Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Last Sunday marked the end of one season in the Church calendar, a time Father John referred to in his sermon as "the interminable Trinity". This Sunday then marks the beginning, not just of a new liturgical season, but the start of a new year. As with every new year we look forward with hope and anticipation. "What will the new year bring?" we ask ourselves. We cannot know the answer to that question but we can prepare ourselves so as to be as ready as possible for whatever comes our way.
One thing of which we can be certain is that Christmas Day will fall on 25 December 2019 as it has every other year. Mother has already started preparing for the festivities of that day by making the Christmas puddings last week, whilst the retailers have been screaming at us, seemingly since last Christmas to buy, buy, buy the latest whatever it is that you never knew you couldn't live without. And now at massive discounts! Wow! What a not to be missed opportunity. Let's rush out to take advantage of their generosity!
But, let us rather take a step back, to quiet ourselves amidst the hurly-burly of our busy daily lives. Let us look beyond the meaningless,commercial hype, just for a few moments. You see, it is so easy to forget the real meaning of Christmas, marking as it does the birth of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, that precious gift freely given to each and every one of us, even though we have done nothing to earn it, or even deserve 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. Now that is a gift beyond price! A gift not discounted in any way, but freely offered to all. As Christians then may we use Advent as a time to prepare ourselves to receive it so that we may: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify you Father, which is in heaven, Matthew 5:16 KJV.
Sunday 24 November marks the Feast of Christ the King. As the Collect for the day begins with the words:"Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord..." the day has become known as 'Stir up Sunday' In earlier times it was traditional to consume what food was in store before the Fast of Advent. But in our house, as I suspect in many others, it was the time when Mother prepared the Christmas pudding, cakes and other goodies for the Festive season. In the kitchen she gathered together the rich spices, peel and currants she had squirreled away through the year. Out came he biggest mixing bowl and in went all those rich ingredients. There was always great excitement in the house as we children knew that in due time we would be allowed to stir the mixture, and perhaps, lick the spoon! With any luck there would not be too much mess in the kitchen but then we were only children. Once we had finished stirring Mother would shoo us out of the kitchen so that she could get on. Father would then come in to drop a silver three-penny piece into the mixture. It was a valuable coin since its silver content far exceeded its face value and so was the only one he had. On Christmas Day one lucky person would find that silver coin in his or her piece of pudding.
It all seems so long ago now. I don't suppose anyone makes a Christmas pudding nowadays. After all, a click of a button on the computer will have a fully prepared one delivered to your door with the rest of the groceries in an instant. Ah well, as the prophet once said: Your old men shall dream dreams. Joel 2:28. You must excuse me.
Yet those old memories have an important message for us today. Remember that once the rich pudding has been eaten the silver coin remains. Now, think about that for a moment. All the apparent riches, the high position in society, the trappings of wealth of which we are so proud will not last. Indeed, like the silver coin, the one valuable thing that will last, for all eternity, is Christ the King.
Today, 11 November 2019, marks the 100th Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice bringing the Great War to an end. There is now no one left who fought in that war and the numbers of those who served in the Second World War are fast declining. Soon those wars will vanish into history, rather like the Battle of Waterloo or the Norman Conquest of 1066. The names of those who fought and died are recorded on the War Memorials in towns and villages across the country and overseas, and their memory is precious to their families, of course, but the events themselves will largely be forgotten..
Let us not forget, however those whose names are not recorded anywhere. Those who served on the Home Front, and whose service and sacrifice is not so often remembered: the hospital staff, the fire and ambulance crews who worked and gave their lives when enemy bombing and the resulting fires put them in, perhaps as great danger as those who served on the front line. Let us not forget those unsung heroes who drove the trains transporting vital supplies and material across the country nor those working in the docks to unload the precious supplies from ships arriving from across the world, nor those who worked to repair those damaged ships under constant bombing.
I remember this year an air force man whose plane was shot down over enemy territory and so spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany. His ability to play the violin helped to cover the noise made by those digging a tunnel to escape captivity. The episode was made into a film called, I think, the Great Escape. You may have seen it. His wartime experiences did not leave him bitter for after the war ended he returned to teaching. He taught us German and Russian but he also organised and accompanied a number of Student Exchange visits with a school near Cologne in Germany. At the time of our visit the scars of war were still evident on the Cathedral and elsewhere in the city where a number of bridges across the Rhine had been destroyed, making life difficult for the general public.
One of the things we discovered from that exchange was that the German boys were just like us, with the same hopes and fears, and the same love of a good game of football! Equally amazing, given what had so recently passed and the disruption caused to their lives in consequence, was the warmth with which they and their parents welcomed us into their homes. All thoughts of war were forgotten, peace reigned, we were all friends.
Thanks for that lesson of peace and friendship, Tom. May you rest in peace.
Although Friday marked the Feast Day of All Saints we remember them each time we say the words: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
So what do we mean by communion of saints? Well, I understand that the word communion derives from a Greek word koinonia which implies connection, relationship, working together. But what does the word saints conjure up in your mind? Perhaps a load of very holy, otherworldly, beardy old men dressed in white sheets sitting on clouds in the sky somewhere, playing harps all day? Certainly you don't have to go far to find a church named after a long dead saint, or a stained glass window that does not depict the image of one (often with a long white beard).
On 13 October 2019 Cardinal John Henry Newman was canonized by the Pope so joining the ranks of the saints. St John Henry Newman was a remarkable man who in his college days at Oxford was an evangelical member of the Anglican church. In due time he moved from that position so that his work with other like-minded priests in arguing against the increased secularization of the Church of England in the mid to late nineteenth century and seeking to recall it to its heritage of apostolic order and to the catholic doctrines of the early church fathers had, and still has a profound effect on the future of the Church of England. On his later conversion to the Roman Catholic tradition he rose to the rank of Cardinal. He was certainly musical, but whether he played the harp or not, I do not know. In any case I have never seen a picture of him with a beard.
St Paul saw the phrase communion of saints rather differently to the above perception. In writing to the young churches at Corinth, Phillipi or Ephesus he often addresses them as saints, yet they were just like us, very ordinary people, not particularly holy at all, despite his best efforts! To him all who embraced Christ as their Saviour were saints. Now since at the Sacrament of our Baptism we were welcomed into the fellowship of the Church that must include each of us. We are all saints and thus all members of the communion of saints.
As part of that communion we are called to pray and to care for our neighbour in whatever way we can. To pray for those less fortunate than ourselves, those who are homeless, or in prison perhaps suffering persecution for their faith. To care for those in need, the sick and suffering amongst us, those who mourn the passing of a loved one and those who are lonely. And of course we are called to take a greater care of the planet on which we live than we have before.
So, my question is: For whom can I be a saint today? For whom will you be a saint?
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK