Bartimaeus’ response to being healed by Jesus was to “follow him on the way”. The “way” that Jesus was travelling in today’s gospel was from Galilee to Jerusalem and his sacrificial death on the cross. For first-century hearers of this gospel passages the words would have had a significance largely lost to us – before Christians were known by that name they were known as followers of (literally “in”) “the Way” – as we read in several passages in Acts. So, Batimaeus’ response to being cured was a conversion of life, becoming a follower of Jesus. He, like the disciples, will have learned from Jesus about “relationship” – relationship with “Abba”, his loving Father. He would also have seen Jesus putting his words, his faith, into action. Is your life affected (converted, transformed, etc…) by being a follower of the Way, Jesus’ way? One of the ways we, as a church family, seek to follow Jesus’ actions is through our outreach to marginalised people in our town (and we are always open to suggestions on how to extend or improve that) and by supporting other groups who undertake this ministry. Also, through our support for and giving to other charities, we seek to make a difference to people beyond the bounds of our parish and town. (Thank you to those who have offered help to host the ‘climate-change pilgrims’ next month – a few more would be welcome.). For the remainder of this church year (i.e. to 28 Nov) we will be collecting from you names of charities you would like us to support – including one for us to build a longer-term (at least 3 years) relationship. From next week, when the UNICEF “Jars of Grace” will be collected in, we will be running a “Parish World Bank” appeal in response to the ongoing refugee crisis.
Whenever I read St Paul’s words in today’s epistle about putting on the whole armour of God I think of the prayer that is popularly known as St Patrick’s breastplate. The one that concludes:
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the Name, The strong Name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same. The Three in One, and One in Three, Of Whom all nature hath creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word: Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord
Tradition has it that he wrote it in 433 A.D. for divine protection before successfully converting the Irish King Leoghaire and his subjects from paganism to Christianity. When writing the prayer he may well have had in mind those parts of St John’s Gospel (including today’s) which speak of Christ abiding in us (and us in Him). We may not feel we need a combat gear to go about our daily lives, (although many do, such as the refugees or “migrants” fleeing conflict zones) but the prayer is a reminder of our constant need for God’s protection and love as we reach out to serve our local communities.
The full version of the prayer can be found in your hymn books (326 at St Barnabas’ and 277 at St Nicholas’).
The profile of the parish has certainly been raised this week. Last Sunday we welcomed around 120 of the Refugee Tales pilgrims on the final leg of the walk from Canterbury to Crawley. As noted in the pew sheet there are some wonderful photographs of them arriving and enjoying refreshments in the churchyard. Several people have written to thank us for the hospitality.
On Monday, Steve played in the quarter finals of the Church Times’ Inter-Diocesan Cricket Cup. Chichester clinched victory against Lichfield (last year’s champions) off the last ball as Steve caught out one of their bishops (adding to his previous wickets). The match report is in the Church Times.
Then on Thursday came the news that a photograph from our Facebook page (of the inaugural Messy Church service in Maidenbower) had been chosen as the Church of England’s “photo of the week”.
And on Saturday, the Music for a Summer Evening concert enchanted a packed St Nicholas’. Some of these are more prominent / public than others (just as in today’s gospel passage there is a contrast between Jesus’ public and private actions) but they all have an aspect of sharing our “present abundance” (in St Paul’s words).
Another way in which we share our present abundance in responding to the needs of others is through the ministry of our Pastoral Assistants. They are a group who have been commissioned (after training) to share in the pastoral care of parishioners (whether regular members of our congregations or not). Their work is sometimes public and sometimes private – if you or someone you know would like a visit at home or an invitation for fellowship at one of their monthly tea gatherings, please speak to one of the clergy.
It was with a thankful heart that, on Wednesday, I took the Maidenbower Service Register out of the safe and watched Steve write the entry for Messy Church (over 40 present) below my previous entry “Closing Service”. It was poignant that the Messy Church service took place in the same room in the Infant School that had hosted the worship of The Holy Family (the ‘church plant’ in the newly constructed neighbourhood of Maidenbower). Our thanks to the Infant School for facilitating the initiative.
On Friday, sitting with three others at the “Chat & Pray” held in Stepney’s Café, I gave thanks for that gathering that ‘held the baton’ of our church’s presence in Maidenbower, week by week, since it was built. To me it is important, and I pray that it is so for the people of Maidenbower, that we have that record of faithfulness and long-term commitment to them and the community. It might not seem much … but then neither does a mustard seed.
Thank-you to all who have and will nurture this new plant through prayer and practical support. May it grow into a mighty tree, like the noble cedar of our Old Testament reading. For those not fortunate enough to have seen the cedars of Lebanon, the image Ezekiel evokes can be brought to mind by looking at the cedar in the St Nicholas’ churchyard. A noble cedar providing shelter for all reminds me of the desperate plight of Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Lebanon today – and so to our parish’s little ‘mustard seed’ of social witness in providing a welcome and hospitality to the Refugee Tales walkers at St Nicholas’ next week. Can any of you help us to welcome and show solidarity with those highlighting the plight of refugees in this country?
Today the Great 50 days of Easter conclude with the Feast of Pentecost (or Whitsun in the traditional language of the Book of Common Prayer). The final layer of the Easter mystery is revealed.
This is the day when the Church celebrates the fulfilling of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us in undertaking the Great Commission given as he ascended into heaven (to “make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). It is, therefore, significant that our Diocesan Bishop has chosen this day to launch a new Diocesan Strategy. What better day to pray that the gifts of the Spirit will flow through our efforts to live out the challenge of re-envisioning ministry, promoting growth (spiritual and numerical) and serving the common good?
But it doesn’t stop there: the gift of the Spirit is something each baptised Christian receives, and along with it the Great Commission. As the alleluias cease, the Easter Greeting is no longer used, the Paschal candle is extinguished and we enter Ordinary Time (with its familiar “green” liturgical colour) we are also reminded that this gift is precisely to enable us to live out our vocation in the “ordinary” situations of daily life.
We have been empowered to witness to the Good News in a way that blesses those around us. You will have received a copy of the Strategy, a prayer card and a copy of Luke’s Gospel. If you have not read a whole gospel through in a while, why not take the opportunity to do so this week. It might prompt you to join members of the clergy team who will be hosting a Bible study after Morning Prayer throughout June (9 to 9.30, Mon-Sat).
The feast day of St Matthias, whom we hear about in the first reading today, falls on 14th May. This year it was displaced a day (transferred in liturgical parlance) because that day was Ascension Day (a gold star for those that noticed the mis-spelling on the posters last week!) – Thursday last week.
Ascension Day is one of the nine “principal feasts” in the Church’s calendar and is the only one that can’t be moved to a Sunday which means that, given the pressures of work etc, it is often not observed as fully as the others (although the Roman Catholic Church has transferred it to a Sunday for just that reason). We celebrated the feast in a service of Eucharist with hymns at St Nicholas. The Day marks a crucial element in our Christian story as it celebrates Jesus being with his Father, at his right hand, making intercession for us. In Christopher Wordsworth’s phrase, “man with God is on the throne”.
It falls 40 days after Easter and there used to be a practice in some places of extinguishing the Paschal (Easter) candle in the service on that day. Common Worship, however, makes it clear that it is Pentecost (next Sunday) that marks the end of the great 50 days of Eastertide. It is after Pentecost that we turn to ‘ordinary time’ (and take green as the liturgical colour). The nine days between Ascension and Pentecost have a particular character of prayer and preparation to celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit – preparing us in our own day (and way and place) to be open to the power of that same Spirit. This week please pray especially for the launch of the Diocesan Strategy next Sunday, in which we shall all share.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen.
This Sunday is one bursting with activity – like the vine branches in our gospel reading bearing much fruit. It is a joy to be welcoming Bishop Geoffrey back to the 9.45 service at St Nicholas and for Canon Christine as his deacon for that service. Her recent installation as a Canon of Chichester recognises the contribution she has made to ecumenism and theological education.
Their visit reminds us of the way in which we, both as individuals and as a Christian community in this place and time, are branches connected with others and abiding in the one true vine. We are each called to bear fruit but also to rejoice in the fruit borne by other branches. As the Nic’s congregation gathers for the monthly all-age worship service at St Nicholas this morning we give thanks for the life that congregation draws from the Messy Church initiative at St Barnabas – and rejoice at the plans developing to have Nic’s on another Sunday in the month too and start a new Messy Church service in Maidenbower.
They’re the kind of examples of our common life that featured in the encouraging visit Archdeacon Fiona made to the parish last week as part of the review of ministry in Crawley and Horsham. The gospel reading also reminds us that fruit-bearing branches need to be pruned in order to stay healthy – something that applies in each of our spiritual lives as well as our common life. No one said it was easy! But, again, we can see the fruit in occasions like this afternoon’s baptisms & confirmations at Worth Abbey (by Bishop Mark) do, please, pray for the 16 candidates and especially the 12 candidates prepared by Steve and myself.
Alleluia. Christ is risen!
Last night at the Easter Vigil, bells rang out and we brought the church out of darkness into light – the light of Christ.
This morning we celebrate afresh, in the spirit of Mary Magdalene, the glorious Gospel … the Good News that Christ died and on the third day rose again … the Good News that heralds the joyous fact that from that moment on everything was different. Our celebration continues today with the wonderful privilege of baptising, as has been the custom of the Church on this day since the earliest times, three precious young children.
We welcome three children, their families and friends today for baptism. Our celebration today is a far cry from the media’s insistence that Easter, like Christmas, has lost its real meaning; that it has become just another retail season. The BBC writes, “A large, feathery egg stands in the middle of a small street in a shopping area in north London. Beneath it is an Easter message: ‘This egg is to remind people to shop at the independent retailer’”.
Such messages reinforce the importance of our telling, re-telling and telling again the Good News of the Easter Story – just as Peter and Paul do in our readings. It is the re-telling of this story, our story, which has been at the heart of our Holy Week Services. And so we have been reminded that it remains just as much Good News today as it did to the early Christians. Following the risen Christ means life, abundant and joy-filled life. That is what we celebrate today in the renewal of our Baptismal vows together with those being newly baptised.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
As a fitting preparation for Mothering Sunday, my week has had a considerable focus on children through two school chaplaincy-related events. The first arranged by Gordon Parry (as part of his ‘day job’) for our Diocese looked at the changing context and expectations of chaplains. The second, held at Worth School and led by a brother from the Taizé Community, reflected on faith development for teenagers. One message that came through strongly in both sessions was the need to listen, listen and listen again to what young people are telling us about their experience of the world, about their experience of God and (if we’re lucky!) their experience of the church. It needs the sort of listening that a loving parent does for their child. It is a kind of listening that gets beyond the ‘surface chatter’, the glib “It’s fine” to the deeper experiences of loneliness, insecurity or uncertainty. As I reflected on this I was greatly encouraged by the knowledge of our commitment as a parish to young people and families. I felt a profound gratitude to those who have stepped forward to support (in so many ways) the vision of our church family providing a safe place (physically and emotionally) where all can feel valued and confident in exploring and growing in the realisation of God’s love for them, discovering their self-worth. A mother-like church. As Jesus hung on the cross, in his last agony, he took care to form a new bond between his mother and John. We are the inheritors of that promise and command: to be as mother and son to each other. Whether or not our experience of mothers (or motherhood) and families has been positive, we can identify with the ideal of a relationship of unconditional love. It is God’s gift.