The Easter holiday is over, the chocolate eggs have been eaten and the children and students are back in education with many preparing for exams. Looking at the church calendar, we remain in the season of Easter (Eastertide), which lasts for 50 days (how many of us can make an Easter egg last for 50 days!?), spanning the period from Easter Sunday until Pentecost (Whit Sunday), which this year is on June 5.
The first forty days of Easter represent the time Jesus spent on earth following the resurrection, presenting himself to the apostles and others, offering many convincing proofs, and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts, Chapter 1). Easter coincides with spring and the Jewish Passover.
Spring is nature’s season for new life, of growth and fertility for plants and animals following their winter dormancy or hibernation. In fact, the Christian festival was originally called Pascha (Hebrew, Pesah) due to its association with the Jewish Passover, a major festival celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (around 1400-1500 BC) which includes a main course of roast lamb. Jesus is sometimes referred to as the Paschal Lamb, or the Lamb of God, linking the crucifixion to the Passover sacrifice. From a Christian perspective this time of year is central to our faith. I tend to view the crucifixion and the resurrection as being like the two faces of a coin, both very different, but for the coin to exist it must have a head and a tail. When viewed from one side we see the cross, representing the pain and suffering of Jesus’ death. When viewed from the other side we see the hope of new life in His resurrection. The connection between these events is a sacred mystery, known as the Paschal Mystery (although the term is probably more familiar within the Catholic or Orthodox traditions rather than Presbyterianism).
Nevertheless, the mystery is possibly best summarised by the words In John’s Gospel (Ch 3, v16): For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Jesus taught that where there is love, there is hope. It is a powerful, enduring message, and it is written on the heart of each one of us. It is a message we can choose to follow or ignore, but if we choose to ignore it, I do not believe that God will ignore us.
Another name for Jesus is Prince of Peace, a term highly relevant at the current time of war and genocide particularly in Ukraine. But consider this, during his time on earth Jesus was known, among other things, for his humility and wisdom. As far as we know, He had no material possessions. He didn’t even write his own story. And yet, what He left behind will endure forever. We have to believe this. In amongst the chaos of human existence God is still speaking.
We need to remember that He brings cosmos out of Chaos even in the face of this time of great change in the church where the presbytery plan is bringing hurt and confusion and upset for many. Even in the face of the post covid anxiety that affects people at the deepest level and even where the images of the war disturb us at the most visceral levels. In the weeks that lie ahead, may we continue to pray for wisdom, discernment, and compassion for those who suffer and for those with power over war and peace.
With every blessing,
Each time I go into the hall of a school in Edinburgh, I am reminded of the school’s values. In very large letters on the wall are the words FRIENDSHIP, FORGIVENESS, TRUST and COMPASSION. For me, it’s a really good reminder of Jesus’ teaching and example for us to follow. Children should be taught that amongst all the valuable educational learning there is something else that is as important, and this is a sense of looking out for each other and helping those who need it.
Serving others has been a Christian virtue since the dawn of Christianity. Jesus Himself was the Suffering Servant of old, a truth which He underlined when He washed His disciples’ feet in the Upper Room. If Jesus gave His life in service to others, how can we expect to do anything less? What’s more, He tells us it’s by our love for each other the world will know we’re His. The fact is, serving others accomplishes more than even that. You’ve probably heard the words 'love your neighbour as yourself” so many times by now they've lost a little meaning and impact. In addition, we live in such an individualistic society it’s easy to get caught up in our own things most of the time and not even notice our neighbours. While the Bible is clear that our motivation should always be the love of Christ, serving and helping others is also beneficial for growing in Christ. Serving others forces you to take your focus off yourself. At the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat, often focused mostly on ourselves. The more you take your eyes off yourself, the more you’ll see others and the more you’ll see God all around you.
At Easter, our minds were focused on the actions of Jesus when he died and rose again. This month, we have a different kind of focus as we are asked to show compassion to our ‘neighbours’. There are 3 key weeks of looking out for compassion during May: 9 to 15 May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and from 15 to 21 May is Christian Aid Week and finally, 20 to 26 May is Dementia Action Week. Then our news channels and internet remind us constantly that we have to bear the needs of those suffering in Ukraine and Yemen and Sudan and so on and so on. There are so many who deserve our compassion.
On Easter Day we celebrated Christ’s return from the dead. But for the first disciples like us, the resurrection was a bit of a roller-coaster experience – yes, they rejoiced to see Jesus again, but He came and went unexpectedly, they never knew when or if they would see Him again. What were they supposed to do now? Instead of hiding in a locked room in fear, the disciples gathered in prayer and expectation, waiting for what is to happen next. So like the disciples we pray for and wrestle with our own futures, but we should also pray for the vision, the will and the guidance to play our part in reaching out to and serving others.
O Lord, send your Holy Spirit, that we may share the life of your Son and your love with those around us. How can we help? How can we show some compassion?
Lord Show us the way.
- By an Elder
Always remember to forget
The things that made you sad.
But never forget to remember
The things that made you glad.
Always remember to forget
The friends that proved untrue.
But never forget to remember
Those that have stuck by you.
Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.
We would like to thank everyone for their help and support over the Holy week and Easter.
Prayer habits and routines are key to life. Not having to think first thing in the morning; alarm…cup of tea…ablutions…dress…breakfast…action! Just think what life would be like if we had to work out our options every day! God has graciously given us a routine for prayer too, not to pray thoughtlessly, but to follow a pattern known as the Lord’s Prayer.
We start with God who Jesus reminds us is ‘our father’, and in this individualistic world we are part of something - and someone - bigger than us.
He is in heaven, the place that is our destination, where the ‘father’s house ’is, as John reminds us. And although God is spirit and has no gender, embodying both male and female characteristics, Jesus has revealed him as father, not mother, for psychologically very specific reasons.
To hallow the name of God is to treat it with due reverence, and this first part of the prayer brings us to worship. So as part of your worship, why not sing songs or hymns celebrating that we are part of the family of God and he watches over us. Give thanks for who he is, what he’s done, and begin to find that meditating on this takes us to God’s kingdom and his will, which our worship will encourage us to want to see on earth.
It gives us the reminder to pray for our world, its leaders, people and circumstances, and particularly our brothers and sisters under persecution.
The short sentence in the middle brings our daily needs before God. What are your daily needs, and it’s possible they may stretch beyond bread. How do you need your father’s provision for this day?
Jesus takes us on into one of the key elements for our healing; forgiveness. Confessing our own failures before God and being forgiven is immensely freeing; but the condition is that we forgive others. We should do this on a daily basis and not let things build up. Where people have irritated, hurt or upset you, give your feelings to the Lord and let them go in forgiveness. For those severely hurt this can take time, and your Father in Heaven knows.
Then we look at our journey for the day. Bring your plans to your father for his guidance, blessings and involvement, seeking protection from the evil that is in the world, and also in us! In Psalm 23, God leads us in paths of righteousness, but they also include a trip through the ‘valley of death/deepest darkness’. The paths of righteousness are not always easy. We finish with remembering that the kingdom to which we belong, the power/ dynamic which empowers and enables us, along with the glory of our daily walk with Jesus, is all about him, not us, and hopefully it keeps him in our thoughts, words and deeds through the day. Another time of gratitude and praise. Jesus knew how busy life would get, and gave us a pattern we can use in our chapel (!), front room, bus, car, coffee shop or work place canteen. The key is to make it a habit so that the pattern needs no thought, but the prayers flow from our hearts to our father.
If you are struggling to know how to pray for today’s situation in Ukraine, we invite you to pray this prayer:
Your will for your people is peace, not war.
Pour out on our world, especially in Eastern Europe, your Spirit of compassion and solidarity.
Grant all those who believe in you the strength to be close to those who suffer
and the courage to resolve their differences and conflicts in truth and without resort to arms.
Be with the widow, the orphan, the refugee and the peacemaker.
Bind us all into the peace of your Kingdom.
Through Christ our Lord,
Prayer written by Father Damian Howard
A university professor managed to precisely calculate which day is the most depressing one of the year! This is apparently the third Monday of January every year and it has been given this accolade due to a combination of cold dark nights, the sense that Christmas is over and the arrival of credit card bills with our Christmas spending!
By the time most people read this, it will be a distant memory, but as I talk to people after two years of the COVID pandemic, there is a level of uncertainty and anxiety which fuels a sense that our world is out of control. It can feel much the same in church with numbers and activities curtailed in many places and recovery feeling very fragile. Uncertainty in our lives can make us all feel somewhat anxious about the future, and when we feel that we are not in control, that can lead to worry and doubt. Jesus reminded his disciples that God understood their needs.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
Jesus’ teaching is very simple, as his followers are to live simply a day at a time and recognise that whatever our circumstances, his love and mercy offer hope for the future. We are called to look for the Kingdom to find those places where God is at work in our world and join in. Even when we do not feel we have anything to offer or the gifts and skills to make a difference, we can pray, and our presence can be a calming influence.
We also need to recognise that ultimately, we are not in control. If we call ourselves Christians, then we have voluntarily passed control of the direction of our lives over to God. The Holy Spirit lives within each of us to equip, empower and sustain us on the journey of faith and to be a guide for daily living. Paul understood better than most what trouble and anxiety mean, yet he wrote one of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor heavenly rulers neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Given that God cares for us so much, we need not doubt that there is a better future, and our role is to point people to the hope that is within us. We all feel ‘blue’ from time to time, but it will never overcome our hope in Jesus, as Peter tells us in his letters:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...”
1 Peter 3:15
Valentines Day is celebrated on February 14th.
Ah, love. It's something that has been written about and grappled with since the beginning of time. Here are a few quotes to consider...
And two more, that seem important to include...
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Of those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.
Christmas is almost here and that is good news for everyone except the turkey, goose, or nut roast. We will soon be full of joy, mince pies, and chocolate... singing carols in schools... We will listen to our Christmas tunes on the radio, on Spotify, in the pubs and supermarkets, and of course in our Churches too.
But Christmas is also being celebrated in a febrile atmosphere of anxiety, new variant COVID viruses, worldwide shutdowns and travel restrictions, climate change and economic uncertainty.
What then can the Church say to people of faith and those of none?
What should our Christmas message be?
Over the last year or so you will have noticed that I have chosen to write in these letters about hope on quite a few occasions. At the moment our hope will feel to many like an uncertain or fragile thing. Hospitalisations are reducing but infection rates are still very high. Our economy is growing, and unemployment is low, but many people feel insecure in their jobs. There are supply issues, and Europe appears to be heading into the grip of a fourth wave of COVID. We all want and need a good Christmas, but what are we to do with this moment of hope when we can’t know and don’t understand how the future might look?
Let’s consider the very first Christmas... It teaches us a profound truth.
Mary held in her arms her newborn baby. For those of you who are parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles - You always remember holding a much-loved baby for the first time. A tiny and fragile little boy or girl. You didn't know what the future would be like for him or her, but in that moment with the baby in your arms, I bet you felt wonder and love and hope. That special moment was enough. It was life sustaining.
I can’t help but imagine that it must have been the same for Mary. In her arms she held the prince of peace, Emmanuel God with us, the almighty creator God, the hope of salvation for the entire world. She didn’t fully understand and nor could imagine what the future would be for him. So what did she do? Mary nursed her little boy, she kept him warm and cared for him. She did what was natural in that moment. She loved him and treasured the moment.
Of course, Mary wasn’t the only one who struggled to find a response fitting to that moment. Others also did what to them came naturally. The shepherds and kings all came with presents, lambs, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Strange gifts for a baby, but it was the natural response for each of them. Even the angels didn’t really know what was to come but, they knew how to respond. They sang with great joy, announcing the good news... That God’s great plan to show his love to the world had begun.
This Christmas, we should do what is natural in this unique moment. We should be generous like the shepherds and three kings, giving whatever we can to enable everyone to share in the joy. Like the angels, we should be filled with great joy and sing and celebrate. Perhaps most importantly, we should be like Mary. She cared for her little boy, knowing he was fragile. She loved him.
This Christmas with the example of Mary to guide us, we should remember all the times we have been caused to be apart from families and friends... and we should treasure this Christmas as a time shared together. Just love those who matter most to you. Cherish time together, be kind and forgiving then - I suspect - you will find the light that shines in darkness.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a truly joyful New Year.
If I decorate my house perfectly with strands of twinkly lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my neighbour, I am just a decorator. If I slave away in the kitchen baking cakes and arranging food on a beautifully adorned table, but do not share the true meaning of Christmas, I am just another cook. If I volunteer at a soup kitchen, sing carols in hospital, and donate to charity but do not demonstrate simple kindness to strangers, it profits me nothing. If I attend Christmas lunches, with party hats and crackers yet fail to be awestruck by the Christ who gave everything to come as a vulnerable child, I have missed the point.
Love stops cooking to hug a child and to be still in the presence of ‘God with us’. Love sets aside decorating to kiss a loved one. Love is kind during Christmas, even though sometimes tired. Love does not envy another’s home that has perfectly strung outdoor lights or a flawless tree. Love does not ask family to get out the way, but is thankful they are in the way. Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return or those on our lists, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t and those who aren’t.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails.
...Even at Christmas.
- Contributed by a church member
November begins with the saints and ends with Advent and in between we have the sombre moments of Remembrance. The three do have some connecting themes. All Saints reminds us of the communion of saints, our place with those who have gone before us, in the family of God. That means the people you have known and loved. Think about them. You see All Saints feels like a bit of a catch-all, a day for those who don’t get their own special day, but how much more enjoyable to share the celebration with everyone!
The beginning of Advent reminds us of the promises of God, made real in the gift of Jesus at Christmas who becomes Emmanuel, God with us and what a huge comfort this is in difficult days for so many.
Finally, sandwiched in between, we celebrate Remembrance including remembering those who have gone before us, especially and particularly those who died in war. This year we remember those who have been killed on active service, but we also remember the civilian casualties and all whose lives are scarred by war. So many in the older generation have their direct memories, while my generation and those that follow are reminded that our peace is not what everyone has experienced, and we wonder if we have learnt anything from the sacrifices of so many men and women. Remembrance means we cannot forget the viciousness of war, the atrocities of war, the impact of war, the cost of war - lest we forget.
This month, I suspect many of us have cause to wonder quite what the ongoing impact of Covid will be, as we are anxious about rising fuel prices, the cost of heating, food costs etc, and when Climate Change is at the top of the agenda at COP26 the context of our living can seem overwhelming.
Our hope lies in what can be revealed this month. Firstly, All Saints reminds us of our connection with all God’s people and his presence with us in the world; Remembrance stirs our hearts and minds to consider the impact of our inhumanity and at Advent call to be watchful and alert gives us the assurance that God will never abandon us.
It’s true that Covid has put a strain on our sense of community and in some cases, we have responded so well, but in other cases Covid has exacerbated loneliness and sadness and depression; Climate Change and rising costs of fuel and gas can make us – in our anxiety - more prone to hold on rather than give. Yet if we are assured of our place in God’s family, and if we are assured of the coming of his Kingdom, then we can put the difficulties and challenges of life into perspective, acknowledging their reality, their seriousness, the impact (not least on others) but we shall not be overcome. We are part of God’s family with all the saints – we are living in a hurt and hurting world – but we are heirs of the promise which is guaranteed in Jesus: I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you (John 14 v 18).
With Every Blessing,
The Link is a monthly publication by members and staff of Morningside United Church.