This is very much a time for anniversaries isn’t it? The first case of Covid-19 in Wales, the first lockdown etc. This Palm Sunday is the anniversary of the first reflection that I wrote for the Provincial website. In all honesty I did not think that twelve months later we would still not be able to gather in person, and that I would be writing another reflection for this day.
At various points during the year I have felt slightly uncomfortable that my musings have been too Christian orientated. As we all know Freemasonry is not a religion, but requires belief in a Supreme Being, the Holy and Undivided Trinity being one such being among many accepted beings. By the same token, in West Wales the majority of bretheren consider themselves to be Christians, the Holy Bible is our chosen Volume of the Sacred Law, and given that my first reflection was written at the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian year, this rather set the scene for what was to follow.
I was brought up a Christian and my faith has matured gradually over the years. I can’t claim to have had a dramatic Road to Damascus experience, rather it has always been there. I am also mindful that I became a Freemason before the Church and I had discerned my calling to the Priesthood. Despite the fact that many committed freemasons are faithful churchgoers, the Church (and I include in that most Christian denominations) has had, and continues to have, a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable relationship with Freemasonry.
The popular misunderstandings of the mystery which belong to the fraternity fosters a natural suspicion, coupled with a common distorted belief that Freemasons are instructed to prefer their bretheren at the expense of others runs contrary to the core Christian virtue of loving both neighbour and enemy alike. When I was talking about being a freemason with those in the Church charged with testing my calling, I questioned whether any ancient institution, including the Church, could claim to have a history without blemish, and made the point that alas in this life both good and bad can be found in all aspects.
You may think that this was rather an Anglican fudge, but it was surely an honest reflection on the human nature and our institutions. Not one of us is capable of perfection, we can but aspire to perfection. While we can all passionately discuss the essence of Freemasonry, and many have different views and perceptions, I would hope that we can all agree that we are encouraged to be better men, to live better lives – better in the context of others, and not in the context of ourselves!
We have our Masonic role models, from the Annals of Freemasonry Hiram Abif and also King David, and throughout history examples of men who achieved so much good in their own time, as well as those whom we remember and treasure. Of course there is the odd black sheep here and there, but that is the nature of humanity!
For Christians we view everything through the teaching and example of Jesus Christ: the Messiah, the fulfilment of the Hebrew Bible, true God and true Man. During his very short earthly ministry Jesus taught people about God and what he desired, through his powerful teaching, his mighty signs, but most potently in his way of living. He was honest in who he was and the work committed and entrusted to him, enormous as it was.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the final week in Jesus’ earthly ministry. It beings with this triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the King coming to his city, we are led to the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday where the King in great humility washes the feet of his disciples and inaugurates the Eucharist at the Last Supper, before going out to the anguish in the Garden of the Gethsemane and his arrest. At the dawning of the day on Good Friday we see Jesus before the Jewish authorities before facing Pilate who seals his fate, we follow him as he carries his cross through the streets of Jerusalem and gaze on him hanging on the Cross as he dies. On Holy Saturday we reflect on all that has happened during the week, and ponder Jesus’ descent to the dead and his battle with the final enemy. Then at the dawning of the day on the third day, on Easter Day, we come to the empty tomb and meet the risen Lord having defeated the powers of death.
This is the heart of the Christian faith, what I believe and what gives me hope among all the twists and turns of this life. Whatever I encounter I believe that God is with me, and that I always have reason for hope through the love, grace and mercy of God. Notwithstanding the number of times I fail God, provided that I do my best, he will always welcome my return to his ways. And when my time on earth is done, I pray that he will continue his love, grace and mercy, and that my soul will rise in glory with the Lord Jesus on his second coming.
Holy Week is always a challenging week – pre-Pandemic, in lockdown, with Covid restrictions, but it is where God and man are fully seen as one in the ugly death of Jesus. Challenging but essential, and it always makes a significant impression on me and my life.
I am a Christian Freemason, as I am a Christian everything else that I am. In these Sunday reflections over the last twelve months I have sought to sustain and encourage my dear bretheren of this Province and those dear to you, with the inspiration and practical lessons we are taught in our ritual, coupled with the hope that is the foundation of my life and faith. I pray that this has been achieved in some small way, and if so to God be the greater glory.
J.M.Neale (1818-66) never enjoyed the best of health in his life, but he was an exceptionally prolific hymn writer. This hymn which takes us through Holy Week was written in the same year that he was ordained priest in the Church of England
1. O Thou, Who through this holy week
The path of suffering trod,
Our sins to heal, our souls to seek,
And bring us to our God.
2. We cannot comprehend the woe
Thy love was pleased to bear:
O Saviour Christ, we only know
That all our hopes are there.
3. Then grant us, Lord, this week to trace
Thy passion and thy love,
And by thine all-inspiring grace
Uplift our hearts above:
4. Beyond the pain, beyond the cross,
The Christ of glory see,
And count the things of earth but loss
To gain our heaven in thee.
I offer this prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, during this solemn and Holy week, as we see anew the mystery and depth of your precious love, enable us to follow in your steps, to stand when you fall, to listen when you weep, to feel the pain of your suffering, and as you die to bow down and grieve, so that when you arise we also may partake of your un-ending joy.