Private Prayer: Supervised private prayer will continue to be available in this coming week on:
•    Sunday 5th July 2pm-4pm: St Cuthbert’s Haydon Bridge and All Hallows’ Henshaw
•    Wednesday 8th July 2pm-4pm: St Cuthbert’s Haydon Bridge
•    Thursdays 9th July 10am-12noon: All Hallows’ Henshaw

Public Worship: We are working very hard to be in a position to reopen for public worship in the benefice next Sunday 12th July. When the plans are in place I will be writing to everyone to outline how these first steps will work. As we do so we ask everyone to think very carefully about their own safety and no-one should feel compelled to return to our church buildings if they do not feel ready. Recognising that I can confirm that the current pattern of online worship and weekly mailings will remain in place for at least the next two months complimenting the worship we are able to offer in our church buildings.

Online worship: The reflection was used as part of our weekly Sunday service of Morning Prayer which you can  view on our Facebook page or on the video below. We continue to say Morning Prayer at 9am and Evening Prayer at 6pm every day on our Facebook page.

Matthew 11: 25-30 

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It is often said that there are no atheists in a lifeboat. This throw away phrase can colour much of how many assume the experience of faith works. The assumption is that, for some, faith only comes into play as an option of last resort, a last throw of the dice. When everything else is lost and we’ve run out of options, we turn to God; after all what have we got to lose. What this quip about the lifeboat highlight is the reality that we often see; that people seem to come to faith at a point of crisis and personal need. 

This understanding of faith can frame some of the surprising information which is emerging through this period of lock down. We are gathered in this form because we cannot be in Church. For many this has been a sadness and a sign of retreat. But the statistics would seem to suggest otherwise. Far from disappearing from view the Church and faith have seen something of a resurgence in this time.

Anecdotally colleagues have spoken about the numbers and breadth of people who have engaged with their online church offerings. You might be listening to this service having never attended traditional church before. And the figures back up this reality as we hear that 1 in 4 people has watched an online service in this country since lock-down began. Equally Google searches for the word “prayer” rose by over 50% as lock-down set in. 

Academic studies of this fast-moving phenomenon fall back on the assumptions we often make about faith, that people are drawn to faith at times of need and uncertainty. As one study rather coolly stated: 

In times of crisis, humans have a tendency to turn to religion for comfort and explanation. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

However, our Gospel reading today offers a different explanation for what is going on. The problem with the existing explanations of why people find faith in a crisis is that it assumes that God and faith is one of a number of options humans might turn to at a time of need. What it does not allow for is that God might have a say in all of this.

Today’s reading from the end of Matthew’s Gospel finishes with those great words of comfort and reassurance:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Read purely through the frame of human need we can imagine how such a vision appealing to those who have run out of all other options. But this misses the point of what Jesus is saying. 

In this passage Jesus is not offering a lifeboat, rather Jesus is speaking of who it is that God’s message is directed towards most clearly. In the preceding verses Jesus speaks of how we receive the message God is sending to us. The message comes, Jesus says, from the Father to the Son, and then from Son to those who are ready to receive it. So who are those who are ready to receive it? Well not who we might expect. It is not the educated or the affluent who receive it, not those with theology degrees or natural advantage. The message is for those who are weary and carrying burdens. There is, Jesus says, something about those who are in most need who are most open to the message that he is revealling to us.

Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus teaches his great Beatitudes. In those wonderful words it is not the rich or clever or fortunate who are Blessed. But blessed are the meek, blessed are the sorrowful, blessed are the poor in spirit. There is, Jesus says again and again, something about those most in need that makes them most open to the message he brings. Not because they have run out of better options, but because in their need they have recognised that the things we think ought to prop up us – our wealth, our station, our advantages – might not be what we think they are. When we find ourselves at a moment of need what actually happens is that all the noise of our busy and self-important lives falls away, and then suddenly and unexpectedly and joyously we can hear truly and deeply the still small voice of God’s love for us.
What Jesus is telling us is that we come to faith through our need not our desperation. It is only when all the baggage of life is stripped away that we become open enough, vulnerable enough, to hear God speaking to us.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The coming months if not years will be a time of great challenge for our society. We have not yet begun to calculate the economic, social, and psychological cost of this time of lock-down. Through this time I pray that the church is able to respond to the needs of the weary and heavy laden so that they might hear God speaking to them. And as we re-emerge into old and familiar patterns of life I pray that those of us fortunate to have opportunity and advantage will not forget the deep gift of this time when the things we thought mattered fell away for season and we were open, like no time before, to hear deeply and truly God’s message of love for the world.

Questions for reflection through the week
•    What burdens would you like to put down at the moment?
•    What former burdens have fallen away during this time? 
•    How might you/we travel with fewer burdens in the season to come?

Collect for Fourth Sunday of Trinity
Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus
you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will,
that we may find all things restored in him,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Please keep in your prayers: 
Lesley, Archie, Dorothy, Sheila, Margaret, Carolyn, Allan, Mandy & Laura & Matthew.