Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This week many members of our community and our congregation are suffering - loss of loved ones, illness, difficult news about friends and family, and other hard things. And so, I wanted to say just a few words about God and about worldly suffering. A question we sometimes ask, in pain and often in anger, is: why Lord? why me? why her? why is there suffering in this world, why is the world so unfair? why??? Even Jesus, at that most horrendous moment on the cross cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:33). Jesus is actually quoting Psalm 22 ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. This psalm, as well as much of Jesus’s teaching in the Gospels answers us, not to explain ‘why’, which is never answered in Psalm or Gospel, but answer a more important question when we are in pain, ‘what next?’, what is God’s response to my cry, to my suffering, and to all cries and all sufferings. I’ll just quote the most important part of Psalm 22, but do go read the entire psalm for yourself:
For God does not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
God does not hide his face from me,
but hears me when I cry.
This is the ‘what next’, this is God’s response to our
suffering. God does not turn away from us, but instead God faces us, and God’s
face shines upon us in those darkest times - we are never forsaken. Its okay to cry out, Jesus makes that quite
clear in his time of greatest suffering.
God’s loving response is the answer.
Sometimes this response is a sense of God’s presence that is so tangible
that we see visions, that we feel embraced in God’s love, that God’s
overwhelming presence in our time of trouble transforms our entire emotional
state. I have had many conversations
where people have shared experiences such as these, and I have experienced them
Other times, God uses people (and even animals and the natural world) to help us, to comfort us in our distress. Because God works in all things. As Tom Wright says in his latest book, God and the Pandemic (2020), ‘God does send help--God sends the poor in Spirit, the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers, the hungry for justice people’ (Wright, 34). God sends people like you and me to help, we become God’s loving hands - and sometimes we don’t even know we are doing it. I remember a day when I was experiencing some distress after receiving bad news from home. I was in Neros in Huddersfield, standing in line waiting for my coffee - hoping a bit of caffeine and warm milk would provide at least a tiny bit of relief. Instead, I noticed a young woman standing beside me in a lovely blue headscarf. She smiled at me in such a kind way, that I was quite overwhelmed. I think we exchanged some pleasantries, I can’t remember what they were. I never knew her name and I never saw her again. But at that moment, God did not hide his face from me, it shone out in the kindness of a stranger, and I was comforted.
I am often quite disturbed when people use phrases like, ‘God is testing me’. When the Gospels talk about the time of trial, they aren’t talking about God ‘testing’ us, our relationship with God is not based on some kind of ‘cosmic’ examination. No. When the Gospel talks about times of trial, they refer to experiences that are very painful. And in those times, God doesn’t stand over us with a clip board, but sits down with us in our pain. I often think of that moment in John’s Gospel, when Jesus stands at Lazarus’s tomb, ‘greatly disturbed’ and ‘began to weep’ (11.33,35). This is God’s response to our suffering, God weeps with us and then God acts. God surrounds us with the Holy Spirit, to touch our hearts with light in our darkest moments. The poet and hymn writer, William Cowper expresses this moment beautifully in one of his hymns:
Sometimes a light surprises
the Christian while she sings;
it is the Lord, who rises
with healing in Gods wings:
when comforts are declining,
God grants the soul again
a season of clear shining,
to cheer it after rain.
I don’t know the answer to ‘why’ but I know that as St Paul
That neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.38-9)
So, it is okay to cry out to God, it is okay to be angry
with God. God will answer you, not with
a rebuke, or a scolding, and not with an answer to ‘why’, but with something
much better, with an act of love which is the ‘what next’.
We’ve just received instructions that all who attend services or private prayer will need to wear masks or face coverings in church, just to let you know and get prepared.
Because we have set a date for our first services. These will be held August 9th, at all three churches: All Hallows 9.30; St Michael and St Helens 10.30; St Lucius 11.30. These will be short Eucharist services (i.e. 30 minutes). I’ve put together a liturgy that I hope will provide a quiet and contemplative space for worship. It will not be what we are used to, and there will be no sermon (thus I will continue to send weekly letters), but God will be with us and we will be with each other and that is what is most important. All required risk assessments have been completed and we continue to update procedures and practices as we receive them from the Diocese. We will be limited in the amount of numbers who can attend: 40 at All Hallows, 30 at St Michael and St Helens, 30 at St Lucius. While I think it highly unlikely that we will exceed these numbers, do be aware. If by some chance we do have to turn someone away, be assured we will reassess what we are doing and find solutions for future Sundays.
I will be the celebrant during the month of August. We hope to be able to invite retired clergy to officiate some services starting in September, all being well.
Churches will not be open for private prayer after July 31, as we begin to prepare for services.
You do need to be aware, that numbers may be quite low to start, as many people may choose to wait a bit longer before attending a public service. In that case we may celebrate in only one or two churches for a time. But on the August 9th there will be a service at all three churches as noted above.
We will take it week by week for a while as we work out what works and what doesn’t so everyone will need to pay close attention to the weekly letter and/or the parish website, and notice boards.
Anadelle will continue to provide a sheet of online, radio and TV opportunities for worship to support those who cannot attend services, but we will need to discontinue our own Zoom service once church services resume (9 August).
Again, keep an eye on the Parish Website and the weekly letters for further updates.
May God’s Blessing light upon all of you,
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas