We’ve done something slightly different for our weekly worship this week. It is Rogation Sunday and we would normally be visiting a farm and walking round praying a blessing on different things, so we have done that but from the Rectory garden instead!
After listening to this, we encourage you to do something similar where you are – perhaps in your own garden or field or street, and pray a blessing on the things that you see using these words:
We have a pair of doves in our garden who have spent much of the past few weeks attempting to build a nest on the security light above our front door. This spot is precarious to say the least and so once or twice a week we’ve had to sweep bundles of twigs off the front step as their latest attempt gives way!
I like to think that these doves are full of hope and optimism each time they build a new nest, but I can’t help wonder if they’re just a bit daft!
In the old poem known as “The song of Noah’s Dove”, the anonymous poet tells of the dove flying “forth from Noah’s Ark over the churning wave on the breath of hope”
I love that image of the dove flying out from the Ark on the breath of hope. Circling around, as we heard in our Bible reading, first fruitlessly, then returning with an olive branch and finally finding its own place to settle. The dove soars on the breath of hope, and in turn passes that hope on to the inhabitants of the Ark.
In the summer of 1945, following the long-hoped-for VE Day, the nations of the world, realising that the peace that they had fought so hard for must be protected, came together to sign the United Nations Charter in which they pledged to continue working together to maintain peace and security across the whole world.
Delegates at that original conference were presented with pin badges displaying a world map surrounded by olive branches which remains the logo of the United Nations to this day. Those olive branches were, and are, a sign of peace, a reminder of the branch that Noah’s dove carried “over the churning wave on the breath of hope”. Working for peace is always a hopeful endeavour.
I wonder if, in our current situation, we might find hope in that image. Hope that, although we may still be confined for a while, the waters will subside. Hope that, although there are dark days ahead, we will make it through this together.
So if you are struggling at the moment, if you are feeling the strain as the lockdown drags on, look to the dove, soaring over the churning wave on the breath of hope, bringing with it God’s promise of peace.
But don’t look to the doves above the Rectory door – I don’t think they know what they’re doing!
Reflection on Genesis 7 & John 10:1-10 Sunday 3rd May 2020
In the late 19th Century the Scottish folklorist Alexander Carmichael travelled around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, collecting, recording and transcribing all sorts of prayers, poems, songs and blessings. These have their roots in early Celtic Christian communities between the 6th and 9th centuries and were published in the book he called the “Carmina Gadelica”, the Song of the Gaels.
These prayers cover just about every aspect of life – births and deaths, mealtimes and bedtimes, animals and weather, and everyday things like pulling up weeds or spinning wool – but one of the themes which runs throughout all these prayers is a trust in, or a longing for, God’s protection.
One of the prayers, a Charm For Fear By Night, is a good example: Who is there on land? Who is there on wave? Who is there on billow? Who is there by door-post? Who is along with us? God and Lord.
Land and sea, wind and doorway, all of these would have held a certain amount of danger for those people eaking out their fragile, isolated existence in the wilds of western Scotland, and so the hope, the promise, that God was there with them would have been a great comfort.
Both of our Bible readings contain something of that same promise of God’s protection. Noah and his family had to hide themselves away in an ark in order to be safe from the rising floodwaters – an extreme form of social isolation! But in verse 16, after Noah and his family and all the animals are safely on board, we read this: “Then the Lord shut the door behind Noah”. It is God who closes the door to keep them safe.
And in our reading from John’s Gospel we see something similar. Jesus says “I am the gate for the sheep”. In those days, after closing off the entrance to the sheep pen with brambles, the shepherd would lie in front so that a thief would not be able to get past without waking them up. Jesus is the gate and we are the sheep, he lies in outside the door to keep us safe.
And so, like those early Celtic Christians on their Hebridean islands, we too put our trust in God’s protection. We know that whatever dangers lie without, whatever fears lurk within, Who is there by the door-post? Who is along with us? Our God and Lord.
Click below to listen to this week’s reflection as part of the service recorded for our Telephone Church Service
One of the (many) notable things about the changes that have taken place over the last couple of months has been the way that certain words and phrases have so quickly become normal. Words like “Social Distancing”, “Self-Isolation” and “PPE” , which most of us had barely heard of in February now roll off the tongue like we’ve been saying them all our lives.
One word which has been particularly well used is “unprecedented”. These are ‘unprecedented’ times, they made an ‘unprecedented’ decision, the closures are ‘unprecedented’. There is no doubt that these are indeed strange times but I wonder if they are really ‘unprecidented’, or have we simply got so used to the miracles of modern medicine and the wonders of scientific advancement that events like this have passed out of our collective memory? As the bible says in the book of Ecclesiastes – “There is nothing new under the sun”
Luca had to go to the doctors a couple of weeks ago for his immunisation injections – a quick trip out, a couple of days of discomfort, and he is now forever protected against various diseases that not so long ago would have presented a very real threat to the lives of millions of children.
It is very strange for us to not be able to gather in our churches to worship in the way that we have been used to. It is very strange to see these beautiful buildings that have stood as a sign of God’s presence in our villages for hundreds of years now lying empty. But this kind of collective exile which we are currently undergoing is far from new in the world, and it’s far from new in the Church.
Christians down the ages have found themselves isolated, exiled and alone. Sometimes through circumstance, sometimes through choice, and they have always found comfort in the knowledge that God is with them, just as he is with us now.
St Peter’s first letter was written “to the exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” These were Christians who had been scattered from their homes by persecution, driven apart from one another and who were now reeling with the shock of losing all that was familiar to them – perhaps not so dissimilar to how many of us are feeling right now
And Peter writes to comfort them in their distress by reminding them that, even though they are suffering now, they will endure with the strength and comfort that comes from the risen Christ.
And then he says to them: “so you rejoice with a great and glorious joy”. Now the interesting thing about that phrase is that it’s not at all clear what Peter actually means, and in fact in all likelihood Peter deliberately made it unclear. “So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy”
It may mean “you are now rejoicing”, for some people those challenging times – these challenging times – bring their own blessings. Getting to know your neighbours, more time to spend on activities you enjoy, perhaps time to read the Bible and pray, and it’s ok to rejoice in those blessings.
Or it may mean “you should rejoice” – when we are anxious or under stress, finding reasons to rejoice or be grateful can be a powerful way of keeping ourselves going, keeping ourselves hopeful.
Or it may mean “you will rejoice” Peter may be saying I know that things are difficult now, I know that the world has been turned upside down and you are anxious about the future, but the day will come when you will rejoice again. “So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy”
I don’t know which of those resonate with you today, but however you are finding these unprecedented times I hope and pray that you know that you will endure, we will endure, through the strength and comfort that comes from the risen Christ.
As the old hymn puts it, “Rejoice! the Lord is king!” Amen.
Click below to listen to this week’s reflection as part of the service recorded for our Telephone Church Service
Reflection on Matthew 28:1-10 Easter Sunday, 12th April 2020
I have spent a good part of the last few days listening to Test Match Special as they have been rerunning the incredible Headingly Ashes Test Match of last Summer. If you’re not familiar with this particular cricket match, suffice to say England beat Australia when they had absolutely no right to do so, all thanks to some unbelievable batting from Ben Stokes. At the time it was widely hailed as the greatest performance on a cricket pitch of all time, and a year later little has changed.
The strange thing about listening to the match again this week, and particularly as England were slowly creeping improbably towards their target of 359 on Saturday, was that even though I knew the outcome – I’d listened to it happen a year earlier – I still felt the whole rollercoaster of emotions that I’d felt first time round!
Great stories, great events, great achievements can do that to us. There is a series on the BBC World Service at the moment about Apollo 13 and again I know the outcome (they are interviewing the astronauts so they must have got home safely!) but it’s still tense as they face impossible odds trying to make it back to earth in one piece.
The Easter story is one of those great stories that we can tell and retell and still find ourselves outraged with the disciples as Jesus is arrested, heartbroken as his lifeless body is taken down from the cross, astonished as the women find the tomb empty. It’s an incredible story that bears repeating.
But, of course, the Easter story is more than just a story. It’s not like Ben Stokes hitting Pat Cummins through the covers to level the series, or Jim Lovell piloting the lunar module back to earth. This is a story which resonates across the ages, bringing healing, peace and transformation to lives and communities the world over. It’s no surprise that our whole history is divided into things that happened before and after Jesus.
We see echoes of this story in the sacrifices being made daily by health care professionals putting themselves at risk to help others and by the many other key workers in farms and factories and schools and shops working, often under difficult circumstances, to keep society going. We see echoes of this story in the self-denying generosity being shown by billions of people around the world staying at home in order to avoid spreading the virus to the most vulnerable among us. We see echoes of this story in the countless acts of neighbourly love that have flourished in recent weeks.
This is a story that lives all around us, so take time to let it stir you today. What emotions do you feel as you read it? What encouragements do you take from it? What strength do you find in it?
This is not just any old story, this is the story. It’s the story that tells us that no matter what we’ve done, God is with us. It’s the story that tells us that whatever grief, or sorrow, or shame or guilt we may feel, God is with us. It’s the story that tells us that even through and beyond death, God is with us.
Have a happy and blessed Easter. Rev’d Rich
Alleluia, Christ is risen: He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Reflection on Matthew 21:1-11 Sunday 5th April 2020 – Palm Sunday
Spring has most definitely arrived at the Rectory garden this year. The daffodils are competing with each other for the coveted ‘most shades of yellow in a single flower’ prize, buds are opening here there and everywhere, and the damson tree has erupted in the most spectacular display of blossom that I’ve ever seen. Even the baby squirrels are joining in the fun, leaping around the treetops with reckless abandon.
I can’t decide if it really is a more impressive Spring this year, or if it’s simply that I’m noticing it more now that we’re confined to the house and garden. Either way, I’m grateful for it as a fine distraction from the worries of the world. Except that perhaps it’s less about being distracted, and more about finding some perspective on those worries.
I got a book of Wordsworth poems off the bookshelf this week, initially so that I could read his famous daffodils poem as I couldn’t remember how it went past the first four lines. My eyes soon went to my favourite of his poems, however, “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey”, which he wrote in July 1798.
In this long poem there is a beautiful passage where Wordsworth says that “nature … can so inform the mind that is within us, so impress with quietness and beauty, and so feed with lofty thoughts that neither evil tongues … nor all the dreary intercourse of daily life shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb our cheerful faith that all which we behold is full of blessings”
I know from the many conversations I’ve had with people on the phone or over the Rectory wall this week that a lot of people are, like me, finding comfort in the beauty of God’s creation and are re-discovering “that cheerful faith that all which we behold is full of blessings.” It is important to hold onto this even if, at times, it is hard to reconcile with the awfulness of the situation we have found ourselves thrown into.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day when we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and for Jesus this day held mixed emotions too. There was, of course, the joy of the parade into Jerusalem, the streets lined with people waving their branches and cheering for the arrival of the Messiah. But there were also tears rolling down Jesus’ cheeks because he knew that over the coming days the crowds would melt away and he would find himself isolated and alone.
In our Benefice we should have been preparing for a joyful celebration of this day – processing through the streets of Ash following a donkey (or Stephen the pony doing his best donkey impression!). I am sad that we will not have that celebration together, just as I am sad that we will not hear the choir sing on Maundy Thursday, or share hot cross buns on Good Friday, or watch the sun rise together on Easter Sunday.
But although we cannot celebrate this week as we had planned, that does not mean that we cannot celebrate it at all. We can still journey with Jesus through the highs and lows of Holy Week, filled with contradictions and mixed emotions. Life is always too complicated to feel just one thing, be that joy or sorrow, and so we live with the tension that comes with rejoicing at the sight of a Goldfinch in the garden while weeping for the distance between loved ones.
Whatever mixed emotions you are holding within you today, I pray that you are able to find strength in our “cheerful faith that all which we behold is full of blessing.” Amen.
I don’t know if you noticed but the clocks changed this morning. Most years on this particular Sunday the final blessing in Church is accompanied by the sound of the Church door creaking open followed by the gasp of a latecomer realising their mistake. If they’re lucky the sermon will have gone on too long and their entrance will be hidden by the singing of the final hymn, or they’ll notice the church clock before they make it inside, but my favourite is always when I get to catch their eye as I give their entrance a special final blessing!
The clocks changed this morning, but this year so much else has changed that a lost hour is the least of our concerns. We’ve lost so much more in recent days and I’m sure that like me most of you are still struggling to adjust to our new ‘normal’.
Our reading from John’s Gospel is the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus and his disciples hear that their good friend Lazarus is ill. After spending a couple of days weighing his options – the last time he was in that area they tried to kill him – Jesus and his disciples set off on a journey to the village of Bethany to visit him. While they are still on their way Jesus gets word that they are too late, Lazarus has died.
When they eventually arrive in Bethany they are greeted by Lazarus’s sisters. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died”, comes the angry challenge, first from Martha then from Mary. Jesus responds to their words but then, realising that words are not enough, he joins them in wordless, tear-stained grief. Finally he stands, walks with Martha to the tomb, and calls Lazarus out – miraculously, wonderfully, astonishingly alive.
It’s a remarkable story, not least for the depth of friendship which is clearly revealed between Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. I wonder whether they were childhood friends? Or perhaps Jesus and Lazarus worked together with Jesus’ father the carpenter? Whatever it is, there is much more to their relationship than the couple of brief glimpses we see in the Gospels.
I want to set aside the fascinating details of the story for a moment, however, and see what wisdom we can find in reading it as a parable for our current moment in time.
It seems to me that we have experienced a collective bereavement of our own in recent days. We have suffered the loss of a future we had planned – weddings postponed, School trips cancelled, visits to family on hold, work opportunities denied us. We have suffered the loss of freedoms we took for granted – popping to the supermarket on a whim, coffee with a neighbour, a hug from a friend. And we have suffered a loss of confidence – how long will this go on? Will those I love be ok? How on earth will we get through this?
We feel hopeless, we feel helpless, we are grieving, as Mary and Martha grieved. But bringing hope to hopeless situations is what Jesus does. And so into that grief, as the flame of hope flickers in the darkness, Jesus comes and sits beside us. Jesus, who hears every heartfelt prayer, every angry cry, every anxious thought, responds not with words, but by joining us in wordless tear-stained grief. And for the moment, that is enough.
One day we will stand again, and the world will turn again, and it will never quite look the same again. The clocks changed this morning. And, in time, so will we.