The silly season?

Can you remember what the news used to be like during the summer? It was often called ‘the silly season’ as the news media, print and broadcast, would hunt around for stories and end up presenting us with ones that were just, frankly, silly. But it served as a kind of light relief as we settled down in our deck chairs, made sand castles and waited for September to arrive with the party conferences and politics and the news and we could reengage with reality.

But there is nothing silly about this season.  True, I’ve watched some heart-warming videos of dogs licking cats and a cat rescuing a puppy which people have posted on Twitter but beyond that it feels like we are moving inexorably into a vortex of destruction.

enola_gay_crew_3

The crew of the Enola Gay

I was on holiday in Spain when the Feast of the Transfiguration occurred.  It was lovely to be at Mass in the church of Santa Maria del Mar in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona, a church sometimes called ‘The Cathedral of the Sea’, a gorgeous gothic building, the construction of which inspired the novel of that name by Ildefonso Falcones, a kind of Spanish equivalent of ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Anyway, I was at the International Mass that they have each week at 12 noon, a great service if you are in Barcelona on a Sunday.  But this was the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord and so my mind was captured by the strange conjunction of two images, the first of the Lord Jesus bathed in divine light and the second, the demonic intense light that came with the explosion over Hiroshima that day in 1945 of the first nuclear bomb to be detonated. The immediate horror for me was that the rhetoric between two unpredictable and dangerous leaders – Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un – was drawing us closer to another nuclear conflagration.

On the holy mountain the three disciples, Peter James and John, saw the Lord

‘his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.’ (Matthew 17.2)

In that amazing light the disciples were able to see clearly who Jesus really was, the light revealed it, they saw him in both his human and divine natures in that moment of theophany. We know that light can do this.  Let the sunshine into a room that has been closed up and its rays reveal the cobwebs and the dust that have accumulated in the corners, unnoticed in the gloom. We see clearly as never before – the beauty and the chaos.

When the American aircraft, Enola Gay, discharged her payload over Japan we saw clearly what humankinds intellect, at its best and at its worst, could achieve, a weapon that could destroy the whole of creation, a weapon that could destroy what God had so beautifully created.  It was a moment that should have brought us to our senses, and to be fair, for many people it was and it did.  Those great days of the Aldermaston Marches, the time when CND was at its strongest and most vibrant, amazing people like Bruce Kent, who for me was an inspirational figure, a priest-prophet as an activist against nuclear armament.

In September 1980 a pop group called ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’, more often called OMD, released a single called ‘Enola Gay’ – those of you as old as me may remember the song and the chilling line in the lyrics

These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.

I suppose it was that song and beginning my formation as a priest at Mirfield with strong priestly figures like Bruce Kent and others around, that made me join CND. I may not agree with all that Jeremy Corbyn says but when he was being pressed as to whether he would be prepared to press the nuclear button I wanted him to stand up for not being prepared to do so.  How could any person be asked to slaughter millions of innocent people? No nation, no regime, be they capitalist or communist, be they democratic or despotic, have the right to hold weapons of mass destruction and to threaten, like kids in a school yard, to unleash them on each other.

Phrases like ‘fire and fury’, ‘locked and loaded’ fit neatly into Tweets but as that pop song of 37 years ago said ‘These games you play they’re going to end in more than tears some day.’

I still believe, and you can call me naïve, that the only way to control nuclear weapons is by not having them, through multi-lateral disarmament.  I know we cannot ‘un’-invent them, I know that the technology will always exist, I know that the terrorist groups which will always emerge might try to get hold of them, but the very fact that legitimate, democratic and supposedly responsible nations have them gives them a global legitimacy and those not in the ‘nuclear club’ will always seek to get in by fair means or foul.

transfiguration 6

In your light shall we see light

Look, I am only a priest, these things are bigger than I can deal with, but at some stage those like me who are petrified at what seems to be happening have to be able to say STOP! Until then all I can do is fall on my knees before the one who in divine, dazzling, blinding and healing light reveals God to us. As the Psalmist writes of God

‘with you is the well of life
and in your light shall we see light.’
(Psalm 36.9)

This is the psalm prayer from Common Worship : Daily Prayer that was written in response to Psalm 36 – pray it with me, please.

O God, the well of life,
make us bright with wisdom,
that we may be lightened with the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Happy holiday 

I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t blog for the next couple of weeks. I’m on holiday. Whatever you are doing, God bless you. 

Standing in the garden

In between The Deanery and the house next door in which Sir Christopher Wren is supposed to have lodged during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral so that he could watch it rising like a phoenix from the ashes, from the vantage point of the other side of the river – but didn’t (Gillian Tindall in her book ‘The House by the Thames’ debunks this local myth), is the narrowest street in London.  It’s called ‘Cardinal Cap Alley’ and for various reasons it isn’t usually open to the public as it now goes nowhere.  But it used to be one of the capillaries that linked up this mediaeval community and provided a quick route between the theatres, the inns and the stews.  The latter were the brothels where the ‘Winchester Geese’ did their business.

Couple

A Bankside encounter

 

Having debunked one myth I’m probably now going to promote many more but that’s the nature of this area.  Did the alley take it’s name from an inn that stood where my neighbours house now stands; is it a cheeky reference to the nickname of a prophylactic the more discerning customers of the Geese might use?

One thing is clear.  This area was ‘The Liberty’ of the Bishops of Winchester.  They had control of the area, had their own prison, ‘The Clink’, licensed the theatres, the bear pits, the inns, the prostitutes and presumably raked in a good level of income to enhance their standing as Prince Bishops of the church. The Geese were so named because of the uniform that they were required to wear as licensed traders under the Bishop’s protection. They scurried around the area, cowls up, heads down, like geese.

But when death came, as it did at an early age for many, in pregnancy, in childbirth, they were not so protected.  Whilst the church could benefit from pimping off their wages whilst they were alive it could not condone their way of life and so mothers and unborn children were buried in unconsecrated ground just outside the parish.  It’s scandalous – not the business of the women, but the attitude and actions of the church.

It’s just another example of the dysfunctional attitude that we have to sex.

Each Feast of St Mary Magdalene we now go in procession from the Cathedral to the Crossbones Graveyard, as it’s called, on Redcross Way where the women are buried.  The fact that we do this is not, to be honest, the work of the church but the work of many years by local playwright and performer, John Constable, who with a faithful and dedicated band of supporters have campaigned on behalf of these women and on behalf of this unconsecrated burial ground, trying to hold developers back from further abusing it.  A few years ago TFL handed it over as a ‘meanwhile’ garden and the local Bankside Open Spaces Trust have helped to create a garden where we can remember these women.

So we go in procession to express our regret for the past and our remembrance of the women. It’s a powerful occasion on the day in which we remember a woman, herself surrounded with myth and gossip and innuendo who met with Jesus in a garden and became the first witness of the resurrection.  In the garden we read Malcom Guite’s ‘Sonnet for Mary Magdalene’ which begins

Men called you light so as to load you down,
And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.

But engaging in this ‘Act of Regret: Restoration: Remembrance’ as we call it is not just about those women and their children, as important as that is, but it’s also about trying to witness to the work that needs to be done in and by the church in relation to our attitude to sex.  The church is obsessed with it and with any obsession this is really dangerous.  It eats up our energy, occupies our mind, corrupts the soul of the church and distracts us from what we should be obsessed with – proclaiming a gospel of liberation and love and life.  We have to engage with the issues of trafficking and sex workers and the way in which so often the modern victims are treated no differently to their mediaeval sisters – and I suspect – brothers – used and abused and then left without the blessing of God which we continue to withhold from people.

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Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the garden

 

It is just not healthy – our obsessions and our attitudes.  But Jesus comes to Mary Magdalene and restores her to health.  St Luke tells us this

Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8.1-3)

Whatever the demons were Mary had been brought into new life and was a disciple, loved and part of the community.  She was a disciple who would become the Apostle to the Apostles. Whether or not she was the woman with the long, loose hair, the woman caught in adultery, the scandalous woman at the meal, whoever she was Jesus with that loving and embracing attitude, that lived out conviction that no one was excluded but all were included, that breaker of conventions who would touch and be touched, who would embrace opprobrium to save others from it, says to her in the first light, in the garden

‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). (John 20.16)

He was her teacher for he had taught her to love herself, who had loved others for so long. Perhaps we can learn to do both and to love ourselves and others into life. As we pray in the garden graveyard in Southwark

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayers
and as you received the love of Mary
hold in your presence
the souls of all who have gone before us
and give them peace.
Amen.

The work of God

My mother was a great one for a routine.  Monday was wash day, Tuesday lots of cleaning, Thursday was the trip to the shops, Friday afternoon baking and so forth. She said that this was the only way that she could work. My sister and I have inherited some of that and living by routine feels to me to be liberating.  You may question that.  Isn’t it just a bind, no space for experimentation, no wriggle room? Wouldn’t it be good if occasionally I washed on a Wednesday and not a Saturday, that I did this or that on another day, live a bit more spontaneously, a bit more dangerously? Well it might work for some but for me. To be honest, I like the security of knowing that the washing and the cleaning will get done because they happen predictably and I don’t need to make decisions about them, in a way think about them.


So I suppose that I naturally fitted into the regularity of the pattern of living and praying expected of a priest.  I say expected because there is a Canonical duty upon us that we pray the Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, daily and publicly. All Christians are expected to pray and so we are no different in that except that the priest does it on behalf of the people dashing off to work, they hear the church bell ringing as they catch the 7.45 to Waterloo and know that the priest is on their kneew.  Well, that is the formal, romantic ideal – but an ideal not to be disparaged or dismissed.

One of the best things about my smartphone is the Church of England ‘Daily Prayer’ app.  It is the most wonderfully useful app I have to be honest.  Wherever I am I can say my prayers, without lugging a library with me.  Romnan Catholic clergy have the blessing of the Breviary which in three volumes, one for each part of the year, contains all the texts necessary for praying the ‘Divine Office’, the Liturgy of the Hours.  But Anglicans have to take with them at least three books – the Lectionary, which is the most complicated document, a kind of clerical ‘log tables’ which gives you the calendar and readings and psalms for each day.  Then you need your prayer book, either the BCP or Common Worship: Daily Prayer which has the form of the Office and the psalms.  Then you need a Bible and as both main Offices include readings from the Old and New Testaments you can’t get away with just the NT.  So praying ‘on the go’ involves lugging all of this around.  So the app is a godsend in that it is like a virtual Breviary containing all things necessary.  It means that the priest can say the Office where they are, and the person on the 7.45 to Waterloo can equally say the Office where they are! It’s a great act of democratisation in doing the work of nGod, what we know in church-speak as the ‘opus dei’.

The poet George Herbert wrote lines which we often sing

Seven whole days not one in seven, I will praise thee.

That is the rule we live by, the regularity that we seek to establish, the pattern of prayer that is as routine as breathing that doesn’t involve making decisions but is simply part of living as a child of God. I’m fortunate to have colleagues to pray with and a choir who will add glorious music to the opus dei enhancing the experience of praying.  But neither of those things is necessary for praying, just the will, the desire to pray, the time, the place, be that in a cathedral or church, in a crowded carriage or a quiet kitchen after the kids have gone to school, with books, or an app, knowing that God is with us in our praying as God will be with us in our working.

God, give us the desire to pray, and the space to do it. Amen.

I’m in York

Just in case you were waiting for a Living God blog today, I’m at the meeting of the General Synod in York. So, please, follow me on my General Synod blog and you will catch up with what we are up to.

Diakonia

One of my grandmas, my Nanny Nunn, was in service. That was what a great many girls did in the early part of the last century.  School would have ended at around the age of 14 and then a family, or someone who needed a maid, would have taken the girl in.  They would have left home and began some years ‘in service’. Nanny was evidently good with a needle so she ended up as a sewing maid, working for some Lord and Lady who had a castle in Scotland but kept an apartment in Whitehall Court on the banks of the Thames close to the centre of power. The maids all lived in dormitories in the top floors of this apartment block.  Her employers were kind and bought her her wedding dress from Liberty of London when finally she left their service to become the wife in her own home.

Maids

Girls dressed for service

 

Not all her employers were as good.  She used to tell me about working in a Vicarage where both the Parson and his wife drank rather too much for everyone’s comfort.  But she generally had a good time and on the stairs hung miniature portraits of two of her employers, Judge and Lady Matthews, a fine looking Edwardian couple who looked sternly at us children if we dared to go upstairs in the house without permission!

As fans of ‘Downtown Abbey’ became aware it wasn’t all bad ‘below stairs’ but it is a side of life that has now all but disappeared.

Last week I was preaching at the ordination of priests in the Diocese of Southwark, this week I was welcoming to the Cathedral the supporters of the 13 women and men who were to be ordained deacon.  These are weeks when the church really thinks about what ministry and especially ordained ministry means.

Everything we think about ministry, the ministry of deacons and priests, really finds its source and focus in the Upper Room on the night before the crucifixion. There at table Jesus breaks the bread and shares the cup and gives us the Eucharist at his priestly hands. But it is around that same table, in that same room, that he takes the bowl, takes the jug, takes the towel and washes the feet of his disciples.  If saying to them ‘This is my body’ as he held up the bread, broke it and gave it to them, was shocking, even more so, I think was the Master taking the tools of the servant and washing the feet of those who followed him.  Jesus, as on so many occasions, reverses the roles and the expectations, subverts peoples understanding.  In Acts 17 the disciples are accused of being people who

‘have been turning the world upside down.’ (Acts 17.6)

They were, and they were taking their lead and their example from Jesus, who turned their world on its head as he knelt before them and gently, and with a servants devotion, washed their feet and dried them on the towel.

I was watching the Bishop of Southwark carefully vest in preparation for the ordination in the Cathedral. Before he put on the chasuble he placed over his alb a thin, silk dalmatic, the robe of the deacon.  It could not be seen by the congregation, but there it was, close to his skin, close to his heart.  It was a reminder to him and to me, that we are all deacons, that we are part of a servant church.

As Jesus put his clothes back on and took his seat as the Master at the table he said to his stunned friends

‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’. (John 13.14-15)

Whoever you are, whatever ‘robes’ you wear, beneath it all you are ‘in service’, part of that diakonia. ‘Never forget it’ says Jesus to us, ‘I have given you an example’.  But not just those to us who are ordained but to all of us.  Just as priests are set apart on behalf of the whole priestly people of God to offer the sacraments of the New Covenant, so deacons are set apart on behalf of the whole servant church, not to do it for us, but to do it with us.

In these last few, challenging months, we have seen people of faith ‘in service’ to their communities.  The fantastic example of the Parish of St Clement and St James, the church for the Grenfell Tower community, has been exemplary.  I see from their website that they describe themselves as

‘Breaking bread, sharing God’

This is the Upper Room church at which, the broken bread and the sharing of the God who is the servant God of a servant people, make real the nature of the kingdom that breaks in around us.  And when it is needed that means doing precisely what that community has been doing, along with so many from other churches and faith communities and people of no faith but of good will, being the servants of others and, sometimes literally, washing feet.

washing_feet

‘I have set you an example’.

 

Brian Wren’s great hymn, ‘Great God, your love has called us here’, that we often sing on Maundy Thursday, sums it up for me

Then take the towel, and break the bread,
and humble us, and call us friends.
Suffer and serve till all are fed,
and show how grandly love intends
to work till all creation sings,
to fill all worlds, to crown all things.

There is a lot of serving to be done and Jesus hands on to us the bowl and the towel and we simply get on with it.

Lord, you wash my feet;
may I have the humility and love
to wash those of my neighbour.
Amen.

What do priests do?

It’s ordination season and 33 years since I was ordained priest. My bishop kindly reminded me that that is a third of a century! He had also invited me to lead the retreat for those to be priested. That was a real privilege and great to be with 17 women and men looking forward to beginning priestly ministry in parishes across the range in the Diocese of Southwark. As priests are ordained in this diocese in the three episcopal areas – Woolwich, Kingston and Croydon – I was only able to go to one set of ordinations. So I was invited to preach at the Woolwich ordinations which took place in the lovely church of St Peter, Walworth. The church was designed by Sir John Soane, classical and beautiful.

There were three men to be ordained priest – Michael, Sam and Simon – and this is the sermon I preached on that occasion. The readings were Malachi 2.5-7, 2 Corinthians 5.14-19 and John 20.19-23.

I wonder how many of you’d admit to having watched the wonderful Cilla Black in that dating show of many years ago, ‘Blind Date’? If you do admit to having watched it you’ll no doubt remember her opening question to each of those expectant people perched on their stools, ‘What’s your name and where do you come from?’

They’re the kind of questions we come out with when we meet anyone for the first time – and we might add to it the question ‘What do you do?’ We ask these kinds of things so that we can figure people out, get to know them a bit more, a bit more quickly, pigeon hole them maybe – ‘Oh, you’re an accountant!’

But if you were to ask a priest what it is they did I wonder what kind of answer you’d get, or what kind of answer you’d expect?

In a few minutes the bishop is going to address these three about to be ordained to tell them basically what it is that the church will be expecting of them. It’s a huge list, more than any one person could do, but some of the things are the stuff we’d expect, presiding at the Eucharist, blessing, the things that deacons can’t do and I’m sure things that Simon, Michael and Sam are longing to do.

There’s one other important thing that priests do, however, and something which I think is a vital ministry in the world in which we now live. It’s something that’s fundamental to priesthood but also to the ministry of the whole church, which of course finds its focus in the priest. It’s something that a priest both does and is, something that the church does and is and it’s all about this business of reconciliation.

The disciples are locked away in the Upper Room, the place in which they’d spent that final evening with Jesus, the place in which he’d startled them by taking the towel and washing their feet; the place in which he’d baffled them by taking bread and taking wine and talking of both as his body and blood; the place in which they’d been shocked as Judas stormed out and left them to it, off on his way to betray the one they loved.

It was in this room, the doors locked, the windows barred that they now were. They’d been through the most dreadful three days and now they were here in a place of safety, even though there were stories doing the rounds that Jesus was alive. And into their fear Jesus breaks in with a greeting of peace – ‘Peace be with you’ he says. They see him, they hear him and they feel his breath on them as he gives them the authority, the ministry to be reconcilers, to forgive sins, to share God’s shalom, God’s salaam, God’s peace with the world.

For much of the history of the Church of England when priests were being ordained it was these words of Jesus that were spoken to the person as the bishop laid their hands on their head. In the Book of Common Prayer this is the defining ministry into which we’re called, for which we’re set apart. We’re to be reconcilers, we’re to do reconciliation.

I heard a wonderful and moving poem the other day, written in Polish by Adam Zagajewski but read in translation. It begins like this

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.

It was so beautiful I could have cried. ‘The mutilated world’. We’re living through days and months and years of mutilation. The events of three weeks ago at London Bridge and at the Borough Market brought the horror of what we’ve witnessed on the TV in so many ‘other’ places, to our own doorstep, to the edges of this community where we gather today for this Mass. It was horrific, as was the fire at Grenfell Tower, another form of terror, as was the attack on the worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque, as had been the attacks in Westminster and in Manchester. Lives and communities have been mutilated. And the world is being mutilated, God’s good creation, ‘June’s long days and wild strawberries’ are being mutilated. But the poet urges us to praise this mutilated world, to love it.

As the news of the attack at London Bridge appeared on my phone I put on my dog collar and attempted to get to the Cathedral to open the place up so that we could minister from it. Of course I couldn’t and I ended up on Southwark Street with the injured and the terrified. And I was scared, I don’t mind telling you. I learnt so much about being a priest in those hours and days afterwards, when I couldn’t get to the altar to offer the Eucharist, when the Cathedral was locked inside a cordon, bearing the scars of the atrocities that’d taken place around it.

What are priests? We are breakers and menders. We are people called to take bread and brake it so that many can share in its strength. We are people called to take hold of the chains of sin which bind people and with the grace and power of God to break them so that they can be free. We are people who take the wine and water and pour them into the wounds of the injured to mend them, to bring them Christ’s healing. We are the people to bring God to the people and the people to God so that true reconciliation can take place. We are the breakers and we are the menders and we enter every situation with the words with which Jesus enters that locked and terrified space, ‘Peace be with you.’

The prophet Malachi recognises this in our First Reading when he says of the priest

‘he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts’.

You, we, priests, the church, the priestly people of God, we are the messengers of the Lord of Hosts, we are the breakers and the menders, we are the people of peace, we are the ones who, as Paul says to the Christians in Corinth, are entrusted with the ‘message of reconciliation’.

God holds the mutilated world and must weep over it and over us, as Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus – but not in hopelessness. For out of his tears Jesus cries ‘Unbind him; let him go’ and that out of the depths of his priestly nature.

What do priests do? None of us really knows. Each day brings its joys and challenges and we face them equally but we go armed with the grace of orders on behalf of the whole church, with the authority to break what must be broken, to heal what must be healed, to forgive what must be forgiven, to reconcile what must be reconciled, to bless whatever should be blessed.

The day of my ordination as a priest

One of the heroes of our faith is Queen Esther. It seemed she was destined for a life of relaxed glamour when chosen for the king’s harem. But instead God had a task for her, to be the advocate on behalf of her people, the Jews. She didn’t feel up to it. But then a message came back to her. She’d been chosen by God ‘for such a time as this’.

My brothers, my friends, we are the church, the priestly church, for such a time as this. All we can do, however daunting it may be, is to take it to the altar, to offer it in broken bread and wine outpoured and then go out onto the streets of the mutilated world and be the breakers and the menders, the peace speakers and the peace livers who will make Christ known – that is what we do, that is who we are, that is who Jesus is – and he is out there doing it already and waiting for us to join him.

And this is the prayer I used before each of my addresses at the retreat.

God give to your priests grace to fulfil their ministry,
reverence in celebrating the sacraments,
faithfulness in proclaiming the word,
zeal in mission,
diligence in pastoral care
tenderness in comforting,
power in healing the wounds of your people
and humility, self-sacrifice and courage in all things.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Suffering, endurance, hope

Thank God for Oscar Wilde who bequeathed us so many epigrams in his plays and writings.  In that wonderful play ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ he writes

‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple.’

What can be said of truth can be said of life, it is neither pure nor simple. If it were simply grim then we couldn’t bear it, but it isn’t. But these have been some grim weeks for those of us in London and these have been a grim few months for us as a nation as a whole. For some what is grim for others has been life-changing and life-destroying.  For the injured and the bereaved, Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge mean that life will never be the same again. For the residents of Grenfell Tower the horror that they have gone through is unimaginable, the real stuff of nightmares. The loss of life, the injuries, the stress, the implications for ongoing life when your home, your things, your papers and documents, the stuff that holds your memories are all taken from you in an instant must be beyond description.  I was with someone the other day who had been through a devastating fire herself.  The pictures from Kensington brought it all back.  ‘I can still smell the smoke’ she said and she always will.  The smell lingers in the memory as much as physical scars which are always reminders of horrendous experiences.

prince-harry-makes-surprise-visit-to-borough-market-after-terror-attack

Prince Harry with Paul in the Borough Market

 

This past week has been one of trying to begin to get back to some kind of normality, a new normality, in the community around Southwark Cathedral. The church was the first of the major places to reopen. The Borough Market opened on Wednesday and in between the bars and restaurants gradually opened.  Just before the Market bell was rung by one of the traders at 10.00am on Wednesday morning to announce the commencement of trading, the Bishop of Southwark with some of the Cathedral clergy and servers went out with holy water and incense to cleanse and re-hallow the area after the horror of what had happened.  The procession then arrived in the Market as it reopened.

I was talking to Paul, the trader who rang the bell, who was visited, amongst other by Prince Harry on Thursday.  He runs a fruit and veg stall in the market, a proper east-end market trader. And he told me that not only was he reopening and supporting the market in that, but he was organising his fellow traders to send food over to Kensington for the people now made homeless.  It’s acts like that which relieve the grim reality and reveal that deep-seated goodness that is a true part of human nature.

On Friday we hosted at Southwark Cathedral a ‘Service of Hope’ at which were survivors of the attack, families of the injured and those who lost loved ones gathered with first responders in an act of solidarity and hope.  The stories of bravery and the acts of goodness that I’ve hard in the past two weeks, the tremendous images of community acting together around the base of that burnt out tower are humbling.  Good people are everywhere.

I was reminded of a passage from the Letter of St Paul to the Romans.

‘Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.’ (Romans 5.3-5)

Hope

Suffering, endurance, hope, an experience of community – and every part of that needs to be recognised for what it is, along with the acts of goodness, generosity and love that are woven through it.  The grim reality remains in broken lives, destroyed homes, shattered dreams but into that is shot the transcendent love of God that is revealed in broken humanity and transformed in divine and everlasting life.

God, take our suffering,
build our endurance,
crown it with hope
and may all be suffused
with your love.
Amen.

‘I am with you always’

This is the text of the sermon I preached at Southwark Cathedral on Trinity Sunday 2017 the day on which we were able to reopen the Cathedral following the terrorist attack on our community a week before.

Saturday night last week was like a living nightmare. It’s the kind of experience that only happens to other people, not to you, not on your own doorstep. But it happened to us, it happened on our own doorstep, literally; it happened in our own community that we love and that we’ve served in Christ’s name for over 1400 years. Those years have seen their share of war and pestilence and fire but I doubt that ever before has the church been inaccessible to worshippers for a week, inaccessible as the place of peace and contemplation that people expect and need, inaccessible as the place of welcome and embracing, radical hospitality and love that we seek to be. But it happened.

Flowers

When I first heard that something was happening in the London Bridge area I put on my dog collar and headed down Bankside to try and open up the Cathedral so that we could be a place of refuge. But initially I didn’t get far.

So I went through the back alleys and got as far as Park Street and Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Market Porter. But heavily armed police barred my way and forced me back. ‘Run, run’ was all they shouted. I was directed on to Southwark Street and there saw people lying on the pavement being cared for by the emergency services. ‘Run, run’ was all I could hear through the sound of sirens and helicopters and I was forced on and on until I got back to the Deanery and shut the door behind me on the living nightmare.

Around midnight I received a text from Amir Eden, a young man who lives on Park Street, a lawyer who was a pupil at Cathedral School, a practising Muslim who’s the chair of the Bankside Residents Forum. ‘Could I come to yours? I can’t really go anywhere.’ was his text. I texted back ‘Of course’ and so he arrived and with 8 other people spent the night in our house.

The rest I suppose you know about. 8 brutally killed, 48 horribly injured. The Cathedral was forcibly entered by the police searching for more attackers, doors broken down, glass smashed in a desperate effort to stop more bloodshed. It happened on our doorstep, on the threshold of God’s house.

And now we’re here on this Trinity Sunday, back in this sacred place, which is still sacred. The risen body of Jesus bears the marks of the nails and the spear and Jesus shows his hands and his side to his disciples. The Sacristy door shows the marks of the baton rounds fired at it to break open the door and allow the police access. We bear on our body the marks of suffering that so many bear in their flesh and in their soul and spirit.

St Matthew places the final encounter of the disciples with the risen Jesus not on the Mount of Olives, just outside the city of Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, the place where they started, the place of call and from that place of call he sends them out to the nations, to take the Good News, to baptise and teach. But then, before he leaves them he makes a promise, a promise to them and a promise to us.

Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’. (Matthew 28.20)

In the horror of the moment it’s all too easy to imagine that you’re on your own, that you’re abandoned to the nightmare, lost in the terror, but Jesus says ‘No; remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

God was not absent on that Saturday night; God is never absent. The Psalmist knows it to be true when they say

Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. (Psalm 139.7-8)

We are not abandoned by the Sprit, we are not abandoned by the Father, we are not abandoned by the Son for we have this promise ‘I am with you always.’

On Friday I was invited to go to our local mosque by the Imam. I went with other clergy from here and we were welcomed with open arms. I’d been invited to speak to a packed congregation. The Imam preached about our shared humanity and our shared heritage through Adam and I was able to respond to that, taking your greetings to our brothers and sisters, telling them that we do not hold the Muslim community to blame, telling them that we recognise that we share so much, praying, peace upon you, greeting them as Paul greets the Christians in the multi-cultural, multi-faith, complex and exciting city of Corinth

‘Live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you’. ( 2 Corinthians 13.11)

That is what we have to do. What we share is what God has given, a shared heritage, a shared humanity, not just with the Muslim community but with all people, all men and women, regardless of anything that others might identify as difference. Difference does not mean division unless we chose to make it so, and we chose to make difference a blessing and an enrichment to our community which is why we celebrate who you are, who we are, male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight – and I will say that again and again and again from this pulpit until it is deep in all our hearts, to the very core of our being.

The great metaphysical poet and Dean of St Paul’s, John Donne, famously wrote a poem, so well known.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

‘Any man’s death diminishes me’ which is what the Quran teaches, that killing one life is killing all life. We have all been scarred by what happened last Saturday on our doorstep and we will bear those scars. But they will not make us bitter but make us stronger.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ said Edmund Burke. We will not do nothing. We will rebuild with the community what good things we have, we will rebuild the joy and diversity, the confidence, the acceptance, the inclusive, radically beautiful nature of this community that has been built over centuries and millennia. The roots go deep and cannot be destroyed by evil men and we will not allow it but will confront that evil with love.

wounds of crucifixion

We bear on our body the marks of Jesus

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is the feast of relationship, that beautiful relationship of diversity in the very Godhead, the Perichoresis, the divine dance into which we’re drawn. And we’re drawn and invited to this altar, through the Spirit, by the Father, to share in what the Son gives to us. With scarred hands he gives his broken body to us, gives his shed blood to us, and he asks us to eat and drink so that through his death we may have life. He is always with us, always, at the altar, in the world, walking through the dangerous places and showing his scarred self to a scarred world and making it, ultimately, beautiful.

Loving God,
when terror came to our doorstep
and stalked our streets
you were there with us in the fear and agony.
Remain with us
and with all those caught up
in the horror of these events
the injured and distressed
those who died
and all who seek your peace
which passes understanding.
Amen.

Reformation

I had to vote last week – in the General Election. When the snap election was announced and the date was set I realised that for once in my life I was not going to be in the country on election day.  So I sent off the form for my postal vote, duly received the papers and had the weird experience of standing in the kitchen with my pen – I wish the envelope had contained one of those stumpy pencils obviously only manufactured for UK elections – and made my cross in the box.  On the radio the arguments between the parties were continuing.  The campaign hadn’t ended but I had to make my choice, one way or the other, or the other, or the other ….

1529MartinLuther

Martin Luther

 

The reason that I won’t be here on Thursday is that that will be Day 4 of our Cathedral pilgrimage in the steps of Martin Luther.  Monday sees over forty of us from the Cathedral and its wider community flying off to Frankfurt to begin tracing the life of someone who had an amazing effect upon the life and shape and beliefs of Western Europe and, indeed the world.  To be honest I knew very little about Luther or indeed Lutheranism.  Southwark Cathedral has had a very long link with the Norwegian Lutheran Cathedral in Bergen and has an even longer association with the work of the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe. But, as I have discovered, Lutherans are even more complicated than Anglicans (though as yet I don’t think they consecrate curates as bishops!) and knowing the churches of Porvoo doesn’t mean that you know or understand Lutherans.  My formation as a priest at Mirfield prepared me for lots of things that would be vital in my priesthood but Martin Luther was not one of them.  I do remember one lecture by Fr Norman Blamires CR, now long since gone to his rest, in which he seemed to suggest that Luther had his best ideas on the loo.  But just as people often only remember the most insignificant part of a sermon I can’t remember much more than that, or the point he was trying to make.

So I’m looking forward to travelling around Germany, with an expert guide and learning a great deal more about some hammer blows in a door that became hammer blows on a church. Of course, we shouldn’t talk about reformation but reformations because it wasn’t one movement but a whole series of movements that manifested itself differently in different communities, in different churches at different times.  No expression of church in the west remained the same, we all reformed in one way or anther, to one degree or another. Neither is it a process that has ended.

In preparation for this year of commemoration the Lutherans and Roman Catholics produced a joint document entitled ‘From Conflict to Communion’ and at the end of that there are a series of ‘Five Ecumenical Imperatives’ the second of which is this

Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.

It’s that process of continuous transformation that should excite us.  The church, as we understand it, is never static, it changes, develops, but never loses its essential character as the Body of Christ.

Pentecost-2012

Transforming Spirit

 

We travel to Germany the day after the Feast of Pentecost, the great day of transformation for the church as locked in, frightened men were emboldened to become witnesses, as wind and fire brought energy and life, not just into them but into those who heard them. The crowds who heard the hubbub, people from every nation, hearing in their own language, asked one question

‘All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ (Acts 2.12)

That gave the opportunity for Peter, with a new found voice and confidence to stand up and preach the first sermon.  Thousands of lives were re-formed, transformed as a consequence.  I hope that as we travel around Germany we can experience some of that transformation that continuous process of change through encounter.

You can follow the journey by reading the blog here.

This is the prayer we will be using throughout the pilgrimage.

O God, our refuge and our strength: you raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Saviour, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark