Monday, April 27, 2020

And in other news... Seal Church's weekly newsletter

...and in other news...

A weekly newsletter from St Peter and St Paul, Seal, to help us keep in touch with one another at this time. 
Dear Friends
Christ in the Stranger’s Guise

If you listened to our 
Sunday morning podcast this week, you’ll know that it focussed on the story of Jesus meeting two disciples as they walked wearily back to their home town of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem on the day of the resurrection. The sermon I preached on it is here.  I explored it further on the blog, and suggested some all age activities to explore it too. 

One of the most famous depictions of it here, by Caravaggio. In happier times you can see it in the National Gallery in London. There’s a great discussion of it in the video below.
It’s a story which has been explored and referenced often in poetry, prayer and song. A modern hymn which I very much like was written by Graham Maule and John L.Bell, from the Iona Community, set to the tune of “The Leaving of Liverpool” it reminds us that Christ comes to us “in the stranger’s guise”. We might encounter Christ in anyone we meet, if we have our eyes open to see him.
The words are here, so you can sing it for yourself if you know the tune, or there is an arrangement of it, below, which you might like to listen to.

1. From heaven to here and from here to heaven
Is a distance less than tissue thin,
And it's trod by him who, in the stranger's guise,
Is made known when he is welcomed in.

So come, Lord Christ in the stranger’s guise
Known both through scriptures and through broken bread
Your kingdom come and on the earth your will be done
By the people you’ve loved and you’ve led.

2. The folk who journey on the road with Christ
Are the ones who've left their selves behind.
Their song is taught them by the deaf and dumb;
Their horizon is shown by the blind.

3. The love that's shared along the royal road
Is a love not found when standing still.
It lives and grows wherever faith is known
As a movement grounded in God's will.

4. From heaven to here and from here to heaven
Is a distance less than tissue thin.
And it's trod by those who meet the risen Christ
As a stranger to be welcomed in.
Christ in the Stranger's Guise. Words Graham Maule and John L. Bell

Prayer of the week

The hymn draws also on a poem from the Celtic tradition (which I turned into an embroidery that hangs in the vicarage hallway)

I met a stranger yestere'en
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.
And in the sacred name of the Triune
he blessed myself and my house
my cattle and my dear ones
And the lark sang in her song
Often, often, often
comes Christ in the stranger's guise.
What are people up to at the moment?
It seems like many people have been enjoying the spring weather over the last week or so, getting out in the garden, or maybe discovering a bluebell wood if they can venture further. The picture on the right was taken on Seal Chart, just off the road from Seal to  Stone Street.

It’s set to rain this week, apparently, but I know that Martin Clews needs the rain for Stonepitts strawberries and raspberries, so we won’t begrudge him it!

Nonetheless, spring has definitely sprung. Whether you can get out for a walk,  have a garden or just a view from a window, there’s plenty going on in the natural world.
Hilary Curtis seems to be running a mini wildlife reserve at her home, and is giving regular updates on Facebook on the nest cam pictures of the blue tit in her nest box.

She’s also got not one but two hedgehogs visiting her. I have never seen a hedgehog at the vicarage, despite having log piles, leaf piles etc. Rabbits, which eat my plants, foxes, which eat the rabbits, but never a hedgehog, which might eat a few of the slugs and snails which are currently munching through anything they fancy. I have just watered the veg patch with nematodes, which usually works to knock out some of the slugs for a while, and I tried Slug Gone wool pellets around plants last year, which seemed to help, but a hedgehog would be better.

During our Sunday morning "Zoffee" chats (Zoom chats with coffee – bring your own coffee!), Ana Durling told us about the nature project she’d been doing about growing things and suggested egg shells and coffee grounds to put slugs off. I know the Durlings do a lot of gardening (and have chickens – Ana brought one to the Zoom session to show us) so I am sure they know a thing or two about what might work! (Esme has been busy too, and let us see her wonderful WW2 diorama.)

If you’d like some pointers on making the most of the natural world available to you, here are some links you might like to check out.
The Woodland Trust have an 
A-Z of British trees, to help you identify that tree you can see from the window. They have some good resources for families too (or anyone else who'd like some "hands on" activities.)

They also have a live 
“osprey-cam”, which is filming, in real time, the activity in the nest of a pair of resident ospreys, Louis and Aila, from the heart of an ancient Caledonian pine forest. While I’m sure Hilary would love to have ospreys in her back garden, I think she might find it a bit more of an inconvenience than blue tits!

British Trust for Ornithology are offering free membership at the moment, and various projects like their Gardenwatch bird recording project.

The RSPB have a 
bird song identification page  as well as lots of ideas for engaging with nature on our own doorsteps.
If you can’t hear the birds singing where you are (though they are making a pretty deafening racket in Seal, especially early in the morning, to my mind!) then you can listen via the RSPB birdsong app or 
webpage here.
As I compiled all this, I found I had a hymn running through my head, from my childhood. It will probably date me to share it) which I recall singing at school – “All Things which live below the sky”.
You’d have to be a certain vintage to know it, but I’ve always preferred it to the much better known “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. I discovered, as I tried googling it, that it seems everyone else was singing it to a different tune to the one I recall. I could only find it set to “Rodmell”, when I am quite sure we sang it to “Jackson” at my school. Am I the only one…? The words are below, and a youtube recording I found beneath it. The words were written by Edward John Brailsford (1841 -1921) a Wesleyan Methodist minister. As well as its description of the natural world, I love its message that “Beneath his heaven there’s room for all” and the prayer to God to “make me a friend of helpless things/ defender of the weak,” words which are needed as much now as ever. Why has "All things bright and beautiful" survived, while this song seems to have sunk into obscurity?

1 All things which live below the sky,
Or move within the sea,
Are creatures of the Lord most High,
And brothers unto me.
2 I love to hear the robin sing,
Perched on the highest bough;
To see the rook with purple wing,
Follow the shining plough.

3 I love to watch the swallow skim
The river in his flight;
To mark, when day is growing dim,
The glowworm's sil'v'ry light.

4 The seagull whiter than the foam,
The fish that dart beneath;
The lowing cattle coming home;
The goats upon the heath.

5 God taught the wren to build her nest,
The lark to soar above,
The hen to gather to her breast
The offspring of her love.

6 Beneath his heaven there's room for all;
He gives to all their meat;
He sees the meanest sparrow fall
Unnoticed in the street.

7 All-loving Father, King of kings,
The helper of the weak,
Make me a friend of helpless things,
Defender of the weak.
This is the tune everyone else seems to have sung it to!
This is the tune I am sure I sang it to as a child ! 
I know there are a lot of jigsaws being made around the parish – Philip is now on his second, though I think the vast expanse of trees in it are getting him down! Some of you will know that I have discovered a wonderful website where you can make your own online jigsaw puzzles, which is quite addictive…I made another one (just 70 pieces) last week, of a very familiar sight. You can find it here.

I know that many of you can hear the church clock chiming through the day and night. Here’s a poem I wrote about it recently. (Hint – count the words below each chime…)

For those who hear the church clock chime
A poem for lockdown

The church is locked,
but on a routine visit
 - I’m the only one allowed inside the building now,
and only then to check for fallen plaster -
I find
all is well,

and more,
the ancient stones still sigh out prayers
laid down by centuries of worshippers,
and angels dance,
“Go in peace.
He is not here, closed in these stones.
Wherever you are, you will find him.”

Later, lying in my bed
I hear the church clock chiming
tolling out its news;

Fear not.
Christ is risen.
Light shines in darkness.
Darkness has not o’ercome it.
Be strong and of good courage.
Faith, hope and love abide, these three.
I shall not leave you or forsake you.
Love one another, just as I have loved you.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
You have served me in the least of these my children.
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time.

Anne Le Bas Easter Monday 2020

Here are the references to the Bible passages which each chime ring in the poem One. John 20.19/  Two. Matthew 28.5 / Three. Luke 24.5 / Four John 1. 5/ Five. John 1.5 / Six. Joshua 1.9 /  Seven. 1 Corinthians 13. 13/ Eight. Hebrews 13.5/ Nine. John 15.12/ Ten. 2 Corinthians 3.17/ Eleven/ Matthew 25.40/ Twelve. Matthew 28.20

And finally...

If you think the wildlife in your garden needs an extra challenge… here’s inspiration from a man in Hitchin, Steve Barley, who has created an NHS themed squirrel assault course in his garden. To be fair, he has form for this, and has created all sorts of other courses over the years, but this one seemed very timely. The squirrels, of course, had no trouble at all fathoming it out!

Steve's pun-laden video. Enjoy!

Anne Le Bas

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sunday Worship April 26

Join us for our Sunday worship this week. The links are below.

Morning Worship Podcast        Morning Worship Service sheet
Evensong Podcast                    Evensong Service sheet

For those who can't use the internet, there is now a "dial a podcast" service, giving access by phone to the reading, talk and prayer from each Sunday morning's service. Please pass on the phone number to them - 01732 928061. Calls cost the normal rate for dialing an 01732 (Sevenoaks) number.

There will be a Zoffee - a Zoom Coffee meeting - at 11 am this morning. Drop in and say hello!
email for the link and password.

Today's morning service focusses on the story of two tired disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, who are joined by a stranger as they walk along. We discover early on that he is Jesus, but they don't realise until he breaks bread with them at the end of the day. On the journey, though, he has explained to them how the death of Jesus could be part of God's plan, not the terrible disaster they have taken it for.

Why don't they recognise Jesus (this is a common theme in the resurrection appearances)? The implication of the Bible is that seeing Jesus for who he is takes more than just good eyesight - we also have to have the eyes of our hearts open, to be on the look out for him, ready to see him in the people and events we encounter.

There have been many paintings of the scenes in the story. The one I used to illustrate the podcast is attributed to Francois Verdier. It wasn't one I was familiar with, but I loved the energy in it, the sense that these disciples are completely caught up in the discussion they are having with Jesus as the penny starts to drop and their hearts start to lift.

Have you ever had conversations like this?
What made them special?

Probably the most famous depiction of this story is that by Caravaggio (there was another painting by him in last Sunday's blog post), which shows the moment when the disciples recognise Jesus "in the breaking of the bread" as the story puts it. Why then? Perhaps it is the familiarity of the gesture - something they've seen him do many times before - but again, their recognition has as much to do with what has been going on in their hearts as in their eyesight.

 This painting, part of the "Jesus Mafa" project comes from Cameroon. Local artists produced a series of paintings of Gospel stories set in their own time and place. (More about the project, and other paintings ) . Caravaggio, of course, had done the same thing, setting the stories in seventeenth century Italy - the clothes the disciples are wearing aren't first century Palestinian!

Imagine sharing a meal with Jesus in your own kitchen or dining room. How would you paint the scene? 

In the prayers in today's morning podcast, I included a prayer/poem which is special to me, one which I turned into an embroidery which hangs in the vicarage hallway. I thought you might like to see a
picture of it.
The text reads
I met a stranger yestere'en
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.
And in the sacred name of the Triune
he blessed myself and my house
my cattle and my dear ones
And the lark sang in her song
Often, often, often
comes Christ in the stranger's guise.

Where might you meet "Christ in the stranger's guise" today?  Perhaps, to find him, you will need to look at everyone you encounter (in the flesh or online or on the phone) as if they might be Christ. I wonder how it would change our view of people if we did that all the time? 

All Age Ideas

  • I made a video earlier this week, telling the story of the road to Emmaus. You can find it on this blog here.

  • Make some "foot" art to remind you that Jesus always walks beside you. You could draw round your own feet, or the feet of everyone in your household, and decorate the drawings. You could make footprints with paint. You could make a poster to stick in your window with footprints on it, to thank those who are "going the extra mile" to help us at this time, walking alongside us - that might cheer up the postmen and women and delivery drivers who are bringing us the things we need. 
  • Invite Jesus to dinner with you. Make an invitation. Set a place at the table. Think about what you might give him to eat, and what you would want to talk about with him. How does it feel to do this? 
If you make something that you would like to share, take a photo of it and send it to me, and I will put it on our church social media. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The road to Emmaus - a story for the children of Seal Church and school.

Here's another video story for Seal's church and school children. It's the story of what happened on the Road to Emmaus, from Luke 24.13-39

Monday, April 20, 2020

And in other news...

...and in other news...

A weekly newsletter from St Peter and St Paul, Seal, to help us keep in touch with one another at this time. 
Dear Friends
I hope you are enjoying the spring weather (though it would be good if the chilly east wind would stop!). As I have been talking to people online and on the phone recently there seems to have been a great amount of gardening going on, for those with gardens, and those without have been sowing things on windowsills. It's the time of year when the world around us seems determined to grow, whatever else is happening. I've just put my tomato plants out in the greenhouse, where they will grow on and fruit, and the veg plot is starting to fill up too. It's a reminder that we really have arrived at Easter, even if we didn't have all the usual services to mark the moment. People have told me that they enjoyed the podcasts for Easter Sunday, and yesterday too, though, so I hope we are feeling at least a bit "Easterish". It has been especially good to be able to splice in readings and music from familiar voices at Seal. The grown-ups have been great, but I think Esme and Ana's spirited rendition of Psalm 148 on Easter Sunday won the prize for most "up-cheering" thing I heard! Links to the current week's worship podcasts are on the church website and blog, but you can listen to past ones at if you have missed any.

This Sunday just gone we focussed on the story of Thomas in the morning service. He missed seeing Jesus on the day of his resurrection, and said he wouldn't believe in him unless he could see and touch his wounds for himself. For that, he has been saddled with the title "Doubting Thomas" for centuries, but in fact, he was only asking for the same thing as the rest of the disciples had had, a real experience of Jesus. I explored what that might mean for us in my sermon yesterday if you want to know more.
As I thought about the story in preparation, I looked at some of the depictions of it in art. The most famous is probably by Caravaggio - see first picture below -, and I've included a video which talks about it below.

What's really noticeable in this picture is the way that Thomas and the other disciples (probably Peter and John) are focussed entirely on the wounds, almost like a forensic scientist might be. It's not a painting for the squeamish!
There are many other versions of this scene though, and I was particularly struck by the fact that in some of them, like the picture by Daniel Seiter - below left - and the manuscript illustration by Martin Schongauer - below right,  Thomas is looking at Jesus, not the wounds. It's as if he has realised that it's not the "scientific" proof that is most important to him, but the relationship he has with Jesus, the whole person, his friend. He stops looking for explanations, because the need for them melts away as he meets the person who has loved and changed him.

What do you think of these pictures? Which speaks to you most? 

Anne Le Bas
This video explores the famous picture by Caravagio of this week's Gospel story, the Incredulity of Thomas.
A favourite Easter Hymn to listen to. "Love is come again" sung by Ely Cathedral Choir.
Sevenoaks Foodbank
Reports from those who help at the Loaves and Fishes foodbank say that it is fairly well stocked at the moment, and though some helpers have had to self-isolate because of their age or health conditions, they have as many helpers as they can safely use, since they obviously have to maintain safe distances between them. If you do want to donate food, it is best if they take it to St John's Church hall on a Thursday between 1 and 2pm only. If you come across people in need, please let me know, however, even if they aren't on the foodbank's registers, and we will do what we can to help. 
Vanessa Griffiths sent along this lovely poem by E.E Cummings, and a photo she took of our little church. Thank you, Vanessa.

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying) children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness) 

Prayer of the week

Blessed are you, Sovereign God, our light and our salvation; to you be glory and praise forever! You led your people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, lighting their path before them. May we who walk in the light of your presence acclaim your Christ rising victorious, as he banishes all darkness from our hearts and minds, and praise you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Blessed be God forever.

This is the prayer we use as we light the Paschal Candle at the beginning of the Easter Sunday service. This year, that wasn't possible, but I lit it in the vicarage anyway! The candle is traditionally decorated with the year, and with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet, reminding us that Jesus is with us always - in the past and the future, but also in this present moment too. 
A few people have kindly asked how they can continue to give to the church while we aren't able to hold public worship. If you normally give through the envelope scheme or by cash in the collection plate, you might like to think of taking out a standing order (form here)  or bank transfer (Account number 01377463. Sort Code 30 97 49). Gift aid forms are here

We know that many people are seeing a hit to their own income because of the lockdown, and wouldn't want anyone to feel they had to give if this was the case, but really appreciate those who can donate, as most church expenses, like insurance and stipends, continue during this time. You can also give by texting SEALCHURCH  to 70085 to donate through Donr. (Donr takes a commission of 5%, so if you can give by bank transfer that is better for us!)
If you have any questions, please contact our Treasurer, Vanessa Griffiths, who will be glad to help. 

And finally...

In case you are struggling to find ways to exercise without getting too close to others, here's what Dave Walker at suggests as a way round the problem...

Sunday, April 19, 2020

EASTERTIDE AT HOME: Sunday worship for Easter 2

The links to our Sunday worship today are here:
Morning worship
Morning worship service sheet

Evensong service sheet

On the morning of the second Sunday in Eastertide we traditionally hear the story of St Thomas, often called Doubting Thomas, because he wouldn't believe that Jesus had risen until he could see him for himself, wounds and all. He had missed the moment on Easter Day when Jesus first appeared to the disciples in he upper room where they were hiding.
A week later, Jesus appeared again, just for him, and invited Thomas to touch his wounds, but Thomas didn't need to. Just the sight of Jesus was enough. Thomas didn't just come to believe that Jesus was alive, but also declared that he was Lord and God.
It changed Thomas completely.

The picture below, by Daniel Seiter, painted around 1700 captures the moment when everything changed for Thomas. I particularly like the fact that, unlike many depictions of this scene Thomas is not looking at the wounds, but at Jesus. He though he needed physically to touch Jesus' scars to believe, but realises that it is the relationship he has with him that really matters.

This evening's service, a traditional service of said evensong from the Book of Common Prayer,  includes the famous story of Daniel in the Lion's den and the resurrection story from Mark's Gospel.

All age ideas

Margaret Pritchard-Houston tells the story of Thomas and shares some "wondering questions" here.

Resources to explore the story from Rootsontheweb 

Resources from Together at Home

Sunday, April 12, 2020

HOLY WEEK AT HOME: Easter Sunday

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Easter Worship

Easter Sunday morning worship podcast
Easter Sunday morning service sheet

Easter Sunday evensong podcast
Easter Sunday evensong service sheet

The sermon from our Easter morning worship can be read here.

The Easter Gospel

John 20.1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

XV Easter Dawn by Malcolm  Guite

He blesses every love which weeps and grieves

And now he blesses hers who stood and wept

And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s

Last touching place, but watched as low light crept

Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs

A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.

She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,

Or recognise the Gardener standing there.

She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,

Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light

That brightens as she chokes out her reply

‘They took my love away, my day is night’

And then she hears her name, she hears Love say

The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.

Some Easter music to listen to

All Age ideas

There's a good video here to watch, telling the story of Jesus' resurrection.

If you have made an Easter Garden, now is the moment to open the tomb. Perhaps you can add figures of Jesus and Mary, and some angels if you haven't done already. You might like to add flowers, banners or other decorations.

If you didn't make an Alleluia banner or bunting yesterday, why not make one today. You could hang it around your door or in a window to cheer up passers by.

You could have a different sort of Easter Egg hunt, around the house (or in the garden if you have one). Cut out and decorate 12 egg shapes, and write one letter on each to spell "Jesus is risen". There is a ready made template here if you have access to a printer. but you could just as easily draw them yourselves if you haven't. Cut out the eggs and decorate the other side of them as you want. Then hide them around the house or garden for someone else to find. You could make as many sets as there are people who want to find them, so that everyone can make the whole phrase.
You could also play a game with them. Make several sets. Turn them letter side down, and take it in turns to turn just one over at a time. You have to make the phrase "Jesus is risen" , but you have to turn over the "J" first, then the "E", then the "S". If the letter you turn over isn't the one you want, turn it back again, but try to remember where it was so you can find it when you need it again!

You could also make the Easter eggs into bunting by decorating them, sticking them to some string with sellotape.

The Pinterest board today has more Easter egg ideas, and also suggestions for different ways to make caterpillars and butterflies - often used as symbols for the resurrection, as well as Easter chicks hatching from eggs.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

HOLY WEEK AT HOME: Holy Saturday

Don't just do something, sit there! 

The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is called Holy Saturday (not Easter Saturday - that's next week!). It's a day about which the Gospels are silent though, because, as far as the disciples are concerned, nothing is happening, and nothing now will happen.

W.S.Auden captured this feeling in his poem "Stop all the clocks"

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead 
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, 
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, 
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

He was my North, my South, my East and West, 
My working week and my Sunday rest, 
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; 
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong. 

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; 
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; 
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; 
For nothing now can ever come to any good. 

The authorities who had Jesus killed think that it is the end  too. Jesus is sealed in a stone tomb. There are even guards outside it to make sure that no one tries to steal the body. The story is over. 

It is tempting for us to rush on to Easter Sunday. After all, we know that they are wrong. The story is far from over; in fact it is just beginning. 

But it's important that we give this day its due attention, this year even more than every other year. 
Today we are all waiting, and often feeling helpless to do anything. We are waiting for the coronavirus to abate; even the doctors treating patients admit that all they can do at the moment is support their vital organs in the hope that their bodies can fight back. We are waiting for scientists to do their work, finding cures and vaccines - something that cannot be done quickly if it is to be done right. We are waiting to be able to resume our normal lives while knowing that many things will not go back to "normal" at all. This illness will have profound effects not just on those who suffer from it, or those who are bereaved by it, but on the world's economy, on businesses, on our children's education and many other facets of our lives. We don't know what those effects will be, and we can't know at this stage. We are living in a long Holy Saturday. Sometimes we may wonder if there will be any resurrection at all. Like those who waited on that first Holy Saturday, we don't know how things will turn out. 

But Christians believe that we can be sure that whatever happens, in death and in life, we are held in the hands of God, 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 8.38-39). We may not know what lies ahead, but this day tells us that even when the life we have is shut in the tomb, just as we are shut in our houses, God is there with us, in the darkness of death, and that can make even this day holy. 

Matthew 27.57-66
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

In tears of grief, dear Lord, we leave thee.
Hearts cry to thee, O Saviour dear. 
Lie thou softly, softly here.
Rest thy worn and bruised body. 
At thy grave, O Jesus blest
May the sinner, worn with weeping
Comfort find in thy dear keeping.
And the weary soul find rest.
Sleep in peace.
Sleep thou in the Father's breast. 

A locked church

Ah my dear Lord, the church is locked
but let my heart be open to your presence;
there let us make, you and I,
your Easter garden;
plant it with flowers,
and let the heavy stone be rolled away.

by Alan Amos

The Harrowing of Hell

On Holy Saturday Christian tradition says that Jesus descended to the dead, who were thought to exist in a shadowy underworld where they waited for resurrection.  There he broke its gates open and set those imprisoned free.
The harrowing of hell,
from the Petites Heures of the Duc de Barry

On this day there may be nothing to see happening "above ground", but like the seed that germinates unseen in the dark earth, God is at work in Jesus even now. Just because we can't see anything happening, and we can't do anything, it doesn't mean that nothing is happening.

From “The Vision of Piers Plowman” by William Langland. 
[Translated from the Middle English by Ronald Tamplin in “The Sun Dancing” Charles Causley ed.

Hold still

Truth said: I hear some spirit
Speaking to the guards of hell,
And see him too, telling them
Unbar the gates.  'Lift your heads
And from the heart
Of light
A loud voice spoke.

These gates, Lucifer,
Prince of this land: the King of glory,
A crown upon his head

Satan groaned and said to his hell’s angels,
It's that sort of light sprung Lazarus.
Unstoppable.  This’ll be big, big
Trouble, I mean all sorts of bother
For the lot of us.  If this bigshot
Gets in he'll fetch the lot out, take them
Wherever that Lazarus got to
And truss me up quick as you like.  Those
Old Jesus freaks and the weathermen
Round here have been going on about
This for years.  Move yourself, Greaser Boy,
Get all those crowbars your grand-dad used
To hit your mum with.  I'll put a stop
To this one.  I'll put his little light
Out.  Before he blinds us with neon

Get all the gates closed.  Get the locks on
Lads, stuff every chink in the house.
Don't let pieces of light in!  Windows,
Fanlights, the lot.  Moonshot, whip out, get
The boys together, Horse and his lot
And stash the loot.  Any of them come
Near the walls, boiling brimstone, that's it!
Tip it on top of them, frizzle them
Up like chips.  Get those three-speed crossbows
And Ye Olde Englishe Cannon and spray
It round a bit - blind his Mounted Foot
With tintacks.  Put Muhammad on that
Crazy catapult, lobbing millstones.
We'll stab them with sickles, clobber them
With those spiky iron balls on string.'
'Don't panic,' said Lucifer, 'I know
This guy and his shining light.  Way back
In my murky past.  Can't kill him off.
Dirty tricks don't work. Just keeps coming.
Still he'd better watch out, so help me.'

The light said Unlock:
Said Lucifer, Who
Goes there?

A huge voice replied, the lord
Of power, of strength, that made
all things., Dukes of this dark place
Undo these gates so Christ come
In, the son of heaven’s King.
With that word, hell split apart,
Burst its devil’s bars; no man
Nor guard could stop the gates swing
Wide.  The old religious men,
Prophets, people who had walked
In darkness, 'Behold the Lamb
Of God', with Saint John sang now.
But Lucifer could not look
At it, the light blinding him.
And along that light all those
Our Lord loved came streaming out.
Romanino, 1485 -1566, from the church of Santa Maria della Neve, Pisogne

Questions to ponder:

  • How do you cope with waiting? What helps you to wait?
  • What do you feel helpless about at the moment? Tell God what it is and try to leave it in his hands.
  • Why do you think people have found comfort in the idea of the harrowing of Hell?

Join us tonight for our final service of Compline this week.


Come up with a list of "waiting" games.  There are some ideas here and here

Make a calm down bottle. Put -  some glitter and other lightweight things in a plastic bottle, top up with water, and a tiny drop of washing up liquid. Fasten the lid on very securely (I tape it on). Shake it up, then wait for it to settle.

Make an Alleluia banner or some bunting ready for tomorrow. Cut out triangles and write one letter on each one of the word "Alleluia". If you have made an Easter Garden you could make a miniature banner or string of bunting to go in it. 

Jesus' friends were sad when he died. I wonder what else they might have felt? There are lots of ideas for exploring emotions with children on our Pinterest board today.