At last. Please excuse me for a moment while a leap with delight. If you’ve been around me much over the past few weeks you’ll appreciate that I am excited at last to be with you all, in person, not on a zoom screen. Even before then, before my arrival, you have all been hanging on in isolation, lovingly keeping the spark of the church alive, not simply in the interregnum, but throughout the long past year of lockdowns and false starts. You have stumbled from month to month, wondering when we might be able to be here together. If ever… perhaps.
Last Easter was painful, devastating even. Churches were closed and there were all kinds of inspiring acts of worship in all kinds of forms across the nation and beyond, but we knew then and we know now: being together is itself so much a part of our faith as Christians, as disciples of Jesus, who was killed, buried and rose again. Today is when we celebrate that glorious event, as we have so many years in the past.
There was a question that became a film starring James Coburn: what did you do in the war, Daddy? The film was a silly but fun farce, but the question is good: what did you do in the lockdown, Daddy? Mummy? Grandma? Granddad? All kinds of things I suspect. I spent the past year like many, going out to help others and looking out for the people around me who were shielding. I was fortunate not to need to shield, and I was also able to scuttle around Bridgwater as a priest finding volunteers to get things done.
That is the story across the country, across the world, I imagine: people in difficult times and with a sense of foreboding (what we might call a heavy heart) wanting to be with others, wanting to hug and cry, laugh and joke, just be normal.
Now, today, on Easter Day, we can at last do a bit of that. No hugging, please: Mr Johnson doesn’t permit that yet, but we can be together, behind our masks. We can see each other and we can hear the choir sing, even if we can’t sing ourselves. Goodness… what joy.
I’m a big fan of A.A. Milne and often view the world through the eyes of Christopher Robin. I consider myself a bit of a Tigger, sometimes I am Rabbit and sometimes I am Roo. But mostly Tigger. Strangely, I never feel like Pooh himself. I’m too keen to make a noise, probably, ever to be Pooh. Even so, these past few weeks, during Lent, I have been forcing myself to see the world from Eeyore’s point of view.If you’ve wandered through the lent course this year, you may have wondered if I was all doom and gloom. We talked an awful lot about the darkness, the desolation of the wilderness and the need to step away from the distractions of the world. We discussed the way we exist as both physical and also spiritual creatures, and how we need to follow Jesus into the darkness if we are to see the glory. All a bit desperate for a new vicar to impose upon the flock, you might think. I apologise. For being quite so morose and heavy. But now we’ve come through and Tigger returns. We have descended to the depths and that descent picked up speed this Holy Week week in our mediations and then our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with my two circuits around the Benefice, first stripping the sanctuaries and then praying the dark hour to 3pm. Sorrow and despair give way to joy and thankfulness. That is what is so amazing about Easter Day. For whatever reason, we live in a universe that contains opposites. There is dark, and there is light and we can and must recognise both.
Since I arrived in February, the weather has gone from flooding through ice and hail and now we have sunshine. Likewise, the seasons of God in our faith go through all kinds of changes; Easter without Good Friday is meaningless given the universe God has formed for us. It can seem hard to grasp, and frankly, there are times when I have no idea why it needs to be as it is. That is faith for you, and at this time of almost but not quite no-pandemic, almost but not quite unlocked down, at this time of a new Easter, a glorious sunrise, we need to have faith that the darkness of the past year has shaped us in good ways.
Yes, we can look back and wonder: did we do the right things? Did we help others much as we know we could? But is that all? Can we not also look back and, in faith, know that whatever we did, we were walking with Christ and that we are still walking with him as the pandemic hopefully fades.
As the sun rises and as we pray and live in hope and with faith that the past year is not going to be repeated this year, we need to ask ourselves not what we did, but what we will do. Do we have the determination to step beyond our front door, if we have become rather hidden away and reclusive? Do we plan to take time to reflect upon what we have learnt and look into the future with a greater sense of God’s love? Can we stand up and enthuse with others for what God has given us?
Those first disciples, the women and the men beside the empty tomb, who couldn’t quite believe what had happened, took a few moments to understand what had happened. True to form, Peter was utterly confused. All he noticed was that Jesus had tidied the sheets on his bed. Then “the other disciple” glimpsed a bit, but then they went home. Curious: why just go home? is that what we all do when we don’t understand something? Is that the safest place to be? Mary Magdalene gets the full story and runs off to tell everyone but notice, Jesus is revealed to her as he says her name, "Mary". It is in seeing her that she sees him. The joy of being noticed by God: may we notice each other by using our names.
We might need a bit of encouragement to get back to normal. Indeed, all this joy today at being in church is not the conclusion of anything. It isn’t the conclusion of the lockdown. Far from it.
With our faith and in our prayers we can give thanks that where ever the future leads, we will be walking with the Holy Spirit, and the risen Lord.
In his name.
Please start giving some thought to your favourites. The Sunday worship at Stoke St Gregory on 18th July will be a combined “Songs of Praise” with the Baptist church. It will be outdoors and so we will be able to sing openly and without masks… O Joy! There will be a suggestion form in church in Lyng on 13th June and subsequently in Stoke St Gregory.
We are gathering tomorrow (13th June) for our monthly united benefice Eucharist. This month it is at St Bartholomew's, Lyng. Parking is available in the "Old Pub Carpark": thank you!
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