Thought for the month
During the early weeks following Trinity Sunday, the church remembers several important participants in the Gospel story. On 24 June, we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and the ‘forerunner’ in preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. And no fewer than three of Jesus’ twelve disciples (learners or followers), whom Jesus sent out to be ‘witnesses’ and so named ‘apostles’, are celebrated at this time: Simon Peter (29 June), Thomas (3 July), and James the Great, son of Zebedee (25 July).
Christ having said to Peter “on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16.18), it’s perhaps not surprising that Petertide is a favourite time for ordinations, and this year we celebrate the ordination of Valerie Walker, who will be our new curate, which takes place on 27 June.
This month we celebrate Pentecost, the event that marks the start of the explosive growth of the early church. Forty days after He rose from the tomb, Jesus ascended into heaven, as we read in Acts 1. Ten days after that, the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem for the Jewish harvest festival that was celebrated on the fiftieth day of Passover. While they were indoors praying, a sound like that of a rushing wind filled the house and tongues of fire descended and rested over each of their heads. This was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised by God in Joel 2:28-29.
Suddenly empowered to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ, the disciples went out into the streets of Jerusalem and began preaching boldly to the crowds gathered for the festival. By a miracle of the Holy Spirit they were heard speaking in the native languages of the crowd who had gathered from all corners of the Roman Empire. This created a sensation. The apostle Peter seized the moment and addressed the crowd, preaching to them about Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. The result was that about three thousand converts were baptised that day.
Read the account in Acts 2:1–41. Better still, join with us in celebrating the birth of the church.
The Paschal or Easter candle is an ancient symbol of the risen Christ and commonly used in churches during the Fifty Days of Easter. It is a very large white candle, the largest and tallest of all sanctuary candles. Paschal candles are always inscribed with a cross, the current year, and the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, signifying that the Lord is present in His church now in the present year and forever in eternity.
We light our Paschal candle from the “New Fire” at the Easter Day service and place it in the sanctuary. According to ancient liturgical tradition, it shines continuously throughout the Fifty Days until it is finally extinguished on Ascension Day after the reading of the gospel.
After that, it is placed near the font and is lighted at baptisms to remind Christians that in baptism we are crucified and raised with Jesus. The candle is also lighted at Christian funerals as a reminder that those who die in Christ are raised up with Him.
Join us as we celebrate our Saviour’s rising from the grave, and the new and eternal life this assures us.
Christ’s redeeming death on the Cross took place at a particular place and at a specific time in history, but it is an event with roots in humankind’s beginnings, and with continuing consequences. A crude and brutal Roman cross of wood, yet one that has been described as “casting a shadow that reaches as far forward as eternity, and as far back as the Garden of Eden”.
In our picture, the wall is mostly in sunlight, and the Cross is not directly visible, but we know it is there; we can’t ignore it; it won’t go away. This season of Lent is a time to think about its impact on our own lives. One encouragement for regular Bible-reading, provoking some challenging thoughts, is the series of Lent Reflections from Andrew Herbert of Kinghorn Parish Church, made available through the Scottish Bible Society. And in Rosyth there is an ecumenical Study Group: details are on p25 of the current Contact newsletter, which also contains (on p16) thoughts on the origins of some of our practices during Lent.
It’s not surprising that the image of the shadow of the cross recurs in much Christian art, and you may have heard Paul Oakley’s song:
In the shadow of the cross
Let everything fall into place again.
May that song be our prayer as we move toward Easter. Do join us throughout our preparation.
Many of our rituals, whether of daily living or of worship, have lost much of their original meaning over the years. For example, hot cross buns are now available all year round, instead of being specially baked just for Good Friday. But the ritual used on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, the six weeks of preparation for Easter, still retains its ability to bring us up short by its starkness and simplicity.
The priest marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross, which the worshipper traditionally retains until it wears off. As the ashes are being applied, words similar to Genesis 3:19 are said: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As Giles Fraser puts it in his article “Intimations of mortality”, in these days when we have lost the art of speaking plainly about death, the liturgy for the beginning of Lent remains one of the most powerful proclamations of mortality.
But ashes are symbolic of penance as well as mortality and mourning, our Christian use of ashes deriving from the ancient Near Eastern tradition of throwing ashes over one’s head as a way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults. Originally a sign of private penance, very early on in the Church’s history ashes became part of a public ritual at the start of Lent, although the use of ashes made from the palm branches of the previous year is more recent – only 12th century!
So we prepare for Easter by remembering both that we all must die and that God wants us to repent, so that he can forgive us and give us eternal life. Do join us throughout our preparation for Easter.