Sabbath

So, for the last couple of days I have been thinking about the Sabbath. As many of you will know, that is the name of the Jewish holy day of rest which begins at nightfall on Friday until just after sunset on Saturday. The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew verb Shabbat, meaning to rest from labour, and that takes us back to Genesis 2.

2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

In the Ten Commandments God commands his people to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. It was a way of life that was, and still is, embedded in Jewish life, culture and faith. Jesus himself taught about it and there are various Sabbath related incidents in the Gospels.

The transition from Sabbath to Sunday is an interesting one. Because the Resurrection, and the new creation that we are in Christ, began on a Sunday, soon the church observed that day instead.  Today we still gather to worship on Sundays but the practice of keeping one day of rest, of stopping work, closing shops and businesses, has completely changed in my lifetime. Instead, Sunday has become another day of work for many,of retail, business and leisure opportunities, a major day for sports fixtures and clubs, things on a Sunday undreamed of by a previous generation.

Or perhaps I should say had become, because today and for the foreseeable future many of us will be having an enforced sabbath. We cannot go out to the cinema, to the football match, to wander round a shopping centre. Our lives have been radically changed by Covid-19. It is a horrifying situation, but do you think maybe we are learning from this that we can survive without shopping, working, trading and even, dare I say it, sport, seven days a week?  That we can withdraw from ceaseless activity every seven days to rest, to recharge and refocus. To stop the endless round of consumerism and make do with what we have in the house for just one day a week? To spend time together round a table with family sharing a meal instead of rushing out in different directions. To learn that we can face Monday morning so much better because we have had a rest from continual work.  That having stepped away from our emails and websites for one day we can actually see with clearer vision and purpose in our work.

Many of you will have seen the reports on how the coronavirus has had a positive effect on our environment. Satellite data from the European Space Agency is showing reduced air pollution in areas hardest hit by the virus. Surely our planet is showing us that, as God ordained, it too needs to rest. It has been trying to get our attention, but this really has brought into focus, on all sorts of levels, that we ignore it’s need for rest at our peril. Of course, as soon as the economy starts again then pollution levels will go back up, but what if we returned to that just six days a week instead of seven?

What if, as Wendell Berry puts it in one of his wonderful sequence of poems about Sabbath, we just sit still for a while?

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Perhaps we too will then discover that Sabbath brings a new song, one of hope in our current crisis and a kinder way of living for the whole world. A way that that involves doing as our Creator has asked us to- and does himself-resting on the Sabbath.

“After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.”

~ Wendell Berry from Sabbaths

It is a beautiful piece and you can find the whole poem and the author reading it here:

Sunday on line service & weekly evening prayer

This Sunday’s service will be led by the Right Rev Dr John Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh. Click on the link for liturgy and how to join the service.

In addition Christians are asked to join in prayer every Sunday at 7pm. Again click on the link for further information.

http://www.scotland.anglican.org/broadcast-sunday-worship/

https://www.scotland.anglican.org/scottish-christians-asked-to-join-in-prayer-every-sunday-at-7pm/

The sound of silence.

Today has been a very quiet day. A very, very quiet day. Sitting in the house listening to the silence is like hearing the world take a breath, pause, stop.

Where we lived in Hertfordshire meant that although we were in a lovely green spot, the noise of the M1 and the M25 was constantly in the background. Even in the midst of the woods in Mymms park, the hum of traffic was still audible. Since moving to the beautiful Highlands one of the great joys has been going out for walks and listening to the absence of man-made noise. Hearing only sounds of nature-birds singing, small creatures in the undergrowth, wind in the trees, these are gifts that I treasure and never want to take for granted.

But the silence that I have so enjoyed is usually not found in the house or the street where we live. People driving their cars, voices calling out, building works being carried out, the background noise of life going on all around. But not today. Today the streets are deserted, and all the noise of modern life has been largely stilled.

 I like silence, but even I find this I this silence daunting. Of course, we can so easily switch on the TV or the radio or stream music to fill that space. But just maybe we can also try to allow God to use it. As I thought about this I was drawn back to the beginning of creation, to Genesis. I don’t think I had ever thought about just how quiet it must have been in the beginning. The first recorded sound in the Bible is breath of God moving over the face of the earth. Then we have the word of God…let there be….and then we have more and more sounds added. The sound of water running, the sound of things growing, seeds popping, twigs breaking and then all manner or sounds of animals and birds and creatures in the sea. And finally, the voice of man( I wonder what mans’ first word was?) And then Adam and Eve fall into sin. We all know the story and we know the consequences. But what drew my attention today was what we are told next. Adam and Eve are ashamed and they hide because,

“they hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.”

 They heard God. It is such a beautiful image -God walking around his garden in the cool of the evening. It is something we can all relate to, perhaps especially if you are a gardener! Looking to see what is growing, what perhaps needs a bit of sorting, enjoying the scents of the blossom and the sound of the birds, watching nature all around.

As the world around us falls increasingly quiet, can I encourage you to not rush to fill it with noise, but just take a few moments to dwell on that image. Listen for the footstep of God. He is still walking around his creation. Despite all that we have done to spoil God’s good creation, despite our lack of love and care, our greed and consumption. And yes, despite this virus and its devastating effects, God is still here. Listen for his footstep, take a walk with him, allow HIs silence to heal and strengthen you.

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46 v 10

Yet, I will rejoice..

So today we have spent our first day as a country in virtual lock down. The grim message delivered by the Prime Minister last night means that we are to stay at home as far as possible, to make no unnecessary journeys or social contact and to only go out once a day for exercise and essential supplies. I am sure you, like me, are trying your best to follow these guidelines. I am equally sure that like me, you are finding life strange and anxious.  Nothing is normal and with daily routines and patterns thrown into disarray we have, for the time being, to adapt to new ways of living. Everywhere is deserted and everyone is feeling the fear and uncertainty of what might lie ahead. Many who live alone and those with underlying health issues are particularly vulnerable. What does God have to say to us as we seek to try and hold onto our faith in such circumstances?

As I pondered this, two things came to mind. First, that being people of faith does not mean that we are immune to fear and worry. When we read the Bible, many of the great men and women of faith struggled with fear. King David in the Psalms admits that at times his flesh failed him because he was so afraid. St Paul in Corinthians tells us that he was “troubled on every side, fighting without and fears within.”

Secondly Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane wrestled with overwhelming fear and grief. We are not alone! It is not wrong for us to admit that we are worried or anxious or even walking the house at night because we cannot sleep.  We should not berate ourselves for these fears or, in true British fashion, try to pull ourselves together! What we can do is to take our fears to Jesus.

 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4 v 15

Jesus understands and he is with us and will help us in our need.

What we can also do is to rejoice in our God who is far greater that Covid-19.  We can rejoice by looking back to what God has done, in our lives and in the lives of countless men and women throughout the ages. We can rejoice in a God who will never give up on us. We can rejoice in a God who has come down himself to save us.  This is what we rejoice in. This is who we rejoice in.

The prophet Habakkuk back in 7BC found himself in very troubled times. The country was on the brink of a devastating invasion and marauding armies were about to sweep through the land.  In the midst of this terror Habakkuk has a conversation with God about what on earth God think he is doing. It is a short book, but it packs a punch! At the very end of the book Habakkuk realises that he may not understand but by taking his eyes off the circumstances and looking at God instead his begins to feel better. He feels that whatever may come he can trust in God;

 “Though the fig tree does not blossom,
   and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
   and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
   and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
   and makes me tread upon the heights.”

I say Amen to that!

Closure of Church Buildings.

Following the latest advice please note that both St James and St Anne’s Church buildings are closed for the time being. You can see the advice by following the link below.

Prayer, worship and support for all continues, albeit in new ways! Please see the daily meditations here and on our Facebook page. Details of live streaming services and Evening Prayer will follow shortly.

https://www.scotland.anglican.org/church-buildings-closed-to-public-until-further-notice/

Today I took some time out from learning how to become more proficient with websites, social media and streaming services to learn about something completely different-how to prune my blackcurrant bushes! We are very fortunate to have inherited a number of beautiful fruit bushes in the garden and have enjoyed a bountiful harvest of strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. As I love blackcurrant jam this has been great and allowed me to enjoy the simple pleasure of making-and eating!- my own jam. The drawback is that whilst I love gardening my skills are quite limited. I have a tendency to merrily cut things back far too drastically and usually at the wrong time of the year! Not wanting to spoil the harvest of soft fruits I took a look at some of the many you tube videos offering a step by step guide. What in theory looks and sounds quite simple was far more daunting when I went and looked at my own bushes, ipad clutched in one hand and secateurs in the other. Was this a one year old stem or a two year old stem? Which was the new growth and which could I safely cut off? At that point I decided it was too cold to stand there for any longer and I would tackle it another day!! But one very clear piece of advice was on all the sites I looked at, and that was to create a hole in the middle of the plant to allow light in and growth to occur that would then bear fruit.

As I thought about this it struck me that perhaps many of us at the moment feel as though there is a hole in the middle of our lives, an empty place which would normally be filled with a thousand and one different things. Things like work, commuting, socialising, shopping, entertaining, being entertained, many things which would keep our lives busy -and often too busy. With so much of our normal lives and routines disrupted we can feel as though our life suddenly has a hole in it. The circumstances that have led to this situation are tragic and together we must do all that we can to combat this dreadful disease by following government guidelines, being sensible and not putting ourselves and others at risk. But, let us also take this opportunity to allow that space in our lives to be a place which God fills. Let us see this as an opportunity to grow closer to God in prayer, in reading his word, in praise and worship. Read a good Christian book, meditate and allow God first and foremost to fill that empty space. So much of what we cram into our lives distracts and distances us from God, May this be a time to remedy that and find, as we do so, that God will give us his peace that passes all understanding.

I am reminded of the lyrics of “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen..”There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Just as tomorrow the secateurs and I will be attempting to let the light in to my blackcurrant bushes, so may the cracks in our world that have been caused by Covid-19 allow the light of Christ to fill the sudden hole in our lives more and more each day, because then, there really will be, a joyful and fruitful harvest.

The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt

” Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you…..” Revelation 3 v 20

Today is Mothering Sunday, traditionally the day in the year when those working in service, or away from home, were encouraged to return home and visit their families. Often, they would take with them presents of cake and pick flowers from the side of the road as they travelled. It was also the day when people were encouraged to return to their mother church, the church in which they were brought up.

Times may have changed but the tradition of celebrating mothers continues. It is for many a very happy and blessed day, an opportunity to be with loved ones and share a meal, give flowers and enjoy family life. Sadly, for many others, Mother’s Day is a difficult and emotional time for a whole variety of reasons. But whoever we are and whatever Mother’s Day means to us personally, this year we all find ourselves in a different and difficult place where fear and anxiety are rife and where we are actively told to stay away from coming together-either as human or church family.   In this time, I find it very comforting to look at this picture- another by Stanley Spencer. The painting is of Jesus encircling a mother hen who is looking after her chicks. One of the smallest chicks is tucked under the mother’s wing, the others are nearby, as is a small sparrow joining them within the circle of Christ’s arm. Those arms of Christ reach out to protect and hold within them the mother and her chicks.  This is an image that we often find in the Bible and one that we shall be coming to shortly as we travel through Lent. Having entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus looks out and laments over the city with these words:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem……how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gather her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”

The longing of Christ to protect and gather his people is beautifully encapsulated in this image of a mother hen. But there are also many places in the Old Testament where this image is also to be found, one of which, from Psalm 57, is so fitting for our world today.

“In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

until the destroying storms pass by.”

Christ longs to protect and keep us, holding us within his love and encircling us with his presence and that is such a wonderful image to hold onto in our current situation.

Some of you may be familiar with caim prayers.  Caim is an old Gaelic word meaning: “protecting”, “encircling” and these simple prayers of faith call upon God to circle us with his love and protection. Below is an example of an old caim prayer that you might like to use for yourself and for others.

Circle me Lord, Keep protection near, and danger afar.

Circle me Lord, Keep light near, and darkness afar.

Circle me Lord, Keep peace within. Keep evil out.

Circle me Lord, Keep hope within. Keep doubt without.

May you be a bright flame before me.

May you be a guiding star above me.

May you be a smooth path below me.

And a loving Guide behind me.

Today, tonight, and forever.

Amen


Christ in the Wilderness; The Hen, State Art Gallery
Copyright The Estate of Stanley Spencer 2012

Today I took a walk up Knockfarrel, an Iron Age hillfort near where we live. The views-as you can see- are spectacular but what it brought to mind was a passage from Isaiah one perhaps more familiar to us from an Advent setting;

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  Isaiah 52 v 7

 How lovely it would be to hear good news instead of the bad news we are bombarded with from every direction at the moment! Every fresh news bulletin brings more grim statistics and more for us to worry about. It also brings sad news of how many are so afraid that they are hoarding food and supplies to the extent that shelves in shops are empty and some customers, often the most vulnerable and needy, are having to do without.

So, in this climate of fear and panic, I wondered, what would look like good news to you?  That your local supermarket had suddenly got shelves full of toilet rolls and hand sanitizer? That the company you work for is going to keep on paying you despite shutting down its operations? That your loved ones are still well? That they had miraculously discovered a cure for Covid-19?

 I am sure we could all come up with a list of what would be good news for us. But you know there is good news in all of this, and all credit to the news agencies that they are actually sharing this as well!  At this time of global crisis so many people are reaching out to others, people offering help, support, doctors and nurses working every hour there is to prepare, people coming out of retirement to help…the list could go on. Simple acts of human kindness and love that bring encouragement and hope despite the grim news feeds.

And, as that text from Isaiah reminds me, the very best news is-quite literally-the Gospel. Gospel means “good news” and the one who bears and brings that good news is Jesus our Saviour who has come to be one of us. He knows what it is like to be human, he knows and understands our fear and he will be with us every single step of the way. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever, the God of love who comes to bear our sins and carry our burdens. The God who has overcome death and brings the promise of eternal life to each and every one of us.

 May we daily give thanks for all the good that is being shown, may we do all we can to show human kindness and love and may we give thanks for the good news of Jesus, our help, our refuge and our Saviour.

Today has been the most beautiful Spring day here in the Highlands. The sky looked newly painted in blue, so cloudless was it, and all around were signs of new life. Daffodils waving merrily at me from the riverbank, birds singing their hearts out as they flew joyously overhead and the trees beginning to show new buds as the sun warmed them.  It was easy, just for a moment, to forget the troubles of the world and the threat that we all face from Covid-19 and just enjoy the wonderful gift of creation that God has given us. Despite our lack of care and love for this good earth it goes on living and giving because God upholds and sustains it. As that great poet Gerald Manley Hopkins so wonderfully puts it;

“For all this nature is never spent.

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Seeing these harbingers of Spring and thinking about God’s presence in the world is both comforting and hopeful. It reminds me that God is present daily in our world and that he will help us to weather the storm that this disease has brought. He is not some remote God watching from a distance, but a God who is actively involved in our world, upholding and sustaining the natural world-and us-if we allow him to.  He alone can bring new hope to our world and to us, renewing what looks dead to fresh life. As I looked at the trees around me, still with bare branches but showing new shoots and buds I was also reminded of the image in the book of Revelation where in the new heavens and the new earth the trees of life bear leaves for the healing of the nations. At a time when we so desperately need that healing may I encourage you to pray to the God who upholds the world and all that is in it. Ask him to reveal himself to you as you look out on his world. Ask him for peace to calm your fears and ask him for his creative, healing touch to come on each and every one of us.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22

A tree next to a body of water

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