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May 2nd 2020
From the Vicarage – Easter (4) 2020
I am not sure if many of you may be avid listeners to the radio drama ‘The Archers’ as I am.? Even if you are not a fan yourself, many of you are quite likely to have been, at some point in your life, or know someone else who follows this ‘tale of country folk’ which has been running episodes most nights of the week for over 60 years. As our ‘lock-down’ began in the second half of March it soon became apparent that Ambridge, where the various branches of the Archer families live, was possibly the only place on earth that remained totally oblivious to and unaffected by the Pandemic. A friend described the characters to me as if ‘they are living in a time warp.!’. At first, I found it quite amusing, after a while it began to irritate me greatly, but then as time progressed, I found it strangely comforting to be reminded again of the simple delight of the ‘normal’ things we used to experience in life, and that now seem to belong to another age. Those daily delights that the residents of Ambridge still take for granted are the celebration of a child’s birthday party with family members and friends from different generations and households present. The sharing of a pint and/or a meal at the end of a working day. Visiting a sick friend in a hospital ward to lift their spirits, and share community news. Throughout these past weeks there have been ongoing plans for an imminent wedding, the weekly ‘nets practice’ preparing for the summer Cricket season, and the celebration of an ‘Easter Festival’ on the village green on the Bank Holiday Monday, the day after hymns were sung and Communion was shared at the Easter Sunday service.! Sometimes I have been teased over the years for listening to the drama, dismissing it as pure fantasy. Interesting that perhaps now it could be described as such, yet also surely a reminder of all that we once used to enjoy in our ‘normal’ daily lives, and I hope ‘post lock-down,’ will never take for granted ever again.
Living in the town of Ledbury for this my first Spring as Rector of the Cider Parishes, I find I have missed some of the familiar sounds and sights of my previous rural Shropshire villages which bordered the River Severn. In addition to arable farming on the fertile Plain, there were also many dairy herds on the rich pastures, and flocks of sheep on the steeper terrain of the English/Welsh borderlands within the parishes too. The pure delight of the sounds and sights of the first lambs in Spring, would continue for weeks throughout the season, as increasing numbers gradually populated the fields and hillsides of the parishes. I loved to witness their joy in life as they literally ‘jumped’ round the fields whilst bleating their delight. As I recall those memories now, I am also reminded of an extraordinary sight I was once privileged to witness whilst on a trip to the Holy Land during the Summer of the Millennium. I was staying with a group of theological students from UK colleges, at ‘Tantur’ an ecumenical centre located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, right on the border between Israel and Palestine. The large walled grounds had a formal garden by the house, but also olive groves amidst the scrublands a little further from the building in all directions. One afternoon we heard strange sounds from the trees at the rear of the grounds, and were fortunate to witness the truly ‘biblical’ image of a shepherd leading his flock of sheep through the olive grove behind. As he walked and spoke/sang/played to them, they followed closely to him bleating their confident delight. This is the image that St john’s Gospel Chapter 10 verses 1-10 ‘gifts’ to us in today’s reading, of the security of knowing and following the voice of Jesus, the one who loves us and shepherds us safely through times of danger and in whom we place our trust. Today, Psalm 23, also shares that same reassurance in its words and imagery of the one who guides us in life, both in the joys - green pastures, and in the sorrows - when we walk in the valley of the shadow of death. He will never leave us, on our earthly journey and greets us when we come to take our place too at the heavenly banquet for all eternity.
Please do note the new FREE phone-line now launched by the C/E - Daily Hope 0800 804 8044. Please do share its number especially to those without internet