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About Four in the Afternoon (John 1:49)

About Four in the Afternoon (John 1:49)

Our Chaplain, Cathy Michell shares her reflections on a fascinating Saturday afternoon session with Prof David Ford.

This Saturday afternoon about 4.00pm I found myself at St Andrew’s church in Cherry Hinton, Cambridge, indulging in coffee and cakes and surrounded by a room of chatting people all waiting for Prof. David Ford to kick off the proceedings. An internationally known academic theologian and committed Christian, David is a member of St Andrew’s congregation. His new commentary on St John’s gospel has just been published prompting the church to spend a year dedicated to the study and contemplation of this gospel. David’s session was one in a series of talks by eminent theologians throughout this year, by people such as Jeremy Begbie, Rob McDonald and Maggi Dawn.

Saturday’s session was centred on the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It was a model of how to lead an ordinary group of Christians more deeply into the gospel writer’s meanings, and through this into both prayer and action. David reminded us that scripture needs to be read not in a ‘consumerist’ way, quickly ripping out only what we deem to be useful, but should better be approached in a ‘lectio divina’ way, read slowly, with devotion and attention. He likened such reading to a love affair where the lover – us as reader – lingers over and savours every line, image and phrase. David asked us to listen and retain just one word or short phrase that spoke to us. After a silence, each person in the room was asked what that might have been for them. David was skilful in dropping in to his responses the wealth of his knowledge of the gospel, knowledge gleaned, he said, from reading and re-reading John’s text again and again for many years. Even now, he said, he regarded his commentary still as a staging post in an on-going journey to absorb every nuance of John’s rich, deep theology. To help us do this, he recommended Alan Ecclestone’s 90 days of selected passages from the Gospel starting with day one, John 1:1-9 and finishing the round on day 90 with John 21:20-25. He reflected that John should be read like the Psalter, a day by day meditation on the person and love of God in Christ.

David’s emphasis throughout his talk was on the rich, abundance of Life and love in John’s account of the ministry and nature of Jesus. His washing of the disciple’s feet, mirrored in the account of Mary doing the same for Him before his crucifixion, is the example from which all Christians must draw. Receiving the servant Jesus into our lives prompts us to follow Him in every form of loving service to whomsoever crosses our path as we are drawn ever closer to Him. David asked two members of the congregation to reflect on and exemplify this in accounts of their own life experience. It was these stories that brought home to all of us there, the depth of such love. He asked us to consider who it is that we have been given to love and serve in our lives – all these companions on the road who can be for us, if we learn to see, the visible presence of Jesus with us today.

To see what is happening at St Andrews and the dates of other sessions on St John, go to www.standrews-cherryhinton.org.uk