Pastoral Letter - 21st August
John Chapter 20 verses 1-10 (specifically verses 6 & 7) "He saw the linen wrappings laying there and the cloth which had been on Jesus' head, not laying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself." This is one of the details in the gospel which admit us to the full force of what is described. It is so specific a memory which adds hugely to the authenticity of the account. Here Peter barges in to Jesus' tomb irrespective of any thought of thereby becoming scripturally "unclean" by contact with a dead body, impetuous as ever, while the other disciple hovered uncertainly outside and the detail of what Peter sees unsettles him. The implication is that Jesus obviously had a particular way of folding, of placing material, which Peter here recognises. The sight evokes the presence of the One he seeks, but how could this possibly be? Jesus, he knows only too well, had been arrested, tried, flogged, crucified, killed upon a cross and then laid in this very tomb. He must be hallucinating, he must be mistaken. This folded cloth, folded in such a way as only Jesus distinctively did, effectively makes the risen Christ real to Peter before he actually sees Him. It is powerful, is it not, how particular "things" evoke for us memories of certain cherished people? Such things can conjure up in but a moment, the essence of of them, even though they may be dead or far away. My home is full of such "things." Pieces of furniture bequeathed by friends, inherited from parents, purchased while in the company of friends........ Paintings too, given, bought in memory of loved ones, found when at an exhibition with a particular friend. Though, apart from the dogs, I may live alone, I never feel alone for every room is filled with things resonant with other people: paintings, rugs, chairs, tables, ornaments, evoking clear memories of those I associate them with. I recall a line in one of the definitive Miss Marple adaptations, A Murder is Announced, starring the marvellous Joan Hickson, "I have very few possessions, all of them precious." For me, perhaps for you too, the value of "things" is deeply to do with what they evoke or represent or the people they are associated with in my mind. Moments shared, friendships enjoyed, people missed, all are present, as though contained within the very things themselves. I suppose this is not so strange for those of us for whom the Eucharist is significant. There, ordinary bread, ordinary wine, become something extraordinary as they are imbued with the sense of the One who once took them and allowed them to "become" Him in a special and significant way. Thus forever, for a Christian, when we see bread and wine together, the One who once took them and changed them into ways which evoke His presence, cannot but be in our minds. A wedding ring, engagement ring, eternity ring are not just precious to us in terms of their monetary value, the price of gold, silver, or the inset jewels, they too take on a significance beyond their physical selves as they resonate in our minds with what they are forever associated with. Carol Channing, the original Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, who famously sang "Diamonds are a girls best friend," used to say "You must not judge a jewel by how much it cost at Cartier, but with the amount of love with which it was given!" I suppose the material world inevitably invites us to consider the value of things in different ways, monetary value, not emotional potency or significance, perhaps because the latter cannot be measured and is different to different people. But I am reminded of a child who makes a crown out of cardboard, sticking on pieces of shining paper in lieu of jewels, to them such crowns are more precious by far than anything kept behind lock and key at the Tower of London. And does not Our Lord implore us to become as little children?, for "to such as these belong the kingdom of God." (Matthew Chapter 19 verse 14) The value of things cannot be assessed solely at auctions or concluded by commercial enterprises. The value of many things is determined by matters far more marvellous than that, at least, for those with emotions and imaginations. I remember being told many years ago by a friend who had been travelling in Greece, that he had been taken around a historic holy site. He was shown into an ancient room where incredibly fabulous icons were kept, prior to being taken into the church for veneration. I am paraphrasing but "And here my friend," said the guide, "is one of our greatest treasures, one of the most beautiful icons the monastery has in its possession." And gently, cautiously and with great care, he unwrapped protective cloth from an ancient icon of the Nativity, darkened with age, potent with the veneration of thousands down the centuries. The gold glowing, as though from a previous age in the lamp light. The guide gazed at the primitive Madonna and her adored child, seemed to enter into the moment, as though looking through a window into the stable being depicted, aware more of the reality being conveyed than of his own self or life. As though time had been paused........... Then apparently, he casually cast it aside and moved on to another relic. And in that example you have it. Yes, to value the "thing" for what it admits you to, but not to mistake the physical thing for the emotion, experience or essence it represents. Such perhaps should be our attitude toward the material world, not to mistake material things for what is of real and lasting value, which those things can convey. A photo of a dear friend may be ripped, destroyed, but no such act can destroy or even touch the essence of the friendship. Jesus invites us not to hold on to the things of this world, not to see them as ends in themselves, such things will perhaps perish, get damaged, stolen, fade, be destroyed. But to value and strive for the things which really, lastingly, matter. Matthew Chapter 6 verses 19-21. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth or rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth, not rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steel. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." I know that the consumerist culture of which we are inevitably a part, the material world from which we cannot easily separate ourselves, keeps telling us: "I shop, therefore I am." "I own, therefore I am." "I spend, therefore I am." But, from what so many of you have written to me over recent months, especially in relation to your gratitudes, I believe that I am right in saying that this lockdown has reversed the trend of buying all but the essential things for most of us. Simplicity has been experienced, by default, and such simplicity has liberated us from always craving more, releasing us to enjoy more the things we already have. The measure of our lives is not in belongings, but in so much more than this. The richness of our lives is more in terms of experiences, relationships, opportunities, delight in the natural world. The Covid-imposed retreat we have all been on has simplified our lives and helped us all to realise, perhaps as never before, what it is we need in order to feel truly fulfilled, alive and whole. As I have mentioned previously, although the collection of your gratitudes is vast and varied, they mainly fit into three main categories: thanksgiving for relationships, thanksgiving for time, thanksgiving for the beauty of the natural world. And over the coming three weeks I will be using my Pastoral Letters to share with you, your gratitudes in those three areas. So, as we perhaps to some extent emerge into a "new normal," let us not lose the freedom we have found in not being caught up in the consumerist whirlpool of craving more and more possessions in order to feel fulfilled. Let us freely embrace a life that is simpler and less to do with physical possessions and more to do with relationships, time and reverencing the natural world, the nurturing, valuing and respecting of those things which make creative sense of it all and are of lasting worth. I hope that we can all allow these strange and challenging months to strip us of all except those things which give us a real sense of ease, gratitude and peace. Peace with ourselves, peace with each other, peace with God. In this sense I pray that these last few difficult months can have achieved a certain purification as well as simplification, revealing to us what the priorities are for us henceforth in how we spend our money, how we spend our time, how we spend our lives. For, as St Paul has it, "All things can work for good, for those who are in Christ." (Romans Chapter 8 verse 28). Even the Covid lockdown! Let us all look for what and where the treasures are in our lives and remember that where our treasures are, there will our hearts be also. Let us all encourage each other to ensure that the things we treasure are of real, lasting worth which will enrich our lives, not only in this world, but also in the world to come. With blessings and best wishes, Jeff
ZOOM! Huge thanks once again to Charlotte and Antoine West who have been facilitating our Zoom Services since our first one on Easter Day. They are now stepping back after months of sterling service and Judy and Chris Britton have very kindly offered to take over from them. We thank them for doing so, and wish them well! Do please join us this Sunday at 9.30am for our time of prayer and praise together. We will be celebrating the discipleship and devotion of Saint Bartholomew. The readings are: Acts Chapter 5 verses 12-16 and Luke Chapter 22 verses 24-30. Our Collect is: Almighty and Eternal God, Who gave to your Apostle Bartholomew, grace Truly to believe and to preach your word: Grant that your Church May also love the word which he believed And may faithfully communicate and celebrate the same. This we ask through Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
EVENING PRAYER IN THE GARDEN. I am delighted to invite you to join us for an outside service of Evening Prayer which will be held this Sunday and on forthcoming Sundays at 4pm in the Memorial Garden. Following the Government and Diocesan Guidelines please be aware that:
You should not attend if you have got any of the symptoms associated with Covid 19.
You should respect the rule that each individual or household should stay at a distance of 2 metres apart. Chairs will be placed 2 metres apart.
You should take particular care about distancing on entering and leaving the Garden.
There should be no singing or raised voices.
There will be no access to the facilities in the Vestry.
The service will last for about 20 minutes.
I know that many of us have craved the company of each other during these challenging times and I hope that, now that we are in a position to provide this opportunity, we will be able to feel the strength and support of fellow members of the congregation in a more direct way, as we pray and praise together. With blessings and best wishes, Jeff The Reverend Jeff Hopkin Williams. Vicar of St Mary's Twickenham.