Good Friday 2021

I mentioned in my Maundy Thursday 2021 post that my music of choice on Good Friday is Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It selects itself, and still has the power to shock and move the human spirit. 

For Good Friday this year, I simply share some of the German libretto with an English translation. See also here.

40 Chorale

Bin ich gleich von dir gewichen,
Although I have strayed from you,
Stell ich mich doch wieder ein;
Yet I turn back once again;
Hat uns doch dein Sohn verglichen
Your son has settled the account for us
Durch sein’ Angst und Todespein.
Through his anguish and death agony.
Ich verleugne nicht die Schuld;
I do not deny my guilt;
Aber deine Gnad und Huld
But your grace and favour
Ist viel größer als die Sünde,
is much greater than the sins
Die ich stets in mir befinde.
I find constantly in myself.

51 Recitative [Alto]

Erbarm es Gott!
Have mercy, God!
Hier steht der Heiland angebunden.
Here stands the saviour, bound,
O Geißelung, o Schläg, o Wunden!
O scourging,o blows, o wounds!
Ihr Henker, haltet ein!
You executioners, stop!
Erweichet euch
Are you not softened by
Der Seelen Schmerz,
The soul’s agony,
Der Anblick solches Jammers nicht?
The sight of such misery?
Ach ja! ihr habt ein Herz,
Ah yes! You have a heart
Das muss der Martersäule gleich
That must be like the post used for torture
Und noch viel härter sein.
And even far harder still.
Erbarmt euch, haltet ein!
Have mercy, stop!

65 Aria [Bass]

Mache dich, mein Herze, rein,
Make yourself pure, my heart
Ich will Jesum selbst begraben,
I want to bury Jesus himself within me,
Denn er soll nunmehr in mir
For he now within me
Für und für
Forever
Seine süße Ruhe haben.
Shall have his sweet rest.
Welt, geh aus, lass Jesum ein!
World, depart from my heart, let Jesus enter!

For God so loved the world

This week’s Sunday devotional is a reworking from part of a previous online worship service in preparation for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter. Bible Reading: John 3:14-21

This Bible reading contains one of the most well-known verses from the New Testament: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

But the short passage we shared is not the whole story, you might like to read the whole chapter for context. It had no mention of Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night seeking answers to his questions and no mention of being born again.

Instead, the teaching of Jesus is linked to the story of Moses in the wilderness having to deal with a discontented people found in Numbers 21:4-9.

Life used to be better for them, but now they have left Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses they have achieved freedom. They are no longer slaves. This was what they longed for, the fulfilment of their hopes. But now they are hungry. What food they have is boring. It’s not like the good old days in Egypt when at least they had good, interesting food to eat. The memories of their hardships have faded and all they know is that their bellies are empty and life is tough.

They are and should be people who are journeying towards a high destiny. They’ve been called by God for his purposes. They must reach out to the future and not dwell in the past, particularly on unrealistic memories of the past.

Moses is told by God to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten by a poisonous serpent looked at this bronze serpent they would live. For many centuries this symbol has been used by those involved in healing and health care as their sign. One of the explanations of this clearly links it to the story in Numbers.

The symbol is still used widely today and maybe part of what it’s intended to convey is that health and healing are gifts. It was God’s gift of healing to an undeserving people, a rebellious, complaining, petty-minded people. Here it was a gift that would help them to become what they were capable of being, God’s chosen people that now includes all who name Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

In the Bible reading (John 3:14-21) Jesus refers to this passage from Numbers and sees it pointing to his own destiny. The Son of Man will be lifted up and whoever believes in him will have eternal life.

This is a recurring theme in the gospels, that believing is what brings about the change in people and in their situations. Believing is the gift of God, the grace of God, and with that gift of grace all sorts of things become possible in people’s lives.

God loved us so much that he gave his only son. But that’s in the past tense, it needs to be in the present tense, because the activities of God are always in the eternal now. God loves the world so much that he gives his only son. That love is from eternity to eternity and nothing can separate us from that love.

Norton High Street

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

Sometimes we walk up and down the High Street, enjoying its wonderful feel and character. I took the above photograph on a fine day at the beginning of February 2021. I’m hoping to take a collection of photos in the near future which reflect its history and variety, I’ll post them here in due course.

Norton High Street (not to be confused with the High Street in Stockton) is the main thoroughfare through Norton and is a leafy street of some considerable length that is full of charming 18th century houses and it is worth a stroll for those with a passion for old houses to pick out some of the best ones. Some are occupied by pleasing outlets and places to eat. You can read more here.

Norton High Street is very special to Naomi and I because we met twice for coffee and cake in Cafe Lilli and Cafe Maison before our first proper date in 2013. Both are worth a visit after the coronavirus lockdown.

See also: Norton Duck Pond and Norton Parish Church

Norton Duck Pond

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

The Duck Pond is part of the Village Green and is surrounded by mostly Georgian houses and cottages. It’s beautiful at anytime of day or night, season or weather.

I found this interesting story while researching the history of the village: The village was once the site of a market at a spot called Cross Dike, near the pond. The market was established in Norman times but this ceased operating around the time of the Civil War in the 1640s. One story is that the market established by Henry II and Bishop Flambard of Durham was to operate on the sabbath and this offended God who caused the markets to collapse by swallowing them up with the sudden opening up of the ground by some kind of earthquake that then allegedly formed the village pond. You can read more here.

Thankfully, we can visit the Duck Pond in the current coronavirus lockdown, reminding us of the need to appreciate what we have around us.

See also: Norton High Street and Norton Parish Church

Submerged (Cousin Silas)

Having finished writing about my favourite albums of 2020, it’s time to turn to 2021. Submerged by Cousin Silas is my first favourite album of 2021. These are some wonderful ambient soundscapes in which to immerse yourself and release your imagination. You can stream and/or download the album here.

Cousin Silas writes: Abandoned villages, for me, are fascinating places. The lost history, the forgotten lives and the long gone murmur of rural life. What I find more intriguing, however, are those select few villages that have been lost with coastal erosion, or abandoned due to the valley where they were situated being ‘converted’ into reservoirs. In some cases parts of the buildings occasionally, during droughts or low tides, emerge. Urban legends of bells tolling from the old church, be that submerged or managing to breath again as the water slowly recedes.

All seven tracks are named, and partially inspired, by submerged villages. Obviously there are many more across the UK, but most featured are relatively ‘local’, or at least in Yorkshire and there’s varying degrees of information about them on the Internet. Who’d have thought you could learn history whilst submerging yourself in music? Bandcamp

You can see all my favourite albums of 2021 by clicking here.

See also: Lost (Cousin Silas)

Norton Parish Church

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of Norton, Stockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

I took the above photo of the church on a recent walk. Like most churches, it’s very photogenic, and a beautiful building inside and out. You can find out more on the church website where there are some excellent Christian resources.

The church was built as a place of worship and protection in about 1020 CE and so is just over 1,000 years old.

St Mary the Virgin, the ancient parish church that stands on the village green, is the only cruciform Anglo-Saxon church in northern England. Its crossing tower with eight triangular head windows has a battlemented top of later date, and there is a 14th-century effigy of a knight in chainmail.

Residing under the church floor there is claimed to be an escape tunnel used by the Saxons and priests when in danger, though it may be a drainage culvert. The tunnel leads under the church floor and Norton Green, eventually surfacing in the Albany housing estate. The church floor was recently renovated and Saxon remains and artefacts were discovered in the tunnel entrance. Wikipedia

See also: Norton Duck Pond and Norton High Street

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January), often abbreviated as WPCU. It involves Christian communities from across the world and from almost every denomination.

There are many different Christian churches and denominations, but all have the same basic calling – to worship God, to share the good news about Jesus Christ, and to work for the good of all people. So they often need to work together, as well as co-ordinate the work they each do separately. When they do, they are acting as Churches Together. But being Churches Together means more than that. It means commitment by each church and denomination to deepen its fellowship with the others and, without losing what makes each interestingly different, to work with them towards a greater visible unity.

To help the churches live as Churches Together, a number of small organisations have been created to ease their way. There is one in almost every town or community to help them to work together locally. There are others in the regions and for each of the four nations of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England. There is also an umbrella organisation in the UK, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), from which I have obtained the above information. Additionally, there is the World Council of Churches.

You can find helpful resources on the CTBI website, including for WPCU below:

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2021

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2020

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017

07/06/20 How are you?

black and white photography on man in black coat

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, just as you are progressing spiritually. 3 John 2

‘How are you?’ we ask. And ‘fine’ comes the reply. But what are we really asking? And do we actually want to know, anyway?

Some years ago, I said ‘How are you?’ to a mentally disturbed man in church. With rare honesty, he responded, ‘You don’t want to know’. ‘But I do’ I protested (perhaps less honestly). ‘Well, look at your feet’, he replied, and I realised that I was walking past him even as I mouthed my automatic question.

Many languages have formulae for greeting, with questions about one’s neighbour’s family, animals, work, travel, sleep, eliciting standard responses. They oil the wheels of everyday life in society.

But what kind of interest in others might we convey in those short exchanges while travelling, on arrival at work, at the school gate, in the check-out queue or (when we get back) in church?

The apostle John, writing to his ‘dear friend Gaius‘, expressed three heartfelt wishes. First, that his friend should have good health. Second, that everything in his life should go well. Third, that his spiritual life should continue to thrive. Three wishes on the physical, circumstantial and spiritual planes.

We appear to think almost entirely about people’s health when we ask ‘how are you?’ Sometimes we scarcely wait for the expected answer, but that little answer ‘fine’ may veil a newly diagnosed cancer or a marriage on the rocks. ‘Fine’ may veil a lost faith or a broken heart.

If we genuinely care for others, we must be interested in their whole lives, in the issues they are facing in their families and in their work. Do we also have courage, with our Christian friends, to ask ‘How is your relationship with God?’

We need to pray for people on all these three planes like John, and when we write to people we need to ask after all these aspects of their lives. But in our everyday greetings, too, may we try to find ways of encouraging others by expressing a genuine concern for things that are going on in the deeper recesses of their hearts and minds.

26/04/20 Bible Thoughts

brown book page

Just some Bible thoughts this Sunday, when we would have been uniting in worship at Wallsend with North Shields and Shiremoor Corps, rather than a full online meeting. This is neither an apology nor excuse, merely a reflection of the kind of week I’ve had in lockdown. I’m simply doing what I can and not what I can’t. My hope and prayer is that these thoughts will be an encouragement to you, as well as stimulating your own reflections and thoughts. God bless you, Major John Ager.

Bible Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

One of the corps I was appointed to in the past had the following mission statement, this was its raison d’être: To put Jesus first and grow as Christians, through Bible reading, prayer, worship and fellowship. To share God’s love and forgiveness, especially through loving service in the local community.

That was and (as far as I know) still their purpose as a church and community centre; the focus of that group of Christians, both individually and collectively. It’s important to have focus and purpose as a fellowship of God’s people. Yes, I know businesses have mission statements, and the church is not a business; but the principle still applies. Having a defined focus helps us to be better Christians.

The church is currently unable to meet because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and some of the things that are essential are not able to happen in the normal way. Having said that, the church is finding new ways of doing things, although nothing can fully replace the actual meeting of people in a place of worship. Collective worship and fellowship are a vital part of the Christian life. Whilst many people say you can be a Christian without going to church, I disagree.

Watch the beautiful (although actually sad) song I Am A Rock by Paul Simon and pay particular attention to the lyrics.

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December
I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island

I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island

Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

The words are very telling, we need each other. The lyrics of this wonderful song are actually the very antithesis of what it means to be a Christian. Yes, we can be hurt when we tear down the walls we build around ourselves, because we become vulnerable. But, as Christians, we follow one who became vulnerable for us, and when we open up to him we open ourselves to the love of God and others.

As we gather together again for worship and fellowship, at some yet unknown date in the future, we may have to reassess our overall vision.

As Salvationist poet Will J. Brand once wrote:
…so much we deemed essential is forever left behind.

See also: No man is an island (John Donne)

Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend

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Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend is a beautiful place to walk with some wonderful facilities, although these are not open in the current coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, it wasn’t possible for Wallsend Churches Working Together (WCWT) to hold their annual Good Friday commemoration and worship (with Wallsend Salvation Army band) in the bandstand this year.

Fortunately, we can still walk in the park and enjoy its beauty, and that’s just what we did as a family on the afternoon of Easter Sunday 2020. The northern end of the park is very close to where we live. Naomi concentrated on photos of our children, I focussed on nature. The above picture is a composite of the eight photos I took on a cloudy day.

Note: Many thanks to my friend and fellow Salvation Army officer Mark Kent for processing the photos for me.