St Paul's is used for services, christenings, weddings, funerals, book groups, rehearsals, plays, meetings, school shows, concerts, Bible study courses, confirmation classes, private prayers and more! Read on to find out what our church can offer you!

Service Times

Our main act of worship is on Sundays at 10am, when we welcome families and children. This is a Parish Communion following the new Common Worship service. The Liturgy is sung in a modern setting especially composed for St Paul’s by Mike Dixon. After the service coffee is served at the back of the church giving people a chance to meet and chat. To read Michael's Thought for the Week and previous sermons, please scroll to the end of this page.
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Sunday
10.00am Parish Eucharist with creche for children

Monday
6.45pm Meditation time

7.30pm Eucharist

Wednesday
10:00am Eucharist at St Mary's Convent

Friday
12 noon Eucharist

Christenings

A christening can be part of our Sunday morning service, or we can arrange a special service. You are very welcome to use our lovely vicarage garden or the Isis rooms which adjoin the church for a party following your child's christening! Please contact our vicar if you would like to discuss having your child christened at St Paul's at michaelc.riley@virgin.net 020 8994 4387 
The pictures below are from the christenings
of Billy Adams and Hugo Bryant. 

Weddings

St Paul's is a beautiful place to host this special day. You can put up a marquee in our gorgeous vicarage garden, and it is also possible to have have a smaller drinks reception in the church, or use the adjoining Isis rooms for a party. There are some more pictures of the garden on the Who We Are page. The photo above is of the wedding of Jane and Peter Valentin in June 2017, with their lovely daughters and bridesmaids Rosie and Florence! If you are interested in using St Paul's for your special day, please contact Rev'd Michael Riley at michaelc.riley@virgin.net 020 8994 4387 

Below are some photos from the wedding of Celia Surtees and Christopher Charlwood; which was held at St Paul's

in the summer of 2015. As you can see, they had their reception in a large marquee in the garden and were fortunate to have lovely weather too!

Our Choir

We sing during Communion every week and meet for a short practice session at 9:30am on Sundays. This is an informal group, no robes required and new members are most welcome! We also sometimes sing anthems on special occasions, and perform music of all kinds at the many St Paul's concerts! To find out more, please email our vicar at michaelc.riley@virgin.net

Meditation Group
On Mondays, the meditation group meet in the church at 6.45 pm for about half an hour. We practice the tradition of meditation followed by World Community of Meditation which is ecumenical. A quiet celebration of communion often follows at 7.30 pm. We are often joined by members of other churches. All are welcome to attend either event or both.

Bible Study
A group meets at 7.30pm on Wednesday evenings for discussion and study. The studies usually occur in sessions and are advertised on the notice sheet at the beginning of each session.

Book Group
St Paul's Book Group was formed  by a group of Grove Park Christians who were interested in exploring spiritual texts. Membership is growing steadily and the books we have read include A Practical Christianity by Jane Shaw,Visions of God by Karen Armstrong, Abiding by Ben Quash, The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin, The Shack by William Paul Young, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Silence and Honeycakes by Rowan Williams,The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis and Muhammad - A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong. Having had a very inspiring evening with Desmond Tutu's book No Future Without Forgiveness about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, we then read Looking Through The Cross by Grahame Tomlinson, The Lighthouse by Charlotte Rogan followed by Be Not Afraid by Samuel Wells and then Towards Mellbrake by Marie Elsa Bragg, the ordained daughter of Melvyn Bragg. In Autumn 2017 we all read different books about Luther to celebrate 500 years since the Reformation, which led to a very lively and interesting discussion! 
All are welcome. If you would like to know more then please email Shelagh at shelagh.allsop@gmail.com  Look at the calendar on the What We Do page to see what our next book and meeting will be!

 

Play & Stay

Little ones and their parents or carers are welcome at our Play and Stay sessions, which are in the Isis Rooms every Thursday, from 9:30-11:30am. A great way to meet up with other families and to enjoy playing with toys and reading books with your child! For more information, please contact Shelagh on shelagh.allsop@gmail.com.

 

Poetry and Prose Group
New Horizons

The poetry group was started during the Covid lockdown in March 2020 and now meets via Zoom every Thursday to share poetry, prose and conversation! We find it an inspiring and thought-provoking hour, and a lovely way to connect with others. You can join the group by phone as well as via a video link, please email email susan.hearn@btinternet.com if this appeals to you. We have put the poems we read durng lockdown into sixteen anthologies and you can read them by clicking on, and downloading the pdfs below.

Coronavirus Anthology 1: Favourites
Coronavirus Anthology.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [467.8 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 2: Eastertide
Coronavirus Anthology No. 2.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [805.5 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 3: Colours
Coronavirus Anthology No. 3.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [951.2 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 4: Sports
Coronavirus Anthology No. 4.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [962.5 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 5: Places
Coronavirus Anthology No. 5.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [873.3 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 6: Weather
Coronavirus Anthology No. 6.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [941.5 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 7: Music and Art
Coronavirus Anthology No. 7.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [992.5 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 8: Spring
Coronavirus Anthology No. 8.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [1'000.5 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 9: Animals
Coronavirus Anthology No. 9.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [937.5 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 10: Reading and Writing
Coronavirus Anthology No. 10.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [837.3 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 11: Dreams
Coronavirus Anthology No. 11.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [896.1 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 12: Childhood
Coronavirus Anthology No. 12.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [1.1 MB]
Coronavirus Anthology 13: Old Age
Coronavirus Anthology No. 13.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [947.4 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 14: Friendship
Coronavirus Anthology No. 14.docx.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [970.0 KB]
Coronavirus Anthology 15: Families
Coronavirus Anthology No. 15.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [1.1 MB]
Coronavirus Anthology 16: Season Highights
Coronavirus Anthology 16 Season Highlig[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [1.1 MB]

Youth Group

St Paul's runs a flourishing and fun Youth Group! Everyone from ages 11-17 is most welcome to join us in the vicarage between 4.30-6pm, on the last Sunday of every month. The Youth Group comprises a mixture of activities such as baking, table tennis, snooker and some discussion of philosophical or religious ideas where doubts are welcomed and questions encouraged! We want to provide a safe and non-judgemental space for young people to explore what they really believe and what they think about God and the church.

If you'd like to find out more about St Paul's Youth Group,
then please contact Bea Vickers on 07766 491716 or bea.vickers@btinternet.com


Tea Club
All are welcome at the St Paul's Tea Club which is on the first Thursday of every month, from 3-5pm. Pop in for a cuppa and a chat and you may make some new friends or catch up with your neighbours! If the weather is nice then we will meet in the lovely church garden! 

Confirmation

Confirmation is administered by the Bishop of Kensington either here with a small group at St Paul’s or at St Paul's Cathedral, with candidates from other parishes, or another church. Candidates are prepared by the Vicar in classes, usually in the evenings or at weekends. A special class is arranged for adults if required. If you would like to be confirmed, please speak to Michael. Normally children are confirmed before their first communion. All Christians are welcome to receive communion or a blessing at our communion services.

Funerals
We are always happy for the church to be used for funerals and memorial services, and to talk with people as they face life's challenges. The ministry of prayer and laying on of hands, anointng and sacramental condession are also always available. If you are interested in using St Paul's for these occasions, please contact Rev'd Michael Riley at michaelc.riley@virgin.net 020 8994 4387 

THOUGHTS FOR THE WEEK

Thoughts for 2 August

Genesis 32  Wrestling Jacob

Matthew 14  The Feeding of the 5000

 

Wrestling Jacob  -  what does this story have to tell us? Jacob, who has not been a good example in terms of faith and goodness, is con-fronted by God on his own at night when  his defenses are down. In the deep expanses of the night Jacob wrestles with God. He pits his strength against God, and almost wins. But he is changed and broken by the experience, and his thigh is put out of joint, and as the sun rises he lopes off across the desert.

 

Jacob’s  strength and priorities were reordered by this experience, and now he is ready to be God’s servant. Sometimes we all need rescuing form our sins and weaknesses, but also from our strengths.

Our strengths can blind us and stop us living fruitfully. Jacob, till this point, had always been in control, the manipulator who stole his brother’s birthright and over-reached. Now he is overtaken by God, and finds where real strength is to be found. He is under new management and able to play his part in God’s plans for his family and people. Jacob was chosen, and now converted, turned around, but not without some pain and discomfort.

 

Turning to our gospel story, the Feeding of the 5000, we have people maybe thirty years after the event reflecting on what it was like to be with Jesus in a deserted place. The stories circulated in the oral tradition  which someone collected together  and then appeared in the four gospels. Remembering that special event they would have spoken of Jesus walking about among them, talking, helping, healing. He couldn’t have spoken to 5000 people at the same time: he must have wandered among groups. And later, when it dawned on them that they were  hungry and far from sources of food, Jesus was the one who solved the problem.

The gospel editors saw this as a miracle. Jesus as God’s son has power over creation, and uses that power to multiply loaves and fish in order to feed the hungry. The gospels suggest that Jesus is often empowered by divine grace  to go beyond human power in order to meet particular needs. Some Bible commentators have suggested that it was more a miracle of sharing: Jesus was a powerful figure who persuaded the crowds to do good things  -  in this case share their picnics. Others have seen the Feeding of the 5000 as a meditation on sacramental things: God uses ordinary things, bread, wine, fish and water  to feed and sustain his people. And among those present at this feeding there would have been those remembering  stories of God feeding his people in miraculous ways in the Hebrew Scriptures   -   manna to sustain the people in the wilderness, ravens to feed the prophet Elijah, Elijah feeding 100 soldiers with 20 barley loaves and a few ears of corn. In each case things looked hopeless, but God provided, as Jesus provided for the 5000.Jesus is at the heart of that special day, giving all who were present a special sense of God’s care and love for them. 

 

It is interesting that this feeding, like Jacob’s wrestling, happens in a deserted place., where you often have to wrestle with reality. Jesus had already done this in his time of testing after his baptism, and here he wrestles again with issues of power and need. In St John’s account of the Feeding it becomes clear that this event had something of a political flavour, with 5000 + men (and women and children)  banded together  with hopes of Jesus leading them in an armed struggle against the Romans. Jesus rejected that power and withdrew from the situation, certain that this was not the way to promote God’s kingdom.

 

The earliest Christians saw this Feeding story as connected to the banquet at the end of time, but also as a reminder of the eucharist.

In the story Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to those assembled. These are known as the fourfold actions of the eucharist, acted out on behalf of a Christian community by a priest today: taking, blessing, breaking, giving  - actions which lead us to Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Saviour, sustainer and friend.

 

Thoughts for 26th July

St Paul’s Letter to the Romans Short Parables from Matthew 13

The parables we have in the gospel are about priorities. Jesus encourages us to make the things of God’s kingdom important in our lives  -  things of great price, things of lasting and deep value, such as truth, goodness, integrity, justice, loyalty and hope. The reading from St Paul gives us words of hope, asserting that nothing can separate us from the love of God. This is one of St Paul’s lists, where he builds up thoughts of triumph in the face of adversity in a lyrical way, arising form his own experiences. In this year of the three year lectionary we have several readings for the letter to the Romans, so it seems worth thinking about the letter.

 

This is St Paul’s longest letter (16 chapters) and he wrote it in the year 56 whilst staying in Corinth, preparing the ground for his visit to Rome. He intended to move on to Spain, but it turned out that he went to Rome as a prisoner in chains, and was martyred there in the year 64. In this letter Paul set out to deal with some tricky questions:

 

1. Why his fellow Jews had rejected Jesus?

2. How far new Christians who were non-Jews should be required to follow Jewish customs?

 

Paul sees Jews and Gentiles as being one in Christ, so he asserts converted Gentiles should not have to be circumcised before baptism. He wants Jewish people who become Christian to share

worship and social life with Christians of any background.

 St Paul also speaks in this letter of being justified by faith  -  I was referring to this a few weeks back. Being justified by faith means being in line with God’s ways, and in a right relationship with God. And according to Paul justification  is a free gift, it is grace. And grace leads to hope, and hope is related to our future, which is made secure by the gracious work of God in Christ Jesus. This is the kind of circular argument by which Paul makes his case, always aware of the reality of human weakness and suffering. 

 

In chapter 8 of the letter Paul speaks  of a God active in relation to human beings, calling, confirming, justifying, strengthening, and he asserts nothing  - no powers, no sin, no evil  - can separate us from the love of God.  Sin and evil have no ultimate power, as we grow in discipleship and turn from what is bad

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This all relates to the way Paul understands baptism. We are baptised into Christ, into a living fellowship with Jesus and his body the church. At baptism we receive the power of the Spirit for making that fresh start., and through it we are united  with Christ in his death and resurrection. In the waters of the font we bury badness and rise up to a new future with Jesus. Water is a symbol of spiritual faithfulness and fruitfulness. Sometimes people allow their life experiences to lock them down, so that they dry up and become  fearful. Baptism should lead us to a refreshing spring within us, the Holy Spirit. And it is that Spirit that draws  us to the good, to the pearl of great price, to the things of lasting value.

 

The spring within us also helps us with our prayers, and Paul tells us that we  have Jesus to help us too. But prayer can still be difficult for us. We are often told that prayer is simply conversation with God, and we can dip into this conversation when we are cutting the grass or tidying the kitchen. Sometimes finding the right words is hard, and sometimes we sense that God knows everything, so why bother? Or we think that our prayer requests are too trivial for the Lord of all creation, or too weighty. - Lord please slaughter tyrants or drug barons or people traffikers  These kinds of requests frequently turn up in the prayer poems, the psalms. And we keep on praying that people with power and influence will be turned to the things that make for peace and justice. We naturally bring our personal hopes before God in prayer and the Holy Spirit can bring us beyond words to inner longings and hungers, to parts of our souls that need God’s refreshing love. This is what we see Paul speaking of at the start of our reading : “the Spirit  intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

 

Look graciously upon us O Holy Spirit, and give us for our hallowing thoughts that pass into prayer, prayers that pass into love and action, and love that passes into life with you for ever.   Amen.

Thoughts for 19th July

Jacob’s Ladder  Genesis 28:10-19a 

Parable of the Weeds  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

Many of you will have visited Bath and been to Bath Abbey, the medieval church in the centre. Outside the west front of the church someone decided to celebrate the story of Jacob’s ladder, with carved stone angels going up and down ladders either side, connecting us to the divine, and inviting us to enter the house of God.

In the story Jacob is on the run, having stolen his father’s blessing, which rightly belonged to his older brother Esau. Jacob stops to rest at a sacred place, which provides the setting for his dream. God enters Jacob’s world and offers him a blessing through land and descendants, but also promises to be with Jacob throughout his travels. The speech in the dream is followed by Jacob’s response when he awakes. Firstly he comments on the holiness of the place – ‘How awesome is this place  - this is the gate of heaven.’  Then Jacob ends  by naming the site Bethel  -  meaning ’house of God’. Later in this chapter of Genesis Jacob lays out five conditions for trusting in God, so he is not at this stage a great example of faith, despite the  beautiful vision in his dream. He remains something of a rogue, negotiating a deal with God. Yet God has plans  for Jacob, so continues to pursue him, looking for change and renewal, as happens later in Jacob’s story.

We were noting last week that Jesus keeps telling stories and offering suggestive pictures to help people think about God’s kingdom. The stories wheedle their way into the memory, and eat away at the edges of our vision of God. He knew what he was doing when telling stories, which is why he talked about people learning from children. Children are naturally curious, and want to go on wondering and dreaming, and being ready to receive. Following children we can be open to the things of God.

 

The parable of the weeds affirms this, with God’s sweet refreshing rain falling on the unjust as well as the just. In the story the farmer allows the weeds that have grown up in his field to flourish. He recognises the danger that in weeding, his workers might uproot the good along with the bad, either by negligence or due to mistaking some wheat for weeds.

And the parable is telling us that this is how God intends Christian disciples to live, alongside the good and the bad, believers and non-believers. We are not to shut ourselves away in a fortress, but to live in the real world, with its dangers, trials and challenges. It is a sorry truth that the workers in the parable would have made a mess of the field, and discarded much that was good. And it is also true that some Christians have wanted to push people out, those who didn’t quite fit, and they can get  impatient waiting for God’s harvest, and want to do some de-selecting, so that things are tidy. There is some support for this thinking in the Book of Revelation, and the letters of John, and maybe in the teachings of Jesus, such as the end of our reading today  -  throwing evil-doers into the furnace, ‘where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth ‘ Some would say that Jesus is here stretching a point, and using apocalyptic images from Jewish tradition to encourage people to listen. And in most of his teaching he suggests that we should not expect tidiness and uniformity. Fruitful living means living with anomalies and difference, and being patient with what we do not understand. Jesus  invites us to follow a loving, forgiving and merciful God who accepts untidy edges, and wants to keep the gate of heaven open.

A 17th century prayer for a hospital doorway:                                        O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power: make it a gateway to thy eternal kingdom.  Amen.

Thoughts for  12th July   Parable of the Sower.  Matthew 13:1-9

 

When we look at the gospels we see that Jesus is a great story-teller. He was an excellent communicator, and led people to see truths through stories about everyday things. Parables are stories with meaning, a bit like Aesop’s Fables, and Jesus used them frequently to tell people about God’s kingdom and values.

 

Jesus tells stories about people working in the fields, about their experience in sowing seed, about the crops grown on the land, about rain and sunshine, an avaricious man building new barns, about a steward dismissed for corrupt practises, and a vineyard owner who hires new labourers at all times of the day. He engages people with stories that lead to something new, and through parables the audience have their eyes opened. Stories which point us in new directions can rescue us from destructive patterns of living and renew lives. The stories are so important to the teaching of Jesus, because he doesn’t set out a systematic code or body of prohibitions. Jesus simply wants to raise people to God’s ways, to move and touch them, assure them of God’s acceptance, and comfort them. And this is what he wants for us who read the stories today. Christian faith is faith in the living Lord Jesus who speaks to us through the gospels, encouraging us and leading us to God’s grace and peace.

What about today’s parable of the Sower? Is it about the sower – or about his careless method of sowing – or the seeds in the soil – or is it largely about failure versus success. Maybe Jesus was contrasting the initial mixed reception for his message with the fantastic ending: the seed in the good soil yielding 30 / 60 and a hundredfold. Traditionally the church has seen the story as one of fruitfulness, with Jesus as the sower, spreading the word and getting different reactions, with the gospel message eventually spreading throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and reaching the capital of the Roman world. The parable tells us that not every seed bears fruit, and that some seed takes root but never matures. Commitment and perseverance are required, so that seeds may grow fruit in abundance, and new believers may be empowered to do beautiful things for God

 

Thinking about this parable I am always reminded of the way it is told in the show, ‘Godspel.’ This show is largely based on St Matthew’s Gospel, and when  we put it on some years back, some of the chorus had the task of shouting :  ‘Good Soil, Good Soil’  -throughout the telling of the story. These were the ones who were going to bear fruit because they had been working on themselves, feeding, nourishing and composting the soil. And the show suggests that they were doing this through prayer, striving for the truth and integrity, good deeds and listening to God’s word.  In part this is to do with paying attention to scripture, and reflecting on Jesus’ stories.

 

 

So much of Jesus’ teaching was about new life, fresh hope, new opportunities. And this is what lies behind most of the parables, including the parable of the Prodigal Son., a story of a father always ready to forgive and love. In the stories  Jesus  teaches that a change of heart and mind is always possible  - change , repentance and renewal being at the heart of the gospel. The future does not have to be determined by the past – we do not have to be bound in by ancient hatreds  -  a bad decision or hastily spoken word does not take people outside the range of God’s mercy  and love.

 

The history of the church is full of people who have found grace to change and set off afresh in God’s ways.

St Antony of Egypt  - a 3rd century wealthy man of Alexandria, who after listening to the gospels, sold up, and went off to seek God in the desert, where he was joined by many other seekers.

Martin Luther – a 16th century scholar and monk of Germany, who dwelt with the letters of St Paul, and came to see that the church of his day had taken many wrong turns. His witness led to the reformation and the formation of the Lutheran church, and his writings had a profound influence in England.

 

John Newton, - the 18thcentury slave trader who found peace with God, joined the anti-slavery movement, became an Anglican priest and wrote hymns, including ‘Amazing Grace.’

       Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,

            that saved a wretch like me.

       I once was lost, but now I’m found,

            was blind but now I see.

By the time he wrote this hymn John Newton was physically blind, but he felt he had gained sight, or spiritual insight, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the word of grace that had come to lodge in his heart.

The word, spread by the sower, spread by disciples today, reaches into people’s hearts and minds, and leads them to fruitful change and peace.  ‘Amazing Grace.’  Amen.

 

Thoughts for Pentecost  

Some of you will know that Jesus died at the time of an important Jewish festival called Passover, and Pentecost, 50 days later, was originally a spring harvest festival. The earliest Christians took Passover and made it Easter, and Pentecost they made the time to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit  -  transforming their lives 50 days after the resurrection. Christians say that the Spirit brings light and warmth and courage, and encouraged the first disciples to share the good news of Jesus, as we heard in the Pentecost story. The Spirit inspires all of us, and at our baptism and  confirmation the church prays that we know the power of the Spirit to help us choose what is right and good.

 

In the days after Easter Jesus met with his friends many times in a new risen form, then he left them at Ascension to be with God. Jesus had promised to send to them a helper and comforter, who came at Pentecost, filling them with new life and energy. One day they were afraid and anxious, staying behind locked doors: the next they were rushing about excitedly, talking about Jesus. They were talking to  pilgrims in Jerusalem for the festival, people who came from different parts of the Mediterranean world and spoke many languages. The gift of languages in the story is puzzling for us. Perhaps all we can say is that the coming of the Spirit was a powerful and miraculous event, and St Luke (the author of the Acts of the Apostles) wants to emphasise that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a local thing, but universal  -  for all people. And the languages are part of the overflow of praise on this festival day. Jesus’ friends felt that God had visited them with flames of fire on their heads and that the Spirit blew into their lives like a powerful wind. All this enabled them to overcome barriers of understanding. The disciples were all familiar with the first part of our Bibles, the Old Testament or Jewish scriptures, where the Spirit  is seen with King David, and with prophets such as Isaiah, Micah and Ezekiel.

 

The Spirit is a dynamic life-giving force, the power of God leading and guiding his people. In the new testament we see that Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit, and receives the Spirit at his baptism. His whole ministry is characterised by the Spirit. At the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, as we shall hear next week, Jesus sends out the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And today we heard of that Spirit coming upon the young Christian community. St Peter in his speech, refers to the way in which this Spirit was predicted by the prophet  Joel. St Paul often speaks of the  Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, discernment, and love are all mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. And in his letter to the churches in Galatia he speaks of the fruits of the Spirit as: love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Some Christians say that all the things which make for good and healthy friendships and relationships and communities can be encouraged by what the Spirit generates. The Spirit is a bit  like oxygen, essential for all living things  - essential for the life and health of the church.

 

The Holy Spirit helps and gives strength, helping people discover new powers and abilities to help the church grow. And we believe that God wants us to reach out for the Spirit in our lives, so that we can spread more of that love and peace in the world. We do this as we meet with fellow Christians and as we honour God with our ways of living, our worship and our prayers, and as we offer the Lord’s Prayer. One of my favourite hymns has words by Charles Wesley which celebrate this feast, words of praise and prayer:

           

            O thou who camest from above,

            the fire celestial to impart,

            kindle a flame of sacred love,

            on the mean altar of my heart!

 

 

Thoughts for the Sunday after Ascension

 We think about the Ascension of Christ on this Sunday  -  the triumph and rule and kingship of Christ as proclaimed in our prayers and hymns. We think of Jesus as one who prays: he prays in the gospel story for protection for the apostles, and for all who follow them. He prays for the church today, as this is his role, his work following the resurrection and ascension. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that ‘Christ ever lives to make intercession for us.’

I have mentioned before a  wonderful statue of Christ praying for God’s people, which is at the east  end of St Andrew’s Church in Fulham Fields. It is a powerful image, with Jesus standing with his hands outstretched, inviting us to join him in this ministry of prayer. And in these days running up to Pentecost the church encourages us to pray that the Spirit will be with us, and help us to be faithful people of prayer.

 

The New Testament refers to Jesus as the great high priest. This is because in his day the Jewish people had a community leader

known as the High Priest. This figure was attached to the sacrificial system based at the Jerusalem Temple. Once a year the High Priest entered a special place in the Temple called the Holy of Holies, to pray on behalf of the people. Early Christians wanted to say that Jesus had taken on this role, once and for all. Through his death, resurrection and ascension he had passed through the veil separating earth and heaven, for all time. And in heaven Jesus is busy praying for us, with divine energy and fire.

 

There are elements of the Ascension story which are puzzling, , including Jesus disappearing in a cloud, and seemingly going away. But the New Testament wants to say that at the Ascension Jesus goes to be with the Father, in order to be with us, to be more intimately present with us for ever. He changes from an earthly perspective to a heavenly vantage point. And the cloud in the story we heard in Acts speaks of presence, not absence. In the Scriptures clouds symbolize the presence of God, God with Moses, God with Jesus at the Transfiguration. The cloud indicates God’s presence here, and in later  Christian mysticism. Among Christian mystical writings there is the 14th century English book, the ‘Cloud of Unknowing.’ In this book the Cloud symbolizes the deep and mysterious presence of the divine. We enter this through commitment to a life of prayer.So when Jesus enters the cloud at the ascension he is taken into the very life of God.

 

Coming back to Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper we find him praying for protection, for wisdom and trust, and for unity. He

prays that the Spirit will come and bring strength and comfort, energy and love to all who follow him. He knows that the disciples are going to desert  him during the night, and that they and all who follow will face difficult choices, temptations and challenges. Jesus prays that we may come through them, to find the joy and peace of eternal life.

Some people think of the Ascension as another bereavement for Mary and the friends of Jesus, but in their time of prayer together they come to see that they are being asked to let go in order to receive the fullness of his love and presence., and the promised gift of the Spirit.

 

A Prayer.

We praise and bless you, risen and ascended Lord: help us to share in your ministry of prayer, and to know your presence and love in these challenging times. To you Lord Jesus, with us to the end of the age, be honour and glory, now and for ever.   Amen.

 

 

Thoughts for the Sixth Sunday in Easter 

During Eastertide we always have readings from The Acts of the Apostles, as this book tells us what happened to the friends of Jesus after the resurrection, and how they respond to the good news of Easter: how they honour Jesus, how they live and worship and share the faith. The reading today is part of the story of Philip, one of the star preachers of the early church. In the story Philip is directed to help out an Ethiopian official, clearly a Jew, who has been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On his way home he was reading from the prophet Isaiah, from chapter 53, the passage about a suffering servant, one way of thinking about God’s messiah. This is one of the passages Jesus must have shared with the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter Day, as it goes to the heart of  his understanding of his role. The New Testament suggests that Jesus’ friends are not  to see his death on the cross as a humiliating defeat, because the suffering was forseen, and it is a way of publicizing God’s manifesto and kingdom. The passage the Ethiopian was reading was thus a gift to Philip, and before long the man was so attracted by Philip’s teaching that he wanted to be baptized, and to be part of the new movement, the Christian way.

 

            Our gospel reading gives us  Jesus sitting with his friends at the last meal they have together, the night before he dies. Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for life after he has gone, as he knows that his time is short, and that he will soon be arrested and killed. Some people think this is a little like a last will and testament : Jesus does not have money or possessions to leave to his friends, but what he has to leave them will enrich them for ever. He talks about peace and dwelling or abiding with the Father, and he says,‘I will not leave you orphaned.’ This is because he is sending  the gift of the Spirit, the advocate, the comforter, the spirit of truth to help them, guide them and inspire them. The Spirit will touch them with Jesus’ love and strength and remind them of his teaching. And the primary focus is to do with love, not romantic love but the higher love which St Paul speaks about in his first letter to the church at Corinth. This is enduring love, the love that goes the extra mile and respects others, the love that makes for the strongest friendships, relationships and families, the love that helps us in deciding what we most value.

 

            The second thing Jesus bequeathes to the disciples at the Last Supper is the gift of peace mentioned in chapter 14 verse 27:‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.’ This is not peace as a cessation of war, or when nothing is happening; this is the deep peace of God. This peace cannot be created by simply being still or quiet. It is not of our making, but a gift from Jesus, and the same peace Jesus shares with his friends on Easter Day. And this peace is good news for those with troubled hearts, and a help to those who worry and are afraid. Jesus will be with them in the future, and this future is assured because of the gift of peace and the gift of the Spirit.

 

            The Biblical word for peace is ‘shalom’, which has to do with harmony at all levels of life, and the establishment of Christ’s rule of justice and peace. This is comfort to the disheartened and troubled. One of the prayers of blessing speaks of God’s peace passing all understanding. This is good for us too, as to be held secure in God’s peace does not require full understanding from us. And when we face trials we can be held in God’s shalom; perhaps beyond understanding, but on a journey to healing and strength. We all need that shalom now, as we are cut off from so many things which refresh and sustain us, including family and our church fellowship.

 

            At the end of our services the priest says: 'Go in the peace of Christ’ and we respond  ‘Thanks be to God.’ In part we are saying ‘thank you’ for the peace which may have touched us in our worship together, and then for the peace Jesus shares with us. And as we say those words we are praying that we may know God’s peace in all that we encounter.

 

 

Thoughts for the Fifth Sunday in Easter 

So much has happened in the last 8 weeks to remind us of the precious nature of our lives that, to be faced with both the passage from the First Letter of Peter and the Gospel passage today, one most commonly heard at funerals and memorial services, might seem intimidating. However, I would like to suggest that the opportunity to reflect on them both today is a very positive thing for us all.

 

St. Peter is offering words of encouragement to Christians living in the Black Sea area who were facing persecution and were feeling downhearted. “Like new-born infants, long for the pure spiritual milk so that, by it, you may grow into salvation”, he says.

 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is also offering encouragement to his Disciples.  It comes at a very crucial point in the story that St. John is telling. Although the Disciples are not aware of this, they are with Jesus on the last night of his life, having celebrated the Passover meal. John’s account of what follows at the meal covers 4 chapters. Jesus is using this occasion to present to the Disciples the true nature of what it is to be at one with him and, thus, with God. What is more, this passing on of God’s identity and how to engage with it is something he wants the Disciples to engage with themselves.  It has begun with Him presenting himself to them in humble servitude by washing their feet. Now, knowing what is to come, Jesus is trying to comfort them. This is why so many choose this passage when they too are seeking comfort. What comfort is he offering? To begin with, he is offering them “dwelling places”. In Jesus’ time it was commonplace, at times of long journeys, for important people to send servants on ahead to prepare “dwelling places” for the party to rest in comfort after the day’s journey. As ever, it is Thomas who asks the question we all want to hear answered. We don’t know where Jesus is going so how can we know the way? In this context, it seems a question he was born to ask, for it elicits from Jesus his great proclamation “I am the Way, and the Truth and the Light”. So, as followers of Jesus, how do we recognise these dwelling spaces?

For Jesus, his “house” is the world and the dwelling spaces he provides are the spaces where his followers can rest and reflect. For some of us every Sunday morning is a dwelling space, but part of the feeling, conveyed by the time we are currently living through, is that this time is also a dwelling place. We are having opportunities to reflect on the sacrifices made by NHS workers and Volunteers to save lives; Supermarkets, food Banks and other “key workers” to enable normal life to carry on. We can also reflect on those whose behaviour and selfishness has been intimidating; we will all have opinions on who they are. Jesus’ way is lit by the reflection of God, his Father. This is a reflection of Love upon which Jesus’ life and ministry has been based. In John’s Gospel this is not just an appeal for his Disciples to reflect God’s way but an appeal for all Jesus’ followers. The opportunity we have now, as we move on, is to find the abundance of love and support that have lit the way through this time and reflect it back to a nation champing at the bit to return to life as “Normal”. The “new normal” is already a cliché, perhaps, but all of us must contribute to the debate and shine God’s light on the road ahead.

 

A Prayer to end. God our Father give to us, and to all your people, in times of anxiety, serenity; in times of hardship, courage, in times uncertainty, patience, and, at all times, a quiet trust in your wisdom and love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

 

Thoughts for Easter 4 : The Good Shepherd: John 10:1-10

One of the earliest representations of Christ that I have seen is in  a museum in Alexandria in Egypt. It is a marble statuette about 30 inches high, and you would be forgiven for thinking it had nothing to do with Christianity. It bears no relation to the image we generally have, of a man with long hair and a beard and a serious look. The Egyptian marble figure is fresh-faced, no beard, with curly hair, and he is smiling, clearly enjoying his work as a shepherd. And there is a sense of vigorous movement in the statuette, with Jesus striding forward with a shepherd’s stick, with sheep on the ground by him, and one carried on his back. This is no doubt one of the lost sheep, a sheep that has strayed, and perhaps fallen and wounded itself. Jesus, the good shepherd, carries the sheep home to safety.

 

Early Christians were not fond of the cross as an image, since crucifixion was a common form of execution for criminals, and it seemed a shameful death for God’s son. They used symbols like the wreathe, a sign of eternal life, and the fish. The word for fish in greek letters spells out the phrase: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.

And they warmed to the shepherd image, thinking of Jesus’s words  'I am the good shepherd'. Jesus as the good shepherd loves and cares for the flock, and has qualities beyond that of the hired workers or strangers.  So the role of the shepherd is synonymous  with values such as trust, faithfulness, dependability and strength, all of which radiates from the marble figure in Alexandria, probably carved for one of the early church leaders of Egypt. We know that protecting and rescuing the lost requires tenacity, strength, courage and leadership, which Jesus speaks of in John Chapter 10. We are not dealing with the old Sunday School image of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. The gospel speaks of the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep: there was risk from wild animals, and from thieves and robbers. Good shepherding had an element of sacrifice, of giving out; something those of you who are parents know about.

 

And we all have to think about how we care and guide, and the ways we help the young and the vulnerable to find spaces where they may flourish. If the shepherd guides, how do we guide those who are travelling through a valley of darkness at the moment, or laid low as we are cut off from our usual sources of refreshment and fellowship? In all of this we are called to listen and to care, as many at St Paul’s are doing through the help group. And we remember Jesus  going the extra mile, dying on the cross for us. As the good shepherd leading us he goes before us into every situation. We don’t face anything alone, because he has been there already, and we need fear no evil. The image of the protective shepherd of God’s flock is popular throughout the Bible, and Jesus identified with it as a way of promoting the Father’s care and mission. In this he links with one of the great figures of the Old Testament, the shepherd king David. In the 23rd Psalm David says, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’

 

Around the same time as that artist sculpted a marble figure of the good shepherd in Egypt, a Christian writer wrote this: ‘Jesus took flesh of the virgin, hung from the cross, ascended the heights of heaven, and when he rose from the dead he raised human-kind from its tomb.’

 

The good shepherding of Jesus is about raising us from our tombs, from what imprisons us, and holds us down. Through the Easter stories may we come to understand the parts of our lives which need lifting up, restoring and healing, so that we may be raised for real and abundant living.

 

A Prayer

Loving God, whose son is the shepherd of your people: comfort us with your presence and help us to hear his voice, to follow him and to dwell with him in your house for ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

THOUGHTS FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER: LUKE 24

I don’t remember an April when it has been so warm and pleasant. We can’t go out far and we cannot plan holidays, but we can sit and travel book-wise in the garden. I have recently  been in Mexico, Siberia, Turkey and Syria. And I am thinking of travel at the moment as our gospel reading for this Sunday gives us a journey recorded in St Luke’s Gospel, a journey of 7 miles, as two disciples walk slowly and despondently among the pilgrims leaving Jerusalem after the Passover festival. A stranger joins them and asks them about their conversation, and they begin to tell of all that has been burdening them. St Luke emphasizes how sad and dispirited  they are, reminding us that the news of the resurrection was not at first good news. The news of the empty tomb added to the pain and tragedy of those days for this couple, who had followed Jesus, heard his teaching, seen his miracles, and yet felt that the Cross was the end of the story. As they walk away from the seemingly failed mission,  Jesus finds them and walks with them, in order to lift, encourage, teach and affirm.

 

From the Emmaus story we learn that to recognize Jesus and receive his new life is a gift  from him, the resurrection encounters are all free gifts from Jesus. This is a complete contrast to the events leading up to Easter, when he is handed over. In Holy Week he gave himself up to those who betrayed and sacrificed him. Now, in his risen life he is in control of every encounter. He comes and goes at will and he is only recognized when he chooses to reveal himself.  And in the Emmaus story he deliberately seeks out two disciples walking away from it all. On the Emmaus road Jesus hears their confession of confusion and rebukes them for their lack of study of the Scriptures. He teaches them about the cross and his sufferings drawing on the scriptures which point to a suffering messiah (the prophet Isaiah)  Many wish that St Luke had recorded a little more of that bible study, as it would have clarified many points. But it is clear that Jesus was suggesting that they needed a stronger trust in the scriptures . Through the Bible we see God’s urgency to communicate, which is sometimes met with human deafness and resistance.

 

When they reach Emmaus Jesus behaves as if he is going on. He does not force himself upon them. He waits for them to take the initiative, and they urge him to stay. He goes with them, and when they sit at table the stranger takes, blesses and breaks bread and gives it to them. At this moment their eyes were opened and they realize that the stranger was Jesus. In the moment of recognition Jesus vanishes, since his ministry to them is now complete: he has walked with them taught them and ministered to them so that their hearts were burning within them. At the supper table they see and recognize Jesus, as we may do when we share in the sacred meal.

 

At the moment we are having to fast from the eucharist, from the breaking of bread, maybe for another month. This has always been at the heart of my Christian life and devotion and I miss it very much. But there are other things to value from the Emmaus story, including Bible study, and listening to the wisdom of others. And when lockdown is lifted I hope we shall be able to return to table fellowship, sharing with others in our church and our homes. Many of our prayers and hymns speak of feasting at God’s table, and sharing in the heavenly banquet. And Jesus gives us a meal to remember him, the same meal which empowered those disciples to race back to Jerusalem and take their place with the other disciples. Their real journey, their spiritual journey of faith, was just beginning as restored members of God’s Easter people.

 

A Prayer

Lord Jesus, we praise and thank you that you are with us even when we cannot recognize your companionship: walk by our side as we embark on each day’s journey, and walk with the confused, the anxious and despairing. May our eyes be opened and our hearts burn within us as you bring light and hope to our lives. To you be praise and glory for ever.

Amen

 

 

Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Easter

A few years ago one of our bishops suggested a way of thinking about Easter was to think in terms of music, a new piece of music. He said that God is the composer, and we are called to play our part in performing the new music. This would be difficult if we were on our own, but the gospel story today reminds us that we are never alone.

 

Firstly Jesus prays for us, his followers today. Secondly Jesus shares peace with us, as we heard in the Easter story. Thirdly Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon us, the spirit being the power and love of Jesus at work in the world. And fourthly we are never alone because as Christians we belong to the family and fellowship of the church.

 

So sharing and performing the Easter music is something we can all do because Jesus prays for us, Jesus shares God’s peace with us, Jesus breathes the Spirit upon us, and we each belong to the fellowship of the church. Of course there are times when we are not so tuned in. At the moment, in the midst of this destructive virus we may be struggling to be aware of the presence and support of Jesus. But we learn from the story of Thomas, who stayed with the disciples, even though he found it very hard to accept what they were saying about the risen Jesus, ‘unless I see for myself I will not believe you.’ On Jesus’ second visit Thomas was there, and he comes to see and believe. Jesus invites him to do the things he said, including touch the wounds. I doubt that Thomas needed to do that. Jesus often saw straight through to the heart of what people were feeling and experiencing, and Jesus knew what Thomas needed. In the same way he knew the right thing to lift up Mary Magdalen on Easter morning, and to affirm the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus came to Thomas, offered him what he needed, and drew from him the greatest affirmation of faith in the New Testament: ‘My Lord and my God.’

 

Empowered by that experience Thomas became a brave and confident disciple of Christ, sharing God’s Easter music in many places, including Syria and later India. He knew that he belonged to God, and valued the peace and fellowship of the church.

 

Thoughts for Easter Day

Like many of you I’ve been enjoying the silence of the garden. With little traffic and no aeroplanes, one hears nothing but birdsong. And it has been delightful. It occurred to me that this is how it was for the friends of Jesus on the first Easter morning. We think of Easter as full of light and colour, shouts of Alleluia and bold song, trumpets and bells. But Easter began in silence and stillness, in solitude and the darkness of a rock tomb, and all Mary Magdalen would have heard on Easter Day as she walked to the tomb was the song of the birds. Then she realizes that she is weeping, having found the tomb of Jesus to be empty. Then  she speaks to a stranger and discovers it is the risen Jesus, who restores her and

commissions her to be the first apostle of the resurrection, the first to share the good news of Easter - ‘Go and tell the others.’

   

Lots of us have questions when we approach the Easter story, and we are in good company, for the first disciple had them too. When Jesus was crucified many of his friends found it difficult to make sense of things: how could their hopes be dashed and their Master killed? Three days later some women visited the tomb and found it empty - they were astonished, as were the others who came to see, and those who were walking to Emmaus that evening.

 

None of them found it easy to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead until they met him, and that changed everything. It changed Thomas who initially could not believe. Thomas had his doubts, but stayed with the group of disciples. Things can happen that make it harder for us to believe, including living through this time of plague, the corona virus. Staying in touch with other Christians can help, because we learn from other people’s faith and experience.

Staying with the Easter story can also help us, as we learn how the friends of Jesus deal with the death, disappointment and defeat of Good Friday, and how they find hope in the victory of God’s love at Easter.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is what makes sense of the transformation in the disciples and points to the new life and peace Jesus offers to us. During Lent we try to hold before God our mistakes and sorrows, our fears and hopes, and we ask God for his healing. In Holy Week we have the opportunity to lay these at the foot of the cross, so that they may be lifted and raised by the power of the resurrection. This year we pray fervently for that healing and raising power, so that many may find Easter strength and peace in these challenging times.

 

 

Thoughts for Maundy Thursday 

On this day we remember that Jesus had a final meal with his friends and entrusted the movement to them. At the Last Supper he gave them power and grace to manage that future. “Do this”, he said, “  in remembrance of me.” Jesus was saying something like  -  this is a way of entering into my life, and drawing strength from me: take the bread and wine and think of me.

When the disciples first heard this, they must have been puzzled. They were sharing a Passover meal with Jesus, and Jesus did what every host was doing that night; blessing God for the food, and praying over different foods and cups of wine. After Easter they must have remembered what he had said, and what a special feel that supper had. This is why they went on to “Do this” in remembrance of Jesus.

 

They must also have remembered Judas leaving the supper early, and the time of prayer and testing in the garden of Gethsemane, which we would normally commemorate in church with a silent watch till midnight. It is a time to think about what Jesus is facing, as he wonders if he is doing the right thing. But in the end he prays   -  “ Not my will, but thine be done.”

Our gospel reading on this holy day comes from St John, chapter 13. It appears at the beginning of five chapters when Jesus talks with the disciples at the Last Supper and says goodbye.  Jesus shows his love for his friends and takes on the servant’s role, washing the feet of the disciples.  Washing feet was a social courtesy, usually performed by a slave. So it is that Peter objects and misunderstands, and has to learn how Jesus reverses the normal values of the world. Peter and the other disciples enter this terrible night spiritually clean and accepted, although they all desert Jesus, and Peter goes on to deny him.

 

Later, Peter comes to see that God wants us to share bread and wine, to draw strength from him, and he wants to touch the places in our lives that need washing with his healing love.

Those of you who have visited Jerusalem may have been taken to an upper room there. It may be the site of the Last Supper, and certainly has an authentic feel to it. The house has an upper chamber, with a small staircase, doubtless used by those serving the meal, and a larger staircase for the guests. There is space enough for 13 people or more to recline on couches gathered around a central table. In that empty stone room, you feel that something significant has happened, including a supper which is now for us a means of grace and a channel of love. This year , without our church fellowship, we simply have the gospel story  to feed our imaginations, our prayers and  hopes  and give us spiritual communion with Christ.

 

Thoughts for Palm Sunday and Holy Week

Palm Sunday has both joy and sadness, Joy as we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and sadness as we read the story of the last days of Jesus’ life.  Some of the crowds in Jerusalem for the Passover festival were clearly thinking that Jesus, the teacher from Galilee, might be the new messiah, which is why they cheer him on as he enters the city with their ‘Hosannas’.

This year we pay attention to the passion story in St Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 26 and 27.  Matthew tells us more about Judas, and more about Pilate and Pilate’s wife and her concerns about Jesus.

 

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week we think of Jesus being in the Temple daily, meeting with people, teaching, encouraging, discussing and continuing his running disagreement with some of the Jewish leaders. On Thursday Jesus has a final meal with his friends, and a time of prayer and testing in the garden of Gethsemane, before he is arrested. On Friday there follows the trials and the crucifixion.

 

Some of Jesus’ friends and supporters, may have been getting anxious that

Jesus was not showing his power and messiahship in the way they were expecting. One of these may have been Judas, who perhaps wanted to force his hand. We read of Judas’ betrayal with a kiss, and later his remorse and suicide.

 

Later we encounter Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus and his tears as he realizes what he has done. And we see how difficult it can be to stand up for the truth, for fear. After Easter Jesus responds to that denial when they have breakfast by the lake, and Peter is restored.

 

On Good Friday we come to the trial before Pilate. Some say Pilate was just doing his best in a tricky political situation. History has not been kind to Pilate, though he does have the distinction of appearing in both our creeds. Then we have the mocking by the soldiers, and Jesus being led out to the hill of Calvary, where he is crucified and dies. We read of the centurion, the man in charge of the soldiers, being moved by Jesus’ death. He must have seen thousands of deaths in his line of work, but the way Jesus died affected him deeply. He exclaims “truly this was the son of God.”

 

This is a tale of fear and love, faith and mistrust, political expediency and a cruel death leading to fresh hope and life. It has been told in a thousand different ways by writers and musicians, artists and craftsmen, architects and designers and all who have planned things to encourage devotion, and places to help people offer worship and draw close to the Christian way.

This year the corona virus cuts us off from much of what helps us at this holy time: fellowship, sacraments and the beauty of holiness. But we have words and stories in our bibles, and the stories in the gospels which lie at the heart of our faith. We turn to these, knowing that we join with Christians across the world doing the same:  reflecting on the sufferings and sacrifice of Christ, and drawing strength for what we face today.

 

You might like to have your bible out for times when we would normally have a service in church:

Palm Sunday at 10am

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 7.30pm

Maundy Thursday at 7.30pm with silent watch till midnight.

Good Friday when we remember Jesus on the Cross between 12noon and 3pm.

Easter Eve 12noon

Easter Day at 10am, celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

 

I am hoping that, when the worst dangers of this virus have passed, our church leaders will give us a day when we can all be together in church, celebrating God’s love for us in the risen Lord Jesus. Till then we pray for them, the Royal Family, our Prime Minister and all who serve in the government, the homes and families of our area, and all who work through the NHS to promote the health of others.

 

Thoughts for Passion Sunday by Simon Surtees
I
n the Church Calendar, this Sunday is Passion Sunday.  Christians  have been using Lent to reflect on their faith in preparation for meeting Christ on the Cross on Good Friday. Many Christians around the world, therefore, recognise the fifth Sunday in Lent as Passion Sunday and as an opportunity to reflect on what we might be bringing to our personal witness during Holy Week which begins on Sunday April 5th. But Faith does not sit still, because we do not sit still. Each year during Lent we bring different experiences and encounters to play which shape our lives, and which have the potential to enrich our Christian experience. What we bring to this year is, of course, especially resonant. 

 

In the context of the challenges we face as a nation at this time, reading our Gospel for Passion Sunday from John 11 is a sobering experience. It relates Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the grave at the home of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. The story is told in an interesting way.

 

Jesus and his Disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. He receives a message that Lazarus is gravely ill. Pointedly, John records that Jesus waited for 2 days before moving on to Bethany with the disciples seeing that his death will signify God’s glory and that “The Son of God might be glorified by it”. By the time they arrive he is dead.  In fact, as we hear later, he is already entombed. In keeping with tradition, friends have gathered to mourn with his sisters, and the disciples, too, join them. Jesus can hardly help being caught up in the tragedy of a young life lost. 

 

At this point, in his telling of Jesus’ story, John takes us to one of the central points of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has come to glorify God. He has come to show that the God of Moses is the God of All. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record incidents which reflect the possibility of Jesus’ divinity; the Resurrection is the final proof. For John, Jesus is God Incarnate – God in Human form- from the moment of his birth. He demonstrates this through 7 signs which punctuate the first 11 chapters. The Raising of Lazarus is the seventh. In John’s Gospel, this will be the event that finally turns the Authorities against him. However, raising Lazarus from the dead is too good an opportunity to miss. Jesus’ ministry is about eternal life with God of which Death is just one part. In a life of faith this is one of the most important aspects to reconcile. God was with us at the beginning, is with us in our lives, is with us at our death and in our life eternal. Through this sign Jesus is preparing us for his own death and resurrection. If that cannot give some meaning to the next two weeks then I don’t know what can.

 

The contexts we bring to this year, of course, are profound. They go beyond the personal and into the public domain. By raising Lazarus, Jesus invites us to view death in a new light. The onset and progression of the Covid 19 virus presents us with similar issues. We have been told, unequivocally, by our Government, and by Health Service professionals, to prepare for more deaths as the epidemic continues. We are being prepared to face a changing world.

 

During this time, we will all face significant challenges. Our reading from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, however, challenges us to separate our ordinary lives to live in the life of the spirit. On Tuesday morning this week, some newspapers announced that our “Freedom” to move about had been taken from us. Paul suggests, however, that the life of the spirit frees us to be God’s children. This is the spirit that the Government thought they had unleashed in their initial advice on voluntary social distancing and holding back on excessive stockpiling of food and household supplies. Paul encourages us that Christians live in the spirit that, for example, brings streets together through online networks and helping with deliveries to those in quarantine. Easter will be different this year for sure, but, as we prepare for it, we can come closer to God through Jesus’ Passion and his ascent into Eternal life. 

 

Thoughts for Mothering Sunday (22 March) by Michael Riley
Now that we are all being encourgaed to spend more time at home, I thought it was time to sort through my bookshelves and find things I have never read properly.  I found twenty-six books in my study, and a further seven in the spare bedroom. These include biographies (which I usually do not manage to finish), theological works and spiritual books (such as David Runcorn’s The Language of Tears), novels, history and travel writing (Dresden in 1945, and Paul Theroux’s latest book on Mexico). So, I have lots to catch up with and enjoy whilst I am at home more in these times of trial.

 

What I enjoy about a good writer is the way their work can immediately transfer us to another time or place or culture, and help us to see what the people in their stories are seeing. This was true with Charles Cumming’s latest novel about MI6, partly set in contemporary Morocco, in Ayse Kulin’s novel The Rose of Sarajevo, a love story set in the Balkan crisis, and in Justin Marozzi’s book about cities and their contribution to Islamic civilization. I’ve also read recently The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, which beautifully engages with the mystical Sufi tradition of 13th century Islam, and a novel by Barbara Nadel, which explores family and culture, secrets and murder in present-day Istanbul. And having read a book about family and a funeral in Syria, I’m now reading The Beekeeper of Aleppo, a shocking tale of a couple who lose a child in the conflict, and eventually make their way to Turkey and then Britain. I think we learn from the tragic stories of recent times how to face the complexities of our world.

 

This is true with many of the stories in our Bible, including the one we have on Mothering Sunday; Jesus on the Cross talking to his mother and his friend John. (Gospel of John 19:25-27) We know that Mary stayed close on Good Friday, and there is a tradition that she met with Jesus, as we have it shown in St Paul’s Church, on the fourth of the Stations of the Cross. St John records Jesus later calling to Mary and his friend, asking John to care for her and she for him, and creating new bonds of family between them. Parents who have had to watch their children suffer and die know what this encounter will have been like: it contradicts the natural order of things. We think at this time of mothers whose children died in the years of dictatorship in Argentina, and more recently, in the senseless violence of Mexico and the Syrian conflict and in Yemen. All this scandalous suffering is embraced by God on Good Friday, when Jesus and his mother meet.

Rev'd Michael Riley
St Paul's Church

64 Grove Park Road

Chiswick

London W4 3SB

020 8994 4387

michaelc.riley@virgin.net

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