Last Winchester Magazine Article

This is my last column before journeying onto pastures new in central London, and I’m writing as the church makes its own spiritual journey through the austerity of Lent to the desolation of the cross, and beyond… The Hebrew figures of Abram and Sarai feature in our readings as God calls them to become migrants, “Go from your country and your kindred”. They’re to be unsettled, to be stirred up. It’s a story demonstrating that we cannot fit God into our existing way of life but we are called be changed to fit into God’s life. Physically they are called to change, to get up and move. Spiritually they are called to change, to be, as Jesus says, “born from above”. As a symbol of spiritual change they each receive a new name. They become Abraham and Sarah.

Before God calls them to change, they are barren; this harsh word encapsulates the shame of childlessness at this time. It’s only by moving that and changing their identity that they become fruitful. Not only with children but God also promises, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. By moving they experience fruitful blessing and become a blessing to others in turn. On the eve of personally moving and during the church’s journeying through Lent, what can be gleaned from this ancient tale?

Anglican Christians proclaim in their creeds a belief in the resurrection, while often passing over belief in death before resurrection. It’s striking that the centre of John’s vision of a new Jerusalem, in the Book of Revelation, is “the Lamb who was slain”. In this post-resurrection vision of Jesus, the scars of his torture and death are clearly visible. A reminder that, for him and for us, a new way of living can only be achieved if we die to the old way.

We’re all called to die to an old way of life. For some this will be location, the need to travel, for others this will be a sense of identity, similar to a change of name when entering into a marriage. It’s in change that opportunities come and in bereavements that we learn new insights. Abram and Sarai had to die to their home and their security, and it was only then that they could fully experience God’s action in their lives, leading them on, building them up, blessing them and enabling them to be a blessing to others. It was enriching but also confusing and painful.

For me, now I have to die to my Winchester life, while giving thanks for the blessings and friendship that I and my family have experienced. There is both a sense of loss and excitement with new opportunities. The parishes of East Winchester and St. Faith’s are also experiencing loss but God calls us into an exciting and fruitful future. Change is unsettling, as old comforts are swept away, but new insights will help to reveal the future into which we are called.

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