This is the first time in my ordained life that an Annual Meeting has taken place on the Feast of Pentecost. The main reason for this novelty is that the rules of the Church of England have changed. Previously the Annual Meetings needed to happen before the end of April. That was always a rather difficult thing to accomplish in view of the fact that Easter more often than not falls within the month of April. It is a mercy, then, that the legislation now gives us an extra month.
One of the many things that Christians have argued about during the pandemic is whether consecrated buildings are necessary to the practice of their faith. For some, the experience of online worship has demonstrated that we can encounter God in our living rooms while still wearing our pyjamas. I understand the sense of liberation that comes from that! Others have, by contrast, been devastated by not being able to gather in church, finding that the separation from a community of fellow worshippers in a space ‘where prayer has been valid’ (as T.S. Eliot) put it, makes everything much more difficult.
I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience of something very close to you suddenly featuring on the national news? For most of us, most of the time, the news is about other people in other places. And that’s a blessing, I think, when you consider that the news tends to focus on disaster, scandal and controversy.
When I began work in the Lord Chancellor’s Department (as it was then) many years ago, a senior colleague told me I had bagged a good posting as my first job. In outlining its many blessings, he added a phrase that struck me as much less than encouraging; ‘unreasonable expectations’.
Top of the list of notices in this week’s sheet is one drawing your attention to the forthcoming Annual Meetings. These meetings are a legal requirement for all Church of England parishes and they take place for two main reasons: to elect the officers of the parish and to receive the annual report.
The Easter season continues to invite us and to challenge us to reflect on what the resurrection of Jesus means for us. In some senses, this is the central question of our Christian faith. The belief that Jesus rose again stands at the heart of our Creeds; as Saint Paul says, if Christ is not risen our faith is in vain. But Saint James reminds us that faith, real faith, marries thought and word and deed. Faith involves the whole person and impacts the whole of life.
‘May he rest in peace and rise in glory’ is a prayer we often say for those who have died. We pray it now for HRH the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh whose death was announced yesterday (9th April).
This prayer summarises the Christian hope – that death is neither to be feared nor viewed as final. Christ’s resurrection, which we celebrate in particular at this time of year, has won a great victory, opening the way to eternal life for those who accept God’s gracious invitation to share it.
What does that involve? For each individual it may be slightly different. For Saint Thomas, whose story we remember this weekend with Christians all over the world, it was a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ. For others, it may be a very private matter. We are not each other’s judges in these things.
When we pray ‘May he rest in peace and rise in glory’ we express our own trust in God’s mercy and kindness and the truth of God’s promises made to the world in Jesus Christ. We trust God with the eternal destiny of those whom we have lost, whom we grieve.
May they all rest in peace, and rise in glory, and may God bless you all,
I heard a story some time ago about Soviet-era Russia. A large rally had been arranged for Easter Sunday. A senior member of the Communist Party to speak to a large crowd about the need to leave religious superstitions and outdated myths behind and embrace a modern, atheist view of the world. He spoke for nearly an hour to a silent crowd. At the end, a voice from the crowd called out ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’ and thousands responded, ‘He is risen indeed, Alleluia!’
‘I thought you were my friend!’
The discovery that someone you trusted has turned against you is a horrible feeling. Most of us will have experienced it at some stage in our lives. Many of us will have been through it on a larger scale, too, when a group of people whom we thought were ‘on our side’ takes against us and we find ourselves isolated.
If you’re one of those people who likes words, this Sunday may be of particular interest to you. ‘Passion Sunday’ is the nickname of the fifth Sunday in Lent because it is the day on which Passiontide begins. But what is meant by ‘passion’?