From the Vicar's Jottings
LOCKDOWN DAY 12
“Blessed are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:5)
A few years ago I visited the beautiful Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, whose Cathedral is believed by many Christians to be the final resting place of the apostle James. Santiago is the destination of the “Way of St. James”, (Camino de Santiago) an ancient pilgrimage route.
The symbol of the Camino is the scallop shell. Images of the shell are used along the Camino to guide pilgrims along the way. Many wear a shell to identify themselves as travelers on the Way.
In 2017 over 300,000 pilgrims made their way to Santiago. Many travelled on foot, some by bicycle, and some even on horseback or donkey. Most pilgrims carry a passport (credencial) which gives access to overnight accommodation. The "pilgrim's passport" is stamped in each place where the pilgrim has stayed. It serves as proof that the pilgrim has genuinely travelled the route and qualifies them to receive a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage (compostela) on arrival in Santiago.
I have a lovely memory of watching pilgrims arrive at Santiago Cathedral on a sun-soaked summer afternoon. Having been transported at leisure by ship and coach I found myself envying those who had made a much tougher journey. The Camino, along with other pilgrim routes across the world, affords for many of its travelers a valuable time of personal spiritual growth.
This Holy Week God invites us to journey with Him. It will not be as other Holy Weeks. We cannot leave the shelter of our own homes to gather in worship. We cannot together wave our palm crosses in symbol of our journey. We cannot identify ourselves as Christian travelers by participating in a Walk of Witness.
But many of those on the Camino journey individually, or in very small groups and we can too. The sense of fellowship and solidarity, to which many individual pilgrims testify, can still be ours.
Each day of Holy Week we hope to provide something to encourage our walk and worship. We begin tomorrow, Palm Sunday, with a short service led by Rev Andrew Reed, which Guy Bunce is again generously producing for us on our You Tube channel. Monday to Wednesday, we maintain our usual pattern of Compline, led for us each evening by Rev Orion Edgar, Chaplain to Royal Holloway College, and again available on You Tube. Please watch for details of services later in the week.
A modern translation of Psalm 84 v. 6 reads “When they reach Dry Valley, springs start flowing....your people grows stronger” Our pilgrimage just now may be dreary, dry and uncomfortable but God still promises His strength and even His joy. I so pray His promises may be true for you this Holy Week. God bless you. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 11
“...the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 4:7)
Sometimes the greatest gifts we receive from those most dear to us are invisible and intangible. My mother loved hymns and from her store of words and music she has left me with a rich memory of those she taught me over the years. Sadly, she didn’t also leave me her sweet, clear voice with which she would sometimes sing those hymns aloud! But I can still recall my father playing many of those hymns for us on his treasured piano.
One of them was “It is well with my soul”. Only recently I discovered the tragic story that lies behind its words.
Horatio Spafford was from Chicago. He was a wealthy man with a thriving legal practice and huge investment in property. He was also a deeply committed Christian.
In 1871 Horatio’s fortune was all but wiped out by the great Chicago fire. He and his wife Anna were already struggling to come to terms with the recent death of their beloved 4 year old son.
Feeling that a holiday would be good, Horatio booked Anna and their four daughters on a ship to Europe. He planned to join them a few days later. But on November 22nd 1873 the ship, the SS Ville du Havre, was in collision the SS Lochearn. Two hundred lives were lost, including those of all the Spafford’s daughters. Landing eventually in Cardiff, Anna sent her husband a telegram which read simply “saved alone”.
Horatio set out to join his wife. He apparently wrote these words as the ship passed close to the place of that horrendous tragedy:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll—
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well with my soul.
As a child I had no idea of the hymn’s story and little understanding of its meaning. But today it seems of such immense significance. It takes me to an Old Testament passage written perhaps by a farmer rather than one familiar with the sea: Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength... (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
My prayers today are for those who are already losing so, so much at this present time. It was as Jesus faced His greatest loss – His death on the cross for us - He promised: “My peace I give you” (John 14:27)
God be with you my dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 10
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
A few years back a Building Society commissioned a series of advertisements starring the brilliant Mark Benton. Their theme was “Brand New Customers Only!” You can find snippets of them on You Tube. They still bring a smile to a grey day!
“Brand New Customers only” referred to the habit adopted by some companies, usually insurers or financial providers, to offer eye-popping generous deals to new clients. These deals were inaccessible to existing customers, who would still see charges increase and conditions tighten, despite their continuing loyalty to the brand.
In further evidence perhaps that the world has now turned almost completely on its head, I notice some companies are now stating something along the lines of “Available to existing customers only”. Finally our loyalty is rewarded! But at the same time potential customers, who now have genuine need of a particular product, find that they cannot access it.
Matthew 20:1-16 records Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. Jesus describes a landowner going out early in the day to hire labourers. He agrees a wage with them. As the day progresses the owner hires more workers, taking on new staff right up to the eleventh hour. At the end of the day the owner instructs his foreman to hand out the pay. To their amazement and even fury, the workers discover that those who have worked throughout the day receive the same remuneration as those who joined the team when the day was almost over.
Here is something truly profound about the economy of God. Jesus often spoke with the religious leaders and representatives of His day. He challenged those who felt their lifetime of religious practice guaranteed greater reward at God’s hand. The most famous example is probably the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
I was privileged to have parents who encouraged me in the Christian faith from my childhood. But that is a privilege, not a guarantee of God’s favour. I may have been a customer at the bank of God for many years but equally important to Him are those who come to Him later in life. God’s heart is ever open to both brand new and existing “customers”!
God has loved us since before the dawn of time. God planned our salvation in Jesus before the foundation of the world. We may have grown up knowing Him or we may be taking our first tentative steps towards Him in these difficult days. It doesn’t matter! God loves us just the same!!!
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:11)
LOCKDOWN Day 9
“God has said, Never will I leave you” (Hebrews 13:5)
Last November my nephew Jonathan married his beautiful fiancée Jemima. Recently we have so thanked God that their wedding took place then. In these most difficult of times my heart goes out to those who now have to put on hold lovingly made plans for their wedding or for the baptism of their child.
Even harder to bear is that there are many who will not even be given the solace of the funeral service they would otherwise have chosen for their loved one. The most significant of life’s milestones have for now to go almost unmarked by celebration or ceremony. Please, please do pray very especially for those in our own village community who find themselves in this situation.
Jonathan and Jemima’s wedding will always hold additional memories for me! As I parked at the church in Plymouth I was aware that something was very wrong with my car! Closer inspection revealed a very flat front tyre. The car and I were going nowhere – without some considerable help!!
Some of you will remember with me the advert for the Automobile Association: “the man who can”. At 4pm that Saturday the “man who can” was changing the wheel. But my spare tyre is a “space saver” which would take me 50 miles only at normal speeds, or up to 300 miles at a crawl. Not good news when I needed to be back in Englefield Green to take the 8o’clock service in St. Jude’s the following morning.
The nearest tyre dealer was due to close at 4.30pm. Gingerly I followed my rescuer’s yellow van through the unfamiliar streets of Plymouth. When we reached our destination he refused to leave me, instead accompanying me into the garage and explaining my plight. We exchanged a hug as he left me in safe hands – not something we would have been able to do today! Within minutes, it seemed, the wheel was fixed, the space saver was back in the boot to fight another day, and I was negotiating my way out of Plymouth, having sadly abandoned the attempt to find the wedding reception in the dark.
In the dark and unfamiliar territory in which we find ourselves today we must surely cling, as perhaps never before, to “the man who can”: the Lord Jesus Christ, God Himself, who took on human flesh for us. However falteringly, we must follow Him. He will not abandon us on the journey. He will bring us safely through and he will set us on our way again, at the right time, and far better equipped for the road that lies ahead.
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
God bless you and watch over you. Judith
LOCKDOWN Day 8
“We would see Jesus” (John 12:21)
Some years ago newspapers reported the story of Nik Wallenda:
“Cheered on by thousands of spectators, US tightrope walker Nik Wallenda has fulfilled his childhood dream of walking on a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Crowds packed the US and Canadian sides of the border to watch the 33-year-old brave strong winds and heavy spray to walk on a cable suspended around 60 metres above the biggest waterfall in North America. After a brief prayer Wallenda climbed on the cable and headed from New York to Canada”.
Well it would take more than a brief prayer to get me on a tightrope across Niagara Falls! But as we face this present situation I am greatly helped by this prayer of the Breton fishermen, one of the briefest prayers ever written down: My boat is so small and the sea is so wide, protect me O Lord. Not a bad prayer to begin a new day when the sea of our uncertainty seems so enormous.
“With the aid of a long balancing pole, Wallenda carefully found his footing along the lengthy cable”.
Apparently, if it had been left to Wallenda, he would have travelled unaided! However, the company filming his escapade rightly insisted on safety precautions. Among those watching were his children. Wallenda had a responsibility to them to protect himself as far as he possibly could. Our present situation reminds us of our responsibility to protect ourselves for the sake of others. Sometimes protecting ourselves means we need to accept help. That can be far from an easy challenge if we have always sought to live independently.
“Wallenda maintained a laser-like focus on his task throughout”.
In these days that have been robbed of their usual routine it is sometimes hard to maintain our focus. God’s word tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus..... For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him...so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”. (Hebrews 12:2,3)
“After he arrived, Mr Wallenda was asked to hand over his US passport in order to enter Canada”.
We shall one day find ourselves in a different place. The virus will be contained; life will begin to return to normal. It will be a new normality; some things will have changed forever. But one thing will not have changed. The enduring love of God for us will remain exactly the same. But, perhaps as eventually we enter the new country that is life beyond COVID-19, our understanding and experience of His love will have grown beyond measure. Let us pray for one another that it may be so.
God bless you through another day. Judith
LOCKDOWN DAY 7
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.... (Philippians 4:11)
Schooldays were never the best days of my life! I was unhappy for a variety of trivial reasons, which seemed of great magnitude at the time. On one occasion, when I was sharing my frustration with the endlessly patient Rector of my home church, he introduced me to the verse above. I remember feeling both chastened and irritated! How could the apostle Paul, centuries in the past, understand my present situation?
On a much, much bigger scale – what about our circumstances today? How can we find contentment amidst such uncertainty and turmoil? As a Hospital Chaplain I learned repeatedly that, for many patients, it was not their illness which most troubled them. It was: “How will my children cope whilst I’m in hospital?” “How do we pay the bills without my income?” “I am afraid of being a burden to my family”.
All of us have our own worries today. Separation from our loved ones, or, conversely, living in unfamiliar proximity to them, brings its own stresses and worries. Some of those around us have real anxieties about their jobs and livelihoods over the coming weeks and months. Some are enduring longstanding and complex treatment for existing health issues and the threat of the virus adds another layer of fear. They all desperately need our prayers.
Perhaps we are even more aware of others across the world, already living in straitened circumstances, made even more impossible to manage because of COVID-19. In our own country are those still exiled from homes which in the last few months have been flooded at least once. Across the world millions of people continue to endure the relentless fear generated by war. Tens of thousands struggle to survive in refugee camps. The list goes on. They all desperately need our prayers.
I find myself thinking about another wonderful old hymn:
When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost...
What should we do? Grumble, like my teenage self? Give in to fear which would be easy to do? The hymn suggests...
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
That verse from Philippians 4, which still challenges me every single day, is put into context by what comes before:
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil 4:5-6)
And then later in the same chapter we find the verse I quoted on Saturday:
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
God be with you through another day, my dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN DAY 5
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 25:33)
As a young Christian I remember reading “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom. Corrie was born in 1892; the daughter of a Dutch watchmaker. Theirs was a devoutly Christian family, always putting the needs of others before their own. Corrie learned the family trade and in 1940, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, she and her older sister, Betsie, were still living with their father in the Dutch town of Haarlem. In the early years of the war the family took sacrificial risks to protect their Jewish friends.
Eventually the family was betrayed and arrested. Corrie’s father, Caspar, was in his eighties and died 10 days after his arrest. Betsie and Corrie were placed in a series of concentration camps. Betsie tragically died as a result of the harsh treatment she received. Corrie survived and was released in January 1945.
It is not so much the detail of Corrie’s story that I remember, as the example of her faith. As a relatively young child Corrie would sometimes travel alone by train. She recalled her father taking her to the station and finding her a seat on the train. But Caspar would never give his daughter her ticket until the train was ready to leave.
Corrie came to see that, just as her father had withheld her ticket until the very moment it was needed, so God, our Heavenly Father, often seems to wait until the very moment of our need to bless us with his provision.
That seems so relevant today. We have all embarked on a journey that is entirely unknown. It is easy to be afraid, to struggle with scenarios about what could happen to us or those we love. We are fearful about how we shall manage; how we shall protect our dear ones and ourselves.
I have agreed with a dear friend that, when one of us allows our imagination and fear to run ahead of our present situation, the other will simply say “ticket”! We remind each other that God will give us the resources we need – when we need them. We don’t need strength to face any circumstance that He has not yet asked us to face!
Corrie went on to have a worldwide ministry for Jesus, touching countless lives for Him. I love this quotation from her writing: “Never be afraid to trust the unknown future to our known God”.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
God Bless you dear friends. I’ll be back on Monday! Please join in our morning worship tomorrow via this page or via our website. (Thank you Guy!) Judith
LOCKDOWN DAY 4
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19)
Earlier this month I had the sad privilege of conducting a funeral service in St Jude’s for someone I had briefly known. Ewen was a sailor. His illness had come without warning and, his death came only months after his diagnosis. I was privileged to share communion with him in his home on a number of occasions and so to hear some of the many stories he had to tell about his seafaring career.
One of those stories was about the night watch on a ship. Ewen described the darkness, the pitch and roll of the vessel; the might of the wind and waves. It would have been easy to be afraid. But on every watch Ewen sensed the Lord Jesus Christ keeping watch with him.
I am fascinated by the story told in Luke 8:22-25 of Jesus stilling the storm on Lake Galilee. The crew of disciples were experienced, hard-bitten fishermen – and yet they were afraid! That must have been quite some storm! In their fear they turned to Jesus, there in the boat with them. Awaking from sleep – disturbed not by the storm but by the disciples’ panic – Jesus stood up and “rebuked” the wind and the waves. The storm ceased “and all was calm”. And Jesus said to them “Where is your faith?”
On Ewen’s coffin was an anchor, worked in flowers, the loving tribute of his wife and a powerful symbol of Ewen’s maritime career. It reminded me of an old hymn, based on the verse quoted above:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour's love
In the last months of his life Ewen shared with me that his illness felt to him like the very greatest of all life’s storms – and yet he still had that same deep awareness that Christ was standing alongside him in the storm and keeping watch with him. He would often hold in his hand a tiny wooden cross made of olive wood from the Holy Land. That cross, symbol of the mighty love of Jesus for each one of us, had become his anchor. There was no need to ask Ewen “Where is your faith?” His faith was invested firmly in Jesus who stood beside him to the very end and in whose presence Ewen rejoices now.
In this present time – the greatest storm that many of us have ever known, Jesus remains in the boat with us – and asks us “Where is your faith?”
God bless you, my dear friends. Judith
LOCKDOWN DAY 3
I can do everything God asks me to do with the help of Christ
who gives me the strength and power (Phil.4:13)
Yesterday would have been the 82nd Birthday of my very dear friend Margaret Willis. Some of you reading this would have known and loved her too. Margaret died in 2018, just days after her eightieth birthday. She was always determined to achieve that milestone and she was very proud to celebrate that day with her beloved family, and even with a sip of her favourite Italian Prosecco!
Margaret was a teacher for much of her life and she was also a faithful and gifted preacher. She was in many ways very private about her personal faith. Nonetheless the reality of that faith, and her closeness to God, was very evident and never more so than during the illness which finally took her home to be with Him.
In the closing days of her life Margaret shared with us the verse of scripture by which she had always sought to live: “...what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Margaret’s life and the courage with which she faced death, secure in the knowledge of God’s love for her, will always be an inspiration and an untold example to me, and I believe, to others also. The verse she loved so much certainly holds a message for us all today.
The verse at the head of this post is taken from today’s selection of Biblical verses in “Living Light”, a well-thumbed copy of which I found among Margaret’s possessions after her death and which I now treasure among mine. Put these verses together and we understand that God will give each one of us the strength to do what He asks us to do at this time: to care for one another with fairness and compassion and walking closely with God, acknowledging His sovereignty and trusting His unfailing love.
And if our walk with God should take us through dark places...as today it seems...then we remind ourselves afresh that God has suffered too. I close today with one of the loveliest of the Lenten collects:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
God bless you all. Judith
LOCKDOWN DAY 2
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6)
Today we remember the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. I am so grateful to Geoff for the prayers he is posting for us - today’s prayer is a lovely reflection of the unique place of Mary in God’s plan of salvation.
Christmas by Christmas we hear Mary’s response to Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant....May it be to me as you have said...” (Luke 1:38). Christmas by Christmas we recall the cost of her unswerving obedience and faith: “...a sword will pierce your own soul...” (Luke 2:35).
But Christmas is a very long nine months away. Who knows what the world will look like then? We are still in the season of Lent, still looking towards Easter, waiting to hear once more the glorious promise of redemption and resurrection. And on Good Friday we encounter Mary once again, standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus, enduring pain that no mother should ever have to endure, watching the suffering and death of her first-born son, feeling that very sword pierce to the depths of her being.
And where is Jesus in her suffering? Jesus is there suffering with her. He is there looking out for her in her pain, reaching out to her with a compassion that completely disregards his own suffering, entrusting His beloved mother to the care of His dearest friend. (John 19:25-27)
Where is Jesus in our suffering world now? I love the words of this beautiful hymn:
God is Love: and he enfoldeth
all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp he holdeth
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow's iron rod,
then they find that selfsame aching
deep within the heart of God.
We are beginning to see some really good things coming out of this present time: acts of compassion, kindness and love. Surely the very best thing that could come out of this time is a renewed understanding – to the very depths of our beings – of the incomparable love of God for each and every one of us.
And if we find ourselves at some point today wondering where God is in all this...then let’s call out to Him...it is just possible that He is nearer to us now than we have ever before understood Him to be.
May He bless you all with his protection and peace and, above all else, with His love.
LOCKDOWN DAY 1
Now that social distancing is no longer an option, but a very wise directive, some forms of communication will inevitably become more difficult. I’d like to keep in touch by offering a reflection for each day from my own jottings. Please don’t expect something vastly erudite – just a daily message of hope and prayer! If you are reading this please find ways of telling others with who you are in remote contact that it is available to them too. Thank you!
Hear my cry, O God....From the ends of the earth I call to you; I call as my heart grows faint (Psalm 61:1,2)
I know that some of you are cat lovers. You will perhaps especially enjoy this story told by the late Richard Bewes, himself a great Bible Teacher, Pastor and Theologian.
The evangelist Billy Graham and his family were proud cat owners. On one memorable occasion their cat gave birth to a litter of kittens on the bed in the Grahams’ guest room. The Grahams carefully transferred the new feline family to a box in the warmth of their kitchen. Mother cat was not amused. Carefully she took the kittens back one by one to the bed of their birth. In the transfer, however, the tiniest kitten got left behind.
The kitchen and guest room were some distance apart and the Grahams listened as the littlest kitten emitted the faintest of cries – more of a squeak than a mew...It seemed impossible that mother cat would hear. But...instantly, soundlessly...mother cat reappeared in the kitchen. She picked up the kitten and carefully reunited it with the rest of her litter on the guest room bed. She had responded to the faintest of cries...through three closed doors.
Surely a reminder of our God who hears the faintest of our murmurs and our pleas.... A wonderful reminder in these darkest of times....
God be with you. I’ll be back tomorrow!