I hope that you are keeping well both physically, emotionally and spiritually in these testing times. In many ways we are simply called to obey a simple instruction – stay at home and save lives. But suddenly being separated from physical contact with loved ones (including our church family) is hard. Staying in all the time can get very claustrophobic, all the more so if you have a small home and no or very limited outdoor space. Suddenly being with our nearest and dearest 24/7 can try our nerves. And we can all fear and worry what will happen to us, and what will happen to our loved ones should we or they catch COVID-19. Sadly, we will all know people who will get it, and very sadly we will all know people who will get seriously ill, and in some cases die.
If you are struggling in any way with any aspect of this, PLEASE don’t struggle alone. If you’re struggling with practical tasks, ask and we will put you in touch with someone who could help. If you’re struggling with the isolation or could just do with a chat, please pick up the phone. Your clergy are actually less ‘busy’ than normal at present, with the usual run of activities, meetings and so on suspended. Of course, there is childcare to juggle, and you may need to leave a message. But do so and I’d be delighted to call you back.
I am writing this letter as we enter Holy Week and Easter. In this week, we plumb the depths of our human callousness and rejection of God – and the immensity of God’s love. We know the Christ who reveals himself most powerfully in giving up his life for us on the cross. And from that unconditional sacrifice of self, God raised him to new life, and opened for us the gates of his everlasting kingdom. That kingdom life we can share now by the Spirit, even as we wait for the day when it comes in its fullness, when death, disease, hatred and sin are forever gone and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Holy Week and Easter will be very different this year, but many of us will have more time to be with the Lord in prayer and reflection, united in spirit with Christians around the world. As many of you have discovered, I am doing what I can to make Sunday and Holy Week services available via the internet as well as daily prayer. The principal services for Holy Week will be:
Maundy Thursday 8:15pm
Good Friday 10:45am families, 11am Way of the Cross, 2pm Good Friday Liturgy
Easter Day 10:45am families, 11am Eucharist
You can find all this at www.facebook.com/allsaintsclayton . You don’t need a Facebook account to access the page or view the videos. You can either watch live or catch up once they’ve finished. The 11am service on Good Friday will be special as many individuals have recorded themselves reading lessons or reflections.
If you go to the All Saints’ website www.allsaintsclaytonlemoors.org you will find the orders of service for the main services, together with the readings and prayers for each Sunday.
You can also find services on BBC Radio every Sunday and there will be religious broadcasting on the TV over Easter as well as lots of material on line.
I pray that when Easter comes, despite the fact that we won’t be in church singing Alleluia, despite the fact that we won’t be gathering with family or watching children hunt for eggs in the garden or any of the other things we’re used to, we will still know the joy in our hearts of the truth that Christ is risen, that love has conquered, that ultimately there is nothing to fear.
With my love and prayers, now as always
A pastoral message from the Bishop of Blackburn:-
It is extraordinary that a virus that was unknown until very recently and that is unseen to the naked eye, has been able to have so much impact on so many people in such a short space of time and at so many levels of our national and international way of life.
Schools forced to close, acts of Christian worship suspended, workplaces shut down, restrictions advised on travel, unprecedented pressure on our NHS, calls for self-isolation. Who can imagine a Holy Week and Easter, proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus; events at the centre of our faith, without public gatherings of worship, meditation, celebration and prayer?
Into this crisis Christians bring a positive emphasis of hope. Church is not cancelled; we continue, but in a different way. Faith can be lived out and expressed in our homes through prayer and study together.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy 2.9, he speaks of his suffering in prison, being chained like a criminal, locked down and then declares:
“But God’s Word is not chained, the work of God goes on relentlessly. The gates of hell cannot prevail!”
Of course, in a crisis opportunities to serve and help are multiplied. A recent visit to the Blackburn Foodbank showed me a band of wonderful volunteers making up food parcels for collection.
In the slow down, there will be new time for rethinking and re-evaluating our priorities in life.
This outbreak is a solemn reminder that we are not in control of our present, or our future and my prayer is that it will lead to a fresh turning to God, to a new awakening of faith and over the Easter period a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That using the familiar words of the baptism and confirmation service, sees many turn to Him, submit to Him and come to Him, as the way, the truth and the life.
The disciple Peter said to Jesus when the crowds were leaving Him, “To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He does indeed. May in this crisis many find that to be true.