Our minister is Reverend Kim Stilwell
For a Minister, Easter brings many different responses, from feelings of anxiety and weariness because of the busyness of Holy Week, to the sheer joy of the Easter Day celebration, to the bitter sadness of Good Friday.
Looking back, perhaps the most moving service for me, and I know for a number of others present, was the reading of the Passion of our Lord according to St John on Good Friday morning. It was simply the retelling of familiar words interspersed with familiar hymns and music and some appropriate images - and yet there was a real feeling of the Spirit at work as the events seemed to unfold in our presence. It reminded me of the post-resurrection story of the two disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus who reflected: "Didn't our hearts burn within us while he opened the Scriptures to us!"
I am frequently struck by the way that a bible passage that I have read or even preached upon many times before can carry a fresh "punch" - the real experience that the words are a "Means of Grace" as Mr Wesley would have it - a vehicle for God to speak to, and to bless God's children.
This month we move steadily towards Pentecost and will shortly be delivering the "Experience Pentecost" programme. This is a fantastic opportunity as some 390 children from 13 different schools will come through our church (as well as the Elim church and St Laurence's) to hear the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit. How blessed we are to have so many local schools open to helping children learn about the Christian faith! And what a great testimony to our oneness in Christ that the churches are working enthusiastically together on this project!
Please pray that the Pentecost story comes alive for those children as the Passion story did for us on Good Friday. Pray too that we all may experience a fresh and personal sense of God's life-giving Spirit at work in our lives as we come to celebrate Pentecost ourselves. On that occasion morning worship in Ludlow will be led by our District Chair, Rev Rachel Parkinson - so there is much to look forward to!
It was Ludlow's "turn" this year to host the twice-yearly meeting of the District Presbyteral Synod - a time for Methodist Ministers to gather, to rededicate ourselves to following our calling, to share in Holy Communion, and among other work to remember those who have died in the last 12 months.
This year with great sadness we remembered the ministry in our Circuit of Rev Chris Hardy, a young man who, after just a few months in appointment, collapsed and died. It was a great tragedy which was reflected upon in a subsequent Memorial Service at Pontesbury.
In the morning worship at Synod, our Chair of District Rachel Parkinson asked the question "How do you spend your Holy Saturday?" Not many rushed to give a response, quietly and ashamedly thinking that it's a very useful day to draw breath between the frenetic activity of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. It's time to polish off a sermon, or catch up on a bit of shopping. But perhaps that day more than any other symbolises our human condition - that state of being in the in-between times.
We witness tragedy, loss, decline, destruction and injustice and find ourselves exactly in the place of Jesus' followers as he is taken, a lifeless broken body to a tomb, and dreams are shattered. Why did it have to happen this way? What hope have we now?
Chris's churches and his colleagues have no answers to the 'why?' question. And the emotions are still raw.
And yet, as is heard in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, there is the germ of a thought that God's work isn't over yet - there are rumours that the tomb is empty.
For Chris's churches there are ideas of his still to be taken forward, and there's a new sense of urgency and perspective as his death upturns their priorities and old ways are challenged. God has not abandoned them. There are blessings to come if they remain faithful.
All this reminds us that we are on a timeline - of which we glimpse only a small part. God is with us - whether we feel in the midst of Good Friday suffering, Holy Saturday doubt and confusion, or the beginnings of Easter Sunday resurrection. The Easter story prompts us to revisit the truth that the timeline leads to a renewed heaven and earth where every tear will be wiped away and God will be known in our midst!
May God bless you with a fresh confidence in Him, all through this Easter
"Mountain-top" experiences are, to me, God's gracious gifts to recall and provide assurance when faith is at a low and God seems afar. They may come in a variety of places - a scene of outstanding beauty, a new-born baby, a sublime piece of music, a hymn sung or a piece of poetry, a garden or a holy place.
The bible records an experience of Peter, James and John as they were privileged to witness a mysterious event with Jesus and a presence of Moses and Elijah on a mountain-top - an event we call the Transfiguration. Peter wanted the experience never to go away, offering to build shelters, but Jesus leads them back down to begin the journey toward his gruesome death in Jerusalem.
I have sometimes reflected on why this story is read on the Sunday before Lent - what's the connection? There are, no doubt, a number of possible answers, but one which helps me is to do with how we use Lent.
Our lives can seem to inhabit two worlds - the world we experience in worship or prayer, and the world of our daily living with all its joys and hardships. "With all the worry and pain in the world today," the thought goes, "how I wish I could stay on the mountain and escape the real world." But the task of the faith journey is to bring the worlds together - to bring holiness to daily living and to bring daily living to God. To realise that there are not two worlds but one creation, and to fill the perceived gaps that we have mistakenly fabricated.
What better time to make advances in that task than Lent? - perhaps giving something up which draws us from God (idolising chocolate, for example!), perhaps doing something positive to bring holiness to the world, perhaps focussing more on those tasks positively aimed at making connections between the "two worlds" - frequent conversation with God, listening to God's word in scripture, finding God in fellowship with others. Aiming for wholeness as well as holiness.
Lent is a tremendous opportunity to grow as we connect our mountain-tops with the valleys of our daily living. May our faith journey this Lent help us in that task.