You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
In the last few days three of my friends have died. Not surprising really winter often seems to take its toll on the aged and infirm and yes, I am of an age where I know all the verses of “Abide with me” without looking at the hymn sheet simply through attending so many funerals.
One of them, Ron was a good old chap always ready with a laugh and a joke. He never complained. He was more concerned about how you were than to speak of his own problems. A friend of his would collect him so that he could attend our meetings which he enjoyed. Until recently took an active part in our affairs. He did become frustrated when his eyesight got so poor that he couldn’t read the words anymore, but he had a good memory so he said he was thankful that he could still follow what was going on. He had to go into hospital recently but getting to see him there was almost impossible as he had so many friends visiting him each evening. In fact, last Saturday the nurse had to ask him and his friends to keep the noise down as they were cracking jokes and singing old army songs! You see, now aged 95 he had served his country in World War 2. He went downhill in the following week and passed away peacefully with a number of his friends round the bedside. It seems that the prostate cancer had spread to his spine and it was the cancer behind his right eye that had affected his sight. He was a good friend to so many of us that he will be sorely missed but at least he is at peace now, with God where he wanted to be and no longer in pain.
Last week, too I was delighted to receive some good news. A friend has just put up a picture of his new born second grandchild on his blog. What a blessing that is!
And that I think is a way of looking at Lent: our travel through this world to our death to sin. But by the resurrection of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour we are reborn spotless in Christ.
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
It is traditional during Lent to give up something, usually something simple which will not make a lot of difference if, as so often happens, the temptation becomes too great within the next few days. Often we think we will give up taking sugar in our tea or coffee or maybe we will give up snacking on chocolate biscuits at break time this year.
Now I have no wish to urge you to give up your break time; everyone needs a few minutes rest from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. What I am suggesting is that we give up snacking on our chocolate biscuits but use the time taken to choose one and to munch on it, to a good and less fattening purpose. How long does it take to choose and savour a biscuit? Let us use that time to focus on God, to reflect in silence on what Lent really means to us. Perhaps we could use one of the 3 minute Lent retreats available on the laptop or mobile phone. Or perhaps we could blow the dust of our Bible and read a passage from it. All four Gospels cover the events leading from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the horrific yet inevitable end. Let us use the time to reflect and to pray. Whatever method we use the result will be the same; a closer relationship with God, which is exactly what He wants and we need, plus a slimmer waistline.
My car is not fitted with a satellite navigation system so that when we went on holiday last year we used the maps we already had. Unfortunately some of them were a little out of date and we got lost on several occasions. As a result, this Christmas my daughter and son in law bought me a sat nav so that I would not get lost in future.
We all feel on occasions that we are just rushing headlong through life without any sense of purpose. There is just too much to cram into the day – there really should be 25 hours – but they would get filled just the same. What we need to do is to pause for a moment, pull over into a lay by, to think about where we are going. What is our ultimate destination? Is it simply to the graveyard; “dust to dust”? Or is there something more? The words which follow in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer give us a clue “... in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ;” Whatever our destination is we need a map to show us the way.
Of course, we have such a map already sitting on our bookshelf. It may be getting a bit dusty if it has not been opened for a while, but it is still there for us to use, and use it we should! Nowadays, of course, the Bible is available as a download or as an App for our mobile phones; rather like a sat nav really.
But the Bible was written nearly 2000 years ago. Is it not out of date, like those maps we used for our holiday? The answer to that is a clear and unequivocal NO. Its message is just as relevant today as it was when it was first written. The Gospel of St John states quite clearly: ‘Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ John 14.6. Since we believe that through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour we will come to eternal life with God then the Bible is obviously the only map we need. And what is more the Bible comes with a guarantee: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. John 3:16. That sounds good to me! And remember this is not a one off offer available to the privileged few but is readily obtainable by anyone at any time. So let us dust down our Bible or download our copy now and read it; not just the quotes we know and love but the parts we don’t know quite so well. It is the only guide we will ever need to get through this life and beyond safely.
A nurse working in West Africa treating Ebola patients contracted the disease herself. On her return to the UK she was hospitalized, remaining critically ill for some time. Fortunately she recovered her full health, for which we must thank God.
When she was first diagnosed a TV reporter visited the hospital in Sierra Leone where she had worked. He spoke to a woman who had been cured of the disease under the nurse’s care and asked what message she had for her. The woman said “I will pray to God that He sends her the medicines to make her better.”
What a fantastic example of faith but also of compassion! And, of course, it was something more since by the wonders of television her prayer reached millions of viewers in the UK and no doubt prompted others to add their own prayer.
One might have expected the woman to be bitter; after all she was poor, living in an impoverished country. As she had probably lost members of her family to the disease, she might have said, “She will get better treatment in a white hospital than we do here.” But she did not. She showed compassion for the nurse; compassion and a trust that God would provide. I doubt she has any idea what drugs were needed or how the nurse would get them but she knew that if she asked God then He would provide them.
St Paul’s message to the Church at Corinth all those years ago finds echo here in that impoverished village: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 1 Corinthians 13:13. I pray that that message will resonate in all our hearts, today and forever.
There is a beautiful prayer on the Jesuit web site www.sacredspace.ie this morning which I commend to you. It reads:
Jesus, You always welcomed little children when you walked on this earth. Teach me to have a childlike trust in you. To live in the knowledge that You will never abandon me.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years