Daily reflections from the Bolton Circuit

Rev Hilary Howarth – 24th May

The Helper.

John 14 – “If you love me, you will do what I command. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever. The Helper is the Spirit of truth. The people of the world cannot accept him, because they don’t see him or know him. But you know him. He lives with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you all alone like orphans. I will come back to you”.

Several weeks ago, now I conducted four funerals in one week. In all my years of ministry I have never done that before and many of my colleagues are doing the same. With the restrictions placed upon everybody, they are talking their toll on everyone involved, not least families saying goodbye to loved ones in very difficult circumstances.

Two events happened in one day at Overdale crematorium. In the first I had a conversation with a local funeral director. “How are you doing?” I asked him, and he responded “I feel so helpless. I can’t meet with people to plan the funeral of their loved ones; I find it hard to explain the restrictions on the number of people who can attend and the distance they must remain apart from each other and I feel so helpless when someone needs consoling and I can’t reach out to help them.” He was clearly struggling as we spoke.

I went back later that day to the crematorium. I arrived early and parked outside the gates because it was very busy. As I sat waiting for the time to arrive, I noticed three ladies coming towards me away from the crem. The only way I can describe the lady in the middle of the three is to say she looked utterly broken. So sad and bowed down with grief. And as they walked, she stumbled. Immediately one of the other ladies put an arm around her waist and with the other hand, took hold of her hand. The other lady moved on the other side of her and did the same thing. As they walked, they held her up, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they were obviously offering words of encouragement and support. The three of them walked in synchronised step. They helped her, they strengthened her. They didn’t take away her grief, but they were in it with her.

One person feeling helpless, another person looking helpless – and many people able to identify with them at this time. Perhaps that is how we feel too.

The disciples were feeling helpless as Jesus prepared them for his death and promised them after his resurrection and ascension that they would not be left alone but he would send the Holy Spirit to come to them as their helper. To us today, feeling helpless ourselves or knowing of people who feel like that, he offers the same.

The image of the three ladies walking together has stayed with me this last week, I know it will do for a very long time, if not forever. When the lady in the middle struggled and stumbled her companions moved closer to her to offer their help. They couldn’t change the situation, but they were with her every step of the way.

At the moment, the Holy Spirit as helper, is the Spirit Christ sends upon us in our hour of need. To a funeral director doing his best; to a lady struggling with her grief; to our churches navigating a situation none of us have ever faced before; to our wonderful town facing what Dave Bagley from Urban Outreach recently described as a “humanitarian crisis” and to each one of us facing our own problems, whatever they may be.

Prayer: Loving God, we thank you for the promise of Christ to send the Holy Spirit as our helper, counsellor and comforter at Pentecost. We ask for the help of your Holy Spirit today in whatever we face. Be with us when we feel helpless and anxious. Help us to trust that you are with us in all things. Amen.