Here are the transcripts from the videos posted on the Ministry Area Facebook Page by Canon Tim Hewitt. They are included here for those who don’t use social media. There are two reflections for Good Friday.
Palm Sunday Reflection
Hello everyone. Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday in the Church’s Year when we remember the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the days before the Crucifixion. People tore the branches off Palm trees along the way and laid them on the road as a sign of welcome. It is one of the more vivid Sundays of the Church’s Year since this is the Sunday when many churches distribute Palm Crosses to worshippers. Some churches have Palm Sunday Processions around the Church building inside or out, accompanied by the singing of hymns special to the day: Hymns like All Glory, Laud and Honour – either the six verse or the eight verse version with the refrain, making at least eleven verses to sing – a marmite hymn perhaps because of its length and repetitiveness – you either love it or hate it.
Palm Sunday is a vivid Sunday in the Church’s Year to me for another reason because it was the Sunday on which I received the Sacrament of Confirmation in 1981 – Forty years ago this year. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge for all of us in the last forty years. In that splendid Confirmation service forty years ago, who could have imaged where we would all be literally or figuratively? Forty years ago, I had never heard of the village in which I now live and work. Forty years ago, none of us would have imagined that 2020 and 2021 would be as they are. However, that said, anyone of about seventy years of age in 1981 would have remembered the Spanish Flu from 1918 to 1920, also two World Wars. In 1981, the Suez Crisis, which was far worse than a ship getting stuck in the sand, had been only a quarter of a century before.
We can forget that those who lined the road into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday lived in very unusual times because they lived in a land that was occupied by the Roman Empire. This was a significant feature of the background of the first Palm Sunday because the crowds who welcomed Jesus felt that their king was coming to Jerusalem. This kind of outlook had been fed by the writings of their faith. A Bible reading often used on Palm Sunday is that of the Book of Zechariah chapter 9, which tells us:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem; and the battle-bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The ‘River’ in Zechariah’s words here is not the River Jordan, which was the boundary of the Promised Land, even though that river comes to mind first. The ‘River’ in Zechariah’s words probably meant the great River Euphrates in Babylonia, the most well-known river of the Middle East because of the might of the Babylonian Empire. It was along the banks of this river that many of the Jews exiled from Jerusalem lived centuries before Christ. The River Euphrates flowed down into the Persian Gulf which opened up the rest of Asia to the Middle East. So, the ‘River’ in these words of Zechariah describe the experience of an exiled people living in a strange land during strange times for them. This strange experience is acknowledged and given a voice by talking about the river alongside which they lived.
During Holy Week this year, I will be using the image of a river to explore what our faith has to say to us during the strange times in which we live. This is for two reasons: Firstly, here in the upper Swansea Valley, it is a river that shapes our landscape, and secondly, much of what our faith has to say to us springs out of the strange times in which our forebears in our faith lived their daily lives. See you tomorrow.
Monday in Holy Week
Hello everyone, today I intend sharing some thoughts which I have already shared with everyone in an article in the quarterly diocesan magazine called Cymuned. In case you’ve not seen it, it is about Rivers:
The things that have given us our name as a diocese –
When we think of the Welsh name of our diocese, Abertawe ac Aberhonddu, we realize that rivers have given us our name as a diocese. The Tawe starts near Llyn y Fan Fawr and goes into the sea in the City of Swansea. The Honddu runs into the Usk in Brecon, but begins on the Epynt. No-one lives far from some river somewhere, and a number of our ministry areas have also chosen rivers as their names. Thinking about rivers has come to the fore at the moment as a way of considering what is happening in our lives now in the world around us and in the life of the church as well.
The point is, a river is different from a pathway, because, while we can walk in two directions along a path, the water in a river runs in only one direction. A year into the current pandemic, people have stopped talking of a return to normal. Thinking about rivers helps to notice, recognise, and accept that we are not returning to what was in the past. Often, although returning to the past has strength of feeling, as I think of the sources of rivers, it is interesting for us to see that no-one chooses to live there. Staying at the beginning is impossible for us. Instead, we have to find somewhere along the river, where it is possible and convenient for us to settle. When we literally look at rivers, we begin to see what has happened. There was probably a reason why villages and towns and cities have grown where they are now, but sometimes this is not clear to us.
At the moment everyone has to think about what is possible for us to do and find the best way for us to live with a number of things constraining us. Rivers have always done this, being able to join other rivers and arrive at sea at the same time. Rivers can’t choose their own routes, no, but they succeed to flow anyway.
A lot of people have talked about how different things are overwhelmed at the moment. Thinking about rivers helps us to see why things are being overwhelmed. While flooding can occur in many places, they tend to occur on flood plains. Ignoring the danger of floodplains is in the story of our modern age, both literally and as an image of our way of life. Suddenly, everything is over-flowing, and we need to learn the lesson of our experience.
The flow of the current pandemic has shown us what it is that has been built on figurative floodplains, which were fine while the weather was fine, so to speak, but they failed when the rivers came flowing. Going for walks along some river in our locality as our daily physical exercise is good for a number of reasons but noticing what is happening along the river helps as the beginnings of discovering the best place for us to be in the new world that is growing around us.
As we begin to think about rivers and what they say to us, I hope these ideas will be of some use.
Tuesday in Holy Week
Where did it all begin?
Hello everyone. In today’s Holy Week Reflection, as we think of the ministry of Jesus that reaches its culmination in Holy Week, I want to ask the question, ‘Where did it all begin?’ We could retrace various steps into the past, arriving ultimately in the story of Creation when God said, ‘Let there be light.’ However, my answer to the question of ‘where did it all begin?’ as we think of the ministry of Jesus is to say that it all began on the banks of the River Jordan when Jesus was baptized. Why do I say that it began here? The story is now about Jesus and his self-identity rather than that of the self-identity of Mary of Joseph, for example.
We need to know who we are, but this has been a challenge to many people over the past year: Clergy have not been able to do many of the things that define their work, and I’m sure that many clergy have found this a very unnerving experience. Sportspeople have not been able to compete in competitive sports as they normally would. Actors have not been on the stage in front of a packed auditorium. Hospitality staff haven’t been pulling pints and leaning on the bar chatting to their customers. These examples show us the extent to which we have allowed what we do to be at the heart of our self-identity resulting in many people being confused about themselves over the last year. Our self-identity is partly shaped by the people around us and the relationship that we have with them. Think of surnames like Baker or Carpenter or Collier or Mason and we can see how deeply this runs into the way that we think.
In the story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan it is the case that his self-identity is shaped by those with whom he has a relationship, but the story of the Baptism of Jesus is about who he is, not what he does. As Jesus came out of the water following his baptism, he hears the voice of God saying to him, ‘You are my beloved Son.’ That’s why the story plays such an important role in the Gospels. It helps us to see that who we are comes first and what we do comes second. That can be a hard lesson for us to learn, let alone how we see the people around us. If our self-identity centres on what we do, we’ll have a problem because we just won’t understand ourselves. This is especially important for us as Christians, because at the back of our minds there will always be the idea that we have a purpose or a calling of some kind. Yes, we do, but that calling and purpose begins with who we are, not what we do.
Fortunately, when I was training for the ordained ministry, one of the lecturers helped us all to see things in true perspective. Reflecting on what it means to be priest he told us how he used to answer the question often asked when you meet people and they ask, ‘What do you do?’ His answer would be that he was a lecturer in a Theological College. He would describe how the conversation would go on and then people would find out that he was a priest. Being a priest is what he is, he told us, lecturing in a college was what he does. He was very keen that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be defined by what we do instead of what we were to become.
The baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan helps us to see that we are the beloved children of God regardless of whether we’ve got lots to do in the middle of a pandemic or not; whether during the past year we’ve enjoyed success or suffered failure; whether we are healthy or quite ill. Where does it all begin? It begins with us understanding who we are, because until we can do this, we won’t get very far with ourselves.
Wednesday in Holy Week
What is the river like where you live?
Hello everyone. Today I want to ask the question, ‘what is the river like where you live?’ I live literally across the road from the River Twrch, but surprisingly, I can’t see the river from my home. To see the river, I have to cross the road, and stand on the riverbank and it is only then that I can see the river. The River Twrch has steep, high banks and is quite shallow with a very rocky riverbed. A few hundred yards down the river, it flows into the River Tawe, and the there the River Tawe also has steep, high banks, is quite shallow with a very rocky riverbed. The river near which you live, whether the River Tawe or another river, may be just the same or it may be very different to what I’ve described. It would be quite wrong for me to say that the whole river, or all other rivers have high, steep banks with shallow waters and a rocky riverbed.
I could climb up the hill on which the village in which I live is built, but I still can’t see the river from the hillside because of its steep banks. I need a bird’s eye view to see the river. Or I could look at my Ordinance Survey Map to get an idea of what the river is like up or down stream. If you’re holding an Ordinance Survey map in your hands, the distance between your eyes and the map is the equivalent of flying above ground at a height of something like thirty thousand feet. The map will show us from where the river has come and to where it is heading. If a river is a way of thinking about life and faith, then the challenge of a river is that we have to admit that our expression of Christian faith may not be the only expression of Christian faith, and that others may be just as true and valid an expression as our own. This means that faith can be nurtured in other places and in other ways than the ones with which we are most familiar. We tend to think that our expression of faith is the correct and right one, and that others lack something or have got things wrong. If we think in this way, it is us that have got it all wrong. We might want to ask ourselves what expressions of our faith are most important to us? What beliefs are most important to us? What things about Christianity are the ones with which we are most familiar? Then it can be a good exercise to try and look at the big map of Christianity and see the things in the faith of others that are different, very different maybe to our own, and see the truth in those different things.
A river flowing from its source to its mouth with other rivers or the sea should help us to see that this faith that we possess, and which we claim to be correct and true from where we stand, is actually something that has developed and changed in appearance and direction and shape and continues to do so all the time. As I said a couple of days ago, nobody lives at the source of a river because it tends to be a rather inhospitable place. Instead, people settle in more pragmatic places. Just as a river flows, arriving at new places as it makes its journey, so our faith should be a faith that brings us constantly to new understandings about our faith. It should help us see new and different things and new and different ways of going on the journey of our faith.
On which island do you live in this river?
Hello everyone. Today the question which I have in my mind is, ‘On which island do you live in this river flowing through your community?’ When we moved to the Swansea Valley a couple of decades ago, we moved to live on quite a big island on the river called Ynystawe. Ynys is the Welsh word for Island, and Tawe is the name of the river. Ynystawe is a big enough island for a whole village to live there. Just down stream from Ynystawe there is Ynysforgan, meaning Morgan’s island, and that again was a big enough island for a sizeable number of people to inhabit. There are a few other islands in the River Tawe. There’s Ynyswen, meaning White Island, at the top end of Swansea Valley, with a hamlet existing on that island, and then down stream from where I live, there is another big island called Ynysmeudwy, or Ynysmedw as locals call it, meaning the hermit’s island, where a whole village inhabits that island. If you know this area well, then you will know full well also that what I’ve just told you is completely untrue, because there are no islands on the River Tawe. There are the communities of Ynystawe, Ynysforgan, Ynyswen and Ynysmeudwy, but they are simply communities along the banks of the Tawe. Here the word ynys doesn’t mean island in the sense that we normally use it, but it means a community that was originally separate from the other communities up and down the river from where it was situated. What we’re actually talking about is communities that had a green belt of some kind between each of them. Here in the Swansea Valley, nearly all the green belts between the towns and villages have disappeared.
When I asked that question, ‘on which island do you live in this river flowing through your community?’ you probably had as your first reaction, ‘I don’t live on an island.’ If you’re from the Swansea Valley you probably found the question quite bizarre from the start. However, if we pause and think about what I’ve said up to this point, then I think that you’d have to admit that we do live some parts of our lives in very insular ways, almost as if there are barriers that exist between our own community and other communities that mean that we can’t go beyond our own community at all. It is as if we live on an island, and because we can’t walk on water, we just have to stay on our own island. One of the things that I find quite bizarre is the way in which local churches exist as if they are islands separate from the other islands called local churches elsewhere. I think that it is fair to describe this way of looking at church life quite bizarre because we don’t apply it to any other aspect of daily life. Think back to the county lockdowns in the pandemic, when everybody where I live thought it quite bizarre that in the border village in which we live, we couldn’t go to the supermarkets just a few yards over the county boundary because we have another supermarket elsewhere in our own village.
The roots of seeing our local church as an island which we cannot leave probably lie partly in the things which I discussed yesterday, but a valley that has changed considerably in the last two centuries and which continues to change in so many ways does tell us that seeking to exist in isolation from other church communities up and down our valley is something that belongs to a former age long disappearing or which has already disappeared.
Does the flow of the river change from time to time?
Hello everyone. Today is Good Friday, and therefore I think that it is a good day to ask the question, ‘Does the flow of the river where you live change from time to time?’ Rivers are part of the world of nature, which in turn has times and seasons, and consequently, of course the flow of the river changes from time to time. Where I live, if the weather has been very dry, the already shallow river becomes shallower still, almost like a stream barely covering the rocky riverbed. If it’s been very wet weather, then the flow suddenly becomes very strong, strong enough to move huge boulders in the water, and despite the water being full of mud, you can see the sparks flying under the water as the boulders hit each other with tremendous force.
One of the reasons why the image of a river is a good one to use as we think of our life and our faith is because our lives may be lived on the riverbank, but our lives are more like the river than the riverbank. Yes, there may be a certain kind of constancy to our lives that are just like the banks of the river, containing whatever flows between them, but the amount of water and its consequent effect will be unpredictable no matter how high or solid the riverbanks are. Where I live, the river can change dramatically for better or worse within hours. Our lives are just the same, with the circumstances and events of our lives changing dramatically within hours sometimes, for good or ill. Hopefully, this is a lesson from the world of nature that we have already learnt as we walk up and down the banks of river where we live. There was an ancient Greek philosopher called Heraclitus who said, ‘No one steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and they are not the same person.’ Heraclitus sees the river and the person standing in it as one and the same thing.
The problem is that many people don’t actually think that they and their surroundings are one and the same thing. Occasionally, people say, ‘I never thought that it could happen to me.’ Or them, as the case may be. It is obvious that they constantly see things happening to the people around them in the same environment as them, but when it does happen to them or the people around them, they struggle to come to terms with it. It is as if there was no sense of anticipation that anything but good things could happen.
Good Friday can be a day of anticipation where we stop and think about the kind of things that happen to people, but only if we understand that the story of Good Friday concentrates on the humanity of Jesus. In Jesus on this day, we see, not only his humanity, but our humanity. In him on this day we see ourselves. If we think of the Good Friday story as only a story about Jesus, we miss one of the reasons why the Gospel Writers told the story in such detail and with such length. They could see that parts of the Good Friday story would touch on the experiences of its readers. Suffering is a ubiquitous experience, and everyone, at some time, has, is or will suffer is some way. The Good Friday story is the riverbank beside which we have chosen to sit this day. The waters are turbulent indeed on this day, and there is much in the story that doesn’t normally happen for many people, but it will help us reflect upon the times when the pathway beside the river was not an easy one along which to walk at times.
During Holy Week, I have been sharing some reflections on what rivers might teach us when we use rivers as an image of life and faith. On Good Friday, the Church in Wales asks its people to read the story of the Passion of Our Lord as told by St John. The reading begins with a geographical detail, namely, that after the Last Supper Jesus leads his disciples across the Kidron Valley to a garden, and it was in this garden that he was betrayed by Judas. I wonder how many of the first readers of St John’s Gospel would have said to themselves, ‘Ah yes, the Kidron Valley, I know it well.’ It is always interesting to see that writers, whoever they are, choose to include geographical details which may or may not mean anything to the readers of their writings. Despite never having been to the Holy Land, St John mentioning the Kidron Valley does matter. Firstly, it matters because it reminds us that the sufferings of Our lord took place in a real way at a real place in real time. The years may pass, and time, like an ever-flowing river, goes on its way, but particular places will always stay in our memory because of what happened there to us and for us, to others and for them.
Secondly, the moving from one place to another can also remind us of how the circumstances of an individual can change because they are now in a different place. Jesus had gone to a place where he was in a very vulnerable position because he knew that if Judas returned with the armed guards to the Upper Room and they found it empty, it wouldn’t take Judas very long to work out where Jesus was. You and I might or might not be the kind of people, who if we weren’t at home, it wouldn’t take family and friends to find out where we were because of places with which we were very familiar. So, the vulnerability of Jesus is as real as the Kidron Valley is real. Vulnerability is never just a subjective fear by a lonely individual, but an objective sate of being that can be clearly recognized by anyone who can see things clearly.
Thirdly, the idea of vulnerability may have been in St John’s mind, as the Kidron Valley is mentioned in the Second Book of Samuel chapter 15, where King David has to flee from Jerusalem because of the insurrection planned by Absalom. Having crossed the brook at Kidron, Abithar and Zadok had brought the Ark of the Covenant to where David was to protect him in the battle that now seemed inevitable with Absalom, but King David sends the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, as he did not want to put God to the test, but instead placing himself completely into God’s hands, just as Jesus does as he makes his way to the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Old Testament speaks of the brook or the wadi at Kidron, and these descriptions can be interesting to consider for a moment. A brook has very little water in it, and during times of continued dryness run the risk of drying up completely. Brooks that do this often are called wadis. The wadi at Kidron over which King David crossed was one that dried up often. As Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley, there may or may not have been water running along it. As it was springtime, there probably was water running along it, but it would not have been unusual for it to dry up in the Summer following the Spring.
Thirsting in dryness is an experience often mentioned in the Bible as a way of expressing what is happening to our faith at times. As we read in Psalm 22 just now: ‘My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.’ Similarly, there are the words of Jesus on the Cross, ‘I thirst.’ Along with this thirst there is the complaint that an end to the dryness seems far away. The dryness becomes an image for a longing for salvation that seems absent completely. I doubt if any of us have really known a considerable physical thirst in the way that the people of the Bible would have to face thirst caused by constant heat. For the people of the Bible, it was a given. They knew it would happen, and it did. There was a greater acceptance of it by them than we might give to it. These geographical, physical details are used by the Biblical writers to help to see and accept that the same is true of spiritual or mental dryness, or however else you might want to describe it. On Good Friday, we spend hours, not moments beneath the Cross of Christ as part of us being willing to acknowledge that the dryness of the soul can last for quite a while during various seasons of our lives. As we look at the example of suffering that Jesus puts before us in the story of his Passion, perhaps our minds dwell on having to bear physical suffering as something that might be the constant cross which we have to carry. Little do we realize that the cross that we are asked to carry at times in our lives may be the cross of mental or spiritual suffering. Like some mental or physical illnesses, we have to realize and accept that sometimes there can be no quick cure for spiritual illness either. Illness is a great leveller of people regardless of who they are, and spiritual dryness is a great leveller of Christians and spiritual people, it is just that we forget this. If, or when indeed it happens to us, then let try and remember that Christ walked across the Kidron Valley and beyond it to his Cross, upon which he redeemed us.
Have you ever seen the view from the top of the valley?
Hello everyone. Today I want to ask the question, ‘have you ever seen the view from the top of the valley in which you live?’ Whilst many rivers run through plains, many rivers run along the bottom of valleys. Due to the fact that we’ve settled alongside the riverbank for lots of practical reasons, the view from the top of the valley above us is often not in our thoughts. If I trace the River Twrch upstream from where I live, it will take me onto the edges of the Black Mountains of Carmarthenshire. I could go upstream to Lower Cwmtwrch and then up to Rhiwfawr. If I look southwards, on a clear day I can see SA1 and the Meridian Tower in the distance, where the River Tawe reaches Swansea Bay. When we lived in Ynystawe, on a clear, sunny day, we could see the sea glistening down the Mumbles. There was a practically straight line from Ynystawe across Swansea bay to the Mumbles. While the height of the hills means that you can see directly from somewhere like the hills above Ystalyfera to SA1, the route is by no means straight, and there are many bends in the river as the Twrch makes its way to join the Tawe and the Tawe finds its way to the sea.
Rivers take us onwards to another place, or they mark the boundary between one place and another. The River Twrch is the boundary where I live between Glamorganshire and Breconshire. In the Old Testament, it was the boundary of the Promised Land, and the Jews had to cross the River Jordan in order to inherit what they had been promised. Those of you who are familiar with John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress will know that the crossing of the river for the pilgrims was a metaphor for passing from this world to the next. The crossing of rivers in the Bible is the image which we tend to keep in our minds as we think of beliefs about freedom from sin and death. However, the Bible does use the image of a river in many other ways to help us see a host of other things. The River Jordan and its constant flow is an image for the coming nearer of the Kingdom of God.
As we think of the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, we become aware that he is travelling through a series of valleys in order to reach Jerusalem. A map of the Holy Land shows this clearly to us. The Gospels tell us that Jesus began his journey into Jerusalem once he had a clear view of the city from the Mount of Olives. Suddenly, the destination is in sight. Having a destination in sight but not having reached it yet is how we describe something called a vision. Two things come to mind: Firstly, do we have a vision of some kind about anything in particular? Secondly, how do we intend getting from where we are now to that destination in our vision? As part of reaching his destination, Jesus changed his mode of transport from being on foot to riding the donkey. Just as rivers and valleys change shape and direction, one of the ways in which we begin to think about turning a vision into a reality, of getting from the start to the destination, is to work out, not only what changes of direction will it involve, but what things will we need to do differently along the way in order to best arrive at where we would like to be. We may find that only one mode of transport, that is to say, only one way of doing things, won’t get us all the way there.
Where does it all end?
Hello everyone and happy Easter to you all. The question which I want to ask today is ‘Where does it all end?’ This is a natural question to ask, having asked the question a few days ago, ‘where did it all begin?’ In terms of a river, and in particular, the main rivers that flow through the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, then the answer is that it ends in the sea. For us it is places like Swansea Bay for the Tawe or the Bristol Channel at Newport for the Usk or Chepstow into the Severn Estuary for the Wye. In these cases, rivers end by becoming something completely different in nature what they had been previously. Fresh water becomes salt water. What could be drunk previously can be drunk no more.
If you find walking beside the river something that is refreshing and inspiring for mind, body and soul, remember that the river is calling you to transformation and therefore, this call to transformation is something of a challenge, because the water along this scenic stretch will arrive at a very different place to the present place and become transformed itself. Where does it all end for Jesus? Those who watched the events of Holy Week turned out to be mistaken when they thought that it all ended in the Cross and the tomb. It ended in the Resurrection and thinking about how rivers reach the sea help us understand the sheer extent to which the Resurrection transforms what has been into something quite different. I suppose that when we look at a river flowing in the middle of the countryside in a rather rural setting, the seashore, and the ocean beyond it, is not something that is at the forefront of our minds at that moment, but that is where the river is heading. As we think of the rivers I’ve just mentioned, that is as certainty that cannot be avoided.
If we believe strongly in the resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus as the thing that makes the resurrection of the dead a certainty for us also, then we should ask ourselves what it is about the resurrection that we believe to be a certainty. The writers of the New Testament spell this certainty out for us, in the way they seek to express the joy of the resurrection on that first Easter morning, with words like ‘The Lord has risen indeed,’ so that authenticity reflects truth. However, the New Testament writers are equally certain about the transformation which will come with the resurrection. St Paul especially spells out a series of opposites brought about by the resurrection: What is perishable becomes imperishable; what is mortal becomes immortal; what is weak becomes powerful; what was regarded as of no consequence is given considerable honour. ‘We will all be changed,’ he says.
Amen to that you say, but because people like St Paul see all these things as certainties, he expects Christians to witness to these certainties in the here and now by changing the way they think in the here and now. The one transformation that we can make now as we place our faith in the certainty of the resurrection is to transform the way we think. He asks us in the Letter to the Romans to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we might better discern the will of God. In other words, knowing that everything does not end in suffering and death, but in transformation, we are more able to decide what we need to do now beyond the things that are immediately in front of our eyes.