Ascension Day Thoughts

I have never understood the mind of serial killers.  I suppose that’s because whatever they had done went completely against my personal beliefs.  They are often described as inhuman, almost as monsters.  But what does it mean to be ‘human’?  I think that we can sometimes be quick to define humanity to exclude people whose lives and crimes threaten us.  We label some as ‘inhuman’ so that we don’t have to think of them as being like us, or face the idea that in other circumstances we could be like them!  Some of our most serious ethical debates tackle the question of humanity.

This week we have the feast of the Ascension, a day when we celebrate humanity.  The story of the Ascension relates what happened to Jesus after his resurrection.  Jesus rose from the dead as a fully human person, recognisable as the same Jesus as he was before his crucifixion.  But clearly, after his resurrection, Jesus didn’t hang around on earth as his work here was done.  There quickly came a time when God’s presence, in the form of the Holy Spirit would carry on God’s work both within and around humanity.

The doctrine of the Ascension is very important to Christians to understand what it means to be human.  The picture of Jesus ascending into the clouds tells us that Jesus, the man, had returned to God.  Humanity had become part of God forever.  After the resurrection and Ascension, Jesus didn’t stop being human.  All that he was, all that we are, was taken into the nature of God.  Human beings were always God’s creation, but the Ascension casts us in a different light: now we are truly in God.

So we are encouraged to value humanity highly and rightly.  We are not perfect – humankind is capable of the utmost cruelty and violence.  But we are worth redeeming, worth sending the Holy Spirit to, worth being taken up into the Godhead.  We must take the hard, ethical questions seriously because they concern the humanity that God has taken to himself.  We can be realistic about human nature, but we can also be optimistic about it.  Our future is bound up with God’s future and, as with Jesus, the sky’s the limit!!

Geoff

A thought on the Gospel reading for Easter 6 (John 14:15-21)

‘Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I … But when I look ahead up the white road, there is always another one walking beside you’. T.S. Elliot in ‘The Wasteland’

In tomorrow’s Gospel we hear of Jesus’ promise to his friends of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. He makes it to them that last Thursday evening in the Upper Room as he readies them for his departure.

An ‘advocate’ is someone who looks out for you; someone who is on your side – who speaks up for you; someone who encourages you, supports you and comforts you. Someone who is absolutely there for you.

Jesus’ promise is a deeply personal one. Jesus is promising his friends, and us, that the Spirit of God will ‘abide’ (a favourite verb in John’s gospel) with them, and with us, through thick and thin –and forever.

The Spirit of God has, of course, been there since the very beginning. We hear in Genesis 1 of God’s Spirit hovering over the waters in creation. And throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God promised his people: ‘I am with you’. But often he would be present to them only indirectly, as for example, when appearing to Jacob in a dream (Genesis 28:15).

The extraordinary difference is that, here, God makes this deeply personal promise directly – in person! Here Jesus is effectively telling his friends that God hasn’t only revealed himself afresh in the human form standing and kneeling before them (as if this wasn’t enough!). But that soon he will do so in the fresh intimacy of the Holy Spirit; the one who will accompany them; be alongside them, be within them; and be with them – for all time.

Jesus is promising them, and us, that in all our struggles against loneliness or isolation or depression or pain; that in all our times of joy and laughter and celebration, God is with us directly and intimately and absolutely.

What a wonderful message of hope for the disciples that evening in the upper room. And what a wonderfully hopeful message it is for us today.

Anne

Prayers for use in observing VE Day 2020, the 75th anniversary

Prayers may include the following:  

  • –  an expression of sorrow for the atrocities of war; 
  • –  that former enemies may be forgiven, 
  • –  that we may be freed from feelings of fear, revenge, and xenophobia, 
  • –  and finally, that we may be thankful for times of peace and find joy in the company of one another. 

An Act of Commitment 

Let us pledge ourselves anew to the service of God and our fellow men and women: that we may help, encourage and comfort others, and support those working for the relief of the needy and for the peace and welfare of the nations. 

Lord God our Father,
we pledge ourselves to serve you and all humankind, in the cause of peace,
for the relief of want and suffering,
and for the praise of your name.
Guide us by your Spirit;
give us wisdom;
give us courage;
give us hope;
and keep us faithful now and always.
Amen. 

O Lord our God,
as we remember, teach us the ways of peace. As we treasure memories, teach us to hope. As we give thanks for the sacrifices of the past, help us to make your future in this world,
until your kingdom come.  Amen. 

Almighty God,
from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: kindle in the hearts of all people the true love of peace; and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquillity your kingdom may go forward,
till the earth is filled with the knowledge of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

For those who served and died in World War II 

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those men and women
who have died in active service,
particularly in the Second World War,
whose sacrifice brought Victory in Europe.
As we honour their courage and cherish their memory, may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever. Amen. 

For those who serve today 

O Lord God of Hosts,
stretch forth, we pray, your almighty arm
to strengthen and protect our service men and women. Support them in times of conflict,
and in their rest and training keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty;
and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

For the peace of the world 

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth
in a single peace;
that the design of your great love lighten
upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows
and give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our dwellings and peace in our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

These prayers have been taken from the Church of England website

Midweek Reflection

The Gospel reading set for today is from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel.  In this reading, Jesus declared himself to be the bread of life and that all who come to him in faith would never be hungry and that those who believed in him would never be thirsty.  But it was clear that the disciples still doubted, despite the fact that they had only just witnessed Jesus both walking on the water and feeding the five thousand with five small loaves and two fish.

I think that if I had personally witnessed just these two miracles, I’m not sure whether I would have had doubts.  But that’s with the benefit of 2,000 years of Christianity and thousands, if not millions of stories and studies into the New Testament.  I wonder if we today are less sceptical than the original disciples?  We are all very familiar with the stories surrounding Jesus both during his lifetime and also in the immediate aftermath of his crucifixion.  But does that make us nowadays greater believers than the original disciples?

Christians today have so much academic study to guide us in our faith.  But I also think that if today we were to witness these miracles, we would almost certainly be sceptical that there were some magic tricks being sprung on us, similar to the acts of stage magicians.  I wonder if that is why the disciples just couldn’t take in the enormity of the reality of these miracles and, perhaps, had doubts about Jesus’ actions and whether they were being tricked in some way.

I think that we today need to faithfully believe in what Jesus did when he was performing miracles and prayerfully try to overcome any doubts that we may have that what took place was no ‘magic’ trick but demonstrated that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and had power given to him by his Father.  If we can overcome any nagging doubts about the reality of these miracles, I believe that we will then become more faithful Christians.

Geoff

Easter Sunday 2020 Reflection

Our Gospel reading is from John’s Gospel, Chapter 20, Verses 1-18.

This Gospel reading tells the story of the discovery of Christ’s resurrection. After his crucifixion, Christ had been placed in the tomb and a large stone had been rolled in front of the entrance. At the time, this was quite a common way of burying people, particularly those who were well off and could afford to buy a tomb such as had been donated for Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph had donated what was to have been his own tomb to Jesus.

But this reading is the story of Jesus’ miraculous reincarnation. Once Jesus  had been buried, the disciples and all those who witnessed the crucifixion must have thought “Well, that’s the end of that” and went about their normal business as much as they could in the circumstances. The Apostles must have wondered what was going to happen next, having followed Jesus and been taught by him for more than two years.

We have been to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, to what is widely believed to be the tomb from which Jesus arose. It is now in a very pretty garden – next to a main bus station! But it gives a sense of what, first, Mary Magdalene and then the Apostles would have encountered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It would have been quite a feat of strength to have rolled away the stone that stood in front of the tomb and, clearly, the Apostles didn’t at first believe Mary Magdalene when she told them that Jesus’ body was not there, but only his grave clothes remained in the tomb.

The Apostles must have been as amazed as Mary Magdalene was. She had also had the amazing encounter with the two angels seated in the tomb where Jesus had been laid. What a shock that must have been to her – I think that it’s pretty rare to meet with angels! But then the situation became even more amazing when Mary Magdalene met Jesus and at first didn’t recognise him. It was only when Jesus called her by name that she cottoned-on to who he was and, although she must have wanted to hug him, he declined and told her instead to give the news to the Apostles.

What a message of hope this is. At what must have been the darkest time in the Apostles lives, they were given the hope that Jesus had not just died, but had risen from the dead to come back to them. This message of hope is still with us today, 2,000 years later and it is absolutely right that we celebrate this incredible story on this most holy day of the Christian year. May we all have a happy Easter and rejoice in remembering that Jesus is the risen Christ.

Geoff

Thoughts on Palm Sunday 2020

‘Unsettled’…’confusing’ … ‘strange’.  All words we’ve heard to describe these weeks of COVID-19.  Yet, there begins to be talk of the possibility of the pandemic having perhaps peaked here in Cyprus; rumours of hope; glimmers of light in the darkness.

This morning felt a little strange, as I received greetings from friends elsewhere celebrating Easter Day, in line with the western calendar. For this year, in solidarity with the Orthodox Church in Cyprus, we celebrate Easter next week, and so Palm Sunday today.

 Today, about the time that Easter dawn services were taking place online in the UK, Christopher and I said Morning Prayer for Palm Sunday. We prayed in bright sunshine.  The veranda door was open and I became aware of three things: the quiet of stilled traffic; the sound of birdsong; and the lovely chanting of the Orthodox priest from our village church.  It felt good to be in prayer together on Palm Sunday.

 9.30am approached and we sat together to watch our pre-recorded Palm Sunday service  – another strange experience, particularly as there was no sound initially!  But the hitch did give us an opportunity to enjoy Zoom coffee and conversation both before and after the service!  And I’m so grateful for the technology and for Richard’s expertise, which enabled us to worship and to come together as a community in these strange times.  Opportunities for love shown and love shared; glimmers of light in the darkness.

 Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, when we journey with Christ ever closer to the cross.  It’s that week when Jesus did things that were so very extraordinary – that seemed so strange and unsettling to his friends.  The week he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey; overturns the moneylenders’ tables in the temple; eats with the wrong kind of people yet again; allows a woman to anoint his feet with oil; washes his disciples’ feet; dries them with a towel; prays with passion in the garden; and permits himself to be arrested.  Strange and unsettling times indeed.

 As we share in the strange events of this week with Jesus and his disciples we will find, amid suffering, that there is love shown and love shared.  There are glimmers of light in the darkness.   For we journey through the confusions of this week as Easter people, in the certain knowledge of the resurrection that is to come.

Thought for the Week, 6th April 2020

I am finding it interesting how often now I see people signing off from a message not simply with their love, good wishes or regards, but with ‘stay safe’.

We have been used to threats to our safety coming in the form of violence, whether by aggression or accident, that attacks us. So our thought for others is that they will be as careful as possible to avoid injury and stay safe from harm. We try ourselves to minimise risk by avoiding areas known for trouble, by driving carefully, by looking both ways before crossing the road, by using the appropriate safety equipment for any activity. This is commonplace in our lives.

The ending of a message may become formulaic, words we have been taught that are correct and polite to put at the end of a letter, or in finishing a conversation. I always find it odd and a little untrue that phone calls in films and on television don’t end with good wishes and proper goodbyes, they just stop.

I try to choose these words for ending carefully. I do want to be polite in a general way, but I also want to try to be genuine with that person, so that I am expressing my hope for them.

I think that is what we are doing currently when we write or say, ‘stay safe’. We are giving voice to our hope, that this person will continue to experience safety from harm.

May our hopes be not a matter of form or politeness. May our hopes be also our prayers.

Christopher

Thought for the Week, 31st March 2020

Some days I find it harder to focus during Morning Prayer than others.  This morning was one such time. I found myself lingering over the fact that today in the Church calendar, we commemorate the life of the poet and priest, John Donne.

I remembered how studying some of Donne’s poems at A-Level opened up a new world for me – one that was certainly key in my decision to go on to study Psychology.  In fact, John Donne shaped my adult life in more ways than one. For when Christopher and I met as guests at a wedding, we spent an extraordinarily long time together talking about Donne and the metaphysical poets.  It was then that I think we both realised that we might just be seeing rather a lot more of one another!  

John Donne was born in 1571.  As a young man, religion played very little part in his eventful  – and flamboyant – life. By the age of thirty, in addition to study, he’d been a ‘gentleman explorer’ sailing to Cadiz and the Azores; and an Member of Parliament.  And he’d briefly been imprisoned in the Fleet – having confessed to his secret marriage to Ann More. Ann was to die in 1617, after giving birth to their 11th child, who was stillborn. 

Donne’s faith in God gradually came to the fore, and after much heart-searching he was ordained into the Church of England at the age of 43.  Donne later became Dean of St. Paul’s, where he is buried.  

John Donne’s love poems, religious poetry and sermons seem to reflect the different stages of his own life’s journey, with its various joys, mistakes, passions and sorrows.  Yet, unlike other poets of his time, who sharply divided their secular and religious writing and experiences, Donne seems to entwine them deeply. 

In his Holy Sonnet 14, for example, where Donne cries to God, voicing the paradox of faith that we can only be truly free if we allow God to overpower us, he does so in accents of physical love: 

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me’.

And Donne recognises how it is his experiences of human love that have drawn him to God.  He writes in The Good Morrow:

If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir’d and got, ‘twas but a dreame of thee’.

John Donne understood, I think, something very simple: that life isn’t compartmentalised between the secular and religious; that it is in all parts of our lives and in all our experiences that God is with us.  

As Christopher and I prayed this morning:

This I call to mind,
And therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 1:5b-7

Anne

Looking Ahead, 30th March 2020

Looking Ahead

We are having an unusual Lent this year, probably unlike any of us have previously experienced.  I do hope you are finding some support through our online services and through regular contact from members of the congregation.  Please let us know if no one has been in touch with you. As well as being unusual Lent is going to be a week longer too! Let me explain.  

As government restrictions on travel outside the home and on church services are certainly in place until Monday 13 April, Archbishop Michael has suggested that the Anglican churches in Cyprus join with the other main churches on the island in celebrating Holy Week and Easter according to the eastern calendar – this year that is one week later than the western calendar.  This gives us the possibility that we may be able to celebrate Easter together in St Helena’s.

So this is the plan:

  • Sunday 5 April Lent 6 using the readings for Lent 4 when we kept Mothering Sunday
  • Sunday 12 April Palm Sunday
  • Thursday 16 April Maundy Thursday
  • Friday 17 April Good Friday
  • Sunday 19 April Easter Day

If the restrictions are extended beyond 13 April we will continue to offer online services from the vicarage for each of these days.

Let us continue in prayer with and for each other, in company with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Christopher     

Thought for the Week, 24th March 2020

I have been delighted by how much it already means to me to stop and pray for our congregation and the people of the district of Larnaca every day at 6.00pm.

I am used to attending services on time so I set an alarm on my watch for 5.58pm, and I also set an alarm for 6.10pm to finish my time of silent prayer. I remember being shocked years ago by a writer on prayer saying that he set an alarm for the end of a prayer time, but now it is proving a useful and habit-forming part of my pattern.

There is a chair I always sit in for my devotional reading, for Morning Prayer, and now for silent prayer at 6.00. Sitting in the same place, like praying at a fixed time, helps me to focus on what I am there to do and I have a list of all your names in my lap. I sit down, I sit still, and I can attend in peace and quiet to what I am doing, the one thing necessary.

So the repetition and rhythm of this 10 minutes has become for me an enlivening time – being still with God, in my chair, with your name in my lap and on my heart.

Christopher