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.
Those who write catchy slogans or create successful marketing ploys will no doubt already have declared this to be the year for aspiring to 2020 Vision, once thought to be the norm for optimum clarity and focus in human eyesight!
Realistically, most of us live with less perfect levels of perception of the world around us, often needing help to see the bigger picture or the finer details of life. As Christians, none of claim to be perfect and most of us fail to see the wood for the trees at some time or other. However, there is this strange verse in our Gospels which is attributed as one of the sayings of Jesus: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!” This verse was literally carved in stone below the east window of Emmanuel Church, Forest Gate, the parish where I served as Vicar between 2000 and 2003, and the church where Dave and I were married at Epiphany nineteen years ago.
The stained-glass window above the inscription showed a humble but colourful nativity scene, with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus all being welcomed by the shepherds who had rushed down from the fields to greet the promised Christ child. It always seemed to me a bit incongruous that the call to “Be perfect…” was directly aligned in Emmanuel Church with what must have been the chaotic, obscure, messy, unwelcome and even dangerous circumstances of Jesus’ birth.
But in actual fact, it does make perfect sense! If we believe God in Christ was humble enough to step down from the exalted heavenly realm into the far from perfect world epitomised by that first century unequal, cruel and oppressive society, then quite simply the perfection God calls us as Christians to emulate is that same divinely inspired desire not to stand aloof from messiness and pain, but to get involved right at the heart of things, and somehow to try to see our way clear to make an amazing difference for good in the midst of a whole variety of otherwise hopeless, unglamorous or unpromising situations. In the second century, St Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” The angels must surely sing with joy once more “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!” whenever we display even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion in response to catching sight of both the obvious or more hidden needs of those around us, whether in our own community or glimpsed fleetingly in transitory heart-wrenching stories flashed up on our TV screens or on social media.
Whether we consider ourselves as ordinary and a bit on the edge of things, like the shepherds, just about making ends meet, or whether we count ourselves amongst the more privileged and comfortably off, like the three wise travellers, who can afford to risk going on adventures in life – whichever may be the circumstance into which we were born, consider that God may be calling each of us to come a bit closer to Christ as we enter this New Year. Think of how a young baby at just six months of age gazes so seriously and intently into your face, before breaking into a smile of recognition and delight! At this coming Epiphany season, may we increasingly see ourselves as God in Christ sees us, considered no less his beloved child than was Jesus himself, revealed at his Baptism in the turbulent waters of the River Jordan. And responding to the forgiving and gracious gaze that God eternally bestows on us, however insignificant or undeserving we may feel, may we have the insight to view others around us equally as our neighbours and companions along life’s way, however difficult the journey may be.
The first miracle that Jesus did according to the Gospel of John is the one often recalled at weddings in church – Jesus turning the water into wine! This story is one of the Epiphany season readings and reminds us powerfully that God desires all human society to be celebratory and rich in meaning and purpose. Too often we find ourselves more conveniently ignoring the hints and nudges of those who have noticed a real need or an impending crisis, like Jesus’ mother Mary did when the scandal of inadequate provision of hospitality threatened to embarrass the bridegroom’s family on that memorable occasion in Cana of Galilee. At our own wedding, sadly no-one noticed (not even the new bride) that all Dave managed to find left to eat at our splendid wedding buffet (provided by our lovely friend Eileen Williams) was just one vol-au-vent!?!
The Epiphany season, which lasts through to the Feast of Candlemas on 2 February, reminds us, as we approach Ash Wednesday at the end of the month, that we are called to delight in God’s world and sacrificially to enable others to do the same. If Christmas is for children, then Epiphany is for grown-ups! May our vision as the Anglican Church of God here in this community ever remain unclouded by selfishness and insularity, and may we ever be alert to responding in love to the needs of the world, starting with our nearest and dearest and then looking beyond them to help relieve the plight of the poor. May God grant us clarity of vision this New Year and always!
Job said to his companions: “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock for ever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints with me!”
Job – a man put to the test by God at the behest of the devil, who is trying to prove that Job’s faithfulness is wafer-thin. Job’s fath is tested by disasters to his reputation, to his health, and by disasters to his family. But after this testing, Job’s faith is upheld – “I know that my Redeemer liveth…”
On this Remembrance Sunday it is appropriate to compare Job’ suffering to that of men, women and children in the midst of war – witnessing death and disaster, facing death or disability. Compared with Job, I think it is fair to say that in wartime many people lost their faith in God, while a few did persevere in believing…
…including one of Bollington’s most favourite vicars, Canon Reginald Norton Betts, who had been awarded the Military Cross in that terrible conflict of the First World War.
Another result of that war was that people lost their faith not only in God, but in all those in Authority – “the powers that be” – who led them into war in the first place. Our Collect for today echoes this:
Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the king of all: govern the hearts and minds of those in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
I rather think that at our present time, too, most people are not exactly inclined to trust those in authority, not only in our country but world-wide. And this year we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the rising up of the churches and the “little people” in peacefully breaking down the Berlin Wall. But this fundamental mistrust can escalate into fearfulness and even despair about the future of our planet.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus, and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Our Gospel for today is about another battle of beliefs as Jesus confronts the Saducees – a Jewish religious group who did not believe in life after death. Obviously, Jesus spoke up for the belief in eternal life – and could do no other he was consciously on his chose pathway through life, to crucifixion and gloriously to resurrection. A path that led from utter despair to overwhelming hope, opening the way for all of us to eternal life: a central plank of our Christian faith.
On this Remembrance Sunday, I wonder how many of us remember that – as Christians and as many other faiths – we do believe in life after death. And (for instance) that those rows and rows of graves in foreign fields marked with crosses, or with Jewish Stars of David or the crescents of Islam, not only represent the tragic toll of death as a result of war, but also the ranks and ranks of those same souls now in heaven who “at the going down of the sun and in the morning” we do remember. Souls now at rest, with the battle done, but nevertheless poignantly reminding us of the immense sadness and tragedy of wars still raging today.
So at our parish war memorial this morning and later at war memorials right across the country and the world, we do well to remember not only the deaths of so many, but also like Job we may dare to believe that in truth Our Redeemer liveth, and that in God’s good time all things will be made new in Him. Our post-communion prayer for this remembrance Sunday has much to commend it:
God of peace, whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom and restored the broken to wholeness of life: look with compassion on the anguish of the world, and by your healing power make whole both people and nations; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
At our recent Autumn Fair we were truly blessed by the generosity of our local community which helped us raise an amazing sum of £1,800 towards the upkeep and continuing work of your Parish Church!
Included in that total was an incredible £200 as a result of the enterprise and talents of those members of our RiCH After School Group who took up Bev’s innovative challenge of “RiCH does The Apprentice!” We must also give thanks for the long list of supporters from local businesses and individuals who willingly gave us raffle prizes or items to sell or who offered their services free-of-charge on the day (see the full list here)
We are so grateful for all your support in helping us to meet the
everyday expenses of keeping your Parish Church open, flourishing and able to offer
a high standard of care to all those, young and old, who call upon our resources
from within the local community and beyond.
As we now move from Autumn to Winter, at our Light Party on All
Hallows’ Eve, 31 October, we will celebrate once more all those Saints of
God, well-known or obscure, in whose lives we have glimpsed the compassion and
challenge of Christ. It may not be exactly time for Spring-cleaning but if you
are of an active and energetic disposition, please come and help us clean and
polish up the church building on Saturday 2 November between 10.00am and
12noon! On the evening of that same day, All Souls’ Day, we will gather at
7.00pm for our Annual Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving, bringing
to mind those closest of our friends and family whose passing we mourn,
entrusting their souls once again to God’s infinite care as we light a candle
in their memory. A few days later, we may hear fireworks in our neighbourhood,
celebrating the joyful life we can share with friends around us. Perhaps we will
write our own names with sparklers in the light of a bonfire, as we focus our
attention on our own roles and identities within the complexities of world politics,
historically and in the present day. On Remembrance Day, 10 November, we
will parade solemnly with poignantly resilient poppies on our lapels and hold respectfully
before God, in the two minutes’ silence, the lives of those who died or who
returned maimed in body, mind or spirit, praying that we do not squander their
hard-won peace. As we continue to teach all our children St Oswald’s motto,
urging them to “be strong and of good courage” and to follow paths of
gentleness and peace, so let us pray for strength and resourcefulness for
ourselves and our community as we look for ways to enhance the well-being of
all those around us and across the wider world, mindful of so many people still
living in poverty or in dire need as a result of violence, relationship
breakdown, cruelty, greed or selfishness.
There is the opportunity to lighten this solemn November mood by joining in either one of the two Christingle Services we now offer on Advent Sunday afternoon, 1 December, at 2.00pm or 4.00pm.
At these services we are invited to take carefully into our hands those familiar bright orange candle-holders, studded with delicious symbols of the fruits of the earth, anticipating Christ’s light dawning into the world and blessed by the music and song of so many children and families from our local schools. During the following four weeks leading up to Christmas, we may begin to look inwards at our own lives and perhaps examine our consciences in response to new awareness of world-wide climate change (highlighted by the Transition Bollington group), challenged as we must be by the younger generation’s persistent awkward questions about our collective choice of lifestyle. We might decide to volunteer again with HOPE in NE Cheshire as a Street Angel or at our Winter Night Shelter project for the homeless, staffed by members of the churches and other people of goodwill in and around Macclesfield. We may be encouraged over the next few months to consider what part we could take in a new local initiative of helping Bollington to become a Dementia Friendly Community. All these and other good causes provide us with opportunities to serve others, but we should also be careful not to neglect our personal need for spiritual nurture and reflective space: so please do also join us here on Saturday 14 December between 10.00am and 4.00pm, when we are offering the hospitality of an Advent Quiet Day, open to all, to prepare our inner selves spiritually for Christmas. In these various ways we aim to clear the clutter, to make enough room to greet the birth of the Christ Child and to discover afresh some practical ways of welcoming God’s Spirit of kindness and justice into our hearts and homes.
Every blessing this
Advent and Christmas and always,
Canon Veronica has completed her five-year stint as Rural Dean of Macclesfield. A number of well-wishers from around the Deanery showed their appreciation…
Revd Dr John Harries, Vicar of the Peak Parishes (Bosley, Sutton, Wildboarclough and Wincle ) was Commissioned as the next Rural Dean of Macclesfield at St James, Sutton on Tuesday 10 September, one of Bishop Peter’s last services before he retires at the end of September.