Palm Sunday 2021

Once a crowd begins to move, it’s hard to hold it back. Once you get caught up in a demonstration it’s very difficult to get out of it.

But crowds are very fickle, and it only takes a few professional agitators to stir things up. Didn’t we see just this, a few days ago in the Bristol riots?

And so it’s easy to see that the same crowd which welcomed Jesus on that first Palm Sunday were, just a few days later, stirred up by the religious authorities to shout for his execution.  

As we think about the crowds surrounding Jesus both on Palm Sunday and later in the week, we do well to remember the part which they played in all of those events. The emotions which were such a strong part of the gatherings led many of them down paths which they wouldn’t have chosen by themselves.

As we enter Holy Week, can we recognise ourselves in the characters around Jesus? Are we fickle and easily manipulated? Are we hard hearted towards the sufferings of others? Do we ever secretly relish the spectacle of violence, or mock those whose faith we don’t understand?

There’s a striking contrast between the obedient, trusting nature of Jesus and the petty, destructive behaviour of those around him. In the Passion of Jesus, we see our own failures mirrored in those characters; but we also see the costly self-giving of God in Christ.

So, this is a good time for us to stand back from the crowd and examine our own faith.

We need to be fully aware of just how much like everybody else we actually are. But we also need to be satisfied that despite all of our imperfections and failures we can still come to Jesus, with or without a crowd. We need to be able to ask him in the silence of our own hearts, to transform us to be like him.  To give us the mind of Christ, so that we too might learn to trust God completely, and give ourselves generously, just as he did.

Amen.

Catenians

Although the Axminster Circle closed in 2019, The Catenians have members within our church congregations. Some have joined Circles at Exeter and West Somerset. We would be happy to answer any queries people might have about our work or about joining us.

David Gale

Telephone number: 07977 411121

Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 12: 20-33

The hour has come ” said Jesus, ” for the Son of Man to be glorified ”

What a strange answer to give Philip and Andrew. All they’d asked was for Jesus to come and talk to some Greeks.

But this is the moment towards which the whole gospel has been moving. Near the beginning of the story, during a wedding feast at Cana, Jesus had said to his mother “My hour has not yet come.” 

Well, it has now.  The final demonstration of God’s love is about to take place. We’re very close to the death of Jesus, and the time has come for him to show men and women everywhere, both Jews and foreigners, like these Greeks, just how much God loves them.  

So, Jesus spoke about the sign of the cross. The sign of his being lifted up to die. And because God was in Christ, this is a sign which shows us exactly what God is like. Jesus literally threw his life away for the love of other people.

He loved people without conditions and without limits, and it was because of this that people everywhere began to love him and each other, in such a way that the authority and the power of the ruling groups was threatened.

People were beginning to see that God’s love didn’t need rules and regulations. Jesus taught that men and women didn’t need special rituals in order to be acceptable to God; and as he did this, the power of those who controlled the religious system was weakened. And they didn’t like it.

Jesus was showing us that God wasn’t an angry judge who wanted to trip us up and make us pay. He was showing us that God loves us despite the way we are. He was showing us how the unconditional love of God would always set people free from the kind of religion which tried to control them with fear. The kind of religion whose leaders were powerful because they believed they held the keys to the Kingdom of God. The kind of religion which still exists today, in many churches, both catholic and protestant.

We can see how this meant that Jesus had to die. The power of his love made him a real threat to those who felt they were the powerful ones. The only way in which they could retain control was to get rid of him.

And because God was in Christ, this is what the love of God for us all is like. A love which is unconditional and without limit.

But Jesus was taking a path which we must also follow. If the love of God begins to speak to us through the death of Jesus, then we too will be drawn into trying to live in such a way that we shall have to face our own crucifixion.

Loving other people means just that. Being prepared to accept that your love might be thrown right back into your face, sometimes with great anger and hatred. And sometimes this will be by another Christian. Even perhaps in your own church community.

Jesus compared his death to that of a grain of wheat. Unless the grain fell into the ground and died it would be useless. But the grain’s death would produce lots of fruit. So would the death of Jesus.

The Greeks, and all who came after them, would come to Jesus in the sense of being drawn by the powerful love of God into a new kind of life. Into living in a way which wouldn’t stop loving others, even when to continue would mean rejection and ridicule. And this is equivalent to a kind of death, isn’t it?

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to love someone, or to treat them with kindness and consideration only to have it thrown right back into your face.

Have you ever had your best efforts ridiculed, or mocked? Have you ever been betrayed by someone whom you’ve tried to help? Because if you have, then you can rejoice.

In the end, good people, those who try to follow Jesus, are always crucified. Evil always attacks goodness because it feels threatened. We can see this very clearly in the crucifixion of Jesus. And we can also see, that in his dying breath, Jesus prayed for those who hated him.

I know it’s hard, but we have to do the same. We shall fail in our own right, but inasmuch as Christ is in us, we shall succeed; and can you see how our failure will also be the success of Jesus?

Because although the world views the death of Jesus as a tragic failure, it was in fact a glorious triumph. A triumph of God’s self-giving love that looked death in the face and defeated it. A love which was stronger than evil and suffering and passed right through death to come back to be with those who loved God.

A love which was not just for Israel, but which was for the whole world. A world represented by those Greeks.

 A world which contains us, too.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Statement from the Presidency of the Bishops’ Conference on the National Day of Reflection for COVID-19 Tuesday 23rd March 2021

We welcome the designation of Tuesday 23rd March as a National Day of Reflection to mark the anniversary of the first national lockdown with a minute’s silence at midday and doorstep vigils of light at 8pm.

We ask you all to make this not only a Day of Reflection but also a Day of Prayer. In reflection we ponder on all that has taken place; in prayer we bring this to our Heavenly Father. For all who live by faith in God, reflection and prayer always go hand in hand. Prayer completes reflection. Reflection informs prayer. Prayer opens our life to its true horizon. Without prayer we live in a foreshortened world and are more easily swamped by its clamour and tragedy. Throughout this difficult year, so many have been inspired by prayer, so much effort sustained in prayer, in every place. So let us make the 23rd March truly a day of prayer.

March 2020 was the first time our churches had to be closed. It is our hope that on this day, every one of our churches will be open. We invite everyone to enter a church on this day, to reflect and pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We know this will involve an extra effort, but this can be part of our important contribution to a significant moment in the life of our country. Indeed, we ask that you might invite a friend, neighbour or colleague to come to church with you as you make this visit.

There is so much on which to reflect and include in our prayer.

We reflect in sorrow on all those who have died, whether family members, friends or those unknown to us personally. We pray for them, asking our Father to welcome them into their heavenly home, the destiny for which God first gave us the gift of life.

We reflect with compassion on all those who have suffered during this last year, whether through illness, stress, financial disaster or family tensions. We pray for their ongoing resilience, courage and capacity to forgive.

We reflect with thanksgiving for the generosity, inventiveness, self-sacrifice and determination shown by so many in this most difficult of times. We pray for them,

thanking God for their gifts and dedication, whether they are scientists, politicians, health workers, public servants of every kind, community leaders or steadfast family members and friends who continue to show such love and compassion.

We reflect in hope that, as the pandemic is controlled and we open up our lives again, we will gather in the lessons we have learned and build our society into a better shape, more compassionate, less marked by inequalities, more responsive to needs and deprivation. We ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us in this endeavour, whether we are focussing on overcoming family breakdowns, economic recovery, or building political consensus.

Christian prayer is, of course, centred on Jesus Christ, the one who is “lifted up” before us “so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3.13). We pray with Jesus, in him and through him, for he is the one who carries us, and our prayers, into the embracing presence of his Father. He is our comfort in sorrow, our strength in the face of need, our rejoicing in the gifts we celebrate and our hope in the face of the weighty darkness of death.

May Tuesday 23rd March be a great day of prayer that this pandemic comes to an end and that the gift of God’s Holy Spirit will carry us all forward to a new and better life, both here and in the world to come. Cardinal Vincent Nichols Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP President Vice-President

A Precious Place of God

Bishop Mark has invited International speaker Michael Dopp to present to the clergy and laity of our diocese. Drawing on the themes of missionary discipleship that are emphasized in the document, we will explore how to concretely live this out in our own lives, as a parish, and throughout the diocese.

Join us on Saturday 1st May, for the two part presentation 11am – 12noon. 1pm – 2pm.

You will need to register via the following link. Please click to join us:

Join Here

Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 3: 16  God so loved the World

We’ve just heard a verse of scripture which has been called “The gospel in a nutshell”

“God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Now, please note, St John has written:

“God so loved the world.”

Not just the Jews, but the whole world. He loves us all, equally. The good people and the bad ones. Those whom we quite like and those whom we would really rather avoid.

We might be better pleased if he didn’t. We can’t understand why he does, but there it is. God loves the world. Not just those bits of it which, we are happy for Him to love. But all of it, equally.

And why does God love the world? The short Christian answer is: “Because he made it.”

Now, this isn’t the time to get bogged down in debates about creation and evolution; the point is, if you believe in the God who’s revealed in Jesus, then the way in which he created the world doesn’t really matter very much. And, because Jesus is the image of the invisible God, when we look at him, we can see what the love of God is like.

But what’s all this got to do with the death of Jesus?

Well, the deep things of life, the things that really matter, are always tied up with suffering and death. Just think for a moment or two about some of our greatest poetry and music. The words and songs that leave the deepest affect are the ones about love and sorrow and death.

Jesus was wholly loving, and he didn’t put up barriers against people. He was warm and free, welcoming and spontaneous.

 What he said came from his heart, with love. He wasn’t always looking over his shoulder at the Authorities and the rules and regulations, and he wasn’t afraid of being with others and at their mercy. He didn’t need the power of the Establishment. He didn’t need to pull rank when the going got tough. His authority came because of his loving service. 

And, we all recognise that anyone who lives their life like this is going to be, well, crucified. The only way to get by, in our world is to be careful about how human you are prepared to be. You have to ration your love; you have to keep a weather eye open for how much of yourself you give away, if you want to survive.

Jesus didn’t ration his love, he was fully human, and so he didn’t last.

Our world can only take so much love. Our societies, all of them are, in the end, built on violence. We may not always be aware of this, but they are. The police, and the Authorities, are always in the wings, ready to make sure that the status quo is maintained, and that chaos doesn’t result. And if needs be, they will use force.

Living together through love, instead of fear, threatens this, and it’s therefore no surprise that when Jesus offered an alternative kind of relationship on which society could be built, he became a victim.  In Jesus we see how God loves. Freely and unconditionally, and this is what the cross is all about. It was the end result of love in a world which saw and continues to see love as a threat.

This is why Jesus was crucified, and because God was in Christ, we can say that the crucifixion is a demonstration of God’s love. This is what God is like. This is how God loves us. With a love which will not let go. With a love which is prepared to die for us, for all of us. A love which casts out fear.

All of our theology flows from this.

The cross tells us that we don’t need to be afraid. God isn’t a stern parent or a strict judge.  He isn’t angry if we don’t do things in a special way. He doesn’t lay down a list of things which we have to do in order that he will think well of us. He loves us all, equally. And this is what all those Easter hymns about the death of the lamb of God, and Jesus our redeemer really mean.

It’s when we see the cross as a demonstration of the great love that God has for us, that so much of what we find written in the New Testament begins to make more sense, and we begin to understand how the life and death of Jesus, show us God’s love.

Most especially, perhaps the verse in today’s gospel reading which says:

“God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

May we respond to and be drawn into this enormous love of God. May we receive it, be freed by it and pass it on to others. And may we accept our crucifixion which will be its inevitable result; confident in the faith that dying with Christ and filled with his spirit will mean the transformation of our humanity in a resurrection, like His.  Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent

Mark 9: 2-10

The Transfiguration

Let me remind you of a hymn which I expect you know.  It goes like this:

“Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;

It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings;

When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again

A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.”

Do you remember that ?

Experiences like this can happen right out of the blue. Perhaps you’ve been saying some prayers; maybe even struggling, and wondering where on earth all those people who tell you that prayer is easy, have been all their lives.

Perhaps you don’t know what to say, or where to start; you might even feel like giving up, and going to watch the telly. And then, right out of nowhere, something grips you. You don’t need any words; you don’t need to say or do anything. You just know, at a very deep level that God is very close to you.

You may feel moved to tears without really understanding why. You might just feel a great sense of peace. But you won’t want the moment to end.

This was Peter’s experience wasn’t it?

“Master”, he said, “It’s good for us to be here. Let’s put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”

He wanted to prolong the experience. He’d been given a glimpse of who Jesus was, and he didn’t want the moment to end. But it had to end.

Our experiences will be similar. You might become acutely aware of the presence of Jesus, in your prayers. Or perhaps through a beautiful sunset, or as you lose yourself in a piece of music or a song which is special to you.

It probably won’t happen very often, and it’s always something which is right outside of your control. You might want to stay with the moment, but it can be very hard to do that. You just have to come away from it. It’s too intense.

And all of these things are “the light which surprises the Christian whilst he sings.” Just as the author of our hymn tells us, they’re nothing less than “The Lord who rises with healing in his wings.”

We can’t conjure up these experiences, and often they come when things have been going badly, but not always. And sometimes I think God might well withhold them from us because He wants us to live by faith.

But we need to remember them, because like Peter, James and John , we shan’t stay on the mountain for long.

If you read a few verses past today’s gospel passage, you’ll see how very shortly after leaving the mountain top, the three disciples found themselves back in everyday life surrounded by people who needed Jesus to heal them. They met their friends who, we’re told, were unable to help a little lad who was having an epileptic fit.

Like Peter, James and John, we have to live our lives in the valley, not on the mountain top. And all too often the valley seems a dark and difficult place. But Jesus is right there with us.

We won’t be aware of His presence for most of the time, and that’s why it’s so important to remember those times when we’ve met him on the mountain.

Because then, when we call on him from where we are in the valley, we can be confident that He’ll hear us.

And as we listen to him he’ll take us back again and again in ways which will help us recognise his transfigured presence amongst us today.

And as we listen, as we turn to the Lord, the words of St Paul will come true in our lives. Words which say:

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Amen.

Iona

By Liz Lynn

In September 2017 my friend Betty and I arrived travel-worn and weary on the island of Iona after 4 trains, 2 ferries and a bus – and that was just from Huddersfield!     A smiling young man standing beside a van at the top of the causeway and holding a sign up saying ‘Iona Abbey’ was a very welcome sight especially as he gave us a lift up to the Abbey where we were amongst the last arrivals.

We had both wanted to visit Iona for years but only really looked into the possibility when we discovered that it was on both our bucket lists. We had signed up for a week living in the Abbey, sharing in the life of the community and receiving input from the resident team about environmental matters which are such an important focus for this interdenominational Christian group.   

We knew that sharing in the life of the community could involve peeling potatoes or washing up and this was expanded closer to our arrival date as including cleaning duties, potentially even cleaning toilets!   It was with some relief that we found ourselves allocated to the team that laid the breakfast tables, washed up and peeled and chopped the veg.!   It was important that we worked together to build up our sense of belonging to the community, a sense which was inadvertently augmented by suffering together; namely the wet and windy cloisters and the cold, wooden seats in the beautiful thirteenth century abbey church!    Needs must, Betty and I quickly located the warmer cushioned seats in the choir of the church and, like good Christians, got down there early for the twice daily services so as to bag them before anyone else could!   The mattresses with the springs coming through took a little longer but a folded duvet eventually sorted that out too and the hot water bottles were a nice touch.

Now for the positive stuff! Iona is a very beautiful, pristine island in the Hebridean sea. It feels as though there are only two roads and six cars on the whole island and that, in itself, is heavenly.  Add to that the white sandy beaches and the turquoise sea and you begin to get a picture of the peace of the place.   The small farming community is dominated by the Abbey and the visitors that flock to visit this pilgrimage place where St. Columbus and a group of companions founded a monastery in 563 AD as a base for missions to the mainland.   

The Abbey at Iona

In the sixth century they would have lived in small beehive shaped huts, farming the land to support themselves. In the ninth century they were finally driven away by marauding Vikings to Kells in Ireland where it is generally agreed that they completed the beautifully illustrated gospels, the ‘Book of Kells’, now kept on display in Dublin.  In the thirteenth century the Benedictines returned to this holy isle to build an abbey which was destroyed by Henry VIII and restored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

There were about 35 guests from many different countries and numerous young volunteers as well as the permanent staff who maintain the worshipping community in Iona. The music and liturgy were wonderful as anyone familiar with Wild Goose Publications will be very much aware of. To many people, John Bell who speaks regularly on ‘Thought for the day’ on Radio 4, is the most well-known ‘spokesman’ for the community as well as the author and composer of many of the songs.

Often the services highlighted some of the environmental issues that confront the world today.  At one service the sound system played shrieking, gale force winds as we reflected on the unusually fierce hurricanes which have been terrorising the Caribbean islands as a result of global warming.  Another time, a suitcase full of clothes was used to highlight issues such as how our responsible buying can affect the environment and how overuse of washing machines wears out clothes prematurely; all part of our Christian duty to walk gently on the earth for the sake of generations to come.

All the food was delicious and mostly vegetarian so as to cut back on meat and make a contribution to saving the planet gastronomically! We also had a session in the Chapter House where we learned about the way plastics are clogging up our seas and killing our wild life: apparently 40% of the seas are covered in floating plastic and 40,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed every year by plastic waste.

If all this sounds deeply depressing, we were encouraged by the work being done to offset this damage, for instance the ocean cleaning array which is being developed, and actions we ourselves can take like using as little plastic as possible.  I am trying not to use those handy plastic bags available on vegetable counters in shops!   It was suggested that we could even return to stores all the excess packaging used to market goods!  A website called plastic-pollution.org gives a lot more information if you are interested.

We left Iona, sad to say goodbye to all the new friends we had made, challenged by all we had learnt but refreshed by the peacefulness and spirituality of a place which is claimed to be one of the ‘thinnest’ places on earth, where heaven and earth feel very close.  I would recommend it to anyone especially if they are committed to live, work and pray for the future of our beautiful planet.

plastic-pollution.org

Third Sunday in Lent

John 2: 13-22

The Cleansing of the Temple.

The Temple was at the heart of what it meant to be a Jew. It was not only the centre of Jewish worship, but it was the political and legal centre as well. It was, according to Holy Scripture, the place where God had promised to live with his people. And it was the place to which Jesus dared to come to turn things upside down.

We’re so used to hearing this story that we can easily forget just how shocking it was. So why did Jesus act like this? Why did he turn the money changers tables upside down and drive the animal traders out?

Animal sacrifice makes us feel sick, but for the Jews of Jesus’s time, animal sacrifice was at the heart of their worship. And because the animal had to be without blemish, if you had a license from the Temple Authorities to sell animals, you could make a lot of money.

Now we might be tempted to use this story to criticise modern day examples of religious commercialism. You know the kind of thing, tacky plastic statues sold for ridiculous prices at religious shrines. But we also need to be clear that Jesus was, and is, against all types of exploitation, whether it shelters under a religious umbrella or not. And so today, he would probably be upsetting Law Courts and Parliaments. Palaces and Banking Centres and all of those places where people with power and wealth so often use their positions to feather their own nests at the expense of ordinary men and women.

But, although it’s right for us to reflect on all of this, we should also try to see the deeper point of what Jesus was doing.

You see, through his actions, Jesus was announcing God’s condemnation of the Temple itself and all that it had become in the national life of Israel.

The Temple was supposed to be a sign of God’s presence with Israel for the sake of the world. The way through which God would welcome all nations to himself. Israel was supposed to be a light for people who weren’t Jews. For gentiles, like you and me.

God had chosen the Jews in order to bring men and women everywhere back, to himself. And the Temple, with its sacrificial system, was supposed to stand at the heart of this loving act of God. But it had moved from this to become an Institution which was content to see violence taken to foreigners, whilst its own people were exploited.

And as it became more and more corrupt, those who led it were also increasing their personal wealth.

So, by stopping the entire process, even just for a few symbolic moments, Jesus was saying more powerfully than any words could express, that the Temple was under God’s judgement, and the reason for its existence was being taken away.

Jesus knew that he himself was going to defeat evil and unite men and women with each other and with God by taking upon himself the task which the Temple had turned away from.

He said: “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days”. But he was speaking of the Temple of his body, and so this was the language of sacrifice. The death of the lamb of God, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, would bring about that which the Temple had failed to do.

Jesus is the true Temple, the place where the glory of God dwells in all its fullness. Jesus took the Temple traditions and applied them to himself. He became the reality to which the Temple was pointing. A One-Man Temple System, if you like.

The glory of God dwelt in Jesus for everybody to see. God became incarnate in Jesus and the Glory of his presence was seen in his life; in the life of the living Temple. The Temple which would itself become the perfect sacrifice as Our Lord gave himself to God, for us by his death on the cross.

As we walk the way of the cross with our Lord through, Lent may our prayers direct us towards this truth. May we be filled with God’s Spirit and have our eyes opened. May we recognise the sacrifice of God in Christ. The sacrifice which tells us that God loves us despite all that we’ve done. And may this recognition draw us closer into his heart, and make us fit to live with him, as part of his new living Temple, for ever.

Amen