And so Easter comes round again. What does it mean for you and for me?
For fifty days the Church celebrates the glorious feast and fact of the resurrection. Over this period we celebrate the meaning of the resurrection for Jesus and for us. We are not simply recalling a past event but a present reality. The resurrection of Jesus is our promise of resurrection too, and his life is the life we live now in and through the life of the Church.
One of the facts that must strike even the most casual readers of the gospel is how the disciples are transformed. At the crucifixion they had shown themselves to be cowards. Even after the resurrection is announced to them by the women who arrive at the tomb they are still far from belief. But the encounter with the risen Jesus changes them once and for all. They boldly proclaim the resurrection. They travel through all sorts of dangers to share their conviction. And the vast majority of them are prepared to face death rather than deny what they know. In fact they can face death confidently because they now know that Jesus is alive.
How about you and me? We must pray that the same confidence and joy radiates through us and the Church in our own time. We needn’t cower behind closed doors, we can go out and tell the world what we know – ‘He is risen.’ Many will dismiss us, many will oppose us, but many will others will hear and be saved.
Rev Michelle Ireland
We are now in the season of Lent, the first day is actually Ash Wednesday 5th March. What is a Lent about? Well, many things, but perhaps one element is that if connecting. The call for better and faster broadband connection is often on the news. For business and for family life, technology is important for keeping in touch. One of the most striking recent changes in society is the way in which we have become digitally connected. And that’s as much for the old as the young. Digital connectivity has spread from computers to phones of ever-increasing complexity and cost. People text while waiting at red traffic lights. Conversations are interrupted by the need to check incoming messages. Silent couples at restaurant tables stare intently at their phones. It seems everybody everywhere is connected almost all the time.
There are certainly benefits. Smartphones allow us to consult with friends. Help us manage tangled social lives, check timetables, locate quotes – and even read the Bible. But I wonder if we have lost the art of silence.
Do we know any longer how to be silent? In silence we come face to face with ourselves. Silence with its freedom from distractions, allow us the opportunity to focus on what is necessary.
At the start of his ministry, Jesus spent forty days alone in the empty solitude of the wilderness. ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple.' Matthew 4
Most of us would struggle to cope with forty minutes of being unconnected!
Jesus knew the importance of solitude. Luke 6:12-15 ‘In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.’ That’s where he got the perspective for his busy ministry. That’s why his words still speak to us across the centuries. In the silence he fed on his Father’s word and found strength in doing God’s will. Have you ever been in a secluded place, by yourself, just to think about things and to be still? Try it, if you can. It’s a good time to evaluate our lives - to listen to our ‘inner voice’. It’s also a great time to pray and find God.
Rev Michelle Ireland
So here is it again. February and Valentines day! A day full of customs and gestures , cards, red roses, romantic meals, the gentleman serenading his lady in the moonlight by the music of a mandolin – well maybe not the last one!
But there is something quite different about this day, a day when people can say I love you and say it out loud.
But how did this special day all start? Well there are various stories.
Legend has it that Valentine was a priest who served during third century Rome. There was an Emperor at that time by the name of Claudius II. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those that were married. With this thought in mind he outlawed marriage for young men in hopes of building a stronger military base. Supposedly, Valentine, decided this decree just wasn't fair and chose to marry young couples secretly. When Emperor Claudius II found out about Valentine's actions he had him put to death.
Another legend has it that Valentine was an imprisoned man who fell in love with his jailor's daughter. Before he was put to death he sent the first 'valentine' himself when he wrote her a letter and signed it 'Your Valentine', words still used on cards today.
I don’t know whether Valentine would have drawn on his letter a huge big red heart shape with Cupid’s arrow through it, glance at any teenagers school books and you will probably see quite a few of those, the initials at the end of the arrow giving away a few secrets, but the heart has become the main symbol for love – why? Well our hearts are amazing organs because they pump the blood around our bodies.
A working heart is vital for us to survive. When our heart pumps blood, that blood goes to all the other parts of the body so that they work well too. When we say we love someone with ‘all our heart’ and ‘from the heart’ we mean, ‘with our whole self’, ‘from the centre of who we are’. We hold nothing back but give all we can ‘ whole heartedly.’ We are saying that we would do absolutely anything for the other person, because we love them so so much.
That is the ultimate love, a love which we see in God – perhaps the main verse of the Bible for many Christians is that found in John chapter 3 verse 16. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ God gave everything he possibly could to his people, the best valentine gift ever, the costliest gift ever because he loved each of the people he had created and that includes us today.
So how might you and I spend this valentine day, we might say we are past all that sentimental stuff, but we can never get too old for that! It is good to remember our loved ones and tell them how much we love them, even if it is many many years since the first time we shyly mentioned it.
Maybe for some people reading this today there isn’t one particular special person in our life, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t share our love with others – there are always opportunities aplenty for us to get those hearts pumping and to bring a bit of that love which is coursing around us to someone we meet - just saying something encouraging, giving that helping hand – they can all make a huge difference.
For when we show our love for each other and for God by saying and doing things that are good and right, that makes the other person feel good, and God is pleased.
Our hearts pump the blood around our bodies and all the parts of our bodies benefit from it. When we send out good thoughts and words and actions all parts of our community benefit and ‘love is in the air’.
So what might you do this valentines day?
Might you be all romantic and stick with the old fashioned traditions? If so have a lovely time.
Or perhaps you might be one who wishes to think a bit wider in the way you love and do something to benefit the community around you. If so I wish you well.
Whatever you do, I hope that somewhere along the way you will be able to hear the words I LOVE YOU and that you will be able to repeat them back WHOLEHEARTEDLY and remember God never stops saying those words to you!
Rev Michelle Ireland
How was Christmas for you? How was the preparation period - the season of Advent? Did you get it all done - were you ready in time? Did you remember what it was all about? No doubt there was frustration and disappointment amongst it all and that horrible thing Stress!!! It never seems to escape us in this modern world, so full of activity and pressures and expectancy of one kind and another. And now Christmas is all over again or is it?
Already we are moving into another New Year. What will this year hold we wonder. There is always a feeling of clearing the mess of past days and weeks, of sorting out and clearing out. I’m always glad of the opportunity to start again motivated by a brand New Year. We have little to sort out really. Just packing the decorations away for next time. Sorting out the left over food when family and friends have all gone and then having a really good clean through, getting the place in order again.
Hopefully everything went smoothly for you – however it is in January that we can sometimes reflect on the things that went wrong at Christmastime. Sometimes it can be bad weather causing tragedy and disruption everywhere. The loss of home and possessions which can never be replaced. The loss of life, little children, family members and friends. Heartache and heartbreak! So often when there are natural or man made disasters at this time of year they seem to hit home the hardest. We can be forgiven if we begin to wonder what life is all about and to question all that has happened both near and far.
And yet such experiences are not dissimilar to those of people in days gone by. At least the emotions are the same. When God sent His Son Jesus, a special Baby born in Bethlehem all those years ago, whose Birthday we have just celebrated, the world was in a mess. There was disruption and disorder, war and rumours of war. Turmoil of heart and mind and soul. To such a world God sent His Son Jesus to bring Peace amidst it all. He was the fulfilment of the promise of a Wonderful Counsellor, Someone to help us, Someone to listen to us, Someone to love us and understand us. He is Mighty God, in Control of all that happens although we don’t understand. He is an Everlasting Father who we can trust in every situation. He is The Promised Prince of Peace.
Is Christmas all over? NO! we may have packed the decorations away but that tiny baby born in Bethlehem to be Saviour of the world can never be packed away, he still has the power to save us and bring us ongoing peace if only we will believe in Him and trust Him in every situation and follow in His ways.
It’s not too late for me to wish you a Happy and Blessed New Year. - 2014. I wonder what you will do with it. For me, I’m resolving to follow Jesus - the Saviour born at Bethlehem more closely and to seek out how I can please Him more as the days come and go and as this New Year unfolds. Care to join me?
Rev Michelle Ireland