Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
The last three years hadn’t worked out quite as the disciples had expected. John the Baptist had pointed out Jesus to Andrew who had brought his brother Simon to listen to what Jesus had to say. It was pretty powerful stuff so powerful that Andrew, Simon, James and John gave up their fishing business to follow this Rabbi. Indeed, when later Jesus asked Simon Peter who he was, Peter replied that: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Mat 16.16 His message was sound and the kingdom he proposed was exactly what was needed and just the opposite of the severe rule imposed by their Roman oppressors. Now since it threatened their positions within the Roman system his message upset the High priests and their cohorts. They realised that the Romans weren’t worried about how the Jews practised their religion, YHWH was just another god to them, but the idea of a Jewish Messiah or King Emperor would threaten them and bring down the retribution of the Empire. Hence their plan to get rid of Jesus.
The disciples had high hopes that things would change when Jesus assumed his rightful place as Messiah and thus ruler of Israel. His entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey that day seemed to be the time. But it hadn’t happened then; indeed he had been crucified as a common criminal. His resurrection and appearances to them in the days following gave them hope once more. When forty days after his resurrection he took them up the mountain called Olivet, they thought this must be the time for Jesus to take up his role as Messiah and restore Israel to its former glory. As Luke tells us: ‘Then they gathered round him and asked him “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”’ Jesus did not address their question directly but did say that, ‘“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” and with that he was taken up into heaven, never to be seen again. Acts 1:6-9. There seemed nothing more for the disciples to do so they returned to Jerusalem to the upstairs room where they were lodging.
You can imagine their confusion, their worries, their anxieties and their fears. For the last three years Jesus had always been with them but now they were on their own. Their days of fishing were behind them but what lay ahead? They had Jesus’ last word, his command to go out into all the world to proclaim his message ringing in their ears. What a daunting task that would be! Yes, they had been out on their own before but then Jesus had been awaiting them on their return. Now He would not be! Where was he when they needed him? He was gone now, they had seen him taken up into heaven. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would come on them but when would that happen and what use would that be? So many questions and Jesus not here to answer them!
I can imagine the Apostle James saying to the disciples assembled in that room: “Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit would come and he will. We just don’t know when at the moment but Jesus has never let us down yet, and I for one don’t believe He ever will. Let us stop panicking and pray as He taught us.” And that, Luke tells us, is exactly what they did. And, as promised, the Holy Spirit did come on the disciples at Pentecost, the Jewish Festival of Weeks that celebrates the bringing in of the Spring harvest. As a result with the support and guidance of the Holy Spirit, they were able to carry Jesus’ message to all nations of the world.
So, when everything seems to be getting on top of you; when you can’t see a way out of the troubles, the darkness and gloom surrounding you, remember how the disciples reacted, 'constantly devoting themselves to prayer' Acts 1:14, and follow their example. God is there and will walk with you wherever He calls you to go and however perilous the journey.
This week, when trouble comes knocking on your door: ‘Panic less and pray more’. May the Lord be with you this coming week in all you do and say.
On Saturday 8th May, we celebrated the Feast Day of St Julian of Norwich. Born about 1342 Julian may not have been her given name but it is the name she adopted from the church dedicated to St Julian in Norwich where she spent a great deal of her life as an anchorite in a cell attached to the church. She was the first woman to publish a book, Reflections of Divine Love, a book that is still in print to this day. And it is from this book that I want to take just one question she asked: ‘Would’st thou know the Lord’s meaning?’ And the answer she discovered was: ‘Know it well. Love was his meaning.’ For the rest of her life she proclaimed that message from her cell. That was her calling, her mission. When we think about mission we might remember Paul’s arduous missionary journeys through what is now Asia Minor setting up new Christian churches, or maybe the Jesuit missions to the Far East, Africa and the Americas, or perhaps more recently the work of the Church Missionary Society. All worthy missions bringing a great many people to Christ. Julian’s mission by comparison was on a smaller scale although her influence is still felt around the world nearly 800 years after her death.
Now, I understand that her cell had two windows, one looking onto the interior of the church so that she could follow the services and receive her spiritual sustenance in the form of Holy Communion, whilst the other looked out onto the street where people would come to ask for her prayers and where she could tell those passing by about God; where she could explain Love was His meaning in words they could understand
Just for a moment, put yourself in Julian’s place. Look out of the window onto the street, who do you see there? Is there just one person who needs your love and prayer today? It need not be a great undertaking, just a simple gesture may be sufficient. It may be a phone call to a friend you have not met up with for a while due to this Covid pandemic. It may be just sitting in silence, holding the hand of someone who tells you a story from their past, even though you’ve heard it a thousand times before. Simple things perhaps but remember Jesus’ parable about the mustard seed. It is the smallest seed but when fully grown the birds nest in its branches. Now look out of the second window opening onto the church; the window where Julian received Holy Communion, and realise that we too need that same spiritual sustenance, for alone we can do nothing but if God is with us nothing is impossible.
Let us end by praying together these words Julian of Norwich wrote all those years ago since they are just as relevant to us today:
Lord, let not our souls be busy inns that have no room for thee or thine, but quiet homes of prayer and praise, where thou mayest find fit company, where the needful cares of life are wisely ordered and put away, and wide sweet spaces kept for thee; where holy thoughts pass up and down and fervent longings watch and wait thy coming. (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love Penguin Classics p 169)
So this week I invite you to find out more about Julian of Norwich but in any case let us put into action the words of the Dismissal after Sung Eucharist: Go in peace to Love and serve the Lord.. Just as St Julian did before us.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK