We have just had a service to celebrate some of the music of the 1960s which can point us to God. I’ve had great fun, looking at black and white video clips and reliving music I first heard as a child (born 1961, so 9 when the 60s ended!). One song I kept playing was “Turn, turn, turn”, “written” by Pete Seager in the late 1950s and made popular by The Byrds who released a version of it in 1965; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCcFyR0MITQ
I say “written” because the song is almost all taken from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3; “There is a time for everything and a season for everything under heaven”. Seager invented the title and contributed the last line. Ecclesiastes consists of a series of meditations by a writer traditionally known as “the teacher”. He observes the world and ponders why it seems so arbitrary; the Godly and ungodly both ultimately die and their works pass away. In the final chapter, the teacher concludes with what can seem like a cry of despair: “Meaningless, meaningless… everything is meaningless”. But the book needs to be seen in context of attempts by religious leaders to make sense of Israel’s history; a depressing story of failure and foreign occupation. Time and time again, the thinkers concluded that the failure was due to a failure on the part of themselves; if only they tried to reform their religion, God would restore them. The writer of Ecclesiastes would not have this; whatever God was doing, he could not be won over by ever more heroic acts of worship and obedience. His message was that we had to live our lives in a muddled, fallen world where good and bad both happened and to follow God despite that. I think he would have understood Jesus as God coming alongside us in this world.
As part of living in a muddled, fallen world, it becomes hard to make clear decisions. This is perhaps the message of the lines in Chapter 3 that Seager took for his song. Some of the lines are disturbing; “a time to kill and a time to heal…., a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace”. To that last phrase, Seager added the words “I swear it’s not too late”, which in 1960s USA with the Vietnam war in full flow, touched a cord with many. And yet I think the teacher recognised a grim truth about a muddled, fallen world. On August 15th, we mark the 75thanniversary of the ending of the 2nd World War, with the surrender of Japan. Victory came at a terrible price; not only Allied lives lost but two atom bombs. But I, for one, wish to give thanks for the allied victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, for the courage of those who fought for right. The teacher reminds us that the generation of the 1940s were right to choose war over unjust peace.
This August we’re starting the very first Alpha online led by a team from our Diocese in Hereford. We know that lots of people have been exploring the big questions of life during lockdown and some people have been exploring Church online.
If you know someone who might be interested in learning more, please get in touch and join us on this journey by clicking the link below and selecting a date.
We look forward to meeting you.
This week, one of the chaplains at my place of work (Aston University), led a meditation on a story of how Jesus healed a man from leprosy. In this story, Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. This was a remarkable act; touching a leper would have exposed Jesus to risk of getting the disease. The leper would have been considered both physically and ritually unclean; by his actions, Jesus himself would also have made himself unclean. The story has particular resonance for this time of Covid, particularly with the unwelcome but necessary slowing of the release from lockdown announced over the last couple of days. It would have been the equivalent of Jesus kissing a patient with Covid. Nor was this an isolated event; we are told in the Gospels of other occasions where Jesus defied both convention and common sense to touch those he to whom he was ministering.
We are not Jesus; the one lesson that we most certainly should not draw from this is that we ought to abandon social distancing and rules on contact! To do that would be an act of self-importance not service. But there are two things that are worth our attention. Firstly, these stories remind us of the power of human touch. Touch can, of course, be unwelcome or threatening, but in the right context, it is a very powerful and intimate means of showing support. In this current period, its absence may remind us just how much we miss it. But what we cannot do, God does. This story reminds us that God reaches out and embraces all of humanity, whatever form their and our leprosy takes. Thanks be to God.