In our Holy Habits home-groups, we are starting on the topic of Biblical Teaching. At the time of Acts 2, none of the New Testament books had been written, so they were being taught by the Apostles and this teaching was later written down in the pages of the New Testament.
Much of this teaching explained how the Old Testament was pointing to God’s Messiah and how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies.
Jesus himself read from Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth and claimed that He was the fulfillment of it (Luke 4:21).
This would have been dynamite to the Jews. All through the gospels, you can see the excitement building with its climax in the Acts as people became convinced of Jesus’s identity as God’s promised Messiah, and the church spread like wildfire, despite ferocious opposition.
Why should we place so much importance on Biblical Teaching, rather than on church tradition and authority, on our own spiritual experiences, or on our own unassisted reasoning?
It is because it tells people what they need, but do not want to hear.
How many attempts have there been to discredit, twist or soften the words of the Bible, so as to avoid the conclusion that we each of us need the forgiveness of sins that only God can grant through the barbaric means of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross? Do we ourselves soften the teaching, because we are afraid of making ourselves unpopular or ridiculous? We would never have come up with teaching like that on our own.
The Bible is precious treasure, and we need to be on a lifelong quest to learn its secrets. It is how we come to know God and receive life from Him.
After the success of our Christmas Experience last December, we again invited two classes from the local Primary School to visit the church to engage in an Easter experience.
With the help of friends from St. James’, and from Act4, five people hosted groups of children in various parts of the church building to explain the elements of the Easter story with stories and craft activities.
Each child took home a paper carrier bag containing the things they had made and a bag of small Easter eggs!
From conversations at the school gate the following day, the children had gone home and told their families all about it, showing them what they had made and telling them about the Easter story.
Watch C.S. Lewis' timeless adventure The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on the big screen.
We’ll watch together and wonder afterwards about parallels to the Easter story, how C.S.Lewis (and this film) managed to tell it in such a different way.
Saturday 13th April, 6.00pm at Chingford URC.
Bring your friends!
Bring popcorn and your favourite drinks.
Why go along with Holy Week? Why would it be really good to follow Jesus into the chaos and pain of his last days on earth? Why would we do that?
It’s not “fun” (or is it? Palm Sunday might still be okay; some churches use a donkey!). It would be a lot nicer to just leave that whole week out and skip over to eggs and Easter.
Problem though is that the bit before Easter is actually pretty fundamental to followers of Jesus.
Without at least scratching on the deep emotions and experiences of desolation that Jesus (and his disciples) must have gone through, our Easter joy will not be too profound. And if our Easter joy is not too profound, maybe that’s a sign that our faith might not be too deep either.
So maybe it would be a good idea to go along with what the churches offer, and see if some of it touches our heart and connects us to our real-time life experiences here? Which in turn would bring God a lot closer to our senses and make him/ her somewhat more real.
Palm Sunday has a great deal to do with the psychology of masses, with their wish to idolise but then to turn around and claim the opposite, if influenced that way. Where are we in that crowd?
Maundy Thursday is the Quiet Day at St James' – a good opportunity to take time out and reflect, whilst being safe from having to talk… And the joint evening service at Chingford Methodist Church, where Jesus’ Last Supper will be remembered, where some disciples will share their thoughts and memories in meditations and where some feet (or hands) may be washed. Can we allow ourselves to be served that way?
Some churches have a wake through the night into Good Friday, they watch and pray with Jesus and the disciples (who, of course, nodded off…). If you can find a church that follows this ancient tradition – this would be a very deep experience of a different kind, lonely, probably, and yet connected.
Maybe see if you can find someone who has ever done this sort of prayer.
And Good Friday: quiet and probably evocative morning meditations in our churches, followed by the walk of witness in Chingford, this year on the road, carrying the cross publicly, handing our Easter eggs with little Easter greeting notes to people in shops and streets. Then a short act of worship on Chingford Green.
How does it feel like to show up to this and publicly be associated with that Jesus of Nazareth?
The Saturday can feel quite empty after all this. It’s time of waiting. Time in limbo. Hushed Easter preparations, getting everything ready for the big day.
Whoever can, do go and find a church which celebrates the Easter Vigil: A worship often starting at 3am in darkness, Easter fire in front of the church.
It is such an experience: in the liturgy being carried through from the creation of the earth (darkness) to the making of humans and the first sin (apple, disobedience) through the history of Israel and her prophets to the birth of Jesus, then his death and finally, with the arrival of the Easter light from the outdoors fire, the spreading of light to all candles, and an immense awe and joy goes round.
The victory of life over death, of light over darkness, of love over hatred is thoroughly celebrated, sung, admired, proclaimed. Then Eucharist and breakfast.
Our reformed Easter Sunday is a bit of a slimmed version of this. We do it in a non-conformist-way, the other way around: breakfast, Communion, worship.
What matters is the joy. What matters is the deep laughter, the relieved giggle that life has triumphed over death.
This is soul food, our core; Jesus lives, God loves his world, and we have experienced it! We are experiencing it, it flows on from us to others.
I really hope and pray you go to worship this Holy Week – if not here, then wherever you are.
Yours, in Christ,
From Eating Together, we are moving on to our second Holy Habit: Prayer.
Again, there will be an Introduction service into this habit in each of our churches, followed by a deepening of the habit by our house group meetings and a follow-up worship on the theme led by Revd June Colley.
Much to look forward to, to try out, to learn and re-learn.
Please do try and join one of our house groups. They are open to anyone! Just contact the host or facilitator. Please see dates and contact below.
Group 1 (TBC)
Group 2 (Tues 9 April at 10.00am)
June Colley (Host & Facilitator)
020 8529 5403
Group 3 (Weds 17 April at 10.00am)
Audrey Mendham (Host)
Jean Wyber (Facilitator)
020 8504 2447
Group 4 (Date TBC)
Sandra Millan (Host & Facilitator)
020 8529 0071
Group 5 (Tues 9 April at 7.30pm)
Eileen and Geoff Packe (Hosts)
Margaret Brown (Facilitator)
020 8524 5223
Group 6 (Mon 8 April at 10.30am)
Gerald & Mariana Lee (Hosts)
St James URC, Buckhurst Hill
Isabel Bala (Facilitator)
020 8504 3543
Group 7 (Date TBC)
Heather Nicholaou (Host and Facilitator)
020 8529 9280
Group 8 (Sun 28 April March at 5.00pm)
Helen and Kevin Haigh (Hosts and Facilitators)
0208 524 8003
There are a number of paradoxical ideas in the bible, which have caused considerable head-scratching for Christians, for example, the idea that God is one God and three persons and that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.
Throughout the Bible, there are a number of indications that God is fully in control of everything that happens, and that therefore, God chooses which of us will be Christians, and which of us will not.
At the same time, we also see a strong emphasis on the importance of our choices and that we will be held responsible for our actions.
So, which is true?
Since both ideas are clearly expressed, we must hold these two, apparently contradictory truths, in tension with each other. If we do not, we miss out on important implications that are vital to our faith.
In Exodus during the plagues, we sometimes read that Pharaoh hardened his heart e.g. Exodus 8:15,32 and sometimes we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart e.g. Exodus 9:12,10:20.
In Job chapter 1, we are told that Satan has to ask permission of God to inflict suffering on Job.
In Matthew 10:29, we read “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father”.
In Romans 8:29-30, we read “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
For me, this is comforting, because, it tells me that if I am truly a Christian, there is nothing that can change that fact, and God will keep me spiritually safe, even though I get things wrong, so often and in so many ways.
It has been a pleasure since the New Year to get to know the new Hall Manager at St James', Gerald Lee, and his wife Mariana. Gerald is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church and has already been called on to lead worship and a Lent Group session.
Gerald was ordained in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1991 and was a Youth Pastor at the church where Val and Dale Gravett were members.
Gerald and Mariana first came to England in 1999 with their two teenage children (now grown up and married with children themselves), and for a time Gerald was based in Guernsey, while Mariana was working in England.
However in 2014 they settled in England running a coffee shop in Clapham whilst living in High Wycombe. Mariana has a background in catering so there were home-made cakes! Eventually the strain of the hours and travelling became too much and they sold the business.
They then spent time in France and Spain, hoping to set up a retreat house, but when things didn’t work out, they finally returned to England.
When Dale and Val decided to retire to Lincolnshire they mentioned to the church that Gerald might be interested in the post of hall manager at St James’ and everybody is delighted with the outcome.
We look forward to many happy years of working together in the mission of the church at St James’.
It was probably the unusual title that first attracted me to sign up for this 24-hour retreat - and as it was at The Royal Foundation of St Katherine in Limehouse, I knew it would be interesting.
The retreat was led by Ivor Moody who is a Dean at Chelmsford Cathedral and very interested in the potential link between secular music and “the sacred”. It is Ivor’s belief that there is a very deep meaning in many popular songs that we as Christians often miss.
For this retreat, Ivor developed an extended reflection/ meditation on the Emmaus Road story, using well known popular songs as markers to illustrate various aspects of the story.
We began to read the story of Cleopas and a companion walking deep in sorrow and confusion away from Jerusalem, not really listening to the questions the stranger was asking them about recent events in Jerusalem, so bound up were they in their bereavement.
Who would have thought “Don’t let me be misunderstood” sung by Nina Simone would have echoed so much of that conversation?
We then worked through a total of six songs, including “Message in a Bottle”, “Blowing in the Wind” and finally “Let it Be” before we ended this really insightful meditative study 24 hours later?
Within our own prayer and quiet time we were asked to draw our own Emmaus Road, charting the highs and lows of our own faith journey and at a final Eucharist, we laid our papers alongside each other, showing the uniqueness as well as the similarities of our own journeys.
Seeing that road stretched out across the beautiful Chapel was a special, serene moment for us all.
Ivor has written a book “Songs for the Soul” which can be used as a six week course - possibly next Lent?