From the Vicar's Jottings
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 05.03.21
“The rains came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall...” (Matthew 7:25)
The first Friday in March was for many years designated as the “Women’s World Day of Prayer”. In more recent years the title has changed to the “World Day of Prayer” and offers an invitation to men and women across the world to come together in prayer and to focus in particular on the experiences and needs of the country that has prepared the service.
This year that country is the commonwealth country Vanuatu, a cluster of islands 1100 miles east of Australia. Vanuatu is always one of the first countries to begin the great wave of prayer on the Day of Prayer. The service for 2021 has been prepared by the Christian women of Vanuatu who have chosen for its theme “Build on a Strong Foundation”.
COVID 19 has brought its own disruption to this year’s Day of Prayer. In past years we have often enjoyed a beautiful service in St Jude’s or another of our village churches, followed by some great fellowship with Christians from other churches as well as our own, accompanied by some delicious home baked cakes. This year we shall not be holding a “live” service but, instead, we are invited to tune into You Tube (WDPIC You Tube Channel) from 10.30am and worship with the people of Vanuatu themselves via the video they have prepared for us.
The service opens with a description of this lovely island country; its black and white sandy beaches, coral reefs, exotic birds and fruitful forests. But the islands are vulnerable to frequent tropical storms, earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. So the call to “Build on a Strong Foundation” has especial practical resonance in this land.
The service includes testimonies from three women who have helped to put it together. One of them is Mothy who, partly because of her family’s poverty, was forced to live outdoors as a child, finding food on the streets and sleeping under an old sack to protect her from the cold. Mothy describes meeting some Christians who told her that God loved her. Away from the shelter of a loving family Mothy trusted God would care for her. That trust, she says, became the “foundation of my life”.
The tsunami of the pandemic has probably caused many of us to re-examine the foundations of our lives. Where do we place our trust? The WDP service for 2022 will be prepared by Christians from the UK. Its theme, chosen well before the outbreak of the pandemic is God’s promise “I know the plans I have for you”. There can be no surer foundation for us than the one we find in Him.
“...because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:25)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 04.03.21
“Give...as the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 15:14)
One of the great themes of Lent is that of giving to those in need. Two challenges in particular have been on my mind this week.
At the beginning of Lent Bishop Andrew launched an appeal across the diocese of Guildford, inviting us to make the Bishop of Guildford’s Communities Fund the focus of our Lent giving. The Fund supports the vulnerable and marginalised throughout the diocese, helping those parishes and charities which are reaching out into their local communities.
Usually collections taken at services such as clergy licensings and confirmations provide most of the fund’s income, but the COVID 19 has meant that most of these have not taken place. This means that the fund currently has few resources available to help those in most need. 2021 will continue to be a difficult year, with the pandemic leaving many people vulnerable and isolated, facing uncertainty due to redundancy or the difficulty of finding their first job. A generous response to this appeal would enable the fund to offer hope to some of those within our own wider community who are in such need at this time.
Beyond our shores the brutal suffering faced in many parts of the world continues. This week we heard that our own government intends to reduce our country’s aid to war torn Yemen by some 60%. Whatever may be the reasons behind this decision it is hard to reconcile with what we understand of the situation there.
One of the charities working in the Yemen is “Médecins Sans Frontières” or “Doctors without Borders”. Their website reveals that since the beginning of 2021, MSF has been treating increasing numbers of severely malnourished patients at Abs Hospital, in the Hajjah governorate of northwest Yemen. Cases in Abs are up 41 percent compared to the same period last year.
A spokesperson for the charity states that the main reason they are seeing so many malnourished children is the six-year long conflict that has plagued Yemen. She says “The war has decimated the economy, destroying livelihoods so that people can no longer afford food to feed their families or fuel to travel to seek work or medical care”
We are so conscious today of all we owe to our own healthcare workers. It is shocking to read that many medical workers in Yemen have not been paid in years. The vast majority of the population in Abs relies on humanitarian aid for survival.
Some of us are not in a position to give very much, if at all. But all of us can pray. These are tough times nationally and even more so globally. We pray for all those working to ensure help is directed towards those in greatest need.
“Give and it will be given to you”. (Luke 6:38)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 03.03.21
“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (1 Corinthians 6:2)
One of the lessons we’ve learnt during the pandemic is that COVID 19 has no power to cancel committees! If anything, committees have flourished during the last twelve months, thanks to zoom (which is of course not the only online conferencing service available!!). Even the Handforth Parish Council has continued to meet and unwittingly provided entertainment for a wider audience!
Tonight we have a meeting of our Village Centre Management Committee. The Village Centre Café has had to remain closed for much of the last eleven months because of corona virus restrictions and sadly our lettings have also had to be temporarily suspended.
But...there is so much good news as well! Our Child Contact Centre has remained open and is meeting the needs of some of those families who have been under even greater pressure because of the pandemic. Our Baby Basics Charity has seen a really big increase in referrals from professionals within the Health and Social Care sector and Ali, our Centre Manager and her volunteers have been working hard to meet those needs also.
And last month saw the launch of the Community Fridge, another exciting initiative based at the Centre, which will enable the sensible collection and distribution locally of good food which would otherwise have been wasted. This facility is available to us all.
In the midst of all the gloom that the pandemic seems constantly to leave in its wake, these are really good things to celebrate and share. In this time of such uncertainty it is all too easy for inspiration and vision to disappear. Thanks to Ali and her Team this hasn’t happened at the Village Centre – far from it. Those green shoots of growth, to which we all so much look forward, are already there.
Thinking about these things, and rejoicing in all the progress that has been made under such challenging circumstances, has made me think afresh about the need to live in the present. I have spent a lot of energy and thought trying to imagine life restored beyond the pandemic. But increasingly, I think, we are becoming aware that life beyond the pandemic may be a greater distance away than perhaps we had reckoned. Government ministers and scientists are beginning to speak more of living “with” the virus than of life after it.
Whilst that may be depressing in some ways it should also spur on us to find ways to choose life in the here and now. As someone once said “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come. Today is a gift, that’s why we call it ‘the present’”.
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap the fruit of unfailing love...for it is time to seek the Lord”. (Hosea 10:12)
God Bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 02.03.21
Following yesterday’s celebration of the feast day of St. David, patron saint of Wales, the Christian church today commemorates the life of St Chad, who died on this day in 672 AD.
Almighty God, from the first fruits of the English nation who turned to Christ, you called your servant Chad to be an evangelist and bishop of his own people: give us grace so to follow his peaceable nature, humble spirit and prayerful life, that we may truly commend to others the faith which we ourselves profess...
At one time, it is believed, Chad came to be venerated as the patron saint of disputed elections. If so, it is tempting to think he has had his work cut out in recent times.
Chad was born in Northumbria, one of four brothers. Little is known about his early life although we do know that he was for some years a student at the Celtic monastery at Lindisfarne. He travelled to Ireland as a monk and was probably ordained priest at the age of thirty, according to the custom of the times, as the Lord Jesus began His own ministry at the age of thirty.
We know that St Chad was the first bishop of Mercia and Lindsey at Lichfield. St Chad, like St David, was the founder of several monasteries, including the monastery at Lastingham, a tiny village in the historic North Riding of Yorkshire, where he and his older brother Cedd were both, at different times, abbots. Together St Chad and St Cedd are credited with being the first missionaries to the Angles.
The Venerable Bede, who was born just a year after the death of St Chad, and is most famous for his influential work:” An Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, wrote extensively about both Chad and Cedd. It is from Bede that we learn of the character of Chad as being unusually “humble, devout, zealous and apostolic”
Trumbert, one of Chad’s students at Lastingham, described how Chad would stop reading whenever a gale sprang up and call on God for mercy. During prolonged storms he would go into the church itself to pray until calm returned. Asked to explain his behaviour, Chad expressed his conviction that storms are sent by God to humble us and to remind us of the day of judgement. Interestingly, England during the time of Chad’s ministry was beset by plague, and it would be interesting perhaps also to discover Chad’s interpretation of those times.
Bede also said of Chad that he was "a diligent performer in deed of what he had learnt in the Scriptures should be done." That perhaps is one of the highest accolades that could be offered to any believer.
Although far away in time both David and Chad remind us of the privilege of our Christian heritage.
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 01.03.21
Almighty God, whose servant David revealed the loving service of Christ in his ministry as pastor of your people, awaken within us the love of Christ and keep us faithful to our Christian calling...
This is written with warmest greetings to all our Welsh friends on this particularly special day in your calendar.
St. David, patron saint of Wales from the twelfth century, is the only native-born patron saint of the countries of Britain and Ireland. Legend has it that his mother, St Non, gave birth to him at the top of a Pembrokeshire cliff during a fierce storm in the year 500AD. The ruins of St Non’s Chapel mark the spot where the birth is said to have taken place. Nearby is a holy well, the water from which is said to have healing properties.
The earliest life of David was written in about 1090 by the son of the then Bishop of St David’s. It records David as having studied on an island for ten years as a priest. He was then to become Abbot Bishop of the Monastery at Menevia, nowadays St David’s, and from there he founded around a dozen monasteries which were renowned for their asceticism. Tradition has it that the monks used their own hands, rather than oxen, to plough the fields. It was said that they did not eat meat or consume beer. St David himself was believed by some to have eaten only leeks and drank only water – possibly an explanation as to why the leek became a national symbol of Wales!
David was revered as an eloquent preacher. Legend has it that he was so gifted in preaching the word of God that on one occasion the place where he was standing to speak miraculously became a little hill so that David could be better heard! At the same time a white dove settled on his shoulder.
In around 560AD the Synod of Brevi in Ceridigion, Wales, was called to address the problem of heretical teaching. David was invited by the senior bishop to address the assembly. This he did with such skill that the senior bishop immediately retired to make way for David to take his place.
St David died on 1 March in c.589. His last words are said to have come from a sermon he had preached on the previous Sunday: ‘Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’ Probably a word for today!
Almighty God, who called your servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of your mysteries for the people of Wales: in your mercy grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the gospel of Christ, we may with him receive the crown of everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 26.02.21
“A day of joy and feasting” (Esther 9:19)
The Jewish festival of Purim falls today. It celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the might of Persia. The story behind the festival is recorded in the Old Testament Book of Esther, set around the late sixth century BC. During the festival the Scroll of Esther is read in full, reminding those who hear it of the deliverance of their ancestors from the hands of their enemies.
Many Jews had been taken into exile by the Babylonians who were then conquered by the Persians. Xerxes, the Persian King, recently divorced from his wife, had found a new wife in Esther, a beautiful Jewess. She had been warned by Mordecai, her guardian, not to reveal her Jewish heritage. Mordecai had found favour with the King because he uncovered a plot to assassinate him.
The King appointed one of his nobles, Haman, to the most senior position in the realm. To Haman’s fury, Mordecai refused to bow the knee to him. Discovering Mordecai was a Jew; Haman determined to destroy all the Jewish people in the Kingdom. He advised the King to issue decrees to all the provinces of the Kingdom to bring about that destruction. Mordecai grieved bitterly. Speaking to Esther through a messenger, he begged her to go to the king and to plead for her people. Haman, still seething at Mordecai’s snub built a gallows and prepared to ask the King to hang Mordecai upon it.
The King however, suddenly recalled that Mordecai had once saved his life and must be honoured. Haman was forced to lead Mordecai through the streets of the capital proclaiming the King’s favour! At the Queen’s banquet the following day to which Haman was invited, Esther revealed to the King Haman’s plot against her people.
The King was furious; Haman was executed on his own gallows. He who had cast the “pur” (lot) for the ruin of the Jews found the lot returned to his own head. His position of power passed to Mordecai who had courageously spoken up for his people.
The Jews were granted protection and “got the upper hand over those who hated them” (Esther 9:1). They celebrated with a day of feasting and joy.
The Book of Esther never mentions the name of God. But this is one of the great deliverances of God’s people and His hallmark is firmly stamped upon it.
Like so many festivals of faith over these last ten months, the Feast of Purim is probably being celebrated in a rather different way this year. The feasting and joy may be a little muted. But the festival still underlines the power of God to set His people free and that message has special resonance today.
“These days should be remembered and observed in every generation” (Esther 9:28)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTING 25.02.21
“Freedom for the captives” (Isaiah 61:1)
The Prime Minister referred to our “Long road to Freedom”. What, I wonder does that freedom look like?
For the friend I was talking to this evening it is very largely bound up with the freedom to travel and to enjoy a longed-for family holiday. For many of us it is even simpler than that. It is the opportunity to invite a friend in for a cup of tea instead of keeping them at arm’s length on the door step, trying to remember what the rule is about masks in the open air. For others it means the joy of reuniting with loved ones after a long period of separation. It is the moment at which we can exchange a handshake, or even a hug.
But perhaps it goes far deeper than that. The freedom for which we long is perhaps the freedom from fear; fear of the destruction that we now know the virus can cause when its progress is unchecked; fear of the sorrow it can bring. Perhaps we long too for the freedom once again to be spontaneous; to give less cumbersome thought and preparation to every small outing or tiny interaction. It would be good to be free to enjoy a film or TV drama produced more than a year ago without a disorientating sense that the behaviours it depicts belong to some bygone age which we cannot recapture.
The quest for freedom has been a hall mark of the people of God over many centuries and generations. The children of Israel longed for freedom from slavery in Egypt; from their wearisome wanderings in the wilderness; from bondage to foreign powers; from exile in alien lands; from the hostile occupation of their homeland. When deliverance came, it came by the hand of God.
Jesus offers those who come to Him freedom from the snare and burden of sin: “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). The season of Lent gives us space to reflect on the long road of suffering and sacrifice which Jesus walked in order to set us free. The apostle Paul reminded us that we are to use the freedom to which Jesus has called us “to serve one another in love” (Galatians 4:13)
The Prime Minister emphasised that the road to freedom from the domination of COVID is long. It must be paved with patience. And, not unlike Paul, he spoke of the continuing need to care for one another along the way so that we do not risk forfeiting the freedom we are gradually gaining.
I am so reminded of one of my favourite episodes of scripture, where two grieving friends were making a painful journey together. Luke tells us:
“Jesus himself came up and walked along with them” (Luke 24:15)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 24.02.21
“Commit your way to the Lord” (Psalm 37:5)
On Monday the Prime Minister introduced what he described as “The Long Road to Freedom”: the route which we so much hope will take us through the next stage of lockdown and out of the pandemic.
For some the plans which he set out so carefully will continue to prove especially difficult and challenging. Some feel a deep sense of continuing isolation, even though the restrictions have relaxed a little. A friend with relatives overseas shared her sadness that it is still not possible for her to see them.
On the other hand with a more gradual opening up of the lockdown guidelines and a series of dates in place there is evidence of a structured plan unfolding over time.
It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister refer to the need to be “humble in the face of nature” as we go forward. However careful we are, however measured in our approach, this virus has already proved many times its ability to catch us unawares. When asked if his plans for the way out were “irreversible” Mr. Johnson could rightly say only that he hoped so – in the light of all we have already learned and seen it is impossible to be certain of that.
There is indeed a need to be humble, to recognise that all the solutions are not in our hands. Only recently I re- read the beautiful opening words of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it”. Nature is but one expression of God’s sovereignty over His creation and the word of God calls us to be humble before His face.
The Prime Minister spoke of the “miracle” of the vaccines and their roll-out. I was so aware when I received my own first “jab” of the goodness of God in this provision which has come so rapidly and already seems to be so effective. We have so much for which to thank God in His miraculous blessing of the skill and dedication of the scientists and in the speed with which they have been able to deliver solutions which might otherwise have taken so very much longer.
How wonderful if this proved to be the time when we begin to give God the glory for the things He has done. And to look humbly to him as we begin to travel this long road to freedom. There may be no guarantees along this particular road and prayer must play an important part on our journey.
But there is a road that leads to the fullness of eternal life. In Jesus God invites us to join that road and guarantees our destination.
Jesus answered “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 23.02.21
“You are to receive the offering for me from each one whose heart prompts them to give”. (Exodus 25:1)
Those are God’s words to Moses after the covenant has been made between God and the children of Israel. Their relationship with Him has been sealed with sacrificial blood and they have offered their obedience to Him: “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey”. (Exodus 24:7).
Exodus 25 records the response God then asked of His people: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). God has invited all the people to play their part in the creation of the Tabernacle in which the Ark of the Covenant, containing the stone tablets of the covenant law can have a fitting and secure home. He has offered the opportunity to each one to give to Him.
Throughout the succeeding generations giving remained an important outworking of the status of the children of Israel as the people of God. In Leviticus 27:30 a principle of giving was established: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil, or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord”
But giving was not always joyful and it didn’t always happen. In the very last book of the Old Testament, the Book of the prophet Malachi, God called His people to return to Him. They asked “How are we to return?” (Malachi 3:7). God told them that they were to renew their giving to Him. All that they had withheld was to be returned to Him. “Then”, God said “see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it”. (Malachi 3:10).
In New Testament times Jesus had occasion to call out the Pharisees for their obsessive commitment to tithing alongside their neglect of other acts of service: “You give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). Importantly, Jesus did not let them off their commitment to tithing. Instead He said to them: “You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11:42).
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus quotes to the Pharisees words from the prophet Isaiah: “These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6). The religious people of Jesus’ day had not lost their grasp of the requirements of the Law but their hearts had lost touch with its Giver.
We live today under a New Covenant but our God is still the God of Moses. His longing is still to receive our gifts prompted first of all by a grateful heart of love.
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 22.02.21
“Give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38)
I am beginning to write this on the day that our Prime Minister is set to pledge the UK’s surplus COVID 19 vaccine supplies to some of the world’s poorest countries.
It is interesting to understand the motivation behind the pledge, which we shall make alongside some of the other leading world economies. I am sure that there is an element of real desire to address the plight of those so very much less fortunate than we are. But clearly there will also be a somewhat less altruistic motive.
Some countries have not yet embarked on a COVID 19 vaccination programme. With the ever- present prospect of new variants of the virus, and the risk of global transmission, this situation increases the risk of the development and spread of variants resistant to the vaccine. As time goes on, if this process went unchecked, even those vaccinated would be at continuing risk of disease. Any advantage we may have had would be lost. The vaccines would be robbed of their effect. .
So there is a principle behind our pledge – and that is that, in order to stay safe ourselves, we have to keep others safe. And that means giving away something of what we have.
In Luke 11:5-8 we find Jesus’ intriguing and amusing parable which is often called “The Friend at Midnight”. It is set in the context of Jesus’ teaching on prayer and follows the words of the prayer we now know as “The Lord’s Prayer”. Jesus pictured a man banging on a friend’s door at midnight, explaining that he has an unexpected visitor and no food to give him. His friend is a little curt with him; the house is locked up for the night and he and all the family are in bed. The request is inconvenient!
But nonetheless the man gets his bread! Jesus seemed to imply that it was much easier for his friend to agree to his request than to suffer further disturbance because of the man’s “boldness” (11:8).
It is a puzzling parable in some ways because at first glance it might appear to convey that God gives to us only reluctantly. But Luke goes on to record Jesus’ words about the amazing generosity of God to us: “Ask and it will be given to you...” (Luke 7:9).
“Giving” is one of the great Lenten themes. All of us from time to time may be reluctant givers. The motives behind our giving may not always be without self-interest. But we still give and perhaps not least to those we love best. Even earthly fathers, said Jesus, will give to their children; how much more does our Heavenly Father give to us.
“Your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 18.02.21
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).
And so our Lenten journey begins. Much of it this year will be travelled in isolation. Whatever decision we may shortly reach about our pattern of worship leading up to Easter, it is likely that much of our Lenten observance will be conducted within our own homes, and perhaps alone. And maybe that is always true.
It is encouraging and refreshing to read again Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount about three of the elements which may have their place in our personal Lenten discipline: giving to the needy, prayer and fasting. (Matthew 6:1-18). Jesus told His hearers that these acts of faith and obedience should be offered privately and discreetly.
The phrase “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing” is often used today as an expression of exasperation and even despair! But when Jesus was speaking about our giving to the needs of others that phrase was a command and a commendation. Our giving, however great or small it can be, is between ourselves and God. Jesus implied that ours should be the kind of generosity which does not look for its reward in the approval of other people or constantly count the personal cost: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (6:3)
When it came to prayer Jesus warned against the ostentation of those who prayed publicly in order that their piety should be seen and admired. He wasn’t saying that congregational worship is unimportant. He Himself set an example to His followers in worshipping, teaching and healing in the synagogues. The early church established a pattern of shared worship from the beginning. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the dangers of neglecting “to meet together” (Heb 10:25). But much of our prayer life will be private. Jesus made it clear that the heart of prayer is in the heart and it is the heart which God sees.
When it came to fasting Jesus warned against looking “sombre as the hypocrites do” (6:16). Maybe there are fewer of us who practise fasting today and sadly that may mean that many of us have lost touch with its blessing. But perhaps this verse holds a further key to what Jesus was saying about each of these acts of devotion. He was challenging us to offer them honestly and joyfully from the secret interiors of our lives; to allow them to spring gladly from the well of our personal relationship with God.
In the wonderful economy of God our personal and private offering of ourselves in love to him will bring its own blessing:
“Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (6:6)
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 18.02.21
“Very early in the morning, whilst it was still dark, Jesus got up...” (Mark 1:35)
“No-one needs to hear all your views!” This, or words very similar to these, formed the introduction to the Ash Wednesday “Thought for the Day” on BBC Radio 4. The speaker went on to talk about the contemporary use of various forms of social media as a platform to express opinion on more or less anything!
It made me think of a greetings card in circulation a few years back. A rather harassed mother is serving a meal to her two young children, both of whom look somewhat disinterested and rather anxious to take flight. She is saying “Hurry up and finish your breakfast and then you can tell your Facebook friends what you’ve had to eat”!
For many of us perhaps the isolation of the pandemic and successive lockdowns has meant we have spoken less. The telephone is a faithful friend but perhaps we don’t share with one another as easily over the sound waves as we do face to face. Many of the smaller encounters that make up our week have been missing: the exchanges at the bus stop; light-hearted comments about the weather; the brief patter between dog walkers; the catch-ups at the check outs; even the conversations at the school gate. Zooms are wonderful in many ways but they have to be set-up, managed and timed. The normal spontaneity of talking with each other is lost.
Perhaps that is why I was so drawn to some words in my daily Bible reading recently. They are found in Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus had been teaching and healing in the synagogue at Capernaum. Leaving the synagogue He went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law, Mark records “was in bed with a fever” (Mark 1:30). It is the words that follow which I noticed specifically: “They told Jesus about her”. What a perfect description of prayer: a simple telling of our need.
The story which forms the curtain-raiser to Lent is recorded earlier in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:12-13). Jesus is described as wandering the desert, subject to the temptation of Satan, with only the wild beasts for company. Undoubtedly prayer had been an essential part of the life of Jesus from His very earliest years. But could it be possible that His experience in the desert, to all intents and purposes alone, honed and deepened the prayer life of even the Son of God?
Could it be possible that our greater than usual isolation this Lent could lead to a closer, deeper prayer relationship with the One to whom we can simply tell our every need?
“He left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35)
God bless you dear friends, Judith.
VICAR’S JOTTINGS ASH WEDNESDAY 17.02.21
Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)
The observation of Shrove Tuesday is in itself a reminder that, for many, the season of Lent is about giving something up. Some of us will undoubtedly once again set aside simple luxuries in order to be able to give something towards the support of those for whom those luxuries may be unknown. For several years the charity “Christian Aid” ran a “Count your Blessings” appeal during the six weeks of Lent, inviting participants to give a little in tiny proportion of the blessings we receive.
But, although many of us will undoubtedly once again give something up for Lent the word “Lent” is not about sacrifice. Instead it comes from the Old English word “lencten” which simply means “Spring Season”. It is intended not least to be a celebration of the approaching end of the short, dark winter days.
All of us experience times in our lives when those dark winter days seem endless. Lent 2021 may be one of those times. For many the experience of the pandemic has led to a sense of being overwhelmed by circumstances, unable to see a way through. We try our hardest to cling to the hand of God in the darkness but there are times when even that can seem impossible.
The experience of Jesus in the wilderness, which forms the backdrop to the Christian observance of Lent, (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13) draws our attention to His grasp and understanding of the Word of God. It challenges us perhaps to use this season of new life and growth to plant our feet more firmly on God’s Word.
Both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. His suffering, in the wilderness, just as on the cross, had its own place in the plan of God for Him. The account of the temptations Jesus suffered make plain to us the nearer presence of God in our times of difficulty and distress. Matthew records that angels came and attended Jesus. In Lent perhaps we can allow our trust in God to grow and to deepen, maybe not least in the face of the challenges of today.
The season of Lent anticipates the darkness of the cross. But it also encourages and enables us to look beyond that darkness, and this present darkness, to the promise of Easter and Resurrection. Like the spring shoots around us even now, Lent offers the return of hope and even joy. In its challenge to repentance Lent holds out the promise of forgiveness and the glory of God’s love poured out upon us all in Jesus.
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19}
God bless you dear friends. Judith
VICAR’S JOTTINGS SHROVE TUESDAY 16.02.21
“Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2)
I hope that for some, at least, pancakes will not have become another victim of COVID 19. The practice of setting aside the day before Ash Wednesday in order to prepare for Lent goes back many centuries, and so does the tradition associated with pancakes. As a child it was many years before I recognised the term “Shrove Tuesday”. It was always “Pancake Day” and we looked forward to it with relish!!
The British tradition of Pancake Day goes back to the sixteenth century. Butter, eggs and fat were among the foods to be given up in Lent so pancakes were an ideally delicious way to consume those ingredients before Lent began. But this feasting was a prelude to fasting and Christians also sought to prepare for the season of Lent by being “shriven” – that is by confessing his or her sin and receiving absolution and a penance in keeping with their wrongdoing.
Perhaps for some of us those traditions have changed with the passing of time but Shrove Tuesday is still seen as the preparation for Lent and it may be the day on which we decide to make some small sacrifice or prepare to take up a new discipline during the forty days which lie ahead.
Amongst many references to traditions associated with Shrove Tuesday I found a mention of Newfoundland and the Cape Breton islands, where apparently small tokens are cooked in the pancakes for children to discover. I remembered the wonderful visit my brother and I had enjoyed to Canada just months before the pandemic took hold. I remembered the incredibly generous hospitality we had received and I wondered how this almost incomparably beautiful part of the world has been affected by COVID 19.
Maybe Lockdown has reduced my perspective to a simple concern for the community and country in which we live and where we still battle the virus today. But Shrove Tuesday and the dawn of Lent is a timely reminder of the faith and practice we share with believers across the world.
A line from the American singer Linda Ronstadt comes to mind “Even though I know how very far apart we are it helps to know that we are wishing underneath the same bright star”. If COVID 19 has emphasised our isolation, then Shrove Tuesday and the beginning of Lent, like every Christian Festival, emphasises our togetherness in Christ. As we look to Him it is alongside a myriad of other believers, near and far.
And at the dawn of Lent 2021 we can unite in this prayer:
“Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death
upon the cross: give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened
to suffer with him...”
God bless you dear friends, Judith.
VICAR’S JOTTINGS 15.02.21
“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:10)
I am writing this jotting during St Valentine’s Day. Sadly, I know there will be many for whom the celebration of St Valentine’s Day 2021 has simply become another casualty of the pandemic. And undoubtedly many retailers will be regretting the considerable loss of income.
COVID 19 may have taken some of the shine from this year’s St Valentine’s Day, but the legend of St Valentine is sobering too. St Valentine is believed to have been a priest in 3rd Century Rome in the reign of the Emperor Claudius. The Emperor sought to conscript young men into his expanding army. Very few signed up and Claudius responded by banning marriage which he deemed the reason behind the reluctance of young men to fight.
Valentine rebelled against the Emperor’s edict and continued to perform the sacrament of marriage, but in secret. Eventually and inevitably the authorities caught up with him and he was thrown in to prison. The story goes that many of those whom he had helped, young and in love, came regularly to throw flowers and messages up to the window of his cell.
Among those who visited was the daughter of the prison guard. It is said that, on the day St Valentine’s death sentence was carried out, February 14th 269 A.D, Valentine left her a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. He signed it “Love from your Valentine”. Could this perhaps have been the origin of the vast number of Valentine’s Day greetings given and received today?
Well maybe so... but whether or not that is the case, the legend of St Valentine reminds us of love’s enduring power. There is a lovely verse in the Song of Songs which is quite often read during a marriage service: “Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it” (8:7).
The mighty waves of the global pandemic have separated many people from their families and loved ones, often in dramatic and heartbreaking ways. The pending quarantine restrictions which will now apply to many travellers will further lengthen and deepen some of these separations. But, just as the might of the Emperor Claudius could not stem the tide of true love in 3rd century Rome, so love is still finding new ways to circumvent COVID 19. We have only to see the compassion in the faces of some of our army of frontline workers to know that is true.
But perhaps the story of St Valentine also comes with a reminder that love is rarely without suffering in its wake. In these oft-quoted words: “I asked Jesus how much he loved me and he stretched out His arms and died”.
“How great is the love that the father has lavished upon us” (1 John 3:1)
God bless you dear friends, Judith
AN EXTRA JOTTING
I’ve just returned home after a wonderful morning – full of sunshine, company and laughter. No – I haven’t broken any lockdown rules. I’ve just been to Windsor Race Course to have my (Pfizer) jab.
I’m writing this because I want to share my gratitude. Every single person I met, from the stewards at the gate, the car park marshals, the security guards, the ladies with the hand sanitizers, the guides in the hall, the gentleman inputting the database, to the young woman paramedic who administered the injection, was kindness itself. Most, if not all, would have been giving their time on a completely voluntary basis. They were cheerful, helpful, skilful, caring and efficient.
Susie, the paramedic, told me that she was doing this on what would normally have been her day off. She is based in London and has seen enough of COVID in her normal job to want to do all she can to help get on top of it. Talking to her gave me an even greater respect for the virus and its power to cause heart-breaking havoc, but it gave me a glimpse of the utter determination among our health care workers in particular to get on top of it as soon as possible.
All of those volunteers must have given up something to be there today – and every day. Someone like me has given up so very little. I am so grateful to God for the scientists, healthcare workers, politicians (yes, even politicians!) and the vast company of ordinary people who are giving so much of themselves to keep us safe.
This has been one of the best mornings I’ve had for a while! I said that to the man with the laptop who replied “You obviously don’t get out much!” Well, no, I don’t and none of us do just now, but I hope this little tale will encourage you as much as today’s experience has encouraged me.
Thanks be to God.