My dear Friends,
Happy Jubilee and Pentecost Weekend!
Believe it or not I am missing you all greatly since going away on Sabbatical a month ago. Our lives have been so inextricably linked for so long, perhaps especially over the past two years as we have held each other and prayed each other through the Covid Pandemic and social lockdown. Though I am enjoying walking the dogs, on the moors and on the Downs, on the beaches and through the woods; though I listen to recordings of Josquin des Prez and Jakub Orkinski; though I read murder mysteries and poetry - when I sit before a simple wooden cross first thing each morning, Mahler at my feet, trying to be open and honest before a God who seeks the truth of me, I realise that I haven’t left St Mary`s at all. I am still very much with you at the heart of the spiritual community to which so many of us turn, on which so many of us rely, at a level which is perhaps much deeper and more profound than our conscious minds. This many of us began to realise in a new way two years ago, when we were deprived of our physical meetings for worship and social events and when our sense of togetherness was experienced in strangely different ways.
It has been an interesting and a novel experience for me to sit in the comparative anonymity of a congregation in churches where I am not known and see the liturgy unfold, hear the priests using ancient words which carry such potency, and contemporary words which seek to make connections between the eternal and the ordinary. And obviously other events have been claiming my attention too: the bleeding sore in the soul of Europe as the carnage and heartache of Ukraine grinds on; the continuing pain being experienced in Afghanistan, Yemen, Texas and so many other places in our wounded, yet still wonderful world.
I don’t usually, but this year having more time to play around with, I watched the European Song Contest. (Please don’t hold this against me!) I have to say, I loved it! As you may know, it was not long after the end of the Second World War that the idea of such an event was conceived, which would unify, strengthen and inspire a Continent intent on putting the past behind it and to look forward to a harmony which was celebrated in song. I believe that the first Eurovision Song contest took place on May 24th 1956. This year’s competition was all the more poignant because of the situation in Ukraine, the worst war in Europe since the one which ended in 1945. It was marvellous to see the Ukrainian song catapulted into the top slot with an extraordinary score of 631, it couldn’t have been more fitting. Sam Ryder, the British competitor who came an amazing second, was interviewed on Radio 4 on 16th May. He spoke for so many of us when he said that the competition this year had been an opportunity for Europe to align itself with Ukraine and show the solidarity of our support. He went on to say that if the UK had to come second to anyone, then it was entirely right that it should be to Ukraine.
In the same interview on the Today program, he talked about the atmosphere at the venue as being so full of joy that: "it was like being in church." It was such an innocently made, straight-from-the-heart remark, which made me think, "Gosh, yes! That’s what I crave in my experience of church when I meet with you all. Joy!" Not necessarily a noisy, frenetic manifestation of that experience, but a deep down joy some of us experience oftentimes in silence. As when we look at someone we adore and realise the extent of our love for them and what a difference loving them makes to our lives; when something which has troubled us has been resolved and we are overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude and calm; when we look at the sun rise, sparkling over the waters of the river and know that what we see evokes a sense of life deep within us; when we feel the brush of God against our lives and are momentarily so sure of His presence, His love and His belief in us; and of course, as when Nadal wins at Wimbledon...............Such experiences of joy may have been rare for many of us over the last few years and are therefore all the more precious to us when we do experience them.
Joy has an incredibly powerful effect at transforming, by ridding the past of its life-draining pull and injecting a lightness and a freshness into the very air we breathe. And how we need such experiences of joy as we recover and rebuild after the dark shadow of Covid which has obscured the light for so long. Joy: complete freedom from the downward drag of negativity; a lightness, a brightness which allows us to soar and not be restricted or restrained by the determined tug of darkness and despair.
And it is with joy that we now turn to the double celebrations of this weekend: Pentecost - the sending of the life giving, life enhancing Holy Spirit into our lives, relationships and situations and Jubilee as we mark 70 years of Elizabeth as our Monarch. Whatever we think about the principle of a hereditary monarchy, she has been a constant in a constantly changing world, in that way offering the reassurance of familiarity and continuity. She has been in our newspapers and on our television screens, on our coinage and paper currency, on our stamps and in our consciousness. Her apolitical desire to bring people together, to deal with difficulties through the soft influence of conversation and kindness, having quiet words in private, smoothing the paths between conflicting parties, enlarging the countries comprising the Commonwealth to its present form, a network of nations which has mutual respect and shared principals at its core, not the desire to control or dominate by the exercise of power.
I hope that we will all be able to find ways this weekend to experience joy, by meeting with friends, family, neighbours and enjoying each other’s company. I hope that joy will renew within us a deeper sense of gratitude for the gift of life and for those things which make our lives more whole and wonderful. For in addition to the Platinum Jubilee, this weekend also offers us the opportunity to give thanks for the Holy Spirit in our lives as we remember the moment of Pentecost when, following Jesus`s ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit filled the hearts and liberated the lives of the first disciples. Such joy was theirs when the Holy Spirit came among them that they came alive in new ways; were blessed with skills and gifts which served those around them and contributed to the common good; gave them the creative energy to confront difficulties and transcend them. Such joy is ours when we too open our hearts, minds, imaginations and souls to the communion Christ craves with each and every one of us. Such energy is ours as we offer ourselves to the work of healing divisions, challenging injustices, upholding truth, inspiring compassion, nurturing our children, promoting growth and enterprise, protecting the vulnerable and inspiring greater goodness in the human family to which we all belong. Not merely in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
May God continue to accompany you as you journey on, enlightening your path, reassuring you in times of uncertainty, prompting you through the transitions, drawing you ever closer to each other and to Himself in the unbreakable bonds of love. May you know the refreshing, renewing energy of joy this Pentecost and Jubilee weekend.
With the assurance of my ongoing prayers and with blessings and best wishes,