Easter, the Coronavirus and ‘Doing Whatever it Takes’

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“Every single person in the country is affected by this” I was told and so we are. Who would have thought that our lives could be so dramatically transformed by a disease that nobody had ever heard off until a few months ago? All social gatherings have been banned and people have been encouraged to work from home. Schools have closed and Churches have had to cease all acts of public worship. Prime-ministerial news briefings have spoken about ‘flattening the curve’ to give the NHS the time and space to cope with the rising number of infections and those who are over 70, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions have been encouraged to go into self-isolation. Social distancing has become the new social responsibility and the nation has been put on a ‘war’ footing. The health crisis has also become an economic crisis with the Chancellor of the Exchequer pumping £330 billion pounds (15% of GDP) into the economy to help businesses pay their rent, salaries and suppliers – the largest ever injection of aid in ‘peace time’ Britain. The Chancellor is clearly committed to ‘doing whatever it takes’ to overcome this crisis and yet the Prime Minister’s frankness has been clear from the start ‘many more families will lose loved ones before their time’. It’s a truly nerve-racking and terrible situation, a situation outside of our experience, and which has brought out both the best and the worst in us. Many people are kindly looking after their neighbours whilst others are sadly and selfishly panic buying in the supermarkets and shops.

If we ever needed a reminder of the imperfection of our world, then surely this is it! For many of us, calamities and disasters usually happen to other people, somewhere on the other side of the world. We are not used to the fact that in a global situation and in a truly global pandemic this one might actually affect us.

And yet for the Christian this all rings strangely true, for the Christian will be aware that in many ways, theologically speaking, we have never lived in a perfect world; for Genesis reminds us that when we think we are ‘masters of all that we survey’ and are in charge of our own destiny perhaps knowing better than even God himself, then something always happens to trip us up and we are destined for a fall. Now God has graciously gifted us with many wonderful qualities and characteristics, such as knowledge, skill and intellect and we are constantly amazed at what human endeavour and intuition can achieve, but fundamentally the heart of the problem is always the same – it’s the problem of the human heart, which wants to do things our own way and keep God out of the picture. This bias to self (which affects us all) the Bible calls sin and spoils our relationships with God, with one another and even with creation. It’s the worst of all social distancing! What we need is a new start and a new hope!

Fortunately, the Christian is aware that despite the fact that many of us may have forgotten God, he doesn’t forget us, for in the person of Jesus, God steps into this broken and fallen world of ours and bears the brunt of our pain and our sin in his own body upon the cross. He’s the one who truly does ‘whatever it takes’! He dies the death that we all deserve precisely so we don’t have to when we put our faith and trust in him – and he does this because he loves us. Christ’s death is awful and frightening, and if he were just an ordinary man then it would be the end of the story, but it’s not – because Christians recognise that Jesus isn’t simply human, he’s divine, he’s the Son of God, God made flesh, God incarnate and his resurrection proves it as witnessed by so many of his day.

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He is therefore as the risen Lord, , a man of the ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5.17 / Revelation 21.1), a man of the new life and  perfectly restored order, which is promised eternally to all who believe. This is the joyful essence of Easter Day and it provides us not just with the courage and strength to meet the challenges of this moment (however dark it may be) but hope for the future, for as the Bible reminds us ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.16).

So, yes, despite the difficulties of the present moment, may I take this opportunity for myself and the parishes I represent to wish you all a very happy and joyful Easter.


May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all … this day and always. 2 Corinthians 13.14


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Follow That Star!

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We used to talk about the ‘stars of stage and screen’ but in today’s celebrity culture the definition of who is ‘a star’ and what makes ‘a star’ has broadened to cover almost every type of entertainment and eventuality – because the traditional categories of Pop Star, Rock Star and Film Star have been joined by Social Media and Reality TV stars (and more besides), all trying to capture our attention and their fleeting five minutes of fame and fortune – especially around Christmas. In fact, it could be argued that we have so many celebrity ‘stars’ that the term has somewhat lost its impact. But Christmas provides us with an opportunity to step outside of the noisy razzmatazz of the entertainment industry and focus once again upon the true meaning of Christmas and upon someone whose significance and stardom never fades – and that is of course Jesus of Nazareth whose birth we celebrate and who Christians believe is the incarnate ‘Son of God’; ‘the eternal word made flesh’; ‘the Saviour of the World’.

At first glance, the casual observer wouldn’t have thought that his birth was anything remarkable, a simple child born into poverty with two loving but very humble parents, but for those with the eyes to see, his birth was not only remarkable, but completely astonishing and highly significant as demonstrated by the train of visitors who came to see him; first shepherds and then ‘kings’ or more accurately Magi, ‘wise men from the East’ who had been drawn to his birth place by the appearance of a STAR!

Now perhaps we are so familiar with the nativity story that we tend to think we know it, and so it is only too easy to overlook the significance of these special visitors. Ever since the time of King David, Israel’s Kings thought of themselves to be like ‘shepherds’ as he was and so the appearance of the Shepherds at the manger was highly symbolic of his royal pedigree. Likewise the appearance of a star was deemed to be the fulfilment of ancient prophecy heralding God’s anointed; ‘a star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel’ (Numbers 24.17). Strangely, even in Roman Culture a star signified divine status as demonstrated by the fact that when a ‘wandering star’ appeared after the death of Julius Caesar it was believed to signify his deification – a star symbol thus being engraved upon imperial coins. So what with the anointing of Jewish thought and the divine ruler from Roman thought, there is a double significance here!

But this is not the end of the story because later Jesus would describe himself as ‘the bright Morning Star’ of Revelation 22.16. His Kingdom and his stardom never ends!

So this Christmas, may I encourage you to reflect once again upon the Christmas story and to ‘follow the star’ as you consider just who Jesus is and embrace the eternal nature of God’s love and peace for you and your family this Christmas.

May I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.

#followthestar


“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony …. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” Revelation 22.16


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It’s All A Matter Of Perspective: The Norwich Cathedral Helter Skelter

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For ten days or so in August, it appeared that Brexit was not the only topic to divide national opinion but whether the decision to install a helter skelter within the Nave of Norwich Cathedral was really a good or a bad idea! Certainly, The Dean, The Very Revd Jane Hedges, appeared to be enjoying herself as she came swishing down the slide accompanied by a number of her Cathedral’s choristers captured on the BBC’s national news, but the wisdom of such a move was soon brought into question by The Right Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden (former chaplain to the Queen), who thought that the whole enterprise ‘smacked of desperation’ as the Cathedral tried to tempt visitors through its doors. He was concerned that the apparent frivolity of the helter skelter detracted from the holiness of the place; the awesome nature of God and the seriously sacrificial nature of the Gospel as demonstrated by Jesus and his death upon the cross. The vast and awesome nature of the Cathedral space with its north and south transepts symbolically representing the cross could and should encourage people to look upwards and prayerfully contemplate the presence of God – if only they weren’t distracted!

Ironically, this inspirational aspect of the building was not lost on the Cathedral staff whose campaign was entitled ‘Seeing it differently’, encouraging people to use their imaginations as they saw the Cathedral from a new perspective engageing with its structure and ‘salvation story’ as they admired its ancient roof bosses which depict the whole Bible story from Genesis to Revelation – all easier to see from the slide’s 40ft high viewing platform.

In response to Gavin Ashenden’s criticism, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University observed that although some would think that the installation of the helter skelter was ‘trendy’ and a somewhat ‘undignified’ attempt to appeal to people in an increasingly secular society, in reality Cathedral attendances are growing and “so this shouldn’t be seen as a desperate attempt to get people in the building”.

So what is it? Well in my view – it is a joyful invitation! It’s a joyful invitation not only to encourage people into the building – but to make them feel welcome and what could be more welcoming than effectively saying ‘here you are – ride this! It’s fun!’ So many people, even Christians, tend to think of God as a great big killjoy and nothing could be further from the truth. God himself knows joy and he wants his people to know joy too. Psalm 104.31 speaks of God as rejoicing in all of his creative works – and what is the pinnacle of his creation? We are! Of course we should naturally respect God and honour his name but we should never, ever forget that God rejoices in us – because in and through Christ he loves us. Of course, being welcomed into the Cathedral is one thing, but if through that one visit, experience or conversation someone finds faith in God and wants to know more about the Cathedral, and it’s worship then how much more glorious and joyful is that! A simple welcome into the Cathedral becomes a joyful invitation into the ‘Kingdom of God’. So, perhaps for a mere ten days the helter skelter in the Nave should be viewed not so much a distraction to heartfelt worship and prayer – but as a warm invitation and proper attraction to it.


May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may he rejoice in all his works. Psalm 104.31


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Bishop Jonathan Meyrick – 18th August 2019

Have You Really Got To Grips With – The Resurrection?

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‘A lot cleverer people than us embrace religion so I can be as dismissive of it as I like but we have to acknowledge that’. Paul Whitehouse.

These were the words that comedian Paul Whitehouse shared with his good friend Bob Mortimer in the BBC Television Series Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (Series 1: Episode 2), where having recovered from heart problems, they each mused about the future and chatted to a local Vicar about death, and their own funerals. Because neither were religious, they captured quite nicely the views and perspective of so many in our largely secular society. In some ways, each wistfully wished that there was more to life than this but couldn’t quite embrace the apparent foolishness of a religion they had no real experience or sensible knowledge of. Their musings echoed the apparent disconnect that exists between believing individuals and the rest of society – a disconnect which is made worse by opinion polls that suggest that Christianity in the UK is in a rapid state of decline. Although there is a decline, it has now been recognised that many of these polls don’t make sufficient distinction between active Christians who attend church regularly, and those ‘non-active’ Christians who are people who simply view themselves as Christian because they happen to live in a ‘Christian country’. If there was a clearer distinction between the former and the latter, then statistics about matters of faith and belief wouldn’t be quite so stark as are sometimes portrayed.

Last month my sister-in-law died, and I attended her funeral not as a clergyman but simply as my brother’s brother. Of course, the whole thing was immensely sad and hugely painful, and seeing my brother (who is still a relatively young man) who I love, without his wife, and his daughters without their mother – greatly hurt. But it didn’t hurt as much as I’m sure it would have done, had I had no hope! As Christians, a very real comfort and consolation can be found in the fact that we believe not just in life and death – but in life, death and resurrection. For as Bishop Tom Wright puts it, we have a sense of saying ‘Good night and see you in the morning’, for Heaven isn’t simply ‘pie in the sky when you die’ – a land of make believe, somewhere over the rainbow. It’s the promise of a new real existence as demonstrated in the person of Jesus himself, whose life, death and resurrection were witnessed by so many; people who saw him, touched him and ate with him. These are events which are not simply made up but recorded by many faithful men and women in the Scriptures and other historical documents, many of whom were prepared to die themselves on the basis of what they had seen and heard. So why are we so blind, ignorant and unwilling to believe their testimony in this modern age?

Bishop Tom Wright (a greatly respected Christian theologian and commentator) explains it like this.

‘The great turning point in human history, the moment when everything changed was when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning. We live in a world which fools itself that the great turning point in history came in Europe and America in the 18th Century, when we had what was called ‘The Enlightenment’ and with our new ideas, and our new science and our new democracies etc we were actually going to solve the problems of the world. If you look back at the last couple of hundred years, you say, ‘Well give me a break! If that’s called solving the problems of the world then we are going to have to think a bit better in the future.’ But actually, that’s because ‘The Enlightenment’ has offered a parody of Christianity. The Enlightenment therefore wants to rubbish the resurrection because if the resurrection happened it means that THAT was the great turning point in history and not Europe in the 18th Century and so the agenda for Christians today … is to go back and re-inhabit the truth that God’s new world was born, not when certain European thinkers had some bright ideas 200 years ago, but when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and as we learn to live ‘out’ of that belief, ‘out’ of that event, then that is the way that God’s kingdom is going to come on earth as in heaven.’

If each of us can get a small glimpse of this, and hold it thoughtfully, intelligently and respectfully in our hearts, we can properly celebrate and wish each other a very Happy Easter.


Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Matthew 28.7

And the baby’s name is ….

Immanuel God with Us

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE A NAME FOR A BABY? Do you name your child after a grandparent, parent or family member? Or do you name it after a famous celebrity, such as a pop star, film star or footballer? You might want to be creative and invent something unusual that will attract attention and make a statement, while others prefer to stick to something more traditional. Some people might want to make a popular choice, and for others it really doesn’t matter! Choosing a name is really difficult isn’t it! Made all the more so if you are the sort of person who’s as interested in the meaning of a name, just as much as the sound of it!

In many ways, Mary and Joseph didn’t have this problem, for when Mary was told by the angel that she was going to have a baby, she was also told what he was to be called – he was to be called Jesus (Luke 2.31). Now Jesus wasn’t an uncommon name at the time, in fact, it was exceedingly popular, because it had a wonderful connotation and a meaning loved by all the people, for ‘Jesus’ was simply the more ‘modern’ Greek form of the much more traditional name, translated in Hebrew as ‘Joshua’ which means ‘God saves’ or possibly ‘the Lord is salvation’. So imagine what it would mean to a poor people who had known hardship all their lives, fearfully living in the shadow and military might of Imperial Rome, to be reminded of the fact that ‘God saves’. It’s a wonderful hope to cling on to and this child would be a reminder and symbol of it, every time his name was spoken. But Christians are aware that there is so much more to this story than this, for Jesus has ‘another name’ – a name which is celebrated in song every Christmas in carols around the world, for his birth is also seen as the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy that was first uttered many centuries before in the time of Isaiah. ‘All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, God with us’ (Matthew 1.22-23). So, God is no longer aloof, abstract, or ‘out there’, for one brief moment in time, he is made wonderfully ‘real’ in the person of Jesus. It’s this coming of Jesus, God literally stepping into the world that Christians celebrate at Christmas. Knowing that God can understand us in every way because he has become like us in the person of Jesus, is an incredible thought. Especially when one considers how prone we are to make silly mistakes and get things wrong! It would be so simple for this holy God to simply blot us out of his copy book, but he doesn’t because he loves us and cares for us, and wants us to know and understand him. This is a great joy and when we understand that he has come not only to know us, but save us, by taking upon himself at the cross all the punishment for our misdeeds. We recognise Christmas for what it truly is – the celebration of the greatest piece of news that this world has ever known or will know. It is my hope that over the coming weeks, you will find yourself not only enjoying the festive spirit, but grasping the opportunity to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and possibly celebrating it with us. It would be great to see you!

May I on behalf of my family and all the parishes I represent wish you all a very happy Christmas and a very peaceful new year.


‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel’ Isaiah 7.14


 

Confronting Systems Of Power: A Message For Easter

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The news that a Novichok military grade nerve agent had been used against former Russian citizens Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4th March was a shock to all concerned. Since this potential threat to the British public could only be the work of a nation state, the situation was extremely grave. Therefore, once it was determined that Russia was responsible it was understandable that Theresa May as the British Prime Minister would act swiftly in response, ultimately expelling 23 Russian diplomats or “undeclared intelligence officers” with one week’s notice, alongside various other measures. This she said, “would fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come – and if they seek to rebuild it we will prevent them from doing so”. Naturally, it’s anticipated that Russia will retaliate but at the time of writing this letter it’s not known what their actions will be. For some, not knowing can lead to a real sense of fear and uncertainty – what can ‘little Britain’ do in the face of mighty Russia?

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Thankfully, many of us will gain comfort and inspiration from the pages of the Bible. The David and Goliath story of the Old Testament reminds us of just what can be achieved when one takes heart, puts one’s faith not only in God but one’s natural God-given ability to sling stones. Standing up to bossy tyrants always requires endeavour and the courage of one’s convictions.

When Jesus stood before the Temple in Jerusalem and said ‘destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days’, the people standing next to him misunderstood, saying ‘how are you ever going to do that, it took 46 years to build this temple?’! But Jesus wasn’t referring to the physical temple he was referring to himself. Because he knew that you can’t confront corrupt systems of power without paying for it, and the systems he had in mind were the ‘principalities and powers of this world’ which are motivated by personal greed, power and abuse – in other words,sin’. Dark systems which ultimately only ever really lead to suffering, pain, death and despair. When Jesus says, ‘destroy this temple and I will rebuild it’, he’s talking about something new and unexpected that would happen after his death. He’s talking about resurrection! Yes, Jesus dies for our sin upon the cross, but his resurrection announces that God has not given up on us or this world because this world matters. Therefore, the way that we live our lives really matters, for every act of love, kindness and compassion that we undertake reflects the love of God for us in Christ, and nothing will be forgotten. For as Rob Bell, a Christian preacher and theologian observes, “resurrection affirms this life and the next as a seamless reality, embraced, graced and saved by God”. Therefore, the Christian knows that if you want to stand up to corrupt systems of power you need to be prepared to challenge it and say your ideals are not my ideals. I won’t and don’t recognise what you stand for. I don’t believe in the power of death, I believe in love, life and yes – resurrection!

A very Happy Easter to you all.


“Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1.21


Who Are You Missing This Christmas?

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There’s a quiet and wonderful hush as Mary and Joseph, holding hands, slowly walk to the front of the school hall, he with a large staff in his right hand and she clutching a small bag to her chest. The music to ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ gently fades into the background as Joseph knocks upon the door standing in front of him – and as the innkeeper appears Joseph calls out in a loud voice ‘please sir, do you have any room where we can stay? For we have travelled a long way and my wife is about to have a baby!’ The innkeeper lets out a loud sigh and sadly shakes his head, but then after a momentary pause his face brightens up with a big grin as he politely and kindly directs them to a stable.

This wonderful and captivating scene has been played out by many generations of school children over the years watched by their proud parents, but it is also a scene that leaves a lot to the imagination and makes a lot of assumptions, for the Bible account never actually mentions the innkeeper, but simply says that after the birth of the baby Jesus ‘she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (Luke 2.7). The kindly innkeeper never actually features, but is strangely absent – missing!

Christmas is often said to be a time for children having fun and families getting together, but perhaps for some this biblical story actually reflects a present reality in their lives – perhaps because someone special, someone significant is missing and Christmas just isn’t the same without them. This could be because circumstances dictate that they can’t be present (such as serving in the armed forces or emigrated or away on business); or it could be because they have started a new chapter in their lives (such as young people leaving home or getting married leaving parents feeling isolated and alone); or it could be because of some sad circumstance (such as a divorce, a broken relationship or the death of a loved one). It’s at times like these when the love and support of family, friends and the community is so crucial, mutually encouraging people to appreciate that they are not alone, but cared for by the people around them – kind words and deeds which can mean so much and mirror the love that God has for us.

But perhaps for some the most significant missing person this Christmas, is Christ himself – which is such a shame because in the person of Jesus we meet with a God who loves and cares for us so deeply that he actually steps into this world of ours, and takes upon himself our humanity when he was born as a baby at Bethlehem. So no-one can say therefore that ‘God does not understand me’ because in Christ he has been there, done it and ‘got the T-shirt’. Our lives aren’t perfect and neither is the world in which we live, but in Christ we meet with someone who not only wants us to feel better but actually makes it possible for us to be better; loved, forgiven and at peace when we put our faith and trust in him. So, don’t miss out this Christmas because in Christ we have a friend who has promised to be with us, not just for today, or for tomorrow, but for always. Christmas just isn’t the same without him!


“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1.23