Rector's Letter for November
DEAR SISTERS AND BROTHERS,
Allegedly Vladimir Putin has taken up letter writing. In an age when computers can be hacked (and he would know about that!) the old-fashioned letter has the capacity to keep its confidentiality. Letters tend to be specific and often part of an on-going dialogue with people we already know. Most of the letters in the New Testament are of this sort. One isn’t. It’s Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome and has this line in his opening paragraph; ‘To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Romans 1.7)
I love that description; ‘Called to be saints’. November starts with All Saints’ Day. It is the day when we are invited to hear again that vocation to a life of holiness, a life where the grace of Jesus infiltrates our very being. This year, All Saints Day falls on a Thursday and we invite you to come and join us at the altar, to hear the scriptures and to receive the sacrament.
On Sunday 4th November, in the evening, we will hold our annual service of commemoration of the faithful departed. Our journey through life involves love and loss and at the service we hold before the Lord, in love and thanksgiving as well as in sadness and grief, those whom we love but see no longer. There is still time to write names of people on the lists at the back of Church. My own ministerial experience has been that often perplexed people write names down and then don’t come to the service itself. I don’t know what the practice is here in Bury but can we encourage you to honour those whom you hold dear to your heart by coming to this service at 6.30pm?
Our whole nation will be caught up in observing the centenary of the Armistice at the end of the First World War. Remembrance Sunday will have a very special place in many families this year. Huge thanks to those who have put in such amazing effort to prepare our Church as we host a number of events over this weekend. The Church looks utterly amazing. The centenary, of course, does not mark the end of the war. It marks the cessation of hostilities. As such, it is a reminder that ending open conflict and creating lasting peace and reconciliation are different tasks and involve quite different methods. We fall into disagreement all too easily. It takes great patience and humility, heroic effort and amazing grace to fashion a future which all can embrace, which respects difference and enables any form of meaningful resolution. As we honour those who died in that first global conflict, we best pay them respect by investing ourselves and our nation in building a future that is indeed ‘fit for heroes’. We encourage you, this year, to come not only to the Parish Eucharist but to stay and welcome our Civic leaders and veterans to the Remembrance Sunday service on 11th November. Do note the other activities around this weekend.
If our month begins with one high note (All Saints) it ends with another. The final Sunday of the year is known as Christ the King and reminds us of the destination to which we, who are called to be saints, journey. We journey to our King. Our whole year, from Advent, through Christmas, Lent, Easter and on into Trinity time, is a spiritual pilgrimage, inviting us to see afresh the love that God has for us and shows us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
One of the great contemporary bible scholars, Tom Wright, has spent time trying to help Christians understand the writings of St Paul. One of the insights he shares is that we should see Jesus as being the fulfilment of the Jewish hope that God would reconcile (there’s that idea again) heaven and earth through the one he appointed Messiah (the anointed one, or more simply, King). So, the final Sunday of the Christian year is when we gather to worship Jesus as our King, king of our own lives and king of the creation.
Some Christians are weirdly and inconsistently selective about which Feasts they observe. There are some who come at Christmas but don’t mark the beginning of the Christian year at Advent. There are some people who come to Church on Easter Day and avoid Good Friday. Why do we do any of this? I am not advocating a sort of priority list when it comes to attending worship. The pattern of the early church that we read about in 1 Corinthians 16, that Christians worship weekly, is the benchmark for all Christians today. Christ the King, which we mark on 25th November, both rounds off one year and invites us to start afresh, as disciples of Jesus, into the new year.
‘Called to be saints’. That’s you. And me. May God bless us as we plunge into this month, it’s highs and lows, its celebrations and its periods of deep reflection. May this November renew our sense of God’s presence in history, our own and our world’s.
With love and prayers,