Message from The Rector
We have reached the end of the church year and I don’t really need to say what kind of a year it’s been, do I? Suffice to say ‘not what any of us anticipated or would have wanted’. But at least nowadays the church year ends with a bang and not a whimper. The Feast of Christ the King, which we celebrate this week, is comparatively new in the church calendar and began in the Roman Catholic church in 1925, finally and permanently making it into the Church of England lectionary when Common Worship was introduced in 2000. Previously this Sunday was merely ‘The Sunday Next Before Advent’ and was colloquially called ‘Stir-up Sunday’ – the words taken from the Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the day and taken literally by many who ‘stirred-up’ their Christmas puddings this weekend. But it’s good to celebrate something that is rather than something that’s about to be – and The Feast of Christ the King has now firmly taken its place in the calendar. (Though the ‘stir-up’ collect prayer is still with us and will feature in this week’s online service.)
Christmas plans are beginning to form, though we still await government guidance as to what we can and can’t do after December 2nd. All being well, in the week before Christmas, there will be services of words and music in both Friston and Aldringham churches and there will be services of Holy Communion in some or all of our churches on Christmas Day. Sadly, the big occasions – including Christingle, the Crib Service and Midnight Eucharists are off the agenda this year but we will try to supply some online worship to compensate as best we can. It has been really difficult to try and work out what we can realistically do in these strange times – but the most important thing is that we keep safe. Covid-19 seems to be able to find ways of spreading very quickly once we relax and if we are to try to have a reasonably normal 2021, we still need to be very careful. I promise that we will do what we can.
With love, as ever
Eternal Father, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne
of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of
peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Reflection for 22nd November – Christ the King,
by The Revd Nichola Winter
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
rejoice, again I say, rejoice
I had so hoped that in a year in which we have been deprived of celebrating those great festivals of Easter and Pentecost in church we might just manage to mark the final Sunday of the church’s year, Christ the King, with jubilant acts of worship. Singing some of our wonderful hymns that mark the kingship of Christ – ‘O worship the King all glorious above’; ‘Rejoice the Lord is King’; ‘Alleluia, sing to Jesus’. We miss it so much.
But it cannot be. We can only sing in our hearts, join with the online offerings, and work out our faith in our individual ‘lockdown’ ways. Next week sees the beginning of Advent, the start of the church’s new year and – I think we all pray for this – new hope. It’s been hard – I don’t need to list the ways in which our worship has changed and evolved. It is, perhaps, the fellowship that we’ve missed most – those opportunities for sharing joy and sorrow, companionship and laughter, bring-and-share meals – and, of course, frequent ‘cake’ opportunities. Perhaps ‘Cake and King – Let us Sing’ might be the basis for one of our first acts of communal worship once we’re allowed!
Over the altar in Aldeburgh Church is the dramatic window depicting the crucifixion of Christ. But raise your eyes a little higher and we see Christ depicted in all his glory. Kingly, serene and majestic – ‘king eternal, earth thy footstool, heaven thy throne.’ There is scarcely a grander or more widespread image used in the Bible than that of ‘king’. The Hebrew-Aramaic word for king, ‘melek’, is one of the most commonly used words in the Old Testament, occurring approx 2700 times. In the New Testament the Greek word, ‘basileus’, occurs more than 125 times. If you add in associated words such as kingly, kingdom, the verb ‘to reign’, then the motif of kingship weaves its way through the entire fabric of the message of the Bible. Much relates to earthly kings but today we think about our divine king, Jesus Christ, redeemer, saviour, servant, healer, teacher and companion.
There have been many images over the last months of people in positions of power and authority welcoming photo opportunities that demonstrate how they are ‘at one’ with the people. ‘Coronavirus opportunities’ for the great and the good show just how much they try to be ‘on side’ with the rest of us. Commendable as these may be they are nothing compared with the way in which Jesus lived out his life engaging completely with the people – peaceably for the most part but not above criticising when necessary. The king we worship is extraordinary. Wholly human and completely divine. Sent from God to be with God’s creation. Emptying himself of kingship so that he could be as one with, and of, us. God comes to be with his people – to be with you and me, finding us wherever we are, in whatever state we find ourselves. Happy, sad, joyful, despairing, lonely, stressed – he’s right there. At the Clergy Conference last week we were reminded of the importance of allowing ourselves to be still and quiet with God. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and hassle of instant communication via electronic media. We need to guard the space – allow those times of quiet. Ours is a king who rejoices when we are still and attentive.
Paul’s words to the Ephesians come as a timely reminder – and can be a prayer for us all:
‘I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…’
At this festival of Christ the King, may we find the eyes of our heart enlightened and our souls cheered by the hope to which he has called each one of us.
Deciphering words in the New Testament
(It’s all Greek to me)
METANOIA, or repentance, is a key word for Christianity. I admit I had my own fancy idea of what I could say about it until I actually got down to working on it. Metanoia enters the New Testament via John the Baptist. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that his message was a call for Repentance. Mark (1.4) and Luke (1.3) both use identical words in the Greek: John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Baptisma, a baptism, metanoias, of repentance, eis, for, aphesin, the forgiveness, hamartion, of sins.
Then comes a discovery. Luke (24.28) tells us right at the end of his gospel, that immediately prior to the Ascension, Jesus commissions the disciples to go out and preach to all nations “repentance and forgiveness of sins”, using exactly the same Greek words as are used about John the Baptist’s message, thus linking Jesus and his cousin John, the beginning and end of Christ’s ministry on earth.
Once I was at a clergy school where we were challenged by the speaker to recall what Jesus told his disciples to go out and preach. Not one of us could remember these words from St. Luke. Yet they were clearly very important to the first Christians. “Metanoia eis aphesin hamartion” must have been a well-known formula, even a mantra, for the early church. If we forget this phrase, we are forgetting words at the centre of the first Christian preaching.
So, to METANOIA. Meta, when linked to a following word, means ‘change’. Noia is a variation of ‘nous’ which means ‘mind’. So meta noia means change of mind, or in our case, repentance.
It doesn’t mean grovelling abasement, but rather a new outlook, turning our thinking inside out. Maybe it might come to mean seeing that God loves the other person and not just me. Here is the basis for the best sort of inclusivity. Maybe on this understanding we can all go a bit woke!
Behind that is a basic humility, a realistic self-awareness before something so much greater than ourselves. This is the humility of the tax-collector (the publican) in the Temple praying with the Pharisee (Luke 18.23) – or the Canaanite woman (Matt 15.22) – or the two blind men (Matt 9.27). The great Christian Prayer which expresses this is the Jesus prayer of the Orthodox Christians: “Lord / Jesus Christ / Son of God / have mercy on me”. To be repeated slowly, phrase by phrase, over and over and over again. No gold medals here, no celebrity status, but maybe peace, love, joy. Amen.
The Week Ahead – Next Sunday
29th November – 1st Sunday of Advent