- St Catherine's Church
- Church Road
- CH42 0LQ
The vicar's letter found here is a duplicate of the letter found in our parish magazine, which is now published every 2 months instead of monthly.
Vicar’s Letter (April/May2021)
I write this the day before the National Day of Reflection on March 23rd, to commemorate the first anniversary of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown in the UK. Organised by Marie Curie, the National Day of Reflection looks to reflect on our collective loss, support those who've been bereaved, and have hope for a brighter future.
We are rightly saddened that during the last year over 125,000 people in the UK alone have died from coronavirus. Behind the numbers are individuals, who were much loved and are greatly missed. A mum, a dad, a wife, a husband, a brother, a sister, a grandparent, a friend, a colleague. So what does the church have to say on a day like today? Well we should point people to the truth of Jesus Christ and his words in the Bible.
First, Jesus is aware of our heartache in the face of death. In John 11, the apostle records Mary’s grief when her brother Lazarus dies. We read, in verses 33-36: “When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord”, they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him”.
Mary cries. She is overcome with grief at her brother’s death. Her friends cry with her. When death comes we need friends to weep with us, to walk with us and support us through the dark days.
Jesus cries too at the death of his friend. We read in v35, “Jesus wept”. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible! We see the humanity of Jesus. He loves. He cares. And he weeps. Jesus is not remote from the sufferings of his fellow humans.
He understands the deep sense of loss and grief that we all experience in the face of death. He knows the many tears shed across this nation in this last year. It’s good to know that Jesus cares and grieves at the brokenness of our world. But Jesus also does something about this broken world.
Secondly, Jesus gives us hope in the face of death. Hope comes from Jesus’ words to Martha after her brother Lazarus died. In verses 25-26 Jesus declares: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” It is amazing. In the midst of Martha’s mourning Jesus directs her attention to himself. To trust that Jesus grants eternal life now and promises life after death in the kingdom of heaven, in God’s perfect new world, to all who believe in him. And Jesus’ question to Martha is a question for each of us: “Do you believe this?”
Perhaps you’re wondering, is it possible to believe in life beyond death? Well Jesus proves that he really can bring life after death. He goes to Lazarus’ tomb. Lazarus has now been dead for 4 days.
Verse 43: “Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out”. The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face”.
Death is defeated. With just a word, a command, Lazarus comes back to life. Jesus has supreme authority and power over death. Lazarus’ rising points forward to Jesus’ own resurrection on that first Easter Sunday. The evidence is there to believe – the empty tomb and the numerous appearances of the risen Jesus to his disciples. Jesus’ resurrection points forward to the resurrection of all believers.
One day in heaven Christians will see loved ones who have died in Christ. Christians are the resurrection people. Through the heartache of the last year we have a hope that comes from Jesus’ own resurrection.
May you have a happy Easter, trusting in all that Jesus’ death and resurrection offers you. Do come along to St Catherine’s or listen to our audio services this Easter. We have a Good Friday all-age service at 12pm and an Easter Sunday all-age service, with the Lord’s Supper, at 11am. Please do book in these services by e-mailing me at least two days before the service that you wish to attend.
Vicar’s Letter (February 2021)
Our verse for 2021 is “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). In these difficult times it seems a very appropriate verse to encourage us all to keep going with faith in Jesus. In January our first sermon looked at this verse from Romans before three further sermons looked closely at each of the three parts of this verse from 1 Peter 1:3-13 (“joyful in hope”), James 5:7-11 (“patience in affliction”) and Luke 18:1-8 (“faithful in prayer”).
Let me ask you whether you have hope and are you joyful in hope? Last week I read about the importance of hope for our lives in a column by Dr Radha Modgil in the I newspaper. She wrote that, “Hope is a daily, tangible and vital tool for well-being. We have never needed to understand this more than now”. Dr Modgil acknowledges that it is a battle for hope in the midst of the pandemic – “It takes effort every single day at the moment to try to find hope and remain hopeful. Once we lose hope, we lose everything”. But what is hope? Dr Modgil describes it as “the belief that things can get better”. She suggests that we can find hope in science (development of vaccines), nature, past challenges in history that have been overcome and the kindness of people.
Now I think she’s right to view the importance of hope for each one of us. Hope is one of those human characteristics which God has built into us. All of humanity clings tenaciously to a hope of one kind or another. To lose one’s hope is perhaps the most tragic thing that can ever happen in life. However, the hope Christians have is more than believing that things can get better. Christian hope is a joyful and confident expectation which rests on the trustworthy promises of God.
An e-mail from the Good Book Company recently gave this lovely description of the Christian hope.
“Whether you're keen to leave 2020 behind, or anxious about what 2021 has in store, if the last year has taught us anything, it's that when the world shifts and shakes around us, our Christian hope remains an anchor for our souls: In our frailty, it is our strength; in our barrenness, it is life; in our desert-like places, it is soul-quenching water.”
But what is our hope? Paul describes the goal of our hope in Romans, “we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2). The ultimate hope of the human heart is not forgiveness or justification or heaven or freedom from disease. The ultimate hope of every heart is the glory of God, that is his radiant splendour, which will be fully revealed when Jesus returns. We will see the Lord Jesus face to face, we will enjoy him perfectly and delight in him truly. Paul writes in Titus 2:13 that “we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ”.
The glory of God has been made manifest in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, most notably in his death and resurrection. But one day the curtain will be raised and the glory of God will be fully disclosed in the kingdom of heaven. John Piper writes, “This is the ultimate experience that will wipe away every tear. This will rectify every wrong. This will make you say that it was all worth it, no matter what you suffered”. But what we hope for is not just to see the glory of God in Him. We hope for God’s glory to be seen in us. One day, you and I will be transformed people. No more sin!
We can have confidence that this will happen because it is grounded on the resurrection of Jesus. So the apostle Peter writes, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Knowing the goal of our hope and the ground of our hope what should we do? Be joyful!! Christian joy is never found in our circumstances but in Christ. Deep within us, there is to be a joy in Jesus that sustains us in every situation. We can set our hearts on how good it will be in the world to come. If we just focus on life now and the troubles of this world we will miss out on the joy that is ours.
So let me encourage you to be “joyful in hope” because of Jesus even in these difficult times. And that will help us to be “patient in affliction” as well – especially when it’s underpinned by faithfulness in prayer! Why not check out our sermons for January on our church website, so that you may be encouraged to keep going in these difficult times! Do contact me if you want to find out more about hope in Jesus. Best wishes
Vicar’s Letter (December 2020)
This will be a Christmas like no other as the country remains in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. No office parties, no carol singing (as guidance currently stands), no large family gatherings. As I write this the government has just published it’s guidance for Christmas. There has been some limited relaxation of the tiered restrictions that will apply after December 2nd. Between 23rd and 27th December, the three households will be allowed to form an exclusive temporary "Christmas bubble". They can mix indoors and stay overnight.
Newspapers have been calling for politicians to “save Christmas”. But that’s the wrong way round. No-one can save Christmas. It’s Christmas that saves us. By that I mean, it’s the message of Christmas that saves us, the birth of a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. As the angel told a bewildered Joseph about his young fiancée Mary, “She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
We’ve spent so much of this year having to social distance from one another. Many of us have discovered the world of Zoom. Yet, wonderfully, God does not social distance from us. He doesn’t have a Zoom call to us from heaven. No, God came into this world himself. The Lord Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, lived amongst us, demonstrating his divinity by his miracles.
If we’d been there 2,000 years ago, we would have seen him face-to-face. Jesus knows what it is to be human, to walk in a world of darkness. He knows himself the pain and suffering of a broken world. He wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. Jesus knows the grief, the pain, the isolation, that you have suffered this year. He is not distant from you.
Yet the tragedy is that humanity have distanced itself from God. When Jesus came many rejected him. The apostle John writes that, “He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). The ultimate rejection of Jesus came as all representatives of humanity came together to crucify Jesus.
Yet Jesus’ death, as the angel told Joseph, was planned by God to bring about our salvation. Through his death we can receive all the spiritual blessings of forgiveness, adoption into God’s family and a sure and certain hope for the future.
At Christmas we remember that Jesus came as light of the world. John writes, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Jesus’ death was not the end of the story. Three days later, he rose again, giving the guarantee of eternal life for all who trust in him.
At the moment we rejoice in encouraging news of vaccines. Dr Tedros, head of the World Health Organisation, said this week that promising results from vaccine trials meant that “the light at the end of this long dark tunnel is growing brighter”. He said that vaccines, in combination with other tried and tested public health measures, would help to “end the pandemic”.
And yet I want to say that it’s the coming of Jesus, that we remember each Christmas, is what brings ultimate light to our world. It is in Jesus that we can find our ultimate hope. So can I encourage you to take time this Christmas to reflect on Jesus, who came to save us. Sadly, St Catherine’s are unable to have our usual Christmas programme. We are planning to have two Christingle services on Christmas Eve (2pm and 4pm) due to the need to limit numbers at each service as a result of social distancing measures. You will need to book in if you wish to attend – please do e-mail me for more details. Do check our website for the latest on our Christmas services.
In these unusual times may I still wish you a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year!