Pastoral Letter - 6th November
The photo above is of one of the areas of Marble Hill Park where 897 poppies are displayed, commemorating each of the 897 people from our Borough who died in the First and Second World Wars. If you are in a position to visit, I do urge you to do so. There are also explanatory posters displayed on the boards surrounding the Coach House area, should you wish to find out more.
Thinking of places which link an experience with a landscape, perhaps like you, I frequently search the scriptures for passages which relate or resonate with the experiences I or those I care about, are going through. This allows me to "locate" my thinking in some way and gives me a context in which to pray in a more focused way.
Some passages easily suggest themselves:
* Praying for someone who cannot for whatever reason, pray for themselves - the story of the man on a stretcher being lowered through the ceiling of a house which Jesus was visiting, so that He could touch and heal him. Luke chapter 5 v. 18-26.
*Praying for a child who is sick - the story of Jesus holding the hand of Jarius’ daughter and healing her. Mark chapter 5 v. 21-24 & 35-43.
* Reaching out to Christ for healing or strength for oneself or for another. Mark chapter 5 v. 25-34.
* For Christ`s peace to be projected into the storms and tempests of political and natural trauma. Mark 4 35-41.
We all pray in different ways. As some of you may recall my writing in a previous letter, I think in images, so need a landscape I can picture in my imagination, in which I can pray things into the presence of Christ. Connecting a situation or person I am concerned about into the answering love and compassion of Christ.
Not just as we approach Remembrance Sunday, but also in our recent keeping of All Souls Day, All Saints Day and as Autumn sees the cooling of the year, the darkening of the year, the dying of the year, so too am I aware of a different mindset among those with whom I speak.
At the time I am writing this, the incidence rate of those who have contracted Covid 19 is increasing. Hospital admissions are increasing and tragically, deaths are increasing. The delight we took earlier in the year in the growth of Spring, the greening of the year, the new lives being born in fields and on rivers, is now changing. Morning and evenings are darker, the air is colder and the sunshine and the warmth which protected us from some of the impact of what was going on, has been withdrawn.
I know that, try as they might to ignore it, many of those I care about are apprehensive about what this winter may bring, in terms of economic hardship, redundancies, social isolation, on top of the isolation imposed by the worsening weather and our obvious concern about contracting the virus. We all need to find strength from somewhere to keep us going until the warmth of Spring reaches once more into our lives. But Spring feels a long way off at present.
I often think of my father in the Second World War. A young man who had his 21st birthday in a prisoner of war camp where he was incarcerated for 5 years, not knowing how the war would end or when the war would end. He was often treated badly, in the first few months not able to get news from home or even let them know that he was not dead, as they had been told, but injured and captured. He was frequently thrown into solitary confinement for helping others to escape and Christmas was celebrated one year with a small piece of pig fat which he had stolen from the kitchen, about 2 inches by 4 inches, which he and his chum melted in a pan over a small fire and spread on some stale bread.
Where did he, where did others who experienced so much worse, find the strength to keep on believing and keep on hoping? Faith and friendship, he said, got him through. Faith in that never a day or night went by when my father didn’t pray, not so much for himself he said, but for his family back home in Wales. To know that they were safe was what he needed in order to cope with his own ordeal. And friendship: the cameraderie of colleagues at the camp, a German castle with fierce guard dogs, half starved, patrolling the perimeter. This was his home, he thought, possibly for ever. Faith and friendship sustained and strengthened him, as many of us have found true for ourselves over recent months, in the ordeal which we have had to deal with as constructively as we possibly can.
Possibly as you too may have found, my faith has deepened since a year ago. At least, it has become something which connects more with the reality of who I am and with what we are all having to deal with. The "decorative" parts of our shared faith pall to some extent at the moment, superfluous as they are to our present situation. The time will come when they will take their place again in the festive and celebratory side of our faith, when we are in a different season of experience. But for now, perhaps the simpler way has more authenticity and power to it, and I need scriptures which help me to connect with the Christ they speak about. I need to know that the one in whom I believe, trust and rely, understands something of what I and those I care about are experiencing, and is there to pray His saving presence into our lives.
The fact that God, in Christ, came to share in the vividness and the variety of human existence is of crucial importance to me. I need to know that He is with us in the fog of emerging circumstance; the fear of what may come; the powerlessness in the face of something which seeks to destroy or injure; the reawakened sense of the fragility of human life; the passionate desire to know that friends and loved ones will be well, will be safe.
And the passage in the scriptures to which I feel led, in the early morning as I write this letter to you, is the stark and painful account of Jesus’ time of heartfelt prayer and subsequent arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. You will recall the story: Jesus, fearful of what may come, has one last evening with those He feels closest to. He washes their feet as an expression of His loyalty and love, commitment and care. He breaks bread at the beginning of a meal, shares a cup of wine at the end of a meal and allows the whole of the meal to be one of communion with His friends. Faith and friendship.
Then, after the lamp lit glow, the cosy intimacy of the meal in the upper room, He and they set off, singing hymns, to a garden just a little way away, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, there to pray. Darkness has fallen, the place is almost deserted, the moon perhaps rides high in the sky, there may have been a warm breeze fragrant with the olive trees nearby, and Jesus goes off, desirous to meet His Father in the embrace of the Spirit. But, He pleads to His friends, “Don't go away, stay with me, I don’t want to be alone. Stay close to me, even if for just an hour." Then steps away a few paces to concentrate, to give His whole self to His prayer encounter with His father.
And it is there, in the chill darkness which is not just an outer landscape, but an inner landscape too which He inhabits, where He implores His father for comfort, for reassurance, for intervention, such is His fear, such is His apprehension, such is His feeling of powerlessness in the face of what may transpire. The comfort, if comfort it was, comes not from His father saying, "Nothing bad will happen to you my son, never fear," but rather from the deepening sense that despite what may occur, the power, the purpose, the will of God will be stronger, will overcome, will overrule. Trust is what is asked of this frail, fearful, all too human Jesus crouched on the ground in prayer.
It is not that God is the author of the condemnation, torture, hatred, execution, cruelty which He will face. Never that. It is, rather, that beyond these seemingly terminal experiences lis another reality. His father’s love. That love which will transform. This assurance, this sense of what is beyond, allows Jesus, after wrestling with fear, anger, panic, to place His trust in His father’s love and say, "Not my will, but your will be done." Not the will of God to cause destructive things to occur, but the will to lead one beyond such experiences as may come, to something beyond them. Saved, not always safe, is the Christian understanding of salvation.
So may I invite you in whatever anxiety, frustration, fear, isolation or apprehension you or those you care about may be experiencing, to visit the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ Himself faced such things, there, not to spend but one hour with Him, but rather to know that He spends that time with you. God in Christ came to share such human emotions and experiences as we are currently going through and is there to befriend us in the darkness, in the cold wind of apprehension. He offers Himself to us in those moments of exposure and emotional honesty. Allow Him to befriend you and give you His warmth in that cold garden which we all stray into at some points in the dark night of the soul, where fear seems at its most piercing.
Our landscape, as the landscape in which Christ one walked, has changed. From sparkling lakeside to the Gethsemane Garden for Him, from warm Summer to the golden glow of Autumn for us and the prospect of winter, with all that that implies. But always know that whatever landscape we are required to walk within, He has, in some form, walked before us and warmed the path we tread with His presence. His life and ours, His experiences and ours, can always connect. My father found that in a cold, damp cell in his German Prisoner of War Camp, I pray that we too would know the warmth, comfort, encouragement, reassurance of God’s presence surrounding us whatever the future might hold.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans Chapter 8 v. 38-39.
May such assurances as this give us the strength, the hope, the inspiration we need to entrust ourselves to God’s loving, protective care for us over the coming days, weeks and months. For He is indeed Emmanuel, "God with us," in the darkness as well as in the light, in the Winter as well as in the Summer, in the cold as well as in the warmth, when things are difficult as well as when things are easy. That is the wonder and the the reality and the glory of it. May it give us all the strength we need.
With blessings and best wishes
Please join us this Sunday on Zoom, our service will begin at 9.30am. To log in.....etc.
Our readings are: 1 Thessalonians Chapter 4 verses 13-end and Matthew Chapter 25 verses 1-13.
The Collect for Remembrance Sunday:
Whose will is to restore all things
Through your beloved Son, the King of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority
And bring the families of the nations
Divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin
To be subject to His just and gentle rule,
For He lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
One God, now and for ever. AMEN.
On Sunday 26th October we were able to hold our first Eucharist in church for some time. Just one week later we were able to celebrate the last Eucharist in church for what may be some time.
The Bishop of Kensington writes:
"I am aware many are distressed about the prospect of having to close our churches again. It does seem that faith groups in general and the Church of England in particular were not consulted about the lockdown, and representations are being made to government to see if there is any possibility of change. Whatever the result of those representations we will need to abide by the law of the land, and have to use our imaginations and ingenuity to ensure that worship is offered and people are able to connect with the worshipping and sacramental life of the church now as much as ever. Corporate prayer and the sacraments are not optional but vital - whether recognised by government or not, they are ‘essential services’, not just for ourselves, but for the health and wellbeing of our communities. Our nation and our neighbours need hope and faith and love now more than ever, and it is vital that we do what we can to enable the message of hope, grace and life in Christ to be heard and to offer its comfort and reassurance at a time when so many are experiencing stress and fear.”
As you know, we were hoping to hold services in church at 11am on Sundays, this is no longer possible, given Government instructions, so what we will be doing, until we are advised otherwise, is to OPEN the CHURCH for what the Government calls "individual prayer”:
Our apologies to those who booked to come to 11am Eucharists over the coming weeks, I am as disappointed as you that this will not be possible.
On REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY, instead of congregating in church, if anyone would like to join me, socially distanced, near our War Memorial to the west end of the church, we will hold the ACT OF REMEMBRANCE at 10.55am. This will take the form of traditional prayers and the two minute silence and will last but a few minutes. If you cannot join us in our grounds, I know you will be keeping these special moments in your own way.
I know you will pray for each other during these testing times and ask that God would keep us safe and keep us united, as He helps us through these difficult days with His comfort, compassion, commitment and love.
With the assurance of my prayers for each and every one of you.
The Reverend Jeff Hopkin Williams.
Vicar of St Mary’s Church Twickenham.