Discipleship in Difficult Days 4

I am grateful to colleagues in the Diocese in Europe who have begun to send me their own thoughts and reflections on these ‘difficult days’. This edition of the blog includes a couple of such contributions. There is a psalm for the days of coronavirus written by Revd Christine Bloomfeld, who is chaplain in Lausanne. There is a powerful reflection on the meaning of ‘Quarantine’ by Ksenia Smykova, who is an intern on our Ministry Experience Scheme, based in Rome. My husband, Alan Amos, who inter alia has PTO at Holy Trinity Geneva, offers a short meditative poem on the ‘danger’ presented by the present time of getting too attached to the daily news.

I also include a brief – yet powerful – personal note from a friend in the Cursillo movement in Switzerland who had to celebrate her 90th birthday in isolation and I am grateful to Andrew Caspari, our Diocesan Secretary, for sharing with me an extract from a sermon preached last Sunday by Revd Sam Wells at St Martin in the Fields. Finally I include a few more thoughts on John 11.1-45, the lectionary Gospel for the coming Sunday (I have already commented on this in the blog, last Tuesday), and give a list of churches/chaplaincies in the diocese where I understand that online worship will be happening this coming Sunday.

Please do continue to send me the fruits of your gifts of creativity at this time. I hope to publish the next edition of this blog next Tuesday, 31 March.

Clare Amos, Director for Lay Discipleship; clare.amos@europe.anglican.org

Knowing God; Growing in Christ; Building Community; Living beyond Ourselves

(Diocesan Rule of Life)

 

alan on nick's ipad

This photograph was taken by two members of the congregation of Holy Trinity Geneva as they participated in worship through the medium of ‘Zoom’ at their home in France last Sunday.

A Psalm for the Days of Coronavirus

Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.
Sickness makes it way around your world; *
nations and peoples fall ill to the virus.
Fear hovers in the depth of our stomachs;*
anxiety rises up in our throats.
O Lord, your people like to be in control of everything;*
we sometimes believe that we are God.
Today we are not in control;*
we recognise that we are human and but dust.
O Lord, come to us quickly!*
Hurry and come to our aid O God!
Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.

For you are our loving Father;*
you hold us close to your loving breast.
You remind us of your promises of old;*
stories of life and hope fall from your lips.
“I will be with you always” promises your beloved Son.*
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” affirms Paul.
You breathe life into dry bones;*
your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.
For you are a wonderful and holy God and I know no other to compare to you;*
only you, O God, can bring life out of death and set us free.
Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.

And so my heart overflows with love for you;*
from my lips come prayers of thanksgiving.
I put my trust in you, O mighty God;*
for you will never forsake me.
Send down your strength to those who serve you that we may do our part;*
we will serve each other and your world when you fill us with your power from on high.
Take us by the hand, enfold us in your love and endow us with your wisdom,*
that we may see your world healed of all pestilence.
Then the organ will blast and voices will be raised;*
together we will rejoice and sing your praise.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever. Amen
Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.

(Christine Bloomfield. Chaplain, Christ Church, Lausanne)

*****

We are one body

‘And when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.’ (1 Corinthians, 12.26)

One of the most popular words of the month in Italy, for sure, is ‘quarantine’. It comes from the Latin word Quadraginta, forty. In the Middle Ages the word had a more military connotation. It referred to the income deriving from feudal land tenure, which the tenant of the land was obliged to pay to the landlord, assuming a certain military office. The number forty is also symbolic in Scripture. One can imagine how the collective Christian consciousness did not take long to draw a parallel between the forty days Christ spent in the Judean desert and the forty-days of service, hence the name.

In many Eastern Churches, specifically requested commemorations or petitions are often turned into a series of forty consecutive liturgies. Lent is forty days long. The Christian word Quadraginta is omnipresent. No wonder people, suspected of being contagious, were also isolated from society, in one way or another, for forty days – and that gives us the present-day use of the term.

The number forty brings before us a range of biblical and cultural associations. It is therefore very symbolic to stay in quarantine in such a prominent center of Christianity such as Rome, precisely during the Quaresima (Italian for ‘Lent’). I couldn’t help but to express this myself on Facebook soon after Italy went into shut down – this Lent is becoming a real desert. Of course, I was not alone in this association. Many similar thoughts appeared on the newsfeed. The parallel with Lent is so bluntly black-on-white obvious, that naturally it seems like we are living within a moralistic sermon.

If this pandemic was indeed to be an illustration to a homily, what would the preacher’s main idea be?

The very nature of the virus tells us that we are interconnected in ways that are not always evident or visible but which are nonetheless real. Breaking or disturbing that connection makes us feel very, very uncomfortable.

We are now living in a science fiction. Millions of people simultaneously confined to their homes, deprived of socialization. For the first time in our lives, we have no right to move. Everything is upside down. Everybody is tired. As of now, only two weeks have passed and people are already changing in their behavior, level of tolerance, attitude towards each other. Those who are confined with their families face different problems than those who live alone or those who, due to the nature of their work, have to continue getting on the empty bus and driving through the empty streets every day.

The virus attacks our mental and emotional health more forcefully than it attacks the lower respiratory tract. Probably, what makes the situation worse is that people cannot make any sense of it. Trying to make sense of things is proper to human nature. It is the way our intellect works – it needs to find causes. Why did this happen? Who is responsible for this? Whom shall we accuse? The lack of answers often leads people to one of our favorite genres – the conspiracy folklore. It must be the Chinese government… No, no – it is Russia! If not the US. Unless it is a universal Masonic plot, of course.

The sub-genre of that is what I would define as apocalyptic conspiracies. ‘It must be the beginning of the end – no, it isn’t, but God wants us to realize that… (insert whatever best fits your theology)’. A friend from a Muslim country told me today that his compatriots are sure the pandemic is a blessing from God because people can’t go out to the pub.

Personally, I doubt any of these have any connection with reality. Perhaps they do, but more likely not. What I am sure of is that we cannot utter judgement on behalf of God. The only conclusion we can make so far is quite evident and was already pronounced by the Gospel – we are one body. If a member gets sick, the whole body suffers. If in the future I will get to preach on 1 Corinthians 12.26, I will start by calling to mind the spring of 2020. (Ksenia Smykova, intern on the Ministry Experience Scheme, All Saints, Rome)

*****

 Attached to news

Attached to news

It curls its tendrils round our lives

Infests and squeezes,

gradually distorts.

 

Christ is our news

who makes for us each day

all things new

 

Attached to him,

we find him close to us,

like breath within us

bringing life to every part. (Canon Alan Amos, PTO Europe and Salisbury)

*****

A special birthday

‘May I share with you my recent experience? Last Tuesday, St Patrick’s Day, I turned 90, but was already confined to my home, alone. It was a glorious day, lake and Mont-Blanc in view, and I wore the green finery I had bought for the planned party which didn’t take place. My eldest daughter who lives nearby left a home-cooked festive meal at my door. Her husband contributed a fine bottle of Moulin-à-vent, and I spent the whole day answering 80 phone and email messages. I’ve never felt so warmly surrounded. Not a soul in sight, but so many hearts beating in rhythm with mine. A unique celebration – and lesson – for which I will thank our good God during all the time left to me.  (A member of Geneva Cursillo)

*****

‘Confinement’ and new life

… I haven’t forgotten it’s Mothering Sunday. I want to finish with a thought about a rather old-fashioned word. Every mother gives birth. And all of us are very glad that our mothers went through this strain and sometimes agony to bring us into the world. In days gone by, people would refer to the last stages of pregnancy as confinement. The curious thing is that confinement in a different sense is exactly how many people are experiencing this virus. Confined by not being able to be close to friend and colleague. Confined by having no money to spend. Confined by being forced to stay at home. Confined, with the illness, by being stuck in bed.

The insight we get from this double meaning of the word confinement is that the agony of childbirth is the prelude to the single most wonderful thing about life: and that’s the miracle of birth. Confinement means a period of strain and distress and extreme pain that yields endless life and energy and wonder. In the midst of our sadness, suffering and bewilderment today, maybe we could think of this time like a child in the womb, growing in hidden ways, drawing on unknown resources, discovering our true identity and preparing for what is to come. This is Mothering Sunday: the day we recognise the cost of confinement. But also the day we remember the paradox we first knew as babies ourselves: that confinement is not the end of life as we know it, but its hidden beginning. (Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar St Martins-in-the-Fields)

*****

Strong Language: John 11.1-45

(This builds on some comments about the account of the raising of Lazarus offered in my previous blog last Tuesday.) In some ways it is a pity that, because it is in the form of a story, we tend to read all 45 verses of John’s account of the raising of Lazarus in one ‘sitting’. The passage is so extraordinarily rich that it deserves being used and re-used on several consecutive Sundays so that we can pick up and reflect on hints and allusions that enrich the narrative, but which are often ‘skipped over’ because there is so much to say.

Among other features the strong language of the story – particularly towards its conclusion – repays attention.

* He (Jesus) was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. (John 11.33)

* Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. (John 11.38)

The repeated verb ‘greatly disturbed’ are two different forms of the Greek verb embrimaomai. In its ancient Greek origin it is thought to refer to the ‘snorting’ sound an angry horse might make – perhaps (if it were a war-horse) as it prepared for battle. The verb is rare in the New Testament, other than these two occasions in the Gospel of John, it appears three times, twice in the Gospel of Mark (1.43; 14.5) and once in Matthew (9.30). In all three of these other appearances it would most obviously be translated as ‘sternly warned’ or ‘scolded’. Jesus ‘sternly warns’ or ‘rebukes’ people to keep quiet about miraculous cures he has effected, and the disciples ‘scold’ the woman for the waste of the oil she has so lavishly poured over Jesus at Bethany. So the translation ‘greatly disturbed’ perhaps does not capture the full sense of the Greek verb. Which then begs the question – what is it, here in John’s Gospel, that Jesus wants to scold or rebuke? The probable answer is that ‘Jesus is enraged at the reality of death.’ (Herman Waetjen) Is he, in effect, like a warhorse preparing for battle with death, a battle which as we suggested previously will cost him his all?

This seems to be confirmed by the other verb used here ‘deeply moved’ which comes from the Greek verbal root tarasso. I think we are intended to read its use here alongside the two following occasions it appears in the Gospel of John 12.27 ‘Now is my soul troubled’ and 13.21 ‘Jesus was troubled in spirit’ – both times translated as ‘troubled’. Both of these references clearly allude to the internal anguish that Jesus is experiencing as he anticipates his imminent passion. The use of the same verb here in 11.33 helps to reinforce the connection between Jesus’ sacrificial love for Lazarus and his own death. What is however interesting is that the NRSV translation of the verb in 11.33 is in some ways inaccurate. In 12.27 and 31.21 the verb tarasso appears in a passive form – but here in 11.33 it is an active verb followed by a reflexive pronoun, for which the most precise translation would be ‘he moved/troubled himself’. It helps, I think, to reinforce Jesus’ role as an active protagonist in what is going to happen, both to Lazarus, and to himself.

Alongside these strong verbs we also read of a strong action, that brief but extraordinarily powerful note that ‘Jesus wept’, or more accurately ‘Jesus began to weep’ – as it is an imperfect form of the verb. Which of course then leads on to the question, when did Jesus cease to weep, or is he weeping still for the humanity he loved so much?

*****

Online and digital services in the Diocese of Europe/Episcopal Convocation on Sunday 29 March

I am sure that there are many other services taking place – but these are the ones that have been drawn to my attention. I don’t give exact digital links for the service – but rather the church’s website homepage – from which you should be able to find more details. The experience that we had when holding last Sunday’s online worship at Holy Trinity, Geneva, is that we were joined by a number of friends who now live in England or in other parts of Europe.

St Pauls, Tervuren   https://www.stpaulstervuren.be/online-worship

Holy Trinity, Geneva http://www.holytrinitygeneva.org

La Cote Anglican Church, Switzerland http://www.lacotechurch.ch/

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Geneva http://www.emmanuelchurch.ch

All Saints Church, Rome https://www.allsaintsrome.org/

St Pauls within the Walls, Rome https://www.stpaulsrome.it/

St George’s Church, Barcelona https://st-georges-church.com/coronavirus-service-update/

In addition I am aware that Revd Louis Darrant (Costa Azahar) and Revd Robin Fox (Belgrade) are using their facebook sites to enable people to share in their daily praying of the Office.

 

 

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