“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there” – Home Thoughts from Abroad by Robert Browning
“April is the cruellest month” – The Waste Land by T S Eliot
I’ve never thought much about the significance of these famous quotations about April, but both these poets, Browning and Eliot, express in their different ways how precious our springtime is, and so remind us of last year’s glorious Spring which lifted our spirits during those weeks of the first lockdown. Both express the sadness in missing out on the experience of all the new life bursting forth, whether one is abroad, as Browning was, or imagining, as Eliot did, a land wasted and devastated.
Eliot’s strange and complex poem apparently alludes in part to the legend of the Holy Grail quest, where the land of the Fisher King is barren and sterile until the Grail is found. An April without Spring would be cruel indeed, and although Eliot would not have meant it as such, his words can be seen as a warning to us of ecological disaster. In our latitudes the Easter message of the renewed hope we need has always been linked to the Spring.
“Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green”
From the hymn ‘Now the green blade rises’ – J M C Crum
As part of my Advent reading, I came across the theme of ‘Journeying with the Magi’. Despite the paradox posed by travel restrictions I was surprised how it speaks into our current situation. Matthew tells us the Magi observed a bright star, which led them to set out together on a journey of discovery, leading eventually to the squalor of a stable in Bethlehem where a new-born baby was laid in a manger. We don’t know how many Magi there were, or how they travelled, but clearly their journey was of paramount importance to them. They sought neither material nor financial gain. They journeyed far, following the star, wanting only to present their gifts and pay homage to the new king whose birth was heralded by the new star in the heavens.
So then, as we isolate at home due to Covid-19; as our nation prepares to isolate itself behind new borders due to Brexit, and as the United Kingdom itself seems less and less united, what is the Magi’s spiritual significance for us in these strange and troubling times? Esther de Waal knew nothing of Covid, Brexit or Devolution when she wrote these words: “The Advent journey is, or should be, an inner journey or pilgrimage inspired by the Magi who saw themselves as guests of the world, ready to go wherever the Spirit might take them…seeking their true self in Christ”.
I hope you all enjoy your Advent journey, inspired by the Magi. My prayer is that we may always walk on common ground with all God’s people (yet do so safely for now, until a vaccine is available!)
On behalf of myself and my husband Alan, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Spirit-filled Advent, a joy-filled Christmas, a profound Epiphany, and a very healthy, happy and peace-filled New Year. May the birth of Jesus be a really fantastic blessing to all the waiting world, bringing hope of much better times to come. May God our Maker, Saviour and Sustainer bless us all and keep us safe.
Your friend and Minister, Rev. Anthea Wickens
On the afternoon of Pentecost Sunday, 31 May, Wessex Synod of the United Reformed Church will be holding a special online service. The service will be available to join live at 4 pm and the recording will be available afterwards for those unable to take part at the time. See wessexsynodurc.org.uk/synod-worship-for-pentecost/ for further details and a list of things to find beforehand for the interactive part of the service.
If I had a pound for every time over the last three weeks that I’ve read, heard or said the words “when things get back to normal” I’d be rich by now. Whether it’s about worship or shopping, meetings or coffee with friends, we are living in strange times where many of us are disorientated by the fact that things are not normal. We may be feeling very isolated, or possibly overwhelmed by all those virtual ways of meeting up. We may be delighting in having time to catch up with half finished projects, or lack the concentration to start anything, let alone finish it. We are having to think and plan differently.Two thousand years ago, in the aftermath of the death of a travelling preacher, a group of his friends were also in a state of disorientation. They reacted in different ways – some wanting to ensure that practical matters were taken care of, some self-isolating for fear of the authorities, some debilitated by all that was happening. And in the midst of this, we have Simon Peter announcing that he is going fishing. In other words, whilst everything around him is so strange and uncertain, he wants something to be normal -and fishing is, for him, the habitual thing to do. Of course, if we go further on in this story from John’s gospel, we discover that the fishing trip is anything but a normal one, and it ends in breakfast on the beach, and the challenge to Peter to respond again to Jesus command to “follow me”.During this rather strange Easter time, we too might want things to be normal. For Peter and the other friends of Jesus, despite their best efforts, they could not return to a previous way of life. The resurrection gave them no choice but to do things differently. Perhaps as we celebrate Easter this year, whether alone with a Bible, or in a video linked act of worship, we might be challenged by Jesus to follow him, not to expect things to return to how they were before, but, in the words of John Bell’s famous hymn, “let me turn and follow you and never be the same”.May you know both the peace, and the provocation of the risen Christ this Easter.
See storytime with Patti and Gary at https://youtu.be/mI_z1XmZaXM