I am grateful to those who have contributed and given permission for their work to be included in this edition of the blog. There is a beautiful Eastertide prayer for our difficult days written by the brothers and sisters of the ecumenical monastic community of Bose; a wonderful series of Haiku poems written by Jean Mayer, of La Cote, Switzerland, and drawn to my attention by Peta Tracey; further contributions of prayer poems by both Paul Wignall and Alan Amos, and a personal reflection on what it means to be church in the time of lock-down by Sarah-Jane King, an ordinand of our diocese. The blog concludes with a brief comment on the lectionary reading for this Sunday. Please do continue to offer your creative contributions. Such creativity is an example of the abundant life (John 10.10) of which Sunday’s Gospel speaks, and feels like a defiance of the virus!
Clare Amos, Director of Lay Discipleship, Diocese in Europe
A painting by our friend Marie-France of La Chapelle des Bergers (the shepherds’ chapel) in the village of Novel, Haute-Savoie
God our Father,
with the resurrection of Jesus your Son,
you destined creation for transfiguration
in new heavens and new earth,
look upon mankind suffering
in the hour of the pandemic,
and pour forth your Spirit
of compassion and mercy,
so that all may find hope and work together
in charity and solidarity,
awaiting to be together in You in eternal life.
(The brothers and sisters of Bose, Italy)
Jean Mayer who wrote these poems, and her husband, have a long cherished link with Japan. In giving me permission to include the poems Jean suggested that it might be helpful to include her brief note of introduction:
‘Haiku is probably the most well-known form of traditional Japanese poetry. Its short structure and concise nature has inspired countless people to put pen to paper. There are three basic requirements for traditional haiku: the 5-7-5 form, the meeting of two images and a reference to a particular season or nature. The most commonly known aspect of a haiku is its form: there are just 17 syllables divided into three lines of five, seven and then five syllables again. In modern haiku the other two requirements are not necessarily taken into account. The art of haiku is to paint a picture, conveying much while saying very little!’ I would just note that the Japanese language does not use definite or indefinite articles so that is probably why these are often left out when writing haiku in English.’
Lone birds own Spring sky
Grounded planes silently wait
Deadly virus lurks
Bright daffodils dance
Unseen by a locked-in world
When will we dance anew?
Easter hymns confined
Proud world crouches crucified
Rise up and sing again!
Grandpa whisked away
Intensive care cannot save
At home Grandma weeps
Sad city children
Dream of see-saws, slides and swings
Bored with indoor things
Draped in masks and gowns
Ten thousands lovingly strive
Not all will survive
Pure white lily for our sins
Arms outstretched to save
I am grateful to my colleague in the Diocesan Ministry Team, Canon Paul Wignall, for another in the series of his powerful prayer poems:
Today I will pray…
Today I will pray for those who are alone:
locked in despair, depression, doubt.
I will pray for those who are isolated,
through illness, work or circumstance.
I will pray for those who do their best to stay in touch,
through phone calls, messages and emails,
and I will pray for a new world
where no one will feel isolated or alone
because we all look out for one another,
with care, respect and love for Jesus’ sake. Amen
(Paul Wignall, Gran Canaria)
And a reflection from someone who has to ‘survive’ lockdown with me:
In the middle of our lockdown
you are the great Transgressor
First you disobey
the guards on your tomb;
next you startle your followers
by refusing to recognise
that a wall is a wall,
and now you continue to transgress
by refusing to observe
the limits of our sceptical minds;
just when we least expect it
you break through
with an Easter Alleluia!
What does it mean to be the Church in times of lockdown?
The ordinands of our diocese are in a particular way needing to reflect on the current issues which will undoubtedly affect and shape their future ministries. I am grateful for this contribution from Sarah-Jane King, ordinand based in St Paul’s Tervuren and studying at St Mellitus’ College, London:
We find ourselves unable to meet together. Churches are offering online services and pastoral care by phone. What does it mean to be the Church, the Body of Christ, at this time? Some have drawn parallels with times of wilderness, or exile. For many of us there is uncertainty, stress, or grief. And part of the mystery of the Passion is that Jesus is with us in our sorrows; holds us in his nail-scarred hands; weeps with us; comforts us; helps us to comfort others.
Yet we are also people of the resurrection, and this is Eastertide. The celebration of the greatest day in history, as God says a resounding “Yes” to his decision to be this particular God, the God who dies for the ungodly and is raised from death to life, raising us with him in the life of the Spirit in which he and his Father share.
We have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1.13-14). This is Christian hope, the hope that we are called to live and share at all times, but especially now.
Our calling is to point to Christ and make him known. But what does this look like, without the usual means and places of gathering we are used to? How can we know God, grow in Christ, build community and live beyond ourselves?
Acts 2.42-47 tells us about the fellowship of the early church. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They were filled with awe at signs and wonders. They shared what they had and gave to anyone in need. They met, broke bread in their homes, and ate their food with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Like the first Christians, our churches can also be faithful witnesses to the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. We can do this through our worship, our teaching, and our online presences that explain who we are, and what (or rather who) we are about. We continue to meet, online. We try to help those who need support or encouragement to join in too.
We need to worship and meet together online, because expressing our relationship with God and one another is part of being authentically, fully human. We miss and long for Holy Communion, but we too can pray to be filled with awe at signs and wonders. Locked doors are no barrier to the risen Jesus, as the first disciples discovered to their joy.
We can also eat our food with glad and sincere hearts, praise God, and enjoy goodwill. We can share what we have – money, service, gifts, talents, time – while resisting the temptation to be busy for the sake of it. Let us give to those in need, and take up the call for justice for the poor and most vulnerable. Coronavirus has exposed and threatens to entrench all kinds of inequalities; let us be the prophetic agents of transformation that God’s people have always been called to be.
And, just as in the early days of the Church, the Lord will add to our number those who are being saved. Because witness is attractive, just as it was then, when it speaks of the transformation of lives by the life we have in Christ – life in all its fullness, as we read in John’s Gospel.
Evidence, even anecdotal at this stage, is that more people are tuning in to online services, Alpha, Marriage Courses – including people who wouldn’t normally go into a church or follow a course. God is drawing hearts at this time, and we can join in, speaking life and hope into a hurting and confused world.
How can we be Church in times of lockdown? Three things stand out:
First, seek the Lord, call upon him. Pray to the Father, as Jesus did.
Secondly, witness to the resurrection. Worship in Spirit and truth.
Thirdly, reflect on what the early church did. Keep meeting online, keep sharing. And keep listening. As the Gospel tells us, the Good Shepherd has called us by name, we are his sheep, and we know his voice. What is he inviting us to be and do for him at this time, that we may continue to grow into the people he has called us to be?
May the risen Lord Jesus bless us with all confidence in him. May we know his presence with us, and those we love, very clearly in these days. (Sarah-Jane King)
(Photograph by Muffinn, Worcester, UK, http://mwfphotos.blogspot.co.uk/)
The Sunday Gospel: Abundant living?
‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10) It is an interesting reading to be directed to in these difficult days when life, for most of us, seems to have narrowed down, become constricted, rather than ‘abundant’. And when we are forced to recognise that present realities are likely to mean that people and institutions whom we hold dear will have to live with diminished resources and possibilities over the coming years.
I have to confess to wanting to challenge the way that these words sometimes get used in certain Christian circles – circles in fact that I know quite well. It is a favourite, almost throw-away, line that regularly gets used by a number of Christian charities, to underpin their mission and work. I have a sense that it is chosen precisely because it doesn’t sound ‘too’ Christian, too off-putting, for the wider population that the charities concerned are wanting to encourage to support them. We can all subscribe to the desire for ‘abundant living’ for all, without asking too many difficult theological questions. It is a great line! The only problem is that I believe that individual lines and verses of scripture need not to be taken in isolation but to be interpreted in the context in which they appear – in this case the words about the sheepfold and the shepherd, who is prepared to die for the sheep. There is indeed a profound relationship between that sacrificial love and the gift of ‘abundance’. Throughout the entirety of scripture love and sacrifice belong together.
My second quibble about the sentence is that I am not quite satisfied with the translation that is offered in most English versions of the Bible. I think that the Greek word perisson which is normally translated as ‘abundant’ doesn’t mean simply ‘a lot’, but also contains the idea within it of ‘more than one might expect’. And I wish that we could somehow convey this sense of ‘surprise’ in our reading of this passage. As the Roman Catholic Jesuit priest Gerry Hughes famously said God is a God of ‘surprises’.
But I also want to draw attention to something that has come to me precisely because of the situation in which so many of us find ourselves. Lock-down creates the mental image of closed doors. The Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter spoke of how Jesus came to his disciples through locked doors (John 20.19; 26). This year that was widely noted by many preachers. Perhaps it was that focus two weeks ago on ‘doors’ that made me realise that we have the same Greek word thura appearing several times (10.1, 2, 7, 9) in this passage as well – only of course it is usually translated here as ‘gate’. It is however the identical word that is translated as ‘door’ in John 20. Does that mean that we should read each of these two passages in the light of the other? Perhaps. What is the relationship between the resurrected one who comes through locked doors to greet his friends, and the one who in this passage has made himself to be the ‘door’ or ‘gate’ of the sheepfold, lying across the open entrance (see picture above) as protector and saviour?
Revd Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin-in-the Fields is one of the most creative and stimulating theologians of our day. His Chalmers Lectures, given last autumn in Edinburgh, and now published in a book, A Future that’s Bigger than the Past explore the idea of ‘abundant life.’ A recent review of the book comments, ‘Wells … defines discipleship as our inhabiting that abundant life. Ministry is building up the Church to embody that abundant life, and mission names the ways abundant life is practised, shared and discovered in the world at large. Sin is impeding that wonderful life…’ (review by Jeremy Harvey in current issue of Transforming Ministry). You can hear Wells delivering the Chalmers Lectures at https://stream1.churchofscotland.org.uk/chalmers-lecture It is quite a marathon to listen to them all – but certainly worth getting a flavour!