Easter 3

EASTER 3 2020

Captain Tom Moore is a remarkable man, whose drive and determination has inspired the nation; becoming an unlikely celebrity on Breakfast Television. At the beginning of April, the 2nd world war veteran began to walk his garden on a zimmer frame, with the intention of raising £1000 for the NHS before his 100th birthday. To date, donations have exceeded 28 million pounds. Deeply moved by Tom's story, the singer, Michael Ball, dedicated Rogers and Hammerstein's song, “You'll never walk Alone” to him, which was later recorded, and incorporating Tom's voice. On Friday, and days off his 100th birthday, the version reached no. 1 in the UK Singles Chart. Happy birthday Tom.

“You'll never walk alone” is a song deep in the nation's psyche. It comes from one of my favourite musicals, “Carousel”, which premiered in 1946. Set in a New England fishing village, Bobby Bigelow, a carnival barker, meets Julie Jordan. They marry and Julie becomes pregnant. Desperate for money to support his family, Bobby is killed in an attempted robbery. Later, he is granted permission to return to earth to make amends to his widow and their daughter. Appearing at his daughter's graduation, Bobby encourages her to have confidence in herself because she will never walk alone. Following Gerry and the Pacemaker's version, the song became the rallying call for Liverpool's Football fans; as well as speaking of hope and encouragement following the Hillsborough Stadium incident.

It is late afternoon, and two of the followers of Jesus have left Jerusalem and are going to Emmaus, a village some seven miles away. Cleopas and a companion, possibly his wife, are discussing all that has been happening. Traumatised, they need to go over it again and again, hardly able to comprehend it all. As they walk, Jesus joins them, but of course they do not know that it is him. As far as they are concerned, Jesus is dead and buried, and with him many of their hopes and expectations.

The episode reminds me of my pilgrimage a few years ago to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain. 'El Camino', the way of St James. As I walked the miles of rough terrain towards my destination, frequently fellow travellers would drew alongside with a cheery greeting, 'Buen Camino'. Some happily walked in silence. Others talked eagerly about this and that: sharing personal details, employment, hopes, dreams. It is sometimes easier to share with strangers: you can say what you like, be open, because you are less likely to meet them in the future....The two travellers don't hold anything back from Jesus: they feel badly let-down, and their hopes have been shattered. Their faith in God has been undermined and damaged. What a poignant wistfulness there is in their sorrowful phrase, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel...”.

As the impact of the Covid-19 was beginning to dawn, I recall one of medical experts being interviewed on the radio, and out of the blue she was asked whether the presence of the virus undermined a belief in God. I sympathised with her, and it seemed a daft question at such a time. But the dialogue on the Emmaus Road seems to encourage difficult and challenging questions of this sort; no need to brush them under the carpet. The Emmaus Road story positively encourages us to voice our frustrations and anger and bewilderment. We are eavesdropping on the questions of two questioning travellers – and they are seeking to make sense of it all. Just like we are in our present circumstances.

When life seems desperate and unpredictable - and we feel we don't have the skills and resources to help as much as we would like - simply listening and being there, staying with the questions, the pain, the anger of a fellow human being - may be as much as we can do. As he drew alongside his fellow travellers, Jesus began by simply listening – listening is a Christ-like activity, and it's fundamental to our discipleship. Frustratingly, at present, human touch is largely denied to us. But never underestimate those few words on the phone, a letter, an email, a wave, a 'Cooee'; it can bring immense comfort, a sense of 'you're not walking alone'. And it can be the start of a healing process that is going to take who knows how long. We must never be embarrassed to share our vulnerability; it is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of maturity and strength.

Path 2.2

Jesus spends the whole day with his companions, walking with them, listening to them, explaining the psalms and prophecies of the Old Testament, to prepare them for the blinding moment of recognition. That moment of recognition captured so powerfully by the artist Caravaggio in his 'Supper at Emmaus'. And what is a companion - literally someone who shares bread. The two travellers seem to recognise Jesus in this familiar gesture - the risen Lord once again blessing, breaking and sharing bread with them: he is the companion who has travelled with them, even though, understandably, they didn't know it.

At the Eucharist, the meal is prepared for us, and we're drawn into communion with Christ, and with each other. We nourish ourselves on the Scriptures, entering into the mystery of the sacrament, and encounter the Lord who eats and drinks with us.

So let's begin each new day with hope, may our hearts burn within us, because we know that Christ our companion is with us, walking unseen beside us, encouraging us to interpret everything that may happen; casting his light on every encounter and every challenge.

“Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, for you'll never walk alone”.

April 2020

Fr John's Reflection for Palm Sunday

Recently as I returned home following my daily exercise with 'Wesley', we found ourselves being pursued through the village by some fourteen donkeys and half a dozen horses! They were evidently making their way back to Hilltop, and no doubt disappointed at not having been fed by visitors -  in fact, the Verderers tell us not to feed them at any time. Donkey 2

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and a donkey features prominently. St Matthew's account describes how, as Jesus and his disciples reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, he told them to go into the village to collect a donkey and a colt. Having fetched them, the disciples place their cloaks on the animals. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the crowd laying down their cloaks and placing palm branches. The biblical scholar, bishop Tom Wright, reminds us that cloaks and palm branches had a particular resonance in Israel's history - a triumphant Judas Maccabaeus had been welcomed in similar fashion into Jerusalem. 'Hosanna to the son of David', the crowds shout as Jesus rides on. Surely the Davidic king had at last come to terminate his peoples' oppression. Jesus has come into the holy city – remember, a destination over which he shed tears – but he won't be enthroned like David or Judas Maccabaeus; rather, his throne will be a common criminal's gibbet.

This Sunday we were to be gathering at the village school from where we would have embarked on a donkey-led procession. Such processions are now out of the question, and the distribution of palms. Be assured those palms will be available when once again we can be together.

Thus we embark on the beginning of Holy Week, in which both the glory and tragedy are bound in together, for overshadowing the splendour of the welcome to the Messiah is the shadow of death to come. The 'Hosannas' of Palm Sunday give way to the cries of 'Crucify him!' at the end of the week. Appropriately, our palms are shaped into crosses – a reminder of the fleeting nature of the welcome that Jesus received. Just so, the enthusiasm of the crowds, as they surrounded and cheered Jesus, seated meekly on a donkey – the sign of peace, not war, changed and faded. By the end of the week he would be crucified, and many of the same people were in the crowds that mocked and assaulted him.

As I type this, I look out of the window; a lovely day outside. And as I look out, I become aware of those thin lines running vertically and horizontally through the window panes; the window defined, marked, by the cross. I look outwards to the village, my community, my world, as it were through the cross. Divine love was lifted up on a cross, so that everyone, each of us, might be united with that wonderful and self-sacrificial offering.

May I suggest a task for this Sunday – make yourself a simple little cross; a couple of sticks, bind them together with sellotape or cotton. And at 9.30am precisely set off on a mini-procession around your garden, or indoors if you like. I'll walk around the Rectory garden at the same time, and in faith and imagination we'll be with those Jerusalem crowds. As you walk, see your Lord riding on a donkey, and say those Palm Sunday words that are so familiar to you: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest”.


February 2020

On Sunday 12th January, the feast of the Baptist of Christ, we blessed and dedicated a new wooden cross, to replace the damaged and decayed one on the north elevation of the Abbey Church. Made of solid English oak by mastercraftsman Richard, from Burchmore Joinery, West Parley, it is an exact copy of its aged predecessor. Those of us who have seen it agree that it is an exceptional object. It was financed by Annie and Peter Melhuish, in memory of their daughter Helen. 

In church terms, the Christmas period officially comes to an end on Sunday 2nd February with the celebration of “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple”, commonly known as 'Candlemas'. It is a turning point in the Christian year. Forty days after Christmas, it looks back to the birth of Jesus and forward to the passion of Christ: now we start to count down to Lent and Easter. When the baby Jesus is presented in the Temple according to Jewish tradition by his parents, they meet the aged and faithful Simeon and Anna. Simeon had been promised that he would not die before he'd seen the Lord's Messiah. Many in Israel had been looking for the coming of the Messiah, but they were not looking for him in a vulnerable baby. Simeon recognised God in the baby born at Christmas, and foresaw the suffering of Good Friday, which would pierce Mary's soul. 

Did you know that 3rd February is St Blaise's Day? We don't know much about him. He was bishop in Armenia in the fourth century. It seems that he had been a physician, and miraculously cured a boy who nearly died when a fish bone lodged in his throat. As a result, near the martyr's feast day, the throats of the faithful were blessed, using two candles joined in the shape of a cross – unlit! 

“Welcome deare feast of Lent: who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie, But is compos'd of passion”. That’s how George Herbert begins his poem ‘Lent’. Wednesday 26th February is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. We shall begin it in the traditional way, with Ashing. The previous year's palm crosses are burnt, and the ashes are used to trace the sign of the cross on our forehead, a traditional sign of penitence. Thus we enter the forty day period of Lent, reflecting on Our Lord's period in the wilderness; a period of opportunity, self-appraisal and self-reflection. It will lead us to Holy Week and beyond to the joys of Easter. As Canon Roger Spiller puts it, “It is the season not for gestures of self-denial that may feed our self-satisfaction but for abandoning ourselves in the self-sustaining love that God has for us”. Giving, Praying and Fasting are the traditional Lenten practices. The benefice Ash Wednesday Holy Communion service will be at 11am the Abbey Church; the choir will be present. Throughout Lent all the Wednesday morning Holy Communion services will also be at this slightly later time, and include a reflection for Lent. From 4th March each Wednesday service in Lent will be followed by a hot lunch, served in the Hall. You will find the menu for these lunches elsewhere in this edition; a vegetarian option is available on request. Please note these lunches will be for those attending the morning service. 

This is the first Benefice News of 2020, and I hope that you will enjoy reading it. Please remember that any edition is only as interesting and informative as the material that you send us. 

With my love and prayers.

Fr John

December 2019

At the end of November I began Jury service, becoming one of about 200,000 people who fulfil this public duty. Jurors are randomly selected from the electoral register, ensuring that those called for service reflect the community from which they are drawn. 

Sunday 1st December is Advent Sunday, the start of the season of expectation and preparation as we prepare to greet Christ in his incarnation. As well as the usual morning services, there will be a benefice Advent Carol service at 4pm. This is not to be confused with the Christmas Carol Service! During Advent, church decorations are sparse, flower arrangers taking a much deserved rest until Christmas Eve, when their creative skills are once again given full rein, with the addition of holly, ivy and tinsel. The altar frontal and vestments are changed to purple, to reflect the season's penitential nature. Services focus on the Advent Wreath, as we seek to become one with those who waited in darkness for the revealing of God's light. Each Sunday of Advent has its candle, reminding us of those who prepared for the coming of Christ – the Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Mary. The final candle, a white one, is lit at Midnight Mass, symbolising Christ the Light of the World. You will find details of this and all Advent and Christmas services in this edition, and on the Sunday news letters. 

During Advent, and as a preparation for Christmas, we will be exploring worship in different ways. The Revd Lynda Mead will be leading three sessions at the Rectory. Each one is complete in itself, and you are welcome to join us for any or all of them. Simply turn up on the day at 2pmSession 1 comprises a Prayer Walk – using the rooms of the Rectory, so no sou'wester or Wellingtons necessary. Session 2 will focus on the Advent Journey, and the final session will include a silent Holy Communion. 

There are many traditions and customs associated with Advent and Christmas. One of my favourites is 'Las Posadas', which began in Mexico in the sixteenth century, and is now observed in many parts of the world. 'Posada', which means inn or shelter, celebrates the arrival of the expectant May with her husband Joseph to Bethlehem. The posada guests re-enact the couple's inability initially to find accommodation. Splitting into two groups - one group remaining outside, anxious for shelter; the other remaining inside like the innkeepers. A song is sung back and forth until the guests are finally granted entrance and treated to traditional foods and drinks. As well as being fun, and the opportunity to share hospitality, the drama recalls Mary's resilience, and her husband's faithful response to the Angel Gabriel. Posada can prompt us to consider how we might respond to, and help, those in our own day who find themselves vulnerable and in need. 

Due to the constraints and pressures of preparing and printing, this is a combined edition. As 2019 draws to a close, I want to thank Jaki and John at TLC Online for their care in preparing and printing our magazine. Thank you to Margaret and Elizabeth in the benefice office, those who have taken out advertisements and provided sponsorship, those who have delivered the publication. An edition is only as good as its contibutors make it, and I am most appreciative of those who have supplied us with news and articles. And, not least, thank you for reading it...

The Carol Service at St Katharine's on Sunday 22nd December will be Joan Willrich's last service as organist. Shortly afterwards she celebrates her 90 birthday! The daughter of a priest, Joan has spent half her life at St Katharine's Church, not only seated at the organ console, but serving on the PCC, acting as sacristan, and arranging flowers - and more. I shall miss hearing her rendition of the Intermezzo from Mascagni's 'Cavalleria Rusticana' during the Sunday service, which has become something of a signature tune. We offer our thanks and good wishes to Joan, and to her husband John, who has been a constant encouragement in the background. I am pleased to report that Philip Baxter, Director of Music at the Abbey Church, has kindly offered to play for the services in the New Year. 

As you plan your seasonal celebrations, I invite you to worship with us. 

With my love and prayers, and every blessing for Christmas and 2020.