Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
November, the month of remembrance, some say the month of gratitude, which is understandable for we remember with gratitude the lives and actions, the examples set by those who have gone before us, is passed. Now we enter the period of anticipation, of expectation for Advent is a time when we look forward to celebrating the birth of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour; a new life, a new beginning.
Right on cue the holly bush on the back fence has produced her blood red berries which will sustain the birds throughout the harsh winter to come whilst her sharp thorns will deter those seeking to steal her fruit. (It is only the female holly bush which bears berries). As proof of the abundance of God’s glory there is enough holly left for us to make wreaths to hang on the door at Christmas. Do be careful not to scratch yourself on the thorns, though.
So the holly bush provides us with the message for this week.
As her berries provide food for the birds during winter so the body of Christ will sustain us through the long winter of our life on this earth for as Jesus said:
And Jesus said unto them, ‘I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst’. John 6:35 KJV
Likewise, the holly’s thorns will draw blood – red, the same colour as the berries. And in that blood we find an echo in the story of the Last Supper when Jesus said:
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it;
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’ Matthew 26: 27-28 KJV
Further, they remind us of the crown of thorns placed on Our Saviour’s head at his Crucifixion. But why, at this time do I talk of the events of the latter days of Jesus’ life on earth? Are we not awaiting the Birth of Christ rather than His Death? Of course we are but since the one inevitably leads to the other so by His death we are washed clean of our sins and by His resurrection we are enabled to take our place in the Eternal Kingdom. Neither His death nor His resurrection would have been possible without His birth. It is that resurrection, our resurrection, that we anticipate at Advent
Over the weekend we had the first frosts of autumn; a sure sign that winter is on its way. The garden is now starting on its winter slumber. Even Rosa 'Madame A. Meilland’, whom I mentioned back in May, though still flowering will soon put away her bright golden dress for another year. The winter jasmine, however, burst into bloom earlier in the week. It will be with us to brighten up the garden for a while yet. In the main though, the garden will remain in a state of dormancy until spring arrives once more. But there is hope for the future as the early bulbs have already been planted and the garden brochures will soon drop through the letter box offering the latest exciting new plants or shrubs. (Is there room for just one more rose bush?)
The flowers and shrubs have put on a good show this year and it would be tempting to say, I too have done my bit this year. I have given to charity, I have visited a sick neighbour and attended the funeral of an old friend, now is the time for me to have a rest. But that cannot be for we need to keep our focus on what is really important; waiting for the second coming of Christ.
In amongst all the distractions that life throws at us – and at this time of year there are plenty of those - we need to be prepared TODAY for as St Paul said:
"Brothers and sisters ... the moment is here for you to stop sleeping and wake up, because by now our salvation is nearer than when we first began to believe. The night is nearly over, daylight is on the way; so let us throw off everything that belongs to the darkness and equip ourselves for the light" (Romans 13:11-12).
On Saturday morning the world woke up to the horrific news of the killing and maiming of so many young people in a series of terrorist attacks round the city of Paris on the previous night. Yet the whole affair could have been so much worse if one of the terrorists had managed to gain entry into the football stadium where the French President was enjoying the match between France and Germany.
Such a waste of life and for what? The reasons for the attacks are unclear but the intention and indeed the effect is to stir up unnecessary fear and hatred amongst peoples of different races and creeds. But God will judge their actions as He will judge us all. Evil will not ultimately triumph as we read in the Book of Revelations which tells of the battle between St Michael and his army and Satan and the forces of evil.
In the darkness of that Parisian night there is light – hope - for as Jesus says:
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12 NIV
In the streets of Paris crowds gathered to offer prayers and light candles in memory of those who lost their lives: the churches across the city were filled. Their outpouring of grief, support and prayer was echoed across the world.
Yet now is not the time for the fear and hatred those evil men are trying to foster. Now is the time for us all to pray together for peace. Perhaps I may quote from a Reading from an Angelus Homily of Pope Francis:
Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice
to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world...
from the one great family which is humanity.
It is the cry for peace!
It is a cry which declares with force:
We want a peaceful world; we want to be men and women of peace ...
and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict,
that peace break out!
Amen to that!
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of 1918 an armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiègne, France for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. The “war to end all wars” was over. Well not quite, for hostilities continued across the former Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire. Each year that armistice is commemorated with a two minute silence as part of a service of remembrance on 11 November, or the Sunday before, in churches and at War memorials up and down the country as well as overseas. We must be clear that the church parades to the War memorials, or the poppies we wear, are not a celebration of war but a mark of respect, a time to remember and to honour those who have died in war. Sunday’s Reading from Mark 12:42-44 recounting the story of the widow’s mite is appropriate to Remembrance Day given that she who had so little gave all she had for others.
In the present troubled world this is also an appropriate time to offer a prayer for peace.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah 2:4 NIV
I pray that that day will come very soon!
All Saints’ Day, Sunday November 1 2015 is a chance for people to remember the saints and martyrs who dedicated or sacrificed their lives to Christianity, but November is also traditionally a time for remembering our departed friends and relatives. We will all have friends and relatives whose passing we mourn and whom we remember particularly at this time. Here is just one such memory. This year at St. Therese of Lisieux R.C. Church a different voice recited those immortal words of Laurence Binyon: “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.” For as I mentioned earlier dear old Ron who had always spoken them at that service in the past had been called to meet his Maker.
But perhaps the most important remembrance is that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour made the ultimate sacrifice for us and our salvation. Let us remember this sacrifice not only in November, but each and every day and give thanks to Almighty God.
At 1.30 pm on a late October day the organ in St Andrew’s Church swelled to its full volume. The nervous young bride clung tightly to her father’s arm as she started the long walk down the aisle where an equally terrified young man stood waiting for her. Once they drew level her father stood aside, his duty done he had delivered her to her intended husband. She lifted her veil and the young man was certain that all would be well. The ceremony proceeded, they made their vows, “for richer, for poorer” “in sickness and in health”, “til death us do part”.
There have been periods when money has been tight and times when sickness has cast her long shadow over our lives and of course there have been ups and downs as I suppose happens in every marriage. But there have been more good times than bad for which I thank God.
Last week we celebrated 54 years of marriage and I know that my love for this amazing companion whom God has given me to accompany me on this journey through life has grown deeper as time goes on. For this blessing I thank God each and every day. Why she puts up with me I will never know; I am not perfect – far from it – but she does.
Whilst on a human level our love for one another is wonderful, I ask you to think on this: God loves and accepts each of us broken, sinful, far from perfect human beings just as we are. How or why He should wish to do so is not for us to comprehend but we need to believe in God’s forgiving mercy for us and to accept it.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16(KJV)
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK