Life seems very strange at the moment. Some of our parishioners are still working, some of them are working for the NHS and are working extremely hard so that the rest of us receive the care and attention that we need if we are ill. Many are suddenly finding that they have to work from home and others suddenly find themselves with no work. Those of us who are retired and over the age of 70 are being advised to self isolate especially if we have underlying health problems. None of us is supposed to be socialising; we can only go shopping for food or medicines and even if we go out for walks we have to keep our distance from all those we meet. As Archdeacon Martin said in the daily bulletin from the diocese of 31/03/20 “We are currently walking though uncharted territory. The terrain is rough, unlevel and hard to negotiate and the destination is unclear.”
To me the fact that all this is happening during Lent is making me feel that this year we are all experiencing Lent in a way we have never experienced before. We may not be fasting in the sense of giving up chocolate or whatever we usually “give up for Lent”. We are fasting in a completely different way. We are not able to take part in one of the Lent groups. We are not able to attend a church service. We cannot even go inside the church and pray privately. We are all experiencing the sense of deprivation, the sense of being without something that is precious to us. We cannot meet our friends. Many of us live alone and although we may not feel lonely in the way some elderly people who have no family and no friends feel lonely, we are experiencing a sense of isolation. It is also in a way quite claustrophobic and can cause a sense of panic as you wonder when this will all end. So it is a period of fasting but it is more like the experience Jesus had when he was in the wilderness. In a way we are all in a form of wilderness. We have never experienced anything like this before and it is frightening.
In amongst the fear and sense of isolation, there is goodness – people are communicating with each other, they are phoning or sending emails – checking that everyone is alright. People are offering to get shopping for neighbours and friends and generally being supportive. I am witnessing a sense of neighbourliness and caring that is growing. So out of that wilderness is coming love and caring.
In Alan’s sermon on Sunday he referred to the question of suffering. Jesus never told us it would be easy if we followed him. There was no expectation that we would be free of suffering. If people who were believers found themselves free of suffering and pain then everyone would become believers but for the wrong reason. They would only believe because of what they would gain. There is no love in that, no real indication of a real faith. It would not necessarily create a very pleasant world. Jesus taught us that we should love one another. Real love is not free of pain. When people suffer pain other people become more caring. So out of pain and suffering comes love and caring. God knows about pain and suffering and when we suffer, when we feel pain then God walks beside us. Maybe you have experienced this – I certainly have. I realise that I may be accused of over-simplifying the question of pain and suffering but I hope it makes you think about it.
Picture by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash.
Bishop Andrew, Bishop of Guildford, has written the following letter to be shared among all parishes in the diocese:
The last few days and weeks have been a confusing and bewildering time for us all. A growing number across our communities have contracted the coronavirus, of whom a small proportion have died. A far greater number are now self-isolating, including many able-bodied men and women over the age of 70. Social gatherings have increasingly come to a halt. The economy is in freefall.
And yesterday we all received the news that church services are to be suspended for the time being, so as to seek to contain the virus: another unprecedented move at a time when the very word ‘unprecedented’ is becoming almost a cliché.
In all this there has inevitably been much talk of closures, cancellations and postponements, including the postponement of a visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to our diocese, which was due to begin today. Is the Church just shutting up shop, people might be wondering – to which the answer is a resounding No! For this current crisis is a time for Christians (including we clergy) to step up not to give up: to let go of what’s less important so as to focus on what’s most important: to be not just the Church of England but the Church for England; to go deeper in our commitment to what Jesus described as the greatest commandment of them all: to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves’.
So how might we love our neighbour at this time? Perhaps through committing ourselves to ten acts of kindness every day, especially in relation to those who are poorest and most disadvantaged among us: making sure that our Foodbanks remain properly stocked with provisions and volunteers; leafleting streets with offers to pray and to help; arranging for daily phone calls to those who are frail and housebound; joining in with local community initiatives (because Christians don’t have a monopoly on good ideas or compassion).
Even the self-isolating can love their neighbour at the end of a phone-line, or in front of a computer, or by writing a good old-fashioned letter. How about expressing your appreciation of your Vicar, for example, at a time when she or he is likely to be feeling really pressurised?
One of our churches has followed the Italian example in providing a little outdoor concert for those who are self-isolating in a block of flats in their parish. Another has taken round a hamper to their local GP surgery, to express their huge admiration and support of those on the frontline. Clergy will shortly be invited to join a diocesan Facebook group to share good ideas and learn from one another; and do please consult our diocesan website daily as we respond to the most pressing questions that are cropping up in our churches and our schools.
Loving our neighbour is one thing, but how about loving the Lord our God when corporate worship is on hold? What might that look like?
As you know, we’re in the season of Lent, 40 days and 40 nights in which Jesus went into self-isolation, to be tested, yes, but also to pray, to meditate on the scriptures and to deepen his sense of calling for the future. During that time he was echoing the 40 years that Israel spent in the desert before entering the Promised Land: a time in which there was no church or temple, but just a makeshift tent (the tabernacle) in which Moses used to meet with God day by day.
So how might we meet with God over this time as we take time out to pray, to meditate on the scriptures and to reflect on our calling, now and in the future? What’s our tabernacle? Again parishes around the diocese are being really creative on this one, keeping their churches open where possible, providing spiritual resources for those who need them, making use of technology to help people feel connected, and above all praying, and calling others to join in. This coming Sunday the Archbishops have called us to a Day of Prayer, symbolised by putting candles in the windows of our houses and together lighting it at 7pm. And again there are some wonderful resources appearing on the diocesan website to help spiritually nourish us during this time in the wilderness.
Loving God, loving our neighbours; and how important too, to love ourselves at this time: to be kind on ourselves as well as others, as we all adjust to a rapidly shifting landscape.
And so finally to God’s Word through the prophet Isaiah: that ‘I will give you the treasures of darkness and the riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name’ (Isaiah 43:5). So what might be the treasures of darkness during this time?
Perhaps a new togetherness as a nation, following the deep divisions of the Brexit debate. Perhaps a new connection between the church in England and the people of England. Perhaps deeper discipleship and new vocations arising out of those forty days and forty nights of self-isolation (or however long it lasts). Perhaps a new commitment to prayer, and above all a new recognition of the sheer wonder of the Christian gospel – that nothing (not even loneliness or sickness or death itself) can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
And, in recognition that the call to suspend public worship fell on St. Patrick’s day, a prayer from St Patrick’s Breastplate:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger, Amen’.
Listen or watch this message here
Nicodemus was an influential religious man, he belonged to the Sanhedrin, which met every day in Jerusalem. And yet he appeared not to understand metaphor! Or chose not to. The word translated “from above” can also be translated “again” – an interesting aside is when Christians ask if you have been born again, do they mean from above?
The imagery of being born again was common at the time in both Jewish and Gentile culture – it was used for Jewish converts (two sources I have disagree about this!) and for various mystery religions.
It perhaps becomes obvious which Jesus meant when he goes on to talk about being born of the spirit (the aside about the wind would have come about because in both Hebrew and Greek the word for wind and spirit is the same), and the similarity of the two is that they are both only visible by the impact that they have.
So, to paraphrase, Nicodemus goes to see Jesus at night (never a good sign in John’s Gospel which frequently compares light and dark, day and night) and says that “we” recognise your signs as coming from God – but when Jesus tells him that he must be born from above, to be born of the spirit, he wavers.
Of course it is also possible that he was fully aware of what Jesus was saying to him, but was unwilling to take the steps required and was replying in kind – a kind of verbal tennis.
The question then becomes “what about us?”. Are we willing to be born from above – to change our lives?
There are long arguments in Christianity about which beliefs are “orthodox” – leading to excommunication for those who do not conform – but in this passage Jesus appears to more interested in “orthopraxy” – right practice. At least with this we can try to do the right thing. I know of no way to force myself to change my mind if I don’t believe something, but I can make myself do things.
So – the last two verses! I couldn’t resist.
John 3:16 is perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible – it used to make a regular appearance in the crowd at sporting events, but how was it being used? To me it felt as though it was being used to mean: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who does not believes in him may
not perish but may not have eternal life”. And yet the following verse suggests to me that this is far from God trying to catch people out, but trying to help us.
Now surely that is a God worth believing in – and a God worth responding to.
There are obvious links here to theories of atonement, and in particular penal substitution. Whilst I don’t like the theory on its own, when taken with other theories I find that it can add something to the whole idea of atonement. However, to do this I find it helpful to remember that Jesus was both human and divine, and that in the Trinity God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and as the Athanasian Creed says :
Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost.
So, instead of God requiring Jesus to go to the cross, it is God too who goes to the cross, which makes in more an image of love than an image of vengeance.
So God puts and end to the need for sacrifice by self sacrifice!
This morning I was at the Cathedral for the blessing of the oils and the renewal of vows. During the service I was led to reflect on the theme of serving others, however it is done, and it made me question the balance between the amount of time the church spends on serving people versus how much time is spent on worship or evangelism. If we look at the Gospels, most of Jesus time was spent serving others (which might lead to evangelism) rather than talking to them. Time for a think!
As we are in Holy Week, the most likely inspiration for the theme of Betrayal is that of Jesus by Judas – Durer picture above.
And yet, was it a betrayal? To be betrayed there has to be a both a loyalty, and a harm.
There has long been a train of thought that Judas was required, even destined, to hand Jesus over, because without Jesus being handed over there would be no Resurrection. If we buy this argument then Judas was not betraying Jesus, but helping him.
It all rather depends on your view of predestination; if you believe in free will, then Judas could have not handed Jesus over, whilst God could still have found a way for the events to play out. However, in these circumstances, the fact that Judas chose to do so then becomes a betrayal, and adds to the pressure on Jesus, as he then knows that one of his disciples has betrayed him. It could even be that the words
are not, as I always interpreted, a command to go and inform the chief priests, but an instruction to go and do what he was going to decide to do, as the suspense was unbearable (this is almost certainly a minority reading, as John’s Gospel is always showing Jesus as in control – however, I find that contemplating ideas like this can add to the understanding of what happened, even if they are “wrong”).
Recently the government have proposed no fault divorce. Some Christians are against this, though for reasons that I don’t quite understand. (Disclosure, I am divorced and remarried).
Their argument appears to be that doing this will make divorce easier, and therefore more people will get divorced, and this is a bad thing. There appears to be an assumption that making it difficult to get out of a marriage is a good thing as otherwise people would leave on a whim.
When I was at theological college our lecturer asked us when a couple were married: was it when:
- the marriage was consummated?
- the certificate was signed?
- the priest declared it?
- the couple agreed to live together for the rest of their lives?
The answer that he gave was 4 – in a marriage the couple are the ministers of the marriage – everyone else is a witness to it.
In the same vein, I would want to ask: when does a marriage end?
If both of the couple wish to separate then surely it is when they decide that – the rest is legal necessity, and the easier that is made surely the better?
The problem perhaps comes when one spouse wishes to end the marriage and the other doesn’t (eg Owens v Owens). Yet in this case the couple are divorced in all but name. What good is obtained by denying the legal separation in this case?
The other argument about couples staying together (or not) centres around children. There are numerous studies round this eg https://www.verywellfamily.com/should-you-stay-together-for-kids-1270800, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/contemplating-divorce/200911/divorce-doesnt-harm-children-parents-fighting-harms-child (which partially argues against the previous article) and https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/22/children-divorce-resolution-survey-rather-parents-separate. I think what I take from this is that the impact on the children depends more on the behaviour of the parents than on their legal status.
What do you think?
Each day in Holy week Christians on social media are being encouraged to post under the tag #OURHOLYWEEK on a different subject each day. So here goes!
What is your take on rage? Is it something to be avoided at all costs or something to harness? Perhaps it depends on your view of control and your definition of rage. I suspect that if you grew up in a family where uncontrolled rage was a common experience you are not that keen on it. But perhaps sometimes extreme anger is required. Perhaps Jesus turning over the tables in the temple is an example (or perhaps not – although I find it difficult to imagine such behaviour without an element of anger); without it where does the energy to fight injustice come from?
What do you think?
On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome Jesus to Jerusalem as the Messiah; and yet, they seem to be expecting him to behave differently to the way that he does. They were expecting someone who would “rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age and World to come“, and at a time that Israel was ruled by the Romans this would require their overthrow.
Every Thursday local clergy discuss the following Sunday’s Gospel, and this week one of the discussion points was whether the crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem was the same one who cried out for his crucifixion a few days later. The arguments centred on whether people would have changed their minds so quickly. The choices were broadly: “no they wouldn’t” and “if they were disappointed by the failure to overthrow the Romans…”; no doubt there are others too.
It certainly looks as though they didn’t expect the kind of Messiah that Jesus was, ruling by influence rather than by power, indeed, refusing to use power when the opportunity arose, rather allowing himself to be put to death rather than invoking the power of God. Indeed,
So my question is: “What kind of Messiah do you believe in?”.
Richard Rohr writes that:
Over the years many people have had a view of God as somewhat like a medieval King; someone who it made sense to be afraid of, and to try and keep on the right side of. Jesus came to tell us that God love’s us, and that nothing that we do can stop him loving us.