This Lent we will be encouraging one another to go deeper into the Christian Faith by walking together the Way of the Cross.
Those of you who have visited Jerusalem will know that the “Via Dolorosa” – that winding way through the narrow bustling streets of the city which (it is imagined) was the route the condemned prisoner Jesus took on that first Good Friday to the place of his execution – is a distressing, uncomfortable and far from peaceful path for anyone to embark on.
Here in St Oswald’s many of us in our own ordinary paths through life have had to experience grief and sadness, to encounter betrayal, misunderstanding or injustice, or the physical or mental pain of feeling our bodies or minds are at breaking point, just as Jesus did over 2000 years ago. As we approach the season of Easter once again, ordinary Christians like ourselves through some kind of Lenten exercise seek to explore, together with good companions, honestly and humbly something of the meaning and purpose of our lives. We do this, not to gloss over the hardships and griefs of the world, but rather to let in the light of the Risen Christ, who we believe will lead us safely out of the darkness and out of a natural human tendency to despair into a more hopeful and positive place, amazingly often hidden “just around the corner” at intervals on our life’s journey. It is from those newly discovered places of refuge and refreshment that we can begin to reach out to others along the way. Whether we find ourselves stepping out hesitantly or are more sure of ourselves, it is only by “walking the walk” that we are able to offer true empathy and compassion to those who might otherwise feel as if there is nowhere to turn or no-one in the world who understands what they’re going through.
Starting on 4 March, for five Wednesday evenings from 7.30pm till 9.00pm, we hope you will join us as we make space for informal discussion, prayer and reflection, using the book “Walking the Way of the Cross” as a guide. The book features a series short “signposts” written by three notable contemporary Christian thinkers: Paula Gooder, Philip North and Stephen Cottrell (who of course has recently been appointed as the next Archbishop of York). Each presents us with a different perspective on the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death. As it says on the book cover:
“Philip North considers where good news is to be found amid such inhumanity and how we can tell the passion story so that it resonates in our contemporary world. Paula Gooder offers short homilies, enabling readers to enter into the biblical texts, so that deeper understanding might lead to greater devotion. Stephen Cottrell draws us into the story on a very personal level, encouraging us to imagine ourselves in the thick of things, watching and reflecting as the tumultuous events unfold.”
Everyone is very welcome to join our Reader Anne Coomes and myself on this journey through Lent. Neither of us has all the answers, but we will endeavour to hold open the map and simply hope to learn and discover alongside all of you as equal companions on the Road of Faith. Copies of the book will be available either to borrow or to purchase, so a list will be put at the back of church for you to sign up for a copy and/or to take part in any or all of the Wednesday evening sessions, or else do simply email me to register that you’d like a copy of the book to use quietly at home at your own pace (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will aim to look at just three of the fifteen “Stations of the Cross” each week in sequence, so if you need to miss out on coming along to one or more of the group sessions, you will at least know where we are up to, be able to get your bearings and can catch up with us later on! As the hymn goes: “We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.” By the time we reach Maundy Thursday on 9 April, we will probably be saying “Are we nearly there yet?”! So I’m sure we will be ready to share our customary Last Supper together at 7.30pm that evening (thanks especially to our faithful chefs Dave Williams and Sue Berry). We hope you will sign up in due course to join us for that informal Family Meal, enjoying the now legendary hospitality of St Oswald’s Church, our very own wayside Inn! The following day at 10.30am on Good Friday, our children and families will as usual be encouraged to follow the Story of Holy Week and the Way of the Cross in another informal and creative way (thanks to the hard work and irrepressible imagination of Bev Nixon!). Then at 1.15pm on Good Friday afternoon, you will have an opportunity to walk and pray through the complete set of stopping places on Jesus’s journey to the Cross, landmarks by then familiar to many of us from sharing our Lenten exercise, using the set of poster illustrations which accompany this year’s Lent Book.
May God be beside you to comfort your hearts and enliven your minds this Lent. May God guide you into all truth and fill you with all joy and peace, in believing the good news of the kingdom. May you discover you are never alone on your journey, whatever valleys you enter and whatever hills you have to climb, and may the blessing of God’s eternal Easter hope and love ultimately lead you safely home to heaven.