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,
I thank God daily, not just for the beauty we see each day that surrounds us, but also for each other, those we share our lives with. I say this because I have just come in from a lovely walk along the back of Blackford Hill with New College friends; it has been a wonderful afternoon, with the sun shining in a fading winter sky. On the way we saw emerging displays of spring flowers, snowdrops, aconites, crocuses and budding daffodils, standing out against the soil and grass. There was a real lightness in the steps of those people I passed, all enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. There was a sense of Spring in the air and subliminally maybe a sense of new beginnings. Our circumstances are changing and hopefully we can look forward to warmer and longer hope filled days.
It got me thinking, March is just around the corner and the season of Lent is upon us and, for us as Christians, it is significant that the season of Lent always coincides with the arrival of spring; all around we are seeing signs of new beginnings as the earth wakes up from its winter sleep. But the purpose of Lent is traditionally more than just a period of beginning again, it is also a period of reflection, a time for taking stock of our life and our relationship with God. It begins with Ash Wednesday, when we start on our Lenten journey with Christ to the cross, and then on to the joyous Easter dawn and his resurrection. Many Christians, under normal circumstances would celebrate Ash Wednesday saying sorry; resolving with the help of God to turn around their life, change in life’s direction, with the intention to be different from this point forward in a renewed decision to live as disciples of Jesus serving others and renewing efforts to pray. March therefore is a busy month, what with Lent, Mothering Sunday, the clocks going forward an hour, and looking forward to Holy Week and Easter. It is with this in mind that we have much to be grateful for in our parish.
Like many of you I am very relieved that COVID-19 and its effects are slowly dissipating and that we can gather as a worshipping community each Sunday. The work of the congregation continues, many groups are now returning to use the building and the issues of the Presbytery Plan are slowly being resolved.
On a positive note, we hope to appoint Brigitte Harris as our new organist. She has a great deal of experience and was formerly organist at St Andrews and St George's. She is an excellent musician and will work with Evan Cruikshank to re-establish a singing congregation. I am especially happy with the news from the Government that we don't have to wear masks after 21 March. This means people can participate fully in worship and sing and read with gusto, and best of all, we can celebrate the sacraments in person.
March will also see us kick off several new events and groups that will hopefully deepen the spiritual life of the church and congregation.
These events that I have outlined are all part of a bigger plan that I believe the Lord is leading us into this year. The church doors at MUC are open to allow people into the building ecumenically serving people of the parish and University. It is my prayer that we will see more doorways open into the church for those in our community who do not yet know the redemptive love of Jesus. Because that, dear friends, is why we are here: to share that same love with our neighbours, so that they may find themselves caught up in the great story of God. So may you find a way to become a “door” for someone else this Spring so that MUC becomes a true place of welcome in Christ’s name.
With every blessing,
The challenges of 2021 are now behind us, and hopefully the COVID restrictions that placed such burdens on our ability to spend time with those we love are easing. If anything, the pandemic has taught us that the people we love and care for must be our priority because the networks of relationships that govern our lives, either at home or work, or in our community, have to be cherished if we are to be resilient and find meaning in life. The truth is that our community relies on so many people throughout the year. People who give their time and energy without pay, or who go far beyond what could reasonably be expected of them (including unseen and unsung). With this in mind, I turn to wishing you all a very happy New Year. While the last two years have brought many challenges, I believe there are many reasons to be optimistic about the year ahead. This optimism is not based on vaccines or new antiviral drugs and therapies, though I do believe that these are good things that will help. My optimism is based on our communities continued ability to work together, to help and support each other.
As a Christian I see this as more than simply “a nice idea”, I see this as being at the core of how God called us to be. For Christians this is what it means to live out the commandment to “love your neighbour”. Over the last two years our community, Christian or otherwise, has shown an ability to help and support each other in challenging times. I hope that this year will soon prove to be A Happy New Year which will give us many more opportunities to celebrate together as well.
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.
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,
Autumn is almost upon us, our harvest festivals are happening, and our thoughts are beginning to turn from summer to winter. Traditionally, this is the time of year when we take stock of things. We celebrate the good things that have happened over the last year and we look to the future.
. Are things better than last year? Let’s hope so! After all, there are many good reasons to believe they will be. Chief amongst them is the successful vaccination program. While clearly there are many reasons to remain cautious, we should remember that we have so many things to be thankful for.
I’m thankful that our building is open, our regular services are all running, we can sing and praise God, and that next week we can have coffee after the services. Fellowship is beginning to seem more normal. The Church Halls are open with social activities and coffee mornings. Of course, there are the usual challenges. Singing while wearing a face mask will never seem a natural idea, and whilst YouTube and Zoom have proven their worth throughout recent times, technology always seems capable of producing challenges.
Looking into the winter months ahead I am reminded of all the things we didn’t manage to do last year including, Remembrance Sunday and our Christmas Eve service. It is my firm hope that we will be able to honour those we love and have sadly passed away at our All Saints service this year, and that our Remembrance Sunday service will be open to more people. For Christmas, I’m sure that my prayers for unrestricted carol singing will be echoed by many.
Times have been difficult and continue to be challenging but I believe we have a lot to be thankful for and even more to look forward to.
With Every Blessing,
What a wonderful world!
What a wonderful world! These words will bring a tune to mind for many people. The lyrics sung by the great jazz musician Louis Armstrong speak to the heart!
I see trees of green and red roses too... skies of blue and clouds of white, the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
- And, really, when we consider the world, this is primarily how we should view it: As God’s creation, ours to treasure and care for.
But you may respond: What about the terrible things going on at present? What about the awful suffering in Afghanistan, in Haiti or the conflicts between Palestine and Israel? Look at the effects of the pandemic on the economy, the poor, our children, the NHS and our lives. As the COP 26 summit of governments in Glasgow approaches to consider Global warming, we can sense a depressing urgency in the melting of the ice caps and abuse of fossil fuels.
You're right. It can be hard to sing “It’s a wonderful world”. There are catastrophes here, there, and everywhere. It can seem overwhelming, leaving little room for sentimentality.
So as Christians, how should we respond?
Let us be people of optimism! Yes... Collectively as humans, we really have done much to harm the world and its people. Yet, the good surely outweighs the bad. As people of faith, we can count many blessings and discover hope. In our call to care for the world and love humanity, God gives us the means to view everything through a prism of love. This makes a difference.
Love is at the heart of our Faith because God is love.
The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote: "To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul." My advice is to be rooted in God’s love. Not only will the world appear more beautiful, but you will have the means to transform its sorrows into joy.
With Every Blessing
It is so good to see people able to come back to church for a service and feel safe when they know they can be assured we continue to follow procedures as required. And there is more good news as lockdown eases once more - WE CAN NOW SING!
But you know we have much more to look forward to. We are inviting the Romanian Orthodox community to base themselves at the Church from September onwards. Their priests will share the building rather like the free church from Cornerstone did prior to Covid. This is an exciting venture in ecumenism and no doubt they will bring blessings to us. In other news a new Italian assistant is coming to us in September. He is called Giovanni Bernadini and he is training in Rome for the Waldensian church - the Italian protestant church. He is 28 and very enthusiastic. Another adventure for us is the opportunity to enter into a partnership with Edinburgh Napier University to support our work with the Department of Student Wellbeing and the Chaplaincy team. The chaplaincy team will use our building for student services, counselling and meetings. In the next few weeks we will reshape the children's ministry with the help of the national youth advisor, and in terms of our work with older people, we are now invited by the care homes to resume our services at the start of September.
I know it has been a deeply frustrating time for people at many levels: we have lived with separation, isolation, anxiety and a sense of pessimism, but there are signs of new life and hope emerging as the summer progresses. As we start to see restrictions lifted, which have been in place for 16 months, there will be those among us who will welcome this move and others who won’t. This is a landscape which we will need to live well together as we all make individual choices. What we are not doing is being released to ‘go back’ to what used to be the norm; that is no longer the present and we should not think that we can simply pick up where we left off. Instead, I hope we will commit ourselves to shaping a new future; one which recognises the pain and brokenness that some are feeling, one which respects the exhaustion many are experiencing, one which acknowledges the fear and anxiety in our communities, and one which also sees the joy of those are able to live without restriction once again. Just as at the start of lockdown many people immediately thought of neighbours and those who are vulnerable and sought to offer support, so too we now need to be paying great attention to all those around us with various vulnerabilities and fears, not least in our worshipping communities and local contexts. What does it mean for us to be the body of Christ as we live the weeks ahead? Furthermore, as we saw at the beginning of lockdown, in March 2020, people respond in different ways due to their circumstances, personalities and experiences. There will be those who are longing simply to live as before with no physical distancing or face coverings and who will delight at being in a crowd once again. There will also be those who are anxious, not least those who are still not fully vaccinated, and those with particular personal and family health situations. Whilst it is true that going forward we need to enable one another to live with the realities of a virus which is not going to suddenly disappear, and not be driven by fear, we do also need to be sensible, cautious and compassionate as we continue to live this next season one step at a time. This is the ‘story’ into which we are emerging, and every thread of it is a significant one. Jesus’ focus was always on God and the Kingdom, and his activity rooted in love and prayer. This is a good model for us right now, as we discern our new normal.
With love and blessings,
It seems to me that spring sunshine makes lockdown a little more bearable, and certainly there is a sense of tentative optimism as we look forward to moving into a different level of restriction. The news of vaccination success helps, but I am still conscious that we have just emerged from the most miserable winter on record. Some of you will remember the winter of 1963, and some of you may even remember the winter of 1948. But for me, 2020-21 was just so hard for many - perhaps the worst winter! It’s been about so much more than just the weather. We all know the sort of things we have been struggling with here in Morningside and across Scotland and the world.
Many clergy have used the past few months to preach about hope, which is surely the strongest of human emotions, and in this post Easter time, we can see that spring is emerging - splashing colour and new life around us. This adds to a sense of guarded optimism, and this is a joy! It has been great to meet people rejoicing in family reunions, albeit outside. It’s wonderful our older people in care can be visited. I have been delighted to hear several ladies and men tell me of their relief at being able to visit the hairdresser or to make plans to return to the gym or swimming. There is a palpable sense of hope.
Here in the church, we too are planning to return to life to bring back the normality we can only remember from more than a year ago. It will happen slowly - the gradual return of simple things such as refreshments after services, social groups and even singing. We will keep you all informed as these things become possible. --But even the thought of it feels good.
I am also conscious that in some way and at some point, we shall need to look back in remembrance for those we have lost, and to give thanks for those who have worked so hard to keep us fed and cared for over this unprecedented time. I am conscious too of those who are financially compromised by the economic fallout of the pandemic, those using foodbanks, those exhausted by providing care services or working in the NHS. Even now, in this time of lengthening days and spring warmth, there are those much worse off than us and in much greater need of hope!
Pray for them, pray for the Church and pray above all for those you love best. Might the light and hope of Easter fall upon all of us as we emerge from this lockdown.
- Rev. Steven
The Link is a monthly publication by members and staff of Morningside United Church.