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In the Christian tradition, Easter is not a one-day event, this year falling on 4 April. Rather, Easter is a “season”, the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost: 4 April - 23 May. The idea of this 50 day “season” is that the message of Easter is so enormous, so limitless, that it cannot be contained in a one-day celebration.
As I write, we are just about to begin the Season of Easter. Sometimes the season is called Eastertide, a charming name, I think. In terms of the calendar, April 2021, is a time unlike any we can remember: the spirit of hope is growing of course, thanks to the vaccination roll-out, but we have endured a very dispiriting year, confined to our homes, sheltering, practising social distancing – isolation actually - unable to put our arms around our families and friends, unable even to shake hands warmly with those we “meet”.
Psychologists are analysing the emotional and physical effects of distancing, minimal human contact and loneliness and urging us to do what we can to reach out to friends, particularly those who are alone. I hope we stick at it when this pandemic is over!
I have tried to call one or two friends a day and, in a peculiar way, the result has been a deeper sense of renewed gratitude for the lives of our friends. I spoke to a friend Mhorag (she is also a minister) yesterday and it was as if time had not intervened since I last met her well over a year ago. I think our video chat did us both the world of good.
We need Eastertide.
I need, as never before, the reminder that at the heart of our faith, at the heart of everything that is, is the good news that there is a light shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome the light.
As I hear reports of continuing infections and hospitalisations, the third wave in Europe and the tragic news from countries like Brazil and Mexico, and the daily death figures, along with the other bad news stories, like the awful train crash in Taiwan, I need a reminder that at the heart of all reality there is a love that overcomes everything, even death itself.
As I ponder the truly heart-breaking reality of people dying alone in hospitals without the comforting presence of their dearest ones, I need the reminder that even in the valley of the shadow of death, God promises to be with us. (Psalm 23)
And as I think about what was unthinkable at the beginning of 2020, unable to be with those I love dearly, to share a meal or to hold a hand, and in numerous ways, to express my grateful love, I need the promise that there is nowhere any of us can go that is outside the reach of God’s love:
that…………“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you: the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.’” (Psalm 139)
I am grateful for the wise and good reminders of Eastertide. And, although not related theologically, I am grateful as never before that since 20 March it is finally Spring. Last Tuesday, I enjoyed wearing shorts (which I just about fitted into and no more!) It was the hottest March day in UK for 53 years!
So, finally, it is Spring, and life is reappearing and renewing all around us. Trees are budding, the daffodils are out, and the cherry blossom is a sight to behold. I am more aware than ever, more grateful than ever, that the power of life is planted so deeply in the creation, the world God made and gives us as a yearly gift at Eastertide (at least in the northern hemisphere!).
Some other spirit-lifting news: The Kirk Session (along with St Ninian’s Kirk Session) hope to resume public worship in our buildings, beginning on Pentecost Sunday 23 May. To enable the minister or service leader to officiate at both St Ninian’s and St Andrew’s on any given Sunday, both services will be very similar. The St Ninian’s service will start at 9.45am and St Andrew’s at 11am. So, you have a choice! For the time being, social distancing, mask wearing, and no singing will continue - we look forward to those restrictions being lifted in due course. There will still be the option of joining the service on-line.
So, as I bring this Eastertide letter to a close, I want to remind you (and myself) of the central, bedrock affirmation of the Christian faith. Death is not the final word spoken about those we have lost or about those of us who remain. The final word about us all, is spoken by God and that word is a word of eternal love; that every single day of our lives is a gift and that we best express gratitude for the precious gift of our lives by living them fully, holding nothing back, rejoicing in every day, every hour, every minute.
Thinking about this letter to you, my new Corby friends, I found one of my favourite quotations. It is by Henri-Frederic Amiel, a 19th century Swiss professor of philosophy.
“Life is short, and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the journey with us. O be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”
Never let a day go by without gladdening someone’s heart, without telling your loved ones that you do love them.
Christ is risen, he is risen indeed
I send my best wishes to you all, this Eastertide
23 February 2021
A Lenten Letter from Forbes
I grew up in Scotland at a time when there was a deep unsavoury and mutual suspicion between Protestants and Catholics. It was all pervasive; from what school you attended, which football team you supported, your circle of friends, even the name you were given by your parents.
I used to find it odd that around February time, some people (including children) had a smudge of dirt on their forehead. It was a mystery to me. Of course, the “dirt” was in fact ashes. I had really never heard of “Ash Wednesday”- protestants did not pay any attention to such things. All I knew was that it was something “Catholic” and rather odd.
I am glad to say things are quite different now. Christians of all denominations now appreciate the richness of the liturgical year and its special services and rituals. We are now in the season of Lent, a period of forty days - (we do not count the Sundays) - before Easter. It began on Ash Wednesday 17 February.
Lent’s purpose is to get us ready for Easter. Before we celebrate Easter, we ponder the human condition, acknowledge our mortality (“from dust we came and to dust we shall return”), and the reality that Easter can only happen after very real suffering and death. In Lent, we identify with and travel with Jesus Christ on the way to his death, sometimes attempting to make small personal sacrifices - giving up something for Lent, although experiencing the suffering of Jesus is impossible to do. Giving up crunchie nut cornflakes is trivial to be blunt.
The Lenten journey starts with Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus is empowered in hearing the voice of God, assuring him that he is loved completely, unconditionally as a beloved child of God. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark Ch 1) After that, he is driven into the wilderness: 40 days, (hence the 40 days of Lent) alone in the desert.
The idea of wilderness/desert is common concept in the Bible. In the early Biblical book of Exodus, we find Moses looking after his flock of sheep “beyond the wilderness of Midian”. Then God speaks to Moses in a burning bush and tells him to go back to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery into freedom and the promised land- but that took decades. Leading the Israelites through the wilderness of Sinai was not an easy job. At times it was rough, scary, and fractious to say the least.
From wilderness into the promise of a new brighter future; the truth is, wilderness and the promised land are never far from each other.
Looking back with longing in our hearts to before last March 2020, it seems we were inhabiting the promised land of parties, hugs, holidays, concerts, family meals, shopping, Friday evenings in the pub with friends, football matches, Church services, school lessons not to forget proper non-embarrassing haircuts. For all the problems which still ran deep in our country and society, we were not locked down and we were living in a “promised land.”
This past year from Lent 2020 to Lent 2021, Covid-19 has been our wilderness or desert place. I need not describe or list the features of desert living or dying. We know them all too well.
We are all looking so forward to the pandemic restrictions being lifted bit by bit. Yesterday’s announcement of a possible road map out and news of the successful vaccination programme lifted our spirits and raised our hopes.
The last year has been our wilderness, a place none of us wanted to inhabit.
And yet there is still that promise and assurance that when Jesus was in the wilderness, angels came to minister to him, to care for him and strengthen him for the rough days ahead. And here in Corby and elsewhere, angels do come and remind us to be grateful for the ordinary blessings - the everyday stuff of or lives together - the hugs which will return, the simple joy of meeting friends, a lively (NON-ZOOM!) conversation: for music and books, life with a new direction, a renewed spirit and hope for a new united Church of Scotland congregation in Corby.
God comes into our COVID-19 wilderness, into all our wildernesses. That is the eternal promise. In the lonesome desert, angels visit and friends are there to reach out and comfort: reminders that God, the One who loves us, is with us, holding us tightly. In the same way as angels came to Jesus in the wilderness, to remind him of the voice he heard at his baptism - “You are my beloved Son: with you I am well pleased”, so we too hear that same message of good news today. We are all beloved daughters and sons of God in whatever wilderness we find ourselves right now.
And Lent - Lent will be over and the Easter dawn will come.
My very best wishes
Rev Forbes Walker
23 December 2020
It is such a strange, unprecedented time. We are semi or near fully locked down here in UK. Corby is in Tier 2 for now but that may change soon. We cannot entertain or visit friends as we would normally do at Christmas. My own plans for a Glasgow Christmas were scuppered. I am sure many of your plans have gone up in a puff of smoke too. Most of us have not been in our beloved St Andrew’s church for going on for the best part of a year.
The sense of isolation, separation from family and friends and communities that give our lives a firm grounding and contribute hugely to our identity as human beings is hard to bear, especially for those who live alone or who are trapped at home in difficult circumstances.
In these difficult times, my mind wanders to various stories from the Old Testament and the story of the people of God going through many troubles. And not just from the pages of the Bible, but the continuing story of the Jewish people.
In all these stories, I am reminded of the very basis of the faith we claim and hopefully embrace. Even in the darkest circumstances which the ancient people of God found themselves in: famine, Egyptian slavery, military defeat, exile and Babylonian captivity, political oppression, slaughter, persecution and the Holocaust brought upon them in the 20th Century, God is present not only to comfort but also give and inspire an enduring flame of hope which cannot and will not be extinguished.
God is present, even in the midst of calamity. God does not abandon us. God never forgets and because of His constant steadfast love, God promises that there will be restoration, redemption, renewal even in the darkest tragedy, even during this Pandemic.
The prophet Jeremiah is often accused of being over gloomy in the face of tragedy and calamity- perhaps he was a closet Presbyterian - but even old misery-guts Jeremiah could look forward to brighter days - “the sound of festival will again be heard. For the Lord is good: his steadfast love endures forever.” (see Jeremiah Ch 30 and 33)
I admit that I am having a hard time generating much of a Christmas mood as I write this to you. Most of what I like and love about Christmas is simply not going to happen...but perhaps that is exactly why the story of the birth of a baby in a Bethlehem stable could become more powerful this year than ever.
After all, Jesus came into this world during a time of cruel political oppression and brutal military occupation. Mary his young mother had become pregnant before she had properly tied the knot. And then she and Joseph were instructed by the Roman bigwigs to go to Bethlehem, 90 miles from away from home in Nazareth to be counted in a Roman jobsworth project.
That journey would have been lonely and difficult- hellish in fact.
I am thinking about that lonely journey a lot this year. Where did they sleep? What did they eat? She was heavily pregnant- what a nightmare of an experience getting to Bethlehem. And when they finally got there the only thing available was a stable, no doubt draughty and smelly and isolated from friends and family and just round the corner, the tyranny of a mad jealous king was about to force them to run for their lives to a strange land.
The Christian story starts in dark, harsh, difficult, lonely circumstances. The first to hear about it and celebrate it were from society’s bottom ladder, poor shepherds.
It is a stunning story and in this year of pandemic and despair it shines as perhaps never before.
God has not forgotten us. God has not abandoned us. God is with us. God comes to be with us again.
I wish you a happy Christmas and a new year filled with hope and joy.
Thanks be to God
SAY HELLO TO ELAINE - OUR NEW LOCUM
Let me introduce myself I am a Reader at St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Corby. At this time we are closed and we are currently in a time of vacancy since our Minister retired at the end of May 2020. Any time a church is without a Minister is a time of uncertainty for everyone which is made worse by the situation we all find ourselves in due to the Covid 19 pandemic and lockdown. Therefore as part of the joint Corby Ministry Team between St Andrew’s and St Ninian’s, our sister church, I am taking up the new role as acting Locum for St Andrew’s. As acting Locum my day to day responsibilities will be, alongside working with the congregation, worship, outreach and pastoral care. This will give St Andrew’s the same Ministry structure as St Ninian’s with an Interim Moderator and a Locum. I will continue to work together within the Ministry Team at St Ninian’s to produce the weekly, Sunday Service, on Zoom and You tube, until we can once again join together in worship within the walls of our Church.
God Bless and warm wishes
WELCOME TO OUR NEW INTERIM MODERATOR
Dear members and friends of Corby St Andrew’s
Let me introduce myself: my name is Forbes Walker and no prizes for guessing I am from Scotland- but I now live in London. St Andrew’s church has a rich Scottish heritage and I admire that so much. After studying Biochemistry, then Divinity at Glasgow University I served as Assistant Minister in Bearsden before being ordained by the Presbytery of Dumbarton. After almost two years of post-graduate study in USA, I returned to Scotland and parish ministry in Strathaven, (pronounced Stra-ven), famous for its toffee and Harry Lauder!
Since 2000 I have lived in the London area and served as full time school chaplain and teacher (mainly Chemistry but also RS) in three large but quite different schools, all the time being a member of the Church of Scotland’s Presbytery of England which brings me on to my role here in St Andrew’s Corby.
For the time being, I am the Interim Moderator which simply means that I offer the gifts of ministry to you in this time of transition and discernment as we embrace the future of the church. Please do feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if I can be of any help.
It is an honour for me to be associated with the life and witness of St Andrew’s even as we experience the upheaval, even turmoil which the pandemic has created. This has made the “normal” routine of church life unrecognisable for the time being, but the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit and in the name of Christ, marches on. I look forward in faith, that “all time is in God’s hands”.
Thank you for your openness in welcoming me as your brother and friend In Christ. Let God’s mission be our mission, and together, let us do our very best to be part of that mission, working closely with our friends in St Ninian’s, building up God’s Kingdom here in Corby.
When recollecting the famous Bible story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, the prophet Isaiah wrote “This is what the Lord says- he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters- do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wilderness.”
Hearing this, points us to the future. The past is what it is, the past. The future is here. In the midst of all our challenges here in St Andrew’s, God provides a stream to be refreshed. Now that is a good reason for hopefulness.
My warmest wishes,
(Rev Forbes Walker, Interim Moderator)