The factsite.com says that “May is a month of transition”. If you live in the northern hemisphere you are moving from cold to warm and if you live in the southern hemisphere you are moving from warm to cold (or colder, anyway). Certainly, ecclesiastically speaking, we are this year in May moving from Eastertide towards Pentecost. Pentecost, the feast marking the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples and the ‘birthday’ of the Church.
In secular Britain today, the first of May is a bank holiday, ‘May Day’. In the past it was sometimes known as ‘Garland Day’, particularly in rural areas, and was celebrated with music, dancing and games.
The first of May is Garland Day
So please remember the garland
We don’t come here but once a year
So please remember the garland.
Primary school children would collect greenery to make garlands in the shape of hoops or crosses, and parade with them in the hope of collecting money. There are still some Garland Ceremonies today, one of them very near to us in Charlton-on-Otmoor. A large wooden cross covered with yew and box leaves stands above the rood screen in the church. On May Day this is taken down and re-decorated with fresh greenery and flowers, and the school children carry small decorated crosses around the village and bring them to a special service.
Years ago, I took a service in that church and can still remember being struck by the greenery cross above the rood screen and wondering if it represented some form of symbiotic relationship between Christianity and paganism, nothing I would ever have seen in the London church where I had been before moving to rural Oxfordshire.
As time passes, as we move from one place to another, one age to another, one experience to another, we leave some things behind and carry others with us. This is what we’ve done in the Church over the past couple of years - worshipping via Zoom, sitting spaced out in church, singing, not singing, mask wearing, worshipping outside; we’ve kept some practices and changed others, we’ve adapted. We are in a time of transition. It’s May-time.
Changes may happen as Pentecosts – birthdays – come and go, but one change won’t happen. May in our hemisphere is also the time to celebrate the coming of spring, the blossoming of trees and flowers, the burgeoning of new life, and in this respect the Church is aligned with nature; the Easter experience affirms the power of life over death, light over darkness, hope over despair, love over hatred. The Easter message is as constant as nature’s springtime – “Love”, wrote Shakespeare, “whose month is ever May”.Penny Wood
Coronas and Crowns
As I write it seems hopeful that we will be able to go on holiday towards the end of March. This trip was first booked for March 2020, but of course the coronavirus put paid to that. During the last two difficult years the coronavirus, with all its variants, has hardly been out of the news. The coronavirus is so called because its outer layers are covered in spike proteins that surround them like a crown. (Corona is the Latin word for crown.) Coronaviruses use their spikes to invade human cells.
This year our thoughts turn to a very different type of crown, with much happier associations, as we look forward to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations for Her Majesty the Queen. Although she acceded to the throne in February 1952, her coronation was not until June 1953, to allow time for mourning the late King and for preparations to be made.
At her coronation the Queen wore the St Edward’s Crown, which was made for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 as a replacement for the medieval crown which was melted down at the end of the Civil War. The original was thought to date back to Edward the Confessor, the eleventh-century king. The solid gold frame, set with over 400 jewels, weighs almost 5lb, a reminder of the heavy responsibilities of state. At the end of the coronation, this crown is replaced by the Imperial State Crown, which weighs 2.2lb. The lighter crown is also worn for the State Opening of Parliament.
In mid-April the focus will be on yet another crown, the Crown of Thorns, or corona spinea, in Latin. In three of the Gospels the cruel crown of thorns is named as one of many instruments of torture used while Christ was being mocked during his trial on Good Friday. A symbol of royalty and majesty, a crown, was turned into something exceedingly painful and degrading. On the cross Jesus carried the weight of the evil which had invaded the world, stretching out his hands in love, forgiveness and healing.
The New Testament records that Jesus endured the cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering (Hebrews 12.2). His crucifixion was not the end of the story, for his love was too strong to be bound and held by death. Hebrews 2.7 says, ‘He is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne, crowned with glory and honour.’ However, this symbolic language does not mean that Jesus is remote from us, far above our trials and sufferings. Jesus, the supreme example of a suffering servant, obedient to God’s will, understands what we go through and is with us through all the testing times of life.
The coronavirus has brought many trials and tribulations. Throughout her life the Queen has set an example of faithful devoted service. For her the life of Jesus Christ is an inspiration and an anchor in her life, a role model of reconciliation and forgiveness.
And finally … yet another sort of crown. In his New Testament letter St James says,
‘Blessed is the person who keeps on going when times are hard. After they have come through hard times, this person will receive a crown. The crown is life itself. The Lord has promised it to those who love him.’ (James 1.12)
Play a song that keeps us together
It is an unfortunate fact that when I am listening to music, unless I am singing it, as in a hymn, or making a considerable effort, I just zone out. I have no idea how or when I learnt to do this, and it is very annoying. But it means that when I am in the car by myself, it has to be radio 4 all the way – I am much more likely to engage with people talking about something, regardless of what it is. But when Joe and I are in the car together, it’s music that we listen to, and more often than not, music from his ever-growing collection. And I go off into a daydream. But just once in a while, a song will catch my attention.
This happened with Smith and Burrows ‘Too late’. Now admittedly, when I heard it, I thought it was about climate change: ‘It’s too late now – don’t be hard on yourself, just ‘cause everything’s over.’ A rather pessimistic view of climate change, and one I wouldn’t subscribe to. Because I don’t think it is too late for humanity to pull itself out of the climate crisis, not if it puts its mind to it, and the minds of our scientists and industrialists and politicians and folk from the business world. Things may be fairly critical and the time for action is now, but I don’t think it’s too late. Not if we all play our part.
Anyway, Joe tells me that the song is probably about the endings of a relationship, and it seems that Google concurs. But bear with me – thinking, as I was, that it was about climate change, it seemed to be addressing the question of how we live when it seems as if thing can only get worse. I am losing count of all the crises that surround us at the moment – not just climate change, but the pandemic, the tensions around the Ukraine, economic challenges and rising fuel prices to name but a few. It’s a lot to cope with. How do we live in the face of it all?
Smith and Burrows in their song urge us to ‘play a song that keeps this together’ and not to be hard on our brothers and sisters. And it does seem really important at the moment that we come together, that we are kind to one another, do what we can to understand our varied viewpoints, tolerate one another. Both within our local communities and on the wider world stage.
We are so good at being intolerant and falling out with one another! Admittedly it is often easier than the painful work of trying to really listen to each other, of negotiating a way through that respects all, of possibly having to acknowledge that we got it wrong. But the reality is that none of us do have forever, so doesn’t it have to be worth trying to get along!
I wonder what different song we could sing? I guess the song that Jesus would urge us to sing would be one about loving one another – that takes awareness of each other, mutual respect, dollops of thought and generosity, and above all a willingness to sometimes put ourselves to one side for the good of someone else. We can’t always agree, but we can be kind to one another.
Someone was telling me of the kindness they experienced when going through a course of hospital treatment – of the understanding of staff who listened, the mutual support from other patients going through the same experience, the thoughtfulness of their family, the phone calls, the small gifts – they were bowled over by it all, and it made a real difference.
It is never too late to be kind.
The first month of the new year has flown past. Not quite the start we would have wanted thanks to Omicron, but I feel like I’m getting used to planning for any and all eventualities.
I am in my final year of Curacy now – and only God knows what is ahead for me and for us as a family. But I’m trying not to think about that all the time! Your prayers, as always, would be appreciated.
As a Curate I spend a lot of time reading, thinking and reflecting! It is all part of my learning. But last year I also spent a lot of time thinking about thinking! It started with me getting very annoyed listening to politicians (particularly over in America) and wondering how on earth “the church” over there was so silent when facts were being distorted and people took lying to a new level – lies about the election, voting, the insurrection etc.
And that got me “thinking” about the voices I listen to and how much time I give to hear other points of view, and how one might get people to really consider the voices they listen to and what they hear – and to THINK about it! This led me to some online searching and I found some good debates to watch on YouTube. I watched one debate which was particularly inspiring. It was a fascinating discussion on many levels, but what was most interesting was the interaction between the audience and the speakers. It was obvious that each speaker had their own supporters and every so often the audience would applaud, clearly demonstrating their bias or partisanship. What I found most fascinating was the response of one speaker – he kept shaking his head as the audience clapped and when he got the chance to speak, he held up his hand and challenged the audience to stop clapping and rather to listen carefully to what was being said and having listened to THINK. He said “Don’t treat this debate as a cheap competition – we are desperately trying to confront serious problems.” At the very end of the debate the moderator asked “What one thing do you hope that people will take away from this debate?” to which that first speaker responded “I hope that people leave this debate with a belief in the power of communication between people with different views” and the second speaker said “I hope that we made at least some people think … don’t take the easy way out, don’t just attach labels to ideologies because that is easy – THINK!”
As is often the case when one starts watching something on YouTube, I ended up going down a rabbit hole watching more videos on the topic. One rabbit hole led me to another and I came across a video by Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, author and professor. In a video he was asked what he thought about God to which he responded
“I act as if God exists and I am terrified that He might.”
I wonder what you think Peterson might mean by that? What might acting as if God exists involve? Why would he be terrified to find that God exists? What might that statement tell us about Peterson’s image of God?
As Christians we believe that God is a God of love who reaches out to each one of us. Judy Cannato describes it like this:
Being loved disarms us, brushes away our ego defences, and then exposes us not only to the other, but to ourselves. And it is from ourselves that we most often hide our gaze. . . . Everywhere the Holy One is shouting and whispering, “Let me love you.” And all that is asked of us is to receive. In reality, that is our life’s work. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.
The Holy One is shouting and whispering “Let me love You.”
What do you think that might mean? Perhaps something to think about this year.Revd Yvonne
JanuarySome Thoughts and Prayers for the New Year (in Place of a Minister’s Letter)
A Year of Time - Steven B. Cloud
Even though thinking on the subject of time may prove discomforting, it is not a bad idea - especially at the beginning of a new year.
As we look into 2022, we look at a block of time. We see 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. And all is a gift from God. We have done nothing to deserve it, earn it, or purchased it. Like the air we breathe, time comes to us as a part of life. The gift of time is not ours alone. It is given equally to each person. Rich and poor, educated and ignorant, strong and weak - every man, woman and child has the same twenty-four hours every day. Another important thing about time is that you cannot stop it. There is no way to slow it down, turn it off, or adjust it. Time marches on.
And you cannot bring back time. Once it is gone, it is gone. Yesterday is lost forever. If yesterday is lost, tomorrow is uncertain. We may look ahead at a full year’s block of time, but we really have no guarantee that we will experience any of it.
Obviously, time is one of our most precious possessions. We can waste it. We can worry over it. We can spend it on ourselves. Or, as good stewards, we can invest it in the kingdom of God. The new year is full of time. As the seconds tick away, will you be tossing time out the window, or will you make every minute count?
This New Year - Eleanor Roosevelt, Jan. 1, 1937
I wish for those I love this New Year an opportunity to earn sufficient, to have that which they need for their own and to give that which they desire to others, to bring in to the lives of those about them some measure of joy, to know the satisfaction of work well done, of recreation earned and therefore savoured, to end the year a little wiser, a little kinder and therefore a little happier.
To Start a New Year - Anonymous
A new year is unfolding—like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within. Lord, let this year be filled with the things that are truly good - with the comfort of warmth in our relationships, with the strength to help those who need our help, and the humility and openness to accept help from others.
As we make our resolutions for the year ahead, let us go forward with great hope that all things can be possible - with Your help and guidance.
Dear Lord, please give me…
A few friends who understand me and remain my friends;
A work to do which has real value,
without which the world would be the poorer;
A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed;
An understanding heart; a sense of humour;
Time for quiet, silent meditation; a feeling of the presence of God;
The patience to wait for the coming of these things,
With the wisdom to recognize them when they come. Amen.
A New Year’s Prayer
May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain, but by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your path easy, but by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you, but by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine, but by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant, but by showing you when people and their causes need you most, and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God’s love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.