It is a tradition that our Minister writes a letter every month which is printed in our magazine, "The Messenger". The magazine was paused at the start of the pandemic, but we have distributed a copy for February to April which contains a lot of Lockdown news from around our church family.
Revd Stephen and Deacon Marilyn contributed a joint letter, and here it is.
“Desolation, Death and Despondency”
Happy New Year! Few New Years have been greeted with such a shudder of relief that the old year has finally passed. One of the few good things that has come out of the global COVID pandemic has been a new-learned ability to be honest about how bad we have been feeling. It is essential for good mental health to admit when we are finding it difficult to cope with the consequences of the viral outbreak - or indeed whatever turn of events has impacted our lives. We have learned that phrases like “Mustn’t grumble” or “Doing OK” or “Fine thanks” are really not the best answers to a true friend asking “How are you?”
The most neglected form of worship from the pages of Scripture has been the art of lament. In other words, we have enthusiastically embraced praise, invocation, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, supplication and even doxology (and there’s a good list for your next pub quiz!) - but we have felt lament to be irrelevant. Until now. Bringing lament into our personal and corporate worship (online or gathered) has been a long-needed move into a spiritually healthier place. We have needed, and continue to need, time to rail at God with shaking fists and tears that cry “Why, God, why?”. Lament combines sorrow and anger, and says emphatically that things are definitely NOT OK.
Death has been hard this past year. Firstly because this virus has impacted over 2.5 million people in the UK to date, and has been the primary cause for over 75,000 deaths since January 2020. Virtually everyone now knows someone who has been affected by the virus. Secondly, the strict rules around funerals has meant that when people have died this past year (COVID or otherwise) it has been harrowingly difficult to gather in any desired way to give them they send-off we would have wished. We have conducted funerals this past year with congregations in single figures when normally the chapel would have been filled to capacity. We haven’t been able to sing, and we have had to contain our grief behind our face masks. It has been awful. But admitting and naming that awfulness is vital if we are to be able to move forwards.
And that’s the thing, though, isn’t it? Moving forwards from the letter D in the title to the letter E, the next in the alphabet. Moving forwards from the D of Desolation, Death and Despondency to the E of Easter. The Easter that has overcome all those Ds and refused to give them the upper hand. The Easter Morning Light that shines into that awful darkness and continues to be the strongest force.
This edition of the Messenger Magazine covers the Quarter between Christmas and Easter. Liturgically it is a very rich time. After the conclusion of our Christmas celebrations on 6th January, we enter the time of Epiphany, during which we note the arrival of the Magi and ponder the significance of their gifts to the young Christ Child, finally completing those crib scenes that begin with the arrival of the Shepherds on Christmas Day. I always regret that we tend to compact the entire Christmas story into a single day, a single snapshot scene, and that the setting-up of that one scene tramples all over Advent. Already my neighbours are putting away their Christmas lights, and the council tree shredder is already being pressed into action. It may be the New Year, but I’m still singing “Nine Ladies Dancing”. At this rate those poor Lords waiting in the wings will have no-one to see them Leap.
Our Epiphany journey takes us between two ‘Epiphany’ moments (a moment of divine manifestation): The Epiphany of Jesus’ Baptism and the Epiphany of the Transfiguration, celebrated on the 6th Jan and the 14th Feb respectively. Epiphany transitions into the solemn period of Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday (17th Feb). The Sundays in Lent are of course not part of Lent, so do remember that it’s OK to eat chocolate on Sundays! 28th March is celebrated as Passion Sunday (or Palm Sunday if you insist!) before we enter the harrowing final days of Holy Week.
This year, the celebration of Easter on April 4th will be a celebration like no other. Like Spring that’s come a year late. Like sunshine after a year of darkness. Like LIFE after a year of desolation, death and despondency.
And we shall proclaim the risen Christ in words of shattering power:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
God bless you all.
Deacon Marilyn Slowe and Reverend Stephen Froggatt