Dear Church Family
We hope you are all keeping well. Most of us are seeking to take on board the news that over 100,000 people have now died from COVID in the UK alone. Stories of courage and pain have abounded on our TV screens. It was good to have Archbishop Justin Welby on national TV on Monday speak helpfully and powerfully. He has lost a good friend and fellow bishop to COVID and he also spoke of his history of bereavement having lost his son in a car accident. It was also heartening to hear that he is volunteering at St. Thomas Hospital, supporting the chaplaincy team. He and Steven Cottrell the Archbishop of York are giving a good lead by their joint response of practical support and prayer. They have called on all Christians to pray for those closely effected by the crisis every day at around 6.00 p.m. The prayer they have written was prayed this Friday on Bishop Paul (and Sarah’s) Start the Day reflection.
That Prayer is
We remember before God those who have died and we pray that God’s love will surround all who mourn them, now and always:
as we remember before you the thousands who have died,
surround us and all who mourn with your strong compassion.
Be gentle with us in our grief,
protect us from despair,
and give us grace to persevere
and face the future with hope
in Jesus Christ our risen Lord.
All of us draw comfort from the fact that the vaccination program is going well. Our area had been lagging behind but is now rapidly catching up. I heard from a medical source that letters are going out in the next few days to the over 70’s. Maybe you have already had one? Some of our younger, but clinically vulnerable, relatives in the south have already had theirs.
Returning to Bishop Paul, it was good to see him on our local news, linked to an initiative in Bestwood, to provide meals for the vulnerable in their area. We are fortunate to have inspirational leadership from our Archbishops and our local bishops. Let’s keep them in our prayers. As usual, I include the link to his weekly reflection.
Bishop Paul and Sarah read from Psalm 29 and speak about God displaying his power in the creation around us, encouraging us to continue putting our hope in him through the storms we face.
(Psalm 29:1) Praise the LORD, you heavenly beings; praise his glory and power.
(2) Praise the LORD’s glorious name; bow down before the Holy One when he appears.
(3) The voice of the LORD is heard on the seas; the glorious God thunders, and his voice echoes over the ocean.
(4) The voice of the LORD is heard in all its might and majesty.
(5) The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars, even the cedars of Lebanon.
(6) He makes the mountains of Lebanon jump like calves and makes Mount Hermon leap like a young bull.
(7) The voice of the LORD makes the lightning flash.
(8) His voice makes the desert shake; he shakes the desert of Kadesh.
(9) The LORD’s voice shakes the oaks and strips the leaves from the trees while everyone in his Temple shouts, “Glory to God!”
(10) The LORD rules over the deep waters; he rules as king forever.
(11) The LORD gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace.
The psalm and the bishop’s reflection spoke to me personally, as I have been through a bit of a storm. Over the past few months, I have been suffering head and throat pain and as a result had a series of phone consultations with my GP. After trying various things, the symptoms got worse and I found myself at hospital ENT waiting the dreaded camera up the nose and down the throat. In the socially distanced and masked waiting area, I could see the fear and apprehension on the faces of my fellow patients.
My bible reading over the previous days had been about the age old issue ‘where is God in pain and suffering?’ The final of those readings was from Job, the ultimate story of bad things happening to a good person. Thankfully, in my case, my horrible fears (magnified as one symptom of my malaise is sleep apnoea) were unfounded. It turns out I have a condition, quite common at my stage of life, where I am overproducing acid, resulting in what is called constant silent reflux. Since the appointment, I have been thinking about the stories of my cohort of fellow patients for whom the news may have been more scary. The Archbishop knew the pain of bereavement because he had lived and experienced it (as have we all). I feel I know a little bit more of the fear and the storms generated by COVID and all serious illness as a result of that hour and a half in hospital. The storms of life are many and varied. All of us face storms. Sometimes the waters are very deep indeed. One thing we have on our side is the perspective of faith. In the end even if we appear to lose, we win. I was very moved by a story told by Nicky Gumbel in one of my daily readings this week and I close by sharing it with you.
A one-year-old boy shattered his back falling down a flight of stairs. He spent his childhood and youth in and out of hospital. Gavin Read, the former Bishop of Maidstone, interviewed him in church. The boy remarked, ‘God is fair.’ Gavin asked, ‘How old are you?’ ‘Seventeen,’ the boy replied. ‘How many years have you spent in hospital?’ The boy answered, ‘Thirteen years.’ Gavin asked, ‘Do you think that is fair?’ He replied, ‘God has got all of eternity to make it up to me.’
We live in a world of instant gratification that has almost entirely lost its eternal perspective. The New Testament is full of wonderful promises about the future: all creation will be restored. Jesus will return to establish ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Revelation 21:1). There will be no more crying, for there will be no more pain and suffering. Our frail, decaying mortal bodies will be changed for a body like that of Jesus’ glorious resurrected body.
May God bless you all.