Dear Friends

Welcome to the month of March in the Claydons, Calvert, Calvert Green, Sandhill and Verney Junction, when the season of Spring officially begins, and Daylight Savings take place towards the end of month. Some commentators also say that this is the month of wild and shifting weather as Mother Nature tries to shed her winter coat.

For many in the Christian community, March is the season of Lent – a time of reflection and preparation. Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter which begins on Ash Wednesday, 2nd March. There, we mark our foreheads in ash from burnt palm crosses and olive oil to recognise that we came from dust and to dust shall we return. By observing 40 days of Lent, we copy Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.

Lent is marked by fasting from food and festivities. Some people fast, eat frugally or give up treats following the example of Jesus, who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. People also give to charity, set aside time to study the Bible and meet with other Christians to reflect on Jesus’ life and prepare for the events of Holy Week and Easter in April.

With Lent being a season of reflection and preparation, why the solemn faces? We’re solemn to reflect Jesus’ deprivation in the wilderness and test of self-discipline. Some of us are solemn for other reasons. We are solemn out of personal bereavement from the pandemic’s ongoing outcome. Making the transition from a healthy outlook to the deprivation of Jesus during Lent may be frictionless for some. But the transition from a solemn place to the present is not without friction when loved ones are still being lost, hospital appointments are cancelled, and long-term illnesses remain.

This reminds me of the words of Apostle Paul from the 8th chapter of Romans: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below-indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These verses are one of the most comforting promises in all scripture underpinned by the following words: “it is impossible to be separated from the presence of Christ”.

Why? It is because comfort starts from within us, our heart. In the 1st chapter of 2nd Corinthians, we are reminded that: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”

Being comforted doesn’t mean that our problems immediately disappear. But we’re able to bear them a little while longer because of the deep ‘comfort’ wells in us. They enable us to repeatedly respond to the needs of others sympathetically even when our personal challenges still exist.

Oscar Wilde said, “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground”. And this is so true. The presence of Holy ground invites us into that comforting space with the realisation that we are standing in the presence of God. When Moses was invited to take his sandals off, according to the 3rd chapter of Exodus, my Jewish Bible cites that whilst the traditional view indicated a reverence for the sanctity of the place, it is also possible that the footwear was removed so he wouldn’t go anywhere. The Jewish phrase used in the interpretation stressed that God set aside this area for his Moses’ encounter. And so, sometimes, our ‘holy ground’ engagement or encounter has been created just for us, for that one moment when it is really needed for our assurance. Whether that becomes the place for prayer in the recent newspaper story about the Ryanair’s aircraft cabin filled with smoke leading desperate passengers to pray or the passenger who always pray the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ on aircraft take-off and landing for safety. Thankfully, these passengers survived to share their stories of wonder with a greater assurance in their personal faith.

As our Lent Bible Studies are about to begin in the Parish of the Claydons from Ash Wednesday on 2nd March, we hope you can journey with us as a community as we collectively explore the meaningful stories of Christ and words of assurance over the next five Tuesdays in person or via Zoom. Diocese of Oxford’s study booklets and video resources will be available. Please get in touch. The Ash Wednesday service and Lent Study sessions are found in the magazine’s centre pages. I very much look forward to seeing you.

Stay blessed with love

Reverend Rickey Simpson-Gray

Parish of the Claydons