Our Opening words, loosely translated, come from Matthew 16: 24-26
If any person would come after me, let them pick up their cross and follow me. For whoever would save their own life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit an individual, if they gain the whole world and forfeit their own spiritual life?
Good morning and welcome to the read along service. My thoughts and heartfelt wishes to you
May this time that we spend together bring a closer connection to the sacred.
I begin our service today in the usual way by lighting the chalice and you may like to light a candle where you are too.
In every darkened corner there is a chance for the light of love to shine. Serving as a beacon of hope, reminding us of the spirit of love, truth and liberty.
Divine spirit, help us to come together and be present in this space for a short time of prayer and stillness
We come together in this moment to give thanks for all that we are and all that we have and we are reminded of the love, compassion and generosity of our own hearts and those of others.
We bring our fears, anger, confusion and our brokenness to be healed.
May we seek to find the peace within our inner selves.
May we give ourselves the gift of our union in this gathering.
We invite you to listen to some, or all, of this piece of music.
There is no question over what we are being asked to do in out opening words, which is echoed by the words of St Charles of Sezze:
“The sacrifice the divine wants of us is to die to ourselves.”
We are being called to give everything, without holding back. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the lengths to which we are being asked to extend ourselves. Whatever we chose to believe in, whether that is what we could call a religious faith or a spiritual sense of something good in the world, the answer will be the same. As we put ourselves aside and follow a path of love, compassion and righteousness then our gift in the spiritual sense will be so much bigger than anything material that we wish for or believe will bring us happiness.
Christ does not mess around with words here. We can scope and change the quote all we like but we are called to love with a special kind of devotion. Lose our own selfish desire and wants for the sake of others rather than forsake others for the desires of ourselves. Well that’s just a wee small ask isn’t it ?!
All those months ago, back in March when spring was beginning to be a real possibility, the early shoots were showing themselves, many of us were holding our breath as an unknown virus worked its way across our waters and began to make its devastating path across all areas of our lives. Lock-down began with an overnight change in the way we lived, I’m sure in times to come it will be one of those moments that we recall where we were when we heard, or saw, our prime minister giving us a clear instruction. It will become to be known as a defining moment in our history.
Stay at home – Protect the NHS – Save Lives
Pick up your cross – acknowledge the sacrifice you are being asked to make, put others first.
We did well, we made alternative plans we shared our Tesco slots, queued up at the local shop to pay our neighbours tv license, we got busy sewing scrubs or volunteering at the food banks, we wrote letters, watched old tv programs, cleaned out cupboards.
For some little changed – work was moved to the spare bedroom. For others the patience of saying for the umpteenth time “wear your mask wash your hands” began to wear thin.
For some of us it was the sacrifice of not seeing our family and friends and for others we had no choice but to stay in and rely on others to help. For yet others it has been a life changing time – the loss of a job, unable pay the mortgage, no money for food they find themselves queuing at the food bank or requesting a food parcel.
Even those that seem to be relatively unscathed have been touched by this time.
We have all been doing our bit and we celebrate this. For some it was getting out of bed in the morning, making a cup of tea keeping the inner demons at bay taking prescribed medication. Or risking a trip into the outside world, or getting to grips with zoom! We have all made sacrifices.
Our first reading comes from ‘The chad’ an online northern newspaper and was written by the journalist David Bell in April 2020:
“The Derbyshire village of Eyam has never been shy making capital from its famous plague heritage where a unique exercise in self- isolation was played out with such tragic consequences 355 years ago.
During the bubonic plague outbreak of 1665, the population of Eyam agreed to be locked-down voluntarily to prevent the spread of an invisible killer disease. The story of the Eyam plague began with the arrival of a consignment of cloth and second-hand clothes from London, where the disease had already killed 30 per cent of the population. In the London consignment there were fleas from infected black rats carrying the deadly plague bacteria.
A tailor’s assistant called George Viccars was said to have opened the delivery unwittingly stirring the disease-ridden fleas. He became the first of the plague’s victims in the village some 10 days later.
The pestilence, as it was known, began its unrelenting surge through the community. Between September and December 1665, almost 50 villagers died
and by the following spring with more deaths – and increasing alarm – many were on the verge of fleeing their homes and their livelihoods to save themselves.
It was at this point that the newly appointed vicar, William Mompesson, intervened. Believing it his duty to prevent the plague spreading to other towns and cities he sought to quarantine Eyam.
However, as if persuading his flock to sacrifice their lives was not difficult enough, he had another problem – Mompesson was already deeply unpopular with the villagers.
Realising he would need help, the vicar decided to reach out to his popular predecessor Thomas Stanley in the hope that together they could persuade the villagers to make a huge sacrifice.
Mompesson persuaded his parishioners that the village must be enclosed, with no-one allowed in or out. The Earl of Devonshire, who lived nearby at Chatsworth House, had offered to send supplies if the locals agreed to the plan.
By the end of the outbreak, 260 of the village’s population of 350 were dead. 79 out of 90 families recorded the death of an immediate family member. The plague outbreak however had been contained after a 14 month long grim struggle.
The Eyam Plague Story has endeared itself to the British public with its stirring accounts of personal sacrifice for the greater good. Two pandemics – one historical and another current – both strangely with powerful parallels of lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation.”
Eyam in 1666 showed the value of love, compassion, togetherness and leadership; all powerful traits the majority of us have taken on in the current pandemic.
We take some time together in reflection So please take moment to get comfortable where you are.
We think back over the last few months and acknowledge to ourselves the impact that this pandemic has had upon us and the sacrifices that we have had to make as individuals. They may be large or small, significant or hidden. They may have been acutely painful and frightening, or life changing and as we sit in this stillness, we acknowledge all we have done.
We acknowledge the sacrifice our loved ones have made during this time, looking after us or other family members, working in difficult situations and/or long hours.
We acknowledge the sacrifice of people that we may have seen once or twice – the bus driver or the shop assistant, the post person. We take time to think about how their lives have been impacted by the pandemic and what has changed for them. What they have had to do without.
We think about those that perhaps we don’t get on with, we have fallen out with, or those who occupy positions of power with whom we have not seen eye to eye. We acknowledge some of the sacrifices they have made at risk to themselves – long hours of working distanced from their family. Difficult almost impossible decisions for the greater good.
We think about people across the world, carers, parents, cleaners, drivers, surgeons, neighbours, new borns and the elderly, and we acknowledge their sacrifice.
We acknowledge the global sacrifice that so many billions of people have made over these 6 months.
And we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
Great spirit of life and love as our time of refection comes to a close we come together in prayer.
A prayer for all that walk this earth, as we are all teachers and students in this great universe, no greater no less.
In April 2020 Steve Ford wrote an article in the nursing times which like other articles in a similar vein has led to an enquiry about the sacrifices and impact on BAME members of our society.
Here is an extract:
“The country must not forget the sacrifices you make while the rest of us are in lockdown. The growing list of nurses and other health and social care workers who have died from Covid-19 is rightly in the media spotlight. Although not all the deaths can be conclusively attributed to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) we can say with a fair amount of confidence that a significant proportion can. The list also reinforced to me how disproportionately people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are losing their lives, including many originally from the Philippines.
Every death from Covid-19 is a tragedy, but people from BAME backgrounds in general seem to be overrepresented in the mortality figures, a trend now being recognised at national level. The government launched formal review into the impact of coronavirus on people from BAME backgrounds, including staff, comes too late to save lives…. people from BAME backgrounds were at a “greater risk” from coronavirus because these communities were more likely to have “a number of comorbidities”, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sickle cell, thalassemia and lupus and they were being chosen to work on coronavirus wards more so than their white colleagues.
The pandemic was “shining a light” on the inequities and among the names on the memorial list is Donald Suelto, whose body was found at his flat in London around 10 days after he was sent home to self-isolate and five days after he last contacted his family. Nurses were very much skilled professionals doing their job, but in challenging conditions and recognition of that sacrifice, and of the skill, professionalism and courage required to do your job in unprecedented circumstances, must be a key legacy of this pandemic.”
Sacrifice the ultimate death of ourselves to help another who we may not even know. In our reflection many of us may be feeling good about what we have done and how we have behaved during lockdown. Others of us may feel rather uncomfortable, the extra journey we made which wasn’t necessary but we justified it then pushed it aside. For some we may feel we made so much more of a sacrifice than others. It’s not a competition and yet there is an uncomfortable truth that some make more sacrifices than others just because of what colour of skin they are born into.
Michael Beckwith – a spiritual leader from the US talks about the two-fold apocalypse we are living through. That of Covid 19 and racial inequality. It may sound extreme but he goes on to explain that Covid 19 is bringing about the end of way of living we have been used to, the death of the old and thereby making the way for a new way. This pause has led to the lifting of the veil and a small window of opportunity for the world to wake up to a new consciousness.
We may have thought crikey I’ve done enough sacrificing for one year, for one lifetime, now let’s just get back to some sort of normal … Most of us will have the opportunity to do so especially after July 4th when the landscape of us lives will become a little more familiar – a pint in the local, perhaps a holiday, a BBQ with friends, a return to the office and there is nothing wrong with any of these desires. They are part of the fabric of our society and yet we are being asked to make more sacrifice – perhaps the hardest of all we have been through in recent months. Because the difference of this sacrifice is not about staying in, not seeing others, the 2 or now 1 meter’s rule. This is the inner sacrifice, the death of our old ways of thinking, of being, of operating. A chance to look deeper, to take inventory or stock of our beliefs and thought processes, and a deep willingness to behave in a more conscious way.
The apocalypse he says is here – now what? I was reminded by the lyrics of Gill Scot Heron in his song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (for some of you this will be what I was listening to in my late teens and early twenties!)
The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers
The revolution will be live.
Everything has been brought to our living room especially during the pandemic. We have no escape. Its 24 seven and there are images that sum up or can be defined as a moment in history when things changed. In 1945 there was image of Atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’ as it is dropped on Hiroshima – the final death toll stood at more than 1400000. On Feb 4th 1968 the then live televised images of South Vietnam’s chief of National Police, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, executes a Viet Cong operative in Ho Chi Minh City – one of the most prominent images to fuel anti-war sentiment at home. In 1989 An unknown man blocks the path of tanks in Tiananmen Square, China. Which struck a chord for its David-and-Goliath-like image of defiance. In 1993 David Carters depiction of the famine-stricken South Sudan, showing a vulture stalking a starving black child. On 27th May 2020 footage of the death of George Floyd , a black man murdered on the streets by a white police officer goes viral igniting a world-wide protest of the inequalities of Black lives .
George Floyd is not the first black person to be murdered in cold blood on the streets. He’s not the only black person in a so-called democracy whose rights have been left wanting.
We cannot un-see what we have seen, we cannot un-hear what we have heard, we cannot un-read what we have read, we cannot erase the strings in our own spiritual consciousness of what is so un-holy, so un-sacred, but it takes great courage to stay in that uncomfortable place. We are a mix of seeing the possibility of change, fear of the decay of the old world and the changes that will bring, and a pull to distract ourselves. Covid came to our shores, although back in January is was happening to someone else. We had to wake up fast and acknowledge that we weren’t separate from recent events in America are occurring here.
Perhaps those that have died at the hands of police brutality, perhaps those that because of the colour of their skin have not been given the same opportunities as others, have been the sacrifice for us to open our eyes. Perhaps those black men on the estates of north London who have been arrested on suspicion due to the colour of their skin are the sacrifice for us to see our privilege. Perhaps those that march despite the risks of the pandemic are the sacrifice for a greater movement of change.
And we are left with the question of what we do – in lock-down we were given a set of instructions for living!
Our spiritual lives give us daily sets of instructions for living and in the words of Mandiba:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
We stand, we sit, we think, we reflect on our own lives and those that came before us.
We open our minds to transform our ancestral world, challenge what has gone before us and what now needs to come.
We stand and accept our own inadequacies our own privilege.
We do what is ours to do.
And in the words of Jesse Jackson:
“Never look down on anyone unless you are helping them up.”
May you go in love, in peace and in greater awareness and willingness to serve.