This week's letter is written by Chris Thomas.
Dear Church Family,
Those of you who read my offerings on saints and spiritual writers in the parish magazine will have seen that one of the writers I chose for the month of May was Mother Julian of Norwich, the 14th century anchorite. She asked the question about God as seen in Jesus, “What was his meaning?” to which the reply was “Love was his meaning”. Julian wrote her ‘Showings’ as she called them, her meditations over many years on a vision of the crucified Christ, during a time of political and religious turmoil and very significantly for us during the Black Death – the pandemic of her times.
Our Gospel reading for this week is once again from St. John where Christ tells his disciples that the love he has for them is the same as the Father has for Christ and they are to ‘abide’ in that same love. This is part of what is sometimes referred to as the Farewell Discourse of Jesus; in other words that intimate conversation Jesus had with his disciples during the Last Supper when he knew that he was about to be betrayed and He prepared the disciples for their life without his physical presence.
And at that supper, after surprising them all by washing their feet, Jesus gave his disciples a great new commandment – the ‘mandatum’ from which we get the word Maundy for Maundy Thursday. He says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. And he goes on to say, “I do not call you servants any longer…but I have called you friends”. Not that there is anything wrong with being God’s servant- and servants to each other we must certainly be. But what Jesus calls the disciples that evening signals a more intimate relationship. John uses the Greek word phlio which has the meaning of the ‘loved ones’ or ‘the beloved’. And so too are we the ‘beloved’ of God. And as the ‘beloved’ we must try to be the gentle mirror of how Christ has loved us in our love for each other.
How have we been loving each other and allowing ourselves to be loved during this last strange year? This year when many of our relationships have been strained by prolonged absence or in some cases too much proximity!
I have experienced a wonderful outpouring of love from my family, from my friends and from the members of the church, and last year from those who did not know me when I was in hospital. That time was a humbling one for me as I had to learn how to be the one on the receiving end of love and care. And in the overwhelming experience of a nurse kneeling on the floor washing my feet when I was too weak to do it for myself, I surely saw the face of Christ.
Some of you will have known something of this in dark days when someone has truly been as Christ to you. I know that Christ has been present to many in our community as the church has been the focus of the hard work and love which has been the distribution of food. For those not able to go out our system of contacting people by telephone and generally keeping in touch has been a blessing to many. That blessing has also been evident in the goodwill from strangers. Out walking and shopping it has been the physical social distancing which paradoxically has shown our concern for each other, and the smiles and quiet hellos that can so brighten a lonely day.
Let us pray that the love which has been flowing these months continues as we slowly emerge from lockdown and begin to live our lives a little more normally, and with the awareness that some will find this difficult, we can ease into what has been called by my friends at the Monastery the ‘healing power’ of community.
The poet-priest Malcolm Guite has written a series of sonnets in which he refle