Please scroll down to read The Rector Writes for January to March 2020 too.
This month's article has been written by Rev Gill Stanning, our Mission Area Pioneer Priest and Rector of Llanfynydd with Cymau and Ffrith...
When reading a tense novel there can be a temptation for some of us to read the last pages to see how it all turns out. Whilst there are downsides to this tactic, the advantage is that it gives confidence in the outcome that you wouldn’t have had without a sneak preview! I am guessing that at present, we would all like to be able to ‘skip to the end of the story’. All of us are having to deal with an entirely new situation…a global pandemic. Covid-19…or as it is commonly called ‘Coronavirus’. No-one really knows how this new disease will develop, how many will be infected and whether the NHS will be able to cope. At my time of writing we are in the relatively early stages. Life hasn’t altered too much (except for a lamentable shortage of loo roll in the supermarkets and a heightened desire to wash our hands!) However, that may well change. Each day new advice is coming out, new rules and regulations are being imposed and people are concerned.
It is a difficult time. ‘Keeping calm and carrying on’ isn’t always as simple as it may seem - but that is exactly what we need to try and do. We need also to find hope in all of this because (like my reading analogy) it would be nice to know that it all ends well; that we are going to be ok and life will get back to normal.
During the days leading up to Jesus resurrection, the disciples must have felt much turmoil and despair…their Lord and master had been captured, tried and condemned. Then he was executed in the most barbaric of ways. It must have been very difficult for them to ‘keep calm and carry on’. I wonder if they felt any hope at all at this stage, hiding behind closed doors, fearful that the soldiers may be coming for them next, not knowing if they would survive this difficult time when their world seemed to be falling apart and God seemed so distant. Yet, with hindsight we know that their circumstances were about to change…dramatically! Jesus would rise again, they would see him on many occasions, Jesus would ascend to heaven and the Holy Spirit would come. Then those previously frightened disciples would boldly go out and found the early church - exciting times were ahead!
The season of Easter is a key time for hope and optimism. It reassures us that God has things under control even when we feel overwhelmed or lacking in any hope at all. It is for this reason that the dark part of the Easter story is such a necessary part of Holy week. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday give us time to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us. By skipping ahead to the resurrection (before considering why Jesus loved us so much that he was prepared to die for us) we lose the importance of Easter and why it is worth celebrating at all.
We are undoubtedly living in turbulent times but remember that we have a God who cares, who is there through the dark times as well as the good. Pray for one another, help one another and to be there for one another. This worrying time will end. In the meantime, we keep calm and carry on remembering that God loves and cares for each one of us personally - so much so that he sent Jesus – our true and living ‘hope for all’!
Please do join us for any of our services, especially during Holy Week and Easter Sunday. We would love to see you.
Since Ash Wednesday on 26 February we have been in the season of Lent. Lent is the six weeks or forty days (bar Sundays) that lead up to Holy Week and the Maundy Thursday Last Supper and arrest of Jesus, the Good Friday, trial and crucifixion of Jesus and the Holy Saturday burial of Jesus. Yet of course Lent leads into the discovery of the empty tomb and Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead on Easter Day!
This year across our five churches in the southern part of Borderlands Mission Area, we are journeying through Lent in two ways. On Monday evenings at 7pm, across Hope, Emmanuel and St Johns, we are hosting short Contemplative Prayer services that will include Lenten Meditations reflecting on the passion (the suffering) of Christ. On Thursday evenings, Gill will be leading a Lent Course on the Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper) in The Snug (think ‘Upper Room’!) in The Cross Keys Pub in Llanfynydd, that will end with a meal symbolic of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday 9 April. You are very welcome to attend Monday and or Thursday evenings, regardless of which church you consider your own.
Do you know the Transfiguration of Jesus story in the New Testament? We reflect on the Transfiguration story on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Sunday before Lent.
Matthew’s account (verses 1-3, 5, 8 in chapter 17) reads:
Jesus took with him Peter, James and John… and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.
A bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
[After this], they saw no one except Jesus.
The transfiguration of Jesus marks a significant turning point not just in the life of Jesus, but in the overall narrative of the Bible. In the Old Testament, God speaks through the law (represented here by Moses) and the prophets (represented here by Elijah). In the New Testament however, God now speaks through his Son Jesus.
Jesus is with the closest of his twelve disciples – Peter, James and John – the three which church tradition understands became the first leaders in the Christian Church. In this story, these three witness in part, the coming of God’s kingdom.
On the mountain top, Jesus prays. As he prays, his disciples notice a change in their master – Jesus ‘transfigures’ – his face changes – his clothes become bright – as bright as a flash of lightning Luke says.
Next Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is here to be the Messiah, the Saviour figure Israel and the world needs; a figure that is required by the law – because no one without God’s help can live up to God’s standards – and a figure foretold by the prophets – because it’s Jesus as God’s perfect and sinless Son who is able to forgive us our sins and then help us to live better lives.
Jesus is here – with the help of the Holy Spirit – to set us free to live by the law – or God given conscience – that by our inherent good we so often want or try to live by but by our inherent fallen-ness so often we can fail to achieve…
Next a cloud comes over Jesus, Moses and Elijah – the cloud – just as happens so often in the Old Testament – represents the presence of God. Out of the cloud, a voice is heard – the voice of God. God speaks words that are similar to that which he said at Jesus’ baptism – but this time not just ‘This is my Son with whom I am well pleased’ but also he adds, ‘Listen to Him’.
It is then no accident that Moses and Elijah are no longer seen from this point – because Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and prophets – and he is now the way that God speaks to us.
When Jesus speaks, God speaks. If we want to hear God’s voice today – then listen to the voice of Jesus as found in the Scriptures! The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus teaches us that whilst Jesus is human, he is also the divine Christ; and what Jesus says, we can trust is what God says.
I commend this is as a thought worth holding on to as we now listen to the voice of Jesus in the gospels through Lent and into Holy Week!
In Christ, Adam
If you are reading this on 1 February, then I suspect that history was written yesterday. History that we thought would originally be written ten months ago! I imagine ‘Brexit’ has been on the school curriculum for politics for the last four years now – since the announcement of the referendum on Monday 22 February 2016 and the referendum itself on Thursday 23 June 2016. I wonder how long before ‘Brexit’ – the ‘British Exit from the European Union’ – makes the official history syllabus too.
We are all aware that amongst us in Wales and the UK there are varying arguments and mixed feelings toward Brexit. Well, now we wait and see what Brexit really means and what will happen to our nation, our trade deals, our border controls, our economics, our pound, and more, over the next eleven months when Brexit and it’s transition period is due to be ‘done’. I wonder what we will read, watch and hear in the press.
If you are reading this on 2 February, then today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (trad. ‘Candlemas’) – do come and celebrate this feast with us in Hope in our special 6pm service on Sunday 2 February. In this feast, Simeon the priest and Anna the prophetess meet the boy Jesus in the Temple and Simeon who has waited his whole life to meet Jesus, suddenly bursts into song or praise with these words from Luke 2:29-32, that will be very familiar to longstanding church members:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Jesus, Simeon has trusted, is ‘a light for the world’. Later in John’s gospel, Jesus describes Himself as ‘The Light of the world’ (John 8:12)
Whatever your thoughts and feelings are toward Brexit, be you optimistic or pessimistic, realistic or in a dream world, or somewhere in between, Christians believe we always have a light in Jesus.
There are three things that light does. Firstly, it helps us to see. Furthermore, when we are looking for direction, light helps us to see the way to go. Secondly, light is warm. Thirdly, if you think of a small child scared of the dark, then light helps that child to feel safe too.
As we follow Jesus, the Light of the world, Christians believe that Jesus can help us to ‘see how to live’. As we stay close to Jesus, Christians believe that Jesus can keep us, ‘warm, safe and secure’. Safe and secure in the knowledge that whilst we don’t have all the answers (which as much as we speculate about Brexit – I suspect few can predict what really is going to happen), that whether we are a British national living in the UK or outside the UK, whether an EU national living in the UK or outside the UK with UK ties, or from further afield again, the promise of God is that we can always trust in Christ to watch over us and our families.
Jesus never promises an easy ride – he certainly didn’t have one himself – crucifixion is hardly an easy ride!! – but he does promise us strength and a way through hardship and or unknowns – with Jesus there is always light at the end of the tunnel (of life).
Whether you are for “Brexit or afraid of the effects of it” (to quote Dai Woolridge, see Rector Writes, February 2019), as we conclude the Epiphany season (which means we switch off the star lights on the Hope Church tower too) may you know this month, in your hearts and minds and lives, the continuing light of Jesus. May He direct you and keep you strong in whatever lies ahead for you in your life’s path.
Finally, after a fairly quiet January, life in our churches now starts to pick up again. In Hope, we continue to put together our P4G – our ‘Plan for Growth’ as we pick up the Leading Your Church into Growth Local Course again (sessions 4 and 5 will be on 3 and 24 Feb at 7:30pm – everyone welcome) and we look forward to Rob Attree’s ‘Big Quiz Night’ on 28 Feb (7pm start). 1 March, in St John’s we look forward to St David’s Day Songs of Praise with the Community Choir.
Also toward the end of this month we come into the season of Lent. This year we begin Lent with services of Holy Communion on Ash Wednesday in St John the Baptist Church (6:30pm) and Hope Church (7:30pm). Do come along.
In Christ, Adam
Blwyddyn Newdd Dda! Happy New Year!
It really is great to welcome so many (1,500+!) to our churches over the Christmas period to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the coming of God’s Son into the world. A very big thank you to everyone who helps to make our celebrations as special as always.
The Twelve Days of Christmas are however not yet over! We near now the celebration of Epiphany – the ‘official date’ when we celebrate the visit of the wise men to the ‘boy’ Jesus. Do come along and join us on Sunday 5th to see the wise men arriving at the crib.
Also on the afternoon of Sunday 5th January, Hope.4.All is celebrating its second birthday and we will be joining with the H4A Youth afterwards in the hall for a church family get together of hot food and games – the pool, table tennis, board games, table football will all be out – everyone, regulars and visitors, welcome!
At 6pm in St John the Baptist Church, we are hosting a quieter and more reflective service – Epiphany Readings and Mediations – which is being put together by the local licensed ministers in our mission area – our own Ann and Pam amongst others.
We three kings of orient are,
bearing gifts, we traverse afar
This is the carol, that’s all about the ‘wise men’ or ‘Magi’ and their three gifts to Jesus. Gold for a king, frankincense burned to a deity, and myrrh for anointing a corpse – the gifts show us that God’s Son Jesus is the King who would die to ‘save us from our sins’.
I wonder however have you ever thought about the ‘fourth gift’ of the wise men?
We might easily think about gift-giving (not least at Christmas time too) only in terms of giving material goods!
Yet at Christmas time, very often there is someone in our family who (like the wise men did) has to make a long journey so that the family can be together – at Christmas time we can think about too, the gift of family and friends. Throughout Advent, as we light the Advent Candles and move toward Christmas, we can think of the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love that God and others can bring into our lives.
Gifts then do not have to be material goods!
In fact, if you read the New Testament text more slowly and carefully you may notice a fourth gift too! In Matthew 2:11 we read:
On entering the house [not stable!], they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The first gift to Jesus from the wise men I suggest to you was their bowing down in worship. Adoration. Praise. Honour. Glory. All this was given to Jesus before any material gift. Jesus was the one the star had led them too. Jesus was the one who they understood to be God’s Son, God become human, who would be their Messiah and King, their Lord and Saviour, their new leader and guide and help for through life and the one who would forgive them their sins and give to them life in all its fullness, a new life that would start there at the feet of Jesus and last into eternity. Before any material gift was given, the wise men gave their lives to Jesus in worship.
This year I wonder what will your priorities be? What will your New Year’s Resolutions be?
You may have joined us over the Christmas period, now why not consider giving Jesus your complete worship and devotion too? Or why not take some time to find out why those of us, we consider to be ‘committed Christians’ choose to do this? You could ask a friend? Or ask me about Alpha – our exploring Christianity course?
Equally too, when you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and achievements with people who are important to you this year, will you celebrate these events firstly (perhaps even only) by sending a card or at best a gift? Or will you, as the wise men did to Jesus, make the extra journey and effort to sit with these people and give your time to these people too? A hard ask sometimes, but a challenge worthwhile having a go at.
In Christ, Adam
Rev Adam Pawley