As I stepped outside this morning, it was no longer in just tee-shirt and shorts as was during the previous weekend. Instead, I was dressed in normal long trousers and wearing a woollen zip-up jacket over the tee-shirt. Indeed, the arrival of Storm Hannah from the Atlantic Ocean has cooled the weather significantly over the last few days, drawing in a strong North-Westerly breeze which has an impact in the fall of air temperature. But here in the South of England, we just had the cool breeze with cloudy skies. According to the Met Office, from the Midlands north, there was continuous heavy rain which, so far, we managed to escape save for a few isolated showers.
Last weekend was, of course, the most important weekend on the calendar. It was to remember the Crucifixion, the Burial and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Son of God. The weather back then was glorious - warm sunshine which heightened the mood of the whole country - thanks to a large area of high pressure which sat over the UK. At last, we were able to leave our overcoats, scarves and woollies at home and venture out in Summer attire. And spend considerable time, both on Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, with my academic Christian friend, Dr Andrew Milnthorpe.
On Easter Sunday, my wife Alex and I joined Andrew and his parents David and Sandra, both whom I knew well, even before Andrew was born, to be treated for Easter lunch at a popular self-serve restaurant. As former window cleaning customers for many years, I believe in the possibility of their gratefulness for the few occasions when we took their son under our wing, especially during the two Creation Conference weekends as well as other trips to London, and to Oxford, too.
Here in the UK, Bank Holiday Mondays are statutory whenever a Christian festival falls on a Sunday, whether Christmas Day, Easter Sunday or Whitsun. Therefore on this Easter Monday, Andrew, together with Alex and I took a fast Great Western train from Reading to London Paddington for a visit to the Science Museum in South Kensington. For me, such an exhibition of the advance in science by the invention of clever commodities to make our day-to-day living more comfortable is certainly impressive. But we had to cut short our visit after arriving at the basement where the Children's Gallery, housing fully hands-on exhibits, have made my beloved wife very upset.
This was because she remembers it from some sixteen years earlier when Alex and I took our young daughter Rosina to this particular gallery so she can play at "The Garden" which includes a water exhibit. Here she was allowed to get her hands wet by opening and closing valves, rather like the gates at a canal lock, and therefore regulating the flow, and at the same time learning basic physics.
Such memories haunted my wife, and she began to experience another of her episodes. My quick action averted her comatose-like condition, followed by a quick exit from the museum altogether.
We began to make our way to Kensington Gardens, then into Hyde Park itself, where at the Serpentine were many pedaloes and rowing boats plying aimlessly across the artificial lake. Ah, rowing boats. An activity inherited from my father, this reminded me of my happy days as a fit young man in my twenties and thirties, when I came here on Saturday afternoons specifically to hire a rowing boat on the Serpentine. Too bad that a chain barrier has always been up to stop us from taking the boat under the West Carriage Drive bridge into the Long Water, thus rowing the full length of the lake. At the sight of the pedaloes, Andrew got rather keen, but with my wife's state of health, I wasn't too sure about hiring one for ourselves.
However, with the design of the boat to allow Alex to recline comfortably on the front seat, along with my academic friend offering to pay for all three of us, I relented, and a short while later we spent an hour pedalling away from one end of the Serpentine to the other. All three of us had thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite the constant tiring out of my leg muscles necessitating the need for frequent breaks.
The whole weekend was under the remembrance of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. I think the warm sunshine was an ideal symbol of this. His death on the cross brought atonement, and his resurrection defeated death, and eternal life, lost in Adam, is now given as a free gift to all believers. It is a time of joy, a time for friendship, a time of rest, just as all Christian saints enter God's rest from the moment of first believing, according to Hebrews 4: 1-11. Such was the Easter weekend.
|Other Pedaloes on the Serpentine, taken by Alex.|
However, less than two days after arriving home from such a wonderful day trip to London, all came crashing back down to earth! Just as the weather itself began to cool with intermittent showers.
On the morning of Wednesday 24th April, while I was checking for updates and personal messages, there was no more remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Instead, this video poster came up on the laptop screen as I scrolled through Facebook. The video was of a short clip about Brexit-supporting factory owner Lance Forman giving an interview on why he is withdrawing his support for the Conservative Party to join Nigel Farage's newly-formed Brexit Party. He was dressed in suit-and-tie, the ideal attire for an English businessman and mandarin, and in all appearances, a true Englishman through and through. The video was posted by none other than my good friend Dr Andrew Milnthorpe.
Not only was I feeling disappointed but also irritated by such an anticlimax to a superb weekend. My mood was the exact reflection of the weather - getting cooler, breezier with storm clouds gathering. It was later that evening when Andrew phoned me with an invitation to attend a prayer meeting at the Kerith Centre. I declined - a very unusual action to take - but I was hit with a sudden shock that this prayer meeting may involve Brexit.
I had to examine my heart. To decline an invitation of this kind was not only unusual, but it was also sudden, impulsive. Why did I refuse? I tried to think of various other reasons, including the notion that although I was honouring God with my lips, my heart would still be far from him (Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8) - especially on the issue of Brexit. Yet, as I began to feel an element of regret for not turning up, I began to pray at home, asking God what exactly had made me behave the way I did. Finally, I concluded that this Brexit video was the main contributing factor. I also prayed for God to capture my heart and draw it closer to his, an act of grace, for it's impossible for a natural heart to draw close to him, in fact, without the Holy Spirit's help, it's unable to do so.
I did a little bit of research on Lance Forman. He is a fourth generation Jewish descendant of Russian immigrant Harry Aaron Forman, who emigrated to London at the start of the twentieth century to set up a salmon smoking business in East London. The firm's present heir and owner only took over relatively recently, within the last 25 years. Perhaps being involved in the fishing industry, I'm not at all surprised that he is keen on Brexit, with the reclaiming of territorial waters around the British Isles from surrounding European nations will help secure the future of his business.
Also, the fact that I called a Jewish businessman an idiot on Facebook was also unsettling, according to Genesis 12:3, where it says that God will bless everyone who blesses Abraham and curse those who curse him. After all, Haman cursed the Jews and he was hanged for it (Esther 7). But Haman knew what he was doing, in turn, I wasn't aware of Forman's ethnic origins. I hope God will forgive me.
It was an article by Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn who only yesterday has brought up a question now frequently asked on the first date between potential sweethearts:
Have you voted Leave or Remain?
Littlejohn goes on to say that to answer this particular question would either make or break a fledgeling relationship. I guess he must be right. If there was ever a topic of discussion that has a potential for family breakups, turning friendship into enmity, splitting the Government into polarising positions and dividing the whole nation into two halves, it has to be Brexit. This is why despite that Andrew and I have opposing views, I find it amazing that we are close friends and continue to be close friends, even regarding ourselves as brothers. It is the grace of God. The Holy Spirit can accomplish what the natural heart wouldn't have been able to do. Unite us even under diverse opinions.
Easter is a time to reflect on the cruel death of Jesus of Nazareth on a wooden cross, his burial in a sealed rock tomb, and his Resurrection from that tomb. It crosses the mind of everyone. But to some, it's nothing more than religious hocus-pocus while their children are fixed on chocolate. To others, it's time for hats off to Jesus, but that's it for another year, maybe again at Christmas. But to others still, Easter is a revelation of the power of God to all who believe.
I spent my teenage years as a so-called atheist. I use the term "so-called" because I don't believe that real atheism exists, no matter what the non-believer himself thinks. I have been there. It wasn't a conviction that God doesn't or never existed. Rather it was a harbouring of hatred towards God stemming from the false idea that Heaven can only be achieved by self-effort, and for me to be "good enough" and to keep myself spotless and free from sin - an impossible feat! The notion that God is forever dissatisfied with me and even questions my motives if I was to call on him, this leads to hating God, not deny his existence, even if I loudly do so.
Supposing I was never converted to Jesus Christ in December 1972 or ever. Chances that I would never have known Andrew. This is because I met and got to know his parents in a Baptist church, the one place I would have stayed firmly away. But among all church-going Brexiteers, if ever I got acquainted with any of them, I would have slated all of them off as insincere hypocrites - claiming to know God whilst seeking their own national independence and glory. As I see it, the two just don't sit together - unless being a Christian and a nationalist is meant to be one and the same faith. If so, I doubt very much if such a religion would ever convert me to Christ.
|Alex took this one of us - Easter Monday 2019.|
The chances of forming friendships with Brexit-voting churchgoers would have been very slim, if not impossible. That is due to the fact that I voted to remain in the EU, although I still wouldn't have received any verbal hostility, but rather, I would be sidelined or even ignored and maybe even thought of as weak, spineless, a traitor or disloyal, with nobody actually saying any of that to me vocally, but I would have felt it in the air - and that is exactly what has happened among other Brexit-voting Christians whom I know well. Any chance of conversion from atheism to sainthood would have been razor thin if it ever happened at all.
But I'm not an atheist now. Instead, I am a believer in Jesus Christ Crucified and his burial and Resurrection, therefore home to the Holy Spirit within. That is why I can form great friendships with the likes of Andrew, whom I treasure with great value. And in addition, my desire is to love all, especially those in the household of faith.
My longing is to have a heart which is in union with God's heart, to love others unconditionally, as God does. And that includes nurturing the love I have for Andrew. But as long as I dwell in sinful flesh, my love will never be perfect until the day I enter Glory. After then, Brexit would be of no significance.
But right now, Andrew's friendship is everything to me.