Jesus is dead, locked down in a garden, in a borrowed tomb. Most of us are locked down too: not yet dead but having the opportunity of a garden which so many in our wider society do not have. Isolation for them must be very challenging.
St. Matthew’s account of the burial (27.62 – 66) is even closer to our own situation today. The Jewish authorities were fearful that the disciples might come by night and steal the body of Jesus and then claim that he has been raised from the dead. So they sealed the tomb and placed a sentry at the entrance. Official lockdown.
St. John makes much of the death and burial. For him it is the end of a life of total obedience and love for The Father and for all humankind. No one knew what might happen next, if anything. Only God knew. His will was pregnant with power and potential, just like this laid hedge on the road to Seaton. It is not quite dead but we can see the power of nature just beginning to break out. It was not nature which changed everything – divided time, gave hope, dissolved enmity – but the power of God. It is for that which we wait, sometimes patiently, sometimes wisely, often irritably. But because of tomorrow, we have hope that God will act. Today we must wait.
We who are in self-isolation yearn to be released, for this crisis to be finished. And so do those on our front line, whose lives are endangered by this virulent disease. Here are many, many examples of selfless sacrifice on behalf of others, all of which are shaped by the shadow of the cross consciously or unconsciously.
The compilers of our #Live Lent booklet have been overtaken by events but this current crisis does not devalue their observations. The NHS battles on because we believe collectively that every person matters. And so does God. That is why we call this Friday ‘Good’. Christ died to save us all. The life of Jesus may be over but God’s work continue in so many ways, many of which would be unthinkable a month ago.
This is the only day in the year that the bishop summons all the clergy to celebrate Holy Communion with him in The Cathedral because it is the foundation-day of our Christian Ministry. Last week on this blog, William Joyce made the point that the shepherd sometimes has to intervene to feed the sheep. For Christians, Maundy Thursday symbolizes that intervention. On this day, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and symbolically gave himself away as he celebrated The Last Supper. The bread and wine take on extra significance for Christians every Sunday.
This year, none of this will happen. We are locked out of our churches by CV. We are not however locked away from our need for food. The simplest items have taken on greater value because they are so scarce – a rarity caused partly by greed. At the Last Supper, each disciple was given the same measure of bread and wine. So it is in our churches most Sundays. ‘None is greater or less than another’.
I have occasionally celebrated Holy Communion around the kitchen table. It is very moving. Liturgy pared back to the basics. In this crisis, we have gone beyond that now. We cannot even gather in the kitchen! So we must re-value the sacrament of food, which is one of the subliminal messages of Communion.
‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…’ Ecclesiastes 3:1-2.
There are many unique privileges in farming that connect you with nature. Notably, at this time of year, spring lambs are born and new life enters the world. The quote from Ecclesiastes sums up farming for me and the cyclical nature of the life outdoors. Every season brings about its own inimitable opportunities and challenges but above all, spring marks the arrival of new life into the world.
Farmers are renowned for grumbling about the weather and after the rainfall we had this winter, who can blame them! It doesn’t seem long ago that we were moving 300 sheep away from a flooded pasture in Gretton before the river Welland suddenly broke its banks. Despite the rain, the flock has wintered well and spring has started with gusto with radiant sunshine! Warm dry weather is important for shepherds as it helps the new lambs settle into their new life.
My family has been tied to farming in and around Morcott for a few generations and I plan to stay here too; I enjoy helping on the land when I can – it brings out the best in me and gives me time to think about the beauty and semblance of nature, and also our Creator. I have recently started a new career in renewable energy after my PhD but I am still close to the land. I travel a lot with my new job but when I can work from home there is nothing more peaceful and mindful than heading out into the fields at sunset and watching the sun go down over the Seaton hillside.
New life is precious, delicate and above all unpredictable, lambs appear at all hours of the day and a steadfast commitment is required to ensure that the new life is welcomed safely into the world. Moreover, the miracle of life is balanced with the poignancy of death and cade lambs who have lost their mothers depend on the shepherd for milk and warmth to survive in the world. Jesus died on the cross at Easter so that we could be forever forgiven and have eternal life. The Shepherd and the flock are a great metaphor for the Christian Easter message. I am grateful for the privilege to welcome new life onto the farm each Easter.
‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.’ John 10:27-28
When we planned the Lent Blog many weeks ago, none of us had any idea that the world would be in this state now. This is a global crisis affecting each one of us, even here in the villages of the East Midlands.
The theme this week is Creatures of the Sea and Sky. The #LiveLent booklet leads in this week with Jesus’ words from St Matthew’s Gospel:
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
In such a time of anxiety and fear, this is something to hang on to, I hope.
One of the bonuses of being locked down in Spring, not only here in the countryside but in our major cities, is the silence that allows us all to hear the dawn chorus, the song of the blackbird, the squabbles of the house-sparrows in the eaves. Bird song is easy to hear now, and one of the most calming and uplifting sounds at this stressful time. The robin in my garden is oblivious to my anxiety about lost income, doesn’t care whether there’s any loo roll in the supermarket or that we’ve watched everything on Netflix.
Meanwhile airplanes are grounded, cars are garaged, ferries and cruise ships in dock, factories shut down. One result is that our economy is in freefall, but another is that the natural world is able to take a breath, enjoy a momentary respite from the choking fumes of pollution that mankind creates.
CO2 emissions have fallen drastically, and scientists suggest that the number of lives saved by the improvement in air quality is 20 times higher than the number of lives that will be lost to Covid-19.
What will happen when we come out of lockdown?
Quite a few people are saying that life will be different. That during this time we will have re-connected with a simpler life; discovered that we don’t need so much ‘stuff’ and will be better neighbours to each other. That instead of flying half-way round the world for a business conference, we’ll take part ‘virtually’ using Zoom or Virtual Reality technology. That instead of flying to Venice for the weekend we’ll take two days to get there by train to see canals run crystal clear and cruise ships banned from the lagoon.
Will we? Or will we return to our old ways?
The Coronavirus emergency is currently pushing the Climate crisis out of the news. It is only a few weeks since Greta Thunberg’s rally in Bristol was on the front pages, but now the news is focused on the pandemic. That is understandable, though I suggest listening to Covid-19 news all day every day is not great for our mental health.
But the climate still matters. This earth still matters. The birds of the air and the fish in the sea still matter. When we come out on the other side of Coronavirus, our fragile planet will still be drowning in micro-plastics, suffocated by CO2 and dying on its feet.
My garden anchors me in the here and now. A tiny piece of the world which is mine to throw myself into body and soul in all weathers.
I opened my eyes to gardening when I turned 28, newly married with a new-build house. A patch of unloved grass, a scrappy hawthorn tree and a fence held the promise of a lush, mature garden in my mind’s eye. But the work involved to make this happen was daunting. So I tuned in to a television series ‘The Victorian Kitchen Garden’ hosted by Harry Dobson, with its cheerful piano and clarinet theme tune. Each week I dutifully took notes. It was a revelation and took me back to the girl who wandered round her Granny’s garden, delighting in the electric yellow of the broom and rainbow borders of pom pom dahlias. Finding that person again has been a very comforting experience of my life.
I’m still a rookie gardener. I make it up as I go along. I’ve killed many undeserving plants; I’ve had to apologise to ones I’ve planted in the wrong place. And I’ve completely failed to nurture plants that I’m told ‘any fool can grow’, like sweet peas. But I can grow hydrangeas, Michaelmas daisies and oleanders. Also lupins and camellias. Roses seem to like me too. I used to mind the weeds but now I keep those that are pretty and which are good for pollinating insects.
Gardening has taught me to ‘grow where I’m planted’ and to make the most of any house I’ve lived in. It has given me much to think about and it has slowed me down. It’s the only activity I can still do when I’m worried, angry or sad. Tending a garden is a meditative and humbling experience. It’s often a triumph of hope over expectation. You can’t force anything; everything has its time and you just have to wait.
Apart from the chill of December and January, when all seems to have stopped, I garden in all weathers, enjoying the company of my friend the robin. I carry on gardening when my whole body aches and I can’t weed another bed; dig another hole or prune another climber. Nothing makes me happier than being in my garden with the sun on my back and a cup of tea in my hand.
My garden connects me with what is outside myself like few other things can and that to my mind is the secret of happiness. Time in my garden is my time with God and the joy of nature, in all her seasons. It’s like being handed endless gifts that delight and awe me daily, which I count as true blessings.
Monday – Here is a drawing of the cosmos of Genesis 1 from Nahum Sarna’s book Genesis: The Heritage of Biblical Israel with the dome of the firmament on top and if you look carefully the pillars of the sky and the earth curve inward to form a dome below. Some say it is almost egg shaped – the cosmos in an egg form representing life, and note the storehouses in the waters above the firmament for snow, hail and wind and the fountains that bring water up from the waters under the earth descending to the waters of the nether earth. A far cry from our modern day understanding of this planet and universe.
How do you relate to this world view? Do we find it naïve? And yet when we think of heaven, do we not automatically look upwards imagining somewhere beyond the rain clouds? What cannot be ignored is the importance of water. Half of the features in this conception are water-related and it shows how water is central to life as the trees and the birds demonstrate. A few fishes might have been nice too! Many other creation stories evolved in old testament times including the Babylonian Enuma Elish, often with dramatic tales of warring gods. In Genesis the whole creation is formed by God alone. No battles or histrionics and on the second day God created the waters – He just did it and it was good.
Tuesday This photo is from my recent trip to Uganda and is of Lake Bunyonyi in south west Uganda. Bunyonyi means “little birds” because so many species of little birds like canaries, weaver birds and sun birds inhabit the shore of the lake. Larger waterfowl are rarely found here as the lake is so deep and has hardly any fish for them to feed on. It is a huge crater lake with many small islands, some of which have been home, hospital and security for people with leprosy while others are used as a safe haven for orphaned children such as little Isaiah who I met on one of the islands. The land is rich and fertile and long canoes made of hollowed tree trunks ferry produce over the lake to shoreside markets. Perhaps not grain here as the psalmist reflects but bananas, matoke (plantain), vegetables, tea and reeds to roof homes and now bring tourists seeking relaxation and peace in this busy landlocked country. And around the lake people quarry rock by hand from the hills that surround this lake but need to be careful and sparing. If ever Lake Bunyonyi was to be breached through over quarrying it would instantly flood and drown the town and inhabitants of Kabale and surrounding villages. God not only waters the earth – He holds it in place and we need to take care of the containers He has provided.
Wednesday Rivers and bodies of water often form boundaries, as between Rutland and Northamptonshire, and even nations. Uganda is separated by the River Gatuna from its smaller neighbour, Rwanda and I crossed there to get into Uganda even though the border remains closed to commercial traffic. While I was in Uganda the two presidents Museveni (Uganda) and Kagame (Rwanda) met on the bridge over the Gatuna (you can just see the bridge barrier in the background where I had crossed a few days before) to discuss terms for the re-opening which involves freedom for political prisoners on both sides.
The border remains closed but a further meeting is imminent and people are praying that the border will re-open soon and free many from the poverty on both sides generated by this closure, which has remained closed as much by personal jealousies between the two political leaders, once good friends than any practical necessity. Do our relationships ever become similarly strained with harmful consequences?
Elsewhere rivers are used for baptismas this picture shows, freeing us from the slavery of sin as our sins are symbolically washed away in the waters of baptism.
Note from today’s reading that straightway after being baptised the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10). Both the principal sacraments of the Church of England use water – if you had not seen how water is used in Communion – then watch carefully next time you are at a service. Both have a cleansing act to them and both free the recipient of the water to serve God more fully.
Thursday This plastic bottle from Uganda is both a source of pollution and health. The Rwenzori are the mountains above Kassese in Western Uganda and the source of most mineral water in the country. Millions of bottles are produced and litter lakes, streams, towns and countryside. But …. fill them up with water from dirty water sources that many Ugandans use and leave them out in the sun and most of the harmful organisms in the water are killed off and sometimes passing poor children call out asking for these empty bottles to enable them to do this and make what they drink more potable.
The water is described as “Marah” meaning bitter and has resonance with the Passover or seder meal which we will celebrate in Barrowden in Holy Week (to which all are welcome) and includes marah, bitter herbs reminding the Jewish people of their suffering in exile. It also reminds us of the suffering we too endure for our faith. Pollution can be toxic and is harmful – our taste buds can help us recognise unpleasant or bitter taste, but we have to take care. Suffering is often associated with bitterness but sometimes also sweetness – hence bitter-sweet is a term often used. Our polluted waters are now a hot topic for debate and action. How are we as churches and Christians responding to this hot topic?
Friday OK this is much nearer home. In our Benefice, this is the River Welland at Duddington Bridge and the water is roaring and filling the arches of the bridge with all the rain we have had. In East Africa this is the dry season (these countries have just two seasons: wet and dry) and now is harvest time, and yet torrential rains have fallen in western Uganda and Rwanda, while Kampala and to the north east of Kampala they are experiencing extreme heat and locust invasions. In Rwanda, the rice fields at the bottom of the 80-mile-long gorge from the capital, Kigali have all flooded destroying this year’s crop.
The Psalmist in Psalm 69 uses the imagery of water and flooding as a metaphor of lived experience, being overwhelmed, suffering and feeling unable to cope. The water is rising up to the neck and while the text does not admit it the implication is clear they cannot swim and fear drowning. Uganda has a lot of water for a land-locked country but few have learned to swim, few have learned coping strategies when they feel they are drowning under pressure. Lent is a time of preparation – so what coping strategies are we prepared to learn this Lent when we feel we too are drowning? As our farmers once again have to move livestock to higher land because of floods. What measures are we taking for the spiritual floods that can too easily overcome us?
WeekendThese three Ugandans are standing in front of a large water tank in the picture on the left; built locally with money from Afrinspire, the charity I was with in Uganda. Afrinspire have built 79 water tanks and protected 47 water springs and while I was there 3 new water tanks were blessed at a Roman Catholic primary school, St Augustine’s in Rubaaga in the Isingero District of Western Ankole saving children walking several kilometres up and down steep slopes to find an often dirty water source at the expense of their education. Rubaaga sits at the top of a high veld on the Rift and so any rainfall quickly falls away leaving the land parched. You can see how the guttering on the adjacent building collects any rainwater and feeds it into the tank. It can cost as little as £2 per person, depending on location and population to provide clean water for up to 20 years through projects such as these as well as teach local people a new trade. Without them it is a long and often dangerous trek to find water.
One local farm owner I met admitted he only knew he had a water spring on his land by following local cattle who knew the location of a spring and then he could start to improve the water quality there. Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well reminds us of just how vulnerable some people are when water dries up as does their dignity and hope for living. Christ offers us the living water of the Holy Spirit to drink and with that we will never thirst again spiritually. These projects help provide water to communities so that they never thirst again physically.
Jane Williams says: I am writing this on Sunday morning, 1st March 2020.
I woke unusually early on this bright, crisp day, walked Cora dog around Morcott, putting the church heating on ready for Sunday service and returned to make porridge – all before 8am. I feel fortunate indeed to be tackling the Light & Energy theme of our Lent 2020 blog posts because I feel inspired by the sunshine!
Spring is just around the corner after the darkness of winter. While it’s been a mild one, the wet gloom has made many of us feel sad, even if we don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. But today dawn woke the blackbirds into chorus, sun lit up lime green catkins and the miniature iris in the container by my kitchen door burst from bud to flower before my very eyes.
In the beginning…. Darkness covered the face of the deep… Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. As I write this, it’s very easy to believe that this wonderful world has a Divine Creator.
The daily readings for this week in the #LiveLent booklet highlight the importance of light to God’s world and to us as human beings. I had not realised just how many verses from Genesis to John’s gospel speak of light or use light to reference the Christian life.
Life needs light. From birds in the air to flowers of the earth. From children in the playground to prisoners in the dungeon. And the guidance notes this week remind us that it’s not just natural daylight that we rely on. We need light to illuminate and energy to heat (or cool) our homes.
Solar power is one of the most amazing developments of the 20th century, and there are so many ways in which it can be applied to help mankind without adding to the greenhouse gasses and pollution that is – as Greta Thunberg said in Bristol last week – setting the world ‘on fire’.
Like many, I huffed and puffed about changing to LED bulbs, because they didn’t come on ‘instantly’, yet now I am not only saving energy but hardly ever have to replace a bulb. Like many, I am lazy about changing utility suppliers, but apart from saving money, I could also switch to a 100% renewable energy tariff. I can do more.
This year during Lent the parishes in our Benefice are all using the Church of England’s excellent #LiveLent – Care for God’s Creation booklet as our focus.
It’s a 40-day challenge to help us think about our responsibilities for the amazing world that God created – its elements, the skies, seas, lands and the great variety of life – animal and human – that makes up our environment.
In the introduction to the #LiveLent booklet, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York write: “God has entrusted us to look after his wonderful creation. We are called to care for and honour God’s creation as a way of delighting in its Creator. We are also called to care for our brothers and sisters all over the world who face having their families uprooted and their livelihoods destroyed by the effects of climate change. As part of our discipleship to Jesus Christ every single one of us has a responsibility to live a life of stewardship.”
Six volunteers will each be taking one of the #LiveLent themes – one for each week of Lent, with the first key theme of LIGHT & ENERGY appearing next week – 2 March – so that each weekly email bulletin will also include a link to the blog post.
Subsequent themes are WATER, LAND & PLANTS, STARS & SEASONS, CREATURES OF SEA & SKY, HUMANS & OTHER ANIMALS. The blog will of course end with a reflection for EASTER itself – REST & RESTORATION.
Christopher thanks the lay volunteers from around our parishes; we all look forward to reading their thoughts!
If you do not already have one, copies of the little booklet are available from your own church ‘bookseller’ at the modest cost of £1.99. There is a topic of reflection for each day in Lent, relevant bible verses to read and suggestions for prayer.