I write to you at, what is, in some ways, the ‘year’s turning’.
Not only is a new academic year starting for many; (even as I write Helen is walking Toby and Bethan to school for their first day back) but it is also, more or less exactly, a year since I started my ministry here at St Paul’s.
It was a year that started with a real sense of excitement for me, and for us as a family. It was a year that started with a wonderful, joyful welcome from a fabulous church community. For that wonderful welcome, and for your support, we will always be grateful.
But what a year we’ve had! What a year it has been! Whatever I expected or imagined a year ago today, it is fair to say that the Covid-19 affected reality has been far different.
This time last year, when I was thinking and praying about the year ahead, I began to feel God’s prompting to consider the great narrative of redemption – the ‘Big Story’ of God’s intervention and rescue, and our part in it.
But of course – as we all know, if you asked anyone what the ‘Big Story’ was from 2020 was, they would say it was The Virus, and of course The Lockdown. You may have noticed that we have talked less about the Big Story recently, as we have tried to wait and respond to the needs of the moment. For we have all experienced great disruption, have we not? And many of us have experienced great loss.
R.S. Thomas wrote a beautiful, but mournful, poem called ‘Song at the Year’s Turning’, which is full of the recognition of loss and disruption. In it he wrote these words:
‘The props crumble. The familiar ways
Are stale with tears trodden underfoot’
I expect many of us have felt something similar. And of course we know, don’t we, that there will be further disruption and further difficulty to come as we journey on into the Autumn, Advent, and into 2021. It feels to me like there is a ‘weight’ of unease and fear upon many in our society. Perhaps you feel it too? I wonder how easy you find it to look forward with hope and with trust in God at this time?
It may be difficult, but I am convinced of this: our ‘Big Story’ is big enough to hold the pain and the loss and the fear and the injustice of the world. God’s action and rescue and kingdom will not be defeated by the Virus or by any force or by any power. God’s presence, comfort, love and hope is there for each of us, by the Holy Spirit, and through the gift of Jesus. And we can help each other find it, and help the community around us to find it too.
I feel a real sense of urgency about us being a Community of Hope. A community of people who know the help and the joy of God, even in difficult times. A community of people who look out for each, who are not afraid to support and protect each other in whatever ways are needed. A community of people who can be a sign of God’s presence and hope for the world around us, in practical, visible ways. A community of love.
And where does this start? Well, it starts with us hoping. It starts with us trusting in God, and being a people who are not full of fear, but rather of eternal hope. That hope will come from God, but also from being clear that we, as a community, will support each other. That we are hear for each other. It will also come from remembering that we are part of the Biggest Story of all; that our stories will end well, in healing, in joy, and in eternity.
What is the song, then, that we are called to sing at ‘the Year’s Turning’?
Well the verses of scripture that came to my mind when I asked this question were these; verses written in the midst of songs of mourning, loss and sorrow in the book of Lamentations. Verses that say this:
‘But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
It is my prayer that you will receive, even today, even as you read this, a gift of hope from the Holy Spirit.
It is my prayer that we will be a community of hope, full of faith in Jesus Christ.
It is my prayer that therefore we will be a community of love. Even a community of joy!
It is my prayer that we will be able to be a visible, practical, sign of God’s hope and help to those around us.
It is my prayer that we will see people come to know and experience the hope of Jesus for the first time.
Will you join me in prayer for these things? They are urgently needed!
Will you hope with me?
Thank you – and Amen!