Looking up!

“… look up, look forwards and look outwards.”

James Shone, former headmaster of Monkton Combe School.

We all heard the cry, well not so much a cry as a scream! The swifts have returned soaring across these blue skies of May. They are a wonder to see and hear. Admittedly I was not sure, for certain, whether these aerial combatants were swifts, swallows or house martins. I was reassured that they were swifts from others wiser to the journey of the swift than I!

We have a special concern for swifts at St Michael’s. We erected swift dwellings on the north wall of the church in the hope that they would settle and nest. Wouldn’t it be great if we could report that the swifts have taken dwelling.

Making dwelling places – how we live and breathe and pray together and in isolation – is a key point in Nicholas Bradbury’s sermon this week. How do we live together well and how do we live with God? These are important, life-giving questions which many of us have not been able to ignore in these days of lockdown.

I am particularly interested in the subject of dwelling places with the good news that clergy have been given permission to enter into church once more. This means that I will be able to celebrate the Eucharist (with members of my family) and broadcast this to you. I will be able to say my prayers in church, light a candle or two and begin to prepare for a bigger, wider congregation to follow.

Yet it seems wrong that we cannot all share the joy of being ‘in communion’ with Christ together. There has been much talk whilst our churches have been shut about spiritual communion. This is how the Church of England describes the practice: “The term ‘Spiritual Communion’ has been used historically to describe the means of grace by which a person, prevented for some serious reason from sharing in a celebration of the Eucharist, nonetheless shares in the communion of Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, “the Book of Common Prayer instructs us that if we offer ourselves in penitence and faith, giving thanks for the redemption won by Christ crucified, we may truly ‘eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ’, although we cannot receive the sacrament physically in ourselves.”

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Although this text from John needs a lot of unpacking, we should take heart that no matter how isolated, how close to death, how ostracised by relations or friends, we have hope because Christ cannot leave us. Even if we feel distanced from God, his house, his people, we are assured of Christ’s presence even if we are denied the Sacrament. Why not play this recording of O Taste and See by Ralph Vaughan Williams as you consider God’s constant invitation for us to dwell in his presence. This is the anthem that the choir would have sung this Sunday in Church.

We have a number of children’s activities in order to share this Gospel with our younger members including the link to the Roots website. Please also see the crafts that Leah has shared on Facebook. A virtual Messy Church is happening this Sunday looking ahead towards Pentecost. If you would like to take part, please email sophie.aldred@googlemail.com for a Zoom invitation.

And finally…. talking about looking upwards for those swifts, I heard a wonderful testimony from a former headmaster of a school who, after 6 weeks, had a brain tumour removed. He lost his job, 90% of his eyesight and his identity as a human being. He was asked how he managed to survive. He said that he decided to “look up, look forwards and look outwards.” A very powerful and compelling testimony which takes us to the very source of this man’s faith.


Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.