Departure does not mean ending

I cannot explain away my faith; I cannot make it seem real to all people but I can make known something of the indescribable and the unknowable through other means like art, film and literature.

Today is Ascension Day – 40 days after Easter Sunday and 10 days before Pentecost. Ascension is one of the most difficult events of Christ’s activity on earth to grasp and fathom. To attempt to put this ‘happening’ into a theological context is to grapple with the human emotions of loss and recovery. Jesus leaves his followers in bodily form in order to share himself more fully through his Spirit. 

This evening I will be preaching on the Ascension of Christ. I have struggled with the readings from Acts (1-11) and the gospels. The best way that I have learned to bring meaning to Christ’s departure is by appealing to film, literature and legend. In particular, I wanted to draw out similar themes, emotions and actions which have been depicted through history of this action of ascension. You will need to come to the Eucharist tonight at 8pm in the Lady Chapel if you want to hear the full version but I will give you a teaser now. 

The movie E.T. demonstrates much of the disciples angst as Jesus leaves them behind. But the film enables us to understand that departure does not necessarily mean ending. The relationship built up between the child, Elliot, and E.T. is life-giving and life-changing. This relationship is beautiful, amazing and resilient.

I cannot explain away my faith; I cannot make it seem real to all people but I can make known something of the indescribable and the unknowable through other means like art, film and literature. This type of scavenging for the truth becomes a wonderful resource because it sets our faith into context. The Bible is at its most vibrant and dynamic best when set against other ways of seeing the world, like that of Elliott in E.T. Come tonight, remembering that Ascension Day is a day of obligation in our Christian year.

OTHER NEWS

The CATechesis Group

In the next three weeks we will be asking the question: ‘Is evangelism a dirty word?’ This question arises as we think about how we re-emerge and engage with our community after lockdown. Clare will lead these sessions and she will try and unpick some of the theology behind the meaning of evangelism. We hope that some of the outcomes to an open discussion on this subject may well lead to a greater ownership of discipleship (not just by the clergy); that we may all bear witness to our faith with confidence; that we may be more reassured about the church’s presence in the community.

Do come along, we meet on Zoom from 7.30pm – 9pm. We begin with a short bible reading and exploration before we focus on the main theme. You do not have to be a cat owner to come (!) or a theologian. This group is for all people who are inquisitive about the Christian faith. Here it is – simply press the underlined blue link and join us for chat, laughter, thought and prayer: 
StM&AA’s Summertown is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.Topic: CATechesis Group Time: May 18, 2021 07:30 PM Join Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/99330983259?pwd=K3R3UitQOXhWcFZFcHlXTjMwYnc3Zz09 Meeting ID: 993 3098 3259Passcode: 139348

The Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM)

This will take place immediately after the 10am Eucharist this Sunday. This meeting is designed for parishioners to voice their joys and concerns about the church’s mission and ministry. The meeting will be necessarily brief this year and we will continue to exercise our Covid safety measures. The finances will be presented in both print and as an in-person report. All the documents have been published and shared out. These reports will be available throughout the next weeks and months.  

I would especially like us all to share some time in thought and prayer over the coming weeks about how we as a church would like to emerge out of lockdown. What should we be focusing on? What might we wish to disregard? Can we build a common vision for the next few years? What might this vision look like and what will it ask of us as individuals and as a body corporate? Your response to these questions is essential; we are in this as one family, seeking a sense of togetherness – all ages, all stages, all people.

Upcoming Services

Protect and Survive

I cannot avoid the internal, soulful stirring which this nuclear proliferation brings. I don’t want to be associated with it.

I am of the generation who grew up exposed to the possibility of nuclear devastation. We were educated to realise the real and present threat of nuclear war and its aftermath. This was the precarious geo-political climate of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government issued a pamphlet which became a film called Protect and Survive, a public information campaign intended to instruct the British nation how to survive a nuclear strike! But the British public were not supposed to receive this information until a nuclear threat was imminent. However, the media got (the nuclear) wind of it and provoked a public outcry which galvanised the government to release the Protect and Survive booklet, radio broadcasts and TV films.

Protect and Survive, the Government booklet which came to public attention in 1980

Soon after this, Raymond Briggs – of The Snowman fame – published his graphic novel, When the Wind Blows (1982). The book was later made into an animated film. The story features Jim and Hilda Bloggs, a retired couple, who hear a radio report about “an outbreak of hostilities.” Jim falls into line with the Protect and Survive literature that he has collected from his local library and attempts to build a shelter. The couple are chronicled for their innocence and understandable naiveté. But the threatening shadow of the nuclear winter does not retreat. The couple witness the blast and share its deadly effects until, at the end, Hilda insists that Jim should pray the 23rd Psalm. He does so but loses his way and in his confusion begins to recite The Charge of the Light Brigade!

This week, I have never felt closer to Jim and Hilda. I discern in myself a deep sense of protection towards those who are attempting to survive in the current context of the Covid pandemic, of climate change and of the proliferation of nuclear arsenal. This week the government’s defence spending review was leaked with the news of a planned increase of Trident nuclear warheads from 180 to 260 which will cost the nation upwards of £10billion.

At a time when every moral and political strand needs to be set towards the building up global health, community cohesion (cf the refugee and migrant crisis), environmental preservation and climate reversal, our last word is from The Charge of the Light Brigade! Perhaps we should retreat, put on the kettle and whistle a tune? But I cannot avoid the internal, soulful stirring which this nuclear proliferation brings. I don’t want to be associated with it. I don’t want to pay for it – which I will have to do. I want to oppose it with every creative, beautiful, natural fibre that I have. Yet, none of the mainstream political parties will support me. Thankfully the Church has written defiantly against these proposals. How many nuclear warheads do we need for protection? How many people do we need to kill to survive? How much of God’s world do we need to destroy?

I feel far from living in a liberal democracy today. I feel the fear of that same child growing up in the 1970’s, the child who didn’t have a voice then and doesn’t have a voice today. Compared to the wise, educated, and powerful political elite, I am the son of Jim and Hilda. A familiar cloud seems to be overshadowing this human family and all of their friends, their Church, their communities, their soil, their hopes, their beautiful world.

Dear Lord, when in fear of attack, please help me never to forget the psalm of the Divine Shepherd. Amen.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 23

Meekly kneeling on our knees

“Meekly kneeling on our knees is no longer a bedtime habit but it is a clue to ending a day well.”

How is your Lent going? Are you able to sustain any resolutions? Are you able to hold on to any holy desires? We do have resources which may encourage us on our way, such as devotional books, sermons (check out our website), commentaries on the internet etc. Prayer is vital and to that end, please do try and commit to saying one of the daily offices. Again, you can find this with just one click on our own homepage. Common prayer, daily prayer and our opening up to a closer relationship with God become more realistic when this desire becomes habitual. 

Holy habits are beneficial in penitential seasons. In medieval times, penitence and confession was the glue by which communities, especially agricultural communities, were bound together. The locus for this sacrament was the parish church. Grace was conveyed upon the parish priest to offer absolution. To confess was/is to acknowledge a deep misgiving in order to rid oneself of the pain of guilt and terror of judgment. Perhaps we have moved away, somewhat, from the superstitious environment of pre-enlightenment belief but, I believe, there is a place for penitence and confession in a society tuned into words such as ‘wellbeing’ and ‘flourishing.’ 

A late medieval confession

If we are not prepared to exercise in a bit of self-examination, we probably will stunt our spiritual growth. Saying sorry is critical in that maturation process. By saying sorry we become aware of our own secret motivations and misdemeanors. We don’t have to wash our laundry in public but it might be helpful for our own health, and that of the community in which we live, to purge ourselves of any invisible toxins.

Meekly kneeling on our knees is no longer a bedtime habit but it is a clue to ending a day well. Try this for a Lenten exercise – at the end of each day, reflect upon your attitudes, actions and behaviours. Allow Christ to enter into your feelings of guilt, failure, ambivalence, happiness and hope and give them over as your night-time gift to God. See what you learn from sharing these deepest of deep experiences. It may well lead to a more peace-filled sleep and renewal for the new day.

Mothering Sunday – This Sunday marks the 4th Sunday of Lent, which traditionally is the celebration of Mother Church and Mothering Sunday. I hope that you can make our special Zoom service at 10am. It is an All Age offering and a profound observation of the life of Mother Mary, who characterises the marks of maternal love – patience, kindness, wisdom, compassion and faithfulness. 

A variety of familiar faces and voices will accompany us on our journey, so please do come along. If you have time, I am running a short quiz which focuses on the more bizarre elements of mothering – not to be missed! 

Mothering Sunday Service. Time: Mar 14, 2021 10:00 AM https://zoom.us/j/96523560501?pwd=TjhzTjRkaVhNa2RIc1BQeFVxTmk1UT09  Meeting ID: 965 2356 0501 Passcode: 551747. We start at 10am so please be on-line by 9.55am. It should only take 40 mins (if you are planning other activities).

OTHER NEWS

Returning Home – We have a clear goal to return to public worship – Palm Sunday. We are opening the church for the 8am and 10am congregations with a new, up-to-date risk assessment in place. Unless we have a rapid rise in local new cases of Covid-19, I will be thrilled to see many of you in person. I also understand the reticence of those who have not received their second vaccination and continue to self-isolate. We will be continuing to livestream the 10am Eucharist for you and others who are unable to join us at this stage.

Summertown Health Centre – Talking of personal health, you are welcome to attend a Zoom planning meeting to discuss the possibility of a new health centre in Summertown. To access the meeting at 7pm on March 23rd, visit www.summertownstmargaretsforum.org.uk

Ecumenical Growth – St Michael’s supports the ecumenical partnership which has been an important part of its history. We will be welcoming All Saints’ Wytham to become the newest member of the Summertown-Wolvercote Church Partnership alongside St Michael’s, St Peter’s, Summertown URC and Wolvercote Baptists. We hope to celebrate our partnership in the autumn at Wytham.

St Michael’s Threshold – We will be undergoing investigations to uncover the source of the water ingress upon the new extension. The Building & Fabric team are committed to ensuring that the integrity of the new build is not compromised and lasts as long as the rest of the church!

Our Garden – The gardeners have been busy this early spring. Thank you to Suzanne and her band of green-fingered helpers. We are watchful of the wild flowers popping up and we are also hoping that the swifts, when they come, find a home this year in our nest boxes. 

Attunement

“The sermon, then, is the result of God’s interaction, and it is the working out of God’s purpose for his people at this time.”

I have found myself really struggling to write the sermon this week. Sometimes that happens, when life takes over, where distractions get in the way. It is easy to lose focus, especially during lockdown, when the regular rhymes and rhythms have been discarded. In a way, this seems to me to be an important Lenten discipline – to attempt to focus on God’s will even if the sources of imagination and contemplation appear to have dried up. 

If you were concerned that you were to be denied a sermon this Sunday, worry not! Although I am struggling, I will get there, I promise. I will summon the words and draw theological themes and exercise a form of prayerful perseverance. I sometimes wonder if the struggle leads to a greater grasp of the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The words that are composed are not necessarily my words, easily manufactured and processed, but the words graced by God. The sermon, then, is the result of God’s interaction, and it is the working out of God’s purpose for his people at this time.

If we look carefully at this painting by Hofmann who delighted in re-creating the life of Christ on canvas, we can see the different levels of attunement which occurred in the Temple on that day. The priest, sitting down, clinging on to his known scripture – the Law. The cynic, gesturing the improbability and impossibility of Jesus’ vision. The old man, quietly reflecting on the words of this young prophet. Finally the listener flanking Jesus with a scroll wrapped in his hand, pausing in meditation. Who, out of these, is willing to be drawn into God’s will?

Jesus in the Temple, 1881 a painting by Heinrich Hofmann

The congregation (or audience, in this age of livestreaming), is also given a responsibility. A certain duty is placed upon those who are listening to God’s word, to listen well. The liturgy of the Word is shared out for anyone who has ears to listen. But a relationship exists in this sharing out – speaking, listening, questioning, interpreting, inspiring, consoling. The homilist cannot speak without listeners to receive the Word. The congregation cannot fully attend without God’s Holy Spirit being fully present. A unity of purpose is formed through the filtering of this Word across the community. This is why the CATechesis group is so important – that we take time, more time, to consider what God is saying to us today. I would commend this weekly meeting to you, not that you are burdened to join each week, but it is an essential tool in tuning in to God’s will and purpose. (email me for further details).


God speaks when he shares his Word. The good news is that God’s story is one of hospitality, of welcome. When we attune ourselves to God’s story, wonderful things happen. We enter into a deeper relationship with the Word. We become a community shaped by joy and purpose. But this doesn’t come easily. You may have to struggle to attend to God’s Word. You may well have to fight distractions. You will need to find the space and time to listen well. If you are prepared to give of yourself in this way, be prepared to be changed.

Pastoral Letter for Lent

It seems that people are keen to hear stories which make sense of a confused and confusing world.

Moths are attracted to light and, when stories are told on porches and verandas during the longer days and shorter nights, well, moths will come and listen! There is a storytelling phenomenon called ‘The Moth’ which I heard about during my screenwriters’ course a couple of years ago. These are stories told by everyday people who have chosen to speak in a public arena, a little like the Ted Talks from the world of commerce. The Moth stories relate to ordinary life experiences but what brings these stories to life, what brings them to the light like a moth, is that they speak to our sense of wonder in the human condition. (See https://themoth.org).

It seems that people are keen to hear stories which make sense of a confused and confusing world. The Moth is attracting huge audiences through podcasts, books and radio shows. The stories are based upon a diverse range of themes, always told with feeling and sincerity. They prey upon our innate need to be drawn into the dramatic world of another person’s experience of the world.

We have a natural source for storytelling material – the Bible – which is a compendium of Moth stories. It is filled with people’s experiences of life and and loss and hope. When we hear Jesus’ story we recognise a person who lives and speaks with a divine grace and authenticity. We are attracted to Jesus like moths to the light. 

The stories we hear in this season of Lent – in which Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God – have never been more relevant or engaging. The Lenten stories speak about courage, fortitude and discernment. When we feel that our faith is limited or inadequate in some way, when we feel distanced from God, when our only sense is that of the world’s recklessness and not of the Spirit’s presence – then we can be reassured that we are living Jesus’ story too, a story that leads us to God’s Easter and our freedom. 

Be drawn into the light this Lent, stay close to Christ, stay present and remember, you are his story too.

LENTEN DISCIPLINES
Instead of giving up something this Lent, why not try and put something on. The pandemic has depleted many of us, so why not do something new which improves our wellbeing and spiritual strength? I am going to say the Rosary each day but there are a host of free and easy resources at hand. Here are a few more suggestions: 

Come and see for those curious to learn more. Simply register with the Oxford Diocese and receive daily bible readings and commentaries for Lent. There are also videos to watch of different peoples’ testimonies. https://www.oxford.anglican.org/come-and-see/

Common Worship – morning and evening prayer. Go to our parish website homepage and click. You will be taken to the prayer with the readings attached. Join millions of Anglicans around the world saying these daily offices. https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk

Knowing Jesus – a Lent retreat from the Jesuits in Scotland. “Christian tradition believes that the person of Jesus Christ reveals God to us. If we are to follow Christ and imitate him, we need to know him through his words and actions as shown in the Gospels.” https://www.onlineprayer.net

UPCOMING SERVICES

Stations of the Cross – the details to connect by Zoom for Stations of the Cross every Friday in Lent before Holy Week at 6pm:

https://zoom.us/j/92111679099?pwd=SWdrUUpXSHpUU0I3aWkzUStSWWU3Zz09

Meeting ID: 921 1167 9099 
Passcode: 925015

The Stations of the Cross uses Claire Sadler’s pictures that are in church and the usual liturgy, but presented in a way that works for Zoom.

Tune in for the Eucharist on the First Sunday of Lent 

The CATechesis group

Each week the CAT group focuses on the sermon and gospel passage of the previous Sunday. You can come and go as you please – we would love to see you. We meet at 7.30pm on Zoom:

StM&AA’s Summertown is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. Topic: CATechesis Group Time: Feb 23, 2021 07:30 PM London
Join Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/99330983259?pwd=K3R3UitQOXhWcFZFcHlXTjMwYnc3Zz09 Meeting ID: 993 3098 3259 Passcode: 139348


Introducing the daring adventures of…. Michaelmas Mouse!

Each week our intrepid friend (or foe – “It’s vermin Fawlty!”) discovers a new and interesting part of St Michael’s Church to explore. Follow his adventures on our Facebook and Instagram feeds. Many thanks to Leah Mattinson for feeding and caring for him! But we won’t be inviting Michaelmas Mouse to the Cat group!! Leah has also provided the craft for this week.

There’s lots going on, despite the church being closed for public worship but open for private prayer. 

God bless you all this Lent.