Image by Darkmoon_Art from Pixabay

I wonder if you have ever visited a set of ruins?

Perhaps a Castle, an ancient Abbey, or former stately home.  Through neglect, disuse and historical acts of vandalism, in Great Britain, we are left with these remnants of once magnificent structures.  We can only use our imaginations to picture what was once a thriving hub of activity and is now a heap of rubble.

I often find, as I look at a pile of stones and try and picture a magnificent hall, I have a feeling of sadness.  To me the stones seem to cry out “I once was something worth marvelling at.”  Ruins always have a feel of “once was” about them.

Many of our ruins are in their present condition because they were not required, or fit for purpose, or just too expensive to repair and maintain.  Society moved on and these structures were no longer viable.

That is the thing with society.  It has a tendency to change and develop.

I remember a visit to one abbey and hearing about its history.  As the monks moved away and the buildings fell into disrepair, many of the local people used parts of the abbey to repair their homes, build walls around their fields and construct amenities for their community. 

As society changed, these buildings did not die, they lived on in different ways.

I suppose, what got me thinking about ruins is a passage I was reading in the Biblical book of Ezra.  Ezra was living and working in Jerusalem at the time of major re-building work.  His concern was especially for the re-building of the temple.

This is what Ezra says;

He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

(Ezra 9 vs. 9)

These words got me thinking about all that has happened in our community and church life over the past couple of years.  I believe, that we are at a time of re-building.  But, like those ruins of old, there are some things that will need to be re-purposed.  There are some things that we will need to leave behind.  There are some things that will need to be, lovingly, restored.

In the time of Ezra, the people came together to re-build the city.

I wonder if the same could happen today? 

Could you be part of the re-building?

At least….

At least there is hope for a tree:
    If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
    and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
    and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth shoots like a plant.

(Job 14 vs. 7 – 9 NIV)

I felt battered, bruised and angry. 

Over the course of a few days, there had been the need to face an unpleasant situation.  I had felt that I was unable to defend myself, without making things worse.  So, I had no choice but to “put up and shut up.”

I felt battered, bruised, angry and frustrated and tired and… and… and…

It was somewhat of a relief that I had a Sunday clear.  Unusually for me, I did not feel like going to Church.  I really could not face standing up and smiling and saying how wonderful it is to be a follower of Jesus. 

Today it was not wonderful, it was painful.

There I was, on a bright Sunday morning, tramping through the forest.  Watching the just turning leaves.  Seeing the squirrels running across the path in their hurried preparation for coming season.  Listening to the birdsong and saying “good morning” to dog walkers, joggers and horse riders without having to really engage with them.  Breathing in the good, clear fresh air.

It was as I rounded a bend that I spotted it. 

photo by author

A tree. 

Blackened and burnt. 

I wondered how it had got in this state.  Had it been struck by lightning?  Maybe it was the victim of some careless, discarded cigarette or match.  As the forest was looked after, I wondered why the foresters had not removed it.  The blasted tree stood as, either a monument to natures power or human carelessness.  I could only look and wonder.    

It was as I turned to leave that my eyes were drawn to something.  Through the decaying and blackened wood, there was a patch of green.  New life was emerging from the deadened tree.  It may have only been the odd shoot, but there were definite signs of life.  Resurrection was taking place. 

At least there is hope for a tree

I may have felt battered and bruised but at that moment, I began to hope that there was also room for resurrection.

If there is hope for a tree, there must be hope for me. 

If there is hope for me, then there must be hope for you too.

Listen to the trees!

One of the highlights of my recent holiday was a walk I took in Sherwood Forest.  I was a very small child the last time I went.  I can remember being taken to see the Major Oak and hearing the stories of Robin Hood!

I was troubled by no outlaws on my perambulation through the forest, it was such a peaceful place.  I marvelled at the ages of some of the trees and wondered, if they could talk, what stories they would tell.  There was one I saw which fascinated me so, I had to take a quick photo of it.

(photograph by author)

The tree is, quite literally, split down the middle.  If you look carefully, you can see that it is held together by two thick, hefty metal bands.  I had never seen anything quite like it before.  It certainly got me thinking.  I found myself reflecting on some verses from the Bible which say;

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(Colossians 3 vs. 12 – 14)

I looked at the tree which seemed, to me, a picture of the Church.  There are many things that drive us apart from one another.  The recent pandemic is an example of this; circumstances meant that it was unwise to be together and so, we were forced apart. 

There are other things too.  Opinions, preferences, theological interpretation, ideology all play their part in separating us.  As someone once observed “put two Baptists in a room together, you can get six opinions!”

I think we need to take Paul’s words, written to the Colossians all those years ago, on board.  We need to accept that, not everybody sees things the same way we do.  Sometimes, we need to be gracious and bear with those who do not see what we see. 

The final part of these verses, speak about “putting on love.”  As I looked at the tree in Sherwood Forest, I saw those metal bands as an illustration of the love that the Apostle Paul writes of.

If you use the word “love” some will see it as a weak, wishy washy, emotional response. 

It is not!

Those metal rings holding the tree together are serious lumps of galvanised steel.  They were so solid, that the tree was not going to split any further.  I believe that is the kind of love Paul is writing about. 

As I walked further on into the forest, I found myself thinking, if we do not “put on love” then, all we are doing, is helping the tree to split further.