I returned today from the monthly National Settlement Team (NST) meeting. The food at Charney Manor was predictably excellent and on this occasion, crisp, bright but misty mornings provided an opportunity for a brisk walk to burn off something of the bread and butter pudding, treacle tart, rice pudding … If there was the usual and welcome glut of puddings there was also a glut of 'The Road to Emmaus'. I need to add quickly that this was no bad thing, on the contrary!
I blogged on this as part of the Easter Group blog at Hopeful Imagination back on 27 March. On Sunday, Stuart Dennis preached on it at his final service. On Monday in our opening prayers, Paul Goodliff, who'd read Sally Vickers, 'The Other Side of You', whilst on holiday in Tuscany, and has painted an intriguing picture with the title 'Who is the third who walks always beside you?' (quoting T.S Eliot, The Waste Land), spoke on it. And then Ernie Whalley, leading our worship on Tuesday morning, also chose this passage. Ernie picked up on a number of phrases but the one that really connected was 'But we had hoped that he would redeem Israel'. He continued by relating a number of stories of situations where seeming hopelessness has been turned round.
He spoke with personal experience about Northern Ireland and the unbelievable change which has come about in a province where sworn enemies in Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley have been partners in a new era of power sharing.
And Ernie went on to recount a recent trip to Dresden where he visited the Frauenkirche. This church, along with much of Dresden, was completely destroyed during the fire-bombing in the Second World War but reconstructed and completed in 2005 with money coming from international as well as German sources. Like the cathedral in Coventry it stands as a symbol of reconciliation, and what was particularly moving was to look at an image of the original cross which was discovered under the rubble and now stands within the church, slightly bent and misshaped but indomitable.
As we reflected openly together before praying, other moving stories were told. One of the gifts of being in this group is that quite often someone will say something which comes out effortlessly but is pure gold. My colleague Pat Took, who frequently does this, said something like, 'hope gives us grace to continue hoping in grace-less places'.
Referring back to a previous blog, (Hymns for the People, 15 March) I need to add that we sang some fine hymns: 'Praise with joy the world's Creator' from the Iona Community, and 'We shall go out with hope of Resurrection' to the Irish tune, the Londonderry Air.
Concluding with a blessing from Frauenkirche, Dresden, made it a meaningful encounter with each other and the one who walks always beside us:
May people and the angels always want to be close to you and care for you;
May the burden and bitterness of life serve to help you to grow;
May you be granted much joy, courage and hope,
May God hold you in His hands,
To protect you and bless you this day and always.