|Posted on 30 January, 2019 at 6:30||comments (0)|
ST VALENTINE’S DAY
by The Rev’d Philip Johnson
I wonder how many people, when going out to buy a bunch of red roses on February 14th, realise they are celebrating a saint’s festival day. It probably isn’t helped by the fact that most retailers and hospitality establishments (pubs & restaurants) advertising this day in order to maximise profit tend to drop the ‘St’ from before valentine’s name. So what does an earlier Christian martyr have to do with the secular festival of courtship and love that it has become today.
First, we probably ought to ask who Valentine was. Actually there are two – both martyred and both celebrated on the same day (Feb 14). One was aRoman priest and doctor, martyred under Claudius II in about 269 on theFlaminian Way, where a basilica was built in his honour in 350. The other was a bishop of Turni who was brought to Rome where he was first tortured and then executed under the direction of Placidus, the ruling Prefect, in about 273.
The origins of the modern Valentine’s Day are probably rooted in theauthor of the Canterbury Tales. In a lesser known work, Parlement of Foules, Chaucer wrote ‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.’ [For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.] This poem was written by Chaucer to mark the first anniversary of the betrothal of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia – they were both 15 years old! – on the 3rd May 1381.
However, in the mediaeval church calendar there was a third St Valentine’s Day. May 2nd was the feast day of bishop Valentine of Genoa and it is almost certainly this Valentine’s Day that Chaucer referred to.
The dearth of historical evidence about these various Valentines and thecommercialism that has been increasing since the time of Chaucer has led to the relegation of this feast-day in the modern calendar to something barely noted. It is thought that no British Church has ever been dedicated to St.Valentine and probably never will be. But why should rampant commercialism cause us to neglect these saints. Why were they executed? Because theyrefused to bow down to the idols of their day. So, let’s reclaim St. Valentine’s Day as a Christian feast and remind ourselves that there are things more important than that which the world idolises.
Happy St. Valentine’s Day
|Posted on 3 December, 2018 at 4:50||comments (0)|
ADVENT - O COME, EMMANUEL
by The Rev’d Philip Johnson
Advent. The coming. The countdown to Christmas… well that is how it is often seen. A calendar window to open every day with the promise (if the parents have bought the right one) of a small square of chocolate behind each window. In church we light the advent candles marking off the Sundays of Advent. There are themes that go with these candles: the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist (the pink candle) and the Virgin Mary. There is however an even more ancient sequence for Advent based on the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven (the pink candle), and hell. You are probably not too surprised that the church focuses on the sequence of the Patriarchs through to Mary in the principal services – most people coming to church on the Sunday before Christmas would not be expecting a sermon on hell! But we forget this ancient sequence at our peril.
The narrative of promise and hope from the Patriarchs to Mary prepares us to celebrate once-again the gift of God’s son to the world: that is why we can sing Emmanuel – God with us. But that is only part of the story.
Advent helps us to prepare for the fulfilment of God’s promise in the advent of the Messiah but it also points us towards a promise, as yet unfulfilled, when Christ will come again. Every Sunday in the Eucharist we say ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’. Advent helps us to prepare for that reality by reflecting on the themes of death and judgement, heaven and hell. Will we be ready to meet our God face-to-face when he comes again? One of the anthems sometimes sung in Advent has the line ‘thou knowest lord the secrets of our hearts’… are we ready for the final judgement by God who knows us better than we know ourselves? These aren’t, perhaps, the most Christmassy thoughts but just as we know that God is with us because of Christmas so advent reminds us that Christ will come again as King and judge of all.
Have a blessed Advent,
|Posted on 4 November, 2018 at 5:10||comments (0)|
PRAISE HIM WITH TRUMPET SOUND
by The Rev’d Rhona Knight
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the Lord
As we move through autumn it is very difficult not to praise God. As we look at the cascades of leaves falling from the trees in wonderful ariegated colour we are encouraged to praise our creator God, who designed not just the trees we see but the whole cycle of life and the journey through the seasons. Last month at Oakdene we praised, shared and created with paint and paper and fabric using the fallen leaves while looking out at the carpet and canopy of October hues of brown and orange and gold in the garden.
As we look at the trees shedding their leaves we can be reminded about the joy that can be found in letting things go. Many of us can find areas of unforgiveness and resentment in our hearts. These things can continue to wound and harm us and bind us and hold us back. Yet as we let go, as we ask God for a forgiving heart, and as we begin the journey of forgiveness which may not be complete this side of heaven, we experience a release and peace becomes possible.
As we walk through the leaves and hear them crunch beneath our feet we are reminded of other feet who have walked with us through leaves but who are no longer with us. We give thanks for them and entrust them to God. The Time to Remember service for those who have lost children through miscarriage, abortion or stillbirth and the Family Remembrance service reminded us all of the pain of grief but also of the hope and joy of resurrection.And as we absorb and enjoy the autumn colours we begin to notice the emergence of red poppies filling the landscape and churches and cathedrals through the land which have been created and gathered
together to help us remember – lest we or our children ever forget – the sacrifice of those who gave their lives that we might be free. And then we remember again the Advent story and the gift of God in Jesus, who in his love for us became man and gave his life for us that we might be free. And our response, along with everything that has breath, is praise.
|Posted on 5 July, 2018 at 5:10||comments (0)|
I wonder what year comes to your mind when you think of that summer. Is it 1966 when England last won the World Cup. Perhaps it is 1976 and the drought after a prolonged period of heat without rain.
As I write the England Football Team have just got through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a penalty shoot-out – the first time England have ever won on penalties in the World Cup and we have just experienced yet another warm sunny day with perfect clear skies. I can’t remember a summer like this in England for a good few years! The grass in the garden has turned an interesting shade – one more normally associated with warmer climes. The big skies on Lincolnshire are transfused with a light more normally seen in places like France or northern Italy. The town feels like a different place in this warm summer sun than when it is cold and damp and overcast.
For some their memorable summer has a darker aspect. We have seen this year the moorland fires in the Peak District and Yorkshire and in our own community the joy of summer has coincided with several in our congregation who are seriously ill. I am reminded constantly of both the beauty and fragility of the world in which we live and what makes a particular year memorable can relate to either the beauty or the fragility. In one of the more philosophical passages in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that the Father in Heaven makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. This is one of those passages that, I believe, we should reflect on frequently. It is a passage that can act as a corrective lens through which we view the world. It is so easy to blame God or look on something as a punishment from God. This passage serves as a corrective to that sort of view. It encourages us to take a step back and look at the goodness of God on a broader canvas – the sun (rising and setting), the rain (watering the earth, producing crops), the turning of the seasons.
Yet as we look at the beauty of the world we see pain and suffering too. But this powerful creator God is also embodied in the vulnerable person of Jesus who suffered and was crucified for us. Beauty and fragility so often go together because together they point us to the God of love.
|Posted on 15 June, 2018 at 4:05||comments (0)|
A Turn of the Page
by Al Jenkins
How often do you read a book and cannot wait to turn the page to see what happens next?
The Christian Church has just celebrated Pentecost, its birthday! The
disciples on the cusp of a new chapter; in their lives and the life of the world. In my mind’s eye I can imagine Peter standing on the balcony of the Upper Room, the morning sun rising behind him as he addresses the busy market, exhorting the crowd to repent and be baptised in the name of Christ. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and wants the world to know it. Do we?
Not every turn of a novel’s page will deliver hero or heroine, excitement or drama. But I truly believe that Scripture does. Stories of ordinary people, like you and me, inspired by God to love and serve his people. My
favourite Apostle is Peter. He is an ordinary fisherman called by Christ to be a “fisher of people!” This time I envisage Peter as a confused man standing by his boat, honoured, intrigued and probably mystified. As
Peter’s story progresses his human failings play their part, perhaps most memorably in his denial of Christ.
Peter’s narrative presents us with the image of the frailty of the human
being. However, unlike novels, our story always has a hero, the perfect
exemplar, in Jesus Christ. His love for us is immeasurable, his forgiveness eternal, his service without rancour. These qualities are so beautifully
expressed through his interactions with Peter. Most tellingly just before
Ascension when he speaks with Peter, a man almost at his wits’ end with guilt, and chooses him to lead the Church. Christ chooses each one of us in spite of our weaknesses to do our part in service and worship. He lives and works in us in the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Rowan Williams speaks of service and thanksgiving as, ‘a ‘soaking-in’ of what God is. When all these things come together (says Cassian) we are on fire with the Holy Spirit. And when we look at Jesus we see someone whose entire life is on fire in that way, with the Spirit.” Are we?
As I prepare for ordination and turn the final pages of this chapter, I say goodbye to St Denys’. I thank God for his call to serve and live in this
community, which has provided me with love, prayer and support over so many years and especially throughout my training for ministry. Jayne and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We are looking forward to the next chapter together, confident that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us. What might your next chapter look like? Please let me know. Blessings.
|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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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)