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ASCENSION ? A thought from Revd Paul Lanham.

 

ASCENSION ?

Writing this at Eastertide reminds me of a scene in the film 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' (the one where John Wayne as the centurion at the crucifixion immortally drawls the words 'Truly this was the Son of God' as only he could).  The disciples have fled from the crucifixion and stand beside the Sea of Galilee.  A stone is thrown into the water and the ripples flow silently outwards in circles, graphically showing their sense of helpless despair and confusion.  It is memorable in its understatement.

May 2022 marks part of this six week period where the disciples seem to be in limbo.  Jesus was still alive but His ministry with them is clearly in transition;  we know so little of what happened in those days, but then at the Ascension Jesus parts from them (we mark it this year on Thursday 26th May).  The way is then set for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and the start of all that follows.

We speak of Jesus in terms of ascending into heaven, just as we speak of Him rising again from the dead.  We use the word because we have no alternative.  Going up is the alternative to going downwards or sideways;  they are as much about the spirit of their direction as their physicality, the direction as much of why it took place as how it took place.  Just as Jesus physically died and rose again, so He left this earth physically in some way that we do not understand.  In both cases the meaning of the events speaks as well as what actually happened.

For us this represents a problem, summed up by the first astronaut, the good Communist Yuri Gagarin.  When he reached orbit it is said that he radioed that now he could prove that God did not exist because he had gone up and there was no heaven to be seen.  One of the problems lies in the conflict between religion and the way we are trained to think.  Everything today has to add up, to be rationalised, to be logical.  Religion however speaks of faith.  So we must convince the world of something that we cannot prove and cannot understand.  How could Christ (as God made man) physically die and physically rise again?  How could He leave this earth alive into that state which we call heaven (whatever that is)? April and May seem full of confusion and mystery and while it is arguably the most beautiful month of the year it is also perplexing for those who believe (or try to believe).

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Or is it?  During these warm summer months I may be found on our swing seat on a dark evening, gazing up into the sky - and pondering.  What lies beyond what I can see?  Does space go on for ever and if not what lies beyond it?  This to me is the start of an exploration into faith.  Because I cannot understand what lies beyond what I am looking at, it does not mean that it does not exist;  it tells me that my mind has human limitations.  It recognises that fact is not the answer to everything and we have to accept that such limitations exist.  My favourite passage of the Bible is the closing chapters of the Book of Job.  Job has been seeking answers to what has happened to Him with ever growing intensity.  Suddenly the Lord answers Job out of a whirlwind, claiming the right to be mysterious and not to answer Job's questions.  The book closes with Job finding peace in not having answers, that he must love and believe. 

                                                            With my very best wishes - Paul

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LIGHT CONQUERS DARKNESS - A thought from Revd Paul Lanham

LIGHT CONQUERS DARKNESS

Whenever I read St. John's account of the Last Supper I am struck by those words as Judas Iscariot leaves the room to betray Christ - 'And it was night'.  There can be so few words with so much meaning.  The darkness is physical but it is full of tragedy and menace.  There is the darkness of the disciples who feel the atmosphere of impending tragedy but cannot understand what is going on.  Then there is the darkness of Jesus facing Gethsemane - the realization of what lies ahead and how He can resist that ultimate temptation there before the final journey to Calvary.  Then there is the darkness of Judas Iscariot who I am sure is a far more complex figure than he appears in the Gospels.  'And it was night';  you can feel the dark evening air as the figure hurries out of the room, a robe around him, the moonlight casting eerie shadows.

If I am fascinated by Judas then I am also fascinated by the crowd in the days before the crucifixion.  We see them crying out for Jesus as King when He enters Jerusalem on a donkey - yet within a week they are baying for His blood.  If ever there were an example of mass hysteria this is it, but there is also evil reflected in their change of heart.  The priests achieve their evil ends by manipulating the mob but they need the mob - and the mob plays a part with the priests by forcing Pilate to condemn Christ.  They surely represent a hypocrisy that is breath-taking.  I know that this is an over-simplification of the events that week but it stares us in the face and makes the crowd as guilty as the priests and Pilate in what happened at Golgotha.  So to look at that period is to see both a tragedy but also a reflection of so much darkness, so much evil, so much of the image of fallen man.  The cumulative darkness and the cumulative evil become focussed on an innocent Man hanging from a cross, God made man.  It is indeed night in those 24 terrible hours.

And yet darkness is only darkness if it is seen in the context of light, for without darkness there cannot be light.  This is what April means in 2022.  For death is followed by resurrection and without resurrection there cannot first be crucifixion.  This theme is in the first few words of the Bible as light emerges from darkness, just as in the physical sense the dawn follows the night, and winter changes to spring.  At the heart of Christ's death and resurrection is the contrast between the two themes and the victory of the one over the other.  Light conquers darkness.  Healing binds up wounds.  Love overcomes hatred.  Life conquers death.  These things, what's more, are eternal, that love, light and life are all conquering, they will always reign.  This is what this month is all about.  This lies at the heart of the Easter message of hope. 

                                                Wishing you all a Happy Easter - Paul Lanham

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Daffodils, a thought from the Revd Paul Lanham

DAFFODILS I've always especially loved daffodils. For a start they are the symbols of spring and after the winter that is as good a reason as any. They have a kind of golden dignity and they quietly keep on going, year after year. They also don't take any maintenance - while I annually toil on the second Tuesday of March pruning the roses (a ritual, weather permitting) the daffodils just stand up and glow at me. Somehow March looks forward in a way that doesn't happen at any other time of the year. Daffodils also remind me of the Lake District and William Wordsworth. 'I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, while all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils'. When we lived in industrial Lancashire in the mid-1970’s we often drove sixty miles, walked ten miles over the fells and returned in the evening, with petrol costing three gallons for £1 (remember that?!). One particular walk will never leave me, during a post Easter break about 45 years ago. We escaped the crowds on a brilliantly sunny Sunday, leaving Buttermere to the Scarth Gap and Haystacks. We worked our way round towards the Honister Pass and set between two ranges of hills and at our feet there was a breathtaking view to Buttermere, Crummock Water and Loweswater. Behind us was the Scafell range, the highest peaks in England. The silence was almost deafening. Nobody else was in sight and I could feel God around us in a way that I have never felt since then. Of course there had to be a let down because the crowds had gathered at the foot of the pass on our return. I wonder why I felt so smug when one yelling child slipped and fell fully clothed into a pool. Very unchristian no doubt but I am sure that God had mischief in His eyes that day. Happy memories. We are tempted to confuse solitude with loneliness. Loneliness is a curse of our times. There are countless people who just want a voice, someone knocking at the door - someone to care about them, to matter to them. Loneliness is brutal, it speaks of nobody caring about them. Solitude is about pausing and listening to our inner selves and what is spiritually around us. It is about tuning into the world around us, into God. 'What is life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?' wrote the poet W. H. Davies. 2   As spring makes its welcome appearance after winter and we can look ahead to the summer with its warmth and long evenings we may remind ourselves of the importance of solitude and be willing to listen to silence and to listen perhaps too to God. For silence is arguably the most life affirming sound there can be, the most revealing one, the most peaceful one. To end a thought from a book I have just read telling of how the tomb of the Unknown Warrior was created. There was a quotation by one of my spiritual heroes, the Great War padre Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. He wrote this: 'Love is eternal, death does not touch it. Morning gleams through the dark. Today - with me - paradise'. I used it recently when conducting the funeral of a dear friend; I leave it especially with you as the days start to lengthen and the air warms - but it applies to any day of any year. My very best wishes, Paul Lanham
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ELIZABETH OUR QUEEN

ELIZABETH OUR QUEEN 70 years ago as a schoolgirl in Hitchin, I was given a book by Richard Dimbleby 'Elizabeth our Queen' and I quote from the chapter about her Father's coronation: ‘To an eleven year old Princess, no matter how well she may have been primed by her grandmother or aunt in the ancient rites of the ceremonial, the moment, thrilling above all, was the moment that she and her sister must have been awaiting. It was the moment when she saw the Archbishop of Canterbury raise aloft the Crown of England. As the Crown was lowered on to her father's head a thousand voices in the Abbey acclaimed him with the cry "God save the King!" A cry that at once sped round the world as silver trumpets, rolling drums, saluting guns and pealing bells heralded the news that a new sovereign had been crowned.......... One more presentation to the King remained, the gift of the Bible - ‘the most valuable thing that this world affords: wisdom, royal law, and the lively oracles of God’. Marjorie McCarley
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Looking Back a reflection from Revd Paul Lanham

Can you remember 6th February 1952?  Not many of us can remember the young queen in black descending the steps of the de Havilland Comet (I think) from Kenya 70 years ago.  I was starting my first term at boarding school a few days later and my memory of that is clearer.  I saw the tail lights of my parents' Austin Ten vanishing down the drive and feeling utterly alone;  it vividly remains with me to this day.  The princess becoming a queen was irrelevant to a nine year old boy in short trousers.  Just that car vanishing down the drive with its lights vanishing and entering a strange new and frightening world.

Remembering the Coronation, 2nd June 1953.  A tiny flickering black and white television, the event going on for ever and incredibly boring.  Our friends had one and we only had a radio.  Their son was a friend called Ronnie Ring (I wonder what happened to him?).  He had bicycle pumps which we filled and refilled from a water butt.  We spent the Coronation hosing one another with these pumps and from time to time reminding our parents that we were still alive.  Then back to prison in Bath (I hated school).  In 1954 we watched a film called 'A Queen is Crowned' (remember that?!) and colour film was new to me.  The Bishop of Bath and Wells who had played a key role in the Coronation later confirmed me.  His chaplain wanted to borrow the Bishop's confirmation sermon the next week at Gloucester Prison but found himself unable to do so because my clergy father was at both services, being the prison chaplain - that's another story! 

Now 70 years later we remember the same dedicated queen who has broken every royal record for longevity.  Always Queen Elizabeth, unshakeable, always there.  This month we remember her with thanksgiving as arguably the greatest lady the world has ever known, the most loved and respected.  This year will hopefully be a time when we can give thanks for her and rejoice with her - not as a duty but as someone we genuinely want to celebrate.  This is my first columnfor 2022.  The lasttwoyears have been difficult;  if these celebrations can shine a brighter light on this year, then we can look forward with optimism.

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Forgive my sentimentality but illustrating these memories may show how far we have come since the young queen came down those steps.  That aircraft, that car and the television were all state of the art, now they are only seen in museums - even the 'water pistol' is a far more sophisticated weapon of mass saturation than the one that Ronnie and I improvised to the despair of our parents 70 years ago.  It is as though we are experiencing a second (or even third) Industrial Revolution and the world changes at an astonishing speed year by year - my five year old grand daughter is teaching me things that I can never understand while I speak of slide rules and logarithms (remember them?) to people who have no idea of what I am on about.  Queen Elizabeth has remained constant while the world has changed in a way that children who watched the Coronation could never have visualised as such future things.  After all, remember Dan Dare from 'The Eagle'?  At least The Beano remains.

But not even she can last for ever while God is eternal.  Remember that hymn - 'Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not abide with me'.  God never changes, nor does His love for us.  2022 may be a difficult year for organised religion and for the Church of England as a whole, but He will always be with us, a spiritual rock in what lies ahead. That is our hope and we have confidence in Him.

                                                                                        Paul Lanham

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