COMMUNITY SUPPORT

We would very much like to be able to reach out to anyone in the local Grove Park community who is self-isolating, or might need any other support, such as help with delivering food or medicine. Sue Hearn is the co-ordinator for this at St Paul's so please do contact her if you are able to volunteer or if you are in need of help. Her phone number is 07958 414638 and her email  susan.hearn@btinternet.com. It will be more effective, safer and easier to manage, if we can co-ordinate help within our own neighbourhoods. So if you are a volunteer from another part of Chiswick or London, please consider trying to find a support group to join that is closer to home. 

CONTACTING THE VULNERABLE AND ELDERLY

The postcard above, which is taken from the BBC website, could be printed out and dropped through the door of anyone you think may be vulnerable and need assistance.

WORSHIP AND PRAYER DURING COVID-19 

In line with government guidance and the Diocese of London we are now suspending all public worship and St Paul’s will remain closed to the public for services or private prayer, until further notice. Michael will continue to say Morning and Evening Prayer privately as before and he prays for us, as we do for one another, in the days to come. Our Sunday Services are now awvailable via Zoom. Please contact Sue Hearn on 07958 414638 or  susan.hearn@btinternet.com if you would like to jion us for them. 

 

 

A PRAYER ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
AMEN

 

THOUGHTS FOR THE WEEK

 

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.

 

MORE HELP

There is more information as well as resources for private worship and prayer on the Church of England website here: https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches

Volunteering
Volunteering is a vital part of what makes us who we are at St Paul's. Much ot the work we do is not directly connected to our Christian mission and we have many active volunteers who like to play their part in the local community, but who are not necessarily interested in coming along to church services! If that sounds like you, and you'd like to join a very friendly team, then please get in touch! You can do as much or as little as you feel able! As you can see below, whether it's working on the bar, manning a barbecue, helping out at the tea club or selling tickets; there will be something you can contribute! For any volunteering roles, please talk to:

Michael 020 8994 4387   michaelc.riley@virgin.net 

Cecilia 020 8747 3142 ceciliathwaites@gmail.com
or Simon 020 8994 7391 simon.cv.surtees@gmail.com 

Here are some of our most regular volunteers, Jill, John, Jane and Jenny. John organises many of our musical events, and Jenny has organised the catering side of things for St Paul's for more years than she cares to remember!

Julian has put together many high profile fundraising events for the church. Here he is happily playing the stooge at one of our highly successful comedy nights!

We are so lucky to have West End Director Michael Reed as one of our most regular and longest serving volunteers on the musical side of things at St Paul's. Mike has written and directed many fabulous and memorable events at the church and also often plays the organ for us when we don't have a permanent organist!

Pat Davies
We are immensely proud of Pat Davies, one of the longest standing members of our congregation. Pat (96) has recently been awarded the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French order of merit today for her work during the Second World War. Pat Davies was one of the 'Bletchley Girls', working at listening stations around the coast, eavesdropping on German naval radio transmissions and relaying the content to the code breakers at Bletchley Park. “It was interesting work – exciting and serious in equal measure. We didn’t know the significance of the messages we passed on, but we knew the work we were doing was important.”  The French Ambassador said the award was given for "her "bravery and remarkable contributions to the liberation of our country. We are forever grateful for your commitment and sacrifices". Pat has also been granted The Freedom of the Borough by Hounslow Council. This is the highest honour that a council can bestow and the tradition is maintained as a means whereby public recognition is given to the recipients as an expression of the highest esteem in which they are held by the council and people of the borough.

 

Pat was interviewed recently on the Jeremy Vine Show, and you can watch that interview on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thejeremyvine/videos/254952088869063/

Our Church

St Paul's Church is a vibrant part of the Grove Park community and as such is used for many different things! Have a look on the What We Do page to find the times of our church services . We also have regular concerts in the space which has wonderful acoustics and can easily seat around 300 people. As well as our organ, we have a superb grand piano in the church which can be booked for recitals. We have recently upgraded the lighting system in the church and our new multi-spot system has many different settings which can be adjusted to suit your needs. We also now have a high quality Bose sound system in place with speakers throughout the church. St Paul's is used for lunches, study groups, quiz nights, coffee mornings, school visits, community meetings and more! Please talk to our vicar michaelc.riley@virgin.net 020 8994 4387 if you would like to book the church for a concert or other event. 

Our Community Hall

The St Paul's Community Hall (also known as the Isis rooms) adjoins the church and can be accessed through the church and also from two separate outside doors. (The upstairs Isis Rooms are currently rented by a local business.) The Community Hall has recently been fully decorated and is a lovely light bright space. The floor is wooden, and there are plenty of tables and chairs. There is a serving hatch through to the hall from the kitchen, which is well equipped with a sink, oven, hob and microwave. 

The St Paul's Community Hall can be booked for any local group or meeting and the current programme really does have something for everyone, from yoga to life drawing plus lots of different excercise classes including Pilates. There is also a regular Tea Club - which is a drop-in event, and a good chance to get to know your neighbours and make some new friends!

STAY & PLAY
If you are a local parent with small children then the Stay and Play groups may well be for you; they are the perfect way to meet other families in the area! These are friendly sessions for babies, crawlers, cruisers and pre-schoolers. No need to book, just come along! They are every Thursday from 9:30-11.30am. Contact Shelagh Allsop 
07710 385839  shelagh.allsop@gmail.com for more information There is a voluntary charge of £1 per session, per family. There's lots of fun to be had, inside and out as you can see in the pictures below!

The Community Hall is also available for booking for parties on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons and is a very popular venue for birthdays and other celebrations! It leads out into a private and completely enclosed garden which contains benches and some children's play equipment making it a superb venue for a fabulous family function!

If you would like to book the Community Hall or just to have a look round then please talk to Anusha on 07515 137483  or you can email her at isisroomsw4@gmail.com

Our Garden

As well as the garden adjoining the Community Hall, we are very fortunate to have a large and lovely garden next to the church which is a rare thing in London! We often have our own parties in it and it provided a beautiful setting for the party to celebrate Meghan and Harry's wedding in 2018 as well as previously providing a gorgeous setting for a Jubilee supper, the Open Air performances by the St Michael's Players of A Misdummer Night's Dream and Salad Days and  a summer ceilidh to mark the opening of the Olympics! There is room to pitch a marquee or gazebos, and it is an ideal place for a wedding breakfast. Do talk to Michael michaelc.riley@virgin.net or 020 8994 4387  if you are planning your big day at St Paul's and would like to include the garden in your festivities or would like to book it for any other occasion!

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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