As the May blossom and spring bulbs give way to roses and summer bedding it is hard to believe that war has returned to the European continent.
We give thanks that Ukrainian refugees are already being welcomed to our small market town of Otley and let us offer what support we can to the hosts and their guests. We pray that peace will return to Ukraine and to all war-torn countries around the world.
As we enter the period between Ascension Day and Pentecost we are asked to take part in the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ prayer initiative. Let us join with fellow Christians in praying for the Kingdom.
Father, we thank you, not only for being our Creator, Sustainer and Saviour, but also through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension you have declared him to be Lord.
We thank you that because of Christ’s ascension his ministry to us is no longer restricted by the limits of an earthly life. Now he has been lifted up we can be assured of his presence with each of us at any time, in any place and whoever we are.
A recent programme on Radio 4 featured the poet and priest George Herbert. He lived from 1593 to 1633 and became an ordained minister near Salisbury after studying at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The last poem he wrote, sent as a handwritten manuscript to a friend and not published in his lifetime was simply called ‘Love’:
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:’
Love said, You shall be he.
I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, Who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.
It is an unusual religious poem, it never uses the word ‘God’ but simply ‘Love’. How would our faith change if we did the same?
Some four hundred years later, can we learn from George Herbert how to reconnect with God and with our neighbour? Do we need to phone the person we have grown distant from; do we need to write to the person we had a row with; do we need to say sorry to someone or tell them we love them? Have we stopped thinking about the moral consequences of how we spend our money; trash things too easily; forget those who are unseen; confuse compassion with justice?
In George Herbert’s words, “Teach me, my God and King, in all things Thee to see”.
A minister, Mark, used a recent personal experience to illustrate this. In 2015 he was asked to preach in the reconstructed Frauenkirche in Dresden. Returning to the railway station after his visit, the taxi driver asked him why he had wanted to come to Dresden.
Mark replied, “Because my grandfather was the navigator of a Lancaster bomber and I know that on 14th February 1945 he flew over Dresden as part of a bombing raid. He could never talk to me about it.” The taxi driver was quiet for some time then replied, “That was the night my mother died”. He pulled the taxi over, turned the engine off, then turned to Mark, put out his arm and said, “and now we shake hands”.
The taxi driver did what Love does in the poem, ‘smiling, he took my hand’. The taxi driver knew the facts, the horrors of that night. But he knew more; he had become wise. We can be loyal to the past but how can we be loyal to the future?
George Herbert knew when Love stretches out a hand, new life takes shape and a fresh answer to that question is opened up.
In all conflicts around our troubled world, let us pray that there are people who will be humble and wise enough to stretch out a hand in reconciliation.
Love and blessings,