Had I been leading worship this morning, my planned theme was Friendship. The gospel reading today was the one where Jesus is called to the home of his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. By the time he arrives Lazarus has been dead four days, Mary and Martha are grieving and Jesus grieves with them. This, despite knowing new life is coming for Lazarus. That need for friends to share human emotion becomes central to their relationship and the experiences they share.
Instead, I spent the morning watching/listening to various friends presenting worship via video/podcast. Each had their own ways of doing so, their own emphasis on the passages. But in each case something of the grief of isolation was expressed, of being apart from other human company. It was good to see them all, to remember how each of these friends has played a part in my life, how much their friendship is valued.
This time of social distancing, has emphasised how much being in the company of other people is central to who we are. Yes we can meet online, we can worship via video link, we can meet in video conference, we can work from home and keep in touch via a variety of social media. But none of it compensates for being with people, their presence and their interaction. I’m even missing the odd hug – not too many, but the occasional expression that come only come from human touch. It makes me realise how important social spaces are for isolated people – those who just come for a cup of tea, speak with no one, but value being able to do so. How meeting as a church is as much about the greeting and gathering as it is the content of a prayer or sermon. These are lessons we must remember when we return from isolation.
This mornings Old Testament text was Ezekiel being invited to see dry bones come to life. It reminds us that throughout human history, people have struggled through hard barren times and emerged with hope. we will do so as well.
It’s 10:30am Sunday morning, the 4th Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday, the first Sunday of Social Distancing and I’m sitting in Ansty Road all alone. I’ve put some notices on the outside noticeboards and on the doors, I’ve had a chat with the taxi drivers forlornly waiting for a fare and now the computer is belting out worship songs on shuffle. Church is not meant to be a place where we are alone. It all feels wrong, but I’m glad to be alone, it means that people have received the message that the church building is closed for the moment, that we must put aside our need to gather and take the precautions that we have been told will best protect the most vulnerable to this virus.
But the church is not closed, for the church is Us – wherever we are, whatever we are doing. It is Us when we connect online, by telephone, by post, when we stop to chat with those we see (keeping an appropriate distance apart!) It is Us when we pause to pray, to sing along to a hymn, be led into worship on television or radio. It is Us when we work from home or when we still need to work in the hospital, the shops, the care home, the school for children of essential workers, the Night Shelter and food queue.
The computer is playing the song “In love you summon” https://youtu.be/ucIrfFZPDaA
In love you summon, In love I follow
living today for your tomorrow
Christ release me, Christ to enfold me
Christ to restrain me, Christ to uphold me.
Perhaps that is good place to leave this reflection.
Look after yourselves and one another.
We will gather together again when we can.
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.…” And it was so. God saw everything … was very good. … the sixth day.”
So begins human stewardship of the earth. Sometimes it feels as if whilst God rests, humanity has taken the opportunity to grab more than is sustainable from the garden and dump the spoiled excess back into landfill. There is nothing new in this, except that our ability to exploit has become so amplified, that today we are faced with an unsustainable future. The consequences of climate change will dominate this century as humans struggle for resources. How do we respond as followers of the creator God?
The URC Mission Council has called on URC trusts to divest from fossil fuel companies and to reinvest in clean alternatives. In doing so, it wishes to support and encourage churches and members to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, and so participate in a just transition to a zero-carbon future. There is no simple way of doing so, the electricity for electric cars still needs to be generated, there are challenges in creating an ethical supply chain for raw materials that make batteries, solar panels, wind turbines. We have become so reliant on plastics that we struggle to live without them. I suspect that Earth will survive this crisis, but whether humanity has a sustainable future is the bigger challenge. Such issues are not things that we can ignore, that is why children are taking to the streets, populations are shifting and some have returned to eating vegetables instead of meat.
Revelation ends in a Garden City, “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of nations.” Now there is a future worth imagining.
Come along for a nibble and a natter, Hopefully we will be out on the front lawn enjoying the sunshine!
Come and join our a Quiz Night in which the questions will test your knowledge of many things French and you will be tempted by some hearty English Puddings.
Don’t worry if you can’t make up a team – I’m sure we will be able to put some together.
So if Lent is a fast, why is our Lent Theme all about Feasts and Festivals?” Well, partly because the United Reformed Church is following that theme in various guises throughout the year, but also because Lent is as much about feasting as it is about fasting. Each Sunday is a feast day, and not counted in the 40 fast days of Lent. Our Lent Gatherings will be a time to reflect on the way our journeys can take various turns, that some are feasts and others fasts but all take us towards the greatest festival of all … Easter.
The sessions have been inspired by the wonderful prayers in this years Prayer Handbook, for example
We pick up the stones
of the hurts of the world
violence and poverty,
disaster, and starvation
wanting you to turn them into bread;
Carol Dixon, URC Prayer Handbook 2017
God so loved …
this home for humanity,
rich varieties of shape, colour, language, identity, story
that God sent his son not to condemn but to save.
May we value all of humanity with the same love,
share the same willingness for sacrifice
and make the same risks
that God makes for us
Vaughan Jones, URC Prayer Handbook 2017
In the midst of a fast, we will enjoy a feast of poetry, song, prayer and discovery. We will touch, look, taste and imagine. We will roam from wilderness to garden, pausing at a well as darkness falls and we catch our breath. Come and join in
be blessed, Craig