Monday, 13 July 2009

arks and churches

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of going to St Andrew’s Westcliff-on-Sea, but things didn’t go quite according to plan. The purpose of my visit was to hand out certificates to church members who had completed Getting to Know the Bible; an introductory course on how to read the Bible which we have developed for use in the diocese. I had also been asked to preach. Just before the service started the vicar’s wife Gill, who is a Reader at the church, fell over and dislocated her elbow and appeared to have broken her arm. An ambulance was called and Gill and Stuart, her husband, went off to hospital and I took over leading the service. Gill was released from hospital later in the day after having her arm put in plaster.

Members of the St Andrew's Getting to Know the Bible Course

It was great to meet a group of people who were excited about reading the Bible and discovering how it can nurture and enrich their Christian discipleship. This is the second group at St Andrew’s to take the course and more are planned for the future. The passage I was given to preach on was the Old Testament reading set for yesterday from 2 Samuel 6, the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant from Abinadab’s house to Jerusalem. It’s a tricky passage because as events unfold Uzzah, who touches the Ark during the journey, is struck down dead. During my time in the Holy Land last Advent I visited the site which Jewish and Christian tradition believes to be Abinadab’s house. There is a convent on top of a hill overlooking the Muslim town of Abu Gosh and the church is called The Shrine of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant. Incidentally, this is also believed to be one of the possible locations of the town of Emmaus.

Icon from The Shrine of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant

During my sermon I handed out copies of an icon from the church. The picture portrays the priests carrying the Ark using poles in the prescribed manner (unlike David who put the Ark on a cart) and above this are the figures of Mary and Jesus. Mary is portrayed as the new Ark of the Covenant; bearing the very presence of God in the person of Christ. I reflected on the contrast between the old Ark that no one could touch and Jesus, who spent his life touching and being touched by others.

Anyway, it was very encouraging to see a church willing to study the Old Testament in their main service of worship and prepared to wrestle with one of the more challenging passages. I really liked the way the people at St Andrew’s have developed the church plant, with a comfortable coffee area at the back of the church, and there are plans for a bigger community café to be built. The church, under Stuart and Gill’s leadership, is also developing their work amongst people with learning difficulties in the area.

No comments: