Alison’ reflection will be here!
Ezekiel 36:24-28, John 17:1-11
In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
The reading we had from Ezekiel today – with its promise of new hearts and better times, comes from a time of deepest despair amongst the people of God. They had witnessed destruction of the temple and their homeland, and deportation to live in a strange land. These words from God came towards the end of the time that the people of God had been in exile (which was around 50 years in duration so several generations had passed). It reflects how the well known psalm puts it (and in the version made famous by Boney M).
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion. There the wicked carried us away in captivity, required from us a song. Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
The people of God had learnt to sing to the Lord in their uncomfortable present. They found a way to stay faithful and connected to God’s way in all the circumstances they found themselves in. As time passed a series of new imaginative poetic voices emerged and our Ezekiel reading reflects one of these. They took their loss with deep seriousness, but wisely began to reinterpret their faith to turn to hope for the future. A future where God would in response to their faithfulness restored them to their lands, and to their homelands – which indeed as time went on came to pass.
The kind of hope they had was not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future, but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in God’s promises to Israel. Much of the understanding is of God and his people in a process of promise making and promise keeping. At this time, God is speaking to the people and saying God will once again give land to the people of God, first given to their ancestors.
But this passage has deeper truths embedded in it. When we look at it there is a proclamation of forgiveness in it – where it says – I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. There is a hint of things we know are important in the means of this through the waters of baptism. There has to be a new way to prevent the repetition of the problems the people of God had had in their journey, following God’s promise and way and then falling away again and again.
There is a bigger truth of this sort in the next verse. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. Though this may have felt different at the time, we cannot but read this as meaning the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It is interesting that he uses the word heart – this would have meant the centre of intelligence for the people of God, rather than our use of the word heart to mean the centre of love for us today. This was the change that God was working to move to responses based on love, and our understanding of being led by love is very much at the centre of understanding the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. This is the new Spirit Jesus has left with us which takes our relationship with God far and away beyond the experiences of the times of the people of God in Ezekiel. We need to acknowledge the wonder and awe in this, that God opened his heart of love to us through Jesus.
The next verse takes us deeper still – and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. The hearts of stone refer to the need to remake our human nature (that God did in and through Jesus). Doing a makeover of the stoney and hard reactions the people of God had had repeatedly to God’s will for them. The hearts of flesh is about hearts open to God’s spirit and governed by love. Meaning we can feel God’s presence and be evident in our loving. This leaves us open to feeling it when the going gets tough, but allows God in more deeply, in a new way and powerfully – if we open our hearts to his Spirit and guidance for us. But also gives us glimpses and sometimes more than glimpses of the God who loves each and everyone of us his special children, in this world and the next. This sense of God’s care is also in the words of Jesus as he prays All are yours and yours are mine.
Today let’s pause and reflect and give thanks for the presence of God with us through his Spirit, and our fleshy hearts. Are we open to God’s will for us and his way for us? To God’s directing and guidance. Can we be more open and more fleshy in our of hearts of love to those around us? Can we be more thankful and wonder at the presence of God with us?
I am going to end with a silence to ponder these things in our fleshy hearts and then a prayer
Let us pray
Lord Jesus, by your ascension you left our world,
but you did not abandon us.
You promised the Spirit –
who comes to us and makes a home within us,
a home in our hearts of flesh,
who reminds us of you,
who guides and protects us
and surrounds us with God’s love.
Help us to be aware of your presence today.
Help us to follow your way of love wholeheartedly where it may lead us. Amen.
The new revised standard version of the Bible © 1989, 1995
reverberations of faith – Walter Bruggeman, Word Biblical Commentary Ezekiel 20-48- Leslie C. Allen.
Prayer reproduced with permission and adapted from www.rootsontheweb.com ©
14 May 2023 – Rogation Sunday
As is traditional for the 6th Sunday of Easter, today is also known as Rogation Sunday. It is easy to see from our bible readings today that we are coming to the end of the Easter season – the forty days to Ascension finishing this week, as we celebrate Ascension Day with the rest of the deanery in an evening service in Wincanton Church on Thursday, and we do hope that a good number of you will be able to attend. Ascension day was one of my favourite days when I attended a church primary school in Surrey, as we were required to come to school before moving to the church next door for a service, after which we had the rest of the day off. I doubt if my reasons for enjoying it were altogether pious, but the walk to and from school and the church was through the fields, so I did observe a little of the Rogation tradition as well. I also used to enjoy the celebration of Rogation Sunday when I lived and worshipped in Milborne Port, as we would traditionally hold an early evensong service at Goathill church – or to be precise and if the weather permitted, just outside it, in the farm yard, before being treated to a very excellent tea in the farm house!
The tradition of observing Rogation at this time started in about 470 ad and was instigated by St Mamertus of Vienna, probably to replace a Roman festival that normally happened at this time, at which processions were made into the farmlands, and sacrifices were made to protect the crops from rust. The Christian festival initially followed much of the same processional route, but finished by returning to the basilica in Rome to celebrate mass. It has always been a time to pray for God’s protection of the crops, and for a good harvest to come, and in that it has changed little over the centuries. It was also a tradition that the three rogation days which follow Rogation Sunday to be fast days, and I wonder if this was partly to make a virtue out of necessity, since early summer is a time of promise of good things to come rather that of plenty. Historically it has been a lean time in rural communities that rely on what they can grow.
George Herbert, who depending on your point of view is either the patron saint of, or an extreme annoyance to rural clergy said that his rural congregation was addicted to the processions of rogation days. He wrote: ‘The Country Parson is a Lover of old Customs, if they be good, and harmless; and the rather, because Country people are much addicted to them, so that to favor them therein is to win their hearts, and to oppose them therein is to deject them. Particularly he loves Procession.’ Herbert goes on to say that the four aims of celebrating Rogation should be
- To seek God’s blessing for the fields to bear fruit
- To seek the preservation of justice in the boundaries of the parish
- To walk in love with one another and reconcile differences
- To practice mercy and generosity toward the poor from God’s provisions
It is probably from the second of these that the practice of beating the parish boundaries arose, and from the third a custom less observed nowadays of processing to the boundaries of deaneries and worshipping with the other deanery at the point of meeting.
More recently, The Clewer Initiative, which was set up in 2016 and is the Church of England’s national work to combat modern slavery, has suggested that that Rogation is also a time for us all to become more aware of modern slavery as it exists in the agricultural sector. We have recently heard through the news of people being brought to this country to do seasonal agricultural work ending up in debt to those who brought them here. Bath and Wells is taking part in the anti-slavery movement through the Hidden Voices Somerset project, which is setting up local hubs and providing awareness training aross the diocese. I should also add at this point that many farmers work well with migrant labour, treating and paying them fairly, and being reliant on and valuing the annual return of good workers.
The American theologian Vigan Guroian, in addition to writing widely on theological subjects, and being an acknowledged expert on the Eastern Orthodox church, has also written a book entitled Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening in which he says this:
‘I think if we all gardened more, all of the birds that fly in the air above and light in my garden below would be better off…When I plant in spring I also hope to taste of God in fruit of summer sun and sight of feathered friends. Gardening symbolizes our race’s primordial acceptance of a responsibility and role in rectifying the harm done to the creation through sin.’
Rogation days then remind us that we are a part of God’s work of redemption – in Romans 8 we read of how the whole of creation is in bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. They also ground us within our parish – it is worth remembering at all times that just as the apostles were commissioned to preach the gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth, they were to start where they were – in Jerusalem. For us the work begins right where we have been placed – in our communities where we live and work. The poet, farmer and environmentalist, Wendell Berry has said: “No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it.” We are Easter people but also people with a place, and that is where we need to bring Easter to first. A person who’s feast day was celebrated last Monday was Dame Julian of Norwich. She lived and wrote in the 14th and early 15th centuries, the times of the great plague, and was the first woman to have a book published in the English language. That book – The Revelations of Divine Love is still easily obtained now, but despite her worldwide fame, she spent nearly her whole life in a small cell attached to St Julian’s Church in Norwich. We don’t need to go anywhere except where God wants us to be.
These are also days to worship and pray. To thank God for the good place where he has placed us, and to pray for the people around us in our communities. To pray as well for those who work to provide the food that we can so easily pick up in the shops. The war in Ukraine has shown us just how important agriculture is to the feeding of the world, as it has become more difficult to obtain produce from that wonderfully fertile country.
The final task of this season though must surely be one of looking forward and preparing. Ascension Day is next Thursday as I have said, and that is also the first day of the season of Thy Kingdom Come when Christians in all denominations are encouraged to pray for the nine days until Pentecost for specific people to come to know God. And finally, it is all a time of preparation for that great festival of Pentecost when the birth of the church and the coming of the Holy Spirit to bring us power and enable us for the work that is ours to do will be remembered. There is a lot going on at this time of year.
 Inheriting Paradise by Vigen Guroian, Copyright © 1999 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Romans 8: 20
Coronation – Easter 5 – May 7th 2023
Joshua 1:1-9, and Ephesians 3:14—21
In the name of the living God, creator Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen.
A short reflection today, as we praise God together on this Coronation weekend and give thanks.
Yesterday’s epic Coronation Service began with our King echoing the words of Jesus ‘I have come not to be served but to serve’. It was repeated again, in the King’s prayer said after the oaths, and in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon.. This sentiment, coming to serve not to be served, is at the heart of all our endeavours as Christians. Archbishop Justin, said it was important we all live our lives for the sake of others and that the strength to do this comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. That the Holy Spirit draws us into love in action, and this is the way to live lives that are strong, joyful, happy and glorious.
In the Coronation service that followed, the King committed himself to God and to his calling to be our monarch. Again, this is all that any of us can do in this life, to love and worship God with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our souls and with all our strength, and to follow the calling God has for our lives.
His Majesty King Charles III calling has been on his life since the age of 4, and it has been a big one that has shaped all his life and at its heart is service to God and to our country. The role of King in our country is very much under the authority and love of God. Yesterday, King Charles has promised effectively to be the best King he can be. Again, being the best we can be is all any of us can do.
I asked the children in Wincanton at the primary school and those who came to our coronation journey last weekend – what makes a good King? The most common thing that was said was that he needed to be kind. Other qualities were respectful, truthful, generous, helpful, loving, and caring. It is our responsibility to pray for our King for his time as our monarch, and particularly for him to follow the guidance he receives from the Holy Spirit with the responsibilities he carries for us in being head of our church, and in service of our country, the 14 other realms and territories where he is also head of state and as the head of the Commonwealth.
Unlike our King, our calling in this life (what God wants of us and that we have been uniquely placed here to be and to do) has probably not been so clear cut and probably not since the age of 4. It is likely to have changed over the years. However, our approach to our lives, needs a similar dedication, devotion and heart for service that we need in our King – to love God and to follow the path he has for us (however that is revealed to us) and whatever stage of life we are at.
Both the readings we had today, are food for our Christian journey. God speaking to Joshua in our first reading is asking as to be ‘bold and courageous’, as God is with us wherever we go. Our second reading (which was one of the options for today and has travelled with me over the years through my Christian journey), from the letter to the Ephesians, has us dwelling on the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s amazing love for us, and the knowledge that we are filled with all the fullness of God to direct our steps.
This is a very big thought, but a lived reality if we lean into God’s love for us and allow the Holy Spirit to accomplish in us what God wants of us. In our experiences, this is often so much more than we would ask for and imagine, and typical of God’s overflowing generous love for us.
It is my hope for King Charles and Queen Camilla and for all of us, that we will hold in our hearts the amazing love God has for us. Love at the heart of all the magnificent hymns we are singing today and love which invokes in us a natural response to pray, praise and serve, or as the archbishop put it love in action. May God be the power at work within us all, which is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen.
References: The Coronation Service May 6th 2023 produced by the Church of England
The New Revised Standard version of the Bible © 1989, 1995.