This is the strangest start to Holy Week that I have ever experienced in nearly 30 years of ordained ministry. Normally at this time I have a full week of activities ahead to help my congregations journey through Holy Week towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But these are not normal times.
We are in the midst of a pandemic. Covid 19 has interrupted all of our plans so even our churches are locked, inaccessible even to their clergy and we are all under instruction to ‘Stay home and Save lives.’
I’m sure I’m not the only Parish Priest wondering what to do with their time and asking how we can be useful to our parishioners if we can’t even run the Sunday Services for them. Whether we like it or not we are forced to change the way we live.
Shopping trips are out except for the purchase of food and even here anxiety has crept in so that panic buying has stripped the shelves of essentials. Only the other day I visited my local Sainsbury’s late in the day, we had run out of milk and bread, and I was delighted to find a multi-pack of baked beans and a packet of pasta. Who would have thought that these would become much coveted items. The joy of discovering them made me realise how I always take for granted that I can obtain all I want and need whenever I want them from the local supermarkets. Rarely stopping to give thanks and more often than I care to admit, I easily feel resentful if a favourite item is missing. Perhaps, joy and thanksgiving could become the new normal response to the abundance so many of us enjoy, the rule rather than the exception.
Though, maybe the image of being stripped bare is a good one for this season. As we continue to make this journey towards Easter and our national journey towards healing and we are stripped of our usual activities it can be a time for more reflection and thought about what matters to us.
This was day when everything was stripped away. Jesus, in his life, had already laid aside his heavenly majesty, now he was being stripped of his very life. The cross was the place of human shame and degradation, the lowest point of human pain and suffering. And our God meets us there.
There is no hiding at the cross, we cannot avert our eyes or hide from view. There is no cover up.
Right now, we are living through unprecedented times because of Covid 19, we too are facing a life that is stripped bare. The usual tasks that occupy us, the daily routines of going to work, and the social niceties of visiting friends and family have deserted us
Can there be hope for us still from the cross?
St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Galatia wrote this:
“For Freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1.
Jesus’ death on the cross was for our freedom. There is power in the cross that can bring freedom, freedom from attitudes and worn out ways that no longer serve us. And perhaps never did.
There is a prayer I like to use in the morning that has these words:
Open our eyes to acknowledge your presence, that freed from the misery of sin and shame we may grow into your likeness from glory to glory.
The power of the cross is the divine gift of release from all that binds us. This season of social distancing might also be an opportunity to embrace and grow into that freedom. And the resurrection calls us out to live that freedom.
When panic buying was at its worst, national fear and anxiety was increasing and while we were still able to walk around Himley Park, I was taken by the beauty of the blooming Magnolia. I wrote this poem, it served as a reminder to me to notice and consider what was important.
Yet still the Magnolia beckons,
A herald of Spring calling us forward
to faith not fear.
Reminding us to consieer the lilies of the field
while nature’s bounty echoes
Those immortal words:
‘You shall not live by bread alone.’
And Easter reminds us:
‘The Lord is risen, He is risen indeed.’
I shall be celebrating Holy Communion on behalf of Himley and Swindon at 10am on Easter Day in my makeshift sanctuary – the garden summer house! I also update the churches Facebook pages with images so that is a good way to stay in touch.
God Bless you and keep you safe,
CHURCH OF ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST
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CHURCH OF ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS