“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things.” And from the depths of Somerset (or Dorset!) the big talking-point is bringing this lengthy series of blogs to an end. Yes, today marks the Grand Finale of Lighting Up Time in its current form and context. I can’t imagine anyone’s been counting, but if you’re into statistics this is no.275. So, time for me to leave Frimley Parish journeying into its new future as we continue ours - though only on an official basis. And what better day for this virtual swansong! Admittedly it’s been a rather strange Lent, and Easter feels distractingly less busy. But our new garden holds the promise of vibrant, fruitful life to come - and the lawn already needs another assault from the mower! 12 months’ hence retirement living will have become our everyday experience, and I hope we’ll be sharing our experience of the risen Jesus with our new community. But for now, we’re still in transition from the ‘Good Friday experience’ of saying goodbye, packing up our belongings and watching the removal vans carry our whole life down the A303. Definitely time to light the candle, sit back with a drink, and reflect on coping with change.
As Jesus and the two friends were approaching the village, Jesus carried on walking, as though intending to continue his journey. But the two wouldn’t hear of it. They insisted, “You must stop over at our place tonight. It’s getting dark already and it wouldn’t be safe to carry on walking.” Jesus accepted their invitation. While they were enjoying their supper, Jesus took a piece of bread, thanked God, broke it and handed it to them. In that moment they realised who he was. Then he left them, but as they talked together afterwards, they said, “What an amazing experience! We should have realised when he was walking alongside us - no wonder we understood what the Scriptures mean for the first time!” So they left straight away and hurried back to Jerusalem, where they found Jesus’ closest friends gathered together. They all told the travellers, “It’s true, the Master has come back to life! Peter has seen him!” Then they explained how they’d met Jesus while walking along the road and recognised him when he broke the bread and shared it with them. (Luke 24:28-35)
Ending and beginning
Packing, then unpacking. Waving goodbye to good friends, then starting to form new friendships. Sorting out the debris of 25 years of married life, 35 years of public ministry and a lifetime’s assemblage of education, photography and collecting. My mother loved moving house. She found it liberating and exciting. It seems I’ve not taken after her, because for me it’s a disruptive, disconcerting process. Even though surrounded by our familiar furnishings and treasures, we’ve had to arrange them differently. Pictures hang in different rooms now, curtains drawn reveal new vistas - and we still can’t find what we’re looking for when we need it! But without going through this re-creation of our everyday experience, today’s joys would be at best virtual. The sun is warm through the patio door. Within 30 seconds of leaving the front door we look out on wonderful open countryside. Our part Saxon, part medieval parish church is only 10 minutes’ walk away. As a bonus Heather is much closer to her granddaughter! But new beginnings are only possible after unsettling endings and a process of change.
Many of you know me as an ‘Easter Day Christian’. I love the promise, the joy, the hope of Easter worship and celebration. But living in a new context this year has made me realise how Jesus’ resurrection was as disconcerting for his friends as his crucifixion. Downhearted and fearful of being identified as his followers, they huddled together in a rented room, heads below the parapet. They’d lost their friend and teacher, their Master, to cruel injustice. But then…. stories started circulating among them, as Peter and John, Mary and the other women, and now two more friends described how out of the blue they’d encountered the risen Jesus. In this so-familiar Emmaus Road narrative, the friends didn’t even recognise Jesus when he was explaining Scripture. Only when they invited him to share a meal did the penny drop. There was no stopping them after that though - despite impending nightfall they rushed straight back to Jerusalem only to discover their experience wasn’t unique. Jesus was never going to conform to limited human thinking about death being the end. As they would soon find out, nothing could ever be the same again - there was unbelievable good news to share!
In the darkness we encounter all around, the risen Jesus challenges our negative assumptions about the outcome. In a world of unpredictable, uncomfortable change he punctures our fearful reluctance to let go of whatever feels familiar. In a social environment rooted in self-interest, he beckons us instead to put others’ interests ahead of our own. And as we journey apprehensively into the future, we have only his promise that he’ll never let us go. It makes no more sense humanly than the resurrection itself. Except that ever since, the millions who’ve opened their eyes and hearts to the new life, the new opportunities that the risen Jesus offers, have never looked back. The risen Jesus punctured his friends’ assumptions and fear, but from now on this greatest of all good news never left their lips - and they walked the talk!
We’re only just starting to discover what lies ahead of us. But when we feel a bit down, the risen Jesus offers new hope. When we spend too much time on our own concerns, he opens our hearts to those in greater need elsewhere. When the future seems uncertain, he takes us by the hand and guides, sometimes hauls us forwards. And as you journey towards the future in Frimley, exactly the same will be true. Disruptive, discomforting, challenging for sure - but fulfilling, eye-opening and exhilarating in much greater measure! So embrace the opportunities, stay open to learning and growing, and enjoy the presence of the risen Jesus every day.
Apologies - I’ve way overrun my 900 words. Some of you have suggested I continue these blogs on my own Facebook page, so later on, if there’s something to say I might try that - let me know if you think that would be helpful. But before then I’ll take a break and clear my head for a short while. We’ll be praying for you as the next few months progress, that God will guide the right person to Frimley as Rector, to help you grow in love and faith as you serve the Frimley community. And we’re eternally grateful for the 8 years we spent with you in friendship and fellowship, as we ministered together to those around. You gave us an amazing send-off - we’ll never forget it! And your generosity and kindness will stay with us wherever the journey takes us. But for today - and for ever - we wish you all God’s blessing for a truly happy, joyous and hopeful Easter.
Prayer for today (sing it if you remember the tune!)
We will lay our burdens down in
the hands of the risen Lord.
We will light the flame of love as the hands of the risen Lord.
We will show both hurt and hope, like the hands of the risen Lord.
We will walk the path of peace, hand in hand with the risen Lord. Amen
(copyright John L Bell)