Fifty years ago it was considered to be quite improper for a woman who had given birth to be seen in public before she had been "Churched". It was almost as if the Old Testament idea that the act of bearing a child made a woman unclean still persisted. According to the Jewish law a mother was unclean for 40 days after the birth of a son and 80 days after the birth of a daughter. When that time was over she would come to the priest and offer a sacrifice of a lamb or two turtle doves or two young pigeons. So on the 40th day after Christmas the Church has observed the festival commonly called The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Christian faith, however, does not hold that the bearing of a child makes a woman unclean. In the new liturgy – Common Worship – the service of Churching has been replaced by The Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child. It can be used as a private or public celebration of the birth or adoption of a child and it meets the needs of parents who see it as a preliminary to Baptism or who do not ask for Baptism, but who recognize that something has happened for which they wish to give thanks to God.
On 2nd February or the Sunday near to it the Church commemorates the events recorded in St Luke 2.22-40 when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord and when Simeon greeted him as "a light to lighten the Gentiles". So the festival has two other names: "The Presentation of Christ in the Temple" and "Candlemas". In the past it has suffered from some confusion – sometimes regarded as a "purple" penitential rite and sometimes as a time of light and joy.
Modern liturgy has sought to rescue the feast from this confusion. It is now regarded as a festival of the Lord – his presentation in the temple – although his mother still has a significant place in the story. During the season of Epiphany we have celebrated the revelation of Christ’s glory in a variety of ways. Candlemas marks the end of that season; but more than that it has become a pivotal point in the Christian year – when we take a last look back to Christmas and the Incarnation and then turn to face in another direction - with Lent near we turn towards Christ’s passion, Holy Week and Easter.
In this benefice we shall keep Candlemas on 4th February. May we celebrate this festival with joy and then turn towards the keeping of a holy Lent.
Happy New Year!
Looking ahead, 2018 has two prominent dates, the 5th July and 11th November. On the 11th November which coincidentally is a Sunday it is not only Remembrance Day, but we will mark exactly 100 years since the end of the first world war. I have heard some say that following that major anniversary we should no longer mark the occasion; it is important to note that nowadays we don't just remember the fallen from the first world war, but those who have suffered in all conflicts no matter how recent. It is not celebrating or glorifying in war, far from it, it is a sign of hope. A time when politicians stand together, united and differences put to one side, a time when religious leaders of all faiths stand together. It is vital for our future vision of the world in which we live, for as George Santayana said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". Wouldn't it be wonderful to think that perhaps one day the world would celebrate 100 years of global peace?
It was on the 5th July 1948 That Nye Bevan launched the National Health Service at The Park Hospital Manchester (now Trafford General) and bought free healthcare into every home in the United Kingdom. Of course the NHS isn't free, its paid for through taxes and national insurance. And of course, some use it more than others, there are many people whose survival and quality of life would not have been possible without the NHS and the NHS can only survive if we pay for it, even though it may mean that many will pay more into it than they will ever get out. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus gave us a vision of a world of equality and justice, where everything will be levelled and put right. The NHS is a move towards that vision of equality, where those who can pay do, so that those who cannot, don't have to. I hear more and more often in the media that the NHS is under threat; it would be one of the greatest tragedies in modern times if it were to fail, so please do support it in any way you can.
With my prayers and best wishes, Ron
Williamson once invited some Liverpool gentry to dine with him in one of his excavated chambers. To the dismay of the guests, the chamber was bare rock, the only furnishings a trestle table and chairs, and the meal simple porridge and ship's biscuits. Some guests showed their disgust by leav-ing immediately and were seen out by a courteous footman. When it was obvious no other guest was going to leave a signal was given and for those who remained, a curtain was pulled back and a fur-ther chamber was revealed, richly decorated and containing a lavish banquet.
In Jesus day many people came out to see him and hear him preach. Many expected to find a great leader dressed as a prince and travelling in the finest style. Some were gravely disappointed and fell away returning to their homes believing this Jesus to have been another flash in the pan and without substance.
Those disciples could not have been blamed if they had decided to leave Jesus, as some of William-son's guests had done. In fact, it is fairly certain that many did. One can imagine them being quite excited at first, thinking that God's blessing meant that Jesus was going to give them gold and food. How disappointed some of them must have been when he didn't turn stones into bread - neither did he overthrow the Roman occupation and give everyone a tax rebate.
Many people live lives that are full of disappointment, for some it may be because they feel they have not made a difference. Many want to see tangible results from their faith, perhaps a church grown from nothing to a thriving multi faceted community. Or they think they should make many people turn to Christ simply by listening to the words they preach. Many feel the need of a sign that will affirm their discipleship and let them know God is pleased with them, that they are God's right arm on earth.
It is not surprising we are obsessed by celebrity today you only need to listen to the contestants of X factor to hear how for them celebrity is all and how life ends when they are rejected. Some at the great age of 16 are devastated at not making it. Something they may have wanted all their short life. However being a follower of Christ does not mean we will be celebrated or feted by kings and gover-nors. Our lives could be bleak and filled with anguish or even, God forbid ordinary. Jesus promises nothing for this life but he promises everything for the life to come.
We are told to keep the faith to believe and we shall be rewarded just as those guests of Joseph Williamson supper were rewarded. David
In the Celtic Christian tradition, we have a prayer for the start of each day which goes;
“Lord, help us to see you in all we meet today; Lord, help us to be you in all we meet today”. This can at times be challenging. The essential elements of both aspects, seeing God and being God, meet in one simple function and that is listening. God always listens though we can be forgiven for sometimes thinking that our words are not heard, so to be God to others, we must first listen. Similarly, if God is to speak to us through someone else, then similarly, firstly we must listen.
Simple? Not really, listening can take a great deal of effort and sacrifice. How often do you find yourself listening with your eyes, but you are planning what you are going to say next, and not really taking in what is being said? I often catch myself doing this. What is happening when we do this, is we are saying ‘I have no interest in what you are saying, but what I am planning on saying is much more interesting'. When Lynne and I trained as bereavement visitors, we were given a copy of this symbol:
It is the Japanese word for ‘listen'. As with many Japanese words it is made up of others; in this case, its constituent parts are: undivided attention, eyes, ears and heart. That is, we should give our undivided attention and use our eyes, our ears and our heart. Our tutor wrote underneath the symbol: there is no mouth. Simply, listening does not need a mouth. Another piece of Western philosophy goes: we have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth, and we should use them in that ratio.
Sometimes people say to me that they don't know how to deal with someone who is bereaved. The best thing to do is just listen. Listening is the most important aspect of our relationship with others; when you are listening, you are showing that you value the other person and taking an interest in them. Just as God does. With my prayers and best wishes, Ron
One of my favourite hymns is Dear Lord and Father of mankind. Strangely, it was written by a man who deplored singing in church. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92) was a Quaker who firmly believed that God was best worshipped in silent meditation. However, he allowed the verses to be used in a hymn book in 1884, to which none other than Hubert Parry's music was later set.
The verse which I think encapsulates Whittier's sentiment is the fifth one:
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace
This verse is most appropriate for modern living, where our lives are governed and dictated by the ever-moving, never sleeping world in which we live, even though it was written in the mid nineteenth century.
This always seems to come to the fore in the summer when holidays, gardens and the outdoor life place additional demands on us. As much as we should try to enjoy all that the better weather and holidays offer, think about trying to ensure that there is a regular moment where you are free from others, entertainment and demands, so that you can be still and at peace with God. This also can be a time for you to reflect on who you are and for a while at least stop being what others want you to be. This may lead to you experiencing what the last line of verse 5 is about - the beauty of God's peace. Jesus often took himself off from the disciples and his followers to be with God and many of those in ministry try to go on a quiet retreat as often as they can for the same reason. Have a happy, peaceful, restful and joyful Summer. With my prayers and best wishes,
On the 8th May, we celebrate the feast of Julian of Norwich. Julian was an anchoress, that is, someone who had withdrawn from the sinful world and lived in a cell; this action probably quarantined her from the plague and so saved her life. During her 74 years, she wrote a great deal, particularly about sin, a subject which has caused many great debates. One of the questions I am often asked is what is sin? A very good ques-tion, to which many have offered answers.
One of the less attractive traits of human beings is the way we load expectations on to people that are unrealistic and unfair. Then, when the expectations are not met, we criticise the others, not ourselves.
Jesus was well aware of what people wanted him to be and do. He knew he could not be the conquering liberator of their imagination because his path was to lead to defeat and death - something very hard for his followers to accept. St Luke tells us that even when Jesus hung on the cross ‘the leaders scoffed at him, saying “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”' (Luke 23:35-37.) These must have been bitter words for the Son of God to hear, when he knew that he could have summoned legions of angels to release him from the cross, but chose not to.
In that choice he in fact exceeded all expectation. Instead of liberating the nation he sacrificed himself so that every man, woman and child in the world could come back to God. That's how much he loved us.
Sometimes if we let our relatives, friends, the local school, the NHS or whoever it may be off the hook and not pile a weight of expectation upon them, they may in fact deliver in a way that we had never thought of. No-one on that first Good Friday believed that Jesus would rise again, although he had told them he would. On Easter Day he turned defeat into victory and silenced the mockery of his enemies by a far greater miracle than stepping down from the cross would have been. However, he still didn't do what we might have expected, namely to appear to the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers. Instead he appeared secretly to his friends, that not very wonderful bunch of disciples. Gradually the message that he was alive again spread and spread, so that now all round the world people can rejoice in God's great work in saving lost humanity. He has done far more than we could ask, or think, or deserve. It's a secret that we can all share in one of our churches this Holy Week and Easter as we proclaim ‘Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!'