Friday, 10 July 2020

"Come unto me - the Comfortable Words"

I know that it is usually recommended to; “Start at the very beginning.”  However, the end of the Rev. John’s sermon on Sunday 5th July offered such a succinct support of his theme; “Come to me” that I feel I should quote his conclusion before trying to express my thoughts and feelings.  As I have said before; I am by no means a student of Theology; and the Bible passage Matthew 11: 25-30 seems to have been vigorously discussed, investigated and speculated upon by theologians through centuries of different translations and philosophies.  

The Rev. John said; “The Comfortable Words, ‘Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you,’ remind us that God's incomparable, compassionate forgiveness is a gift that releases us into life with God as responsible human beings who want to grow deeper in love and joyful obedience. After all, we are called not only to find peace, refreshment and rest for ourselves but also to live the kind of lives through which others, too, find God's peace, God's refreshing grace, and the joy of placing their lives in God's hands. AMEN.”

Although I do not recall having heard the term “Comfortable Words” as part of my Anglican upbringing, I have always found great comfort in the traditions of the invitation the Rev. John spoke of; "Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith to all that truly turn to him..."  and other often repeated and reassuring routines of church services.  I do miss the regular saying of the “Nicene Creed” which was always a comforting reminder of our Christian beliefs and obligations in my earlier days and as part of the Communion Service in later times.  It seems that these days “The Creed” is usually only repeated as part of a service of baptism (and probably a confirmation service if one was to be held) – while I can see that this is a very important ritual of the baptism to remind us all what we are promising for the life of the child I would still find comfort in its regular inclusion in other services, because this would bring comfort and help the “church family” to remember what is required of them.  Then looking around at their fellow worshipers, they would be reassured that each person is surrounded by the love of God and God’s people.

Without knowing of “Comfort Words” - I do remember a warm and comfortable feeling when being given the assurance; "Come unto me all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."  I really liked the word travail which has among its synonyms; struggle, effort, toil, exertion and labour. The subtle shades of meaning must be something of a nightmare for translators - and the number of different versions of the Bible must be daunting to serious students of theology. However, the Bible I was given for my Confirmation was the King James Version and although probably not the easiest to unravel and understand, I just loved the sounds of the words – they sounded like poetry to me.  When our first child was born she was given “The Good News Bible” by her grandparents.  The next version that seemed to become favoured was the New English Bible which is still generally used in the Marsden Road Church in 2020. 

My paternal Grandfather was born in 1878 in Goulburn, NSW.  He was the youngest of ten children, six boys and four girls and his mother died at the time of his birth, so he was brought up by his father's recently married sister and her husband.  After his father died, he left school at the age of fourteen and started work as a messenger boy.  By then his foster parents had five children of their own to care for, feed and educate and they were difficult times for families in the inner suburbs of Sydney.

My Grandfather’s Uncle was very strict and insisted that he learn the Collect word perfect each Sunday.  If he could not say it correctly his Uncle administered a "hiding" on Monday because; being a God fearing man, he would not break the Sabbath.  For the punishment his cruel Uncle used a rope soaked in a bucket of salt water and I suspect the good that may have come from learning the Collect may well have been destroyed – and the lesson of the Uncle’s pious respect for the Sabbath also lost. 

Although he attended special church services like the Ordination of his son and perhaps went sometimes to listen to him preach, I do not remember my grandfather attending church until, in his mid 70s, he was confirmed by the Archbishop of Sydney at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in the presence of his family.  This really impressed me as an 11 or 12 year old, but it impresses me more now that I am of a similar age. I hope this indicated my grandfather’s forgiveness of his Uncle’s harsh “religious training”.  It was my Grandfather and Grandmother who willingly gave his Aunt a home for the last years of her life and he always spoke of her with gratitude for her care of him.
My Father's Parents in the late 1930s

I was never in any doubt that my grandfather believed in God because he always showed great care and kindness to everyone and went out of his way to help people in gentle thoughtful ways, despite his serious disability acquired at work in September 1933.  During the Great Depression he was working as a wharf labourer and this meant that he had to present himself at the wharves early each morning for "pick up" to obtain work for the day.  During those times the lines of men formed before dawn down “The Hungry Mile” and times were very hard.  My Grandfather was injured while he was down in the hold of a ship when a sling of timber fell on him causing serious injuries that prevented him from ever working again because his spine was fractured and his neck dislocated, leaving him in a precarious condition.  From then on he always wore a heavy leather collar with three buckles at the back of his neck and a metal support under his chin. This accident happened before the days of Workers’ Compensation, yet my gentle grandfather filled his life helping his family, friends and neighbours. 
Hickson Road - "The Hungry Mile" where wharf labourers lined up for work during the Great Depression
He died when I was 15 and I still remember him with great fondness for his kindness, his love and his great courage. However, one of the greatest memories of my childhood is the ritual of his special good-bye each time we met.   My Grandfather would take me onto his knee, put his arm around me and look me in the eye and bless me; "May the Lord bless you and keep you and give you health and strength to carry on."  This may have seemed like a strange farewell to a healthy little girl, but over the years the memory has indeed been very comforting.

The Rev. John’s reflections on the “Comfort Words” and my memories of how it felt to be blessed and comforted by being a part of comforting church services - and my beautiful Grandfather, prompt me to say that “the church” ie. The people of “the church” have a huge job to do at this difficult time to comfort those who are lonely and those whose lives have been unexpectedly ‘turned upside down’. 

We must also remember to comfort the comforters and remember that some people who suffer may hide behind their busyness.   

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