Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We have reached that period in Church life that is often called “The Season of the Saints.” It stretches from All Saints Day, through All Souls Day, Remembrance Sunday and out to the final Sunday of the Church’s year, the Feast of Christ the King. Given all that we have been through this year, this period is a gift as it invites us to reflect on how our pilgrimage is going.
There has been lots written about how COVID has affected life, how the High Street is struggling, the Arts, with live events, are barely staying afloat, how patterns of working from home part-time or full time may be a legacy of the pandemic and how churches have struggled, evolved and risen to the changes or sadly been overwhelmed by anxiety and health problems. The stories we have heard and that have lifted our spirits have been around the inspirational acts of individuals, raising money, caring for their neighbours, supporting the isolated. The Season of the Saints gently prods each of us and asks how we have played our part in knitting together a society. It might have been a regular phone call, changing your charitable subscription or commitment to fostering a life of regular intercession. Saints come in all shapes and sizes and do all sorts of different ministries.
That said, the historic saints of the church, those whose images the sun shines through in our church, those whose special days pepper the Church’s Kalendar, are there for a reason. They witness to the power of the tradition, shaped over time, to sustain and inspire women and men so that they stepped out into the world as people of transformation, bearers of hope and bringers of peace.
There is something often very seductive about the latest new toy, new technical widget, new method. As Christmas creeps closer, part of the sale pitch that will be thrown at us is that life will be easier, more exciting, infinitely more pleasurable if we have something shiny and new. And to be fair, sometimes there are advances which do what they say on the box. Often, however, we have simply been lured into a false world.
Jeremiah the prophet, often thought to be quite a miserable man because lots of his contribution appears hugely negative, offers us, in 21<sup>st</sup> Century, a bit of wisdom worth chewing on. He wrote this;
Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6.16)
He was writing to a people struggling to make sense of the world, facing huge and potentially life-threatening and certainly freedom threatening opponents. He saw them rootling around for a way out. He saw them reaching for easy answers. He saw them looking for a new solution. And he says to them something like this; ‘Don’t ditch what you already have. The “Ancient Paths,” the faith tradition, has wisdom, depth and stability. It has carried people safely through life struggles in the past. What you need to do, however, is stop skimming across the surface of the tradition. To survive this, you need to do a deep dive. You need to live this tradition not just by way of lip service but by embracing the faith passionately.”
This Season calls us to live like the saints who themselves walked the Ancient Paths, who look at us and pray for us as we worship in Bury Parish. To do that, we need to (re)acquaint ourselves with the tradition, familiarise ourselves with a discipline of public worship and private prayer, bible reading and service to others. For some of us, the Ancient Paths are already familiar, and they walk as confident pilgrims. For others, this is a tricky conversation and knowing where to start is the question.
If you are already familiar with the Ancient Paths, your task is, like the saints of an earlier age, to be a witness to Jesus in this generation. And when you lose your way (as you will), without embarrassment go back to familiar territory, familiar prayers and hymns and practices, and let them build you up.
If you are not sure where you stand, here is a suggestion. Choose a saint. It might be the one that we remember on your birthday or on one date that is significant for you. Or find someone whose story inspires you. The internet has this sort of information. And then dive deep. Discover what made them them. Drink from the same cup they did. Seek the same Lord whose love they knew. St Paul calls the Christians in Rome “saints.” It simply means “holy people.” Each of us how are baptised is called to be saints.
With love and prayers,