Jubilee Reflections – Rev Dr Phil Wall
In some ways, it is a little odd that we, as a non-conformist church in Wales, are celebrating the Jubilee!
Of course, some of us might be royalists; others republican – some of us might admire the Queen’s life of service; others might question her parenting skills…but however we feel about Her Maj, one thing that can’t really be questioned is her faith…
“Jesus’ simple message of love has been turning the world upside down ever since his coming,” the Queen once said. “He showed that what people are and what they do, does matter and does make all the difference…” She continued. “It does matter therefore what each individual does each day. Kindness, sympathy, resolution are infectious. Acts of courage and self-sacrifice …are an inspiration to others. And the combined effect can be enormous…. We may feel powerless alone but the joining efforts of individuals can defeat the evils of our time.”
She said that back in 1974…back when the UK Government was struggling to handle Russian expansionism, division in Northern Ireland, and a growing energy crisis. How times have changed!!!
But, along with the truth that the problems of the past seldom leave us entirely, what I think the Queen’s words there say is that every person has dignity, worth, and an ability to make a difference in the world even through the smaller acts in life. All of which reminds me of a certain teetotal vegetarian from west Wales and his final instruction to ‘do the little things’!
That’s what we’re called to do and that’s what I see in our community time and time again. The card sent to cheer someone up; the phone call made to check someone’s okay; the cup of tea made at craft and chat, the fish and chips served at guild, the Kit Kat, Twix, biscuit – and whatever else Vena’s prepared for the elders – all tokens of hospitality, all symbols of kindness and love. So today, as the Queen celebrates 70 years of service, let’s be thankful for the little blessings in our lives as we, too, ask God to bless others through the little things we might do for them. We’re going to pray our thanks in a moment.
Along with our prayers of thanks, we’ll ask for forgiveness for the times we’ve been too busy or tired or
distracted to do the little things that can make a huge difference in the lives of others. Here’s what the Queen said about forgiveness in her1984 Christmas message:
‘Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families; it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.’
Let’s feel that power now as we say thanks, sorry, and I forgive you.
God of all blessings, source of all life, giver of all grace: at this time of celebration, we thank you for the many blessings of this day. For the air in our lungs and the food on our plates; for music which stirs the soul and stillness which calms the mind; for parties, picnics, and the people with whom we’ll share them.
We thank you for this day for the gift of life. For another day to love and be loved, another opportunity to work for justice and peace, another invitation to be soaked in your grace.
We think too, of those who have little cause to celebrate today. For those who are suffering in mind, body, or spirit; for those who are anxious about rising prices and heating concerns; for the people of Ukraine, the women of Afghanistan, for all who endure oppression in its various, insidious forms.
We pray for trust, peace, justice, mercy, healing and forgiveness…that they may be sown amongst us. We are sorry for the times when we don’t make space for these in our lives. Sorry for the times when we deny your love or ignore your call to serve. Sorry for the times we retain forgiveness from others or ourselves.
So forgive us good God, and help us to forgive others. As you scatter the mist from the hills, banish all shame and fear from our lives. Help us to believe that, as the children of your love, we are free to begin again; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So…should we really be celebrating this?! That’s what some have said about the Queen’s Jubilee. That’s what some have said about the Jubilee of the United Reformed Church, which we celebrate this year, too. You see, whilst some want to celebrate what the United Reformed Church has achieved over the years – a history of including women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups. Ecumenism and inter-faith work; An intercultural emphasis, divestment from fossil fuels…the list could well go on.
But others – many of them ministers on Facebook, I’m told – suggest that we should be lamenting, not celebrating! For our ecumenical dream appears to have failed – our congregations are declining and churches, as we sadly know only too well, are closing. What’s to celebrate, some ask? Well, let’s re-read those verses from Luke, which Jan read at the Celebration service form here, as heard on the BBC this morning (and on BBC Sounds in case you missed it!) –
Reading – Luke 4: 14-21
That’s one of my favourite passages from scripture for so many reasons – not least the spot the difference you can do with the passage from Isaiah that Jesus is quoting there – but it’s getting on and those cupcakes aren’t going to eat themselves so let me try to be brief!
When Jesus said those words in the Temple – when he declared good news, liberation, the year of Jubilee – life didn’t look particularly easy or celebratory. Not initially, at least. In fact, those of you who know your Bible well will know that Jesus’ time in the synagogue ended with a large crowd trying to throw him off a cliff! Which is a strong reaction to a sermon! Of course, Jesus’ way of love ultimately did lead to a revelation of hope for all humankind…but not before he faced death. Not before he told his disciples that they too must pick up their cross and follow him.
Being followers of Jesus does not mean we can avoid death, or loss. The Queen knows that well enough as do we. It is right that we mourn. It is right that we admit any failures of the URC, acknowledge any losses we face, grieve any deaths. But the gospel tells us that the story doesn’t end there. For we are told that God is with us in those shadowlands and guides us through them. We are told that God’s grace is bigger than our foibles; God’s love is stronger than death. We are told that the day is coming when those mourning will be comforted, peace and justice shall kiss, and God will be all in all.
So we might celebrate the Queen’s reign, knowing that it will soon be at an end. We can celebrate the achievements of the URC, knowing that it faces many losses too. We can celebrate the wonder of Castle Square, knowing that it will close yet also believing that the welcome given, the grace offered, the good news declared here have changed lives and will continue to do so through memories shared, friendships enjoyed, love given and received.
For whether we meet in this building or others, whenever we gather in two and three’s – there the love of God will be glimpsed TODAY. When we invite others to a party, when we hold another in grief, when we offer a listening ear or an encouraging word, there the love of God is discovered today. When forgiveness is given, when forgiveness is received, when we do those little things we talked about earlier – there the love of God is enacted today!
Alongside the losses, then, we have SO much to celebrate for nothing today or tomorrow, foreseen or unexpected, in this life or the next can ever separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus which informs, reforms, and transforms us with Every. New. Day. If that’s not a reason for a party, I don’t know what is! Amen.