THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK’ FROM THE REVEREND STEPHEN GUISE, PRIEST IN CHARGE – PASSION SUNDAY, 29 MARCH



The Crucifixion’ c1315-30, School of Duccio di Buoninsegna, Manchester Art Gallery

Dear Friends

In the latter Sundays of Lent the Gospel readings come from St John’s Gospel, since this is regarded as being more ‘spiritual’ than the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

St John was believed to be the youngest disciple, and closer to Jesus than the others. It was John who at the Last Supper rested on the chest of Jesus, and who secretly asked him who was to betray him.
On the last Sundays of Lent we read St John’s narratives concerning Jesus’ encounters with a range of people who are encouraged to believe in him as God’s Son: firstly, Nicodemus, whose secret nocturnal meeting with Jesus is characterized by the famous statement (John 3:16): ‘Those who believe in me will never die but will have eternal life’; then the Samaritan woman at the well, with the challenge of the need to ‘worship in spirit and truth’; and, on the fourth Sunday of Lent (provided that Mothering Sunday readings are not used), we hear from the passage in John 9:1-41 of the healing of the man born blind, and Jesus’s words: ‘I am the light of the world’. Of course, the use of ‘I am’ by Jesus appears to the scribes and pharisees to be blasphemous, since Jesus is overtly equating himself with God, and this seals his fate.

Now, on Passion Sunday, the fifth in Lent, we read the story of the raising of Lazarus which many commentators understand as a prefigurement of the resurrection. To Martha’s rather petulant ‘If you had been here my brother would not have died’, Jesus responds, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11:26).

As Passiontide progresses, culminating in Holy Week, we would normally be holding ‘Stations of the Cross’ in church. It was thought that the traditional stations were initially placed during the 1750s around the Colosseum in Rome, the site of where so many Christians were martyred, as a way of remembering the ‘via dolorosa’ which Jesus himself followed from the praetorium, where he was tried by Pilate, to Golgotha, the site of the Crucifixion. Hymns such as ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ are sung between each Station, and Christians who follow this ‘mini pilgrimage’ around the church are thus given the opportunity to focus their meditations on Jesus’ journey, and to reflect on the way in which their own lives, and those of others, participate in that pattern of suffering – whilst trusting, all the while, that we are also invited to share in his victory over sin, death and the forces of evil.

 As the Collect for the fifth Sunday of Lent puts it:-

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The message, then, is ultimately one of resurrection and hope, and this is surely needed more than ever in the challenging times through which we are all currently living.
Fr Stephen




Romans 8:6-11

A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans.

To set the mind on the flesh is death,
but t set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God;
it does not submit to God's law -
indeed it cannot,

and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh;
you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him.

But if Christ is in you,
though the body is dead because of sin,
the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
he who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also
through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel

John 11:1-45

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

A certain man was ill,
Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume
and wiped his feet with her hair;
her brother Lazarus was ill.

So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,
"Lord, he whom you love is ill."

But when Jesus heard it, he said,
"This illness does not lead to death;
rather it is for God's glory,
so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

after having heard that Lazarus was ill,
he stayed 2 days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to his disciples,
"Let us go to Judea again."

The disciples said to him,
"Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you,
and are you going there again?"

Jesus answered,
"Are there not twelve hours in the day?
If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble,
because he sees the light of this world.

But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles,
because the light is not in him."

Thus he spoke, and then he said to them,
"Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,
but I go to awake him out of sleep."

The disciples said to him,
"Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover."

Now Jesus had spoken of his death,
but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep.

Then Jesus told them plainly,
"Lazarus is dead;

and for your sake I am glad that I was not there,
so that you may believe.
But let us go to him."

Thomas, called the Twin,
said to his fellow disciples,
"Let us also go, that we may die with him."

Now when Jesus came,
he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

Bethany was near Jerusalem,
about two miles off,

and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary
to console them concerning their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him,
while Mary sat in the house.

Martha said to Jesus,
"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

Martha said to him,
"I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in me,
though he die, yet shall he live,

and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
Do you believe this?"

She said to him,
"Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ,
the Son of God, he who is coming into the world."

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary,
saying quietly,
"The Teacher is here and is calling for you."

And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

Now Jesus had not yet come to the village,
but was still in the place where Martha had met him.

When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her,
saw Mary rise quickly and go out,
they followed her, supposing
that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him,
fell at his feet, saying to him,
"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping,
and the Jews who came with her also weeping,
he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled;

and he said, "Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Lord, come and see."

Jesus wept.

So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

But some of them said,
"Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man
have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb;
it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

Jesus said, "Take away the stone."
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him,
"Lord, by this time there will be an odour,
for he has been dead four days."

Jesus said to her,
"Did I not tell you that if you would believe
you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone.
And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said,
"Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

I knew that thou hearest me always,
but I have said this on account of the people standing by,
that they may believe that thou didst send me."

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice,
"Lazarus, come out."

The dead man came out,
his hands and feet bound with bandages,
and his face wrapped with a cloth.
Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary
and had seen what he did, believed in him.


The Relics of St Lazarus now in Southern Cyprus


THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK’ FROM THE REVEREND STEPHEN GUISE, PRIEST IN CHARGE – SUNDAY, 22 MARCH

Only very recently we have been told to hold no more church services (although weddings and funerals continue to be exempt from this, with certain provisos), until it is felt that there is no further danger of infection from the coronavirus. We understand the danger, but the directive is a severe blow to committed Christians who will have to do without the regular celebration of the Eucharist. I and many others have been racking our brains to discover a safe way to worship, to pray, hear the word of God, and to receive the sacrament. However, we must accept the current restrictions, and that these may be in place at least until September, unless the situation changes dramatically.

We are anxious, nevertheless, that churchgoers and others still feel part of a worshipping community, and so we are happy to confirm, firstly, that the church will remain open during daylight hours, as is currently the case, for private and quiet prayer (the epistle and Gospel readings for each Sunday will be placed on the lectern, for reference). Secondly, we shall be using the church website, to make available the Collect and references for the Sunday readings, together with a synopsis of what I would have been expecting to preach about at the normal 10.00am service – and a copy of this, too, will be placed on the lectern.

So, for this Sunday, 22 March, the main service would have been a Family Communion for Mothering Sunday and, as this will be only a few days prior to 25 March, the theme would have been the Annunciation, for which the Collect is as follows:-


Collect for the Annunciation

Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts that as we have known the incarnation of thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion may we be brought unto the glory of thy Resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’


Meditation on the Annunciation



In the famous passage (Luke 1:26-38) near the beginning of his Gospel, the evangelist recounts the unique episode in history in which Mary receives the message from the angel Gabriel that she has been chosen by God to bear His Son – Mary’s humble ‘yes’ to God, despite her own understandable perplexity in the fact of this astounding and unexpected news, marks not only a turning-point in her own life, but in that of the salvation of the whole world. It is a scene that has inspired many artists, including Fra Angelico, whose famous fresco of 1450 (as above) may be seen in San Marco, Florence – a beautiful, and restrained, depiction, containing all the essential elements, including the angel, the Virgin Mary herself, and the Holy Spirit represented as a dove. Subsequent versions included a fenced-off garden (with allusions to the reference in the Song of Solomon to a ‘garden sealed’, reflecting the idea of God’s protection of Mary’s chastity), a lily (another symbol of purity) and a closed book in Mary’s hand.

How can we relate this narrative to modern-day motherhood? Although Mary’s vocation was unique, we may feel that her reaction to the news from Gabriel would resonate with that of many mothers-to-be. It is quite common for many, as they receive confirmation that they are ‘expecting’, to feel a mixture of both excitement and trepidation, since life will never be quite the same again. And, when the new-born child has arrived, most can’t help wondering how things will pan out. If we are honest, most of us who are parents (or grandparents!) nurse all sorts of hopes and expectations for the latest addition to the family, and many of these are confounded as the child grows and develops his or her own character – and often subsequently follows a career path, or makes life choices, we could not possibly have envisaged! But, of course, we continue to love and pray for them, trusting in God’s grace, and that they will be happy and fulfilled in the way that is right for them.
And we can also, on Mothering Sunday, give thanks for our own mothers, for the pain they endured in giving birth to us, and for all the nurturing and security they provide - as well as looking to the Church as our spiritual mother, in which our faith, from baptism onwards, is nurtured, and to Mary herself, the ‘mother of Christians’ whose example of love and fidelity is set before us in narratives within all four Gospels.

In these particularly uncertain times, too, we can reflect on the mature Christ, who is ‘the same yesterday, today and for ever’, and we can respond, as Mary did to the angel’s message, to God’s love and changelessness in faith and trust.

Fr Stephen

Readings


1 Samuel 1:20 -end
Hannah conceived and bore a son.
She named him Samuel, for she said,
"I have asked him of the LORD."

The man Elkanah and all his household
went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice,
and to pay his vow.

But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband,
"As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him,
that he may appear in the presence of the LORD,
and remain there for ever;
I will offer him as a nazirite for all time."

Her husband Elkanah said to her,
"Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him;
only - may the LORD establish his word."
So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him.

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her,
along with a three year old bull, an ephat of flour,
and a skin of wine.
She brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh;
and the child was young.

They slaughtered the bull,
and they brought the child to Eli.

And she said, "Oh, my lord! As you live my lord,
I am the woman who was standing here in your presence,
praying to the LORD.

For this child I prayed;
and the LORD has granted me the petition that I made to him.

Therefore I have lent him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD."
She left him there for the LORD.


Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent b God
to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,

to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph,
of the house of David.
The virgin's name was Mary.

And he came to her and said,
"Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you."

But she was much perplexed by his words
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favour with God.

And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you will call him Jesus.

He will be great,
and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.

He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

The angel said to her,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be holy;
and he will be called Son of God.

And now,
your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son;
and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.

For nothing will be impossible with God."

Then Mary said,
"Here I am, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.



Dear Friends

The letter below from Bishop Martin has been circulated to all licensed clergy within the Diocese of Chichester, who have been asked to include it within their March communications, and I am very pleased to do so. As usual here at St Mary's we shall be offering particular ways of encouraging the discipline of repentance of which Bishop Martin speaks - for example, through our Lent groups (there is more information on these elsewhere in the magazine) and through joining in with the liturgies associated with Holy Week and Easter.

In the meantime, I would commend Bishop Martin's message to you, and wish you all a disciplined but also joyful Lent.

Stephen 

LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF CHICHESTER 

'I was recently asked by a reporter whether in the diocese of Chichester Ash Wednesday has become more popular - like Christmas is.

My own experience of offering "ashes to go" outside Brighton station was very informative. Generally, people on their way to work were not very interested and sometimes hostile.

People with a bit of Christian formation and experience were more pleased to see us. I sensed that for some of them, this was an invitation to re-connect with the season of Lent and the renewal of their faith. For others, it was encouraging, giving permission for the hidden, private practice of their faith to be affirmed by someone else in public. The message of Lent is cheering and simple: God loves you and the Church is starting preparations to celebrate that fact at Easter.

But this year, in particular, the ashes with which we began this season of Lent offered a serious statement of protest.

As destructive fires raged in Australia, ash was everywhere. Our ashes were an identification with all who re the victim of climate change and environmental damage. But perhaps more importantly, ash was an even clearer symbol of the Christian call to repentance, a radical change of heart.

Extinction protests have certainly become more popular. But we might have yet more to do to make the Lenten discipline of repentance more popular within the Church, in order to become a catalyst for repentance in society and global change.

My hope and prayer is that we might emerge from this Lent with a greater sense of reverence for the earth and all its inhabitants. The celebration of Easter will then be marked by a different, freer, lighter way of living, rather than a return to damaging habits we had tried to give up for the time being. '

+Martin