April 2016

Dear Friends,

Last month I mentioned the lack of excitement that I felt there was nowadays regarding the four yearly extra day we have due to the leap year, and I was hoping that Easter would not go the same way. How was your Easter, did you manage to spend some time thinking about the story, did you watch any special Easter programmes or attend some church services? Most of all, did you consider the gift of Jesus’ love for you and receive that gift? If you did, or if you nearly did, then chat to somebody about it! share your story and you will be amazed at the story they share with you!

Is that the end of Easter now, well no, definitely not! One of my favourite Bible stories is The Walk to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13ff). In this passage two of Jesus’ disciples are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem. Suddenly they are joined by Jesus, but, thinking he is dead, they do not recognise him. They talk about the events of the past few days in Jerusalem: of Jesus’ death on the cross and of his alleged rising to life again. The stranger listens and walks with them, helping them to understand the prophesies concerning Jesus’ death. As evening falls they share a meal, and as the stranger blesses and breaks the bread, so the disciples recognise him to be the risen Christ, and immediately – filled with the joy of the resurrection – they go into the world to proclaim this Good News.

The weeks leading up to Easter, which we call Lent, could in many ways be regarded as our journey to Emmaus; a time of walking with Jesus, seeking to know him more fully and living in his love more deeply. During Lent we are encouraged to ask questions about our faith, just like those first disciples obviously did as they walked. We are encouraged to spend time listening to Jesus – in prayer and through reading the Scriptures, discerning his call for each of us, and being both comforted and challenged by the transforming message he brings.

And after the journey, after Lent, comes the clearest revelation of Jesus. He breaks the bread at his friends’ table and is instantly recognised by them as their risen Lord. Every time people gather to share in a service which some call Holy Communion, Sacrament, Eucharist or Mass they too bless and break the bread, and the risen and glorious Christ comes among them in that bread and wine to feed them on their journey of faith in him. Easter is not over it is just the beginning. May it be something new for you too.

God Bless
Rev Michelle Ireland

March 2016

Dear Friends,

We have just had one of those days we don’t have very often – well, once every four years. Ae you with me? Yes – February 29th – the day we only have when it is a leap year. Now for those born on 29th this is a very important day, as thy only have a birthday once every four years! Or do they? I remember how as a child, February 29th was seen to be a magical day, everybody looked forward to it. The anticipation was huge. I wonder this year however, whether many people have not even been aware of it, the excitement has gone, it has become just like any other day.

The celebration of Easter day, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is to occur at the end of this month of March, on Sunday the 27th.

Will this be a day that you recognise, or will it merge into all the other days around it? Speaking of which, the whole of the week leading up to Easter day demands a little more of our attention too. We call that week Holy Week. During that time, we recall the events leading up to Easter Day, including the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his friends and the actual Crucifixion on the day that we call Good Friday. Why is it called Good Friday? Strange name surely. Well we believe that in some amazing way when Jesus died on the cross, he cleared the way for us to have a relationship with God, all those bad parts in our lives were forgiven. Of course that is a gift given to us, and for any gift to be of impact we have to say thank you, I would love to receive that gift.

Maybe this year is the opportunity to do that. For the story did not end on Good Friday, Easter Day was to follow when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. A miracle of God, which means that in that way that we can only feel with our hearts, Jesus is alive and with us.

Don’t let Holy Week and Easter become like February 29th, overlooked and ignored. Why not find out what services and events your local church is holding and make this years be the year that yes to the gift of Easter.

God Bless
Rev Michelle Ireland

February 2016

Dear Friends,

‘Have a Good Lent’ isn’t a usual greeting... Lent can seem a negative, downbeat time, when we give up something we really enjoy, like alcohol or chocolate. Giving up for Lent is traditional, like eating chocolate eggs at Easter and giving presents at Christmas – many people do it from habit, without making the religious connection with Jesus fasting 40 days in the wilderness in preparation for his public ministry of teaching and healing. Giving up something we enjoy to please God fits some people’s picture of God as an unfriendly, judgemental figure, rather than the loving Father who wants to bless us and lead us into fullness of life. Trust me, the church season of Lent is not meant to be a dreary ‘boot camp’ exercise in endurance but time to slow down and reflect with God on what really matters in our lives.

I used to think ‘Lent’ came from the French word meaning slow. I was disappointed to discover it comes from the Old English word meaning to lengthen, because the season of Lent coincides with Spring’s lengthening daylight hours. But slowing down remains essential to the season of Lent, taking time to reflect on how we live, an annual spiritual MOT. Ash Wednesday reminds us one day we will all die and have to account for our life to God – the good we have not done, the wrong we have said, thought or done, our failures to live in love. Lent invites us to a spiritual spring clean that looks at the clutter in our lives and deals with everything that is not as it could be.

Lent is hugely positive. Its focus is repentance, which simply means (re)turning to God each day, the God who changes our hearts and habits when we accept his love, admit our failings and needs. Repentance means wanting to be different, more like Jesus, loving, at peace and full of joy, whatever our outward circumstances. Repentance, (re)turning to God), includes living slowly, mindfully and thankfully, moment by moment, accepting what we cannot change, changing what is in our power to change, loving ourselves, knowing we are deeply loved by God. Lent also invites us to look outwards to the needs of others and do our bit to make the world a better place.

What could you do – you have 40 days to do something different each day? I can almost hear you tapping away on the computer, searching 40 different things to do throughout Lent! Brilliant! Have a great Lent!

God Bless
Rev Michelle Ireland

January 2016

Dear Friends,

“It was the best of times it was the worst of times”

The above statement could easily be attributed to 2015 and it could be said that there has been an imbalance in favour of the second part of the above statement. The world has been rocked by a whole series of natural and manmade disasters and, of course, just because the year changes it doesn’t mean that the events of 2015 will be swept under the carpet. People will feel the effects of the devastating events well into the New Year. For example, the crisis in Syria is ongoing and those who have sought refuge are still doing so. The shooting in Paris and America make sickening reading. The full effect of heavy rain in our own country will take some time to sort out. When one disaster follows another, we have to be careful not to let the earlier events slip from our consciousness whilst trying to avoid sympathy overload. Our prayers and whatever practical help we can give, need to continue unabated.

Yet let us not forget the first part of the phrase above, for there will have been many times when someone has helped you and me, or occasions when we have been the helper – many times when we have been chuffed to bits and felt really good. Times when we have seen light, love and peace shine out and from all ages too! And yes it has been the best of times, for the birth of Jesus Christ has been celebrated and his death and resurrection too. Whilst all else shifts and changes, he does not. And so while we may say rather cynically at times ‘ nothing ever changes’ let’s for once be glad that some things don’t – our Lord is the same, yesterday, today and forever – the light has come and NO darkness will ever put it out! Praise God!

God Bless
Rev Michelle Ireland