Give thanks…

Todays meditation comes from Rev Dr Barbara Chandler. Barbara is a member of the ministry team at St James and St Anne’s who works as a consultant at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.

Christ in the house of Marth and Mary by Johannes Vermeer 1654
Scottish National Gallery

The gospel set for Sunday 29th March is John 11:1-45. It is the familiar account of Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus. We are familiar with the caricature of the two sisters one always busy, busy, busy; the other reflective, dreaming, pondering.
As we enter the second week of lockdown I know that many are struggling, some because they are too busy and some because they are at home with none of the usual daily activities. I wonder if within each of us there is a Martha and a Mary side to our character? Sometimes one should take precedence over the other and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong.
When Jesus visited the sisters as described in Luke chapter 10, Martha kept on with the household tasks rather than sitting for a moment and listening, accepting the invitation to cross the social taboo and as a woman to sit and be taught. I do wonder at other times, when Mary was sitting reflecting, a better form of worship would have been cooking or doing the dishes!
It’s not easy, but I just wonder if we can give thanks for the particular place we find ourselves in just now – if you have more time than you know what to do with, use some of it for prayer. If you have no time because you’re now home schooling, working in one of the many essential jobs and coping with staff sickness, then know that the work of your hands can be prayer and worship, and know also that others are holding you in prayer.

It’s not easy but let’s try and hang on to St Paul’s words

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Come and see…..

Those two words jumped out at me today as I joined the Bishop of Edinburgh for the online service from his home.  These simple online services that bring worship, word and witness into our homes are, for those who are fortunate to be able to see them, very comforting and oddly moving.

The phrase “come and see” is part of the Gospel reading for today and comes from John 11 -the account of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus has arrived too late to save his friend it would seem. He finds Lazarus’ sisters weeping and asks where the body has been laid. “Come and see” they say to him. Jesus follows them to the tomb, greatly moved and disturbed in spirit. He sees the grief and tears,  he hears the anguish and sorrow. Then, in two of the most powerful words in the Bible, we read:

“Jesus wept.”

For the last few days, I have had an image. It is of Jesus walking the streets of our empty towns. It is of Jesus walking in our deserted schools and playgrounds, in our empty businesses and offices. It is of Jesus walking in our care homes and hospitals. It is of Jesus in intensive care units all over the world. It is of Jesus in morgues and at gravesides. And in each place, Jesus is weeping.

Jesus weeps with those who weep today in fear, sorrow and uncertainty.  He weeps with those exhausted, mentally and physically on the medical font line. He weeps with those who cannot visit their loved ones in hospital. He weeps with those who are alone and those who are far from family. Jesus weeps with those who weep today.

It is a profound moment in the life of Jesus as he shares our human sorrow and grief. And we, as his disciples, are called also to share one another’s sorrows, to bear one another’s burdens, to weep with those who weep. (Romans 12 v 15). Like many of you I am sure, I have found myself in tears at times this week seeing the heartache and grief and fear that is stalking our world. I have also been moved to tears by the courage of so many doctors and nurses, carers and front line workers. By the goodness and community spirit shown, by the simple acts of kindness and humanity shining through. The psalmist gives us that lovely image of God watching over us and gathering all our tears into a bottle. Christ weeps with us and keeps count of all our sorrows.

But the phrase. “come and see” also comes at another crucial place in the Bible.. It comes at the tomb on Easter morning. The women come to grieve at the tomb of Jesus, to weep and mourn. But they are met by an angel of the Lord who says:

“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has ben raised, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”

Come and see-see the risen Lord Jesus, the one who has conquered death is here. Come and see -the one who loves you and who is alive for evermore is present with you now. Come and see the one who can bring healing and hope to the fearful and comfort to those who mourn. Come and see- for the one who walks our town and villages in tears is also the risen Lord who brings new life, hope and the promise of peace. Come and see, for the door is open wide and Jesus waits for you.

Come and see

“Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead and see! I am alive for ever and ever.” Revelation 1 v 17


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.

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!