October 2014

A Letter from your Lay Reader

Dear Friends,

I am sorry that I was unable to spend much time with you at Freemantle at the end of August and during September. I was not on holiday again, but either away singing at cathedrals or on North Stoneham and Bassett Parish duties.

I spent the last weekend in August singing at Canterbury with the Alleyn Singers from South London. That was a most enjoyable weekend, with good music, good food and good beer (Kent is, of course, Shepherd Neame country!). The first weekend in September I was singing with St. Michael’s Bassett in Chichester Cathedral. That was a very busy and exhausting weekend, but most inspiring. I returned to reality on 14th September, officiating at St. Nicolas, North Stoneham at Communion by Extension in the morning and Choral Evensong in the evening. It was great to be back at Freemantle on 21st!!

14th September was Holy Cross day, and I preached on the theme of The Holy Cross at St. Nicolas that morning. On Holy Cross day, or the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross as it should properly be called, we celebrate, among other things, the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine in A.D. 335. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Roman and Jewish Authorities attempted to conceal the grave of Jesus (the Holy Sepulchre) and the cross upon which he had been crucified. It is said that they covered the grave with soil and rocks and built a pagan temple on the site. The cross was buried in the ground nearby.

According to tradition, St. Helena, towards the end of her life, received divine inspiration to travel to Jerusalem in search of the Holy Sepulchre and the True Cross. Guided by a Jew named Judas, who had historical knowledge of the concealment of the grave and the hiding of the cross, Helena and her colleagues were led to the site of the Holy Sepulchre where, during excavations, they found three buried crosses, assumed to be those of Jesus and the two criminals crucified with him. Various explanations are given as to how the True Cross was identified, but the one I like is that one of the crosses still had the inscription which Pilate had written “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.

For us, however, there is a deeper meaning of the Holy Cross in that on Holy Cross Day we celebrate the Cross as an instrument of Salvation, and the miracle by which a dreaded instrument of torture and death became the life giving tree, reversing the Original Sin of Adam who ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. The cross has become central to our faith, and for many Christians it is so important to be able to look to the cross when in danger, have fallen into sin, are unwell or near to death. The cross is a constant reminder of God’s love for us, and that He is always there for us. We should always keep a cross in our home or workplace as an aid to prayer, or simply to look up to in times of need. I keep several palm crosses from Palm Sundays on my desk at home, and in my office I have a lovely painting of a cross in water colours, which Brian Cox painted for me several years ago.

In this country it is often difficult to find a cross unless you are near to a church or cathedral, but in many Roman Catholic countries, even today every town or village has a cross in a central position where it can be seen by all. There are also often crosses in roadside locations for the benefit of travellers and passers-by. Here in Freemantle we have one of the most visible crosses in the South of England. A truly wonderful illuminated cross just below the steeple of our church, facing out to the west where it can be seen clearly by all motorists and passengers travelling into Southampton from the West. Our cross was lovingly restored by a team of volunteers about three years ago and still shines out over Freemantle, Millbrook and beyond as a sign to all of God’s great love and mercy.

I conclude this letter with a prayer.

Almighty and everlasting God,
whose Son our saviour Jesus Christ
triumphed in death on the cross
that he might win life for the world:
help us in the power of his victory
to triumph over all evil
and to glory in his cross alone. Amen.

With many blessings to you all,

Malcolm Harper