|Posted on 2 May, 2018 at 4:15||comments (0)|
I wonder what your first thoughts are on hearing this word. For sailors and aviators, the international distress call will probably be their first response. Others might well think first of maypoles and other May Day festivities. The Maypole, topped with brightly coloured ribbons, around which children dance in a choreographed pattern is less than 200 years old – its popularity was disseminated through villages schools who used the maypole to teach dancing. Earlier maypoles were much taller, often 70 -100ft, set up on a village green where they were a focal point for dancing but without the ribbons (or children!). Going a-maying meant going out of the town or village into the countryside and woodlands to fetch greenery and flowers with which to decorate houses or to make garlands. This merry-making drew mixed responses. One of the earliest references is from the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, who in 1240 complained of priests taking part in ‘games which they call bringing-in of May’. Others however saw it as a way of praising God or a means of giving money to the poor. However, the bishop’s complaint is probably well-founded if we take into account Philip Stubbs diatribe against these festivities. He stated that only a third of maids who went a-maying came back undefiled. Perhaps it is no surprise that maypoles were banned by the puritan Commonwealth Parliament in 1644.
When I read the ancient accounts of these festivities I am struck by communal nature of these events. They are celebrations of spring and early summer, new life and light after the long winter, but they are also events that bind communities together. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that going a-maying and going a-wooing were fairly synonymous.
Last week I was looking at some old photos from Sleaford and I came across some picture of the Slea Raft Races. The pictures were less than 20 years old but I was struck by how much the world has changed in these past 20 years. We have become much more individualistic. Community events (if they still survive) are a dim shadow of times past. But community is important. Jesus may have called individuals to follow him but he formed a community around him. Church is first and foremost a community – a group of people who seek to follow Jesus together, to learn together, to work together, and together speak of the transforming love of God to a troubled world. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the church today is to model what ‘community’ can be to a world that more concerned with the individual and has lost the sense of community.
|Posted on 29 March, 2018 at 5:05||comments (0)|
Jesus lives! thy terrors now
can, O death, no more appal us;
Jesus lives! by this we know
thou, O grave, canst not enthral us.
This is the opening stanza of, probably, my favourite Easter Hymn. It was written (in German) by Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715-69) and translated into English by Miss Frances Cox (1812-97). I do wonder why the parents of young master Gellert chose to call their son Christian Godfearer (a rough translation of Furchtegott)!
Had I not known better I might have thought that this hymn had been written post-1910 and that its inspiration had been a sermon by Canon Henry Scott Holland. In fact, the inspiration may have worked the other way round. On the 15th May 1910 Scott Holland preached a sermon in St Paul’s Cathedral entitled The King of Terrors. An excerpt (Death is nothing at all – an excerpt taken entirely out of context completely contradicting what Scott Holland was saying) is sometimes read at funerals. At the time of this sermon King Edward VII was lying in state in Westminster Hall and Scott Holland used the opportunity to reflect on the terror of death and the joy of the resurrection.
Scott Holland wrote: ‘I suppose all of us hover between two ways of regarding death, which appear to be in hopeless contradiction with each other. First, there is the familiar and instinctive recoil from it as embodying the supreme and irrevocable disaster. It is the impossible, the incredible thing. Nothing leads up to it, nothing prepares for it. It simply traverses every line on which life runs, cutting across every hope on which life feeds, and every intention which gives life significance. It makes all we do here meaningless and empty. “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”… But, then, there is another aspect altogether which death can wear for us. It is that which first comes down to us, perhaps, as we look down upon the quiet face, so cold and white, of one who has been very near and dear to us. There it lies in possession of its own secret. It knows it all. So we seem to feel. And what the face says to us in its sweet silence to us as a last message from the one whom we loved is: “Death is nothing at all…”. ‘
It was Whitsun, when Scott Holland preached his sermon – the end of the Easter season – and he reminded his congregation and us that by the power of the Holy Spirit we have already been moved from death to life. Through the cross and resurrection, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can know the fullness of the life that Christ came to bring. And that is none other than eternal life with Christ. Death is not ‘nothing at all’, but as disciples of Christ we need not fear death, for by his cross and resurrection death has been conquered once and for all.
Jesus lives! to him the throne
over all the world is given:
may we go where he is gone,
rest and reign with him in heaven.
|Posted on 2 March, 2018 at 4:40||comments (0)|
Let it snow!
The 'beast from the east', as the media insist on calling it, has arrived. As I write many schools in the town are closed; teenagers are in the streets, snowball fighting - just like the clergy in St Peter's Square, Rome. The news reports are full of weather and traffic updates. Everyday life goes on but it is modified to cope with the conditions. Snow can produce a variety of emotions: for some there is the joy of the snowscape; for others, delight in the fun of snowmen, sledging, and snowball fights; for others frustration at the inconvenience it causes to travel or other plans, even work; for others, particularly the elderly, fear of falling and breaking a bone, or worse.
If we lived in, say, the Alps, snow would be an every day reality for several months each year, life would proceed with little inconvenience. Bus services would continue to run and schools and businesses would not close. But we don't live in the Alps: snow only comes occasionally and severe snow rarely. It is because of the infrequency of severe snow that we have the range of reactions to it, described above. If everyday is a beautiful snowscape we begin to stop seeing it and just take it for granted. If snow is around us for months at a time we will invest in snow chains and winter tyres for our cars, and not just us but everyone in the community.
This snow has come at the beginning of Lent - a season in the church's year where we concentrate on the spiritual disciplines of prayer and bible study. Just as snow can cause us to look at the world with fresh eyes, to re-assess what we are doing and make choices about what is important and what is not really necessary so may this Lent enable us to spend some time in prayer and study, in order to look at the world with fresh eyes and listen to what God is calling us to do.
|Posted on 9 February, 2018 at 5:30||comments (0)|
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
The theme of the Week of Christian Unity this year was ‘That we all may be free’. Using resources created by Christians in the Caribbean and provided by Christians Together in Britain and Ireland (https://ctbi.org.uk/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-2018/) we were encouraged to prayerfully consider different areas of injustice impacting on our communities and our world today: human trafficking, modern-day slavery, addiction to pornography and drugs, the debt crisis, challenges to family life, domestic abuse and violence.
The theme of injustice was picked up in Sunday@5 and is currently the area of prayer in the prayer space in the Trinity Chapel. Those visiting the prayer space are being asked to consider what areas of injustice most trouble them in the world today, to write these areas on a piece of paper, and to turn these pieces of paper into a paper chain, a chain of injustice. They are then encouraged to pray for God to break these chains of injustice, in our town, our country and our world. These paper chains of injustice will be broken on Ash Wednesday as we begin our Lenten journey.
Like Teresa of Avila, the 16th Century Carmelite nun, in her famous poem copied
below, those at the Sunday@5 service were encouraged to think what it really means to be part of the body of Christ as we work together against injustice. We need to all remember that God can turn our smallest and apparently insignificant efforts to combat injustice into something effective and beautiful.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Teresa of Avila
|Posted on 28 November, 2017 at 3:55||comments (0)|
Christmas is nearly here! Every year it seems to creep up on me more quickly than the previous year. Some people tell me that is because I am getting older… we there is no denying that! My father always went into panic mode on Christmas Eve because he had not done the Christmas shopping (by which I mean he had not bought the only present he bought, namely the one for my mother!). I used to assume that this was because he didn’t like shopping but I do wonder now whether that was only part of the story. Christmas can seem a long way ahead and then before we know it, it is upon us. As I write some houses already have decorations up (and it is still November!) and they remind me how close Christmas really is.
For hundreds of years the Church has observed the season of Advent both a time of preparation for and a countdown to Christmas. The chocolate (or gin) filled advent calendars on sale today do not really do the spirit of the season justice. Advent proper uses the incarnation of God born among us to prepare ourselves for that day when Christ will come again. Every time we celebrate the eucharist we say ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’. Past, present and future tenses. The crucifixion happened, we lived in the reality of the resurrection – God is with us, but the fullness f the Kingdom of God is not yet fully reveaeled. Christ the King will come again.
If Christmas creeps up on me unexpectedly every year when I know that it will happen on 25th December then perhaps I should pause for thought about how ready I am for the second coming as I have no date or calendar to guide me. Advent points us to the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, righteousness, peace. Parables of the kingdom speak of those who were prepared and those who weren’t. As we prepare to celebrate the good news of God with us are we also prepared to proclaim the good news through our deeds to those in need of justice and peace.
Happy Advent (and Christmas)
|Posted on 28 November, 2017 at 3:50||comments (0)|
Remember, remember, the eleventh of November
Tyne Cot, Passchendaele, Ypres, Somme… These, and many others, are names that are inscribed in the mind of anyone who has studied the Great War. To visit any one of the battlefield memorials is a sobering experience. But when one looks at row upon row of identical tombstones we can perhaps be overcome by the scale of the loss of life and forget the individual significance. When the deaths are recorded in their thousands we can lose sight of the nineteen year old boy and what impact his death had on his family.
One hundred years have passed since many of these battles were fought. No-one is alive who remembers the Great War – who lived through it as a teenager (if that word had been invented then) or an adult. The people who fought and died are (as individuals) forgotten: they are simply names on a memorial in some foreign field and a village or town in which they lived.
I wonder how often townsfolk ever read the names on our town memorial. It has stood in the centre of the Market Square for nearly a century. After the Second World War more names were added. It is possible that other names may still be added even though we hope and pray that may never happen. This year, on Remembrance Sunday, I read out a few of the names on the memorial: men – boys – who had dies 100 years ago but who had lived in this town
Private Henry Joseph Wood (Lincolnshire Regiment) of 2 Mareham Lane. Died 4th Oct 1917, aged 19.
Private John Richard Arnold (Middlesex Regiment) of 2 Alexander Square, Westbanks. Died 31st July 1917, aged 24.
Private Glendy Lord (Lincolnshire Regiment) of 51 Electric Station Road. Died 1st July 1917.
2nd Lieutenant James Richard Reed (Royal Fusiliers) of 5 Kingston Terrace. Died 24th November 1917, aged 25.
Private Samuel Carter (Lincolnshire Regiment) of 35 Handley Street. Died 26th September 1917, aged 25.
Private Horace Feneley (Machine Gun Corps) of 44 Westbanks. Died 1st August 1917, aged 22.
This information was not too hard to find – it is all readily available on the Commonwealth Graves Commission website – but these small details (an address, a service number, the location of the memorial or grave in a foreign field sometimes the name of a parent or wife) humanise the individuals that make up the thousands.
If all we encounter is the vast numbers of war dead laid out in regimented cemeteries from wars of long ago them we can easily forget the personal tragedies and grief borne by so many families back home: 5 men who lived in Electric Station Road died, neighbours from 6 and 8 Playhouse Yard died. Several of the buildings that overlook the market square housed families who lost sons.
As we approach the centenary of the Armistice we must continue to remember, but we must remember in ways that speak to us and challenge us today. Why did they fight? Why did they die? What was the impact that it had on their families… this town? The Great War radically transformed this town forever – it would never be the same again! The memorial in the market square is the symbol of that radical upheaval. If we do not remember then we cannot learn from the past, and if we do not learn from the past then history will repeat itself.
Ever-living God, we remember those who you have gathered
From the storm of war into the peace of your presence;
May that same peace calm our fears,
Bring justice to all peoples
And establish harmony among the nations,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
|Posted on 9 October, 2017 at 6:30||comments (0)|
This is a bold, confident statement in one of the most popular harvest hymns. It is a song of thanksgiving at the conclusion of the harvest – our barns are full, we have food to see us through the winter, all will be well! Thanks be to God.
The next line, however, casts a shadow over this idyllic scene: ‘ere the winter storms begin’! In this line we are not thinking about possibilities but certainties. There will be winter storms! The severity of these storms is not the point: it is the inevitability.
To be caught in the midst of a storm is to experience the sheer power, the force of nature; a consequence is to realise the vulnerability, the fragility of human life. I watched in recent days the video footage of hurricane-force storms that battered and devastated islands of the Caribbean and hit the eastern seaboard of the USA. People were injured, some died; many lost their homes and everything that they owned. For those in Mexico who experienced the recent earthquake (think of a storm within the earth erupting on to the surface) the resultant situation was equally dire.
Hurricanes and tornados do not really feature in British weather reports; earthquakes are both rare and, if they do happen, generally quite small. But winter is still a time of insecurity, of vulnerability: cold, wind, rain, floods… For the most vulnerable in our society (the homeless, the poor, the aged) winter storms are a serious concern.
So, what can we make of this confident statement ‘all is safely gathered in’ that we sing in our harvest hymn? First, it is a song of assurance. God had blessed us through the summer months (the season of growing) and he will not abandon us through the dark months of winter. Secondly, it is a song of the community. It does not say ‘my larder is full: I’m alright’. The fields which provide for the community have been harvested and it is from those communal barns that the community will be fed. Thirdly, it is a hymn of thanksgiving to God: he knows our needs and will provide. But there is the challenge for us, as a community, to ensure that there is provision for all – especially the most vulnerable.
As the colours of the trees mark our transition through autumn into winter, let us never cease to give thanks to God for his goodness but also not to forget the needs of vulnerable people in our communities.
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!
|Posted on 6 July, 2017 at 6:20||comments (0)|
Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter (which translates as rock or stone) to emphasise the transformation that had taken place in Simon-Peter and the role he was going to have in the (early) church. On this Rock... I will build.... So, Peter was not simply to be a rock but a foundation stone.
In so many companies or institutions there are foundation stones - often called something like core values: respect, resilience, tolerance, adaptable, capable, honesty, integrity... The list is endless. Even our diocese has its core values: faithful, confident, joyful.
Jesus taught much about these 'core values' as he spoke about our relationship to God, to our neighbour, and to the world we inhabit. However, when he came to build his church he chose people as the foundation stones rather than abstract concepts. You are Peter and on this petros (rock) I will build my church.
On the feast of St Peter once again men and women have been ordained as priests and deacons in the Church of England - our curate Rhona was one of those ordained priest. I too was ordained at Peterstide many years ago. At every ordination I am reminded that as servants of God and his people we are called to a life of prayer, lived in close relationship with God and with those we have been called to serve. The gospel must be lived in relationship with others.
An institutions core values are of no benefit if they are not followed. In the church we are called to a life of prayer, following the teaching of Jesus. If we do this then God can and will build his church.
|Posted on 2 May, 2017 at 6:30||comments (0)|
Easter is not over yet!
During these days of Easter we use the refrain ‘Christ is risen: he is risen indeed, alleluia’ quite a lot. It replaces the more standard greeting which begins most services: ‘the Lord be with you: and also with you’ or its alternative ‘the Lord is here: his spirit is with us’. But these refrains are related. At Easter we celebrated once again the victory of God in Christ over sin, death, and the powers of darkness – a victory made manifest in the resurrection and the occasions when the risen Christ appeared to his disciples and followers. Holy week and Good Friday were not the end – they were the beginning. The victorious Christ was with us (humanity). He endured suffering pain and death but overcame them all to be with us. That is why we proclaim Christ is risen. It is in the present continuous tense – it refers back to a specific event in the past but it continues to be a present reality.
As we move through the month of May we move towards the Ascension and Pentecost (Whitsun). First Christ ascended into heaven after giving the disciples his great commission to go into all the world bearing witness to all that they have seen and heard: the disciples never saw him again. He also promised that he would not leave them alone to perform this task; he would send the Holy Spirit, the fulfilment of which is the feast of Pentecost. And this is the link between the two refrains that I mentioned at the beginning. It is because Christ is risen that we can ‘the Lord is here. We may spend 50 days celebrating Easter but we are a church of Pentecost – God’s Spirit is with us. This we affirm at every service Christ may have ascended into heaven but through his Spirit he is with us still today. Alleluia.
|Posted on 10 April, 2017 at 4:05||comments (0)|
On Palm Sunday morning we began the service on the Market Square. We heard the reading of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before processing around the church, singing All glory, laud, and honour to thee redeemer king. On entering the church the story of Holy Week continued as the Passion Narrative was read. There was a shift in mood in the church as we moved from shouts of ‘Hosanna’ to ‘crucify him.
Later in the afternoon singers from a number of parishes in the local area gather to sing the Cantata The Cross of Christ, put together in 1956 by the Royal School of Church Music as a musical meditation for Holy Week. These two services set us up for our observation of Holy Week as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter. But as I led these services half of my mind was in Egypt.
Coptic Christians had gathered in Egypt to celebrate Palm Sunday – much of what they were doing would have been familiar to us. But in the midst of their service horror struck as they were targeted by a suicide bomber.
It doesn’t seem so many years ago that the Good Friday Agreement brought a fragile peace to the ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland. Suicide bombings and vehicular terrorist attacks are not such a far cry from the world of two thousand years ago where insurrections and uprisings in and around Jerusalem were fairly common occurrences. Palm Sunday and Holy Week remind us that the people then thought that Jesus was the answer to the ‘troubles’ but they expected him to do it their way. Jesus was and is the answer but his plan was God’s plan – the greatest demonstration of love for the World and its peoples. God so loved the world that he gave us his Son… therefore in the midst of grief, of fear, of sorrow, of hopelessness we can find in him comfort and Peace.