Paul's Letter for Easter 7
Our reading is Ezekiel 26: 24-28
I spoke last week about a new covenant, which is about healthy relationship. The rainbow is a sign of covenant, the whole of the Bible might be summarised as about relationship, between God and his people, God and us. That of course has implications for the relationships we have with others. It is really a very simple story. It is about a relationship that begins wonderfully, goes wrong, and is made new.
And that doesn’t just happen once. It happens time and time again. God never gives up on us.
Ezekiel writes, “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” This is about mending relationship. Ezekiel lived about 600 years before Jesus at a time when Israel had been invaded, the temple destroyed, and many of the people taken into captivity in Babylon. People saw that as a sign of being abandoned by God. They felt bereft.
Ezekiel is an interesting character, he sometimes acted out the message he heard. In chapter 5 we read that he takes a sword and uses it to cut his own hair, he invented the lockdown haircut, and anyone who has tried to cut their own hair needs to read what happens next.
Sometimes, indeed often, Ezekiel’s words are uncomfortable and we might be tempted to shy away from him. But Ezekiel is a prophet in the truest sense. He says hard things because sometimes nettles need to be grasped, and it is only when we grasp difficult truths that healing and restoration are possible. Ultimately everything Ezekiel says is said in hope and love. God will never give up on his people.
One of the best known of Ezekiel’s visions comes in chapter 37 when the Spirit of God takes him to a valley full of bones, very dry bones, life was totally annihilated. God asks if these bones can live. It helps us to remember that in those times people believed that once you were dead your existence was over. God could do nothing for the dead. The dead were beyond his reach. The relationship was broken, permanently.
So what happens next is beyond human imagination or comprehension. Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of bones is something completely new. If you know the song, Dem Bones first recorded by the Jubilee singers in 1928, then you know what happened next. As the second chorus says;
“Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
Now hear the word of the Lord.”
Where life was destroyed, where people felt utterly cut off from God, where all hope was lost, God chooses to act. That is something new.
These are difficult times. This Sunday we find ourselves between Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost. There is a sense of a gap, perhaps a feeling of being bereft. It is in that strange in-between time where we find ourselves. Several times this week people have told me that they are feeling bereft. That’s not a word we often use, yet I have heard it spoken many times over the past few days.
A friend said to me, “These are strange times, all the landmarks have gone.” That captures the sense of feeling bereft. Much has been taken from us, and there is nothing that can take its place. Central to this is the sense that we are out of relationship. We cannot visit friends. Grandparents cannot hug grandchildren. Our churches remain closed. We are forced to keep others at a distance.
I think we need to be reminded that when Jesus’ friends met him his Easter body still bore the scars of crucifixion. Jesus told Thomas to see his hands and his feet, to put his hand into the wound of the spear. Resurrection, new life, new relationship doesn’t pretend the bad things didn’t happen. The body Jesus takes to his Father’s side is not perfect. The humanity that Ascends is pierced and stabbed and beaten. God’s relationship with us takes us as we are, and that includes this sense of being bereft.
Ezekiel reminds us that God does not act by waving a magic wand. He acts through mending relationships. If we sense ourselves in a place without landmarks, if we are feeling bereft, then maybe it is in how we make and renew relationship that can be our guide. That might be our relationship with others, perhaps someone we haven’t recently made contact with, perhaps someone we are spending more time with than usual – which isn’t always easy, most certainly it includes our relationship with God.
In this relationship we have to do very little, only be willing and listen.
In the depth of silence no words are needed,
no language required.
In the depth of silence we are called to listen.
Listen to the beating of your heart.
Listen to the blowing of the wind,
listen for the movement of the Spirit.
Be silent says the Lord, and know that I am God.
And listen, to the cry of those whose voices are not heard.
Listen to those whose suffering is overlooked.
Listen to those who are anxious and fearful.
Listen to weeping of those who mourn,
and do not forget to listen also for the laughter of children.
For that is authentic relationship, listen to people, living with people, living for God.
A video can be reached by clicking on the following link
Paul's Letter for Easter 6
Our reading today is Genesis 8:20 to 9:17
“God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
When I looked at the various readings for today I couldn’t help but be struck by the story of Noah coming out of lockdown. That aspect of the story had never struck me before. This strange and difficult time opens our eyes to new understandings.
This is a very confusing time. There are no right decisions, the information is still incomplete. Those who bear the burden of responsibility will almost certainly be proved wrong and we may end up going backwards. We are trying protect lives and livelihoods, and health in every aspect. This isn’t a single issue, there is no one size fits all solution. Coming out of lockdown is a bit less clear cut than it was for Noah. On the other hand maybe the Prime Minister could try chucking doves out of the window at Downing Street – it seems just as good a way to determine future as anything else.
Facing the unknown changes people, it changes us. We are not used to living with that sense of vulnerability and powerlessness. The Genesis narrative contains this brutal account of a time when everything was swept away. If you look at ancient accounts from the Middle East many of them contain references to a mighty deluge, a time when the whole world was destroyed. The world of course was smaller then, whatever collective memory of a catastrophic event that affected a region probably didn’t affect the entire planet. But something happened, and it stuck in the shared memory. People sensed they had changed, the world had become less predictable, life less assured. The rainbow was a sign of hope.
Today rainbows are everywhere, thanking, celebrating, supporting those key workers who keep our communities alive. We need to be reminded that the rainbow wasn’t just wishful thinking. It was the sign of a covenant. We need a new covenant.
That’s not a word we use very often these days, and when we do it’s usually in a restrictive sense, a legal covenant most frequently tells you what you can’t do. The biblical concept of covenant is different. It is still a binding agreement, but it primarily focussed on making relationship sustainable. When God speaks to his people he binds himself to them, he makes commitments to them. Perhaps we can best understand it as the vows people make in marriage, a mutual commitment to love and to cherish, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.
As a society, maybe this is a time for us to shape a new covenant with those for whom the rainbow is raised. I think we maybe need to rediscover that word ‘covenant’, because it is primarily about right relationship. That is something we have not taken seriously enough in recent times.
You will no doubt have heard this week that we have a new Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Mark Tanner, currently Bishop of Berwick in the Diocese of Newcastle. We look forward to welcoming Bishop Mark and his wife Lindsay to Chester, though in reality they are returning to a place they already know very well, Bishop Mark was ordained within this Diocese and served a curacy at St Mary’s, Upton. He comes at an extraordinary time and faces great challenges. Pray that God will grant him wisdom, resilience and holiness in his new ministry.
In other news – our PCCs are working hard to be ready for when churches can reopen. It is almost certain that when this happens it will be phased and many of our usual members will still remain in isolation. Singing probably won’t be allowed for health reasons. We may be short on sidespeople, church officers, musicians and worship leaders. For a variety of reasons we are preparing an interim pattern of worship which will be simpler, more flexible and allow us to reopen with fewer people. It is a work in progress and we will announce details nearer the time when we can open our churches. In the meantime please be assured we working behind the scenes to make good preparations.
A video version can be watched on YouTube following the link
Paul's Letter for Easter 5
Our Gospel Reading is John 14:1-14
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’”
I said last week that the journey sometimes shapes the destination. Jesus it seems is more concerned with the journey. Easter is full of journeys. Mary going to the tomb, the men running to the place where the body had been laid, friends meeting a stranger on the road, the fishermen going back to the lake. Some are physical journeys, other are journeys of life changing discovery. Easter leads us towards those who met behind locked doors suddenly finding themselves out in the streets. Easter itself is a journey, it is not over, we are an Easter people moving towards the coming of the Spirit.
You might think that a group trying to change the world would make the most of their key people. Yet the gospels repeatedly tell us that the disciples got it wrong. Peter denied his friend. Thomas refused to believe. God chooses to act through very imperfect people. This also is a journey. God is more interested in travelling with us than telling us where to go.
I make a point of reading part of the Rule of Benedict every morning. Split into sections it may be read three times over the course of a year. This morning’s extract struck home.
“If we wish to dwell in God’s tent, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds. But let us ask with the prophet: “Who will dwell in your tent, O God; who will find rest upon your holy mountain?”(Psalm 15:1)”
Benedict reminds us that justice, honest and compassion are the hallmarks of those who walk with God. But he also reminds us that we cannot walk with God unless God first walks with us. We cannot do good without God’s grace.
If we sense the needs of the poor that is because God has opened our eyes. If we are aware of those who are oppressed it is because God has perhaps allowed us to suffer in some smaller way. If we campaign for cleaner air and oceans it is because God has first enabled us to share in the work of creation. As Christian Aid week approaches maybe this year we will have a greater understanding of those whose lives are not in their control.
In Benedict’s time holy people often thought that their journey with God was a personal matter. The most frequent expression of religious life was personal and individual. The Desert monastics lived as solitaries, eating little, praying much. This was a very privatised religion.
Benedict introduces us to a different journey. For him those who dwell in God’s tent are those who travel with God within the complexities and messiness of community living. Within a Benedictine community everyone bore a responsibility for everyone else. Practical things mattered. The Rule makes a point of caring for things, this might seem strange in a spiritual writing, but it has to do with living alongside others. If you broke a tool then putting it back broken simply meant that the next person who needed it suffered. Everything we do has a consequence for someone else. So for Benedict to walk with God means walking well with others. And we cannot walk well with others unless we first walk with God.
Hence Jesus tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life. He is the way towards God, if we know him then we know the Father.
On a walk recently we passed our church porch, I noticed someone writing in the book of prayer requests. Over the weekend three pages filled with requests for prayer. Our church is closed but people need contact with prayer. Candles appeared in our Easter Garden. We moved the Prayer Tree into the porch and never a day goes by without another leaf being added. This wasn’t our idea, it is not a church initiative. It happened because someone first came to ask for prayer. The first step doesn’t have to be our own.
If it is true that we can only know the way when God first allows us to glimpse something of the truth, maybe how life is for others, then we may learn much from what we are going through at the moment. The first step is God’s, it is for us to choose whether to follow.
Paul's Letter for Easter 4
The fourth Sunday of Easter
Our Gospel reading today is John 10:1-10
There is no better known image of Jesus than that of the Good Shepherd. It is worth taking a moment to consider what shepherds were about when these words were spoken. The Judean plateau is for the most part rough and stony, more suited to pastoral farming than agriculture. The shepherd was a familiar sight and his life was hard.
There were no enclosed fields, sheep would wander far and wide searching for grass in a hot dry climate. Not only were there ever present dangers due to the tough landscape but the shepherd had also to be constantly on the watch for wild animals and robbers. The shepherd’s staff was as much a weapon as a tool.
Jesus also had in mind the ancient image of God as the Shepherd of his people which included the often hostile reception given to those who spoke out for justice and righteousness. When he speaks of those who seek to destroy the flock he understood all too well the purveyors of false truths and fake news. Those whose words went with the easy way. The voice of prophecy by contrast nearly always went against the grain. It still does.
A Palestinian shepherd knew his sheep. They were not bred for meat but for wool. The shepherd lived with his sheep for years, he knew them by name, they knew him, they recognized his voice. This is about relationship and trust, earned the hard way.
The second image Jesus uses is less obvious, “I am the gate.” In the open countryside shepherds built sheep folds, enclosures that did not have a door. At night the shepherd would call the sheep into the enclosure through a narrow opening and then he would lie across the opening to protect them. Any wild animal or bandit would have to go through the shepherd to get to the sheep. He literally make himself the gate to the enclosure.
This carries two messages. Firstly that Jesus is the way, it is through him that we find life. This echoes words spoken to Thomas when Jesus speaks of rooms in his Father’s house. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The second message is that Jesus deliberately and willingly puts himself in harm’s way for the benefit of others.
There are many today who connect with that image of putting oneself in harm’s way. We are getting used to queuing outside shops with someone at the door guiding and guarding our safety. It doesn’t always go well. Outside a local pet store (I needed woodshavings for the bees) a lady was screaming at the chap standing there. Her language was abusive and aggressive, her fury due to the fact that they didn’t have the right seed in for her budgie.
I’d just had a similar encounter with someone over a loose memorial stone so I felt for the guy. He looked ashen, when I commiserated with him he couldn’t speak and had to walk away. A colleague stepped into his place. Standing in the doorway isn’t as easy as it looks. These are hard times, we are seeing the best in some people but frustration and fear sometimes bring out the worst. I don’t know what stresses and fears the angry person was experiencing but for it to explode over a packet of birdseed suggested something was eating at her. She will not be the only one.
The image of the Good Shepherd reminds us that there are bad shepherds as well. There are those who hurt and destroy. Being a shepherd was tough. Shepherding was a hard job and usually shepherds were despised. If something went missing it was always the shepherds who got the blame. In a court of law a shepherd couldn’t be trusted to give evidence. Strange then that when God wanted witnesses at the crib he made the mistake of calling shepherds. Maybe God doesn’t see people as we see people. Maybe that’s part of what ‘new normal’ is about.
We move towards a time when life will change again. Difficult decisions to make, there will be disappointments, frustrations, anger. The image of the shepherd is much more than just a cosy pastoral comfort, it is a decision, and a tough one.
We all stand in doorways. We can make opportunities happen, choose to enable others, look to the welfare and safety of someone else, discern between truth and mischief, support those who stand in harm’s way. But we cannot do this without becoming involved. The shepherd literally makes himself the gateway. When Jesus opens the way to life, and life in all its fullness, he does not open a door and stand aside. He is the way. It seems his main concern was to encourage his friends to join in the journey than assure them of the destination.
That is a willingness set before us. To live as those who believe in a better way even though we do not have all the answers and cannot tell where we will end up. Sometimes the journey shapes the destination.
Church of England Prayer line
There are a wealth of online prayer resources both on the Church of England website and using various apps we have mentioned before (eg Daily Prayer by Aimer Media). These are all free to use with an internet connection. Daily Prayer is available as an offline version for £2.99 a year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has now added a free telephone prayer resource – 0800 804 8044. Daily Hope offers prayers, reflections, music and full services for anyone who would prefer not to use a computer or tablet.
Paul's Letter for the Third Sunday of Easter
Our Gospel reading is Luke 24: 13-35
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…?”
Hindsight is wonderful thing, as many of those with DIY haircuts will testify. As I stand in the supermarket queue I wonder if some of those wearing masks are more concerned to protect their identity than their health. You wouldn’t want to be recognised with a haircut like that.
The third Sunday of Advent and Lent are reminders that God is gracious, so too is the third Sunday of Easter. How often are we like those friends walking home sadly, perhaps having given up all hope, and only afterwards realising God was, is, alongside us, always.
God is gracious, this is something we learn very slowly. Most of the time even good people trying their best fail to trust in grace. Grace is something we can’t control, it isn’t something we can plan for or create strategies about. Grace is about waiting, and trusting, and watching. Grace is always first received.
In my last post I was also a member of our local NHS Hospital Trust Chaplaincy team. When I began I had to attend an induction day, there were about 200 people attending. I learnt three things about the NHS that day. The first was that everyone attended together. Porters, cleaners, nurses, consultants, administrators, surgeons, anaesthetists, security, everyone was together. That is significant, as an organisation the NHS has a different culture than most of us are used to.
The second was how dependent we are on trained medical staff from outside of the UK. Most of the nurses present were Spanish. Most of the doctors from overseas. I should have known this but it had never struck home how much it is the case.
The third lesson came through one of those exercises they make you do on days like this. We were given a slip of paper with an identity on it and we had to find the other person in the room with the same identity. There were 100 pairs to find each other. We were given 15 minutes to complete this task which I thought was rather optimistic given the number of people present.
But then something happened. Instead of people trying to find their matching partner everyone instinctively set about finding everyone else’s partner. Porters and cleaners were telling surgeons and consultants where to go, nurses were getting administrators organised. It took 7 minutes and 12 seconds for everyone to find their other half. Quite astonishing. The NHS does things differently, and it works.
There is a culture within the NHS which trusts others first, it is why as a body of people the NHS delivers way beyond its means. It is fundamentally a culture of grace.
This way of doing and being is something that has shown itself to be resilient, enduring and patient, but it is not unbreakable and we take it for granted at our peril.
These are times of discovering grace. On a walk we bumped into a local family from our school and, at a suitable distance, asked how the children’s lessons were going. The lad had built a kitchen bench with his dad from scraps of wood from the shed. I suspect that’s an opportunity he will remember for life. On another walk we met a lady who lives round the corner, she told us that in the last two weeks she’d got to know more neighbours than in the previous ten years. We come home to find things on our doorstep, pillowcases to be turned into scrubs bags (thank you), hand sanitiser (thank you), cakes (thank you), flowers (thank you), photographs to add to our church family (thank you) and a bottle of wine (thank you). And a golf ball – not sure about that.
The first thing about discovering grace is having the grace to accept that which is given. This isn’t the usual way we do things. Maybe it needs to be part of the new normal, maybe we need to make it part of the new normal.
We walk a road we have not walked before and it is difficult. Like those friends long ago we mourn what is lost, we are saddened by suffering and death, we have no idea what lies ahead. But if we think we are heading home to life as it was then we need to think again.
There is an old Gaelic blessing which many people love, it goes;
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
‘Until we meet again’ runs very deep in these times. This is Easter, the hands that were pierced are the same hands that break bread. When God holds us in the palm of His hand those hands are still wounded hands. God is gracious and grace is costly.
The Gospel reading for this week is John 20:19-31
“…the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.”
Fear is a powerful emotion. Fear is of course essential for survival. Things that frighten us are usually things that can hurt us so we are hard-wired not to fall out of trees, go play with tigers or poke bishops with a pointy stick.
In my conversations with people I hear voices bearing anxiety. Medical staff whose vocation is to heal and make better, who know they are losing too many battles. There is a fear for their own safety and those they love. There is fear for those they care for and serve. There is an unspoken fear that failure to heal is something they cannot bear to endure. The greatest fear is not for their safety but of being overwhelmed by the demands placed upon them.
I have listened to people who have someone who works on another frontline, schools, care homes, supermarkets, transport, public services. We can do something, a simple thank you goes a long way. When I ring a local funeral director, people doing an essential though usually ignored job, I do not end the call when arrangements are complete, “How are you? How are things going during these very strange times?” It is appreciated. This is a time when small kindnesses matter.
There are good reasons to face fear. Those who have spent years, generations, building a business, working the land, raising livestock, now facing a situation that cannot be controlled. Whether it be pouring gallons of milk into drains or not knowing if a business can survive, these are frightening times.
The unknown is frightening, one reason we sometimes ignore things we would rather not know about. As ever, T S Eliot’s words come back to mind, “Humanity cannot bear too much reality.” We know the terrible numbers do not tell the whole story. The number of people infected and the number of people dying are not the real totals. Neither are the known instances of domestic violence and people whose mental health is suffering. These are times when it is healthy to acknowledge that which is fearful. That is the first step to conquering fear.
But there is unhealthy fear as well – the kind of fear that generate fakes news, delivers over-simplistic criticism, spreads rumour and gossip, or seeks to exploit. You don’t go far without coming across it. Whether it be on the internet via social media or the person in the supermarket queue talking with authority about something they know nothing about. Name it as the voice of fear that destroys and degrades, and keep it at arm’s length.
St John wrote his gospel much later than the others. By the time he wrote Christians, who like Jesus were often loyal Jews, were finding it difficult to continue to worship within the synagogues. A new fear was abroad, one that would divide Christian and Jew, us and them, leading to centuries of mistrust, violence and misrepresentation. John wrote at a time of crisis and his gospel reflects both the fear and the consequent tragedy. The doors were locked for fear of the Jews.
If there is one sure certainty we learn from history it is that times of crisis always generate fear and good solutions never come out of ‘them’ being to blame. When the world is being broken the new shape it will take is formed by how we handle our fear. As Justin Welby said on Easter Sunday, we need a ‘new normal’.
So what gives us ground for hope? It is those people who do not surrender to fear. Those who know we will lose but do not surrender, those who understand the cost of enduring, those who accept the worth of loving and supporting and looking for small best hopes. Those who represent the best of us and who deserve better.
When this is over we need a new normal. As I have said before we cannot pick up where we left off. To make that possible we shall need a way to tackle fear. There will be reckoning. Mistakes have been made, both in long term strategy and in managing the crisis. People have had to make decisions in a rapidly changing situation and it is all too easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight. We now know that this is unprecedented but not unpredicted. In 2015 Barack Obama spoke of a global respiratory pandemic of a coronavirus nature within the next five to ten years. His suggestion was that we invest in the equipment, people and infrastructure to be ready for it. When we see the daily graphs we know that neighbours with much lower losses have tested more and have five times as many intensive care beds. When this is over we could spend a lot of time and energy pinning the blame. That is a response driven by fear.
This is something we need to make a decision about today – that we shall not allow it to happen -because it will only take us back to the old normal. If we want a model how to shape a new normal then I suggest we learn from the example of South Africa, that after apartheid the work of the Trust and Reconciliation Commission enabled many fears to be dismantled. The warning there of course is that the ‘old normal’ can be very resilient and like a virus it can re-emerge if we allow it to.
There is no future in scoring points from the past. We are being broken, when we rebuild it has to look different. When Jesus met his friends gathered in fear behind locked doors he gave them a gift and an instruction. The gift was a new beginning, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The instruction was also a warning, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
That is a choice we need to make now. There is much we could decide not to retain.
Paul's Letter for EasterPublished: Thursday 09 April 2020 09:33 AM
Paul's Letter for Easter
This is a painful Easter. Our churches are empty.
We have not trodden this way before. This is new and difficult. We have not held our Palm Crosses and carried them home. We have not gathered round the table to break bread and share wine. On Good Friday we could not gather to hear again the message of the cross. On Saturday there was no buzz of expectation as the church was decorated and made ready. There are no flowers, no anthem to practice. On Easter Sunday the church is empty, the organ is silent, the pews deserted, the door remains locked.
This is unknown in living memory. We experience bereavement and bewilderment.
You might expect me to offer words of hope at Easter and indeed I can. Fiona and I have been walking around the area as much as allowed for our daily exercise. There are some wonderful stories to tell. I have spoken to more people in the last two weeks than I have met over the past year. Standing at the compulsory two metres (2 yards for those who prefer the Book of Common Prayer – or a fathom for those of us who are sailors) I have enjoyed conversations with people who I would never normally meet.
People have been chatting over the garden fence. On one walk we found a lost lamb so knocked at the house in the next field and met another new neighbour. There are networks of people shopping, collecting prescriptions, looking out for one another. It has taken a time like this to disclose the kindness in people.
Two common themes in conversations has been to think of those who live in heavily built up areas, especially families with children who have nowhere safe to play or walk. Time and time again people have spoken of how lucky we are to live where we live. And then to ask what we will learn from this, will life just go back to normal or will we have learned to value things differently? Will there be things we no longer take for granted? Will we re-evaluate the people most important to our society? Will the kindness continue?
This is a painful Easter. Yes- there are signs of hope and goodness and courage and dedication. But this Easter Sunday we cannot join in worship. This is a loss.
I found myself reading afresh the Easter narrative from St John. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb under cover of darkness. There was no Easter hope for her. This was a woman consumed by grief and overwhelmed by desolation. Her terror and despair were only deepened by finding the tomb deserted. Her assumption was that the body of her friend had been stolen.
This is the first Easter when I have conducted funerals where people cannot care for someone they love. That side of Mary’s story is one I am learning to understand a little more. It is a painful reality.
Then come the men, who cannot of course understand what is happening. They do what we usually do when we encounter the unthinkable. They go back to what feels safe. Back to their homes, and, as the story develops, back to their former jobs and lives. Peter goes back to fishing, and the rest go with him.
But Mary stays, weeping in the dawn by the empty tomb. Mary stays with the empty reality.
God, it seems, is about staying with reality. In crib and cross God grasps, painfully grasps, reality. In staying with the reality Mary is the one who meets the risen Lord, made known by the calling of her name.
In those conversations with many people, mostly people who I do not know through church, there has been a question – how will this change us? Behind that question there is a hope, hope that we will change for the better. Whether that happens is, I suppose, up to us. It is a question of whether we are able to stay with this reality, or whether our instinct to get back to normal prevails.
This is a painful Easter, when we encounter in an empty church the emptiness of the tomb, and maybe the emptiness of much that we previously assumed.
The reality is painful, and it is sad, but maybe this Easter we shall encounter God differently. So this Easter can I suggest that we stay with the reality of this emptiness. Because it is those who weep in the dawn who discover what Easter is about.
Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death;
victory is ours through Him who loved us.
The Revd Canon Paul Dawson
This is Holy Week
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Whatever else you may do this week make time to read Psalm 22. Read it slowly and aloud. Ponder these words written so long ago, yet words which speak so clearly to us today.
Jesus grew up learning the Psalms by heart. Their poetry contains everything we know. Rejoicing and thanksgiving, love and friendship, celebration and feasting. And the other side of life as well. In the Psalms you will find agony, anger, bewilderment, frustration, grief and bitter tears. The writers of the Psalms knew God well enough to know that sometimes we rail at him in fury. And he listens.
There are many this week who will taste desolation. Those who lose loved ones, who may die alone with no family at their side. Those who cannot attend the funeral of a friend, and I know what that feels like this week. Those who come home from work exhausted, fearful for themselves or their family. Those who see years of work building a livelihood swept away. Those who feel imprisoned in their home without human touch for – well who knows how long?
Our churches are closed, yet the church is not. This holy week we mark key events that are the foundation of who we are. Jesus met with his friends to share a Passover meal. We cannot meet, we sense the bereavement of that loss. But it reminds us not to take this communion for granted.
Behind that supper was the story of the Passover, a time of sickness and death when the people marked their houses so that they might be passed over. Walking round the lanes I notice houses also marked, with rainbows for our NHS. Beyond the supper lay arrest, betrayal, denial, and death. Lives were shattered. Our world was changed.
Christianity is an uncomfortable faith. God is not convenient or safe or happy ever after. We know God through the vulnerability of a baby born out of place. We meet God in brokenness – take this, remember me. We know God when we allow him to kneel at our feet with water and a bowl. And we must allow him. We understand God only when we weep in the dawn and he speaks our name.
These events shape what it is to be the church. I am trying each day to ring people for a conversation. It brings to light the water and bowl life of the church. People sharing food, collecting prescriptions, passing on a bottle of bleach or hand sanitiser. I collected 7 bags for the Foodbank and dropped them off at the distribution centre. Delivering parcels for the Foodbank I heard through an open door as I walked down the path the voice of a little lad, very excited, “I’ve got an Easter egg. An Easter egg! I’ve never had an Easter egg!”
It is getting hard to ring people. Phone lines are becoming more and more engaged. People are ringing each other. Speaking to someone they know who is on their own. The instinct to reach out and support is strong. The desire to look out for someone else is powerful. It is how we will endure this time.
There are many who this holy week will know desolation. But they will never be forsaken.
The Revd Canon Paul Dawson
Paul's Letter for Passiontide
We are living through an event that is shaking the foundations of our lives. Only a few short weeks ago life as we know it today was unimaginable. I spoke to someone who lives near the sea, they described looking out of their window and seeing the promenade deserted. Usually it is filled with people, many walking dogs, and at the weekend children playing. Today even the sea itself seemed subdued. There was pervading sense of something being terribly not right.
We have listened to the advice from our Government and our churches have acted upon it. Sadly this means that our churches are now closed. This feels wrong, surely in these times people should be able to sit in space where prayer has been valid for generations. There is a sense of bereavement and bewilderment. This devastation has swept upon us without warning or reason. Many are anxious, people are frightened for their loved ones, jobs and livelihoods are in jeopardy. Years of work counts for nothing in the face of an invisible enemy.
You don’t need me to tell you that the past weeks have brought out the best in some people and the worst in others. When this is over what matters is how we have lived through it, and what we have learned not to take for granted.
As part of our response to the measures taken to limit the spread of infection we have suspended our parish magazine. This decision has not be taken lightly as many people value this community publication. But we cannot ask people to visit homes to deliver the magazine and since the churches are closed we cannot collect our own copy. We are also aware that things are changing so quickly that by the time the magazine is printed things have moved on a long way. So we are trying to offer weekly letter and reflection via our website. Please look in regularly so we can share news and stories.
Please be aware that we do not have telephone numbers for most of our church members so if you feel the need for a chat please get in touch.
I hope many of us have tried the online daily prayers provided on the Church of England website (www.churchofengland.org) Click on Prayer and Worship, then on Join us in Daily Prayer. It is all free and everything is there. Please pray for all those who work with our NHS at this time. They are being tested to the limit and rising to that challenge courageously.
I have said to members of our PCC that when this is over the world will be a very different place. We will need to mourn for those we have lost. We shall not simply pick up where we left off. There will have been too much suffering for that to be possible.
This week we remember Christ’s suffering for this is Passiontide. The Collects for this season do not try to make sense of suffering, or see a reason or cause within it. We simply hold to the truth that God is always with us, if we know this we can endure, and if we can endure then we can prevail. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, though this is a truth we cannot always see or understand. Faith is often walking in the darkness remembering the light we have seen.
Hub in the Pub – 2020 – The Mouse and Elephant in the Cathedral
It was a dark, wet and windy Monday night that greeted the Rev’d Canon Jane Brooke, Vice Dean and Canon Missioner, when she fought her way through floods and the howling wind to speak to the parishioners of St Mary’s and St Peter’s at The Plough, Whitegate.
The Rev’d Cannon Jane Brooke was one of the first women ordained as priests in the Church of England in 1994, and has spent the majority of her ministry as a self-supporting minister, demonstrating black-belt level juggling of a career in education (teaching and as an educational consultant), bringing up a family of three and her ministry across Cheshire.
When asked she said God‘nudged’ her into teaching and later ministry, just as it was probably God that nudged the ‘man’ leading the 24 hour silent retreat before her ordination to ‘break the rules’ and allow the women ordinees to talk. We were left with the feeling that Jane was good at talking, that is talking people into doing positive things; the Knife Angel at Chester Cathedral must have taken some talking to convince the powers that be that it was a powerful message. And this was affirmed when Jane admitted that being able to get things done in her current job excited her. Of course, there is a narrow path to tread, as although the Cathedral is foremost a place of prayer and worship, the teams running the Cathedral, the bookshop and refectory are interlinked and must all work together.
A couple of years ago Jane wrote a book “Awesome Anselm”, about a mouse carved into the alter rail at the Cathedral, and his exciting adventures. As the evening ended with Jane talking about the unusual elephant carved in one end of the choir pews who has hooves instead of feet, I wondered if Jane has another book in her.
Our thanks go out to Jane for giving up her evening to speak to us. Her chosen charity was Claire House, and £272 was raised. Many thanks are extended to David Hughes at The Plough who yet again donated a tasty supper to support the event.
On Sunday 22nd December 2019 James & Ellie were admitted as Choristers of St Mary’s Choir. The service was followed by coffee and a special cake served in the Mews.
Christingle 2019Published: Tuesday 10 December 2019 09:46 AM
A selection of photographs taken at the Christingle service on the 8th December 2019.
Christmas RafflePublished: Friday 29 November 2019 03:32 PM
Tickets are now available for our Christmas Raffle
First Prize - A Christmas Hamper
Second Prize - A Christmas Cake & Bottle of Whisky
3rd Prizw - Six Flutes and a Bottle of Prosecco
Tickets are priced at £1 each. The draw will be made after the morning service on the 15th December.
The sheets are available at the back of church.
Also guess the name of the doll. Two guesses for £1.
The winner will also be announced on the 15th December.
Pilgrimage to the National Memorial Arboretum
St Mary’s pilgrimage to the National Memorial Arboretum was well attended and took place on a fine day on Saturday 18th May, appropriately just a few weeks before the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Set in 150 acres of park and woodland, and bordered by the serene River Tame, the Arboretum and its 350 memorials were designed to provide a national focus for Remembrance, not just for the military, but also for all rescue services and many other associated organisations. The visit started with a short service in the chapel and then we dispersed in all directions either to seek out memorials relevant to our own respective families, or simply to admire the beautifully constructed and tended monuments and statues. Some took the internal land train to enjoy a 50 minute tour of the site with an audio commentary whilst others followed recommended tour routes described in the official written guide. Central to the site is the Armed Forces Memorial which is a stunning and captivating piece of architecture listing on Portland stone panels some 16,000 names of those who have been killed on duty since WW2. Sculptures and statues within the large circular construction bear silent witness to the cost and scale of armed conflict in recent years. Particularly heart-wrenching are the memorials dedicated to the Burma Railway, Polish Forces and “Shot at Dawn”. (There are no words to describe the distressing feelings evoked by a visit to the latter memorial). Despite moments of sadness tinged with gratitude to those who had given their lives for us, all in all Alan Newton organised a wonderfully thought-provoking and informative day in the company of good church friends. Individual return journeys are already being planned to visit the numerous monuments still to be seen.