From the Vicarage
A message for Sunday 29th March
5th Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
It’s quite easy at this ‘unprecedented’ time for one day to roll into the next, so we can remind ourselves that today is Passion Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Lent. The Gospel reading , if you wish to read it, is John 11: verses 1 to 45, the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead.
Unlike some churches we can’t stream services. But I think it’s important to maintain some sort of local focus to our spirituality — hence this video and text.
A strange Lent at troubled times
Now — the word ‘unprecedented’ keeps cropping up quite a lot at the moment — in these very strange and troubling times. Given the way we might use the word in everyday speech, I do wonder if it is strong enough to represent what we are living through, but when you search the thesaurus, it’s difficult to find any word that quite fits the bill. These times are in that sense, beyond description.
One thing though — this is probably the strangest Lent any of us have ever known.
Our normal experience of Lent is one of trying to remember what it was we decided to give up. And for some of us, trying hard, but not always succeeding, to maintain an awareness in our daily Lenten lives of self-reflection and penitence. It’s not just the difficult bit before we can somehow let go and relax again on Easter Day.
This Lent is different. And I can’t help thinking that if the forty days of Lent is representative of Christ’s forty days fasting in the wilderness, then the lock down which has been rightly imposed on us actually becomes our opportunity.
Apart from one prominent figure across the Atlantic, I think most of us realise that our current experience in our home-based wilderness is actually going to last rather more than forty days. And although we have not elected to experience difficulties in obtaining food and household supplies — which we might represent as some form of fast — we might, and can, use the experience to remind ourselves of what Lent is meant to be.
But, this is a time when we are fearful for our welfare and our futures, as were the disciples. And it’s a time where uncertainty about ourselves can also cause us to overlook the uncertainties that many people in this world still experience to a far, far, greater degree — and all the time — in terms of starvation, disease and death. We at least have some remedy open to us — even if that represents our personal loss of freedom. I realise that some of us will experience loss in several different ways as a result of this pandemic, some severely so, and many in our own communities have to work on, and in far more difficult conditions even than usual.
I think one of the reasons we might be concerned at the moment goes beyond fear for ourselves. What we are dealing with represents a threat not only to our way of living, our society, but it is probably an unconscious reminder of the ultimate fragility of our species. In the end we exist as a group of organisms dependent on each other both physically and functionally. If we pause to reflect, though, it is actually very unlikely that this is Armageddon. But it is certainly an opportunity for us, quite deliberately, to resolve to care for this Gift of our world, in a very much better way than we have done recently.
And now, let us pray,
O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright:
grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Incarnate God; in our times of fear and uncertainty, remind us that before rising in triumph from death, you passed through desolation and darkness. As the days lighten, assure us of the hope you bring us; so that our trust and confidence in you may not waiver, but sustain us through whatever difficulties we face. Amen.
Let us go in Peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.
*prayers sourced from Church in Wales website
From the Vicarage April 2020
‘It’s so unreal’, I’ve heard people say. ‘Even surreal’, I’ve replied.
And you may be forgiven for wondering how we’ve managed to drift into the pages of a real-life dystopian novel, the sort of novel where the world has gone badly wrong.
Like many other people my mind has tended to dwell on the worst news. Indeed, it’s been difficult to read or listen to anything else, other news now relegated to small print or just not reported at all. If we’re honest, most of us are worried about all sorts of possibilities. But, with common sense and real effort by everyone, catastrophe can be avoided and we can mend our collective lives, and perhaps mend the world a bit too.
I’m cheered by how quickly some communities have got their act together — sometimes even before government and WHO advice had arrived, and produced truly Good Samaritan acts of care and concern for other people. Maybe they had no time to realise that they have answered the question in that parable, ‘and who is our neighbour?’
And I’m sometimes furious at reports of civic thoughtlessness — surely everyone must realise the only way to stop this disease is for people not to be together? But we are social animals — it’s how the world has always functioned (I’m still cross). Or, is it mass denial, with vox pop interviews showing people who clearly haven’t grasped the enormity of the problem?
It may seem odd to consider it now — but this crisis will end, and we need to start thinking now about how we use our lives ‘after coronavirus’. And what we are going to learn from the crisis? Will it change how we live forever? (We can aim to change our lives for the better.) How will the many hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods have been damaged, or lost, find a new way of life, including people very close to these communities? How will others support them? Can we move away from the comfort orientated ways of thinking we have all become used to? Some of the happiest people I’ve ever seen were poor families in Nepal. Not happy because they were hungry, wearing threads, and had nothing, but radiating true happiness for reasons known only to them. I reset my own values then — but I admit, just for a while.
At times like this, though, people do begin to reset their values and rediscover lost spirituality. In the past people returned to their places of worship realising how badly we misuse God’s world. But remember that God is with us through all this in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, who died that we might live. From the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32): ‘…this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’
There is still so much that is good in our world. We must hold on to our aspirations. And let’s now think about making daily prayer a central part of our lives – prayer for others, and prayer for ourselves.