High days and holidays. It used to be holy days, but for those of us from unchurched background, it is the holidays that are important. We celebrate Easter with hot cross buns, chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies.
As children we loved pancake day, but pitied those who had to give up chocolate for Lent. But recently Laura spoke to the children about giving up for Lent, but suggested an alternative might be to give something to the Lord in these days leading up to the celebration of the death, and of course, the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
I was blessed this year to be able to give some special time to attend a retreat from Monday, leading up to Good Friday, ‘Journey into Easter.’ As always, I received far more than I gave.
Our venue was Nicholaston House. Gower has been described as one of Britain’s best kept secrets, but Nicholaston House, overlooking Oxwich Bay is one of God’s beautiful open secrets, a place of refreshing, healing and Christian fellowship. Less than an hour’s drive from Porthcawl, it has proved a haven for me since I have been widowed.
‘In this place I will give peace,’ is God’s promise as we enter in through the door, and we are soon at home with spirit, soul and body well cared for.
Stuart Bell, with his wife Pru, late from St.Michael’s, Aberystwyth, led our meditations. He prayed over us Paul’s prayer in Eph. 3:16, that we too might know the width and length and depth and height of God’s love.
After beautiful times of worship, where Anne with her violin and Diane on the piano, led us so beautifully, Stuart based his meditations on Jesus’ life in this last week of his life before he died on Good Friday, as God’s Passover Lamb.
Monday, he emphasised the height of his love; his tough love as he confronted those in power by cleansing the temple.
Tuesday we considered the breadth of his love; his expectant love as he cursed the fig tree because it did not meet his rightful expectation of fruit.
Wednesday our meditation was the length of his love, love which loved and gave, yes, even Judas, every opportunity to repent, as Jesus knelt to wash the feet of his disciples, - yes, even his: love which was enough to save the thief on the cross: his jealous love, which looks for our worship and was so blessed by those who anointed his feet with their fragrant offerings.
Thursday, Maundy Thursday we thought of the depth of God’s love as we came to the Passover meal which has become a memorial meal of such significance for us; God’s deep, mysterious love.
And so we came to Friday, yes, Good Friday, but bloody Friday.
Through the week our meditations had been interspersed with other activities. There was no view of the bay as we arrived, for the clouds were covering us. Tuesday morning, and still no sign of the sun so Sylvia was hoping for plenty of volunteers to help with banner making in the afternoon, but the sun came out, the beauty of the country side called and she was left with just two whose legs seemed no longer made for walking. (I must confess one of her elderly volunteers was not much help (me of course) but with Pam’s faithful help they produced a meaningful banner by the end of the week, of a cross, adorned by a crown of thorns and the letters L O V E added, representing the length, breadth, depth, and height of God’s amazing love.
Tuesday evening Stuart had a night off when his wife Pru showed us an old black tin box which had held the archives of her great grandparents who had died as martyrs in the terrible Boxer rebellion. She held us enrapt as she told how the story of her ancestors had come alive to her; of how eventually she and Stuart had been able to visit the very village where this tragedy had occurred.
Pru refrained to tell us of the miracles that were part of their story as she wanted to whet our appetites to buy her book, ‘Lives from a Black Tin Box.’ I recommend it, but it is not for the faint hearted.
Wednesday was a very special evening as we had a Seder meal together, complete with wonderful Jewish cooking, where we were instructed not only in the Jewish traditions in which Jesus would have shared, but all that evening must have meant to him and now to us.
Thursday evening we followed the Stations of the Cross. Modern portrayals had been placed around the house and we walked from room to room, reading the appropriate scriptures and pausing for prayer and meditations. We ended in the Celtic chapel for our final mediation, and after reaching the climax when Jesus cried, ‘It is finished,’ we all remained in silent worship, but then one and another struck up meaningful hymns and we knew our songs were giving joy to our Father in heaven.
Good Friday morning we had a wonderful time of worship, and sitting silently in God’s presence was a special blessing. Stuart gave his final ministry before we blessed each other by sharing these special symbols of the bread and the wine.
Paul tells us that we are not to judge those who keep special days as holy, or those who know that every day is holy to the Lord, but Easter is still a holiday that is recognised in our secular society, and for me it was a wonderful opportunity to leave my phone, computer and television behind and seek the Lord in a special way, so I felt I should share this special blessing. I am hoping to book in for next Easter, and if the trumpet has not yet sounded, maybe we who live in South Wales could meet there?