Pastoral Letter - 22nd January
My Dear Friends, Given the history of the human race, it is we of course who are the exception in our ability to travel freely and familiarise ourselves with different parts of our planet, at least until comparatively recently. Up until a couple of hundred years ago, or less, most people stayed within a few miles of where they were born for most of their lives, apart from those who were rich and could afford to travel, those who worked on ships and sailed away to far shores, those who migrated in search of renewed job prospects or those who had to run away! One of my neighbours in Sussex had only lived in two villages for the whole of her life and those were next to one another. Many generations before us tilled the soil, fished the seas, looked after houses, worked in shops or factories, within a radius of a few miles for the whole of their existence. You can see records of families stretching back centuries in some parish documents: births, marriages, deaths, of generations of the same family. There was stability, and limitation too. Then came the Industrial Revolution and change marched through the land with a heavy tread. You and I have, if not travelled widely, then at least seen photographs and films of areas of our planet other than our own part of it. Documentaries such as Life on Earth, The Blue Planet and so many others, have acquainted us with a broader and more varied appreciation of the variety and wonder of other cultures, countries and climates. So much so that I often wonder how people who hadn’t had their eyes widened, their minds broadened, to landscapes beyond their own imagined scenes in the scriptures centuries ago when there was no visual sense made possible by visits or films or photos of the Holy Land. How then did they construct in their minds and imaginations the image of the landscape in which Christ Jesus walked, healed, taught, shared His existence with others? Perhaps they did the only thing they could possibly do, relate it to the landscape, the environment, the culture, in which they lived. For them, He walked, healed, taught, shared His life with others in a similar landscape and environment to the one in which they lived. You will perhaps have noticed from the frescos in Assisi, Florence, Padua and elsewhere, that artists told the story of Jesus’ ministry using landscapes and buildings that were familiar to those who would look on, as in some stained glass windows in our own country, the United Kingdom. Oftentimes they would use faces of the people in the villages, towns, cities in which they were commissioned to do their work, so that people depicted in the stories were believable, sometimes even the patrons themselves who inevitably took the leading roles in the story being depicted. In the same way, the Christ who was depicted in those frescos, paintings and stained glass windows, interacted with people in places which were familiar, recognisable to the onlookers. In so doing, almost by accident, the artists were proclaiming something profoundly significant about the Christ they were celebrating in their work. The Christ you and I are called to know and be known by, is not a figure locked in to a certain historical time and setting 2,000 years ago, He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. All time belongs to Him and all ages. Personally, I have never sought to visit the Holy Land where the feet of Jesus once trod, though I have enjoyed hearing stories of travels from those who have. Wales has been sufficient Holy Land for me! Unless I can imagine Christ walking down the roads and streets I walk down, then He ceases to be the Christ my soul craves and my life needs. Perhaps as for you, the Christ with whom my life connects and communes is not a figure from the past, no more than He is merely a person from a projected future. He is a presence who is present now, in the extraordinary ordinariness, in the temptations, trials, delights, opportunities, relationships, choices and challenges of the lives you and I have to negotiate our way through. It helps me not at all to see Him restricted to a historic landscape, living in a home in Nazareth 2,000 years ago. I need to see Him here, now, in the world in which we live, here to help, guide, intervene, inspire, befriend, accompany, stand beside, reach out, be present. This period in the Church’s year is called Epiphany, the period when we look at passages in the Gospels where Jesus is made manifest as the Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen, the Promised One. Here He is revealed as being these things in ordinary, contemporary settings: a walk by the shores of the Jordan, attending a Wedding Feast at Cana, there transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, through simply being present where people were gathered. And those experiences of Him are not limited to those who lived 2,000 years ago. Of course, there was an intensity to His physical presence then, but there is also an intensity to His presence with us now in the power of the Holy Spirit, freed from the restrictions of His historical context. You and I are invited to grow in the sense of His abiding presence in our lives. Again and again He prepares His disciples for His departure, reassuring them with such words as: "I will be with you always". "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be there in the midst of you." "Do this, for the remembrance of me." Jesus Christ is not just a historical figure whom one has to imagine walking the dusty roads of first century Palestine. Jesus Christ is here with us now, walking beside us wherever we go: to school, to work, to the shops, to see a friend, to the hospital, the surgery, and He is with us too as we stay at home. That is perhaps the most powerful thing I have sensed in a renewed way since March of last year, when we started to have to worship solely in our homes, our church building being denied to us. Leading the Zoom Service from my sitting room has changed the atmosphere of that place for me, into one of deeper presence and prayerfulness. It has been easier for me to feel closer to Christ in my home, from having worshipped there with so many of you, in so regular and so significant a way. I hope this is true for you in your own homes too. Reading the scriptures, especially those passages we looked at together during those first months of lockdown, fed, inspired and reassured us with the sense of Him being a presence from whom we could draw strength and spiritual energy. I am no artist, but if I were I would try to paint Christ connecting with the landscape in which you and I currently live: sitting beside someone suffering from Covid in their intensive care bed as they fight for their next breath; going home with a nurse or doctor on a train or bus, exhausted, reliving the trauma they have lived through during their shift; quietly sitting with someone who is staring at an empty chair where their partner of so many years once sat, slowly accepting their absence; walking beside someone in the streets who has suffered domestic abuse and who has left the house in search of refuge and understanding; looking at a child quietly sleeping in their bed, blissfully oblivious of the tensions their parents are dealing with downstairs; and so many other experiences which people are going through at the moment, which you will be able to imagine for yourselves. These scenes I see, if I cannot paint them, then at least I can imagine them in my prayers. I see Christ connecting with compassion with the lives, traumas, questions, needs, fears, hopes, anxieties, setbacks, frustrations, we are all having to deal with at the moment, just as surely as He did with those who lived centuries ago, for He loves us no less than He loved any of them. I see Him reaching out tenderly to those for whom He feels love and loyalty and my friends, I invite you to do so too, as we pray His presence into the lives of all who need to feel His touch at this time. Thank God the Church reminds us that He is Emmanuel, God with us, as a healing, understanding, listening, presence who will forever be by our side. May our sense of Him grow and deepen every day and may we continue to be faithful to His call to pray His presence into the lives of people throughout the world. With blessings and best wishes Jeff
ZOOM Do please join us for our Zoom Service on Sunday at 9.30am.
All you need to do is click on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 We will be continuing to think of the ways in which Jesus was made manifest as the Messiah in this series of Epiphany readings.
This week they will be: Revelations Chapter 19 verses 6-10 and John Chapter 2 verses 1-11. The Collect: Almighty God, Whose Son revealed in signs and miracles The wonder of our saving presence, Renew your people with your Heavenly grace
And in all our weakness, Sustain us by your mighty power. This we ask through Jesus Christ your Son, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.
Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and School Videos.
Many of you commented on how much you enjoyed the video clip of the Hallelujah Chorus we showed during last Sunday’s Zoom Service. If you would like to watch it again, please click the following link: https://youtu.be/NXFhkmyVRgM
Many of you have also made kind remarks about the videos which Katherine and I have made for the school. Here are the ones which we did on each of the Wise Men’s gifts to the infant Jesus, which you may enjoy watching by just clicking the following links. Thanks too to Alistair for his camera work and recording. Blessings and best wishes. Jeff
OPEN CHURCH Reluctantly, like many other churches and cathedrals in the country, we at St Mary’s have had to take the difficult decision not to offer the opportunity to enter the church for prayer on Wednesdays and Sundays for the time being. This is in keeping with the Government and Scientific advice not to encourage one another to venture from home unless absolutely necessary. Thankfully, what we are still able to do is worship together on Zoom each Sunday using the links in this letter. Our Sunday School is also able to continue to meet online. The Memorial Garden will be open daily from 10am until 4pm, for people to visit, sit in and reflect. We shall keep this under weekly review and will reopen the church as soon as we are advised that it is wise to do so.
Wine and Whine Evening!
Dear Friends, I hope that all is well with you and yours, in spite of everything! I wondered if you would like to join me and others from the "young families" contingent on Zoom at around 8.30pm on Sunday 31st January, just to keep in touch and have a chat at an informal, no-agenda, drinks party (Bring Your Own!) It would be lovely just to be able to see each other and compare notes as to how things are going. If you would like to do this, please let us know by filling in this form and we will send you a Zoom link nearer the time. With the assurance of my ongoing prayers and good wishes Jeff Fr. Jeff Hopkin Williams. Vicar at St Mary`s Church Twickenham.