Church of England Diocese of Gloucester Newnham

Thoughts for the Week during the Covid-19 crisis

Sunday 31st May (Pentecost): Revd Ann Sargent

Breathe on me breath of God…………….

Our breath has been a focus for many of us during these last days and months. The invasion of our air by this unseen virus has led us to hold ourselves apart from each other for these days, guarding the space between us. The breathing out and breathing in of so many has played on our hearts, as we think of those who have been particularly hard hit by this disease struggling to find their breath and gasping to hold onto life. It is the day of Pentecost, Jesus before ascending to heaven breathed on his disciples, opening wide the gates of heaven and beckoning us into the eternal life he has set before us, here the promised Holy Spirit is poured out on the gathered disciples and all people. All the people not just the extra Holy ones. As a world community never was their a time when we needed this life giving breath more. 

My question to myself throughout this time has been how do we live these days well? Over and over again I have returned to the truth that we can only live these days well if we allow ourselves to be shaped and transformed by the Holy Spirit and attend to God’s breath within us. This is the breath that carried us into being and sustains us whether we notice it or not, offered freely but requiring room. Our calling as a church is to create a spacious place where we allow the Spirit room to breathe within us. We are currently physically separated from one another, yet, as we come together in prayer as a benefice today we are invited to discover our oneness as a worshipping community. To take a moment to notice the different nuances of each other rather like the myriad of languages surrounding those early disciples, to celebrate who we are together as the People of God in these communities. The challenge of Pentecost is to allow the Holy Spirit to transform the barriers of old experience and even pain into bridges of trust and love so that we can learn to be God’s people once again. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we can continue to seek to make Christ present in the communities we love and serve.

Breathe on me, breath of God, fill us with life anew, that we may love the way you love, and do what you would do.

Sunday 24th May: Revd Fred Long

Near Llandudno in North Wales is Ormes Head. Many people, often visitors, decide to go to the top walking or by tram. The road winds its way up the peninsula until it finally reaches a cemetery. At the times I made my first visit, one was faced with a notice, “No Road beyond the Cemetery”. Many people turn back but those who know or who are adventurous or who have faith to explore beyond, find that there is a path which leads through the cemetery leading to the summit where you can view the splendour of Snowdonia and the Irish Sea. To the characters on the first Good Friday the thought, No Road beyond the cemetery, must have been very real. The journey through the graveyard was then as it still is for many today surrounded by fear and disbelieve. Yet on Easter Sunday and the following days the disciples are to explore and witness to a new and powerful understanding, Christ is alive, Christ lives. The gospel accounts of the meetings with Our Lord is dominated not be his words but by his presence.

Easter celebrates that by a mighty intervention God has given us a visible assurance of his fellowship with us, which has an eternal dimension. And so we come to the Ascension. The incident is told in the simplest of languages, but the drama is dramatic. Jesus leads his followers to Bethany and raising his hands blesses them and during that act is parted from them.

Many questions can be raised but St Luke records that those gathered reacted not with terror, not even confusion, but that they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Why? Because they knew that they had a saviour from whom nothing - nothing at all – could separate them any more. St Paul put it thus “I am persuaded, that nothing (he means life or death) can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.” For the disciples the Ascension becomes a sign that the victory of Christ is complete, his glory, becomes our glory.

As a Christian we enter through our Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Each of us are invited to look beyond our immediate situation and see and experience the love of Christ which we receive through the Holy Spirit. To all, may the Joy of the Lord Jesus be with you and all those you love. Amen.

Sunday 17th May: Revd Joe Knight

This week we’ve been given a glimmer of hope in the midst of being apart. From Wednesday, most (but sadly, not all) of us were given permission to leave our homes freely, and that we are now free to meet one other person of a different household. For many, this new freedom will be a welcome break in what has been a difficult time. For others, being shielded, this freedom is something still to look forward to. But I wonder what we mean by that word ‘freedom’? It’s been used a lot recently. Our Prime Minister has thanked us for allowing our freedoms to be restricted, and throughout the world (particularly in the US), there have been protests and law suits against the ‘attack on personal freedom', many calling the lockdown ‘house arrest'. But I’m not sure there is such a thing as personal freedom without neighbourly responsibility. And the lockdown has given us the chance to exercise our freedom to care for others, by staying at home. Last week, we read Jesus’ claim that he is the truth, and in chapter 8 of John’s gospel, Jesus has said that ’the truth will set you free’ (8:32). Jesus came to set us free, to live life to the full (John 10:10), which means living life as it was meant to be lived, in a loving relationship with God. 

The love of God is the context for this week’s reading. It’s when we encounter God’s love for us that our lives are freed to know him, to hope in him, to live each day with him, even if we are locked in our houses. And, in our reading today, Jesus promises that he will be with us wherever we are, through the Spirit of Truth, or we might say, the Spirit of freedom. By God’s Spirit, God makes his home with us, and we find our home in his love. Isn’t that wonderful?! But Jesus goes further, because this love cannot be kept to ourselves. Jesus has said that if we love him, we will obey his commands. So, what is his command? Well, it’s found in the previous chapter and part of the same conversation. Jesus said, ‘a new commandment I give you, love one another’ (John 13:34). And there we have found the true meaning of freedom: We are loved by God, and God lives with us by his Spirit, freeing us to know his love, and to share his love in the world. The freedom God gives may be personal, but it is not private, it does not come without love of neighbour. This week, then, I wonder, how can you share some love, joy and hope with someone? A phone call perhaps, or a card, a quick chat 2 metres apart?! I hope that we can all find creative ways to know God’s love and to share it in the days ahead. Because, as we do, we make a space, a home, for God to dwell. Amen.

Sunday 10th May (Nigel Hughes)

It seems a little at odds that on this, the Fifth Sunday after Easter, our Gospel reading takes us back to the Last Supper prior to Jesus’ death. Jesus had already washed his disciples’ feet, foretold of his betrayal by Judas, and of Peter’s imminent denial of him. Put yourself in their shoes for a short while and consider how you would have felt upon hearing that news. One blow after another and, to cap it all off, he has just told them that he will be leaving them shortly. No wonder they were feeling anxious and concerned.

Jesus responds sympathetically, calling them back to their relationship of trust and assurance. He is not abandoning them but is returning to his Father. A destination he assures them that will also be theirs as there are many rooms within his Father’s house and he would be preparing a place for them. How reassuring that must have sounded? Or did it?

Would we doubt? Would we have questions? Well, like Thomas and Philip, I am sure we would. When we experience difficulties or periods of duress, a little like we are now, then of course we seek and want answers that reassure us. Thomas looks for specific answers whilst Philip seeks to know more about the Father – to see him. Jesus’ response is surely one of exasperation and one that that should resonate with us when he says, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” To know Jesus is to know his Father. In these words, Jesus is making his most unambiguous claims about his own identity and asking them to trust him.

Trust is not always easy to give; it can be destroyed easily by careless words or actions. However, the words of Jesus are never careless, and his actions are always considered. He walks by our side everyday and we should take strength from knowing that, like the disciples, to be with and know Jesus is the most reassuring message that we could ever be given. Amen

Sunday 3rd May: Jesus as the Gate (Revd Ann Sargent)

In this metaphor, Jesus draws upon a practice shepherds in the middle east still do today. Using either a dry-stone walled pen or a cave, the shepherd leads their sheep into the pen with a narrow opening of rocks for passage. The pen offers shelter and security for the sheep. By sitting or lying in the narrow gap, the shepherd serves as the “gate” the only way in or out of pen.

In these days of uncertainty, it is reassuring to reflect that though separated by social distancing each of us is welcomed into the sheepfold and it is Christ himself who lays down to protect us in these painful and difficult days. He lays there, whatever we are facing, dwelling with us and inviting us to dwell within him through illness, fear, bereavement, loneliness, anxiety as well as in joy. He protects, nurtures, holds and heals setting the hope of our inheritance as children of God before our eyes and inviting us as his Easter People to rest with confidence and boldly live this eternal life that has already begun. You may like to open the door remembering Easter Eve when we carried the Light of The Risen Christ into the heart of our homes and reflect on how Jesus abides with you now right here in the place where you are.

O God, you search me and you know me. All my thoughts lie open to your gaze. When I walk or lie down, you are before me, Ever the maker and keeper of my days. (Bernadette Farrell from Psalm 139). https://youtu.be/mEGc3_D19Vo - this link will take you to a youtube link of the whole song.

It is as you are that Christ cares for you not as a tidied up version of yourself, limping or skipping into the sheepfold, his love is the same, not measured or rationed just poured out, an invitation into life in all its fullness that we claim together. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia 

Sunday 26th April (Revd Brian Brobyn)

The Emmaus Road: a road that reveals Jesus’ companionship, conversation, challenge to believe, and renewal of hope to all those who follow Him. Two of the disciples of Jesus, discouraged and frustrated, begin to travel to Emmaus, their home. As they walked, they talked of the events of the week, and then Jesus came along side of them. For whatever reasons their eyes were kept from recognizing this third person as Jesus, the Risen Lord. Perhaps they were so preoccupied with their own disappointments and problems. The important point is not that they did not recognize Jesus, but Jesus recognized them as His own. His coming to them and walking along side of them illustrates the truth that Jesus promises, "I am with you always." (Matthew 28:20) The road to Emmaus is a road of companionship that indicates Jesus’ desire to walk with each of us. It further illustrates that Jesus is with us even when we do not recognize Him! It is also significant that when the two disciples in Emmaus recognize the Lord, he vanishes from their sight. When they recognize him, they no longer see him. They must understand and live by the power of the presence of Jesus, not through physical eyes and tangible experiences, but through the eyes of faith, the proclamation of the gospel, and continued faithfulness to the mission of Jesus in the world. Jesus is the greatest empathic listener. He is able to listen to our hurts and discouragements with the ability to enter into our pain. These two had no idea they were talking to the One who had been crucified and raised. The One who would turn their pain and sorrow into joy. Do we? Do we know that Jesus desires to converse with us through the means of prayer? Like these two we can tell Him whatever is on our hearts and minds. He wants to listen and talk with us. Jesus challenges our belief. We cannot live without faith. Jesus told the two on the Emmaus road that they were foolish for not believing the prophets. Would He say that to us today? How slow are we to believe? We know the truth that He is risen, and one day will return to earth. Do we believe? Do we live like we believe? The Scriptures communicate the spiritual truths we need to know, and Jesus exhorts us to believe and to live out that belief. When arriving back in Jerusalem they found the eleven together and with great zeal in their renewed hope they said this … "THE LORD IS RISEN!" Let us, as the new disciples of Jesus, declare the same – THE LORD IS RISEN – HE IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA. AMEN 

Sunday 19th April (Revd Sarah Hobbs)

Fear and disbelief, we will all have experienced them and most probably the reasons are as numerous as the people who give them. In our present predicament we have the opportunity to appreciate just how the disciples are dealing with their particular situation. In misery and despair they feel confident they have locked themselves in against all their greatest fears. Having heard rumours from both Mary and Peter, and Mary having to admit she didn’t actually recognise Jesus at first; what were they to believe; was their fate now sealed and would the authorities be out to condemn them to the same fate as Jesus. Surely this is us too, we have shut ourselves in behind locked doors, in our case many of us sharing a fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus. We too have a fear for the unknown, a fear of experiencing the same devastating fate as so many others; we stick together either in our households or by ‘phone, we wait, uncertain of the outcome, seeking reassurance from the News broadcasts. I think we might have become used to the fact that no locked doors can hold Jesus out; but for the disciples it was essential proof as he showed them the marks of his crucifixion. He had managed to pushed his way into their deepest fears and dispel them with his words ‘peace be with you’ and he blessed them with the familiar words ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’; those same words we heard said over us when we came asking for confirmation; and he gave them a job to do. I am forever grateful to Thomas for speaking our words of doubt for us; we might well have questions to ask right now – why – why has so much misery and sadness and suffering been inflicted on so many. But maybe if we can remain in God’s presence we will come to realise just how much he too is suffering to see such pain and anxiety. During our time of lockdown there is clear evidence that Jesus’ love is forcing its way into all areas of society as we hear of new initiatives for support for one another in any way we can, this, I believe, is the work Jesus has given us to do in his name. Captain Tom Moore has certainly captured the imagination and generosity of many this week. 

Easter Day (Revd Joe Knight)

This is an unusual time. Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. And yet, as in times of great famine, war, and pandemics, our world today is dominated by death and the fear of death. News outlets provide us with daily updates on how many deaths have occurred due to COVID-19, and day after day, we come face to face with the fear and loss that so many are experiencing. In light of this, some may question whether it is appropriate to sing and celebrate Christ’s conquering of death, on a day when thousands will die. What does it mean for them? What does it mean for their families? And yet, far from being insensitive, seeing the world through the lens of Christ’s resurrection is the most apt and poignant way to respond to the grief and disruption we face. Two years ago, my uncle died on Easter Saturday. He was diagnosed on the Tuesday, we lived through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in the shock of his deteriorating condition. If there was a job to do, Phil always got on and did it, and he made no mistake when that came to his own death. On silent Saturday, sat in his favourite chair and in his favourite shirt, he fell silent, as did the room, and we quietly saw him go to be with Jesus. The following day, attending church and sharing bread and wine with friends and family, remembering Christ’s death for us, and celebrating Christ’s resurrection, it was difficult to sing ‘oh death where is your sting.’ Not because I struggled to believe it. Not because I felt no pain. But because the weight of those words was so palpable. I believe the whole congregation, which Phil was an elder of, had a deep experience of the love, life and gentle care of Christ that morning. Our friend had gone away. But because of Jesus, we had hope. The hope of Christ’s resurrection began to heal our wounds, even then, because we knew that death was not the end, death does not have the final word. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed right now. But this Easter day reminds us about the world we live in. We do not follow Christianity because we think it’s the best option among other religious choices. We do not follow Christ because we think he gives some wise teaching of how to live in a world that accidentally evolves, creating its own history of its own accord. No. The world belongs to God, who created it, loves it into being, and is Lord of its past, present and future. We live in a world that God so loves that he gave his own Son, so that all who believe – all who trust in his loving kindness and mercy – may not perish, but live; live in fellowship with him now and forever. On the first Easter morning, Mary thought she heard the gardener. And she was right. Creation was being made new. God the Gardener was tending it, nurturing it back to life. The weeds and pests were dealt with, the time of spring had come. And, despite all we may face, despite our sorrows or fears, this is our world. Salvation has come. There is hope. We can journey on in faith, in love, in the joy of the Lord. For Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Palm Sunday (Revd Brian Brobyn)

'Ride on, ride on in majesty; in lowly pomp ride on to die.' How very pertinent these words are. This was a time for extravagant gestures – a time when anything else would appear just mean and calculating. Jesus sent two disciples into the town to borrow a donkey. The scriptures read, 'Fear not, daughters of Zion, your king will come riding on an ass's colt.'

Jesus rode the donkey for the last two miles, from Bethany and Bethphage, via the Mount of Olives, into the holy city. They had no rich trappings to adorn the donkey so they used the best they had – the cloaks off their backs. Even though he travelled in a lowly form, riding on a donkey, it was infinitely better than his usual transport, on foot, but now, at least, he was mounted. His ride into Jerusalem was planned to highlight his lowliness – he was not afraid of the power and the malice of his enemies within the city – but he rode into the city on a donkey – not a fine horse as a king should have done – but a donkey; and a borrowed donkey at that. When you consider it, it was typical of the whole life of Jesus. He was born in a borrowed stable, he went out onto the sea of Galilee in a borrowed boat, he ate his Passover meal in a borrowed room and was buried in a borrowed sepulchre. But, when you think about it, for someone who was as humble as Jesus, with no possessions at all, borrowing would have been the only answer.

As Jesus rode on into Jerusalem, can you imagine his surprise when the streets were packed with crowds cheering and shouting ‘Hosanna’ ‘Son of God’ ‘Hosanna to the King of Israel that comes in the name of the Lord’ This was a greeting usually used by priests when pilgrims arrived for the feast. The crowd wanted to own him as a king – Messiah. They heartily wished him well, both with their cheering and with their ‘Hosannas'. Hosanna, of course, means ‘Let the king live for ever.’ The excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd was so great as they descended from the Mount of Olives, that the Pharisees were afraid that it might cause trouble with the Romans, so they asked Jesus to silence his followers. Jesus said to them that if they were to silence them, the very stones would cry out instead. Now, it is widely believed that the disciples did have something to do with agitating the crowd into a frenzy of excitement. But what a fickle crowd this was – one minute they were calling out that the king should live for ever, and not much later they were calling out, ‘Crucify him’.

As Jesus rode on, people threw down their coats before donkey. This must have been another extravagant gesture. Our Gospel tells us that they broke branches off trees and threw before him. John reports that they were carrying palm branches. This was, at the time, a symbol of victory, which probably gave rise to the term ‘triumphal entry’.

Can you imagine the feelings going through Jesus that day? He knew that he was to be insulted, humiliated, beaten and then crucified. What terrible turmoil he must have been in – after all he was human with all our human feelings and emotions.

This was supposed to be his ‘Triumphal Entry’, and some think that this turned out to be somewhat of a misnomer, but I don’t think that at all. It is, I agree, a battle and war situation, but at the end of the day Jesus did triumph. He triumphed over death. He triumphed over the grave. He won a victory for us, and wiped clean the slate for all mankind. Jesus showed us that the only way to God is through him. He threw wide open the gates of heaven for us all, and he stands on his cross with arms wide outstretched to welcome us into his kingdom. Jesus didn’t die in vain if each of us turns to him and throws open our arms and welcomes him into our hearts.

And we, in our humble human way should respond by giving him all our love, all our prayers, and when we get the chance of God’s grace and mercy, let us grasp it with both hands, let us learn from the mistakes of others, and, above all, let us greet him with our Hosannas. Hosanna – let the king live forever – and may we serve him every way we can, for as long as we live. Amen.

Sunday 29th March (Revd Joe Knight)

On Wednesday just gone, the church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, the moment when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Saviour of the world. It may seem strange, in the middle of lent, to remember a story that has a distinctly Christmas feel. And yet, perhaps, in our present circumstances there is no better time to be inspired by Mary’s magnificent ‘here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me just as you say’ (Luke 1:38).

The message of Easter is that the Son of God was given for the world, and our focus is drawn to the crescendo of this self-giving love, Christ’s death on the cross and his triumphant resurrection. But the annunciation invites us to reflect on the whole of Jesus’ human life. It reminds us that before God gave his life for us, he gave himself for us. God was willing to become small, vulnerable, helpless. The One who carries the universe was willing to be carried. The One who envelops all things, became enclosed in the darkness of a womb, isolated, alone, dependent.

‘This is how God shows his love for us,’ the apostle John wrote, ‘he sent his Son into the world so that we might live’ (1 John 4:9-10).

A week into church closures and tough restrictions on leaving our homes, I’ve found it inspiring this week to pray to a God who can identify with all our human experiences, our joys and our hardships. And, though I don’t plan on these ‘thoughts’ to focus on the coronavirus every week (you’ll be pleased to know!), we can be encouraged that God has come near us, he brings hope in the darkness, and friendship when we feel alone.

Out of that isolation and dependency of the womb, God birthed something truly awesome, a new creation, a new way to live, mercy and grace embodied in his Son. I wonder, in the midst of our isolation and dependency on others, what might God birth today and in the coming weeks? Can we say, as Mary said, ‘here I am’ to the new thing that God might do?

Sunday 22nd March (Revd Joe Knight): Mothering Sunday and the first Sunday with no church services.

 In Lent we reflect on the wilderness experiences in life. The wilderness, a friend reminded me this week, is the place where people in the Bible often went to meet with God. In the wilderness, in the quiet, in the space, God can be discovered in fresh and surprising ways; transformation often comes in midst of difficult and disorienting times and spaces.

Moses had a decision to make. He could go to the promised land and have his dreams come true, or, stay in the isolated wilderness. For Moses, the defining aspect of this choice was whether God was with him or not. He could stay in the wilderness with God, or, receive all of God’s promises, but be alone, without God.

What would you choose? Is God’s presence more important than God’s promises?

Moses chose God’s presence, and God stayed with him as he journeyed on.

My friend remarked, the coronavirus has propelled us into a wilderness experience, a wilderness not of our choosing, but what will we choose? How can we make the most of this time? In this wilderness, when many of us are separated, we can remember that God is with us; though we may be isolated, we are not alone; though it is difficult, we can face these times with hope in our hearts, because God dwells with us even in hard times.

The wilderness can be distressing and uncomfortable. So, I want to encourage us, as we begin a season of not meeting together for Sunday services, that we can remind each other of God’s closeness with prayer, phone calls and acts of kindness. And, please, if you are finding this particularly difficult, do ask for help if you need it. Yes, keep praying. But, please, keep talking - with neighbours, family and friends. Let’s all help one another to choose to make this time in the wilderness a time of flourishing, where ‘the desert and parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom.’ (Isaiah 35:1-2)