More Notes from The Orchard 25b
The Third Sunday in Advent used to be known as Gaudete Sunday a respite in the Advent season to give churchgoers a break from austerity to enjoy a foretaste of the great celebration to come.
After the somewhat gloomy part of this years Decembers Part 1 Notes from The Orchard the time has come to look forward to the joys of Christmas rather than the mess we all manage too often to make of our lives.
This year my run-up to Christmas has been totally different to anything I have known before as I am now experiencing something of the lives of so many in our society which in earlier days was just a rather vague understanding. . .
I am hardly able to walk, dosed up with painkillers and dependent on others for many of the things I had previously taken totally for granted. I am housebound and finding everything I do takes so much time I can do very little especially the Christmassy things that fluster so many of us at this time of the year. I have a large family, who are being very supportive although only one lives really close, and it is amazing how many birthdays also occur about this time. Looking at the calendar I have come to the obvious conclusion that my dear late husband was one of those young men who loved the joys of love in the springtime! I can say thank God for the internet in this instance although until recently I havent been able to use my normal place in front of the keyboard and typing on my lap just isnt as easy. However, things are more or less under control for which I thank my dear good Lord and I am discovering which things are really important. What it really boils down to is that the three Fs are the main things in life: Faith, Family and Friends.
To those who visit this page, I wish you all these Three Fs in abundance for Christmas. May God bless you all His own wish in sending His dear Son Jesus to hold our hand and lead us safely to His Kingdom.
Have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy all the good things that can come with it physical as well as spiritual and that might even include Brussel sprouts!
With love to you all . . .
More Notes from The Orchard 25a
So, here we are again: the first week in Advent, the start of the Christian feast which is entered into in some way or another by Christians, people of other faith or of no faith at all and all those who enjoy the delights of celebrating a birth. A birth signifies the entrance into our world of love and hope on one side, blood, shit and tears on the other. We celebrate the arrival of another person who may, with any luck, bring something wonderful into the lives of humanity. As someone once remarked, the world will never be saved or given hope for all the things we, as human beings, long for by someone who had never been born. . . Of course, there is always the possibility that this new individual may instead of salvation bring to the world everything we fear.
This is where parents bear a huge responsibility. All very well when a child is born to parents who are prepared to love the new little being whose hands reach out from birth to feel the security and loving warmth into which they are thrust. Sadly there are others who are supposedly responsible for children they have engendered but for whom they care nothing. It does seem there are more and more of these types of parent.
Too much 'whenever-I-want-it-sex' has, in spite of the availability of contraceptives and even abortion-on-demand, leaves hundreds of thousands of children born to the winds of fortune where nobody cares for them. We have the street children of South American streets, the abandoned and orphaned children of Africa and certainly our own country does not totally consist of tidy, well organised nuclear families with enough money and sense to feed and care for their children. There are of course some good parents in all the places I have referred to but there are far too many where care, nutrition, education and above all love are missing from the lives of children. Wherever it is possible it seems that children themselves take some pity for their own kind and end up forming gangs.
What does not seem to be taken into account when these facts are considered is what eventually happens to these children. They do not stay little and vulnerable for ever. They grow up into ignorant and deeply unhappy adults who have never learned how to love or even what love is. Because of this, we end up with violent individuals who fight for rights they can see other people enjoying and as a consequence our societies are in turmoil.
Children growing up in a laissez-faire society do not automatically turn into well-behaved and adjusted people. They need to be taught how to live happily with others, that there are indeed rules, there are real standards of right and wrong ethically moral ones, not the externals of political correctness which go no further into a person than skin-deep. We need the ones that come from the heart, based on love and consideration. Nudging them in the right direction is vital if we are to have a world in which we can all be happy.
God sent us Jesus as an example of how we are to live to grow to that fullness of life which Jesus promises in the gospels. Remember too that Jesus said anything we asked for in his name we would be given. This Christmas, when our world again stands it seems on the edge of disaster, let us ask, with confidence, for the gift of true wisdom based on the words of Jesus who replied, when asked which was the first of all the commandments:
This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord is the one, only Lord, and you must love the
Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind and with all your strength.
The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.
These words are the key to everything we all desire but sadly we do not take them seriously . . . Let us pray for the gift to be able to do so.
More Notes from The Orchard 24
I suppose I am a typical English person: deeply addicted to considering the weather. . . Here we are in the most unpopular month of the year, even considering February. Thomas Hoods famous poem seems to drag the gloom before our eyes with an accurate picture of all we expect from November:
"No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -
Thomas Hood died in 1845, long before the period of World Wars, when the dedication of November to the memory of military death, highlighted by pomp and circumstance was enshrined in the scarlet beauty of poppies. But memory of all the dead has been and is marked by people of different beliefs worldwide. It is the sadness of such memories which clothe November with its gloomy shroud. Poor November!
And yet the month opens with the celebration of All Saints Day which has its origins in the 4th Century AD, when all the brave martyrs Greek word meaning witness were commemorated in one swoop because there were too many of them to remember individually, except for some of the more remarkable examples whose deaths were quickly garlanded by legend, like St. Cecilia for instance, St. Lucy or Sts. Lawrence and Sebastian. A couple of hundred years later good people, who hadnt had to be killed off as martyrs to prove their faith because Christianity was then the 'in thing', were also elevated to the canon of saints. Another couple of centuries or so later saw people worried about those who hadnt lived such exemplary lives and who were delegated to go through the process of purification in Purgatory to make them fit to stand before God. These people are called the Holy Souls, and their feast day is marked on the 2nd November, the day after that selected for all the Saints. Earlier in the 20th Century, before Vatican 2, while the single Mass for All Saints was celebrated with joy, All Souls Day had three Masses celebrated, one after the other, in gloom and black vestments when prayers were offered to speed the not-such-shining-souls' journey through the sufferings of Purgatory to their joy in Heaven.
The remaining group, those we condemn as 'baddies', seems to have been left out. It's this group that are remembered in the now 'traditional' celebration of Hallowe'en - which is only something that came from America via France and Ireland.
In contrast the end of November sees the start of the joyful pilgrimage to Christmas and the arrival of our Saviour, not in the anticipated pomp and glory of a fully developed King and Lord of the Universe He had created, but in the form of a very small baby boy, completely at the mercy of a cruel, unwelcoming world . . .
In between the beginning and end of November there are contrasts of light and shade. We remember those who fell in battle, not just in their deaths but in their lives. Those we knew personally leave behind shining memories of the good moments we spent with them which we can still enjoy. We remember others who died, not in war but just because we all die, and we can recall the time we spent together with delight and a smile.
And we are gifted to appreciate the glory of Gods wonderful creation which may vary from the gentle misty mornings as in the first picture at the top for November through storms and rain and to the glorious beauty of an amazing sunset below.*
Oh, God is good and Christmas is coming!
More Notes from The Orchard 23
If the weather forecasters are to be believed, October will open with the beautiful sunny weather we have enjoyed from just past the middle of September. How lovely is that?
Never mind, the world goes on whatever the weather just as Ecclesiastes announces: there is nothing new under the sun. From earliest records the worlds history is dominated by the powerful and often by the powerful Top Dog rather than by a group. It is true that the current god, Democracy, has widened the field but as Winston Churchill pointed out, democracy is a bad form of government, except for the alternatives. . . We are, alas, lumbered with all forms of politics on this, our beautiful planet Earth.
The original sin, committed by our original parents, has been defined as the sin of pride. Whether that is right or not, each one of us sees ourselves as a mini-top-dog in our own little world where it is we ourselves who are in charge. We are proud of our ability to cope with anything and everything. We are always RIGHT and we can manage beautifully all on our own, thank you very much.
But life definitely gets harder as our mini-top-dog status begins to dwindle. There are very few of us with do not agree with that statement when old age comes knocking at the door.
In this small geographical point on our planet in Hampshire, England, there are many people who have chosen this wondrous part of the country to retire and I am one of them. I have recently joined the octogenarian club and meet many people of 1930s vintage who tend to agree with me that we've all passed our sell-by date. There are always the lucky few who have arrived at an advanced age and still retain their health plus all the bits the rest of us used to take for granted: real teeth, good eyesight, real hair, no aching joints, manageable lower regions and memories that get us from one room or floor to another, still remembering why we went there etc, etc.
While talking to friends and acquaintances it seems that one of the reasons we aged retirees, who don't belong to those fortunate ones, are finding life particularly trying as we come to grips with our present situation. It isn't so much the physical problems it's the losing of our independence. This is where we need to remember how willing we were to help people in the kind of situations where we now find ourselves, and to remember too the words of comfort Jesus gave us (1 Peter 5:7) ''Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
If you feel increasingly helpless, it might be worth first asking Jesus for help and then to munch and swallow your pride. Allow others to do the things you were happy to do for the others of our own days of roses. Remember, our brothers and sisters are the hands of the Lord on earth. Just smile graciously, say a silent prayer for them and accept all the offers of help you are given. If you need help, admit it smile and say thank you nicely as we oldies were so often taught in our childhood!
May God bless us and give us all enough patience to get through the days, nights and trials of October, the month of Mary. Amen.
(A bit of history and why October is devoted to the memory of Mary, Mother of God) Aah, you see? Read to the end when you get there and see there is nothing new under the sun. . .
More Notes from The Orchard - 22
September has taken over the reins sorry, that is a dreadful pun after a summer which may have included the hottest day since records began but which has excelled only in its generally soaking awfulness. . .but that is nothing in view of everything else going on in the world at the moment.
While the world and its stock markets shiver and shake through ups and downs as China adjusts to capitalist ways in the teeth of its communist ideals, in Europe we are faced with those trying to escape the war-torn areas of the Middle East who seek safety in the hard-won peace Europeans have enjoyed for decades. They, together with people just seeking a decent life which their own countries have failed to offer, hammer in increasing numbers at the borders of the first countries they can reach and many die on the way.
Intermingling with all these are young firebrands who, having tasted blood as they rampage their way across countries of northern Africa and the Middle East killing, maiming and enslaving their citizens now wish to do the same thing to innocent Europeans.
Which are which? Who are those to whom we should hold out rescuing and welcoming hands, the true refugees? Who are those who should stay in their own countries and work to build up their own lands, the economic migrants? Who are the murderous thugs who, distorting the tenets of their own religion, now wish to force their unloving and cruel beliefs - unimbued with the mercy of Allah - on Europe, whose civilisation over the centuries is built on the foundations of the teachings of Jesus Christ, who surprisingly in the eyes of Islam, is a major and venerated prophet?
In our secularist society what will be the defence of our children to the onslaught of a group who can twist the minds of the young with such skill that they end up being able to kill innocent people without compunction by strapping explosives to their own young bodies or encouraging even younger children who have no idea what they are doing to follow the same route?
The human spirit is always seeking something beyond itself. Even primitive tribes in the deepest jungles or deserts make religion a vital part of their lives. In sophisticated societies where religion may be despised as an opiate for the poor politics often takes its place. In a society where secularism reigns there is a vacuum. Without the defence of a firm belief in the God who sent his own son to give us a message of love and life we are all open to a spiritual message, any spiritual message. A distorted form of Islam could find a fertile bed in uncommitted souls. Look how many people seriously described themselves as followers of the Jedi (Star Wars) when asked to state their religion in the 2011 census! Admittedly it was half the amount declared in the 2001 census but still, nearly 180,000 . . .
Christian churches are beginning to wake up to these dangers and there is a current push among all of them to stand up together and be counted. If you are reading this as a nominal Christian do something to fan the flame read some books on the subject a modern version of the Gospels, books written by people who love Jesus and follow his teaching. Give God a Chance isnt a bad place to start . . .
If you have any faith, flaunt it! When you meet converts to Christianity and ask them why they became Christians the usual answer is Oh, I met someone. . . When the apostles went round making converts after meeting Jesus they didnt say Weve got this great new religion to offer! They said, Theres this wonderful man we know. . .
Get to know Jesus and as you do, your enthusiasm for this wonderful being will light up life for you and for others. But please, please make sure that your faith, however it is faint and wobbling or strong and shining does get passed on to your children and grandchildren: they will need that shield and protection to get them through the life that lies ahead. Life there is going to be difficult . . . as it always has been, except for most of us who read these words. We have been so blessed in the UK in the years since WW2 and for that we thank our God.
Sarah T M Bell
More Notes from The Orchard - 21
Where do I start? The days have gone by so fast I find I am here on 28th July and need to have these More Notes from The Orchard ready to publish for 1st August. Dear Lord, I cry, Help!
It must be obvious to everyone that we are living in difficult times (Don't we always?). Most of it rises from the antagonism which exists between different groups I suppose anthropologically that could be called tribalism.
Studying history from ancient times enables us to see how we human beings have been coming to terms with our environment for as long as we have been privileged to live on this earth where we can see that regular patterns prevail.
Couples > family groups > co-operation led to the rise of hamlets/villages and so on. Villages got bigger; working together gave rise to towns (polis) which allowed time to relax, time to think especially sitting in the sun with a glass of wine in the Mediterranean area while slaves were available to do the work. . . Men, and maybe the odd woman, started to ponder the Big Questions why are we here? How can we deal with the way, the how and the who we are? At that point enter the Hebrews and the Greeks and thus God and Politics arrive on the scene. This is where the tricky bits come in. . .
People generally coped pretty well until the 20th/21st Century when all our learning options suddenly galloped into infinity and got very, very BIG much due to the internet and its ramifications.
Islam developed very much in the same way as Christianity had but Islam started in the 7th Century so Christianity had a head start. Now, hundreds of years later, Christians should cast their minds back to the Middle Ages, a time when the teachings of Jesus were often misunderstood and we were horrid to the Moslems during the Crusades. We werent any better with other groups who didnt believe exactly the same as we did. A similar pattern. . .
It has to be said that at that time we knew very little about the physical and mental development of human beings but disillusion came when, failing to understand the simple message of Jesus, Politics-with-a-capital-P made its official bow. European kings lost their heads and/or their grip on real power so stand up the Politicians.
Since then all sorts of political theories have been applied - mostly unsuccessfully - to find a way of making life on earth something resembling the Kingdom of Heaven/Paradise.
The different faiths and beliefs of the world seem to cause so many problems back to tribalism. All faiths are all looking for the answer to the question of who we are, why are we here, who made us and who indeed is 'who'? None can help their birthright but Jesus, the shepherd who has other flocks (http://biblehub.com/john/10-16.htm), wants all of us. When I was thinking of that the other day I thought how many varieties of sheep there are.
There are so many varieties of sheep and in the Middle East its quite difficult to tell the difference between the sheep and the goats (!) and everywhere we find vast numbers of varieties of dogs. Well, there are loads of people to love the dogs but Jesus loves the sheep, and we are them oh, what a lucky bunch we are! Now I think to myself, there are Moslem sheep, Hindu sheep, wandering sheep who dont know where or who they arean enormous variety of sheep who are our brothers and sisters and we could all should all be following our big brother shepherd Jesus.
Lets remember the good news he brought: love God who gave us the magnificent universe we have and love and care for the people we meet every day. That is the message of the good life on this planet and hopefully the life of the world to come when we shall be able to enjoy the company of the people we knew, the ones we know and the ones we will come to know. We may also come to understand the reasons why some people appear so difficult, so not like us, so weird. Who knows why they seem like that? Possibly they have been damaged and need to be loved or at least cared for and helped. Lets do it, even if it just starts with a smile.
With different parents we might be totally different people and just as difficult if not worse. . .
(with the odd proviso we might be even more delightful that we are! Now there's a thought. . .)
Sarah T M Bell
More Notes from The Orchard - 20
This month the only thing I shall say about the weather is that it is inevitable. That way I shall be 100% correct for once and we shall just move on without a further word on that subject . . . but in very small print, dear Lord, it would be lovely to have a bit of summer this year!
A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about heaven not a matter that crops up too often these days as you lift a first glass of wine to the lips! We talked about what we thought it might be like and she revealed she had a serious problem. While sympathetic to my idea that most of us might be fortunate enough to scramble up the steps and squeeze into the last available spaces she wondered what she would do if she met the people she couldnt stand while ploughing a furrow through this earthly life. Would she have to spend eternity with them? And if she did, would she in fact have gone to the other place rather than heaven?
Another friend, from whom I hadnt heard for some time, told me via Skype about a discovery she had recently made about a relationship not a close one, but the kind you make in your local circle where you know people but never get very close to them though carrying on a day-to-day morning! Lovely weather! Sad about losing our milkman those were the days, werent they? kind of connection. Occasionally you meet at social dos, then maybe after a time find yourself in the same group doing something like fundraising or some volunteer work in the village or town. You may perhaps then get a little closer and end up in a position where you can really talk.
My friend and the acquaintance became quite friendly when the conversation turned to first meetings. The acquaintance, lets call her Thumbelina, announced to my friend she will be Minnehaha that she had never forgotten what an instant dislike she had taken to my friend when they first met by which time, with another glass of wine under their belt, in vino veritas stepped in and truth was coming out.
Minnehaha was very taken aback and could only mutter Why?
Thumbelina said she had been collecting the envelopes for a charity and Minnehaha was very off-hand when she called to collect.
Now. Minnehaha oh, lets call her Minnie had moved from the centre of London where shed had a very stressful job and absolutely no idea about life in a village since she had no experience of living in one. What is more, having moved in a week earlier she knew nothing about any envelopes to be filled with money nor did she know anyone in the village. Unsurprisingly shed looked blank, puzzled and very confused. Such a thing never happened in London!
Over the years, more than twenty of them, this silly problem had never been broached and it had prevented any possible development of a real friendship although the motions of civility had been observed. Once the truth was finally out they could manage to laugh and are now relatively good friends.
Such hidden truths can shackle our freedoms but it might be very difficult to blurt out the truth at the time. Maybe better to work on the principle that generally people do not intend to offend it just sort of happens. Taking offence where none is intended sounds like a clich but such clichs often rise from truth.
When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive Jesus suggested 490 times - an apparently ridiculous number. To save effort we might think of trying to look at things from the other persons point of view and give them the benefit of assuming they are not deliberately winding us up. Then we can smile, forgive in advance and attempt to move the relationship forward from a better take-off point: definitely worth a try. Incidentally, whatever your age a smile also makes you look prettier or more handsome if youre a chap!
Have a lovely summer, even if the sun dont shine . . .
Sarah T M Bell
More Notes from The Orchard - 19
So May didnt turn out to be the beautiful month wed hoped for, weatherwise. She was altogether too grey, cold and windy with just enough blue sky to remind us what it should be looking like. Ah well, it may not have suited us but as the weeks go by at least the flowers and trees seem to be very happy in their prettiest clothes of the year. As they say new month, change of weather. Well see - we may have to wait a day or two according to the latest forecast.
With sports of winter put away for a while we can enjoy the pleasure of the summer varieties as their dramas unroll through the next few months. We can hope for less politics now the election is behind us at least until the Referendum nears and instead concentrate on the garden and its challenges. Whether you have a garden or not to look after its worth remembering that even people in blocks of flats have problems with nature. I heard today of difficulties arising in apartment blocks when pigeons decide to use balcony areas as desirable nesting sites. Before coping with their inevitable droppings we could keep in mind that in fancy gourmet TV cooking programmes pigeon breasts cooked in wondrous ways are now the in thing and theres always the saying where theres muck, theres brass: maybe think of supplying the catering trade, setting up a guano business and hey presto, you might make a million!
How blessed are those among us who can fill our dream lives with such silly trivia! In the meantime others are suffering, weeping, mourning. In our world this often goes on privately behind closed doors, in other worlds publicly and without hope under the eyes of cameras and a mainly indifferent world.
The dramas that move us to get involved are the spectacular ones earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis when we are happy to put our hands into our pockets and help the victims of these natural cataclysms. On those occasions we often we say, bitterly and without understanding, How can God let this happen? and conclude its all Gods fault.
Most of the real suffering in our world isnt caused by such events. It is caused by what in former days people had no trouble in calling sin. Nowadays it seems people arent really prepared to admit there is such a thing as sin, having decided its an invention of the churches or religion or can be explained away by psychiatrists or psychologists and yet, and yet . . .
Maybe we should look at what sin is not: it is not, for example, patience, kindness, goodness we could probably add to the list. We could then list the properties that go with sin lying, cheating, bullying and there again, we can add more.
But today I am thinking mainly of the horrific family murder by a young gardener which took place recently and where the touch paper seems to have been a complete breakdown in relationships. Such breakdowns are usually caused by sin, the putting of Me first where My desires alone dictate My actions. There is no love there and where love doesnt exist, there is sin.
There is a famous hymn with ancient roots: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is kindness and love, there is God. Conversely, where there is neither, there is no God, no goodness. Where there is no goodness, there is only evil.
Fortunately for us Jesus, Son of God and the light of the world (John 8:12), came to show us the way: Love God and love each other. As John said, the darkness cannot overcome the light. So no matter what happens we must keep our minds focussed on that fact. In the end, all will be well, all manner of things will be well (Julian of Norwich).
We all have our own part to play. We must be like sparks through the stubble (Wisdom 3:7) and become part of the light which in the end will overcome the darkness.
So lets take out our lamps, put them on a lamp-stand and look outwards so that we can see who needs what and try to fulfil it. Doing that will benefit everyone . . . and as the supermarket who forgot its customers advertised, Every little helps! to which Im happy to add And everyone matters!
Sarah T M Bell
More Notes from The Orchard - 18
If we are lucky this month we shall wake up in the mornings to blue skies, the thermometer will rise again and we can start to enjoy a glorious summer. How blest we are for the moment at any rate in our beautiful, civilised country. Thank God!
While we are enjoying all this, Christians and others are dying in their hundreds in the slaughter raging through the Middle East, many of them in the cruellest and most callous fashions the basest instincts of human beings can devise while, thankful and relieved, we get on making our plans for weekends and holidays and feel how lucky we are. We certainly wont be going to the Middle East for our fly-away holiday in the sun!
For many, many years I have been in churches and heard priests talk about the Christian martyrs of the day, adding that while such terrors wont happen to us (?!) we can always settle for putting up with the little inconveniences we suffer in our own lives. I have always admired their optimism. How do they know we will never be faced with the prospect of martyrdom? The Christians in many places in the Middle East were living pleasant and comfortable lives before suddenly their lives were ripped apart. Many fled, some brave ones stayed and of those, increasing numbers have been murdered just because they were Christians. How do you think you would cope with such a situation?
Recently I have met elderly people who have lived good, God-fearing lives. Gone to church regularly on Sundays but now, towards the end of their lives, they are facing the fear of death. In England there is the NHS to take care of the body and if they have been regular church attendants, a pastor to minister to their spiritual needs. Is that enough to see them safely through? Seems not.
Why do many Christian martyrs historically and in recent times seem to go their deaths with some sort of joy? Why do good-living Christians, facing a normal human death, tremble with fear at the prospect? I suspect the rush of adrenalin may have something to do with the moment when martyrdom stares one in the face, but a lingering death accompanied by discomfort, pain and dependence on another person for all the basic needs of life is perhaps much more difficult to handle. We are all, I suppose, more likely to have to face the second prospect when fatigue may well mask the friendly assistance of adrenalin.
In those last moments we need a friend to hold our hand, a confident friend. Though many of us will have followed the duties of a Christian, going to church regularly, being a kind and decent person to those around us, we may have managed to travel a long way through life without actually getting to know Jesus himself as a real friend. But how, you may ask, how do we do that?
Well, there are his own words via the Gospels and there are the words of those who learned to love him through all the generations since he was on earth. We are all surrounded by the glories of Gods wonderful creation (and this time of year is particularly beautiful!) but above all, you can talk to Jesus/God. I dont mean reading all the prayers, wonderful prayers even, printed in books. I mean talking to Jesus in his words (Our Father . . .) and in your own words, from your heart. Then be still and wait for his answers to come to you. Once or twice every now and then isnt enough. Share your life with him just as you may be fortunate enough to be able to do with your best earthly friend. Jesus is always listening and always faithful. As you become more and more intimate you will also find he can be very funny! After all, Jesus never stopped being a Jew and the Jewish talent for comedy is unsurpassed . . .
My own example from this morning: as I knelt down on arrival for Mass, I felt so stiff and painful the words fell from my lips: Oh, Jesus I would so love another pair of legs!
The answer was immediate.
So, Sarah . . . you want to be a horse?
I laughed aloud!
Well, wouldnt you?
Sarah T M Bell
More Notes from The Orchard 17
'Why seek you the dead among the living? He is not here!' He Qi
Sunday, 5th April Easter Day - Matthew 28:1-8 - This is the day that Jesus opened up the door of Heaven so we should all be able to follow him, our dear Saviour, who showed us the Way. . .
Saturday, 4th April Holy Saturday - Jesus lies in the tomb, awaiting the moment of Resurrection
Friday, 3rd April Good Friday - The day of the Crucifixion of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. . .
Thursday, 2nd April Maundy Thursday - The Day of the Last Supper, when Jesus not only washed the feet of his friends but set up the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This wonderful gift feeds us on our way through life and gives us strength to persevere to the end, to thank him for all his kindness and experience his presence with us on our journey through good times as well as the bad. (Jn 13:1-16; Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:14-20)
Wednesday, 1st April April Fools Day but this year also Spy Wednesday. By tradition it is the day that Judas negotiated his thirty pieces of silver and it is the serious prelude to the great festival of Easter, these days are known by many Christians as the Triduum.
This period covers Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day.
I am adding pictures at the beginning of these three days, partly as a counter blast to the insistent overdose of Easter eggs and those acres of chocolate bunny rabbits, chickens, ducks and, believe it or not, there are even Crunchie lions! All these and more are in celebration of Easter. With brief interruptions for Valentines and Mothers Days, the incessant marketing of such fripperies has been going since the last Christmas tree was put away. (Until, of course, that re-emerges in August!)
Therefore, on the final approach to this greatest Christian festival the pictures I have chosen are taken from a wide range of centuries to remind visitors to this site what Easter is really about.
Everybody loves Christmas, in which many of us believe: its so easy, the shining star, little baby born in a stable, the good Mary, the brave Joseph, three kings with priceless gifts . . . just like the fairy stories we heard as children. But how many of us really take it seriously?
Then comes Easter, not a bit like the fairy stories. Not only serious but dark. How easy to believe this story? How could a good God condemn His Son if that is true to suffer so, as it says in the Good Book?
God didnt. He sent His Son so we could get to know Him more easily, to show us what He was like. God is not the fearsome God we manage to interpret from the way this dynamic physical world works: thunderstorms, earthquakes, drought and crop failures. . . a judgemental and scary God. We notice all the horrors and forget His goodness to us the successful crops, the beauty of the world, the love we can/should have for each other and our children. We even forget the Psalms where He is praised for His kindness while mostly and only vaguely recalling the violent ones driven by wars. God finally sends His son to let us get to know Him.
Jesus arrives, all innocent and beautiful, just like our own little children, and according to the Gospel he grows up increasing in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and with people. (Lk.2:52)
Sadly, although many did believe in him, taking him at his word, other groups didnt and by and large those people were the powerful who could see their way of life threatened. This wasnt altogether their fault. Due to the way they had been brought up and taught to adhere too closely to tradition which tended to close their minds, they could only see Jesus as someone dangerous.
In the end, this group won and Jesus was condemned as someone extremely dangerous, for as Caiaphas, the High Priest who feared the Romans would threaten the status quo, said (Jn.18:14) It is better for one man to die for the people.
It was people, fickle people like us, who condemned Jesus to the terrible death he died, not God.
God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to show us His love and who, in spite of everything, continues to love us. Jesus himself says I am with you always, yes, even to the end of the world.
So let us trust Him and commit ourselves and all we love into His hands. While we do our best in this world to follow the two wonderful commandments Jesus gave us to love God and to love each other let us look forward as well to the amazing life that Jesus promised us in the many houses prepared for us in his Fathers Kingdom (Jn.14:1-3) and remember that Jesus himself said he would come to take us with him.
Let us believe in the words of Jesus, the Son of God who gave us everything we love. He came in human form to show us the beauty of his Father, the invisible God who made us but who we must wait to see until we have reached the threshold of His Kingdom. Let us believe in the God who loves us!
A very blessed and Happy Easter to anyone who reads these words . . .
More Notes from The Orchard - 16
Hello, dear friends who visit this site:
Isnt the year going by so very, very fast? Never mind, its lovely to know that we are now entering March you know, the month that comes in like a Lion and goes out like a Lamb? According to tradition anyway.
We can look forward to Spring well, the calendar date anyway to the change of the clocks with lighter evenings and to the promise of Easter with its joys as the month draws to a close. Three cheers for that. . .
In the meantime, our ears will be assailed and our eyes blinded by incessant stuff about the forthcoming election. People will lie, cheat, be hoisted up as targets to be shot at by the media and the truth, What is that? Pilate wondered will be disguised in all sorts of ways. You will be advised to vote in such and such a way. . . tricky, init?
There is definitely a downside to democracy as in any political philosophy which thinks it has the answer to the worlds problems. Aaaah long sigh. . .
As human beings were not too clever in that area. Just look at our history and Im not just talking the United Kingdom, Im talking the world . . . nothing like a massive canvas to work on!*:) happy
How sad were not a bunch of saints! Then everything would be perfect but it seems God wants to know we love him for himself, because we choose to and not because he forces us to do so. God gives us the choice and that is what we call free will. Way back in Mosess day we were offered the choice between life and good, death and evil. (Deut.30:19)
Were not very bright we are very clever but we tend, as our own children do, to make wrong choices from time to time. And do we forgive our darlings? Of course we do!
When Jesus gave us the prayer we know as Our Father we tend to think of the word Father in Victorian terms: stern and judgemental. But Jesus used the equivalent of the Jewish word Daddy, the familiar and loving word we give to fathers who have deserved the affectionate name of Daddy or Dad.
God loved us so much that He gave His only son to come and tell us that was how He felt about us. Sadly, in the same way as happened to many of the people God had sent earlier to get this message over, we killed His only son. Today of course we use the press/media to get rid of anyone who gives us hope but in this sophisticated West we dont actually kill them. The current method often seems to be entrapment, not for actual crimes you understand, but where the victims are shown to be acting in a politically incorrect manner in hypothetical situations.
As Lent passes by perhaps we should pray to be kinder: to be kinder to the have-nots and kinder in our judgements. Probably the majority of visitors to this page know the words of the prayer Jesus gave us which go along the lines forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. With that thought in mind, may the good Lord give us the wisdom to put it into effect. Kindness equates with goodness. To human thinking that appears much more desirable, more attractive so why not grab it with both hands? Now!
As a practice for Lent it may not do much for your waistline but it will be brilliant for your heart not to mention your inner self. . .
Sarah T M Bell
More Notes from The Orchard - 15
Shrove Tuesday 17th February
Historically Shrove Tuesday Pancake Day marked the end of the celebrations which had been kept going after Christmas. At this point, people were beginning to get tired of the good time. After all, we need a change. Sameness of any kind gets boring: we all remember the saying that a change is as good as a rest or a holiday.
Because most of our traditions and customs spring from our Christian heritage, Ash Wednesday is still marked in diaries without any religious affiliation and even today people generally know about Lent and giving up things - although nowadays not necessarily for spiritual reasons. Inches and stones, centimetres and kilos have crept in as reasons for giving up such delights as chocolates while health, a current major idol since people have become so terrified of the idea of dying, ensures that smoking and drinking alcohol have become things to give up for Lent . . .
(Oh, sighs your webmaster, I did so love smoking such a pleasant way to pay huge amounts of tax but I gave that up more than 12 years ago and now make do with passive smoking. I gave up smoking as a gift not for health and not for Lent and not financial reasons but I am so glad I did. At over 8 a packet for the kind I smoked multiplied by three of those a day. . . oh dear!)
Why not try a more positive approach to Lent, something that foreshadows the joys of Easter? Why not remember one of the reasons for Jesuss appearance on earth which he himself proclaimed? I came that they (my followers) might have life and have it abundantly.
What we need to do is repent! Do I hear cries of So, so whats new?
For most of our lives the word repent goes with sackcloth and ashes like January goes with ice and snow. If you really know the meaning of repent the first statement is not accurate and in Australia in fact in more than half the world January does not imply cold.
Repent means to turn round to face another direction so lets turn towards God via Jesus and remember his light and warmth. To feel warm inside we need to feel good. We dont need to wander through life nursing a guilty conscience, a life of envy or malice or concentrate on judging everyone while we bask in the empty smugness of our own comfortable lives.
We could just give up on all those things, fling ourselves at Gods feet and ask him to rescue us. Instead of chanting the formal prayers we usually say, try talking to God as the loving father of the prodigal son and ask for help. After that we could go on to make a real attempt to stop ourselves stuffing more unkind thoughts into our internal baggage. We can help it along by getting hold of some inspiring reading matter instead of the light, frippery or violent stuff we tend to fill our heads with these days and by investigating other peoples needs, whether among those we live with or through the many charities who cry for help.
Even one day of this would help us detox. Then try it for one more day, then another . . . try it every day for Lent and see what happens. One day at a time wont be too hard will, it? And hey, you have more than two weeks to build up for it all the way up to a delicious pile of pancakes!
* - Oh dear, no you don't! We've arrived in Lent . . . (I amended this on the 18th February. . .)
Sarah T M Bell
Lent started Ash Wednesday, 18th February
More Notes from The Orchard - 14
Just think: less than 7 weeks today it will be Ash Wednesday signpost to Easter and the proper warm Spring beyond daffodils and into apple blossom, tulips and on into the Chelsea Flower Show and summer. . .
Sadly before that there may be ice and snow, rain and gales but before they arrive - or not - we can enjoy the memory of Christmas before putting away the cards and decorations on 6th January to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. Well, I could say celebrate instead of mark but in fact any celebration outside church services is hardly done in England for this Feast, unlike in many other countries in the world where a lot of fun is to be had. [Click here]
Quite often today you will hear people referring to Epiphany moments and if they were asked to explain exactly what that meant I suspect lots of them wouldnt know that the word epiphany means manifestation again, definitely not an everyday word. I suppose display might be a suitable word: the Feast of the Epiphany covers three areas, all of them the making known of Jesus to the world. Christmas celebrates the wonderful moment where God becomes incarnate and introduces himself to Jesuss own people, the Jews, in a manner which in retrospect we can all understand: he came as a little baby, not, as the prophets of old were understood, as a saviour who would operate in worldly terms as a powerful conquering King and deliver Judea from the occupation of the Romans.
Now we come to the next big feast where the Star is star.
Firstly the star is a guide to the Magi who represent the Gentiles the rest of us, all nations and races as they/we come to worship the baby King in the manger. Next the Epiphany celebrates the Baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan which shows Jesus to be the Son of God. Finally the Wedding at Cana, which is often also considered part of the Epiphany story, which some ascribe as showing how asking for our needs in prayer through Mary, his mother. It is believed this approach will achieve wonders for us since Jesus finds it difficult to refuse her anything. . .
In our secular world nowadays a personal epiphany is intended to represent to an individual the revelation of something amazing and not hitherto experienced and where suddenly the truth appears before ones eyes.
May a wonderful Epiphany await each of us at some time during the coming year, and may God bless and protect us all as we move into 2015.
Sarah T M Bell