Sleaford Parish Church
|Posted on June 3, 2021 at 4:10 AM||comments (2068)|
Ordinary Time! The Sundays after Trinity that lead us from Pentecost to Advent – almost half of the church year. I love the phrase ‘ordinary time’, it carries with it a sense of relief – relaxation – after all the festivals. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘ordinary’ as having no distinctive features, normal, not interesting or exceptional. In ecclesiastical usage ‘ordinary’ is the normal state from which we can either dip below in the penitential season (advent & lent) or rise above in the festal seasons (Christmas, epiphany & easter). So, having been through the rollercoaster of the seasons from advent to Pentecost we finally return to normality – no more ups and downs for another six months!
After a year of pandemic there have been many questions about what ‘normal’ means. There is much talk of a ‘new normality’. What seemed strange to us 15 months ago now (wearing facemasks, for example) now seems ordinary. We talk of things returning to normal after the pandemic is over and restrictions are lifted but some things will have changed for ever. We have learned news ways of living and working. Some of what we have learned we will not want to discard for we have discovered the benefits of doing things differently. There are other things which we long to restore because our lives feel diminished without them.
In order think about the new normality post-pandemic it might be worthwhile reflecting a little bit more on ecclesiastical ordinary time. I have included in this edition one of the collects for Trinity Sunday together with the Old Testament reading for that day which marks the beginning of ordinary time. The prophet Isaiah reminds us on Trinity Sunday that the whole earth is full of the glory of God, and we are encouraged to join with the whole host of heaven in singing Holy, Holy, Holy! Our prayer is that through this ‘ordinary time’ we are drawn more deeply into the mystery of God’s love. But as we are drawn more deeply into that mystery become aware of our own unworthiness and so we enter once again into the penitential season of advent and the whole cycle begins again. Because of this learning cycle every ordinary time is different. Year by year we continue to grow in our knowledge and love of God… more aware of the glory of God that fills the whole earth.
As we enter this second ‘ordinary time’ in pandemic lockdown let us not lose sight of the glory of God that fill the earth and surrounds us with his love all our days.
|Posted on May 6, 2021 at 4:50 AM||comments (21)|
The month of May is framed by bank-holidays – May day and Whitsun (the old name for Pentecost). The actual bank-holidays may have become a little disconnected with the historic celebrations in terms of both the dates and traditional customs, secular and religious. This year, dancing around a maypole will be impossible even in those villages that do still have a maypole. With our traditional celebrations of May Day and Whitsun the feast of the Ascension can get a little lost. It is always celebrated on a Thursday so not an ideal day for a bank-holiday, that is unless you live, for example, in France, where it is a public holiday. In France it is not uncommon to take the Friday off also, making for a long weekend. The consequence of this is that Ascension has a much higher profile in France than in Britain.
Ascension Day is important – it is one of the most significant days in the Christian year. It marks the fact that Jesus’ work on earth is completed. He returns to the throne of heaven and the disciples – the church – awaits the gift of the Holy Spirit that will mark the beginning of our work. But that earthly work of Christ framed by a common theme (much as the month of May is framed by bank-holidays). Jesus’ earthly ministry begins with John the Baptist preaching about sin and offering baptism as a sign of repentance… his ministry on earth ends by telling the church that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations’. Then after blessing the disciples he ascends to heaven. John prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus did his work of atonement, and we have received the task of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness throughout the world.
So, what does that mean? It can be so easy to say sorry without meaning it, or to focus on institutional or structural sin and neglect the personal aspect. The word ‘sin’ means to miss the mark, to fall short in following the way of the cross. If we are to proclaim repentance it must begin with us, seeking daily to follow Christ more closely and walking the way of the cross.
|Posted on March 31, 2021 at 4:55 AM||comments (8)|
The past twelve months may have felt like the longest Lent ever. If we think of Lent in terms of giving something up, then how do we begin to enumerate everything that has been given up over the past year? With the festival of Easter we are beginning to see (once again) a lessening of the restrictions placed on our lives by the pandemic. Yet we know that the national, not to mention global situation, is still fragile. Many of us have now received the first dose of a vaccine and hopes of a return to normality are beginning to grow, but we are aware of new variants emerging and fresh outbreaks in some European countries. Last year I celebrated the Easter Eucharist in my domestic chapel (also known as the corner of the sitting room!) and a pheasant wandering through the garden stole the show. More people commented on the pheasant than on anything else in the service. This year we will be in church: socially distanced bell-ringers will be ringing some of our bells to herald the feast; the choir will be able to sing for the first time since Christmas. One of the joys of Easter is being able to sing the Gloria again, as it is never sung (or said) in Lent…congregational singing might still not be permitted but there is some greater freedom in what we can do.
At the heart of the Easter message is the idea of new life and new hope rising for the depths of pain, sorrow, and suffering. But that new life was not the same as it had been. A transformation has taken place. Although Jesus appeared to the disciples on a few occasions before his ascension their life was radically different. When I teach curates about funeral ministry and bereavement, I always say that the cliché ‘You’ll get over it’ is fundamentally flawed. We don’t get over a loss or bereavement, we come to terms with it, we learn to live with it. We might well have a rich and fulfilling life after a loss or bereavement, but we do so because of this transformation that takes place – new life and hope rising from the depths of pain and sorrow. There has been much that has been lost over the past twelve months. For many it has been painful and difficult. Life cannot, and will not, be the same – a transformation has occurred. The psalm for Easter Day reminds to ‘give thanks to the Lord for he is good’… that God made this day for us to be glad in. It is a psalm that refocuses our attention on to all that God has done for us. We might read it as encouraging us to think about the positive things in our lives rather than the negative, and that is a good way to read it. But I would want to go a bit further… when we are laid low with grief and sorrow… feeling isolated, lonely, unloved… we can take comfort from the knowledge that God loves us so much that he gave us his son, who endured the pain of crucifixion that we might have hope in the power of his transforming love through the joy of the resurrection. This is what he has done for us and this is why we give thanks and rejoice. Fr Philip
|Posted on March 17, 2021 at 5:10 AM||comments (2)|
Palm Sunday is normally a day of drama: the service would begin outside the church, in the marketplace. With palm crosses lifted high we would go in procession around the church – singing! Often we would have a dramatized reading of the whole passion narrative. These dramatic touches set the scene for the drama of Holy Week. Holy Week is dramatic, from the stations of the cross, through foot-washing and the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, to kneeling at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. We participate in this drama as we walk with Christ to Calvary. But that journey begins on Palm Sunday: we are invited to be part of the crowd, we wave our palm leaves, we shout Hosanna! But our palm leaves have not simply been torn from an obliging tree – it has been shaped into the form of a cross. We know where this journey is going, and our palm leaves point to the cross. The people of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, did not anticipate the crucifixion when they shouted Hosanna. We may wonder how the same voices that shouted ‘Hosanna!’ could, within the space of one week, turn against Jesus and shout ‘crucify him!’ We are invited to participate in this drama and become those voices, because we are those same voices. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday - a cross of ash is marked on our foreheads in the same place that we were marked with the sign of the cross at our baptism. We are reminded that even though we have been welcomed into Christ’s family at our baptism, our readiness to live for self has marred god’s image in us. The consequences of this are worked out through Holy Week. The people welcomed the Messiah only to reject him when he didn’t do what they wanted. We can welcome the Messiah only to reject him when it doesn’t suit their desires. We physically walk this journey of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Good Friday as participants in the drama to remind ourselves that we are part of that crowd, whose shouts went from ‘Hosanna!’ to ‘Crucify him!’, for it is to that same crowd that Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’
This year we may not be able to act out the drama in the way we usually do but we will still be participating – in church and online – in this great drama of our salvation.
|Posted on March 4, 2021 at 3:45 AM||comments (5)|
Vicar's Message- 5th March 2021
Last year I recorded the Mothering Sunday service in the Lady Chapel. It was the first service I recorded for YouTube and the only Sunday service to be
recorded in the church (without congregation) before the Archbishops ordered the churches to be closed. By the time we get to Mothering Sunday this year 135 services will have been recorded (and are all still available to watch on YouTube). As Mothering Sunday marks the first anniversary of the pandemic restrictions it seemed appropriate to use some of the texts and prayers for that day in this Coronacle. There are many different ways of approaching Mothering Sunday, but this year I have been thinking of the motherhood of God. We may more commonly refer to God as father but, as the text from Isaiah and the
eucharist prayer attest, God is also our mother. Perhaps we focus more on God as father because that is what Jesus called God – abba, father. But to do so at the expense of ignoring the more feminine terms is something of an oversight. In Isaiah and the psalms the mothering aspects of God are spoken of in terms of care and compassion – the psalms speak of God as a mother hen gathering her chicks under the security of her wings. The alternative collect for
Mothering Sunday refers to God as ‘careful’, not in the sense of reticent or not taking risks but of watching over, paying attention – being full of care.
Over the past year, as a nation, we have learned much about ourselves. Many have reported an increase in neighbourliness – looking out for those (especially the elderly and vulnerably) who live near us. One newspaper
commented that the fundraising walker Capt. Tom reminded us of values that we had almost lost.
The Mothering Sunday collect reminds us that God holds us in the palms of his hands all the days of our lives. Even through the darkest days of the pandemic God has held us in his hands. Throughout the pandemic people have shown motherly care for those in isolation… collecting and delivering shopping and many other essential acts of neighbourliness. In these actions we are not only held in God’s hands but hold others also. We live out in our lives the
motherhood of God in all the acts of compassion, kindness, care, and
neighbourliness. I hope that this is something that will not be lost when the pandemic wanes.
|Posted on February 3, 2021 at 4:10 AM||comments (1)|
I can’t believe it is nearly Ash Wednesday! Lent is almost upon us. Our first YouTube service of lockdown was for Mothering Sunday – the mid-point of Lent. Ninety-five services have subsequently been filmed and made available on YouTube. Some of those services have been recorded in front of a live congregation, others in an empty church or the vicarage sitting room. The course of this pandemic has taken us through the full cycle of the Christian year. And so, we come to Ash Wednesday. The words of the prophet Joel (one of the set readings for Ash Wednesday) seems very apposite – a day of darkness and gloom! We might replace the word ‘day’ with ‘year’. I did not expect when we first started recording services that, a year later, we would still be in lockdown but I did expect the virus to mutate and create new variants. I was a clinical microbiologist before ordination and worked with Coronavirus in the past – its ability to mutate and create new variants was not unknown! At the time of writing there has been no news about when this lockdown will end, but I suspect that even when the restrictions are eased the reality will be little more than that – an easing.
I am glad that vaccines are being rolled out across the country and that the most vulnerable are getting vaccinated, but this is little more than the beginning of the end of the pandemic. The passage from Joel might cause some to think that events like the pandemic are a punishment from God but that is a misreading of the prophet. Joel speaks of the day of the Lord as a day of judgement for our sinfulness and disobedience. He uses metaphors of ‘this-world’ catastrophes (darkness, earthquake etc) to help the people understand the awfulness of God’s judgement. His message is primarily to encourage the people to turn back to God. Perhaps it is only when we are in the midst of a fearful pandemic that can we appreciate how far, as individuals and as a nation, we have turned away from God. The call of Lent encourages to turn again to God and walk in his ways, for it is in hm only that our hope and salvation are founded.
|Posted on January 20, 2021 at 5:05 AM||comments (0)|
Lockdown 3.0 – who would have guessed that we would be in lockdown again! For all the talk of recapturing the spirit of March once again, this lockdown is very different. In Lockdown 1.0 there was a sense that if we do what we are told the pandemic will soon be over. The streets were empty, wildlife recolonised urban spaces, people stood at their front door and clapped for the NHS. After the respite of the summer November brought Lockdown 2.0 – a time-limited lockdown that many accepted because they hoped to enjoy the freedom that Christmas promised. Last minute changes to what we could do at Christmas, I suspect, have gone some way to setting the scene for this latest iteration of the Lockdown. With every lockdown the rules and guidance have been different which perhaps leads to a sense of confusion – is anyone really sure what the rules are? A simple message like ‘stay at home’ now has so many exceptions that it is almost meaningless. We are told that schools are closed but what does that mean when children of key workers go in to school every day (and for some schools that means a lot of children), teachers are still working either from school or from home and children are learning.
Since Lockdown 2.0 a vaccine has been trialled successfully and the vaccination programme has begun. This gives hope (especially to those who are prioritised) but reports of new variants emerging can equally raise doubts. This lockdown is not time-limited – will it end in February? March? April? There are many uncertainties that counterbalance the good news of a suitable vaccine.
This is our context for the season of Epiphany (the revelation of Christ to the nations that come to an end at Candlemas. When Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple (when he is 40 days old), to perform the rites of purification and give thanks to God, they are met by Simeon. He speaks to them of Jesus being a sign – someone who points the way – but this sign will be opposed. He also speaks of the personal cost that Mary will feel as a result of this opposition.
We live in unsettled times. We, perhaps, look for a sign – ‘when will all this end?’ We feel something of the pain of isolation, separation, fear. We worry about the future for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren. We hope the vaccine will bring about a return to ‘normality’ but we have some doubts. The message of epiphany reminds us that in the midst of the most troubled and unsettling times Christ is with us, a sign pointing to the goodness of God and in whom our hope is well-founded.
|Posted on December 15, 2020 at 3:50 AM||comments (163)|
A voice cries out in the wilderness…’ I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘wilderness’. There are few places in the UK that qualify aswilderness – Ranoch Moor is one of them. ‘Bleak’ and ‘inhospitable’ are words that come to my mind. The ancient Near East may be known as the fertilecrescent but the fertility of the land is in comparison to the desert and harsh Canaanite Highlands that surround the fertile plains. It was on the bleakuplands that you found the shepherds, moving their flocks from one patch of scrubby grass to another. The reality of the good land flowing with milk and honey to which God had led the people of Israel is always viewed against the harshness of the wilderness – the long years of wandering after the exodus from Egypt until the finally arrived in the fertile plains of Canaan. The Old Testament (almost) begins with years in the wilderness, but it (almost) ends with years in exile – both times of harsh testing.
So, the wilderness wasn’t just a physical reality. The wilderness hasmetaphorical significance: anxiety, uncertainty, vulnerability, these are all part of the wilderness experience. For many, this year has been a wildernessexperience – and the prospect for next year isn’t much improved. The hope of the lockdown being eased on December 2nd has been dashed by the reality of ‘Tier 3’. A review date is set for the 16th, but will the move to the (slightly) freer ‘Tier 2’ actually happen? Will the five days of (relative) freedom over Christmas result in a tighter lockdown in January? What will be the impact on local businesses? Schools? Medical services? I am a trustee of a charity that provides relief to those in need and the last few months have seen asignificant rise in applications for assistance – a trend that I can’t see changing any time soon. The restrictions on physical contact and social interaction are taking their toll on mental health and well-being. Anxiety. Uncertainty.Vulnerability. We are all in a wilderness.
But the prophet Isaiah spoke into such situations. He reminds us that God is with us and prepares us for the incarnation, but he goes much further. His message of hope is also a direct challenge to the wilderness. The Canaanite Highlands will become like the fertile plains: that which is bleak and inhospitable will become habitable and pleasant. We may not know what the world will be like the other side of this pandemic but the message of Advent and Christmas is that we will not be in the wilderness for ever – the rough place will become plain.
|Posted on November 18, 2020 at 4:00 AM||comments (124)|
At the time of writing my last piece for the Coronacle I knew that Remembrance Sunday would be different this year. I had not expected that the country would be back in Lockdown. I am not the only one to notice that this lockdown feels very different to the one that began in March. The first lockdown was marked by clapping for the NHS, traffic missing from the roads, birdsong, and other signs of nature in spring bloom. We are now deep in autumn: trees are shedding their leaves and the nights are drawing in. Lincolnshire, which first time round seemed to be largely unaffected by the pandemic, is now on the front line. Our hospitals are struggling to cope. We expect the lockdown to be eased on 2nd December but what that actually means is still uncertain. I am formulating plans for how we might celebrate Christmas, or to be more precise, how we can enable as many people as possible to receive Christmas Communion. Midnight mass, assuming that public worship is permitted, will be very different. There will be restrictions on the numbers we can accommodate, and I do not expect that we will be allowed to sing carols.
The mood of this advent and Christmas will be very different, but perhaps more realistic. We tend to forget that Advent has a parallel in Lent… both are penitential seasons. Although through Advent we often focus on the theme of hope we could equally focus on death & judgement. During Advent we are encouraged to reflect on the dire state of the human condition and the world we inhabit. Climate change activists make many headlines but it took the first lockdown for many to realise to what extant modern human life has suppressed the natural world… we noticed birdsong and wildlife in our gardens to a far greater extent than we have for years. This year has caused many to re-assess their proprieties. But we have also watched politicians, presidents and others try to cling on to power; we have seen the vulnerable suffer and the weak grow weaker. Injustice and inequality abound.
Somethings never change. It took the sacking of Jerusalem and 70 years of exile in Babylon for the children of Abraham to realise how far they had wandered astray from walking in the ways of God. But it was during that exile that the prophetic voice of hope reached its climax. When they were at their lowest ebb (By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept! How can we sing the songs of Zion in a strange land?) they learned again what it meant to trust in God and walk in his ways. When everything seemed like doom they realised that God was still with them and had not forsaken them. But it was in that metaphorical darkness that prophets spoke of the Light of Hope. This is the message we hear throughout Advent and it come to fulfilment at Christmas. We hear it in the Gospel reading for Christmas day – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Perhaps the pandemic and experiences of this year will get us closer to the true meaning of Christmas.
|Posted on November 11, 2020 at 2:30 AM||comments (6)|
All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance… and onwards to Christ the King and Advent. In recent times this period from All Saints to Advent has been termed the Kingdom Season. The gospel readings are all about the Kingdom of God, but I always notice the emphasis on death. As the nights draw in and autumn gets ever closer to winter we mark All Souls Day – the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. In normal years we invite the families of all those for whom we have taken a funeral service over the past year to our family remembrance service. Obviously, this year, that will not be possible. We will mark All Souls in other ways for it is a time when we collectively remember those whom we have loved, those who inspired us, taught us the faith; those now parted from us and for whom we grieve. The text I have chosen for this month is from St Paul’s first letter to the Church in Thessalonica. It talks about grief and hope. Paul does not say that we should not grieve when someone we have loved dies (although I have heard it interpreted that way!). What Paul says is that there is a significant difference between grief without hope and grief with hope. Both types of grief are real and painful, but they are different. However, to understand the difference we must understand what the hope is. For Paul, the hope is specific. It is grounded in the story of the cross and resurrection and Christ’s victory over death. It is because of this, and only because of this, that we can have a sure and certain hope in the resurrection of the dead… and it is this that makes the difference to grief.
A few days later the nation gathers for another act of collective remembrance:
Armistice Day. This year there will be no military parades or mass gatherings, but we will remember. The Great War is now all but beyond living memory; those who fought in the second World War are rapidly diminishing… but we still remember. They have been other conflicts in the intervening years… and we still remember. And the reason it is important to remember is that our hope for the future is based in no small part on our remembrance of the past. We remember not only the great sacrifice counted in lost lives, but in what they fought for. If we forget then we will make the same mistakes again. Power is seductive and there will always be those who seek to rise to power though belligerence and tyranny. There will always be those in power who maintain their position through violence and terror. There will always be those who extend the range of their power through oppression and unjust systems. The collect for Remembrance Sunday paints a different view of the world… a view of the world that is closely aligned with the images of the Kingdom of God which we read in the gospels. We yearn for the day when the whole world will be free from war and terror, when all peoples will be able to know justice and freedom… Every day we pray in the Lord’s Prayer ‘Your Kingdom come, on earth as in heaven’ – this too is our hope. It is not a reality yet. We must remember the horrors of war to strengthen our courage to work and pray for the Kingdom of God to come… or to use the Latin word – Advent. Fr Philip