We are moving towards the end of the Lent Season, which began last month with Ash Wednesday on 2nd March. This was a time for deep contemplation, fasting from food and festivities and praying in recognition of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. It was also a time for growth in our faith and well-being.
Passiontide and Holy Week, a time of celebration for the Christian church, begin on 11th April. Maundy Thursday is commemorated on 14th April followed by Good Friday culminating with Easter Sunday celebration on 17th April. We share in Christ’s journey beyond the wilderness from His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His Crucifixion to the Empty Tomb on Easter morning signifying His Resurrection.
As I was gathering my thoughts for this letter, a favourite traditional hymn of mine: “The Old Rugged Cross”, by George Bennard, came to mind. Returning to Michigan, George had a challenging feeling about the significance of the cross and its meaning for all experiencing the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. George became convinced that the cross was more than a religious symbol, the very heart of the gospel. He introduced the song at a revival in 1913 and soon it became popular throughout the country. In 1958, George exchanged his cross for a crown. The hymn is currently running with over 50m views on Youtube.
We have all witnessed the terrible atrocities experienced by our families in Ukraine conflict. (I say ‘families’ as the nation is also part of God’s ‘Rainbow Family’ including us.) The Church of England, the United Society Partners of the Gospel and other national / global charities and governments are working together to get aid to Ukraine. I also understand that a lorry has been commissioned from the Claydons to deliver goods to the Ukraine. All initiatives welcomed to help the displaced refugees in this war-torn country.
Our hearts bled on hearing the news of the conflict. Another conflict, another sad loss of lives. I repeatedly heard the question: “When will all of this stop?” Bishop Robert Innes from the Diocese in Europe said, ‘War is horrible. It injures, destroys and kills in an often indiscriminate and uncontrollable way. And now, we face war in Europe. The people of our little church, Christ Church Kyiv, find themselves in the midst of this crisis.’
The season of Lent and Easter provides the reflective window to calm our restlessness and anxiety in the midst of this European crisis (and tragedies elsewhere). To also find peace in the limits of our capacity to respond or helplessness to make a difference. We pray. Yes, we pray. We pray for the protection of the people of Ukraine, a breakthrough in peaceful negotiations, the safety of those bringing aid, the whole Christian Church in Ukraine and peace in Ukraine and the world. We trust that in the midst of this dark storm, joy will come in the ‘morning’.
The eleventh chapter of Matthew’s Gospel cites: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
I believe that through life’s testing, prayers and reflection (including recent events), as experienced throughout history, we’ll emerge stronger with a transformed sense of perspective, greater faith and peace, as beautifully captured by Washington Irving: “There is a sacredness in (our) tears (and hurt). They are not marks of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.” The transposing of “tears” with “prayer” equally applies.
This brings me back to the verses of the “Old Rugged Cross”. “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged Cross. The emblem of suff’ring and shame. And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain”. To understand the atonement of Christ in these difficult times and Easter invites us to appreciate Christ’s death, its significance, the foundation of this full and free salvation for us. In the sad reality of the “Old Rugged Cross” of Christ, we discover a symbol of His love and sacrifice of us, which transforms us with enough to make it through to the next day, one day at a time, within the arena of faith.
We, Christians, take our bearings of guidance and faith from fixed and predetermined points. These fixed points help us to navigate our way safely past the rocks and shoals of life to the safety of heaven’s harbour one day at a time. This is a great assurance for us all in the Claydons, Calvert Green, Calvert, Sandhill and Verney Junction. We are in difficult times but the Easter season, time and time again, invites us to return to these fixed points for comfort and rest.
Our Easter Services are found in the centre pages of this magazine. We hope you can join us in worship and prayers for not only Ukraine, but our nation and other overseas’ conflicts. Amen.
Stay blessed with love
Reverend Rickey Simpson-Gray
Parish of the Claydons