Friday, March 27, 2020

27 March 2020 | Keeping a Distance?

The first Sunday of no church services was very strange. Our family followed services on-line in different places, but how lonely the people fronting them looked!

It was of course Mothering Sunday. My daughter and family parked at the end of our drive, got out so we could see them, and we waved from the front door and conversed at a distance (preachers often have loud voices!). It was painful not to be able to give them a hug, hold them, and give them that reassurance we were solidly there for them.

Jesus words as he faced Jerusalem came into my mind:

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Looking to Jerusalem he says: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
Imagine the pain Jesus had when he was looking at his people, longing to hold them and protect them. But in his case it wasn’t the need for protection that kept them apart. The people were not willing. It was a choice they made, they simply did not want to know Jesus or put themselves under his wings - and rejected the love and compassion that was there for them.

Let us never distance ourselves from God and Jesus’ love at this time.

While it was painful for us in our family to be distanced from each other, it was through necessity and following good advice. But the pain Jesus knew was the pain of people deliberately distancing themselves from God’s love. How tragic that they were able to come close - but chose to absent themselves from a loving embrace. What a terrible pain Jesus suffered as a result of that.

Another person who suffered pain was Mary. When she and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to celebrate his birth, Simeon took the baby in his arms and said to Mary: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Think what the cross meant to Mary. She had to watch her child in excruciating pain and could not touch him and reach out to him with a mother’s comfort. I have seen the great love and comfort conveyed in a mother’s touch for their child of any age, child or adult, in hospitals, and Mary was barred from doing this.

Pietà - Michelangelo (Juan M Romero / CC BY-SA (

The picture I have chosen to accompany this week’s blog is the Pieta by Michelangelo in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome (and we remember Italy as well as our own country now). Mary holds her child at last as he has been taken down from the cross and the sense of grief, love and pride in Jesus is palpable. Mary is among the group of suffering first Christians who discover and see the strength of love given in Jesus.
This is where faith discovers
the length to which Love goes;
this is where grief uncovers
the deepest truth Love knows.

Then see, through desolation,
how grief and joy are tuned
to rise in exultation
because of Love’s deep wound. (Singing the Faith 282)


Thursday, March 19, 2020

20 March 2020 | Stilling the Storm

Welcome to the first of a series of weekly reflections that Revs Rosemary and Philip will be publishing whilst we are unable to gather for public worship. Some of the reflections will be about the current pandemic, others will be more general. Look out here for new reflections each Friday. We actively invite you to comment on these reflections and open up discussion.

All of us are living in unforeseen and deeply troubling times, and you are in our hearts and prayers. Who could have known that last Sunday was the last time, for the foreseeable future, that we would be gathering in church to praise God together?

We are in the midst of a ‘perfect storm’. Maybe you begin to feel like the disciples would have felt in the boat with Jesus before he stilled the storm? Why not take a look at the account in Mark chapter 4. Jesus and some of his followers were crossing the Sea of Galilee. Though usually calm, the Sea could be prone to sudden, fearsome and life-threatening storms. The boat was hit by a furious gale, with waves coming over the side and likely to sink it. Understandably, the disciples were beginning to fear for their lives.

That story, which appears in Mark, Matthew and Luke, was probably especially treasured and preserved because it spoke to future followers of Jesus, on sea or land, who found themselves in perilous times. When early Christians were living under persecution, they would have been alert to the ever-present, insidious surveillance exercised by the mighty Roman Empire. They would not have been sure who were their friends and who might be their enemies. They were subject to an unseen menace.

Rembrandt van Rijn ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee’, 1633 – Gardner Museum, Boston, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.

They had to be very careful, but did not succumb to fear, because they put their trust in Jesus, who had already shown that he could still the mightiest storm. The words of Jesus to the wind and sea – ‘Peace! Be still!’ – were surely also lovingly intended for the disciples. As 1 John 4:18 puts it: ‘There is no fear in love… perfect love casts out fear’.

It would be easy for us to be dominated by fear in the current situation, but fear can paralyse and wear us down. It’s very important to be alert, but not to be over-anxious. Perhaps we need to ration the time we spend thinking about the virus and its implications. If we are constantly lapping up the latest news, we may lose any sense of peace and calm.

Sadly, for some people, the virus is the first thing they think about when they wake up. Why not, instead, memorise the verse of a hymn and say or sing that to ourselves as we get up or even as we wash our hands regularly throughout the day? The first verse of ‘Love Divine’ would do well:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heav'n to earth come down:
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter ev'ry trembling heart.

We pray that ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Phil 4:7).