I am writing at the turn of the year. Christmas has passed with all of its joys and sorrows and the dislocation it brings to our usual routines and practices. The academic year has resumed with student’s young and old returning to their studies and hopeful for what the New Year will bring. Patterns of working have also resumed for many, and the hope of work for others reaches out into the New Year. We may have made New Year resolutions and booked a holiday or a trip away, but as we do so there is a risk that we spend so much energy looking ahead that we fail to enjoy the present moment and all that it brings. There is a balance to be struck, between the hopes that we have for the future and the blessings that we enjoy in the present, like for example our health and the people around us that we count on. So by all means plan for the future, but at the same time give thanks for today.
Our pattern of publication means that this edition of St Paul’s magazine spans the period from February to April 2020. To help us anticipate what is to come I have selected verses from three hymns, that draw out some of the key themes we will encounter as we travel through the next few months.
Writing in January it is hard not to be struck by the impact and impressions of winter. That season of bleakness, darkness, resting and waiting that is a vital step to be taken as preparation for spring. The explosion of energy and growth, the emergence of colour, Snowdrop white and Daffodil yellow is the fruit of winter without which none of it could take place. The opening lines of Christina Rossetti’s poem set the scene for us, “in the bleak mid-winter frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone, but it is the final verse addressing the incarnation that is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem that I find so moving. The invitation extended to everyone by these words, to respond to God’s extraordinary act of love, by giving our hearts and our lives in love and in service to God and one another.
“What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man
I would do my part,
yet what I can I give him:
give my heart.” (Christina Georgina Rossetti 1830-1894)
In March we encounter Lent and the build up to Easter. Lent that season in the church calendar where we are encouraged to go deeper in our faith, to explore our understanding and practice of our faith and to engage in moments of self-examination. If you are a car driver then this is a bit like a vehicle MOT, when the road worthiness of a car is checked and repairs and remedial action are taken, in order to ensure our safety and the safety of others. Lent is a time for a spiritual MOT, which unlike a car has nothing to do with worthiness, but is about our distance from and the warmth of our relationship with God. We are not worthy of God’s love, neither can we earn God’s love and so during Lent we marvel that despite this we are loved, much loved.
“My song is love unknown,
my Saviour’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake,
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?” (Samuel Crossman 1624-1684)
In April we celebrate Easter. We begin with the drama and trauma of the passion story that culminates in the death of Jesus on Good Friday. A classic miscarriage of justice, where and innocent, is punished for the guilty. Only in this case the innocent, voluntarily surrenders his life, in order that others may live, for eternity. The journey from abject despair and loss on Good Friday to the elation and joy of Easter Day mirrors in many ways the ebb and flow of life. This connection, is what conveys hope, for the God we worship empathises and understands our human condition, because in the earthly life, death and resurrection of his Son, God has experienced it too. And so we have a new role model and a fresh instruction as a song says “to love one another, as I have loved you”. This love, not restricted to those we know or like, but extended to friend and stranger and especially to those on the margins of society who feel most acutely life’s rough edges.
A new commandment I give unto you:
that you love one another as I have loved you,
that you love one another as I have loved you.
By this shall all know
that you are my disciples
if you have love one for another. (Kevin Mayhew 1984, 1999)
With prayers and every blessing for the journey,
Revd. Mike Sermon