Pastoral Letter 24th January

MISSION: PASTORAL LETTER: 22nd JANUARY

When Christine was Team Rector of Bromsgrove, we lived next door to St Godwald’s Church, Finstall. It was a large modern Vicarage in which we enjoyed many happy occasions. But, right in the middle of the house, was a fairly large area at the foot of the stairs which remained in semi-darkness. The only way of making it brighter was to have a lamp switched on, even in the middle of the day. All the other areas in the house were bright and cheerful, but in order to get to them you had to pass through this, rather dreary, inner hallway. It seemed very odd at first but, like many things in life, you got used to it, as long as the light was left switched on and you didn’t think about it too much, for, after all, it was just a “passing through” place. 

I think that life seems like this at the moment: it’s a rather dark, “passing through” period, in all our lives. We’ve left one way of life behind, with all its familiarity, but, we haven’t yet arrived at our destination to begin a new chapter in our lives. We have no choice but to wait but the waiting feels like forever! We know where we want to go, but the journey is a long one and, for thousands of people, an exhausting, difficult and heart-breaking one. Life for all of us and, for tens of thousands in particular, will never be the same again. Life will most certainly go on and there will undoubtedly be happy and joyous days again, as well as times of sadness and re-adjustment, but a new chapter for each and all of us. But, in the meantime, we wait as patiently as we can, for the storm to pass and for the vaccine to be rolled out.

These times and spaces, whether in a house or in our lives, are known as “liminal spaces.” Now, there’s a word you don’t hear very often and certainly not from me! To be honest, you wouldn’t be hearing it now, were it not for the fact that myself and Christine, attempt a crossword each day! We had to cheat and look up the answer and, even then, I had to consult a dictionary to find out what it meant! Basically, it means an in-between space or time: a time of “now, but not yet.” It reminds me of the times that we would set off on holiday to the seaside when the children were young, and the constant question “are we there yet?” The reply was always the same “no, but we’re getting closer all the time.” A truism, of course, but they never twigged! 

We were going to the seaside, but the sea was no where in sight. You can imagine the squeals of delight when we finally saw the sea, not least from me! Human beings naturally dislike “liminal spaces” because, on the whole, we’re not programmed to waiting: we want it all and we want it now! The people of God, (that includes you and me), have known many such times in our history. The Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert waiting to enter The Promised Land: there was a three-day period of waiting between the death of Jesus and His resurrection: Simeon and Anna (Luke 2) had waited all their lives to see the coming of The Messiah: The Disciples had to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of The Holy Spirit (Acts 1 & 2): Jesus told us that He would return to establish The Kingdom of God on earth and we’re still waiting for His Second Coming. Yes, the whole Christian Church is still living through a liminal space which St Paul vividly described as a time of “groaning inwardly” (Romans 8) as we wait for the promises of God to come true and be fulfilled. You can truthfully say that we’re still “groaning” as we wait for life to return to some kind of normality! Such times are not new and they’re as frustrating and difficult as ever! 

So, what helps us to cope and be sustained during these times? We can do nothing except to hold on to the promise with every bit of faith and strength that God can give us. God has not abandoned us: He has not left us comfortless: and His promises are true and will be fulfilled. All along the way there are signs that the promises of God will come true and that this dark time, this period of waiting, although seemingly endless, will not last forever. In the Vicarage at St Godwald’s we switched on a lamp to illuminate the dark space: Abraham and Moses faithfully held on to the promise that the Israelites would occupy their promised land even though they themselves didn’t live to see it: The disciples faithfully waited for both The Resurrection and the coming of The Holy Spirit: Simeon and Anna did see the coming of The Messiah and praised God as they held the infant Jesus in their arms. It is so important to keep the flame of hope alive, however falteringly, because in its light is our hope of deliverance and salvation. God does not promise us freedom from frustration, heartache and even heartbreak, but He does give us the assurance of His constant presence, His everlasting love, and the promise that, if we wait hopefully and faithfully, all these “liminal” spaces will come to an end and we shall be free at last.

Just two brief observations to end with concerning “signs” in these troubled times. In our garden, despite the bleakness and the frost, we have our first snowdrop shining like a beacon of light with the hope that Spring is on its way. And, again, I recently conducted a funeral at The Mission for a lady who was married here almost 55 years ago. The door and the windows had to remain open and, of course, we couldn’t sing any hymns because of restrictions. But we didn’t need to, because the birds around The Mission sang for us as we listened to their beautiful chorus. The lady had been a lover of birds in her garden and had fed them every day. Their song was more melodious than any song that we could have sung, and we wouldn’t have heard it had it not been for the fact that the door and windows had to be left open! Small signs, but sure signs, that Spring is on its way and that these “liminal” times will not last forever. Amen.

Love and blessings to each and all of you. Holding you all in my thoughts and prayers. 

 

From Peter


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