When I was 11 I joined the school history society. I was interested in history, but the main attraction was that we went on field trips to places I had never been to before, even though most of them were within 20 miles of my home. I knew nothing of church history at the time. On the occasion I most remember we were taken first to Wooton Wawen, a small Warwickshire village near Stratford-Upon-Avon. We were studying the feudal system in history and in this village we saw evidence that some aspects of it had been in place well before the Norman invasion.The churches tithe field for instance was much older than the mostly Norman church that had been built on a Saxon foundation. All very interesting, especially when someone started a game of leap frog in the church yard which resulted in one of the participants falling down an open grave!
We were taken high up into the bell tower in order to get a good view of the field system – this was 1959 and small fields had not yet broken up into much the bigger fields that modern agricultural machinery prefers. The cart horse might have been on the decline from which it has never recovered, but these field patterns went back to the iron age and maybe even earlier.We were shown how to judge the age of a hedge – a new species only establishes itself permanently about every hundred years so a hundred yards of hedge with 5 different species would be about 500 years old. In that village all the hedges we looked at had a dozen or more species in a hundred yards.
One of the hardest concepts to teach in history is chronology and how history is a continuum rather than a series of discrete events.Being a fairly bright child though I had realised by this time that the actions of earlier people affected my life in the 20th century. The park near my home had a road built by the Romans for instance. My city was named after a man who farmed it at the time of the Viking invasion and so on. William Shakespeare was buried in the graveyard at Stratford. The canals had been built by labourers fleeing from the Irish potato famine. But all this meant little to me. It was just a lot of facts to be learnt for exams and tests.
That changed on the way home. We stopped at Henley-in-Arden, mainly because the ice cream shop was open and because a large American car was stuck trying to get round the bend in the middle of the High Street. Someone must have asked why the High Street had such a bend and Mr Wright got us all off the coach to explain. When ancient roads like this bent for no obvious reason such as a river crossing, it was almost always because it was bending to avoid an ancient sacred site – and he pointed to the church with its Norman doorway explaining that this church was 1000 years old, but there had been other sacred buildings on the same spot even before that.
He pointed to the notice board listing the weekly services. “Just think. For over a thousand years people have met on this spot to worship God, generation after generation.And each generation has passed on the message of the gospel to the next – father to son, mother to daughter over and over again.” I don't know what the effect on the others was, but I was gobsmacked – the polite word for which is probably over whelmed, but the way I felt was gobsmacked.. What if someone hadn't bothered or not been allowed. What would have happened?
My parents had had me christened as a child. They had married in a Christian church and in time would be buried with Christian ceremonies. But neither had ever told me about Christ. They had sent me to Sunday school and let others do it for them.
For the first time in my life I realised that Chrisitians had responsibiliites to pass on the message of the love of God, of the sacrifice that Jesus had made, of His death and resurrection.
I had always believed in the Bible stories as true, but it was some 6 years later before I began to apply them in a personal way by accepting Christ for myself. He was the Saviour of the World but He was my very own Saviour too.
It was probably a couple of years after that that I read John chapter 17.Verse 20 stands out for me 'Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe through their word.' The first time I reads it the words had a huge impact on me 'Jesus prayed for me!' I was one of the 'them' as are all believers today. One of those who believe because someone passed the message on. On the night before He died Jesus had time to pray for us. That thought has huge implications for me. It brings a responsibility. In the midst of so much stress Jesus prayed for me. How can I ever again say I don't have time to pray? Or I'm too busy, too ill, too stressed. None of these are valid excuses when held up to the light of these words.
“That they all may be one” A prayer that some in the church seem to have gone out of their way to abandon. I realise that people have different ways of doing things, different preferences for ways of worship, but that that doesn't have to mean disunity and disruption. Last night we looked in our Bible study at the passages in Ist Corinthians where Paul trys to deal with disunity in the church at Corinth. He gives the famous example of course of the body with its various parts working together as one. He was writing to an individual church, but the truth is universal, but only if applied by individuals. We need to be united with our fellow Christians. They may not look like us, or behave like us, there may even be different ways of looking at things, but if we are all to call ourselves Christians, if we are all the people that Christ prayed for on that night long ago – I leave you to finish the sentence for yourself.
Then there is verse 22 “And the glory which you gave me I give them” Are we reflecting that glory? The glory of God seen through Christ. What a verse to live up to.I'm working on that one. If it seems daunting just remember this – just as history is a contimuum so is your life as a Christian – and Christ hasn't finished with you yet.
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