JESUS . . . “Will come again in glory . . .” (Exploring the Nicene Creed)

The Return or re-appearance of Jesus, with the subsequent Judgment and final new unending Kingdom is by far the most difficult section to grasp fully, i.e. with an understanding that accords with every aspect of our Faith, and makes sense of all that we have come to believe about the eternal God. In the next article we shall specially think about the Glory and the Judgment.

In this series we thought first about the One and only true God as Creator and Father. Next his unique and only Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer, who lived amongst us giving all for us. Then the Holy Spirit of God who makes all this true and real in our lives just as he did for the very first Christians. That same divine Spirit also reveals the whole plan and purpose of God stretching across all time and eternity. So now we think about the great end goal; the glorious final purpose of God. To sum up: our first two articles dealt with the Christian doctrine of the Creation: “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1); now we look at the grand conclusion, or as we might briefly say, “in the end God”.

So let’s take a well-known verse from Scripture as our starting point. Writing to the Christians at Colossae St Paul makes this key statement of faith and hope: “Your life is hid with Christ in God [and] when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4). This is short hand of course, and like many passages in the New Testament speaking about the second coming or ‘coming again’ of Jesus (the first of course being his birth), it has been interpreted in differing ways. Moreover it has often been completely misunderstood, and then taught as true doctrine by many people and groups within the church, and outside the church.

The New Testament itself does show development in the meaning of Christ’s teaching and promises about the end times, and with differing emphases. Like much of our holy Faith, it rings real and true in our innermost heart and feelings, yet makes full rational, thought-out understanding very difficult. We are wrestling with crucial truths of faith with limited human language and knowledge; with beliefs that relate to both our natural order and world and the supernatural at the same time. The things of time and eternity intertwine and overlap, so it is far from easy to find adequate words to express these important beliefs; yet are nevertheless totally real and true. We have to hold in balance two different but related perceptions and consciousness of life here and life hereafter.

Hence the important question we now have to consider is this. How far (especially in our scientific and rightly critical era) must we take literally these Second Coming passages in the Gospels and other writings? For plainly they do speak of the physical return of Jesus which every human eye at that time would see. (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7; etc). Indeed, in the early years after Pentecost such a coming again was regarded by most Christians as imminent, even longed for, and might well actually happen in their own life time (Mark 9: 1; 2 Peter 3:8-10; etc). Note also that the Kingdom which Jesus would inaugurate at his return is sometimes expressed as a glorious transformation of this present world order, yet also and most emphatically, is also seen as totally other and beyond our created world. (Revelation 21:1-6; 7:9-17; John 14:1-6; etc).

Jesus did not return soon as first expected. And the church’s prayerful reflective thought in the New Testament era and the following centuries gradually lifted belief in his Return from purely physical and down-to-earth concepts, to something absolutely real, but spiritual; within time indeed, yet transcending time and this created order, linking it to the eternal world of heaven. The new Kingdom is also seen as inexpressibly wonderful and perfect; all beautiful and lovely, unfading and unending; and above all, close to and somehow within the very heavenly life of the Holy Trinity.

About all this, apart from symbolic picture language, we are given little further explanation. And though future in one sense, we are linked to it now by faith and anticipation, looking forward to its complete fulfilment. This is because we are forever “hid with Christ in God”. Our lives are indeed firmly placed in this good world with present urgent tasks of love, but our eyes are also focussed on a far far greater future.

To sum up, after the Ascension and Pentecost Jesus did return again and again in countless good and wonderful ways; and whenever he came all was put right. (We shall think about the final putting right and ultimate judgment in our next article). Supremely this coming again was experienced at its most real and deepest in the Christian Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10: 16-17), in the Fellowship and the Prayer (Acts 2:42; Matthew 18:20), and as God’s nurturing Word of Holy Scripture is opened up (Colossians 3:16-17). All this is the first phase of the great final unending Kingdom: the very Kingdom of God ushered in by Christ for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. To this very day Jesus still returns to us, again and again and again.

At some point in time there will be a final Return and a final putting right of all things, though actually when and how that will be, and just what it will be like, we have no detailed knowledge. It is pointless to speculate about it, because we do not know God’s timescale or his full detailed plan, nor the future path of our Universe, or the progress of the human race. We do know however, with firm confidence, that within the sovereignty and loving purposes of the Eternal God everything from the beginning to the end is securely and safely within his hands and power. Nothing but nothing, within the time and space of our great universe of infinite capacity, and everything beyond all this in the heavenly eternal world, is outside that great Saving Love revealed in Jesus. The Incarnation, and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus with the glorious Ascension, confirmed and sealed at Pentecost, are the sure proof and guarantee (Romans 8:31-39).

One day, in God’s good time and merciful purpose, when our human life here is ended, you and I will indeed be taken to our eternal home by Jesus (John 14:3;1 Thessalonians 4:14). We will truly share in the ecstatic mystery of the final glorious return of Christ our King, seeing our beloved Lord face to face in joy forever (1 John 3:2). We will share eternal joy too with countless Angels and Saints (Hebrews 12:22-24; etc); with our loved ones already there, and with Mary the blessed mother of our Incarnate Saviour who at incalculable cost gave himself for us so that all this might be so.

Praise be to him! Amen.

George Abell

The Revd Elizabeth Tyndall

27th June 1930 —13th April 2017

Elizabeth and her late husband, Nick Tyndall, came to live permanently in Faringdon in 1992 after they retired. Elizabeth had been in full-time ministry as a Parish Deacon in Feltham.

On Saturday 16th April 1994 at St Helen’s Church, Abingdon, she was Ordained and Licensed as priest to serve in the Vale of the White Horse. For Elizabeth this was indeed a ‘crowning moment’ and she was one of the first Anglican women priests. It was not the idea of being equal with men that made her rejoice, but rather she felt that women also have a vital role to play in God’s ministry. As a Non-Stipendiary Minister she soon became involved in church life – taking services in All Saints’ and also throughout the Vale. She was the first woman priest to preside at Eaton Hastings and Buscot and was a great help in putting together their first Deanery Review. Members of the church at Coleshill remember her with great affection.

When a group, which focused on contemplative worship and led by Father Leo of the Blessed Hugh, came to an end, Elizabeth re-formed another based on the style of Julian of Norwich.  A thriving Group continued for a number of years and continues today. Elizabeth was also a Committee Member of the National Julian Meetings and valued the experience of silent retreats and often led them.

Elizabeth will always be remembered as a calm, wise and well-loved friend, whose advice and support were always available. Having taken a problem to discuss with her meant there was a way forward after all.  She and Nick ran a welcoming home, with invitations to join them for coffee or a meal or simply to call in for a chat. Family gatherings or holidays were action-packed and always involved board games and, on one occasion, they even hired a horse-drawn caravan as transport!

When Nick died, in 2006, Elizabeth already had dementia; a Pilgrim Friends Society Nursing Home (Framland) in Wantage was chosen for her. Their care and compassion were no less than outstanding, a true Christian witness.  Indeed, they loved her and even quite recently one member of staff was able to make Elizabeth laugh.  It is good to know that Elizabeth still retained her sense of humour.

She is survived by their children, Simon, Sally, Rebecca and Daniel.

Joan Whittaker and Janet Deane

Never Volunteer

You would have thought that in my seven years in a Royal Naval school and over twenty years in the Army I’d have become inured to withstand requests to volunteer for anything. They say the Army teaches soldiers two things: “If in doubt, put down smoke and go left”; and “Never volunteer for anything”.

“Never volunteer” – when asked for volunteers, soldiers become poker-faced, apparently deaf, and learn to reply, without havering or putting up questionable excuses that they regretted their inability to volunteer for this very worthy task but, unfortunately they already had a commitment. (probably confidential – need to know and all that.)

I’m afraid, I failed not to volunteer on a number of occasions – sorry for the double negative! One of them was back in about June last year when Margaret Starr cornered me and said something to the effect that she needed my expertise (flattery) – she had heard me telling of my time as an Army caterer. Within a very short time I found I had accepted the responsibility of assisting to produce a supper meal for sixty in the Barber Rooms at the end of November. And what a production team it was! Margaret was boss with Jeni Summerfield running the kitchen and a goodly team of cooks and helpers. Then Margaret suggested that it made good sense that the diners were given something to take home after the feast and that I should conceive and organise this ‘gift’. But what gift could I give? A number of possibilities crossed my mind – a bottle of water from South West Uganda? a small pack of Cheese straws? a block of chocolate moulded into the WATSAN Logo?, . . . .  or what? It was, I suppose the word ’gift’ that made me think of our God-given gifts or Talents and a very short hop from there to the parable to be found in both Mark and Luke.

But who would put down the ‘seed money’ for this venture? There were a number of possibilities, and happily, the first person I approached said they thought that their contribution would be rather like handing out starters for sourdough loaves, part of it would be combined with more flour and water and made into a loaf – and so the YEAST PROJECT  was born. YE Are So Talented!

Unlike the recipients of the Talents in Mark and Luke’s version of the parable, the Yeast Project recipients were self- selected and as in Luke’s version given the same amount each. The other difference is that to reduce any pressure on recipients, no names or records were kept – the counting was done in the same way as the counting of the collection of envelopes is carried out each Sunday with complete confidentiality. We know there were some big bags of talents from a number of volunteers, including one of £500! We also know that we/they enjoyed the challenge and met it in a number of different ways – using the money to buy blank CD’s and selling recordings of their work – making marmalade, cakes and  biscuits – using the talent to buy sausages and selling ‘bangers and mash’ lunches – giving talks – making sacrifices by gathering funds from what would have been normal expenditure and putting it in the ‘yeast pot’ instead – Running a stall on a Saturday morning – perhaps the envelope fillers could let me know what they did to achieve what was, in the end, a magnificent result.

Yeast Project envelopes counted thus far raised £2,131 – so WATSAN and the fund for Parish Mission in Faringdon will each receive £1,065.

Many, many thanks to all involved in any way with the Yeast Project, your efforts have been magnificently successful. Here’s what we prayed when the Talents were received and blessed on Easter Sunday:

Heavenly Father, we offer these gifts, raised through the talents you have given us, to help with the work of WATSAN in South West Uganda and here in our Mission in this parish. Half these gifts will go where we cannot go and help those we cannot see or reach ourselves in Uganda and; half will be used here with those we can both see and reach. Through these gifts may the ignorant be taught, the thirsty for water and the knowledge of Jesus be satisfied, and your Kingdom increased. We ask your blessing on these gifts, on all those who accepted the challenge to grow their talents and those who supported them – and on the work of WATSAN and our Mission here.  We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Max Young

JESUS . . . Ascended into heaven . . . seated at the Father’s right hand

Exploring the Nicene Creed

The Ascension or return to heaven of Jesus marks the completion of the greatest life ever lived on this earth. There will never be a life like that again: indeed never again will there be need for such a life! Jesus, the eternal Son of God had for some 33 years shared our human life in all its fullness. He had adopted servant-hood for all our sakes, for all people and for all time (See Philippians 2: 5-11). Truly one of us, as the Son of Man, he had made possible the world’s salvation: that we might be “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” saved through Christ forever.

This was reconciliation desperately needed with our Father God: restoration of freedom and liberty, and the essential goodness of creation and humanity, marred and damaged by sin and evil. It was achieved only by the unlimited, unconditional, freely given, utterly generous love of Christ our Saviour.

The cost had been very high, nothing less than the shed blood of Jesus in Sacrifice on the Cross. And what seemed the most terrible tragedy ever turned out to be the greatest possible victory over all evil, sin and death. We celebrate that at Eastertide and in a special way at Ascensiontide, and every single day.

Now, having successfully completed the Salvation task Jesus would leave the disciple band he had loved and nurtured. He had patiently trained these men and women for worldwide mission to carry forward to every place the Good News of God’s Redemptive Love. He had left the throne of heaven to achieve all this. The day had come for him to say good bye to those loyal friends firmly promising his continued presence in a new and different dimension. They would have the very presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit; a charisma and dynamism that would continue century after century until the end of time and final second coming of Jesus. We shall think more about this in the next article.

The Ascension also meant the enthronement of Jesus or as this Creed expresses it: “seated at the Father’s right hand”. It’s an assertion of his divine Kingship; of his authority and power over all creation and all people; of his great High Priesthood, and his perpetual intercession for the Church, his body, bride and love. (See Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8-11; Romans 8: 34; Hebrews 1:3-8; 4:14-16 & 7:25; Revelation 22:17).

The actual manner of that departure is beyond our full comprehension and so difficult to describe. As in the 40 days after his resurrection from death Jesus’ comings and goings though real and tangible were quite mysterious. One minute he was with them, the next he had vanished and was absent. In telling the story of those dramatic days the Gospel writers had only human language to speak of events which were both natural and supernatural at the same time.

In an earlier article I tried to explain how in the Nicene Creed some of its truths are expressed in a down to earth way, i.e. in a concrete or literal manner; but that some truths cannot be expressed that way at all. The statements then have to be much more that of symbol, metaphor or analogy. The Resurrection did happen. The Ascension did happen.

They are truths of sound and coherent faith built on actual events and circumstances seen and witnessed however hard to explain. They conveyed deep vital meaning and transforming power which those first followers of the Lord and countless millions since have experienced, and still do so. Jesus, my Lord and my God; ascended, glorified, reigning; my Saviour, my King and my all.

Again they give worthwhile purpose for living and new hope in an oft confused torn world, and they give greater love for our creator God and for each other. They also carry a very special meaning, pointing to and assuring us of our resurrection in Christ, of our ascension to be with him one day. For these we have real certain foretaste now. The Gospel Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are real outward signs of this. Baptism confers the gift of new eternal life. Communion nurtures that gift, nourishing it throughout our lives until we see Christ in heaven, sharing also his final return in glory.

To sum up, the Ascension means the presence, not the absence of Jesus. The apostles firmly believed that he would still be with them by his Spirit. After the Ascension they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy”, not an emotion you feel if you have lost your best friend! (Luke 24:50-53). The Ascension meant gain not loss. Jesus would be closer to them than he ever was before. And he left Mount Olivet to be with us also, and in every human heart and place the world over, including Faringdon and Little Coxwell.

He was taken from human sight so that he might come to us wherever and however we are, as friend and brother, companion, guide and Saviour. He is as close as the quiet prayer we say in trustful faith, or the loving act we show to another person. Though we cannot see him we cannot lose him once we have opened our hearts to him (Revelation 3:20-21). Closed or barred doors still mean nothing to Jesus! He finds endless ways to break into those hearts that do not believe in him or would try to shut him out and reject him. In the end, I believe he will win every single soul without exception. (John 6:39). Such is his powerful Love and his infinite mercy.

A Litany of Praise to Jesus

For his holy Incarnation and victorious Cross: Blessed be Jesus our Lord and God.
For his triumphant Resurrection and glorious Ascension: Blessed be Jesus.
For the gift of his Spirit and the holy catholic Church: Blessed be Jesus.
For the gifts of grace in Word and Sacrament and Fellowship: Blessed be Jesus.
For the triumphs of his Gospel, the lives of his Saints, and yours and mine: Blessed be Jesus.
For joy or for sorrow, and in life and in death: Blessed be Jesus.
For the hope of eternal glory with him and with each other: Blessed be Jesus.
From now until the end of the ages: Blessed be Jesus our Lord and God.
Alleluia. Amen.

George Abell

Which Bible Character are you most like?

This was one of the challenges from this year’s Lent course, to help in our discussions with others when talking about our faith – I’d like to share with you my experience….

Playing around on the internet I found the perfect online quiz to help me with this. After answering 10 multiple choice  questions, it pronounced I was definitely a Deborah. Well, I know sometimes I can be quite determined, and maybe even want to use a tent peg other than for pitching a tent sometimes, but I wasn’t sure this was quite right.

I talked to a colleague about the ‘Faith Pictures’ course, and asked her if she would agree with the character – immediately she replied that I wasn’t a Deborah (whatever was I thinking!), I was quite clearly an Esther. Oh! I hadn’t thought of her . . . so I asked another colleague, “Am I a Deborah or an Esther?” Again, no hesitation, I was an Esther.

So I asked another colleague who agreed to give it some thought over the day – just as I was leaving work she told me that she could think of no-one better than Esther to describe me! I was beginning to feel a bit unsettled by this, whatever was God telling me?

At the Lent Group that night I was telling this story to a church member that I didn’t know very well, but didn’t give the character’s name. She looked at me and said “Did they all say you are an Esther?”! Oh my goodness, God was trying to tell me something. I had such a visceral reaction to this, I went so cold and goose-bumpy, I thought I had better start praying and finding out more . . .

The first description of Esther I read said “Esther was undoubtedly beautiful …”  – I didn’t need to read any further! (I’m not that daft, I carried on reading!). Esther was a woman chosen by God to do his work, but in a measured way, sure of her commitments and her place in the situation in which she found herself. She was considered in her actions, and looked for ways to undertake her task whilst still respecting and understanding those around her. She strikes me as having a well-developed Emotional Intelligence, an understanding of how people ‘tick’, and a clear sense of wrong and right.

Most importantly she knew what she believed to be right, and determinedly and loyally followed her actions through to achieve the desired outcome, showing a resilience and surety that I would like to possess.

I am still not sure what it is that God is telling me, and am praying hard for Him to make it clearer, but I would value anyone’s insight to help me to develop my understanding of whether I really am an Esther, or whether you think I am more like a different character. The course has certainly given me food for thought, and challenged me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Kate Butcher

Exploring the Nicene Creed

JESUS . . . “on the third day he rose again”

This is the foundation stone of the Christian Faith and Religion. It’s the truth of faith upon which all other Christian beliefs depend and hold together. It’s the fulcrum or heart centre of Christianity. If it was not true there would have been no Christian Church at all. And I would not be writing this article! Jesus was indeed raised to life again after that terribly cruel unjust death; had met his disciples as he had promised giving them determined conviction and assurance to continue the work he had begun. Without that glorious realisation those dispirited followers would have given up entirely, and it would have been the end of the story! But it was not so! See Acts 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 & 12-14; 1 Peter 1:3-4. Hence this Creed firmly asserts: “In accordance with the Scriptures” of the New Testament and also in fulfilment of the Old Testament. See Luke 24:13-27.

The Gospel story is a full honest account of those 1st Century earth shaking events. It tells the story exactly as it happened hiding none of the injured feelings, the wounded expectations or shattered hopes of those men and women who had given their all for Jesus. They had risked their reputations, their very lives and livelihoods too. And though Jesus had plainly told them he would be raised to life after his crucifixion and death, it had not really sunk in. They simply hated the whole idea. See: Matthew 16:21-23. And worse, most of the disciples deserted him at the end; Judas betrayed him; even their leader Peter denied him three times. They did not want to see the Master they had come to love so much, humiliated, tortured and crucified; the one with such wonderful teachings; such generous love and compassionate concern for all others. At the close of that day we now call Good Friday (and the bleak Saturday that followed), those saddened men and women must have felt all they had set their hopes on was total failure, appalling disaster, a dreadful end. They had still to learn that the Sacrifice Jesus was prepared to make was far from being a total let down and tragedy, but a Salvation Victory of the widest impact and importance. See 1 Peter 3:18.

On that first Easter Sunday morning it was the women who had always faithfully cared for Jesus and the disciples (especially Mary Magdalene healed so tenderly by him), that made the first approaches to the tomb. They did not expect to find it empty! Their sheer love for Jesus was to do the only thing they could still do, to anoint his body in accord with gracious custom. The empty tomb was the greatest surprise of all possible surprises. Then next, joy of joys, for a few fleeting minutes later that morning, to actually meet and see Jesus fully alive with a now transformed body; and to hear him speak to them reassuringly. That lifted their hearts and souls to heights of pure joy, renewed faith, hope, and undying love for him. Then soon after many of the men folk also visited the empty tomb, received the great surprise, and awaited Christ’s visit to them. Mark 16; Luke 24; Matthew 28; John 20.

That wonderful experience of Christ’s Resurrection would carry them all into new deeper dimensions of faith, brand new life, wider purpose and goals, and the building of Christian Fellowship and Church that would go on and on century after century until the end of time. We must never lose sight of the fact that it was mostly the women folk, with Mary Christ’s mother, who held firm in that terrible time; and though scarcely believing that their Lord would be resurrected, nevertheless showed love and loyalty to the end. The Eastern Churches have long called Mary Magdalene the Queen of the Apostles, for she (perhaps in reward for her great love) was the first chosen witness of the resurrection of Jesus.

John 20:11-18. It has however taken the Church a long long time to give women a real apostleship or episcopal role in Christian Ministry; and even now not all Churches have taken this step. Steadily it is happening and some Churches now accept women in ordained ministry. We cannot confine the Holy Spirit to any past age, culture or theology. All too often he has his own plans that cancel or exceed ours! He is a God of Surprises. He does new things calling us to new ways in every age. That too is what resurrection is all about.

The resurrection was indeed a great surprise! It still is for anyone and everyone who will take that step of faith and trust, accepting the Word of God with its clear testimonies of those first Christians. What they proclaimed was no cooked up fiction. The tomb was empty! No one, no Jewish or Roman authorities, produced a body. The Gospel resurrection accounts (though having small differences of detail) tell a consistent uniform theme. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus proved very costly for many Christians in those early years and later centuries, and still does for many. Most of the first disciples gave their lives in martyrdom for their beliefs; for Jesus, the risen and reigning eternal Son of God. Christians still die for their faith in many parts of our world. Always we should value our freedom to believe, never taking it for granted; showing genuine thanks, by steadfast witness to that faith, by prayerful worship, support for one another, and loving service to all.

So let’s sum up the full impact and meaning of this great truth. First it confirmed and sealed forever the whole purpose of the huge Sacrifice that Christ made for us; his truly real and human life amongst us; his passion and death on that holy Cross; and a “love so amazing so divine” that  filled every moment, thought, and deed of his entire life. It proclaims the Victory of the Cross, not apparent failure or disaster. It confirms the Atonement: reconciliation to our Father Creator God, of a good yet broken damaged humanity and world. It asserts that this world and all creation is essentially good, for God made it so. That his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm that goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it. Genesis 1:10 ff, Acts 14:15-17; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17.

The Resurrection is also the pattern or prototype and sure guarantee, of our individual resurrection to glory with God, now and in heaven. And for every single soul without exception, all made in the image of God, and meant to share eternal life with the Father, Son and Spirit. Note John 6:39: that no one at all is excluded from the Father’s purpose, who has given everyone to his Son to redeem, and that he will lose no one! It does indeed spell out our resurrection to life here and now a life daily lived in the presence of the Risen Christ; with his sure graceful guidance, healing and forgiveness, enrichment and joy beyond compare. The Gospel describes it as abundant life – nothing less (John 10:10). A life where all creation, everything around us, all beauty, all art and music, all that is done and made for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness reveals the life and presence and goodness of God. Please make a resurrection prayer yourself and I will add “Amen”.

George Abell

Christianity—a Practical Religion

When we look around at the people we meet in Church, I’m sure we see a good number of practical people. And I’m sure that most of us would like to be thought of as practical people. We don’t hold dreamers or idealists in very high esteem, in fact we probably get rather impatient with some of their notions. OK, we may not see many visions, but we do like to get something done. Castles in the air are too wishy-washy for us. We want something solid that’s wind and weatherproof. Great ideas are all very well, but we have to deal with things as they are. There’s so little that gets done, and there’s so much to be done that we really haven’t got time for dreams.

The world needs workers and the best that we can do with what there is of our lives is to pack them as full as we can with practical usefulness. If you come across a lame dog by a stile, you know it wants something more than a stimulating talk on the art of jumping. Our duty is not to waste time in thinking how splendid it would be if there were no lame dogs and no difficult stiles in the world, but just to help the dog get over the stile.

I remember my Granny saying, “A pennyworth of practical help is worth a pound’s worth of sympathy any day of the week.” She wasn’t underrating the value of sympathy, but simply saying that if a pound’s worth of sympathy can’t be converted into at least a pennyworth of real human service, then that sympathy is a pretty poor thing. To feel pity and to do nothing makes an emotional luxury of something meant to stir us into giving practical help. Life is very short for all of us. If we want to leave our corner of the world a little cleaner, healthier, and brighter than when we found it, we need to cut down the talking and arguing about it and get on with the work required.

Christianity is a very practical religion with the aims of preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and blind, comforting the broken-hearted, freeing the oppressed. Practical programmes. There’s enough work to keep us busy for as long as we live.

Jesus was always at work. He was always doing good to somebody, sometimes preaching or teaching, healing, comforting, rebuking – always at work. And I don’t think we can really understand the Christian faith, unless we too are doing something for others. I may get into trouble for saying this, but some of the intellectual difficulties we have with our faith will never be solved by thinking. The only way in which we can see our way through them is by doing. It is by putting the precepts and principles of Christianity into practice, as much as we can, that we begin to understand them. Christ comes to meet us where  we are. If we are trying honestly to do our Christian duty, we shall find Jesus one day standing alongside us.

It’s amazing how many of life’s puzzles are solved when we set to and help others. We’ll never understand everything in this world. It isn’t as though we were sent into this world to make a sketch map of the universe. We shan’t be judged by what we understand but by what we do and were. God gives us all enough light to work by. It will be time enough to understand when we have finished the work that he has given us to do.

The life of the Christian is all coming and going – coming to Jesus for the strength that he alone can give us, going back into life to use that strength in doing good to those that need us, as and when and while we may. Do not dream your time away in wishing that the kingdom of God would come. Help it to come by doing your bit in your own corner of the world. Try to translate the dream into business. It’s a hard task, I know. I find it hard. So, I expect, do you. We can only do our best. We can only try our hardest. But if we keep on trying our hardest and patiently aiming at our best, God may work in us, and through us, in ways we just can’t imagine.

My apologies for the blunt bits in this article, reading it through I realise that I’m actually addressing myself as much as anybody. Happy Easter! May you, like Mary, find the Master standing beside you.

Max Young

Reading Revelation

3rd Reading

This was quite a different reading from the previous two, begun in response to Graham Scott Brown’s challenge in January. For the record, I used the New American Bible this time. Frankly – and this is not related to the bible version chosen – after praying for guidance and being receptive during the reading, I was at first intimidated by the evil, the horror; I found I had to break off reading from time to time – for relief. I am glad I persisted.

Knowing the book’s shape now, from two careful readings aloud, I expected the opening of the seals and the blowing of trumpets – and all the dire and immediate consequences that follow from them. Jane Austen would no doubt describe these dreadful consequences as ‘unfortunate’ – but they cannot be lightly or politely dismissed: at a deeper level, that imagined ‘unfortunate’ comment rings true, anyway. What happens, happens as a result of humankind, and much of the created order, being corrupted by power, wealth, refusing to acknowledge Jesus and all the other whiles of Satan.

These consequences are direct responses to individual and collective sin: as the reader is invited, ‘Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.’ (4:1b). That little word ‘must’ hit me hard: it comes at the start of Chapters 4 and 5 which lay before us an uplifting image of worship in heaven. To be possibly deprived of participation in that worship set me on edge as the fearful consequences are relentlessly rolled out in what follows. Negotiation and mediation, so much part of my teaching in Geneva, have absolutely no functions here.

The opening text of Revelation (1:3) says, ‘Blessed is the one who reads aloud…and blessed are those who heed its prophetic message in it, for the appointed time is near’. John, the author of Revelation who gives us these messages, writes clearly in light of a certainty that the end time is near. It is too easy to dismiss the extraordinary, apocalyptic images and events as being only germane to late-1st century Christian perceptions and forecasts, living under Roman and other persecution.

The messages go deeper. It helped, for example, seeing the now-heavenly martyrs’ vindictive language of revenge against their tormentors (6:9-10, 18:1-19:4) as a startlingly helpful way of imagining apostasy and worse being severely punished by God – it is saying nothing about the martyrs themselves adopting the attitudes of their persecutors.

A book in the New Testament canon is there because of its timeless application. Revelation is the same – but tougher going. This time through, I read it much more like that; paradoxically, it got easier as a result.

That said, I will pick up the NIV to read the book aloud once again – and, once again, with considerable trepidation. Perhaps it is just as T S Eliot wrote: ‘humankind cannot bear too much reality’.

4th Reading

More than with the previous readings, this fourth visitation to the extraordinary world of ‘The Revelation to John’ saw the whole book as a letter – not just the letters to the seven churches with which the book opens, but a letter to all of us, as imperfect followers of Christ. Read like that, it ‘fits’ into the New Testament as the culmination of the 22 letters that begin with Paul writing to the Romans. As a result, after finishing the book, I found myself drawn back to the letters dictated to John for the seven churches in ‘Asia’ and reading them over once more. Part of the reason for this is that our benefice is undergoing changes with Steve, our new incumbent: of the letters Jesus dictates directly to John (chapters 2 and 3), what specific questions arise for us? I did not reach any firm conclusions but the exploration was fascinating.

Each of the letters has three elements: a recognition of good things; mention of serious shortfalls or temptations; and the eternal rewards for the faithful.

  • Among positive aspects of the churches – each being different – are energy and effort in church activities and worship, rejection of false prophets, temptations being avoided, not letting poverty diminish faith, martyrdom, and doing good deeds for the poor.
  • The letters point out the several challenges being faced – a fading of love for God and his creation, toleration of the followers of Balaam or Jezebel within congregations, church activities that hide actual spiritual death, lukewarm faith and complacency (even apostasy).
  • Providing the challenges are met, the variety of rewards are: to eat from the tree of life, to suffer no ‘second death’ after earthly death, enjoy secret nourishment from heaven, rule the nations (and be given the morning star!), to be clothed in white and be retained in the book of life, become citizens of the new Jerusalem, full fellowship with Christ and to sit on his throne.

Strikingly, the greatest gifts are reserved for the two weakest churches (Smyrna: poor but resilient; Philadelphia: small, beset by a rival, Gentile and Judaizing ‘synagogue’ but steadfast). Much of the rest of Revelation concerns what inevitably happens to the people for whom the challenges are either too much or simply rejected – or who have been tempted into sin by Satan. It is an observation on the book that can only be met with deep reflection and prayer for ourselves to be better servants of Jesus.

“Come up here”, Jesus says to John, “and I will show you what must happen in the future!”. For all that that sentence implies, I am most grateful to Graham Scott Brown for suggesting this four-fold reading aloud of Revelation. I know just a little of the book now – but a lot more than of other books that I thought I knew much better. Above all, to my surprise, it reads like a letter to me – which will richly repay yet more study.

Peter Foot


This poem was written before the Second World War by Glenys King who was brought up in Little Coxwell with Betty Humphries, another member of St Mary’s congregation. Apparently there was quite an ‘exodus’ of villagers to pick flowers for Easter. Fernham Copse was on the Uffington Road out of Fernham and was cut down for the war effort.

Good Friday saw an exodus
We went on foot – there was no bus.
And it was a long way to walk,
But we would skip and laugh and talk,
And the time would soon elapse,
And we’d arrive at Fernham Copse.
There, amidst it’s leafy bowers
We’d pick all the leaves and flowers
That we possibly could.
It was a lovely primrose wood.
Then, home again we’d wend our way,
Very contented with our day,
But Ringdale Hill seemed very steep
As we climbed it with tired feet.
Journeys end was then in sight
And, tired, we’d have an early night.
Next morning, bright and alert,
We’d take our primroses to church,
For them to be arranged in little vases,
And arrayed at the Easter Sunday service.
The church looked lovely on Easter Day,
And we had helped in our small way.
We looked around with great satisfaction,
Then turned our thoughts to the chocolate confection,
Awaiting us when we got home.
Oh! Didn’t the sermon make us groan,
And time really did seem to drag,
Because all we wanted was our Easter Egg . . .
Glenys King

Reading Revelation: 1st & 2nd Readings

In January 2017, both St Mary’s and All Saints’ were challenged to read the Book of Revelation four times before Easter. Graham Scott-Brown preached ‘the whole book’ to both churches and I have taken up the challenge and will, thanks to our editor’s kindness, provide outlines of how each reading goes – what stands out, what I missed before, what is reinforced, and how it leads to discovery.

We were advised to do two things in our readings: (1) read slowly and aloud, and (2) avoid getting bogged down in all the numbers that are strewn through the text and can easily distract. Hard though it will be, I will use no commentators on the book throughout my readings. I do all this not to parade my thin theology, or to enable others to avoid the challenge of four readings of the final book in the canon, but as an individual’s exploration to be shared and as a general encouragement in Bible reading – and to keep me true to the commitment undertaken.

First Reading, 31st  January 2017

As I have not read the book in its entirety before, much was a complete surprise. Prior to this, I was sort-of familiar with the first three chapters – the vision of Jesus and the letters to the seven churches – and the opening to chapter 21, beginning with “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”. As I found out: that is not much to be going on with.

My current research focus is Eusebius, the influential author of the first history of the church, from its beginnings to the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. He is quite vague on Revelation – ‘add the Book to the canon’, he says, ‘if appropriate’. My first go-through was against that background and immediately found such vagueness incomprehensible. The Book of Revelation seems much more of a “Marmite” question, rather than this shillyshallying. As Graham’s sermon indicated it might be, the reading produces an amazing impression of colour and movement, strangeness and terror, ending in the well-known images of the New Jerusalem.

The reading released my own imagination while at the same time showing how limited it is. Curiously, I was constantly reminded of the battle scenes in the books and films, Tolkien’s Ring trilogy and the Harry Potter series. Visually, both sets of films depend on the imagery that is created in Revelation: vast forces of good and evil in terrible, defining combat. For Frodo and Harry, the ‘good’ outcome is a desperate, last-throw moment against the evil that almost prevails: evil clearly loses but is left in such a condition as to be able to return at some future point and challenge for ultimate triumph. Perhaps that is inevitable in writing or filming a series.

Revelation was different for me in two ways. First, in the book, the outcome of God’s forces triumphing is utterly certain. Satan does not have the options of Sauron and Voldemort after defeat: he, his beasts and minions are hurled into everlasting torture. At that point, the rewards of heaven are showered on the martyrs and the Christians who have been true to Jesus. That inevitability is clearly and only because of Jesus and the victory he won for us all on the cross.

Secondly, neither J R R Tolkien nor J K Rowling suggest any confusion between the two ‘sides’: evil is transparently so and always does evil; good has its troubles and doubts but remains clearly on the side of the angels. But in Revelation, events happen at Heaven’s command that are themselves terrifying: here, angels are told, “Go, and empty the seven bowls of God’s anger over the earth” (16:2) is just one example.

I found this ‘Old Testament’ and troubling – and to be explored more deeply before the next reading in a couple of weeks. Maybe – just maybe – such events and images also disturbed my friend, Eusebius, 1700 years ago, so as to make him pause before recommending the Book as part of the canon. Let’s just hope he came to like Marmite.

Second Reading, 14th  February 2017

The Good News Bible was my text for reading aloud this time. Now I am all in favour of the Bible being as accessible to as many people as possible – what’s the point of Protestantism if not that? – but the use of more ordinary language does generally flatten the ‘extraordinary’ that is at the heart of Revelation.

For two reasons, I felt very close to my late father in this read-through. First, he was very strict in retiring after breakfast for his time of meditation. As one of five rowdy, naughty kids, this was the one time when not a one of us ever did anything to disturb him. His particular brand of Christianity was acutely conscious of the parallel world of the divine; archangels and heavenly beings were a subject of study for him. He continued that interest to the end of his days, dying at 92 in 2009.

Secondly, my two Rudolf Steiner Schools were both named after St Michael. At the bottom of the main stairs of one of them there was what we all assumed, being British, was a modern bas relief of St George slaying the dragon. In fact, every day at Dad’s choice of school, I passed the scene, largely unaware, of St Michael defeating Satan.

Even the Good News Bible cannot diminish all sense of the immensity of heaven as pictured, coloured, populated and moved with divine beings doing the will of Jesus, the Lamb and of God. Perhaps only an extraordinary imagination like William Blake’s – one of his painting of St Michael is pictured – can risk making permanent the images that swirl through the mind on reading Revelation.

But all of us are shifted, put off balance, set wondering, relieved that – at last, after terrible plagues and strange, sudden exterminations of a third of the earth, seas and sky and all of their living creatures – ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ are finally put in place. We are all invited: ‘Come, whoever is thirsty: accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it’ (22:17).

That invitation I missed on reading the first time and, by echoing the words of Jesus at the well (see John 4:13,14), answered my problem with the preceding ‘Old Testament’ retributive text. And there is hope that mankind will learn: the first woe (the Good News Bible, interestingly, has ‘horror’) visited upon us at the end of time leaves us unmoved, continuing worshipping idols and unrepentant (9:20-21).

By the second horror, we are shown to be terrified and praising the greatness of God (11:13). Compared to the vastness of forces at work across the book, this is a small movement but it warmed my heart.

John Milton has God say of mankind, as St Michael battles Satan in Paradise Lost, ‘I suspend their doom’. Of Revelation’s many messages, this time it was (again, in Milton’s words): ‘Remember, and fear to transgress’.

Peter Foot