APRIL 2021: 18-APR, 11-APR, 04-APR, 01-APR
PREVIOUS MONTHS: MARCH, FEBRUARY, JANUARY
PREVIOUS YEARS: 2020
18 April 2021 – Third Sunday of Easter
The Easter stories begin with the disappearance of Jesus, with an empty tomb, an unsuccessful search for his body, and the witnesses overcome with fear and amazement. But thereafter, the Easter stories are all about the (re-)appearance of the risen Christ.
And the risen Christ is a bit of a jack-in-a-box character: popping up unexpectedly, unrecognised, suddenly appearing, suddenly disappearing, raising questions and doubts in those who see him.
Today’s Gospel (found in Luke’s version) is one of those instances. We too, like Jesus, have jumped into the story mid-flow. We gate-crash the disciples who are back in the city all together (we’re not quite sure exactly where), but – unlike John’s story last week – there’s no mention of them timidly hiding in a locked room. In fact, they’ve been out and about. Two of the disciples – Cleopas (you know: the one whom we’ve never heard of previously and whom we never hear of again) and another one (who doesn’t even have a name) – have just returned hotfoot back to the city. They had only just left and got to a village – roughly the same distance as between London and Chingford – when they had turned on their heels.
They had recounted what happened to them on the road and at Emmaus, only to have their exciting news dampened by the others responding “oh yes! Peter’s seen him as well.” Apart from the disciples sharing this news, the gospel had not previously disclosed this to us (the readers). All that had been shared is that Peter had gone to the tomb, popped his head in, seen it was empty, and then decided to go home. (Whimsically, I imagine Peter stood there, slightly smug, content that his position as top-dog was still unassailed by these “also-ran” disciples, who had run back from Emmaus.)
But, in common with other appearance stories of the risen Christ, there are key messages here for us today. They provide us with a glimpse of a God who meets us where we are, and how we are. And that is no matter how important or unimportant we might – secretly and overtly – think we are, or how others might view us. Whether we are the prince of apostles (espying the risen Christ as we walk home but with not much of a story to tell), or forgettable and forgotten bit-players (with a big story to tell but overlooked), the risen Christ appears in our lives and God’s presence is close. And that is in the streets that we walk, in the places where we gather, in the stories that we tell, and in the lives that we share.
This is no airy-fairy, reality-denying wishful thinking, these appearance stories go out of their way to embed resurrection in real life. In this gospel story, the risen Christ denies that this is all something very spiritual. His disciples assume that this Jesus who had disappeared from the tomb, who had died on the cross, was a ghost. But no! he is not a spirit, and that point is slightly laboured in a bit of a crass way,
Look at my hands,
Look at my feet,
Give me some fish
And watch me eat.
The risen Christ does the same type of things that we normally do with our bodies – we and he can occupy space physically, walk, talk, eat, touch and be touched. A little bit like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, Christ materialises in our real situations – a happening, an event: the risen Christ becomes a fact; our faith in God becomes concretised in our lives, in our realities.
This week, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in conversation with theologian Paula Gooder, said of the Resurrection that it “is not a happy ending. Jesus doesn’t just miraculously come down from the cross. He really dies. He enters into the dark pit of our loneliness, our abandonment and that’s crucial. It’s there that God remains at work.”
The risen Christ is no Jacob Marley’s ghost. He is no ghostly apparition that keeps popping up with instructions for his friends on how to escape this ghastly world. There is no introspection here. Often faith is spoken of or seen individualistically, that somehow I can do God on my own: that I can be spiritual rather than religious, that faith is personal rather than shared, that somehow it’s little more than an itch that needs to be scratched, or (euphemistically) personal stimulation for spiritual pleasure.
The tomb is empty – not because a dead Messiah has been vindicated with an assumption up out of this world into some far-flung distant heavenly sphere. The tomb is empty – because God continues being incarnate. He is resurrected … he is present around a table, he is present on the sea shore, he is present even in a locked room. He is met by the grief-stricken woman railing at the gardener pottering around with flowers in his trug, he is met in the stranger on the road exchanging the news of the day, he is met in the picnicker on the shoreline as he turns the fish he is cooking on the fire.
And the risen Christ calls all of these people out of their inward individual focusses and sorrows and hang-ups and needs and doubts and wishes and wants and hopes and frustrations; and by speech, and touch, and sharing food, he calls them – and he calls us – into community, to be incarnate ourselves in this world: where we are and how we are. For the risen Christ is the incarnate God who saves us not from our reality – but who enters and joins us there. For we are all in it together. Now is eternal life. These are the courts of heaven. We are resurrection people.
11 April 2021 – Second Sunday of Easter
Do Not Doubt but Believe
The last year has certainly been a testing one, and the death of the Duke of Edinburgh has overlaid a new loss. There have been new things to learn, new ways of doing things, including being Church, are we up to all of these new challenges, indeed do we always want to take on the challenges?
Well life is about change and taking on and learning new ways, so we have tried, still perhaps not sure but aiming to do the best – approaching the task with some trepidation and doubt but buoyed up by other’s faith in us – we can’t let them down.
And this is what Jesus says to his disciples as he appears to them for the first time after his resurrection. His first words are not ones of rebuke, as well they might be, after they all deserted him; no his first words are a greeting. ‘Peace be with you.’ A normal enough greeting, and one he has used before, everything is fine, he seems to say, even though everything has changed, and his followers are no doubt terrified and thoroughly confused.
They are in a locked room, and yet Jesus is with them, he was dead and yet he is with them, not a ghost, but the risen Jesus, the same and yet not the same.
Then he really shakes them. “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” He has a job for them to do and no ordinary task at that. He knows they will need support, so adds, “receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But hang on, only God can forgive sins, this is not something they can do. Exactly, they can only do this with humility, and most importantly with God working in and through them by the Holy Spirit. “Just as the father has sent me, so I am sending you,’ says Jesus.
Not to duplicate his teaching but to implement it. Humility and trust are needed, because Jesus isn’t asking them if they want this task, he is telling them, commanding them even.
At their last supper together he had commanded them to love one another, just as he had loved them, and now he is telling them to go out and put this command into practice.
Thomas returns and they tell him of Jesus’ command, but he isn’t sure, he doubts. But is his doubt that Jesus is risen, was he also absent earlier that day when Mary Magdalene had returned from the tomb and told the disciples that Jesus had risen and spoken to her? Or is his doubt about doing the task that Jesus has given to his followers? Probably the two are intrinsically linked, and when Jesus returns the following week he invites Thomas to see and believe. Do not doubt but believe. He understands the uncertainty, he encourages the searching and the seeking after answers.
Thomas’ reply is to acknowledge Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God.’ He has not only gone beyond doubt, he is the first in this post resurrection time to acknowledge Jesus as his Lord. He sees and believes; just as John did at the tomb, although for John he did not need the presence of Jesus to believe, it was his absence, the absence of his body that enables John to believe.
For all of us there will be a different path to faith, and Jesus encourages Thomas to explore those doubts, so that he can go forward and undertake the tasks that Jesus is calling him to. Jesus encourages us to explore our doubts and challenges, because Jesus joins disbelievers on their journey, and accepts and rejoices in their questions, encouraging us all through the doubts and the fears to progress in faith.
He encourages us to have the courage to trust and doubt, to risk because of our rooted knowledge that God accepts and loves us; is prepared to persevere with us, to find the vulnerable child of God.
Jesus sees past our doubt and seeks us out, just as he sought out the lost sheep, as he sought out Thomas and later Peter to assure them that despite their failings, their weaknesses, he loved and accepted them.
Faith is not our faith in God, but God’s faith in us. God is always willing to engage. We are fully known by God, our good points and our less good, our strengths and the things that challenge us. Our journey of faith is worth taking because God seeks us out. God has counted and knows every hair on our head, God journeys with us through our faith and our doubt, our joy and our sadness.
‘Do not doubt but believe’ is Jesus’ message to all who follow – believe in me, believe in yourself that you can share all that you believe. It doesn’t need clever words, it needs words and actions from the heart, of love, care, compassion and empathy. It needs a wanting to share all that God offers to all. To all that God offers to those who know Christ and want to know him more, and to those who have yet to know him, and those who have yet to overcome their doubts and fears.
Recently I heard the following, and it struck a chord. We may not know where God is leading us, we may not need to know, all we do need to know is that God knows where God is leading us, and that is faith, and at a time of change that is our foundation, our rock.
Doubts and fears are part of learning, part of our questioning, of growing in faith. Our faith is that God does know, God will be there. We will get things wrong, we will need to try again, and each time God will be there, God will be leading us. Do not doubt but believe, because God is there with arms open wide waiting for us. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
4 April 2021 – Easter Day
Easter Day should be the easiest sermon of the year to write. Everyone has heard the story before, the empty tomb, discovered by Mary Magdalene, the weird running race between Peter and John to get to the tomb first. This race is won by John, but as he is also the one telling us the story, I guess he gets to say what he likes about who was a faster runner. The wrappings laying there. The men going home again, mainly rather bewildered. Then Jesus appearing to Mary, who was still there, crying. Yes, this sermon should be easy to write – because you are all meant to know how this one ends – we’re all meant to know the significance of this story – it’s the basis of the Christian faith.
Yet, I think because we preachers are always looking for an angle, to make the story interesting, to get people thinking in a way that is a bit out of the ordinary, because of that – it can be hard to write a sermon when the story is this one – when the story is just so stark and obvious really. Here we are on Easter Day – the church is literally as full as it can be in these circumstances; it is beautifully decorated with lilies and swept and polished within an inch of its life by a wonderful team yesterday. Here we are, once again, to worship God, whose Son literally rose from the dead, here we are to hear once again, this simple yet utterly strange message – that this man Jesus’s death has complete, earth shattering implications for our own lives. And to think about that is as hard as it is to preach about it.
I’m not much of a minimalist, as anyone who has been to my house will have found out. At the best of times, it tends to looks like a low-grade antiques shop that has just had a large delivery of stock. But I can see how decluttering could be quite an attractive proposition. There is definitely something about empty space that is calming. There’s something about empty space that is relaxing. There’s something about empty space that is pure. A mirrored lake. A vast blue sky. A white room. Silence. A blank slate. The emptiness of that tomb, when Peter and John arrive, is not what they would have expected after having witnessed Jesus’s death barely a couple of days before. But it is what they find. And, just as we have problems with thinking about the immensity of the meaning of the empty tomb for our lives, Peter and John have problems processing it too. What do they do? They just go home. They don’t stick around. John doesn’t record them having a conversation about it. They evidently decide there’s much to be done, they’re a bit tired after having ran all the way there, so they toddle back off.
The only person that sticks around is Mary Magdalene, who is in the garden, crying. She doesn’t understand what is going on either. And she doesn’t recognise Jesus at first. In fact she only recognises the gardener for who he really is, when Jesus says her name. “Mary”. And in that minute, Mary seems to just get it.
Today should be a joyful day. We’re back in church. We’re able to see each other again. There’s been some nice weather this week. The loneliness of our winter of discontent seems to be fading a little, with hope of a less bleak future for many now a real possibility. But, for most of us, that emptiness of the tomb – the emptiness of the cross even – is something that we will celebrate today with a slight bewilderment, and then – like Peter and John – we’ll probably just go home. Life goes on, right? There’s the lunch to cook.
The thing about the empty tomb though, is that the minimalism of it, the bareness of it, doesn’t signify the end of anything. It’s not a time for a sigh of relief, where we can all just go home and think ‘ah, that’s nice, Jesus is risen, alleluia’. When we declutter anything in our lives, we’re never really doing it to mark the end of the story – we’re doing it to prepare ourselves for the next thing. And when we wipe the slate clean in our lives, or when we wipe the slate clean in how we think about somebody else, when we forgive them, we’re not doing it as a final act – we’re doing it because we want to move forward.
I think perhaps Peter and John don’t really understand this when they’re at the tomb. They don’t see the significance. But perhaps Mary Magdalene does, after all she sticks around. Maybe she sort-of knows, even before she sees the gardener, that this isn’t the end of the story. As I said, she doesn’t recognise Jesus at first, it’s only when he says her name that she does. But if she’d just gone home, gone about her daily business, like Peter and John did, she would never have heard her name being called, she would never have seen the risen Jesus. No, she stayed there, and in her grief, she realised she wasn’t alone.
I think probably most of us here have a sense of the need to muddle through and make the best of things most of the time. We have people in our lives that we need to be strong for. We know that things aren’t perfect, and that we have to have some resilience. However, it’s when there is a stark emptiness in our lives. When someone we really love is no longer there. Where that emptiness about making a nice minimalist home, but where its an enforced emptiness – where the person or people in our life are no longer there, where that busy-ness used to be and no longer is, when we’re at our most vulnerable. These are the times when I think we change the most, and when we’re open to God the most too. When things are going just fine thank you, we often don’t pay spiritual matters much attention. Its when things go wrong, that we perhaps think a little more about these things.
And this year, maybe more than any other, so many known to us here, many of you here today, will have experienced that emptiness… sadness, loneliness, loss. And you will, no doubt, have experienced these feelings, not as some kind of neat ending, but as an ongoing blankness, and ongoing process of emptiness. But, if there was ever a day where emptiness signifies something more than just loss, it’s Easter Day. Because today of all days, we celebrate that death, and that loss, is not the end. The death has no ultimate power over you, over me, over anyone. And we come to worship the God who we believe loved us into life and who loves us beyond life. Who calls us by our name, who knows us more than we know ourselves.
And this God, whom we worship, and who no doubt so many out there these days probably think we’re crazy for so-doing, does not want us to just go home and put the dinner on. The actions of Christ when he talked to Mary in the garden, when he talked to her at her lowest point, when he talked to her in her grief, suggest that God calls us at the most bleak of times. He calls us to wipe the slate clean, to start again. He calls us not to just go home, carry on like nothing has happened. But, in fact, to change who we are and what we do. It’s a massive challenge. It’s a challenge we need reminding of constantly. But it is what our faith should be about. So when you say “he is risen indeed, alleluia”, and you smile, and you feel good – remember, this isn’t where the credits start rolling and the music starts playing: because actually the film has only just begun, and – guess what – you’re in the starring role now.
1 April 2021 – Reflection: Maundy Thursday
One of the advantages I have living in the vicarage is that I alone can see the real beauty of one of our stained glass windows. When the lights are on in the church they shine out through the window in the Lady Chapel illuminating the picture of Christ on the Cross.
It is a sight I have missed this past year, as it usually means the brass band are practising in the church. The other evening Colin was in the church filming The Watch for Maundy Thursday, and the lights from the candles lit up the window yet again. The rich colours piercing the darkness are visible only from 2 windows in the vicarage, and are hidden from anyone else, a true privilege, yet also an opportunity lost to shine that light out into the world. A world that more than many a year is in need of hope and light as we inch forward out of the darkness of the last few months, and ask, are we nearly there?
Are we nearly there yet?
Any parent will recognise that question, usually asked within 5 minutes of setting out on a journey. If the journey is a long one the question will certainly have lost its sparkle by the time you finally arrive and your destination comes into view.
As one who has always lived in the city, that first sight of the sea, as you come over the last hill is always something special to behold, we are there it says and indeed water does have a very calming effect, one that makes us take time to pause and reflect.
Reflecting on the past year it has constantly felt rather like a never ending journey, as we watched the graphs telling us of the growth in infections and sadly deaths, then thankfully the reduction in deaths, hospital admissions and infections. And now as we come to the further stages in the easing of another lockdown we are asking again are we nearly there yet?
Each time we appear to turn a corner another obstacle arises, and even the most resilient person is left wondering, where is the destination, will we ever find it?
The first Holy Week, must have felt rather like such a roller coaster. On Palm Sunday Jesus was welcomed as the Promised One, his friends, who have often wondered where this journey was heading, could see some destination, yet within days it all ends, in apparent failure, on a cross. From hope to despair, from light to dark, this wasn’t the expected ending. And then the first light of dawn on the Sabbath and despair turns to joy. They are there, and we are nearly there too.
In Holy Week we are still travelling, we know that after the betrayal of Maundy Thursday, the darkness of Good Friday, the emptiness of Saturday we will share the light of Easter together, and this year not on a screen. We will have the joy of sharing Communion together again for the first time in months, and that feels special.
We aren’t there yet, there is still a road to travel, yet whilst the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to those of us who are being saved it is the power of Christ.
The light is shining in the darkness, through the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it, we are nearly there, despair can once again turn to hope. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
MARCH 2021: 31-MAR, 30-MAR, 29-MAR, 21-MAR, 14-MAR, 07-MAR
PREVIOUS MONTHS: FEBRUARY, JANUARY
31 March 2021 – Reflection: Wednesday in Holy Week
On Psalm 23
I enter the darkness of death, and yet I will not fear that destruction, for you are even there with me in that deep ravine. And, with your protection, I am consoled.
It was 2001, and with six days to the General Election, my father died. Not that I knew that when I received the call. He had collapsed in the garden. So rather than the agents’ meeting at the Town Hall that I had in my diary, instead I was sat on the train heading across London to the hospital: leaving behind all that had been planned for that day, and (as it happened) for the days and weeks and months to come. As I sat staring out of the window passing through the glass and steel landscape of Docklands, I feared the worst. And then – all I recall was being at the hospital, left alone in front of a whiteboard in the empty area to where the nurse had rushed me – and where she had there left me without explanation. I looked at the names of the patients written on the board, and my father’s name was not there.
Even in the darkest valley, with death’s shadow sweeping over me – even then my fears are quelled because you are there at my side.
Just over 40 days ago, as we entered Lent, the words “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return” were addressed to us, confronting us with our mortality. It isn’t something we often wish to be reminded of – that, at some time to come, others will meet together and we will no longer be there.
There are only few with us this evening, and strangely for many in our church, and elsewhere, Holy Week will pass without coming together to confront Good Friday and the pain of crucifixion; for most, they jump from Hosanna to Alleluia.
But even the Church – which in this year has been following Mark’s telling of the gospel – will change tack and deflect to John’s Gospel, shielding us from the tragic and inescapable death scene that Mark paints. Rather than a Christ begging to be released from his fate and crying out in anguish to his Father asking why he has deserted him, John’s Christ will somehow be calmly in control while hanging on the cross, as he arranges guardian responsibilities for his mother. Rather than the harrowing death scream from the cross, there is a final “It’s all done” as the final fulfilment of scripture is ticked off.
And yet, Good Friday is necessary. Easter will come – but not yet. And even then, in the end, Mark leaves us only with a lonely burial and scared women fleeing an empty tomb screaming in fear, severed mid sentence as words fail: the raw emotions as we stare death in the face. This is what the carols we sing at Christmas points us to. The incarnation is not just a child being born, pushed out of his mother, gasping for his first breaths. The incarnation is also the end, as the struggling body on the gibbet sags and the final breath is exhaled.
The darkness does not overwhelm me, because you are present there with me. And in the night of fear, when I stumble and fall, you also walk my journey.
Good Friday – the day God dies – cannot be sidestepped. The incarnation does not simply hang by the tinsel thread of Christmas. It is impaled by nails on the cross. This is a real life. This is a real death. This is a real incarnation. When we recite in our creed, that Christ descended into hell, he steps into our grave. The pain, and the sorrow, and the emptiness remain, but even in that darkness, in that death, in that unremembered land, the dark valley in which we stumble, God is incarnate.
I enter the darkness of death, and yet I will not fear that destruction, for you are even there with me in that deep ravine. And, with your protection, I am consoled.
30 March 2021 – Reflection: Tuesday in Holy Week
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.
To undertake the journey of Holy Week is to undertake many simultaneous journeys. It is, perhaps most obviously, the journey of a group of people, firstly into Jerusalem, to be greeted by admiring crowds. Thence to Bethany – where their leader curses a fig tree, after which it is back to Jerusalem again – where Jesus effectively seals his fate, overturning tables at the Temple, and is then tested by all and sundry – pharisees, sadducees and scribes. They then return to Bethany, where – at the house of Simon the Leper – a woman pours perfume over Jesus’s head, to much indignation from the twelve. A furtive journey back to the city follows for one of the twelve, who betrays Jesus to his haters. Afterwards, for them all, to the upper room in the city for the final meal, and thence to the garden in Gethsemane, from where Jesus is arrested and taken to the Chief Priests, then to Pilate, and to the Palace where Jesus was tortured. After this, Christ’s last human journey is recorded – to Gologotha.
As well as the physical journey, it is also a journey of the emotions – for Jesus, for his disciples, for the people of Jerusalem. A journey that starts in triumph, a sense of hubris, a wave of positive emotion for all, yet ends in scorn, death and, until Easter Sunday, a sense of complete failure. Here we see Jesus the conquering hero become Jesus the bitter disappointment. Here we see the disciples go from loyal supporters to a mixture of betrayers, deniers and hiders-away. Here we see the people of Jerusalem fickly changing their allegiance, from supporters of Christ’s reign, to supporters of his death. And all in one short week.
Yes, Holy Week is short. But journeys into darkness sometimes are, and they can take one by surprise. In 1930, few would have predicted the Holocaust. In 2010, few would have predicted Trump. In 2019, few would have predicted Corona, to take but a few modern examples.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.
Journeys into darkness seem to often be accompanied by a sense of loss: loss of hope and of faith in the truth. Our modern society does not value truth as an absolute: at best, this is because we have a genuine desire to accommodate the points of view of others and recognise that we do not always have the right answers, at worst this is a cynical ploy to exploit the fears and grievances of others, by constantly feeding them lies. As we see how easily the crowds are set against Jesus, we remember the need to hold fast to the truth, and to challenge injustice. As we hear Pontius Pilate say “what is truth?” we must remember that the ultimate truth is the basis of our faith. And as we travel through the darkness of despair, of failure and danger, with Jesus and the disciples, let us remember that there is ultimate hope, too.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.
29 March 2021 – Reflection: Monday in Holy Week
Jeremiah 31.13: I will turn their mourning into joy, I will console and gladden them after their sorrow.
As we go through Holy Week, we remember the suffering our Lord Jesus Christ went through. We also remember the heartbreak and suffering many people all over the world have gone through because of the pandemic.
We can only imagine what Jesus must have felt as the time came to enter into His Passion. Was he grieving over the friendships he had made and was now to leave behind. Did he feel completely alone knowing that even His Apostles could not accept why he had to die and not fully grasp the value of his death until much later. On the cross He called out “Father, why have you forsaken me”?
Jesus may have found comfort in the Prophet’s words “I will turn their mourning into joy”. He knew that the suffering he was to endure was necessary for the joy of the Resurrection. Even so, because of his humanity, He did not want to undergo the torment that he had to go through.
Just like the Apostles, we don’t realise what God is doing in our lives and what plans he has for us. We can’t always see His great love and the fulfilment of his promises for us in our times of despair, upheaval and turmoil. Jeremiah reminds us, however, that Joy comes in the morning and light after darkness and it is because of this that we believe and rejoice in the resurrection.
28 March 2021 – Palm Sunday
21 March 2021 – Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
“We want to see Jesus.”
There was excitement; they had been looking forward to this: a special trip, a special destination, a special festival, and (more so) a special person was there. The rumours had gone round, … apparently a dead man had been raised. Those who had heard about it, and (more so) had also heard that he was headed to the City, streamed out in numbers. This was something to tell the kids and grandchildren. The Greek guys had clocked, that Jewish or not, there were some decidedly Greek-sounding names among his entourage – Philippos (Philip) and Andreas (Andrew) – that was their way in. Unbelievably, this was doable, this looked like it really was going to happen. They clutched their autograph books, watched the two disciples step forward and whisper in his ear, and they waited excitedly for the magic to happen. But …
SPOILER ALERT! This isn’t going to end well. Except – of course – that, in itself, isn’t much of a spoiler. Though (in the story) the Greeks stand there hopping from foot to foot and grinning like Cheshire cats – John’s Gospel pulls us into that conversation between Jesus and these two disciples: that strange conversation about seeds and soil, of new beginnings and new life. But – a new world, new possibilities, the glorification of God, that is only realised through death and loss and hate. As Jesus acknowledges, it is something no rational person would court or seek out, but rather something to ignore, to sidestep, to avoid at all costs. For in two weeks, he will be killed, the status quo will win – as its governor taunts him, laughing at his truth, publicly torturing him so that he and the hopes he inspires dies: slowly and painfully.
“We want to see Jesus.”
Who knows why these Greeks were so intent on seeing Jesus? The story doesn’t tell us. Perhaps they were simply hoping to see the celebrity of the hour. Perhaps, to schmooz their way into a minor role in the telling his story. (And minor it is.) But their request to see him – not to touch, not to speak to nor learn about, but to see, to perceive, to become acquainted with, to witness, this is key for where this story is leading us.
Unlike the other gospels, in relaying the final days of Jesus’s life, John has four long chapters of discourses, between the last supper and Jesus’s betrayal and arrest, – a huge outpouring of theology as Jesus bids farewell to his disciples. Jesus is in anguish for what lies ahead for them, and he seeks to comfort them in the distress that they will face. But important though words are and theology is, those few brief words of these Greeks echo and cut through it. They want to understand better. It’s not that they don’t want to hear, but rather that they want to see.
“We want to see Jesus.”
I’m not that very good with musicals. My family went to see many when I was young, and I could just never understand why the telling of a story had to be constantly interrupted by singing. I don’t think I ever saw ‘My Fair Lady’ on stage, but definitely saw the film on telly. My mother actually saw it on stage, when it opened with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews; she was there with the Queen Mother – well actually with her best friend June (the Queen Mother was sat somewhere quite separately from them).
Now in Act 2 of that musical, the character Eliza Doolittle (again!) breaks into song when her suitor Freddy tells her of his love for her. She doesn’t particularly reciprocate, but rather launches into the song ‘Show Me’, singing:
Words! Words! Words!
I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
first from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above; if you’re in love,
Show me! Tell me no dreams
filled with desire. If you’re on fire,
“We want to see Jesus.”
As we enter Passiontide, the Greeks’ request is answered. The Holy Week that approaches provides us with the uncomfortable sight of Jesus and a love that is played out before their eyes and before our eyes. They and we see the paradox of a God who dies. Who confronted by violence and contempt and hatred, does not flinch in taking it all, and becomes as one in solidarity with all who are victims or scapegoats or who are sacrificed in life. A love that – when words are no longer enough – shows itself; a stretched-out God who hangs as a naked dying and dead man exposed to our view, displayed without apology, without comment – the Word without words. And we see what love looks like.
“We want to see Jesus.”
It is a request that is also asked of us and the church. Words! Words! Words! as Eliza Doolittle’s pleads: don’t talk about love, “show me.” Of course, the problem with that is it forces us out into the unknown, to be vulnerable, to risk rejection and to be broken. It calls us to be a humble church, to divest ourselves of our strength and our power and our certainties. But it calls us to be God-like, to be exposed, to extend our arms, to enter the darkness; to shut up and trust, rather, that we in some small way will mirror that love of God that was seen on the cross, in fulfilment of the Greeks’ request “to see Jesus.”
14 March 2021 – Mothering Sunday
The last year has brought challenges for many businesses, but also great innovation. If you are a mum, this might have been brought home to you this Mother’s Day, as the number of special Lockdown Mother’s Day 2021 cards available is numerous. I bought my mum one with a picture of two people in full protective clothing, self-distancing between a bedraggled bunch of flowers that had fallen to the floor. The caption reads: “Sorry Mum, bad throw”.
Of all days, today is a day when perhaps we think about our family relationships more than any other. Within today is wrapped up feelings of gratitude, warmth and love. For many there will be sadness that the mother figures in their lives have passed away, and we think particularly of Pat Fry’s family in this regard at present, as they mourn her loss. And for others there will be a mix of emotions, not all of them pleasant. Pope Francis, addressing a Catholic conference on the family in 2015, said “in the family there are always problems. You get the plate smashing. And I won’t even start to talk about mothers-in-law!” A roar of laughter went round the packed stadium, and one sensed a degree of relief amongst the crowd – that not even the Pope expects families to be perfect.
You don’t choose your family, it is a strange amalgam of people that you may share DNA with, but for some it can feel like you don’t share much else with them. For some, care for children, care for a family, is their vocation, for some it comes naturally. For others, it is the hardest and least joyous thing they have ever had to do. For some, it is something that is longed for and never comes. For others, it happens by accident, perhaps not in the best of circumstances. And for some, their family is unknown – a mystery of pain, the hurt of rejection teamed with curious thoughts of “what if?” and “if only”.
Thankfully, most families can find some joys to celebrate, some good memories to cling to. If you have a family full of good memories, be thankful for your good fortune and grateful to those who put in the effort to make it that way. This is the stuff of dreams, and indeed it tends to be what the greetings card manufacturers trade off. Yet, it would be a strange family who had no skeletons in the closet, no arguments, no resentments and no hurt. Jesus’s own family was by no means perfect. He himself was of course born in less than perfect circumstances, and his family immediately became refugees, fleeing to Egypt. Goodness knows what an emotional strain that must have put on Mary and Joseph’s relationship. And later, through snippets of the Gospels, we begin to understand that Jesus’s special nature – perhaps his precociousness – might not have meant he had an easy time of it as a child. In fact, he says, he has come to turn parent against child, bringing not peace but a sword. A psychotherapist would have a field day with that, wouldn’t they. Mind you, if the therapist asked Jesus “tell me about your father”, like therapists always seem to do in films, I’m not quite sure what kind of an answer they would have got!
We see, too, in Mark 6, where Jesus is back close to home, and people say “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us as well?” And they took offense at Him. Then Jesus said to them: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household is a prophet without honour.”
Jesus sounds like he is rather bitter towards his brothers and sisters. Maybe they didn’t quite see him for what he was. Being the oldest child can be a burden, especially if you happen to also be the Son of God, I guess.
They say that a mother cannot be happier than her least happy child, no matter how old that child is. So for Mary it must have been hugely difficult to see her oldest Son go out into the world and, in a very short time really, make quite a lot of powerful enemies. They say that the British like to build our celebrities up before we knock them down. But reading the Bible it seems like we got this habit from first century Palestine. For Mary, to see Jesus achieve huge fame and, within a matter of a week from when he was being waved into Jerusalem, to see him imprisoned and terribly tortured, and then to see him brutally murdered, must have been beyond awful. The hurt that she must have felt, standing at the foot of the cross, is indescribable. Because, of course, when we stand at the foot of the cross, it is a symbol of hope, but when Jesus was on the cross, it would be the equivalent of watching your child slowly drowning, and being able to do nothing whatsoever about it. How she found the strength I do not know.
There is a tendency to read the Gospels now and perhaps not grasp the uncertainty and fear of the time. We know the end of the story before we start, and there is ultimately a happy ending. The Gospel of John makes sure we know the end of the story before we start, because it starts with basically a nice little run down of who Jesus is and what’s going to happen. But if you were to come to the story for the first time, you’d never heard anything about Christianity before, and maybe you read the Gospel of Mark instead, and you didn’t skip to the end, how would you empathise with poor Mary – consumed no doubt with fear and maybe guilt too. Maybe she felt “if only I had guided him better, he wouldn’t have struck out on this terrible path that led him to be killed”. “Maybe I built him up too much, maybe I told him he could achieve everything for the Kingdom of Israel, maybe I have caused this to him”. And of course, whereas in John’s Gospel, Jesus calmly tells everyone from the cross that he is going to his Father, and then promptly dies, in Mark’s Gospel Jesus really dies a complete failure. He shouts out “Father why have you forsaken me?” He dies with a sense of doubt about his mission.
Where am I going with all this? Well, I would say first that, if you have a happy family, that is a good and wonderful thing, a brilliant gift that you will have no doubt had to work hard to achieve. Families require give and take, they require love and sacrifice. Celebrate that today if you can. But if your family is less than perfect, if it encompasses broken relationships, grievances that have rattled on for years, hurt and betrayal, then do not feel you are alone. Jesus’s own family encompassed many of those things too. Some people who are more Catholic than I, like to think of the Virgin Mary a some kind of perfect person – a saint in the caricature way that suggests she was meek, mild and never set a foot wrong. I like to think of her instead as a real mother – someone who bore the pain and grief of her family, of all the difficulties she encountered, of the probably stress between her children, of seeing her firstborn son killed – she saw all this, yet she did not give up hope. So, if your family is grieving or broken, don’t give up hope that you can love. Don’t give up hope and think you are in any way worthless or unworthy of being loved. Because that is in fact the central message of Christianity, and its why we are all here today. It’s because we believe that, out of the grottiest and most miserable and depressing of circumstances, love wins.
7 March 2021 – Third Sunday of Lent
Hope in God
When people tell me that Jesus was meek and mild, I ask them if they have actually read the Bible, as whilst Jesus was very human in his emotions, meek and mild was not a characteristic one sees much in evidence. Quiet, stoic, prayerful, caring, passionate, and yes sometimes very angry are much more the Jesus we see in the gospels. He cares and his anger is directed at those who should know better, and at injustice and misinterpretation of who God is. He has a purpose to his life and ministry, and meek and mild is not going to bring that about.
Order out of chaos might be an interpretation of our opening reading today, and Jesus himself often referred to the 10 commandments, but then our epistle, where Paul appears at his most contradictory, and the gospel where Jesus is overturning the tables in the Temple are hardly order out of chaos.
But whilst seemingly opposites, perhaps they are all pointing to the building of community, God’s community and our relationship within that.
In Exodus Moses has returned from the mountain bringing with him God’s Law, God’s commandments. The people were a nomadic race, wandering in the wilderness having left Egypt. They have been promised a new life, and a new land as God’s Chosen People, and these are the rules for living in community. They are good laws for a people who are to settle down, and yet they are also so much more than that.
The preface to all the commandments is that the people are to rely solely on one God, to turn away from the religious idolatry of the peoples in the surrounding lands with their many gods and religious practices.
God first and last, God in all things – in worship, in how they live their lives, how they treat others, and many times, when asked about how to live a good life, Jesus refers to the commandments, yet always stressing that the most important is to love God and one another. Of course, as we know, God’s Chosen People, those whom God had called out of slavery in Egypt, turned away from God, time and time again, indeed almost as soon as the Law was given to Moses they broke it, and he has to intercede on their behalf again with God.
Paul is clear that God has a new way to repair the relationship, the community with God and humanity through the death of Jesus on a cross, and that certainly seems like foolishness.
A cross, the sign of failure as it would have been seen, a cross that was the sign of oppression. This is foolishness indeed, and yes it is, if one looks at it through the eyes of the Roman authorities who used it for punishment and to deter opposition, or the religious leaders who, whilst looking for the promised Messiah, had failed to recognise him in the figure dying on the cross.
But if we see it as foolishness, we are in danger of judging from a human perspective and not God’s. In dying Jesus gave himself, in love, and perhaps at that point meekly and mildly, that God’s people might return to that community which trust and reliance on God promises.
But remember this is the same Jesus who had overturned the tables in the temple, not meekly, but in anger because the people had returned to religious idolatry, relying on laws and rituals rather than trusting God, listening to God and building up one another. This is not foolishness, this is not meekly submitting, this death has a purpose.
Rules and rituals in themselves are not necessarily wrong, but if there is nothing behind them then they are worthless. It is the trust in God, one God, who gives to us all that we need, that is important. That is not to say that life will be easy and plain sailing, there may indeed be hardships, challenges and pain along the way. Yet as Paul tells his listeners at other times “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5.3&4)
And our hope comes when we trust in God, and when we turn to God we will find comfort, and strength. When in the midst of a really dark time that may indeed be hard, and God knows that. Those are the times when we may hold onto the rituals and pray that we can pray as we feel distant from God. And if we hold on and look for the calm, the order amidst the chaos God will be there.
The cross is not foolishness to those who understand that it was on that cross that Jesus died, not meekly, but passionately caring for us, that we might return to God, that we might trust God with all the joys and the challenges of our lives, that we might indeed be saved from a life without hope. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
28 February 2021 – Second Sunday of Lent
It may surprise you to learn that I am not a great jewellery wearer! There are some male clergy in our diocese who go in for pierced ears or large rings, and these days lots of younger people have tattoos of course. But this is not for me. The one ring I had I managed to lose, and to be honest wasn’t too worried as it looked a bit stupid on me anyway. But I was given a silver cross on my ordination, with a precious stone in the middle. I think the cross belonged to someone from my family a long while ago, and to be honest it isn’t the nicest piece I’ve ever seen. It is large and a bit old-fashioned, and were I to wear it around my neck, it would look a bit like I was trying to be one of those Greek orthodox bishops with their big pectoral crosses. But it did make me think about how often we see the image of the cross around the place, often in the most unlikely places.
We see the cross in our lettering, in the shapes of our buildings, our signage; and of course around the necks of many, either in a meaningful or perhaps an ironic fashion. A cross is about the most simple form of picture one can make other than a straight line. It is the picture that people who have never picked up a pen before can make. There is a reason that those who had not learnt to write were asked to sign with the sign of the cross. And in many ways, the cross as a religious symbol has become so ubiquitous, so utterly everywhere, as to become a little meaningless to many. If people see a cross they might think Christian or church. Do people really think: ‘this is a symbol of torture used by a repressive regime?’
Churches in the protestant world tend to omit the picture of the crucified Jesus from their crosses: protestant crosses are empty on purpose – not because they deny that Jesus died, but that they want to focus on the fact of the resurrection – that there is hope beyond the death of Christ – there is triumph over the grave, over the repression of the torture, over the devil. This is perfectly reasonable – it is, after all the basis of our faith. But this week I think our reading directs us to focus more closely on what some might see as the Catholic cross – the crucifix, with Christ still on it.
In today’s gospel we see Jesus rebuke Peter for misunderstanding his nature. This reading comes straight after Jesus asks Peter “who do you say I am?” and Peter replies, “well, you’re the Messiah”. And then this odd response from Jesus: “don’t tell anyone this”. That must’ve been so strange for the disciples. I think they could have been forgiven for wondering what they were doing – they’d given up their steady jobs as fisherman, etc, to follow a man they presumably thought was going to lead their people to great things, and he’d been going along healing a load of people, prophesying, and basically doing all the expected stuff, and then when things were going ok, when they were beginning to get an understanding, or so they thought, of who this Messiah actually was, he says to them – don’t tell anyone about me, or at least, not yet! I mean, they might have asked, what’s the point?
After this Jesus warns them that he will undergo great suffering, and this is evidently too much for Peter, because Peter takes Jesus aside and has a quiet word. The Bible doesn’t record what exactly Peter’s words were, but one can only imagine that it might have been something like: “come on Jesus, go easy on the whole suffering and dying stuff – you’re going to discourage everyone. Give us a bit of hope!” Jesus’s initial angry response to Peter: “get behind me, Satan!” comes as a shock to us, and no doubt wasn’t the best received by him. But it does speak as a warning to us all today, against assuming we know exactly what or who Jesus is.
And in Lent, we are at the very position, or at least perhaps we should be, of the disciples in this passage in Mark. We have heard of the work of Christ in his life, we look to his birth, to the forming of his team, we see the compassion and love he showed in his life, and of course we also know how the story ends – and that ultimately it’s a good ending, the ultimate in happy endings: we know that, ultimately, love wins, that God wins. But, just like Jesus does here, we are invited during Lent to sit with the uncomfortableness of the cross. And we dwell with this passage where we are invited to take up our cross and walk with God, whatever that cross might look like in our own lives. This does not mean we should all wear little jewellery crosses around our necks, although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and I am sure many of us do. What it is about is growing an understanding through life that the ‘Good News’ is not the same things as the ‘Feelgood News’. That Christianity isn’t about feeling a permanent high, neither is it of course about feeling a permanent low and we always have to be careful not to be too miserable about life, that would be awful.
But what it is, what faith is, what our cross is really, is something that you carry with you so permanently that it utterly becomes part of you. It weighs on you, like it should do. We shouldn’t carry faith lightly, or pick it up and put it down when we want to. It’s not something we can buy and sell, and it’s something we can choose to ignore and let’s face it, we all do sometimes, and I absolutely include myself – I would be a total hypocrite if I didn’t. None of us has a perfect journey with faith, none of us a perfect journey with the cross. But what a life of faith looks like, I think, what a true journey with the cross looks like, is a life lived in the wondering of that question that Jesus asks Peter: “who do you say I am?” And that question can be asked both ways by us: who am I? That’s a question we all ask ourselves subconsciously all the time. Our lives are about living with ourselves, changing, adapting, loving other people, relating to our soul and to others. But also, a life of faith is about asking “who do I say God is?” What do I understand myself to be in the face of God? These are not easy questions to answer and they take a lifetime of travelling with the cross, in order to answer. But making that journey is worthwhile.
Sometimes the travelling on a long is hard, sometimes we take the wrong direction, we lose the map, the sat-nav is faulty. But often journeys can be revelatory too – they can be fun, we can meet people along the way that help us, that make us grow as people. And here in today’s gospel are the disciples at the start of their journey, really. They are taking up their cross and walking with Christ, learning about themselves and learning about God. Anyone who thinks they know exactly what God is, or thinks they can tell God how to behave, like Peter tried to here, is on a journey to nowhere. But those who are open for a journey of listening, of meeting people who might challenge them, those who are open to making sacrifices along the way, to discovering more about who they are, those who are open to growing as people, to living, laughing, mourning and crying with others; open to praying to God even though they don’t necessarily know what to say. Those seem to me, to be the people Jesus is talking to here, and he’s talking to you. He’s challenging you too: are you going to take up your cross, whoever you are, whatever that looks like for you? Are you going to listen? Are you going to learn? Are you going to grow?
21 February 2021 – First Sunday in Lent
During Lent we are encouraged to look again at our lives and our relationship with God, and this year, with much that is still challenging and unknown, the theme of our Lent reflections, is ReBuilding Community.
So much of the past year has been about distance – physical and mental – from those whom we love and from the things that make up our day to day lives. As we start to rebuild those aspects of our lives, now is also a good time to be thinking about what we want society and our community to look like.
At theological college one of the assignments we had to look at was the phrase ‘there is no such thing as society.’ This work was set against a background of the materialistic and individualist role that had grown since the 1980s, encouraging a ‘me’ society.’ Volunteering, especially by the younger generations, was seen as valueless, all that counted was material wealth and self. One positive thing the pandemic has shown is who and what we really value – family, friends, relationships, carers in the widest sense; those helping others have become beacons in a dark world. Yes there are still those who think only of themselves, especially in their disregard of rules designed to protect the most vulnerable, but most have seen how important relationships, kindness and compassion are.
In recent years it has been necessary to employ people to help communities rebuild themselves and rediscover community and society, yet in less than a year a very nasty virus has done more to rebuild community than decades of government direction.
Society in its widest sense is a collection of individuals, but what pulls us together is that we are made to be relational, we are not individual islands, and it has taken this global pandemic to underscore that interdependence. Nature has stopped the planet in its tracks reminding us that we have a wider responsibility than just ourselves, this planet that gives us life and sustains us, can also turn on us.
An advertisement recently, for all of all things, a car, says that humans have learned that nature won’t change we have to evolve to survive, and let us hope we are actually taking that to heart. God created heaven and earth, God created all living creatures and gave humanity a crucial stewardship role, which we have not lived up to.
The story of Noah and the flood is very early in the Bible, in our story, and no sooner had God created humanity than God was regretting it. The flood was to be a new beginning and the covenant God makes after the flood, is not just with Noah and his family, but ‘every living creature that is with you.’ God is going back to creation and underlining the interdependence of humanity and all creation.
We work best when as individuals, we recognise we are dependent on treating our planet wisely, and on one another. In the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer we have the epitome of community, interdependent and co-eternal. And when we celebrate the Eucharist, the very essence of community and unity, we recall that it is also through the brokenness of Christ for us, that we come together. One of the things I have missed most during the last year, has been the opportunity to share in that special thanksgiving of community and relationship which we call Holy Communion.
Successful society is about interdependence, not individuals, and the Anglican Church’s parish system underlines the Church’s responsibility for all people within our local community, not just those who come through our doors, important though they are, but everyone.
In Lent we turn towards the cross and the ultimate act of an individual for the good of all others. Jesus died on the cross to bring us all back into communion with God; in love he died, that the broken relationship between God, and God’s creation could be renewed.
In our service today we recall the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love our neighbour, and in all that we are building, and rebuilding community. The hope for healing in our world comes because we are relational beings, with God and with one another.
Repent and believe in the good news is the message in Mark, or to put it another way, turn and believe in the new, God’s kingdom here on earth, a new community.
As we emerge from a year of restrictions and challenges, this Lent is an opportunity to reflect on what our communities local and beyond can look like, how we will look as Church both locally and beyond. We have the chance, just like Noah and all creation after the flood to start in new and better ways. Ways that protect this planet which gives us life and allows us not just to survive but to thrive, as we evolve to work with it.
Over the last year we have learnt new things about ourselves and who and what are important. As we rebuild now is an opportunity to work together so that all can thrive, the marginalised, those who feel unloved or overlooked, and in that we can believe in the good news that is God’s kingdom here on earth, the ultimate community. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
17 February 2021 – Ash Wednesday
This Ash Wednesday, as we continue in another lockdown, with much of life on hold and feeling like a constant penance I would like to encourage us to think about Lent in a different way this year.
Lent can indeed be seen as a dry and sparse season of the church’s year, yet it can really be a time of growth, not just as Spring approaches, but in our spiritual lives. And this year perhaps more than many a year we need to be thinking about growth, and renewal. I came across a new word the other day, ‘respair.’ It means to have hope again after a period of despair, and to me that is a wonderful thought after the recent dark and difficult months. However positive a person one is, the last year and it seems the last months in particular have been very hard for everyone. We need time to regroup and to heal.
Lent is a healing time, a time to reflect, to get our lives with God in order – hence the sparseness so as not to deflect our focus; it is a time to look closely at ourselves, and our actions.
The themes of Lent are
- facing ourselves
Renewal in our faith, as we prepare to renew our vows of baptism, which we include in our Easter Day worship.
Reconciliation, as we ask God’s forgiveness for what is wrong in our lives. forgiveness for the many ways in which we sin, we don’t get it right; and facing ourselves as we really are, but we don’t do this alone, Christ is with us in all that we do.
Being on our own, with our thoughts can be daunting, challenging and yes feel as if we are in a desert – with no direction and no refreshment. Yet those times can also be when we really get some insight into ourselves and our faith. The Desert Fathers – those who spent months/years alone in the desert – understood this. When we strip away the clutter of our lives, the clamour of the world, then we can really hear God, we can really see ourselves, and what needs to be healed, renewed and reinvigorated in that relationship with God and with one another.
Now this may all sound a little too dour, and rather like yet another extension of the way we have been living our lives in lockdown, the last thing we want is more introspection, more inward looking.
Yet Lent does not have to be about giving something up, although that may help us focus on our thoughts; Lent is a time of renewal, of turning around with God and beginning again. So why not, this Lent, take up something that brings you joy and renewal. Something that improves one’s self and wellbeing, and when those are balanced it improves our relationship with others and with God.
Penitence can be seen as a negative, when really it is about starting again, about new life after leaving behind the old life. It is not about making ourselves so miserable that we can see no joy in life.
At present we need respair, that hope again after despair, more than ever before. So what will, in the weeks leading up to Easter enable you to feel renewed and reinvigorated in your day to day life and with God?
Whatever it is I encourage you to follow that, to use this healing time of Lent, so that we arrive at Easter in joy and hope. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
14 February 2021 – Sunday next before Lent
When you left school did you know exactly what you wanted to do? And did you do it?
Some people have their futures defined for them from their birth, such as royalty, although our present Queen’s father was not expecting to be King, that role was destined for his elder brother. Some have followed in parent’s footsteps, or perhaps because it was the only future in their area, such as mining in the Welsh valleys and the north east of England. And others struck out into the unknown for a future far away from where they were born and all that they knew.
So back to my question did you know what you wanted to do? Interestingly even if you did, is it what you are doing now, or expected to do in your life?
When I left school, girls weren’t supposed to have careers, after all we would settle down, get married and have children – yes one question at one of my university interviews was exactly that! Not surprisingly, given my rather frosty answer, I did not get a place at Bath university! One sincerely hopes they have moved on since then. At my school, we were encouraged to think of careers, which was most unusual, but even so you either took A levels and went to university to be a teacher, or in my case my intention was to be a solicitor; or you had secretarial training. I am very pleased to say we have come a long way since then, and women, as well as men can, and do, have exciting and varied careers.
Yet the days of staying in one job for the whole of one’s working life are long gone. Indeed as we live to greater ages, a working life is getting longer each year, and most people will be working until they are at least 70.
Many tend to think of what they do as a job – some are more enjoyable than others, yet few would speak of their working life as a vocation or calling. Vocations are thought of as something worthy or requiring dedication, but I would suggest that something that takes up so much of our lives does require dedication, whatever it is. As Christians we are called to show God in all we do, and our working lives are an enormous part of what, and who, we are, so are we not called, to show the light of Christ in all we do? In other words we all have a vocation.
Sometimes what we are called to do is very clear. Elisha was called by God, through Elijah, and had been following Elijah as his teacher. Now as Elijah comes towards the end of his life the prophets around are asking Elisha how he feels about the coming loss of his teacher. Elisha knows his life is about to change and he wants to make sure that he is fully equipped to face the future, even though he has no idea what it holds. Elisha wants to be not just as good as Elijah, but even better in his role as a prophet of the Lord, and his request is granted. He, and he alone, witnesses Elijah taken up into heaven. Whilst the other prophets are still watching, only Elisha sees the vision, it is as Elijah promised a confirmation of his calling, his vocation.
Now Elisha was very clear about is role and what God was calling him to do, but Jesus’ disciples can be forgiven for being somewhat confused. Jesus called them to follow him, and now in the Transfiguration they, like Elisha, have been given a very clear vision, which only they see, which confirms that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One. But what they are called to do is not so clear, in fact it seems rather contradictory. Listen to Christ, follow him, and they will know is the answer they receive. They do as they are bid even though it takes them a long time to work out quite what they are to do, in fact they don’t fully understand it until after Jesus has left them.
Paul can sympathise. He knows that the gospel is baffling to many, a theme he returns to many times in his letters to the early Church, yet he trusts because, he says, we ‘do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as slaves for Jesus’ sake.’ In other words we are called to listen and trust, and God will show us the way.
Now I would suggest that such apparent inactivity is rarely easy for any of us, we want to control our own lives, perhaps another reason the current restrictions on our lives can chafe. Yet really listening is actually very hard to do. I always recall a friend at theological college saying she had argued long and hard with God about entering ministry, this was not in her plans at all, but it was in God’s.
Both Sarah and Abraham laughed at God when told they would have their longed for son so late in life. I am sure all of us can recall times when we have either argued with God or laughed at thoughts which seem preposterous and yet? Take time, really listen, pray and trust because God does have a plan for each of us, although sometimes it can take a while for that plan to be understood and accepted by us, and indeed come into being. After all this is God’s time, not ours, and occasionally we can be stubborn in resisting that plan. Not me God, we say, I can’t do that.
But if the plan is God’s it will be right, and when we accept God’s plan, God’s call we will know it is right because we will feel that peace that passes all understanding, when we turn and say, yes God here I am, send me. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
7 February 2021 – Second Sunday before Lent (Sexagesima)
On 31 January last year, the Department of Health confirmed that two members of the same family in the north of England tested positive for novel coronavirus (2019-nCov). The press notice went on to state “The current evidence is that most cases appear to be mild.”
Last Sunday, was the first anniversary of COVID-19 being detected in the UK. The year has turned, another cycle, and here we are still in lockdown.
In the church, last Sunday, we kept Candlemas. And as we did last year, and in years before, we lit candles as the last vestiges of Christmas were buried and – as we held our faint flickering flames – Lesley prayed that we “may have the darkness of our souls dispelled” as we turned from Christ’s birth to his passion.
The church’s year is an annual repeating cycle of seasons and festivals; it is (to quote the Church) an annual cycle of “Christian memory-making”, in which we remember Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we recall the ministry of those who have gone before us. And through this memory-making, the past comes into the present, informing it, shaping it, but also pushing it forwards.
If we look at it more specifically, we see that the Church year is made up of two major festivals – a winter festival of Christmas, and a spring festival of Easter, with a season immediately preceding each of those – Advent and Lent. But together that only accounts for 12 out of the 52 Sundays of the year. When I was young, the remainder of the Sundays were what is often now in the church called ‘Ordinary Time’. We often think of the word ‘Ordinary’ meaning not special; but ‘ordinary’ – similar to ‘order’ and ‘ordinal numbers’ – in its true meaning relates to arranging things one after another to create flow, movement, progress, sequence.
And so when I was young, Christmas lasted 12 days and was put back in its box with all its decorations and merry-making on the twelve night. Easter was shorter, (like the rising of Christ) a three-day period of: Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday – by which day most of the crème eggs really should have been consumed. And then, apart from the seasons of Advent and Lent, (though with occasional high days and holidays) the church counted down the Sundays until the next festival – Sundays after Epiphany, Sundays after Easter, Sundays after Trinity.
Except, just before Lent, there were three pre-Lent Sundays – the ‘-gesimas’: Septuagesima (which would have been last week), Sexagesima (this week), and Quinquagesima (next week). They weren’t a season in their own right, but stepping stones or staging posts as people readied themselves for the strictures and discipline of Lent. As Lent loomed, the Church got people ready for it – Alleluias and Gloria were out (no longer sung) and the Lenten colour of purple was pre-empted. These three Sundays got people ready, put them in the right mind frame in readiness for Lent, without the hardship of fasting, and sackcloth and ashes. (Of course, that was then, not now, as a lot of that has been lost in more recent changes in the church calendar.)
But though a lot of that was concerning an annual cycle and repetition, the purpose was memory making: moving forward, taking the past into the future, learning from it, being challenged by it, and changing.
Now, in America, at Candlemas and around the feast, you will hear many sermons preached referencing the 1993 film ‘Groundhog Day,’ in which a rather egocentric weatherman finds himself – for no apparent reason – stuck in time, forced to experience the same day of his life over and over and over again. (Groundhog Day like Candlemas was marked this week on 2 February.) And particularly over this past year, with lockdown, as days merge into weeks and weeks into months, people have found a resonance in this film. Many have used the film title as a way of speaking about the despair, anger and frustrations they feel, finding themselves trapped in the same routine.
In the film, the central character finds himself constantly living the same day, (according to the film’s director) for up to 10 years or so – though it is said that the original plan was to make that 10,000 years. However, the point is: Bill Murray’s character desperately wants to move forward past Groundhog Day into tomorrow; but for him, that tomorrow is only the change of a calendar date – not a change in him or his behaviour or outlook. He wishes to carry on cruising through life as the same Phil Connors of yesterday and the day before and the day before that.
At the beginning of the first lockdown, there was a hope or yearning that, once restrictions were lifted, life would resume – not necessarily life as we had known it, but rather a life that was better, kinder, more humane. A healthy life – where the health of the human species was seen in the context of the health of the planet. A life more at one with creation; a living that provides space and opportunity for nature to rebound; a respect for other species, which also respects and protect us against the diseases that transcend species boundaries; a vision that sees the harm that our hyper-connectivity and pollution brings.
But a year on, particularly with the hope held out by the vaccines, there seems a growing change in attitude that – rather than learning from the cycle, and pursuing change – the vaccination programme will simply mean that this past year, this lockdown, is seen as but an aberration that will pass, allowing us to resume our yester-selves, our yester-lives, our yester-pursuits. And we impatiently push to return to what we were, back to the familiar and the comfortable, as we clamour to return to business as usual, travel as usual, church as usual.
Our three readings today, all took us back to the moment of Creation, to a dead time before anything was, when the power of God breathed out and flooded existence with the eternal light of his glory. And as our Proverbs reading tells us, in that act of Creation, participating in the birthing of life itself, was Wisdom, who – in the midst of the chaos, and despite the dangers and fears – (well as our reading says) ‘rejoiced’. But that really doesn’t do justice to the original Hebrew, which paints Wisdom gamboling like a “giggling, joyful little girl” who laughs and delights to see the joy and awe of Creation unfolding. And in the heart of the varied stories of Creation, Wisdom calls out to us, lures us, to also find ways to be created creative co-creators who actively work in restoring Creation.
The cycles of our lives, and of our church seasons, calls us to move forward: to learn, to be challenged, to change. Whatever havoc we encounter in our neatly constructed lives, it is not the comfort of the familiar we are called to, but the challenge of rebirth and new life, of learning and wisdom, of stepping forward into the unknown and the new, and giggling at the delight we find in that new Creation. To let go of our insatiable desire to control; to break the bonds of our backward-looking Groundhog Days; not to bring our dead yesterdays back to life, but to turn our ongoing today into our brand-new changed tomorrow.
31 January 2021 – The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas)
A friend of mine in Kenya often sends me a few messages on Whats App each week. He lives in a particularly dangerous and remote part of the country, and his messages often contain details of life and sadly, death, among his friends and neighbours, not least this past year. Just as we are here, their churches have been closed, but were then reopened, he told me, for anyone who was over ten years old but under 65. I jokingly remarked to him that, if that was the case in the Church of England, it would mean most of our congregations would not be able to attend, but I’m not sure he got the joke.
Our Church is fortunate in that we have a ranges of ages here, but I have been to many churches with mainly elderly congregations, and its lovely to see them come alive when children also come to church. There tends to be a strange bond between children and those of the oldest generations, that seems to transcend the occasional arguments and whatever that can come between children and parents. I think my own grandparents shaped me, and maybe you have had people much older than you in your own lives, that have given you much of who you are today.
One facet of our Gospel reading today, Candlemas, is that of waiting and watching, the coming of the new recognised only by the very old, those who have grown wise through patience, indeed through the passage of life.
Of-course Simeon and Anna were not Jesus’s grandparents, but they were old. And Jesus at this point, where he was presented in the temple, was still a young child. Anna, we are told, was 84 and seldom left the temple. I imagine as praying, she might have kept the temple looking spic and span, do the cleaning – a bit like Doris does for us. She faithfully comes every week to clean, and I think Anna is like that in the temple too – she always there, always faithful, always waiting. She didn’t have an easy life – married for only seven years before she was widowed: with how many children to bring up on her own, it doesn’t say, but I can imagine it would not have been easy for her to do so. And Simeon – we don’t know his age, but he’s reported to be devout, a man on whom the Holy Spirit rested. That’s quite an accolade isn’t it? A man who had spent his whole life looking forward to the consolation of Israel – looking forward to when his country could be free again.
In recent years, the world has got used to having old leaders again. During the nineties we went through a spate of youngsters didn’t we, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and many others from their generation. But now we’ve had two US presidents start their terms of office in their 70s, and Joe Biden will, God willing, celebrate his 80th birthday in just two years’ time, although of course he has nothing on our own Queen, who is still working hard in her mid-90s. But for me, the ultimate old and wise, patient and gracious leader of a nation will always be, Nelson Mandela.
As I’m sure you know, Mandela was imprisoned aged 44 by the Verwoert-led apartheid government in his country of South Africa, his sentence having been originally one of death, commuted to life imprisonment. He then spent the next 27 years in a variety of prisons, before President de Klerk, seeing the writing was on the wall for apartheid, finally released him. The by-then ageing Mandela went on, of course, to become President of the new South Africa, and he and de Klerk notably, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Unlike Mandela, the Biblical Simeon did not have a life of imprisonment, but – just like Mandela – Simeon never gave up the hope of the liberation of his people, in a country which was of course at that time ruled by the Romans.
I think it’s hard for most of us to really understand what that feeling of ultimate patience must be like – whether its Simeon and Anna, waiting their whole lives for freedom from the Romans, or Mandela, waiting all those years for freedom from apartheid. Our resolve may have been tested this year, but realistically few of us will have had to summon those reserves of strength and hope required to last for that length of time, to not give in to despondency, to not give up hope. It is tempting for those in the West to think that after 1945, things have basically been ok, but that’s not the rest of the world’s experience. It is depressing to think that, despite all the history between then and now, despite even Mandela, there millions around the world still in those situations today: waiting for freedom for their people. For example, it doesn’t take much research to see what China is doing to its minority populations – concentration camps masquerading as ‘re-education centres’ and to his credit, Iain Duncan Smith has spoken out a great deal on this recently. Or to see what is going in Hong Kong – and the many Hong Kong residents, who were of course once British subjects, now trying to flee. Will we make them welcome, I wonder?
Simeon and Anna recognise something in the baby Jesus that his parents cannot yet see properly, despite an angel appearing to both Joseph and Mary before his birth. I suppose in Jesus’s parents’ defence, if an angel and then shepherds and kings came to visit most people, they might question their own judgement after a while. But Anna and Simeon had been waiting a long time, waiting their whole lives, for this moment – and, just as they prepare to bow out of their own earthly existence, their recognition of who Jesus is, has made them pretty-much immortal, gaining them a place in the Gospels. Simeon’s words, ‘Lord let thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ have been immortalised by the Church in the Nunc Dimittis, sung or said every day by many.
So, this Candlemas day, when we light candles in a dark world, when we look for some sign of spring, of a flourishing of the earth, of joy come again, and we simultaneously turn finally away from the stable and the crib, and towards calvary, remember those who watch and wait. Remember those for whom hope is not a balm, for whom hope is not the act of lighting a candle, but that of hard work and perseverance in the face of years and seemingly endless years of failure, repression or subjugation. And let us pray this Candlemas day, not just for ourselves and our various situations, as valid as they are, but for those whose suffering is happening right this minute, around the world – pray that hope is at hand, that God is with them in their suffering. Pray that their eyes too, will see salvation.
And as the season turns with a view towards Easter, I leave the last words to Mandela himself. He said this:
The festival of Easter marks the rebirth of the resurrected Messiah, who without arms, without soldiers, without police and covert special forces, without hit squads or bands of vigilantes, overcame the mightiest state during his time. This great festival of rejoicing marks the victory of the forces of life over death, of hope over despair. We pray with you for the blessings of peace! We pray with you for the blessings of love! We pray with you for the blessings of freedom!
24 January 2021 – Third Sunday of Epiphany
In the past year we have faced many challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to be careful about our own health, taking precautions such as washing hands and wearing facemasks and maintaining social distance. Some have been ill or have lost someone close. Meanwhile the working lives of many have been disrupted and families kept apart, often at huge personal cost. Perhaps it has made us all more anxious about our health and more aware of our vulnerability.
At the same time church buildings, which have always been places of sanctuary, have been closed and worship has been taking place online. Opportunities to worship and pray together have been seriously curtailed. We may well be feeling a sense of isolation from God as well as our neighbour.
Like you I have really missed celebrating Holy Communion particularly at those most special times in the Church year, Easter and Christmas. When we had to cancel our Christmas services that was a particularly low point for me. We had missed being together to share the Eucharist at Easter, and now Christmas was not to happen either, and our spiritual well-being is as important as our physical well-being. But we found a way of being Church and celebrating together albeit without sharing the Communion, the marriage supper of the Lamb as Revelations puts it.
Since March 2020 we have indeed missed many things, especially celebrations with their chance to be together with those we care for, and therefore it is perhaps ironic that our reading today references the wedding at Cana. Weddings have certainly been few and far between! The innovation shown by many who have gone ahead with reduced, or last minute weddings has been lovely, and perhaps it has really focused the participants on why they are getting married rather than all the fuss around the day, that has certainly been one of the things said by many.
The periods of lockdown that we have lived through have caused us to take a step back to think again about our priorities and the things and people that we value, that make our lives whole. The long periods of absence from extended family and friends, and the inability to share a meal together or celebrate a birthday or a wedding, are examples of this.
When it comes to our spiritual life, what is it that is most important for our well-being? As Church life was to a large extent paused for the first time for most people, what does it mean to be part of the one Church, the Body of Christ when all we see of our sisters and brothers are on the screen of a laptop?
The ancient rhythm of prayer found in many religious orders and their traditions teach us that when we pray, we pray not just on our own or with those who share the same physical space, but with the whole Church, the Body of Christ, of Christians in other places and in different times. And one of the joys of zoom has been that we are able to pray together, led each week by a different voice.
This rhythm of prayer, with its traditional forms of structure, hymns and psalms and perhaps most importantly, silence, might well be an important gift from the ancient Church to the Church of today struggling with pandemics and lockdowns and more widely with some of the serious challenges that our world faces, most particularly climate change, racism and poverty.
This tradition of prayer and spirituality invites us into shared prayer and silence together, surely a most precious gift in troubled times. This week is celebrated as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the theme this year is Abide in Christ, and for many years we have also joined at this time with our friends at New Rd Methodists for their Covenant Service, and again all this is now on hold. Yet we can still take that time to pray to simply “be” and to abide in Christ, who carries us and accompanies us.
Knowing that we don’t face these challenges alone, that God walks with us, abides with us, can be both a comfort and a source of strength. Leave your concerns with me, abide with me, abide in my love Jesus commands his disciples, including each one of us.
Abide, rest in Christ, so that we are nourished and strengthened for the challenges ahead.
Celebrations will return, we will be able to share meals with friends and family, we will share in the Eucharist again, we will meet with our friends at St Andrew’s, St Anne’s and New Rd. We will finally be able to hold the postponed baptisms and weddings!
For now, abide in Christ. Always. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
17 January 2021 – Second Sunday of Epiphany
As you probably know, the readings that we hear on Sundays follow a three-year pattern, with each of the three years being assigned one gospel, first Matthew, then Mark, then Luke. We’re in Year B at the moment so most weeks our Gospel is from Mark at the moment. I suppose the compilers of the lectionary could have made a four year one, but instead they decided to save up the Gospel of John and drop bits of it in throughout the three years, presumably to give us something a bit different. Because John’s gospel is very different to the other three. It’s maybe a bit more of a philosophical attempt to explain what Jesus was all about, rather than a record of the events of his life. In fact, after the famous prologue which we hear at Christmas – you know, the ‘In the beginning was the word…’ bit – this reading we had today is pretty much where John picks up the story of Jesus. He’s a fully grown man and he’s assembling his team, his disciples.
And we pick this up today with Philip, who evidently knew Andrew and Peter, he was from Bethsaida where they had also originated from, although we know that by the time they got to know Jesus, they were fishing out of Capernaum, across the water of the Sea of Galilee. John doesn’t really record what happened to make Philip follow Jesus, but obviously he had a massive effect on Philip, because the next thing we hear is Philip saying to this man Nathaniel, who he knows, “we’ve found the person who Moses wrote about, and its this guy Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth”. Now, I’ve not been to Israel and I understand nowadays Nazareth is a pretty big town, but back in the day it was a tiny, and pretty inconsequential village. Other than connected with Jesus, I’m not sure it ever comes up, I don’t think it’s mentioned once in the Old Testament. It’s a nothingy place.
And Nathaniel, who by the way we don’t hear about in any of the other Gospels, although he’s probably the guy who Matthew Mark and Luke call Bartholomew, because Bartholomew just means the ‘Son of Tholomew’, so this guy whose real name is probably Nathaniel son of Tholomew, pretty much laughs at Philip doesn’t he. He says “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I guess if the Jewish people of the time were going to pinpoint a likely home of the messiah, Nazareth would not have been top of the list. And all Philip says is, “Come and see!” you know, “come and be the judge for yourself”.
And so Nathaniel goes to meet Jesus, and it seems like Jesus knows him already, even though they’ve never met before. And Nathaniel is puzzled and says “how do you know me?” and Jesus answers, “I saw you sitting under the fig tree, before Philip had even talked to you”. It’s like Jesus had picked this Nathaniel out, and had known all along that he would be one of his followers, that he had known all along that Philip would talk to him, and had known all along that Nathaniel would respond. And of course, Nathaniel is understandably pretty amazed by this, but Jesus basically says: “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. “No Nathaniel, you will get to see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”.
Now, why did Jesus use that particular turn of phrase – the angels ascending and descending, it makes them sound like they’re in some kind of lift, going up to the heavenly boardroom, where Jesus is sitting at God the Father’s right hand. But it might also remind you of that Old Testament story of Jacob’s ladder, because of course Jacob had that very same vision – the angels going up and down from earth to heaven. Maybe what Jesus is suggesting to Nathaniel is that he will get to know far more about God than even those Old Testament prophets that Nathaniel would have heard about in the synagogue.
So what’s this got to do with us in 21st Century Britain, then? Are we all meant to dream dreams and have visions of angels in great glass elevators, or climbing ladders, perhaps with their buckets and mops to do the first-floor windows of heaven? I don’t think so somehow. But I think there is something in this of great importance to us as Christians.
I think most clergy end up repeating their sermons at some point in their life, but I’m afraid that point has come pretty early on for me, because I’m sure I have said what I am going to say to you, before. But, in my defence, it is important and worth repeating, and repeating often actually. Being a Christian isn’t about one moment in life when it all suddenly clicks into place. I mean, maybe you have had a moment like that and if indeed you have, I would never want to diminish that. Maybe there has been a moment where like Nathaniel, you have effectively said “Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God”. But, what Jesus says back to Nathaniel, is: “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. In other words, a Christian faith isn’t about a kind of philosophical eureka moment where everything afterwards is going to be just rosy because we’ve got all the answers.
No, God knows us before we knew him – he created us, and he sees us under the fig tree if you like, he spots us there before we recognise him. But recognising God is only the starting point of faith, it’s not the end. For Nathaniel, that moment was the start of his journey with Jesus, and just as with our journeys, his was a tough one, and no doubt with many rocks on the road, many times when he probably doubted Jesus, when maybe he hid from Jesus, when he denied Jesus. And, you know, that’s the same for us isn’t it.
The road through life is rocky and for most of us, it’s rockier than normal at the moment. For many people, these last months have caused us misery, loneliness, and of course real loss. And when you’re going through tough times, a faith that is only based around some kind of philosophical understanding might not get you very far. Because our faith is built up and knocked down by our experience through life. It’s built up and – sadly – knocked down at times by the people that we meet, that we interact with. It’s built up and – sadly – knocked down at times by the Church. Yes, this faith of ours isn’t some intellectual exercise – we learn more about what God is by walking with Him as best we can, through our lives.
And sometimes it is difficult when you are going through Hell, to see where God is in your life. Sometimes it feels like there cannot be such a thing as God because you feel abandoned. And if that is or has been you, do not feel ashamed because you’re in good company. On the cross, Jesus cries out to God the Father “why have you forsaken me?”, “God where the Hell are you?” But if that is you, don’t forget that the story had a happy ending. Resurrection happened. And resurrection happens all the time in people’s lives. Things can and do get better. People forgive. People grow. People learn to love again. Things heal. And with perspective, sometimes we can look back and see the action of God.
So, in some senses, no, we ain’t seen nothing yet. We don’t know God in the way that we will face to face. But our journey should be one of discovery and of the growth of a relationship of love, and I pray that we as a congregation, as we travel on that journey ourselves, will also grow in our relationship of love for one another, as He loves us.
10 January 2021 – The Baptism of Christ
Many years ago I was at the Building Research Establishment, and we were in an enormous room which is totally soundproofed and pitch dark – there is nothing, no sound, no sight, it was as close to nothing as we can imagine, and it was completely disorientating. We knew we could get out to the light and the sound, but that nothingness, as you can see, made a lasting impression on me.
We cannot imagine nothing, nature abhors a vacuum, and we try to fill that emptiness, yet in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, there was nothing, and the writer of Genesis is trying to convey that emptiness, that nothingness, and words struggle to convey that unimaginable picture.
Then the Spirit of God moved over the earth and said ‘let there be light,’ and at once God begins to make sense out of the world, this we can begin, only begin mind you, to follow. God talks to the world, even before it can understand what is said, and thus God brings the world , us included, into community with God.
Our Christmas readings have all, in various ways, reminded us of the new beginning of life – literally with the birth of a child in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, John takes us back to the Creation with the words, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ And now with Mark, the earliest of the gospels, we have no child, but still a new beginning, a baptism.
In the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Mark tells us, Jesus comes to be baptised by John the Baptist. He did not need to be baptised, in the sense that John was baptising, for repentance, to turn around and start again. Jesus came to fulfil the new beginning of the promise of community with God for all.
Just as at creation the Spirit moves and signals God’s presence, we are invited to turn from nothing, from existing, to a life fully lived with God. We are called out, made special by our relationship with God, and our baptism is the beginning of that lifelong journey.
The Ephesians, that Paul meets, have been baptised, but don’t yet fully understand what this means, what they exist for. Paul knows they are waiting to understand God‘s purpose for them, to love and be loved, to be part of God’s community.
Throughout the baptism service there are many signs and symbols of that new life with God. The font is traditionally at the back of the church symbolising the start of our journey into knowing God. We are marked with the sign of the cross, the badge of faith, in oil to anoint us as marked out, and in water. We are cleansed in the waters of new birth, dying to our old life, and rising to new life with God. And finally we are given a candle as a sign of new life, and of Jesus conquering the darkness. With this candle we are encouraged to shine as light in the world. Just as Jesus was shown, manifested to the visitors at the Epiphany, so we are called to reveal Christ to the world, in our lives and our actions.
When God created the world, God saw that it was good. When Jesus was baptised God saw that it was good, when we turn to God, even when we have been absent for whatever reason, God sees that it is good, and welcomes us with open arms.
These are dark and difficult times, and at times the light is hard to find, so let us recall that through our baptism, we have received the light of Christ. We are not trapped in the darkness, we can walk in God’s light all the days of our life, and importantly as well shine for others to see that light. Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
3 January 2021 – The Epiphany
Arise shine your light has come.
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid.
Well we have passed the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and gradually the days will lengthen and be brighter, and the start of a new year also brings new hopes and probably new challenges. This year, more than many a year past, we are certainly looking for that hope and light in the darkness, and that darkness is not just a physical one. We are more than ever looking for direction and guidance.
And today, the Epiphany, we look for that dawning, that new beginning with a realisation that the world can be different. Difficulties can, and will, pass, we will be able to live our lives again, we will be with people we love and care for again, yet life will be different. We will have been changed by the events of the past year, just as we always are, as life brings new experiences, some good, some not so good. And as we look to the future what will guide us?
Well, I have 3 possible guides – a star, a Sat Nav and a globe.
The Wise men followed a star – they had consulted their charts and maps, and knew this star meant something special. It foretold of a new king, not just an earthly king, but a king who would bring heaven and earth together. So they packed, including some precious gifts worthy of a king and followed the star. They had faith in the guidance of the star and what it promised.
A sat nav is the modern equivalent to following the stars and the charts and it doesn’t matter if the night sky is clear or cloudy, generally this technology is failsafe, so we trust it. Mind you having followed mine recently down some very narrow lanes, which did reach the destination, but gave me some pretty hairy moments, trust is still needed.
But why the globe? Well, it can show us where the Wise Men came from, and the journey they took, modern day Iraq and Iran to Palestine, a difficult journey then and still now as it passes through war zones. It also shows us that Palestine is very strategically placed to take the news of this new king, north, south, east and west, to spread the good news.
So, the globe is all of those things, but it also shows that God, through Jesus’ birth and the visit of the Wise Men, was revealing himself to all nations. The Wise Men were not Jewish, they were not looking for the Promised Messiah, yet they travelled to find this new and different king. They had to travel a long distance to worship the baby, and they brought presents that recognised this child was very different. Gold for a king; frankincense for a deity and myrrh because Jesus was anointed, marked out as special. And they too were special, called by God, as God calls all peoples to know God. You don’t have to pass exams, or have the right answers, or the right family background to know God.
The Wise Men brought precious gifts, gifts fit for a king, and we too can bring precious gifts – our skills, the things we are gifted with, ourselves, our lives, and we can offer them to God to use as God will, to be guided as God will.
God reveals himself/herself to us all, and God does show us the way – the way, the truth and the life. Not with stars or sat navs, although following God may well turn our world upside down. Our lives may not be the same again.
When God came into the world to live amongst us, life afterwards was not the same for Mary or Joseph, the shepherds or the Wise Men.
As God again reveals God’s love for us, will our lives be turned upside down, will we find a new way of living and being, and will we trust ourselves to God to find that new way? Amen.
Lesley Goldsmith (Vicar)
© 2021 St Edmund, Chingford