Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Quinquaguesima

Sunday 27 February 2022

Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

Having been struck down by COVID last week, I am glad to be back in Church and be able to preach once again
Despite the received wisdom that the country is now experiencing a “mild variant” of the virus
My wife and I experienced something very different
We were struck down with a very unpleasant dose
Which gave us very bad sore throats, headaches, fever and aching limbs
And took us out of action for ten days – I finally tested negative last Sunday
If ever there was a reminder that we still need to treat this virus with caution then this was the reminder we needed
Please be careful and remain vigilant
There are, inevitably, some very vulnerable members of the congregation
And we need to show love and respect to our neighbours –

However, when I eventually returned to work, I found that the Church was now fully open
I had planned to open the Church during the week in which I fell ill
However, the new lockable console was not yet secure, so the opening was delayed once again
When it did come however, the re-opening of the Church coincided with the lifting of COVID restrictions in England themselves
It was quite a co-incidence and felt as if an extra-ordinary chapter had come to an end
I first locked the Priory in March 2020 and we have had restrictions in place for the whole of that period
Just short of two years
However, this new found freedom, this new chapter, was to be short lived because another chapter was just about to begin
On Thursday morning, I awoke at 5am, as usual, and heard the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine
Having defeated COVID, we are now facing the very real prospect of having to defeat Russia instead
Having served with an Armoured Division myself and having invaded a country, illegally, lest we not forget
I have watched the build-up and subsequent invasion with particular interest
But I was no more certain than the next man as to Putin’s intention
But this weekend none of us are in any doubt
He has invaded sovereign territory in blatant breach of International Law and war is raging in Europe once again
But although there are signs that he is unstable, it must not be forgotten that Putin
Not only has a huge army but he also has the biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world
Furthermore, they are integrated into his conventional forces
Furthermore, as Sir Richard Shirreff said, if Russia puts so much as one boot into NATO territory, “we are all at war”
Boris Johnson has warned of “grim days ahead”
And the impressive James Heapy has warned of “bloody, brutal months” to come
And this is not hyperbole

It is always difficult to respond to political events as they unfold
And there is always the temptation for clergy to ignore such events not least because it is so difficult to respond quickly
However, the Archbishop of Canterbury did provide the “Thought for the Day” on Thursday morning
And he pointed out how difficult this situation is for all of us
Not least those who have to make political decisions
As he predicted, politicians will call for “resolution and courage” in this crisis
And he implored all of us to try and seek a way forward based on “peace and justice”
The Archbishop referred to the words of Christ shortly before his death where he told his disciples not to be worried about the future
As it says in chapter 14 of John’s Gospel
“Do not let your heart be troubled
Believe in God, believe also in me. I am the way the truth and the life”
He also said that we need to find a solution “in the knowledge of the eternal arms which hold us”
These were noble Christian sentiments in the face of adversity

However, although I was very impressed with the Archbishop’s swift response to the crisis
Another thought crossed my mind
And that was the liturgical season in which we currently find ourselves
Even though I have been absent for the past two weeks, I am very conscious that we are in the period of what is known as the “Gesima’s”
These are the three weeks which precede Lent and are variously called Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima
These Sundays have been abandoned by the Roman Catholic Church and were not included in the Alternative Service Book either
However, they are retained in the Book of Common Prayer
And are special to us
Not least because these Sundays are designed to prepare us for Lent
Which, in turn, is designed to prepare us all for Easter Day

And so on this Sunday when we are, unbelievably, watching a war breaking out in Europe once again
We face the prospect of being thrust into another period of national darkness
Another Lenten period in the wilderness
We are reminded of this in our Gospel reading this morning when Christ speaks of being “mocked, insulted and killed”
The words seems so apposite in this crisis
But as Christians, we are all familiar with Lent and all that it entails
And should always be preparing ourselves for Lent –
Because it comes to each and every one of us in some form or another
But the readings this morning also remind us that that God will “never again destroy all flesh”
And that “on the third day he will rise again”
And so on this last Sunday before Lent, let us prepare ourselves once again, for the darkness which may be about to unfold
But as we prepare ourselves once again, we do so knowing that we are secure “in the knowledge of the eternal arms which hold us”

In the name etc