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.
for factions circling blades out
hands holding nothing-new
for fractions sectioning gold offers
fingers grasping destruction
for power-brokers hate stokers
history-tellers shaping chaos
for strivers, achievers back-door dealers
strangers on uncharted seas
for blessing meekness open keen young
tongues searching saltiness
for grace-shakers peace thumpers
worth-sum of composition
for the tribe including open offers
faith guiding intersection
for the tide turning blades revoked
hope holding all-things-new
Craig Muir, Easter 2019
I went to see the Knife Angel this week. It was glistening in the early morning sun, looking resplendent and serene. All the time I was there, other people were coming to look, photograph, talk about the message it brings, the times we live in that creates art out of confiscated knives. It is a powerful piece of art.
At the Cathedral it is positioned below Michael, his foot holding Satan to the ground – the triumph of good over evil. In both we are reminded that evil is always seeking out new ways to control us, and that we need to always be vigilant. Knife crime is the particular scourge of our society in these times, so easy to get hold of, the simple weapon of choice for too many. Indeed, many of the knives used to create the angel are the sort of knives we use each day to cut our bread or vegetables – yet these were used or kept as weapons of terror before being confiscated or given up during an amnesty. According to the information boards some arrived with the sculpture in evidence bags with blood still on them.
As we approach Easter we once again tell a story of love overcoming evil. There were some of Jesus’ followers who wanted to meet knife with knife, but when Peter did just that, Jesus heals the one who brings a sword to arrest him. Evil needs to be confronted but through creating a way of life that brings resplendence and serenity into every life.
The Knife Angel will move on after Easter, but knife crime will continue to be a problem until the hope of Easter glistens in every life.
This month will be the tenth anniversary of my induction to this pastorate. Sometimes it feels like it’s flown by. With my sabbatical and then our discussions about St. Columba’s future the last couple of months have been a time for me to wonder if am I called to remain or Covxit? The more I’ve prayed, the more I still feel the challenge to be here – we have planning permission for the redevelopment, we have interest in the Church Related Community Work post, we have new people coming into the congregation. In addition I was delighted that St. Columba’s have decided to stay open for at least the next year, it was a brave decision taken for lots of positive reasons – not least conversations about new initiatives. Hence, I find myself excited for this new year, looking forward to the challenges and opportunities, wondering quite how we can fit it all in!
Today is known as #bluemonday by some, but the tune I’ve been humming is “Let the Day Begin”by The Call
Here’s to the babies in a brand new world
Here’s to the beauty of the stars
Here’s to the travellers on the open road
Here’s to the dreamers in the bars
Here’s to the teachers in the crowded rooms
Here’s to the workers in the fields
Here’s to the preachers of the sacred words
Here’s to the drivers at the wheel
Here’s to the wisdom from the mouths of babes
Here’s to the lions in the cage
Here’s to the struggles of the silent war
Here’s to the closing of the age.
Here’s to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
It’s a wonderfully positive song that opens up all the potential of each new day and beautifully sums up my own excitement for all God has in store for us. So let the day begin.
There is a style of poetry that doesn’t use punctuation
but leaves big gaps between phrases
the leaf fall
your ring remained
I’m never sure how to read it
the breaks spoil the rhythm
and often there is no rhyme any way So how do you recite such a thing?
But then I find myself pausing in the gaps
thinking about the line just read
before moving on to the next one
it slows us down no more rushing on
Sabbatical has been such a pause
time to reflect on the last line
to unhurriedly be ready for the next.
Advent is also meant to be such a pause
although it can often feel like we are rushing through the lines in preparation for all that will come
I hope you find somewhere to pause
to craft a break, relish the moment
reflect on the last line be ready for the next
discover treasure in the gaps