available anywhere and everywhere this Christmas. There is no need of a pre-Christmas rush to buy-in stockpiles of God before the stores and superstores either 'run-out' or experience a temporary seasonal closure, a kind of 'breath' taken between frantic acts of consumerism. God is an inexhaustible supply of all we ever truly need or could wish for - if only we would stop ignoring God's eternal and intimate presence. Yet where will that presence be most discerned and gratefully received by otherwise distracted humans?
Here are my predictions:
God will be felt near,
By the single-mother who in fear mixed with inexplicable joy (that pierces through her pain) as she gives birth to her child regardless of the poverty and disgrace which surrounds them.
God will be felt near,
By the hospital bed of the dying man surrounded by care and family, and in the solitary unaccompanied death on a dark and silent street.
God will be felt near,
By the huddled victims as bombs drop and bullets fly.
God will be felt near,
By the shivering homeless in the city's shadow, or village byway.
God will be felt near,
By the fearful and powerless, the poor and the oppressed, the lost and the lonely. Just as God, in Jesus Christ, infant and adult, has always drawn close to those in need.
It isn't (as is sometimes suggested), that God really loves the poor and suffering more than those who are rich, powerful and well, but rather that God is so often more clearly known and wanted by those in distress. We have to want God to be Immanuel for us - for Jesus to come to us, and we have to put aside all the impermanent glitter and shine which can blind our eyes to our own true need. Of course, one way to ensure that God is with us, is for us to be with God - as God goes out into the world to bring hope to the hopeless, food to the hungry, warmth to the lonely, and peace to the distressed.
Anthea, Luke and I, wish all of you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New-Year, and may God be with You always.
When the 'new' St Helen's church was dedicated in 1719, its location meant that it was at the heart of the parish which in those days included Seaview and parts of St John's Ryde. Present day footpaths and bridle ways attest to this central location in community geography.
Though St Peter's Seaview (born out of St Helens Parish a century or so later) is physically located in the heart of Seaview, nevertheless, many of its regular visitors and worshippers travel some distance to get to the church.
When we gather together at our parish churches - often from different directions and with varying means of transport, we become representatives or ambassadors of the homes and communities from which we have come. We become, if you like, Pilgrims who, when they return to their points of origin take with them God's word and God's blessing.
The physical location of our churches and our journeys to them are only important because our loving creator God has chosen to be located at the heart of our lives - whether we are aware of God's presence or not.
Whether you regularly travel to visit or worship in your parish church, do so only for life-events such as weddings or funerals, or have never done so yet: may you know God's presence with you in all your journeys, be they physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional.