|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.
|Posted on 17 March, 2017 at 5:10||comments (0)|
The Six Nations Rugby Tounament is drawing to a close. In an Irish pub close to where I used to work every match day during the tournament saw large numbers of green rugby shirt wearing men (and some women) gathering to watch the match. A fair amount of Guinness was also consumed. St Patrick's day was also marked in a similar fashion: green was the predominant colour, shamrock was in abundance, Irish folk music and the ubiquitous Guinness.
I wonder what St Patrick would have made of these festivities! He was born in Britain and taken into captivity as a slave by a raiding party from teh West Coast of ireland. During this period he moved from knowing about the Christian God to knowing the Christian God. After a period in France he returned to Ireland as a bishop and set about establishing a monastic foundation and travelling throughout Ireland telling people of the love of God. His influence on teh Irish people exists to this day and spread from Ireland to, initially, the West Coast of Scotand and from there to the northern parts of England. The Celtic saints of Lindisfarne and Iona were all influenced by Patrick.
St Patrick received much persecution but throughout never lost that sense of the love of God that was always with him. One of the great Celltic hymns attributed to St Patrick expresses this well.
Christ be with me, Christ within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend or stranger.
On the occasions that I did go to the Irish pub one of the things that struck me was the warmth of hospitality even though I was not wearing the green! This, St Patrick would have recognised. and in his hymn talked about finding Christ in that hospitality we share.
Happy St Patrick's Day
|Posted on 1 March, 2017 at 7:10||comments (0)|
Today marks the beginning of Lent. Yesterday I burned some of last year's palm crosses and mixed the ash with the olive oil used in baptism services to put the sign of the cross of the forehead of those who are baptised. With this black oily sludge I marked the cross on the foreheads of those at today's service. At our baptism we are told that 'Christ claims us for his own, receive the sign of his cross'. On Ash Wednesday we say 'Dust you are and to dust you shall return, repent of your sins and turn to Christ'
As we enter the season of Lent we are called to examine ourselves and ask God to illumine those parts of our life that need to be transformed into something closer to that which God would want of us. We are made in the image of God but when we are self-centred that image of God in us is marred - just like when ash is added to the olive oil. Let us pray that through this season of Lent we may be transformed so that we reflect more of God's light, love and grace in this troubled world.
Holy and Strong
Holy and Immortal
Have mercy upon us.