Pastoral Letter - 21st May
Last Sunday, when we celebrated the Ascension of Christ, was a culmination. This coming Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, is a commencing.
This man whose birth we witnessed and celebrated, This healer, this worker of miracles, This storyteller of the Kingdom, This man we have travelled with through desert and wilderness to lakeside and city, This man in whose company we have seen great things come to pass, from transfiguration of Himself to transformation of others, This man we spent Holy Week with, allowed to wash our feet, with whom we have shared bread and wine, This man we agonised with in Gethsemane, whom we saw the victim of hatred and cruelty, This man we witnessed being flogged, then stripped and hung on a cross to suffocate, This man whose lifeless body we saw laid in a cold, dark cave and heard the grinding of a heavy stone rolled to seal the opening of that tomb, This man whose death cast a chill darkness over the whole world, This man who, because of His Father’s love and the strength of the Spirit, came to life again and shone in our midst with the promise of existence beyond annihilation... Is now a man whose presence is taken from us, as He ascends into Heaven, leaving only a warmth, a whisper, in the waiting air.
It is at the very heart of God’s revelation of who He is and the truths which underpin His creation, that we are not invited to believe in certain ideas, live according to a certain set of rules. They are all secondary. What is primary is this: that you and I are drawn into a relationship with God which engages the whole of who we are, not just our minds, our attitudes, our behaviour, but our whole being. From the beginning of the Gospel, when shepherds are called from the hills, wise men from the East, they are drawn into a relationship. They did not wait until He was old enough to express ideas. He was an infant when they went in search of Him. They were called, drawn, invited, into a relationship and through that relationship other things grew: ideas, ethics, morality, behaviour, belief systems. At its genesis, at its heart, our faith concerns relationship, for ours is a personal, relational, God.
Christianity is not essentially a set of rules or guiding principles to assent to or live our lives by. It is something far more wonderful, compelling, demanding, far reaching, life changing, than that. You and I are called into an engaging with another, with whom we spend our lives, in whom we confide the naked undisguised truth of who we are, and there find acceptance and affirmation.
The Gospel is full of stories of such encounters, at least of those who really "got" who Jesus was and allowed the whole of their humanity to connect with who He is. Those who were simply looking for new ideas, a set of rules, political results, social outcomes, behavioural consequences, all failed to truly meet Him. Christianity is essentially about relationship: knowing Christ and allowing Him to know us, sharing the pith and core of who we are daily, deeply, with Him and letting Him share His deepest self with us. Holy Communion indeed. That`s what you and I are invited to experience: communion. He came to invite us into such a life-giving embrace and to entrust ourselves totally to Him. His story amongst us began with Mary doing just that, saying: "Be it unto me according to your word” (Luke Chapter 1 verse 38). Here she expresses the self-offering of openness and trust which allowed that sacred relationship to begin in her womb. And He appeals similarly to us, as He seeks to come alive in our lives, to invite Him into the truth of who we are.
Those who were lonely, lost, frightened, fragmented, asked Him to connect with who they were and He not only cured them, He shared who He was with them and created wholeness and wellbeing within them. Others offered Him the questions which tormented them, prevented them from knowing peace and, again, it was His offering of Himself to them which allowed them to be enlightened. Aching bodies, aching minds, aching spirits, aching desires, these are what He connected, communed with most significantly and, as we remembered last Sunday, this one, in whose company people felt more whole and happy, complete and fulfilled, was leaving them. How could they now live without His influence and inspiration, peace and presence? But He did not abandon them. He has not abandoned us. This one who craves communion with that which is deepest and most real within us, reaches out to us now in the person, in the power, of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit inspired, influenced, by the Son’s experience of human life which, at His Ascension, He takes with Him into the heart of Heaven. When the Risen Christ appeared to His disciples, He showed them the marks of the nails’ bite in his hands and the scar where the spear had pierced his flesh in His side. This man who was God ascended into Heaven still carrying those scars on His Risen Body, binding Him to the pain and anguish, reality and suffering of torn human emotions, torn human flesh, torn human lives. He ascends into Heaven to continue His work of transformation and it is to one who can empathise with the human situation, that you and I pray. This is surely something we can draw strength, inspiration, hope and comfort from.
The relationship goes on, between creator and created, called into ever deeper communion with one another: between the reality of who we are and the reality of who He is. As we look back at what has been and forward to what may be, let us open our hearts and minds to the message that the one who created us, caused us to be, has been with us throughout our lives, noticing, caring, even from our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). Nothing does He not know and understand about us, even more than we ourselves do and what He asks is that, aware of this, daring to believe and trust in this, we may allow Him to reach out to us in the power of the Holy Spirit and to love us, love us into being more completely the people He has seen us in His heart as being, leading the full and fulfilling life He longs for us to live.
From the very heart of Heaven, with wounds still in His skin, Christ continues to reach out to us in the power of His Holy Spirit, with compassion and recreative love, into who we, unfoldingly, are. For ours is essentially a God who loves, who is love and who calls us into relationship. As we await the fresh outpouring of the gift of Himself in the power of the Holy Spirit, may all of us dare to open and offer ourselves to pray:
"Come down O Love Divine, Seek thou this soul of mine.... (That I) become the place In which the Holy Spirit Makes His dwelling."
With Pentecost blessings and best wishes.
THE FINAL PASTORAL LETTER:
When my Pastoral Letters started, it was because no other means were open to me to keep in touch with you all, it was even before we started Zooming. Thankfully, this strange period in our life together seems to be drawing to an end and we anticipate being back in church by July 4th for services as normal. This would seem a sensible time to also conclude this sequence of letters, and I would like you to have the last word, not I! You will recall that last year I asked for your thoughts of gratitude, prompted by your experiences in lockdown. From them I compiled three Anthems of Gratitude. This year what I would like you to do is to write to me by Sunday 30th May with the following: 1) Something you have enjoyed or drawn strength and inspiration from since March 2020. 2) Something you may have regretted doing or not doing over this past year. 3) Something you have been experiencing during lockdown, which you hope you can continue in the future. From these I will then try to create a "Final Word" Pastoral Letter, which will be sent out on 2nd July. I look forward to hearing from you.
Blessings and best wishes. Jeff
ZOOM AND MORE
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom service at 9.30am by clicking on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 or in person in church at 6pm, by booking on: firstname.lastname@example.org We shall also be opening the church for Private Prayer 10am-11am on Wednesdays. The readings for Pentecost this Sunday are: Acts Chapter 2 verses 1-21 & 21-26 and John Chapter 15 verses 26, 27 & Chapter 16 verses 4b-15, The Collect: O God, who at this time Taught the hearts of your faithful people By sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant that by the same Spirit, We may have a right judgement in all things And evermore to rejoice in His heavenly comfort Through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. One God, now and for ever. AMEN.