Category Archives: Reading

Words for a weary walk

This year's Ability Sunday, Livability's annual event to celebrate inclusion in the Church, highlights the story of the road to Emmaus, found in Luke’s Gospel. The disciples we read about had to make on a journey they weren't expecting to take. They were setting out weary, downcast, and uncertain of the future.

This week, today, are you setting out weary? Think of an aspect of life where you may be feeling particularly deflated, worn out, or running on empty.

Make a note of everyone you ‘encounter’ in a week - this can be in person and online. It could include friends, family, colleagues, people we know well and those we know only in passing.

  • To what extent do you recognise Christ in each of these encounters? Why, or why not?
  • Can you imagine sharing a meal with these people? Again, consider why / why not?
  • How might that change your view, so that we can better see Christ in each of these interactions?

In the Gospel, when the disciples recognise Jesus, he immediately disappears. They get a glimpse of Jesus. This changes everything. Who might we get just the briefest glimpse of Jesus in our interaction? A delivery person? A supermarket worker? Someone we pass in the street? Look again at the list you have written of your recent interactions and commit each of these people to God in prayer.

As you think about these weary disciples, you can remember that God walks with you, even at your most dejected. This knowledge may not translate to having a spring in your step, but you can be confident that Christ travels alongside us, in every season of life.

Reflection taken from the Livability Community Engagement August Newsletter, for more resources and information please see abilitysunday.org.uk

Godsend

A reflection on Matthew 10: 40-42

for Sunday 28th June

Bill was our class leader when Joyce and I were preparing to get married forty years ago. Wealdstone Methodist Church still had classes in those days, and Bill and his wife Gwen ran the housegroup and offered us loving and very methodical pastoral care. After our wedding and, as I was going through initial training as a local preacher and as a candidate for presbyteral ministry, Bill was always on hand with practical support and discreet advice. After we moved to Banbury (70 miles from Wealdstone) he drove my widowed Dad up on Fridays so that we could see him regularly on my day off. Bill was an absolute Godsend.

Last Sunday’s services brought all this to mind and the readings for the coming Sunday (June 28th) continued the theme in a particular direction. The short passage from Matthew’s Gospel concludes a chapter about discipleship, its character and its costs. Then Jesus is recorded as speaking about welcome: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10: 40).

Jesus is himself the sender (Matthew 10: 5), because he comes from God, sent by God. The four New Testament Gospels are agreed on this. In the Gospel of John, at the end of the chapter which features the night-time conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus is described as the one ‘God has sent’; as the beloved Son, ‘all things’ come into his hands by the Father’s decision (John 3: 34-35). The central point of this is the offer of eternal life to all who believe in him (compare John 3: 36 with John 3: 16).

Those who live faithfully as sent disciples are drawing on the great chain of commissioning that has its origin in the relationship between Jesus and the one he trusted as loving Father. So we give thanks to God for all we have received from loving and committed disciples and pray that the welcome such service evokes will sustain them and us on the costly road ahead.

Trevor Thomas (24th June 2020)

Patience

Many of us live in well-loved homes which remind us of what we have done in our life. But perhaps we are now finding that we have had enough of our four walls. Our patience is wearing thin. So, what of this picture entitled Patience?

PJ Crook, Patience, 1983, The Wilson, Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum © the artist, reproduced with permission

This small painting demands our careful attention. Let’s pause and look closely. A woman sits alone at a card table playing patience. She is fully absorbed. The room is simply furnished and tells of an ordered life: the piano with open music and candled sconces tells of another solitary pursuit, a small bookcase likewise. Flowers and fruit are neatly arranged, even the ginger cat seems settled. Were she to look up she would see the wall clock, to measure time passing, or she might catch a glimpse of herself reflected in the wall mirror over the piano.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the paintings hanging on the walls are charged with significance – for there is nothing accidental here – I don’t think it is an ‘overread’ to see in the portraits that face us the woman’s younger self: with a sister perhaps and, in profile, with her husband. She is, after all, living with her memories. However, for me it is the third painting, which hangs behind her and is reflected in the mirror, which disturbs for it is a painting of the landscape glimpsed through the open door with topiary trees and well-tended privet. It is as though the outside has been brought indoors to be made part of this closed space.

So, is this simply a painting of peaceful contentment? Of the well-ordered life where even memories are fixed in place? Or is there something more? In Patience we discover a tension between contentment and containment, what is outside and what is within. A solitary card game, within an enclosed room, within a formal enclosed garden, bounded by sentry-straight trees that entirely screen the natural landscape beyond.

Within the quiet stillness and thoroughly domestic subject matter we discover an underlying tension: a life enclosed. And yet the door is open, it is a bright summer’s day. Perhaps it is time to find the courage to step outside.

A prayer

Lord, sometimes our orderly routines are not enough
and we feel ourselves drifting into boredom and frustration.
We feel hemmed in by circumstances
and are not sure what the outcome will be.
Show us the door in our life that is still open
and prepare us to take the risk
of walking into a fresh experience of the familiar.
Lord, we have to live with the cards we are dealt,
help us to make the most of what we have received
and trust you that everything will fall into place
in your good time.

And an afterthought

The keen eyed may have noticed something unsettling about this painting. And it’s all to do with the framing.

It is difficult to see in reproduced form – but it is just possible to discern that this panel is ‘framed’ three times over. Look at the moulded shaping that distorts the rug and the ceiling, the verticals that edge the clock and kink the wall by the door, the horizontals that parallel the curtain valance and distort the cat’s tail.

The artist, PJ Crook, has throughout her career sought to break free of the confines of the traditional frame, allowing her work to spill out; in this case multiplying the traditional moulded surround to articulate and underpin the narrative. So, our painting which explores this tension between contentment and containment is quite literally shaped and moulded; the boundaries are barely visible but will need to be traversed.

Michael Mays & Rev. John Rackley

On the Way…

A story of transforming love.

Based on Luke 24.13-35

The past few months have been a trying time for as all as we’ve struggled with the Covid 19 pandemic. Many have watched as loved ones have suffered and even died as the health and caring services have struggled to cope with the thousands upon thousands who have been and still are being struck down by it.

And whilst reflecting on our own family and friends it struck me very forcibly that Alison and I have been extremely fortunate. Both daughters and a daughter-in-law have suffered and thankfully recovered. But hundreds of thousands of others have died! And millions of relatives and friends have been left distraught.

It was then that I recalled that amazing post-resurrection story of the two disciples walking home from Jerusalem on the Emmaus Road. Those two disciples were also very distraught. Perhaps even scared witless by what might happen to them as well. They were so totally unaware who the ‘stranger’ was that joined them on that road. They still didn’t even recognise him as he walked with them and they recounted to him the happenings and the crucifixion and the women saying that he was alive!

Grief does that to you. It can totally block associative recognition, and leave you in a state of shock that renders you almost totally unaware of the reality around you. And that seems to exactly fit their responses to Jesus as he then responded to them on their journey! They knew others had said Jesus was alive and yet the impossibility of overcoming death was still at play in their minds! To them, Jesus was now dead – all hope was lost in their pain and sorrow!

I want you to fast-forward now to what happened at the table at the home the two disciples invited Jesus to enter. They had prepared a meal for their guest, and it was only when that ‘stranger’ picked up a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, and then shared it with them that the proverbial ‘penny dropped’ – their eyes and minds were opened - and as Jesus disappeared from their sight they then said to one another: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

I guess by now it was truly dark outside. But regardless of the lack of street lights and the danger of being out after dark they immediately went back to share the Good News with the other disciples!

What a transformation that was! I wonder what time they got back to Jerusalem? Because in those days they would get up at dawn and go to bed when it got dark – so it must have been very late!

That simple disclosure at the table where Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and then gave it to the disciples has always been, for me, a moment of healing. It dealt with past fears and restored them to a right, and real, relationship with the living Christ once more. I guess that is one reason why John Wesley viewed the Eucharist as a liturgy for healing.

I would suggest that as we’re not currently allowed to offer a Eucharistic service to one another at this time I see no reason why this story can’t be used as a basis for a simple ’Love Feast’ instead. Where it’s possible to be with your nearest and dearest or even ‘bubble’ with a neighbour/friend - Love can be shared. It is in sharing love that love can transform and heal – but when isolated we can miss out on that opportunity to serve one another. So if you are able to share, then please do so and serve one another. Methodists do believe in the priesthood of all believers! (Our church requires the ordained to officiate at the Eucharist)

I would invite you to set your table with a plate containing a piece of bread front of you. Then knowing that you are held in the ever-loving arms of our God who is with us on our journey no matter where we are, or how we are feeling – imagine Jesus confirming his real presence with you as you lay yourself and all your anxieties and troubles at his feet. Then simply take the bread, give thanks to God for it, and in eating trust Jesus to take away any anxieties and restore his affirming love for you.

Jesus said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”.

He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Luke 24.13-35 (NRSV):

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Nb.
I use this translation as it is acknowledged to be as accurate a translation as is possible.
You may like to see a comment that is in Andy’s letter referring to how some translations can be very misleading.

Dave Tomlin20/06/2020

Loving Sparrows: From putting out the recycling to avoiding the rubbish heap

Some thoughts on Matthew chapter 10

by Rev. Andy Murphy

I remember once having quite a spiritual experience as I went to put out the recycling. There on the ground lay a little sparrow; not a new-born chick but not much more than a fledgling. This poor little bird lay on its back breathing slowly. It was so fragile, so sweet, so helpless and vulnerable, and it was going to die. It has obviously hit one of the windows and fallen to the ground. It had a wound on the back of its head but it was still breathing – its helpless little face looking upwards. Not struggling, not writhing, just breathing.

As I stood there, my first emotion was utter powerlessness: I was sure a vet couldn’t save it, Emily doesn’t keep anaesthetics in the house, and I had no idea how to humanely put it out of its misery. But really, as I looked at it, there was no misery: this little sparrow was quite at peace. And then I remembered Jesus’ words, and a voice spoke in my mind: “It’s okay, I know about this, I am here.” I got the real sense that God was holding that little bird as it died. And then I heard the words: “And you are worth more to me than many sparrows.”

Jesus said,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

(Matthew 10:29-31)

This sense of God’s love that enfolds all of God’s creation should be the overriding thought in our minds as we read the Bible. This is the God who made this beautiful world and every species of every plant and creature, and who has a special place in his heart for human beings.

Matthew chapter 10 can otherwise seem quite a ‘dark’ chapter. It’s about going out on mission and facing opposition and persecution. It comes as a reality-check to anyone who thinks following Jesus will be easy. The disciples of Jesus will face much opposition in this world – from the rulers and authorities of the world, to even those within their own family. Jesus didn’t mince his words. He wanted to be honest with his followers about what they might find as they went out in his name. It certainly wasn’t to be a stroll in the park. Neither will it be for his followers 21st century.

But, Jesus says, “have no fear”. Everything hidden will be uncovered, all secret injustices will be exposed, and so will our faithfulness to him. Go out and tell his good news in the light, don’t be ashamed of the message, and don’t fear those who might hurt us.

Yet, Jesus says (in verse 28), there is one whom we should be wary of; one who could torment us and lead us away from God’s kingdom – lead us towards ‘hell’ (Gehenna). Some would delete this verse from the Bible altogether, while many think that it is actually referring to God. Some popular Bible translations have even taken the liberty of inserting God’s name into this sentence, because the Greek is unclear whom Jesus is talking about. [e.g. the Good News Bible, the Living Bible, New Living Translation, Contemporary English Version. And many other versions capitalise the ‘Him’ or the ‘One’ to give the same impression.]

That choice of translation comes from a longstanding and widespread idea (going back to the middle ages) about God being the one who desires to cast us in hell for all eternity (or is somehow morally bound to do so). It baffles me as to why modern translations would to want to reinforce this dubious idea, and I think it is certainly not the God that Jesus represents: our loving heavenly Parent. This is why we need to hold in mind from the start the overriding truth of God’s love for all creation.

Now, going down the road to hell or ‘Gehenna’ (as Jesus called it) may be a possibility. Metaphorically-speaking, descending to the ‘rubbish heap’ (as Gehenna was in those days) can and does happen, whether by falling to the depths of hatred and depravity in this world, or by refusing to accept God’s loving grace in our lives – living instead in torment and shame. But it is never God who would choose to send us there. It is not God who desires to torment us. There are other forces, others lords, other idols which can enslave us (if we let them). And the Bible speaks of one who stands over them – the serpent, the satan, the devil, the prince of darkness, Beelzebub. Jesus often spoke about such an enemy, but when talking on God’s behalf he always said: “Do not be afraid”.

Psalm 86 reminds us that God is ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Psalm 86: verse 15). Remember that God the Parent is the one who cares even for the little sparrows; the one who loves us as his own children, and is so desperately in love with us that he counts the hairs on our heads: there is nothing about us that goes unnoticed: there’s no joy in us that doesn’t make God burst with laughter; and there’s no injury or injustice to us, no pain or heartache, that doesn’t also wrench the heart of God; no prayer is too small; no worry too insignificant; our tears are not merely drops in the ocean to God – they are the pools of compassion that God swims in. One day he will wipe away those tears, we are told: One day when the Lamb sits on the throne in the Holy City, and the work begins of healing the nations (Revelation chapters 21 and 22).

Sometimes we meet situations where there seems no way out, no answer, no rescue. But Jesus says: “Do not be afraid, precious child: all these things are in God’s loving hands”. Our prayers may not be answered as we long for – but that doesn’t mean God isn’t holding us with the utmost love. There are mysteries, there are unfathomable griefs, and it has always been this way, but there is no injustice that won’t be undone, no hurt that won’t be healed, no grief that won’t be turned to joy, when Jesus makes all things new.

Andrew T. Murphy, 19th June 2020

Emergency appeal for the Methodist Church in Sierra Leone

Dear friends,

I am very grateful as a Methodist Minister that the church provides everything my family and I need in terms of enough money to live off and pay the bills, and a lovely home to live in. We do not take this for granted and are very thankful. I am very thankful that Church and Circuit financial reserves and the regular giving of our members means that this commitment can continue even when some of our regular income sources have temporarily stopped. In some parts of the world this is sadly not the case.

One of our members at Market Harborough, Anita Beer, has recently visited Sierra Leone on the West coast of Africa. Anita took greetings from us, visiting and getting to know some of the churches over there. Unfortunately, the Methodist Church in Sierra Leone has been struggling to pay its ministers for several months, and the Coronavirus crisis has hit them and their families, and many in their communities, very hard. The closure of church services has meant a loss of regular income, and many in the neighbourhoods have not yet been reached by any government help. The Methodist Church in Sierra Leone has launched a fundraising campaign simply to try to provide food to its 120 ministers and their families, and some of the most vulnerable in their communities.

It would be a tremendous Christian act of solidarity and practical love to help out our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone at a time like this.
So we are launching this Circuit-wide appeal until the 30th June.

The Circuit Hardship Fund (set up for this crisis) has already committed £300 to help.
Market Harborough Methodist's benevolence fund has also committed £300 to this.
We will be sending this £600 to them immediately. But it would be wonderful if we could add to that total to be able to help more families in need.

If you are able to give, and you would like to, you can donate in the following ways, via our Circuit treasurer, Richard Huntington:

  • By sending a cheque payable to "Market Harborough Circuit Stewards Account" to Richard Huntington at his home address.
  • By dropping an envelope with cash or cheque through the letterbox of Market Harborough Methodist Church, addressed to Richard Huntington.
  • By phoning Richard to ask about details for a bank transfer payment.

(For any of these, please mention that it is for the Sierra Leone Appeal.)

I recognise that some of you may be experiencing financial hardship yourselves at the moment, and if you would like to speak to me about this, or accessing the Hardship fund for someone else, please ring me on 01858 462889.

Thank you for your love and support,
With every blessing,
Andy

Reflection on the Gospel for the 14th June 2020

Gutted!

When he saw the crowds, Jesus had compassion for them. (Matthew 9 v.36)

A few years ago, there was a short television series on the work of hospital chaplains in Birmingham; the focus was the work with children and was, of course, multi-faith. My particular memory was of a kindly no-nonsense Methodist minister who had established a special rapport with a young lad who was very keen on his football team. He was pinning all his hopes on attending an event away from the hospital ward, but all depended on his condition. As it turned out, his hopes were dashed, and it fell to the Methodist chaplain to give him the bad news. She broke it to him as best she could, adding her own heart-felt reaction: “I’m gutted for you, sweetheart!”

What has brought all this to mind is the description of Jesus’ reaction to the local crowds. These distant descendants of the Sinai generation, the ones God bore ‘on eagles’ wings’ (Exodus 19 v.4), were now like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless. In the English translation of Matthew we are told that Jesus had compassion on them. The Greek could be more literally rendered, ‘he was gutted for them’. There was something visceral in the response of Christ, a love which compelled action: teaching, proclamation, and effective healing; no-one in need was neglected.

This is the hallmark of the Gospel. On that the New Testament evangelists are agreed. It was a strong visceral compassion that drove the good Samaritan to take great risks in rescuing the injured traveller on the bandit-stricken Jericho road – no social-distancing for him! In the same way a father risked shame and scorn and ridicule when he spotted in the distance his lost son returning from the far country in the parable of the prodigal. No matter what the neighbours thought and said, he ran out to meet him, flinging his arms around him. It’s Luke who reports both parables, and they are rightly seen as landmarks in the gospel story (Luke chapters 10: 25-37 and 15: 11-32).

Last week was Trinity Sunday when we heard the words of the ‘great commission’ from Matthew’s last chapter. This time the work of outreach is to exclude neither Samaritans nor Gentiles, but the motivation is the same as that described in today’s passage, from the course of Christ’s Galilean ministry. The spring of the apostolic mission, the source from which it flows, is the mission of Jesus himself in teaching, proclamation and healing; its motivation is visceral compassion.

Where charity and love are present, God himself is there, and, though we cannot now see his exalted Son, he is always with us by the Spirit, to the end of the age, calling us to carry on his work.

Trevor Thomas (June 9th 2020)

P.S. Gutted! – a postscript for our time:

There was no social-distancing rule for the compassionate Samaritan on the Jerusalem to Jericho road, so he was free to exercise a moral choice (Luke 10: 33-34). Our Covid-19 situation is different. We do not give our neighbours a ‘wide berth’ out of choice, but in responsible compliance with a necessary Government directive. The disquiet of many people at the social and emotional cost shows how much we know we are missing. But the gospel of divine love is not exhausted. Even in current circumstances the compassionate imagination is finding new avenues for expression, including Peter Arnold’s haircut in aid of the Ambulance Drivers’ Charity. Well done, Peter!

(Trevor Thomas, 10th June)

Fairtrade Church news: You’re putting better chocolate on our shelves

Fairtrade Towns title.jpg

We hope that you're staying safe and healthy at this challenging time.

For many of us, Fairtrade farmers and workers included, planning for the future seems daunting right now. So it's important to remember that - together - we can change things for the better.

You, other churches, and the wider Fairtrade community proved this yet again in Fairtrade Fortnight 2020, the second year of our campaign for living incomes for cocoa farmers.

Fairtrade stories reached millions from our congregations to classrooms, supermarkets to stations, and across the press and social media - thanks for being involved!

Without your Fairtrade campaigning efforts, we wouldn't now have almost 1,000 different Faritrade chocolate bars available in the UK.

And we've seen the momentum grow - this year alone, Waitrose and John Lewis have started using Fairtrade cocoa for 100 per cent of their own-brand confectionary. And just last week LIDL launched their amazing new 'Way to go!' Fairtrade chocolate bar.

But there is still a long way to go - as for too many cocoa farmers, the basic necessities remain out of reach. Demonstrated clearly by the coronavirus crisis, it is vital that everyone can access the essentials - like medical care, clean water and food.

This is why we still need your support to campaign for all cocoa farmers to earn a living income.

Interested in learning more about our fight to change chocolate? Sign up for our online webinar. Although the live event is now full, we can send you a recording shortly afterwards. You can also still submit your questions in advance of the panel later today.

Recommit to Fairtrade in 2020

It's not just about a Fortnight, and it's not just about chocolate. Your church can support Fairtrade all year round, when and how it works best for you. In fact, churches remain a large and poweful force at the heart of the Fairtrade movement, 25 years on from catalysing the birth of the Fairtrade Mark.

So, although, you are not currently able to meet, you can still support Fairtade by committing (or recommiting) to being a Fairtrade Church. You find out more about how to do this here.

Please do get in touch with us at faiths@fairtrade.org.uk with the name of your church and its postcode to receive your personalised form.

Best wishes,

Angharad Hopkinson and Hannah Adlington-Goulding
Communities Campaigns Team

Breath – A Reflection for Pentecost

Pentecost 2020

Psalm 104: 24-34; John 20: 19-23

Breath

All the living beings on our amazing green planet, all the creatures that fill the earth and seas (Psalm 104: 24), depend on the Creator for breath: when it is taken away we die; when it is sent forth we are part of the living creation. In this respect human beings, latecomers to this extraordinary natural story, are just one part of the whole. The author of Ecclesiastes puts it with almost brutal directness: ‘the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity.’ (Ecclesiastes 3: 19)

Genesis chapters 1 and 2, with its two stories of creation, rejects the charge of ‘vanity’. It is not all vanity. For the breath of life was breathed into human nostrils by the Lord God (Gen 2: 7), and, according to the other account, humankind, male and female, bear the divine image (Genesis 1: 27); and this is all part of a great enterprise.

What has all this to do with Pentecost? It begins with the fact that human beings have a certain kind of precious awareness. Not only were we created in God’s image; by grace we may know it. And what is the test? The test is prayer. George Herbert, early 17th Century poet and parish priest, spoke of ‘God’s breath in man returning to his birth’, and this in his great sonnet entitled ‘Prayer’. As a Jewish scholar puts it, the Name of God is unutterable, but we may hear it in the sound of our own breathing (Lawrence Kushner, quoted by Dennis Lennon in ‘Turning the Diamond’, 2002). For Christians prayer is ‘our vital breath’ (James Montgomery, Singing the Faith, 529).

And why is this particularly true for followers of Christ? Because he shows us that all is not vanity, and he does this by giving us his breath – the breath he surrendered in death (John 19: 30) becomes the breath he imparts to his people in their locked room on the evening of that first Easter Day (John 20: 22). For the author of the fourth Gospel that is the start of the new age. “Receive the Holy Spirit”, he says to them, that the world which has treated me as a stranger may know what it means to be a fully human being living and serving in unbroken communion with the God of love.

In another poem George Herbert put all this into four short lines:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: Such a Way, as gives us breath;
Such a Truth, as ends all strife;
Such a Life, as killeth death.
(Hymns and Psalms 254)

Trevor Thomas (27th May 2020)

Hymns at Easter: We sing the praise

Ascension Sunday 24 May 2020
'We sing the praise' by Norman Wallwork (STF 315)

The final hymn in this series moves us from the close of Easter onto the threshold of Pentecost. It is We sing the praise of Jesus (STF 315) by Norman Wallwork who is a well-known liturgist and hymn writer and in this hymn sets out in a simple form what we can believe about the Ascension of Jesus.

  • Jesus arrives in heaven as a triumphant conqueror of death and evil
  • We sing his praises with heaven-given joy
  • Jesus prays for us
  • We pray in expectation for the ‘living fire’
  • We are being prepared to worship in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.

The Ascension myth is a crucial transition stage in the development of the Christian understanding of God. We might remember the stories of Jesus. We may bow before the Cross. We marvel at the Resurrection but there is more going on than just historic events. The activity of God is not a good idea to be considered but an experience to be explored.

This is a special kind of exploration. It is the exploration of prayer. It is prayer based in the theology of love; for we are commanded to love God with all that we are and all that we have; not just believe in God. We know God through the love we are given and from Ascension Day we pray this prayer for all in the Church

Come Holy Spirit
Fill the hearts of your faithful people and
Kindle in them the fire of your love

It is this fire that can flame in our homes and our hearts. It is this fire which can re-create our devotion. A devotion that is not dependent on ‘what happens in church’. It is a loving of God which let’s each day be the Lord’s Day and witnesses ‘earth and heaven ring’ with the praises of God.

This reminds me of the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-61) from her poem Aurora Leigh

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God
But only he who sees takes off his shoes
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.

This hymn and the season it serves invites us to see the Church as she really is created to be – a priestly community open to the world, open to God and connecting the grace of heaven and the need of earth. Truly a Church of the Ascension.

Rev. John Rackley