Pressing On

Some years ago, I had a phone call from a parishioner. He worked for one of the utility companies and wanted to know if I could help him with the date of Easter. He was preparing for a meeting and needed to know when Easter would fall over a number of years as it has a bearing on the demand for electricity. There was no Google in those days, so I took down my copy of the Alternative Service Book (1980) and was able to find the information he was looking for. It’s not often that I am able to provide such a useful service!

The calculation which gives us the date of Easter each year is beyond my simple brain, but it has something to do with full moons and the vernal equinox. (Not the actual full moon or equinox, of course, but ecclesiastical ones… Don’t ask me!) I gather that Easter can fall on any date between 22 March and 25 April. This year, Easter Day is 21 April, which is fairly late.

It’s slightly easier to calculate the date of the Annual Parochial Church Meeting: it has to be held not later than 30 April each year. At St Matthew’s, this year’s meeting will be held in church after the morning service on Sunday 14 April. At St Cross, the meeting follows the service on 28 April. Anyone whose name is on the church’s electoral roll is entitled to attend the meeting and take part in its proceedings. It’s worth saying here that, if you wish to have your name entered on the roll for either church, you must fill in an application form. If you have been on the roll before, that doesn’t count as this is one of the years when a new roll is prepared, and your details will not be carried over. Application forms are available from either church and each church has an Electoral Roll officer: at St Matthew’s, it’s Richard Johnson and at St Cross it’s Sandra Bates. If you want further information, please ask.

You may wonder why you would want to have your name on the church electoral roll. There aren’t many benefits, it has to be said! But it is one way of declaring your faith. You are identifying yourself as a Christian who belongs to a particular Anglican church – St Matthew’s or St Cross in our case.

But the Church of England is not really a ‘membership’ organisation. Anyone who lives in the parish is a parishioner – not just those who go to church. Of course, baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the life of the Christian Church. If you are baptised, you become a member of the Church (the catholic – or worldwide – church, not just the Church of England). In Anglicanism, confirmation is usually seen as an opportunity to confirm your baptismal faith – particularly if you were baptised as an infant – and to have your faith confirmed by the Bishop. But, as a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said:

“The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

Having your name on the church electoral roll, taking part in its annual meeting, perhaps even putting your name forward to serve as a member of the Parochial Church Council or as a Churchwarden, are all ways in which we can serve our parish – including those who are not church members. At a time when church attendance is declining, and many organisations find their membership numbers falling, the importance of us identifying ourselves as Christians is crucial. I’m writing this before Lent, a time when many Christians look again at what it means to identify themselves with Jesus Christ, to walk in his footsteps in preparation for our celebration of the resurrection.

At our annual meetings – either side of Easter, this year – we long to see signs that our churches are alive, made of people who identify with Jesus, in his death and resurrection, knowing the power of his love. As we read in the letter to the Philippians:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

Philippians 3:10-12

At your baptism, you were baptised into Christ Jesus, his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3,4). In confirmation, you made a public commitment to the faith into which you were baptised. By joining the electoral roll, you identify yourself as an active, worshipping member of a particular congregation. And in all of this, we “press on” because Christ Jesus has made us his own.

I wish you well as you press on in your journey through Lent towards Easter!

Alan Jewell

Experience Easter

On the day before Palm Sunday, a group of church people, directed by Ruth Mock, came into St Matthew’s to prepare for ‘Experience Easter‘. They went to work with fabric and greenery, pebbles and props to create a series of six displays which were to be used to tell the Easter story, from Palm Sunday to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. And a fabulous job they did, too – the church looks great!

‘Experience Easter’ came (like a lot of good things) from the Diocese of Gloucester as an attempt to engage children and adults with the message of Easter. We live in a world where, increasingly, people are not familiar with even the basic elements of the Christian story. ‘Experience Easter’, as its name suggests, it not just about telling the Easter story: rather it aims to get participants to ‘experience’ the dynamic of Holy Week and Easter in a journey through six ‘stations’.

  • Hopes and Dreams

We start with the ‘Hopes and Dreams’ of Palm Sunday. Those who take part in ‘Experience Easter’ are asked what they hope for, what they dream of. Some talk about their career ambitions – especially if they want to be a pop star or professional footballer. Others share their hope that a family member will recover from illness.

We tell them that the inhabitants of Jerusalem dreamt of a day when God would send a saviour to rescue them from their oppressors, the Roman Empire. Riding into the city on the back of a donkey, Jesus looks like a saviour – albeit an unlikely one. He is greeted as a king by cheering crowds. Going against everything we usually say to children when they come into church (‘be quiet!’), we invite the children to wave palm leaves and shout as the crowds did: HOSANNA! They process around the church and are then invited to sit (near the font) to hear about ‘The Servant King’.

  • Servant King

What kind of king did Jesus know himself to be? And how can a king be a servant? Jesus kneels in humility, like a lowly slave, and washes the feet of his disciples. We explain to the children that, in Jesus’ day, when you arrived at someone’s home you would do so on foot. Having walked through the hot, dusty streets – trying your best to avoid the ‘messages’ left by donkeys and other creatures – your sandaled feet would be in quite a state. Your host might instruct a slave to wash your feet before dinner. But who would choose such a job? In this station, the leader offers to wash the feet of one of the children taking part. (It’s a moving experience to be the person doing the washing.) Drying the child’s feet with a towel, we explain that Jesus said he was giving an example: that those who follow the Servant King should also serve. We ask the children to think how they might serve others.

  • Remember Me

In the next station, we gather around a table set for a meal – the last supper at which Jesus explains to his disciples that he will die, giving his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out. The station is called ‘Remember Me’ and we ask the children if they have something at home that reminds them of someone special. Children talk about photographs of pets and grandparents that have died. Others have precious objects, like a teddy or necklace that belonged to a family member. Jesus takes bread and wine, gives thanks to God, and shares them with his friends. ‘Do this’, he says, ‘to remember me.’ We give the children a small piece of pitta bread and some blackcurrant squash (no, not real wine!) to eat and drink, and invite them to remember something about Jesus.

  • Alone

After the meal, Jesus goes into the garden of Gethsemane. There he wrestles with the agony of what he must face. But his friends can’t even stay awake to support him and one of them will betray him. This station is called ‘Alone’. Children from Year 3 at the school had prepared poems about loneliness and they show a deep and moving appreciation of what it feels like to be lonely. In our Garden of Gethsemane, we read words of scripture that Jesus may have thought about: how God is always with us, even in our darkest hours and that, with God in our lives, we are never alone.

  • Sharing our Sorrows

Next, we move to the Cross. As you can imagine, this is a difficult subject for all of us, never mind primary school children. But even young children have the capacity to engage with difficult things. We ask them to sit in silence, holding a small cross, and looking at the wooden cross which stands in the pulpit, draped with red fabric. We ask them to share what the scene makes them think or feel. A number of them talk about the sadness, to think that Jesus died in pain. We explain that the station is called ‘Sharing Our Sorrows’ as we think of how God comes into our world with all its darkness and brokenness to share our lives, sorrows and all. We invite the children to bring their thoughts and prayers (and the crosses they have been holding), and to leave them at the foot of the cross before moving on.

  • Resurrection

     

If this was a Holy Week service for adults, we might end there and invite people to come back to church on Easter Sunday to hear the next part of the story. But we don’t do that with children; we don’t leave them with the sadness of the cross. The final station is, of course, ‘Resurrection’. We have a beautiful Easter garden with an empty tomb set up in the sanctuary of the church and invite the children, like those women on the first Easter day, to look into the tomb. What do you think those women felt? Afraid? Worried? Excited?

‘Experience Easter’ ends with the children being given time to ask questions and to look again at the six stations that tell the story. They are also given a small chocolate egg to take away and challenged to remember, when Easter comes and they open their Easter eggs, the story that they have shared through ‘Experience Easter’.

Many thanks to those who created the six stations and to those who have loaned items to decorate them. Everyone who comes into church will appreciate what has been achieved. ‘Experience Easter’ is a wonderful thing and I hope we will be able to repeat it in future years.

I’m writing this in Holy Week: for me, the full experience of Easter still lies ahead. But our prayer is that many visiting the church for an Easter service, or simply coming in to look around at the stations, will experience the Easter message for themselves: that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and that the resurrection of Jesus changes the world for good.

Happy Easter!

Alan Jewell

It’s an Adventure!

I was talking to someone recently who told me that he had heard that vicars were not allowed to work more than 35 hours a week. I wish I had known that! When I was offered this job, I had to complete a health questionnaire to make sure I was sufficiently fit to take on the demands of full-time vicaring. The company that administered the questionnaire did so on the basis that the job was 40 hours a week. I wish! The reality is that this job will take as much time as you give it and then some more. There are some clergy who have part-time posts but there is nothing part-time about vocation.

So, what about part-time Christians? Is there any such thing? You’d be right if you guessed that the answer is ‘no’. One of the problems we have is that the word ‘Christian’ is often used to mean someone who is good, or kind, or nice. My wife, Rose, says that she once helped a colleague pick up some papers that had been dropped and was told, “that was very Christian of you”. There are many good and kind people – atheists, Muslims and Jews, for example – who would be offended to have their goodness and kindness labelled ‘Christian’. And not all who go by the name ‘Christian’ are particularly good and kind people. Some of us worry that we are not very good Christians…

Acts 11:26 says that “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.” In other words, a Christian is a disciple and a disciple is a Christian. So, what is a disciple?

In the gospels, disciples are called by Jesus to spend time with him, learn from him and reach out to others in his name. In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), the disciples are sent out to

make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:16-20)

I often quote the following from the Revd Dr Alison Morgan, a Christian thinker and author:

discipleship is a form of apprenticeship undertaken in community

It’s an apprenticeship: none of us is a master, we’re all learning on the job from the Master. We make mistakes and move on.

It’s undertaken in community: there may be Christians who are called to the solitary life but most of us live out our discipleship in community with others. Alison Morgan, again, says that “the plural of disciple is church“.

Jesus warns that this is no part-time job and no easy calling. In Luke 14:28-33 he compares it to someone who decides to build a tower. Imagine starting off with the best of intentions, digging the foundations, putting up the first few courses of brick and then realising that you don’t have the money to finish the job. Everyone who passes by will see not a tower but a folly, something ridiculous: a monument to your stupidity. Or a king going out to war against another who doesn’t sit down first and work out if he has the troops to get the job done. If he hasn’t, he takes the diplomatic route to see what he can rescue from the situation.

Who among you, Jesus says, if you were going to build a tower or start a war, would not work out first whether you have the resources to finish the task? Jesus is talking to large crowds. Many of them may be simply going along for the ride. Many may not have given any thought as to where this particular ride might take them. We know, as we follow Jesus towards Holy Week and Easter, that his journey is to the cross. On the other side of that is resurrection but he will not get there without walking the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.

“I’m going to the cross: who’s coming with me?” It’s hardly the most enticing advertising slogan ever but that is how Jesus calls people to discipleship. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it:

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

This is not masochism and it gives no support for sadism. All human existence is touched by suffering: Christian discipleship is the call to die! At baptism, we are baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus. What is it that dies?, given that most of us were baptised as infants and here we are still walking around and breathing in and out! What is it that dies? It is our ambition. It is our self-determination. It is the view that the universe revolves around me. The implications of that take a lifetime to work out but the selfish self must die so that the God-self, your real self, can live.

I’m writing this in Lent, which many find a good time to look again at our discipleship, our walk with Jesus. Have we counted the cost, weighed up the pros and cons? Jesus warns us that Christian discipleship is tough; it’s costly. But, he assures us, the benefits are out of this world! In one of the songs that we sing with the children who come to Praise & Play, we’re reminded that:

It’s an adventure following Jesus.
It’s an adventure learning from him.
It’s an adventure living for Jesus.
It’s an adventure following him.
Let’s go where he leads us
Turn away from wrong
For we know we can trust him
To help us as we go along.
It’s an adventure following Jesus…1

In April, both parishes hold their Annual Meetings: a good time to re-evaluate our calling to live for and serve God in the communities in which God has put us. On 16th April, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and are reminded that although being a Christian is never easy, we are invited to live out our discipleship in the light of Easter.

The resurrection assures us that a life of Christian discipleship, although costly, is worth it. God puts his seal of approval on the self-giving life of Jesus and shows us that a life like that, lived in love, is one that even death cannot ultimately put a stop to.

I hope you will be able to join us for one or more of our services in Holy Week and Easter.

Alan Jewell


1. [Capt Alan Price © 1990 Song Solutions Daybreak]