Last Sunday was the final one of the current Church year, when we celebrated the feast day of Christ the King. Next Sunday is Advent Sunday, the first day of the new Church year. Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. In anticipation of this it should be a time of reflection and repentance leading into the joy of Christmas.
In the Diocese of Oxford in this coming year we shall be focusing on the Beatitudes, preached by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.1-12) and at the beginning of his ministry. We are called to be the Church of the Beatitudes, contemplative, compassionate and courageous.
The Beatitudes are inspirational but, using them as a foundation, we need to move beyond them to learn from their context in the Bible. We also need to know, as a Church and as individuals, how we can respond to them in a practical way in our day-to-day lives.
If the Beatitudes set out Jesus’s view on what is necessary to live a fulfilled and blessed life, his choice of the two greatest commandments from the Jewish Law gives us a framework in which to try to be contemplative, compassionate and courageous:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind
You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22.38 – 39)
The second ties in immediately with the call of the Beatitudes to be compassionate. As a Church we should be demonstrating our love for our neighbours in practical ways. At a time when society is under stress, there are many opportunities for the churches to work in a practical way to find ways to relieve stress.
Here, we have Churches in Bicester as an umbrella body to oversee projects working in society at large. Among the initiatives started or supported by them are the Bicester Food Bank, Street Pastors, and the Bicester Refugee Support Group. Individual churches in Bicester support childrens’ groups, the elderly, and the homeless. Individuals do much excellent work to support these initiatives. This is a good start and many of these initiatives are long-established.
However, there is much more that needs to be done. As an example, the recent reorganisation of the Bicester Health and Wellbeing Centre in Launton Road to include younger adults as well as the elderly means that many old people no longer have the chance to go there, with the consequent loss of company, activities and the opportunity to leave their homes for a few hours. For many, no longer able to go to the Centre, their quality of life has suffered.
It is unlikely that government austerity will cease any time soon and other bodies will need to fill at least some of the gaps that have emerged. In considering our response to the Beatitudes over the coming months, as we are called to do by Bishop Stephen, we need to think about the practical ways in which the churches, on their own or working together, can help to meet these pressing needs of society so that we can practice compassion as well as feel it.