Pastoral Letter 7, 7th June


“Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew: that I may love the things You love and do the things You do.”

These are the opening words of a well-known hymn “Breathe on me breath of God” which was written in 1878 by The Rev Edwin Hatch who, at the time, was a vicar working in the poorest parts of East London. It was a time when the air quality in London was appalling due to industrial pollution and the Capital was frequently covered in a thick blanket of smog. The poorest, as always, suffered the most due to bad housing, insanitary conditions and deficient diet. TB was rife and life expectancy low. The poor had no escape and, as he wrote this hymn, Hatch knew that his parishioners, together with thousands of others throughout the land, needed to breathe a new air: a clean, fresh, invigorating and healing air. Millions in our world still do. 

The air to which Hatch was referring was the breath of God, the air of The Holy Spirit. Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and filled the first disciples of Jesus. In John 20 we read “Jesus breathed on the disciples and they received the Holy Spirit.” This was a new air, crystal clear, that gave them insight, deep understanding, courage, strength, faith, hope, power and a profound love for the earth and all humanity. It changed their lives completely and it transformed the history of the world. It is the reason for there being a Christian Church at all of which each one of us is a member. It is the Holy Spirit that brought me and you to our faith in Jesus and taught us of God’s love for us and for all His creation. It is the same power that created The Universe and our world in the first place: the breath that God breathed into the first human beings. Genesis 2 “God took some soil from the ground and created the first man: then He breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and the man began to live.” Every breath we take and every step we take is through the working of that same Spirit. 

The great fear of Coronavirus is that it ingests our lungs and sucks the life from us. This is the reason why hundreds of thousands have died or are dying: over 50,000 in our own nation. We put people on ventilators and on life-support programmes and have a need for so much oxygen that hospitals have been in danger of running out. Without air and without our lungs we cannot breathe, and we die: this is the tragic reality of Coronavirus. But there is another reality and it centres on The Holy Spirit and a breath which no virus can penetrate and which no one or nothing can deny us. It is a never-ending breath of life which is the gift of God to each and every one of us: a breath which is secured through faith and which is not dependant on ventilators,or any life support machines or programmes. It is God’s intensive care programme for all who put their trust in Him, and it is powered by His love alone which rises high above and beyond the cares of this world and which grants us eternal life. It is a breath which never runs out and secures us a place in Heaven and the name of this breath is Love. And whenever our breath in this world expires and our earthly life ends then this breath continues because it is eternal. It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead and the same power that will raise us. And so, as St Paul wrote, “there is no fear in love for love takes away all fear.” Yes, we are inevitably anxious, and it is perfectly understandable and acceptable to be anxious especially as we begin to slowly emerge from lockdown and restrictions. We face social distancing, ques and compulsory face masks when travelling which are constant reminders of the threat of the virus but equally we need to remind ourselves that, as believers, wherever we are, we breath a different air, the air of The Spirit of God, the breath of Love Divine, from which we can never be parted. And it is with this assurance that we can emerge into the light of day: wary and nervous inevitably but never defeated. 

When the Rev Hatch wrote his famous hymn he wasn’t just thinking of the poor but of all men and women including those who were wealthy and in positions of power, authority and influence for they too needed to breath a new air: the air of compassion, mercy, justice and love. If things were ever to change then they too needed their hearts and minds, their plans and motivations, to be filled with God’s love for this earth and its people. Today there is still an urgent need for this if we are to protect our planet and preserve our earth including our own green and pleasant land. Air quality has improved overall during the pandemic and pollution levels have fallen. Let us, therefore, pray that this will continue and not be perverted through greed and selfishness. Again, the last words of George Floyd before he died, having had his windpipe blocked by a US policeman kneeling on his throat, were “I can’t breathe!” If things are to change and needless deaths prevented: if the whole of humanity is to be respected irrespective of race, creed or colour: if we are to breath clean air in a world free of viruses: then all of us including those in power, need to be filled with a new Spirit and a new Love as God breathes on us and we receive His Holy Spirit: new people breathing a new air in a new and better world.    Amen

Jesus said, “In this world you will face trouble: but be of good courage for I have overcome the world.” So, let’s be courageous as we breathe the new air that God has given us  and the His love which surrounds us for if God is for us then who can be against us. 

I’m here if you need me.

With love and blessings to you all from Peter

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