A YouTube Posting by Bishop Jo - Bishop of Dorking
Bishop Jo has posted this You Tube video - keep watching to the end!
The Archdeacon of Dorking, Sunday 29 March
Archdeacon Martin Breadmore had been due to visit the Benefice at St Marys Holmbury, but with all churches closed that visit had to cancelled. However, he has provided a written sermon and a set of prayers.
The Archdeacon's Sermon - Jesus and the Grieving Sisters
We are certainly living in extraordinary days. We are all in lockdown as we seek to work together to stem the tide of the Coronavirus that is spreading around the world. What we are allowed to do and where we are allowed to go have been changing daily, leading to uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. Churches are closed everywhere and today is the second Sunday when we are worshipping at home rather than together in our church buildings. Of course our concern and prayers are especially focussed on those who are particularly vulnerable in these days; the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. I have heard some speak of these times being like a war where we are all fighting an unseen enemy.
It is understandable that in this climate many are frightened, anxious and scared. The reality of illness and death are on the horizon like never before. How appropriate it is then that we should spend some time considering John’s account of Jesus raising his dear friend Lazarus from the dead, which is our Gospel reading for today. The human reality is that none of us can escape death. All of us are born and all of us will die. I am sure that many of us know the pain and grief associated with death.
Death surrounds Jesus at every turn at this point in John’s gospel. He reveals himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep; we are told about the thief seeking to destroy the sheep; the Jews trying to stone Jesus because he claims to be God; now his dear friend Lazarus is dead; immediately after raising Lazarus from the dead we read that the religious leaders are hatching a plot to kill Jesus; next Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a donkey – riding to his death. Death was all around Jesus, so much so that that is probably all he thought of, all he smelt. Don’t let anyone tell you that Jesus does not understand what it is to be human – what it is to face death and to know its reality.
It is into this context that Jesus speaks words of life and resurrection. He reveals himself as the Life and the Resurrection. The Resurrection is no longer simply a doctrine it has a living face and a name. Jesus speaks to the very core of every human being, to the one thing that frightens us most. All those who believe in him will die physically but not spiritually, those who believe in him will live with Jesus for ever, a relationship which begins now and goes on beyond the grave and death will not bring this relationship with Jesus to an end because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.
Words of enormous comfort surely to the grieving sisters and to all believers today as they realise that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Two things to note about this famous ‘I am’ saying of Jesus:
- Jesus is the Life because he gives up his life for others – the raising of Lazarus leads directly to the death of Jesus – it is at the cost of life that he gives life – the abundant life that he gives is life through death.
- He is the Life only because he is the Resurrection from the dead – in this sense the raising of Lazarus is a sign that reveals that Jesus has power over death and that it cannot and never will defeat him and it of course points to Jesus own death and resurrection.
In 1944 the Jews in Nazi Germany were being exterminated and in the rest of occupied Europe they were being hunted down, rounded up, herded onto trains and shipped off to concentration camps. But in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, one man, a 32-year old Swedish businessman named Raoul Wallenberg decided that something must be done to stop this. He realised that he was one of the few people who could do this. That October, as 100’s of Jews were being forced onto a train bound for the death camp at Auschwitz, Wallenberg stood on the platform handing out documents which said that these people were Swedish citizens and therefore could not be deported. In the course of the next 3 months, Wallenberg gave these special passes to 1000’s of men, women and children – all of them Jews. Without these documents they were as good as dead, however with them they could live. In the New Year even though the fighting was drawing closer Wallenberg chose to stay in Hungary to carry on his life saving work. When the Red Army reached Budapest in January 1945 he went to see the Russian commander but he was never seen again. The Soviet authorities later admitted that he had died in a prison camp. He gave his life so that 10’s of 1000’s of others might live.
In a much greater and more profound way, Jesus gives us eternal life because he gave up his life and in so doing defeated, sin, evil and death itself. So as we prepare to enter Passiontide in a week’s time and travel alongside Jesus once again in the extraordinary final hours of his life, let us remember his sacrifice for us; that through his death we might have life in all its fullness.
- Have you placed your trust in Jesus the Resurrection and the Life? In our current climate are you frightened about death and worried about what lies beyond the grave? Jesus is speaking to all of us this morning – he is offering us his gift of life that never ends – take Jesus at his word – he won’t let you down - as the Psalmist writes – ‘Commit your way to the Lord, trust him and he will act’ (Ps 37:5).
- God calls us to follow Jesus and to give up our lives so that others might live. We need to live radically for Jesus just the way that Raoul Wallenberg did. We are called to love with a sacrificial love, a love that goes beyond explanations, a love that cannot be worked out and a love that is totally unconditional. We are called to love, as we have been loved. What does it mean for you and me to love others today in this time of Coronavirus lockdown? Today is a day for reflection and prayer, so let us reflect on whom we are to love and how we can love them and then let us act in the name of Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life.
The Archdeacon's Prayers
Heavenly Father, your Son, Jesus Christ has challenged death and the powers of darkness, and brings new life to all who turn to him. Open our eyes and enter our hearts that we may know and receive your healing presence in these dark and difficult times. Show us your light, shelter us with your comfort and surround us with your love, that our despair will turn to hope, our weakness to strength and our doubts to faith.
We pray for the church, our bishops priests and other leaders, as they continue their work of proclaiming the gospel of Christ to the world. May they and all who serve you provide a beacon of hope to a suffering world.
We pray for the leaders of nations. that they may work together for the common good as the outbreak spreads. Grant those in government the strength and the will to act with wisdom, compassion and service to all.
Be with all who are affected by the coronavirus around the world. We particularly remember Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his Royal Highness Prince Charles and those close to them. Bring comfort and healing to those who are sick with the virus. Grant courage and strength to first responders, health care workers and all who stand on the front line in providing care.
We pray for those whose hope is lost, remembering the homeless, those in prison, and those who face financial hardship. Sustain and support the anxious. Be with the bereaved and those who care for sick loved ones. Lift up all who are brought low, that we might find comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
COVID-19 - A Message from the Bishop of Guildford ,18 March 2020
The last few days and weeks have been a confusing and bewildering time for us all. A growing number across our communities have contracted the coronavirus, of whom a small proportion have died. A far greater number are now self-isolating, including many able-bodied men and women over the age of 70. Social gatherings have increasingly come to a halt. The economy is in freefall.
And yesterday we all received the news that church services are to be suspended for the time being, so as to seek to contain the virus: another unprecedented move at a time when the very word ‘unprecedented’ is becoming almost a cliché.
In all this there has inevitably been much talk of closures, cancellations and postponements. Is the Church just shutting up shop, people might be wondering - to which the answer is a resounding No! For this current crisis is a time for Christians (including we clergy) to step up not to give up: to let go of what’s less important so as to focus on what’s most important: to be not just the Church of England but the Church for England; to go deeper in our commitment to what Jesus described as the greatest commandment of them all: to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves’.
So how might we love our neighbour at this time? Perhaps through committing ourselves to ten acts of kindness every day, especially in relation to those who are poorest and most disadvantaged among us: making sure that our Foodbanks remain properly stocked with provisions and volunteers; leafleting streets with offers to pray and to help; arranging for daily phone calls to those who are frail and housebound; joining in with local community initiatives (because Christians don’t have a monopoly on good ideas or compassion).
Even the self-isolating can love their neighbour at the end of a phone-line, or in front of a computer, or by writing a good old-fashioned letter. How about expressing your appreciation of your Vicar, for example, at a time when she or he is likely to be feeling really pressurised?
One of our churches has followed the Italian example in providing a little outdoor concert for those who are self-isolating in a block of flats in their parish. Another has taken round a hamper to their local GP surgery, to express their huge admiration and support of those on the frontline. Clergy will shortly be invited to join a diocesan Facebook group to share good ideas and learn from one another; and do please consult our diocesan website daily as we respond to the most pressing questions that are cropping up in our churches and our schools.
Loving our neighbour is one thing, but how about loving the Lord our God when corporate worship is on hold? What might that look like?
As you know, we’re in the season of Lent, 40 days and 40 nights in which Jesus went into self-isolation, to be tested, yes, but also to pray, to meditate on the scriptures and to deepen his sense of calling for the future. During that time he was echoing the 40 years that Israel spent in the desert before entering the Promised Land: a time in which there was no church or temple, but just a makeshift tent (the tabernacle) in which Moses used to meet with God day by day.
So how might we meet with God over this time as we take time out to pray, to meditate on the scriptures and to reflect on our calling, now and in the future? What’s our tabernacle? Again parishes around the diocese are being really creative on this one, keeping their churches open where possible, providing spiritual resources for those who need them, making use of technology to help people feel connected, and above all praying, and calling others to join in. This coming Sunday the Archbishops have called us to a Day of Prayer, symbolised by putting candles in the windows of our houses and together lighting it at 7pm. And again there are some wonderful resources appearing on the diocesan website to help spiritually nourish us during this time in the wilderness.
Loving God, loving our neighbours; and how important too, to love ourselves at this time: to be kind on ourselves as well as others, as we all adjust to a rapidly shifting landscape.
And so finally to God’s Word through the prophet Isaiah: that ‘I will give you the treasures of darkness and the riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name’ (Isaiah 43:5). So what might be the treasures of darkness during this time?
Perhaps a new togetherness as a nation, following the deep divisions of the Brexit debate. Perhaps a new connection between the church in England and the people of England. Perhaps deeper discipleship and new vocations arising out of those forty days and forty nights of self-isolation (or however long it lasts). Perhaps a new commitment to prayer, and above all a new recognition of the sheer wonder of the Christian gospel – that nothing (not even loneliness or sickness or death itself) can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
And, in recognition that the call to suspend public worship fell on St. Patrick’s day, a prayer from St Patrick’s Breastplate:
- Christ be with me, Christ within me,
- Christ behind me, Christ before me,
- Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
- Christ to comfort and restore me,
- Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
- Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
- Christ in hearts of all that love me,
- Christ in mouth of friend and stranger, Amen’.