A night of terror

Thank you to all who have been sending such messages of solidarity, hope and care.  Your prayers are so appreciated.  At the moment we don’t know when we will be able to get into the Cathedral.  Until then, on this Day of Pentecost, I am praying this prayer.

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.

The waiting game

It used to be the case – and I’m talking some years ago now – that during the Eucharist for Ascension Day a server would solemnly approach the Paschal Candle with a long candle snuffer and put it out.  That could have been during the reading of the account of the ascension from the Acts of the Apostles or after the Gospel or when in the Creed we said ‘and ascended into heaven.’ But wherever it happened in this dramatic act, the point was made that Jesus was gone.

The Paschal Candle, first lit from the new fire at the Easter Vigil, inscribed with the year, marked with the symbols of the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, and ‘wounded’ in five places, becomes from that point onwards a representation of the presence of the Risen Lord, who in his incarnation enters time – the year; as Christ encompasses time – the Alpha and Omega; bears the marks of his passion – the wounds; and yet is alive as the flame denotes.  But in fact Ascension Day, the fortieth day after the resurrection, if you follow St Luke’s chronology, is not about the absence of Jesus from that point onwards but his continuing presence.  So the flame is not extinguished but continues to burn until the fiftieth day, the Day of Pentecost, when that one flame is then ignited as a myriad of flames, on the heads, in the hearts of the disciples, the apostles, the church, us.

So the candle stays and the server has no job to do!

Before Jesus is taken from their sight on that holy mountain he says to his friends gathered around him,

‘stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Luke 24.49)

and in the Acts of the Apostles we hear how they responded to this command

‘When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, … constantly devoting themselves to prayer.’ (Acts 1.13, 14)

Like so many things that Jesus asks of them, asks of us, it was a tough call.  They were already outside of the city which had proved to be a hostile and dangerous place.  Ok, they had some friends there but lots of enemies, people who had a vested interest in making sure that the story about Jesus did not get out. They were already on the road that led them back to Galilee and their homes and their families and their nets and their seat of custom. After all, it was via this mountain that they had first arrived to triumphant shouts and much excitement just 48 days before.  They could leave and have a life! But Jesus asks them to go back, through those walls, through those gates and into that room, to stay, to play the waiting game.

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Parson James

 

There’s just this waiting game
And I don’t know how to play
It’s enough of a fight staying alive anyway
Yes, there’s this waiting game
And I don’t know how to play
It’s enough of a fight staying alive anyway.

Those are lyrics by the American singer-songwriter, Parson James, and they speak of a young gay man from an inter-racial background wanting to escape but knowing he has to wait.

Staying with it, staying there, not knowing how to play it, not sure if you have the ‘fight’ in you, it’s a tough call.  But this is what Jesus asks of those eleven and his mother, Mary. ‘Stay here in the city’. And that room that they went back to was packed full of emotion and memory.  It may well have been the room they used for the Last Supper, the room they retreated to after the crucifixion, the room Mary Magdalene left early in the morning to go to the tomb, the room she came back to with unbelievable news, the room in which Jesus appeared, without and then with Thomas.  Now it became the church, the first church of the Church, where the body of Christ gathered in prayer. It would be the room into which wind and flame would break, from which they would be expelled and from where they would be sent to live out their apostleship, their ‘sentness’.

Last week was another that began and ended with horror.  The events in Manchester were a manifestation of unbelievable evil and distorted religion and there is no other way to describe it. The images we woke to on Tuesday morning and since have been heart-rending.  Then on Friday the news from Egypt of twenty eight Coptic Christians slaughtered and another thirty-odd injured, on a pilgrimage to a monastery, was another tragedy being faced by the members of that ancient and holy church.

Manchester

Staying in the city

 

But alongside the terrible images were ones that I found strengthening. The crowds out in the centre of Manchester, lighting the flame, standing in solidarity, being brave, being united, in the city, was my encouragement.  ‘Stay in the city’ says Jesus to us, keep the flame burning and don’t extinguish it, for as St Matthew tells us in his account of the Ascension

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

The Alpha and Omega God, who bears the wounds, who is the light in the darkness, even when the clouds obscure our sight, doesn’t send us back to the city alone but is there with us, in the square, in the arena, on that bus, in that crowd, with the dying, with the wounded, with the compassionate, holding the afraid and wiping every tear from our eyes. Jesus knows he is asking a huge thing when he sends us back to play the waiting game, when he asks us to stay, but in asking he doesn’t leave us but stays with us – and that is why we never extinguish the flame.

Stay with us Lord,
as we stay with you,
in Manchester,
in Egypt,
in every place of pain,
of terror, of distress,
for we know that even in the darkness
your flame of life
gives light.
Amen.

The life-long journey

Today at Southwark Cathedral is one of our ‘baptism Sundays’. We have about five a year, when perhaps three or four children are brought by parents and godparents and the rest of their family and friends to the Cathedral for the Choral Eucharist during which baptisms take place.  You’d imagine that, taking a lead from the Acts of the Apostles which we always read during the Easter season, there would be universal rejoicing that ‘the Lord is adding to our number’. But as with many churches the fact that the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, the two dominical sacraments amongst the seven, are celebrated together, is not met with unalloyed joy.  Some people are displaced from their ‘normal’ seat; there are a lot of people who ‘don’t know what they are doing’ and of course the babies tend to cry during the quieter parts of the service.  It’s all very disruptive!

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A well behaved baby!

 

Of course, when I was a curate, those unreformed days, we did baptisms on a Sunday afternoon, the church packed with people and the congregation conveniently at home enjoying their Sunday lunch whilst new members of the Body of Christ were being welcomed by the harassed curate.

Last week I went to Ireland to meet members of the Society of Catholic Priests working there, both north and south of the border. It was great to meet other members of the Society working in a very different church environment and facing different issues to those of us in the Church of England including how they will work as one church in a post-Brexit environment when the border between north and south may be very real.  After the meeting had finished my host drove me out to see one of the more ancient churches in the area.  St Doulagh’s Church – Clochar Dúiligh – stands just outside the town of Malahide.  This was part of the Norwegian Kingdom in Ireland and there was thought at one time that St Doulagh never existed but was a manifestation of Olave.  But now it’s thought that the saint did exist, a hermit, maybe living in a cell on this site. The small medieval church dates from the 12th century and is the only church with a solid stone roof still to be in use in Ireland.  It is beautiful.  Alongside the ancient church is a Victorian nave and sanctuary constructed by the father of ‘Woodbine Willie’, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, whose Great-Granddaughter was visiting the church at the same time as I was (what a small world it is).

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The baptistery at St Doulagh’s

 

However, what was most fascinating was that in the grounds around the church is a separate baptistery.  It’s the only one in Ireland.  The sunken octagonal structure covers a water channel into which those to be baptised were taken.  A pool by the side may have been for baptism by total immersion.  As a result of various bits of work to the land and the nearby road the water source has been diverted and the baptistery is now dry.  But it is a deeply wonderful, evocative place.  The main baptistery is dedicated to St Doulagh, the small pool to St Catherine.  It is said that St Patrick operated in this area, that a small community lived here.  It is certainly a place of deep and resonant history.

In between the ‘font’ and the pool a hawthorn grows.  My guide suggested that it was the descendent of a pagan hawthorn on the spot that the Christians ‘baptised’, adopted in the way that the early missionaries did, to take the local pagan population with them.  Whatever the truth it was amazing to see.  It took me to other places were baptisteries are separate and not least to northern Syria, to the complex of church and monastic buildings from the 5th century dedicated to St Simon Stylites that is a few miles northwest of Aleppo.  There too is an octagonal baptistery at the end of what would have been a triumphal processional route that the newly baptised would take into the church.  The baptistery and route to the church outside of Malahide are more modest but the principal is the same.

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The baptistery of St Simon near Aleppo

 

It reminded me of one of the texts in the Common Worship Baptismal Rite.  After the baptism, as part of the prayers, the priest can use these words

In baptism God invites you on a life-long journey.
Together with all God’s people
you must explore the way of Jesus.

The early builders in Ireland and Syria knew this to be true.  The deep and flowing waters through which the child, the adult, was brought was a kind of Red Sea experience.  Then the journey began, from the baptistery into the church, from that Sacrament into the Christian life, ‘exploring the way of Jesus’. Perhaps we should build some more external baptisteries!

This prayer is also from Common Worship.

Eternal God, our beginning and our end,
preserve in your people the new life of baptism;
as Christ receives us on earth,
so may he guide us through the trials of this world,
and enfold us in the joy of heaven,
where you live and reign,
one God for ever and ever.
Amen.

Under attack

The saying goes, and I apologise for the gender exclusive language, that ”An Englishman’s home is his castle’. It appears that the saying goes back to Sir Edward Coke, in The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628 where he wrote

“For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

Home

Makes you feel safe doesn’t it.  It reminds me of a TV commercial for an insurance company, way back, way back, in which the father figure, providing security for his family, through the said insurance company, draws them into some crenelated walls.  They were safe, secure, no one could attack them.

I have one of those phones, smart they call them, ok it’s an iPhone, that now controls my life.  I can control the TV, the heating, my music, my banking, my life, as well as my diary, social media contacts, friendships and everything else from it and it also, occasionally, can get a signal to effectively call someone.  If I temporarily mislay it I’m lost, it contains everything; if I were to lose it, well, that would be a crisis.  And I only give it access to everything about me because I have to believe that it is as secure as my home, a little castle in my pocket.

So the cyber attack on Friday that so affected the NHS, but so many other places, in so many countries, is a wake-up call to me and I suppose to others. The castle is easily breached and we are in a world in which we can be open to attack in new and very damaging ways.

At the same time Jeremy Corbyn was speaking about his own attitude to military intervention, seeking to assure others that he isn’t a pacifist and would use a military response in a crisis as a last resort. As someone who is essentially a pacifist I can appreciate his position. My problem is that, in reality, I’m just not sure what the last resort is. When do you decide that all other options have been exhausted? And what is an attack like nowadays, and how does this cyber warfare fit into our other concepts of war and aggression.

If the loss or hacking of my phone would devastate the running of every aspect of my life what can it do on a national scale? Well, we have seen something of what it means – hospitals unable to respond to patients needs, people being sent home, appointments cancelled, data inaccessible.  We are totally dependent on the digital world in which we now exist.

My Sunday treat is to go along to the local pizza restaurant with some friends.  Until a couple of weeks ago the waiters took your order on a pad of paper with a pen.  Now they have an electronic gizmo that enables them to do it, well, I suppose in theory more efficiently.  But last week in the end the guy looking after us resorted to his pad and pen – it was quicker.

But the thing that all this has made me aware of again is our vulnerability.  We like to imagine otherwise, that the castle is secure, that we have systems in place to protect us, but it is a fantasy that we construct to make ourselves feel ok.  And God enters into this vulnerability in which we live and, in Jesus, gives himself to it.  All the power language that we might use in relation to God, those big titles, those huge descriptors – omniscient, omnipotent – as well as the usual ‘Almighty’ so beloved in Anglican liturgy, is as nothing when we look at the cross.

Was the cross the last resort, the ultimate intervention in the war in which humankind was engaged, the conflict of good and evil, of love and hate, of dark and light.  In many ways it was.  Had God run out of options and the only final option was to be at the most vulnerable, to be not the God we had supposed God to be.  Surprisingly, that truth makes me feel more secure.

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The vulnerable God

 

The painting by Hieronymus Bosch ‘Christ crowned with thorns’ shows Jesus under of attack from a variety of fiendish individuals.  But he looks at us from the midst of it with an enigmatic gaze that reminds me that nothing can defeat him.

Though he was in the form of God,
[he] did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2.6-8)

The kenosis, self-emptying of Christ, is the amazing response to the conflict that humanity was caught up in. Wherever the attacks come from, whatever form they take, the God who embraces our vulnerability stands in solidarity with us.

Vulnerable God,
whose weakness makes me strong,
whose death brings me to life
save me from the fear of what might be
with the knowledge that you are
in Jesus
victorious.
Amen.

Post-Easter

You may be familiar with the out of office message or the recording that you hear on the ‘phone ‘The Vicar is on their post-Easter break.’ Frustrating I know if you want an answer there and then, book a wedding, arrange a baptism, use the hall but we all need a break. That’s what I’ve been doing this week. So I hope you’ll excuse there being no proper Living God post today. All I’ll say is that the break was great and I look forward to being back. And I always give thanks that Jesus gave us a good model of taking time out. 

Jesus rests


Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6.31)

He and the disciples needed a break, to eat, to rest. So do we. Normal service will be resumed as there is a great deal going on to reflect on.

Living God, bless our working, bless our resting. Amen. 

More tea, Vicar?

Whilst ‘Asparagus-gate’ continued to rattle on in Worcester Cathedral I was getting ready to bless in Southwark Cathedral the First Flush Darjeeling tea for one of the stall holders in the Borough Market.  Would I face the same criticism? I read the reports of the service held in Worcester.  It seemed that the objection was to the ‘pantomime’ of having someone in the procession dressed as an asparagus shoot.  I’ve actually seen more bizarre forms of dress in Cathedral processions than that but, well, there you go! But I was ok.  It seemed that it wasn’t the fact that asparagus was being blessed, or God was being thanked for (though someone asked about a similar liturgy for Sprouts) but that it looked as though God, through the liturgy, was being ridiculed. I breathed a sigh of relief.  No one was going to be dressed as a tea leaf or a teabag and the liturgy that I had written for the occasion was as orthodox as I could make it.

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‘More tea, Vicar?’

 

Obviously the challenge was the reading – the Bible is light on hot drinks – but it is clear that we are to bring the first fruits of the harvest to God, to make an offering and to give thanks. So we read this.

The Lord said to Aaron, ‘All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the choice produce that they give to the LORD, I have given to you. The first fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours; everyone who is clean in your house may eat of it. Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours.’ (Numbers 18.12-14)

It was a lovely occasion and Ratan, the stallholder of Tea2You in the Borough Market, who had been out into the hills where tea grows in northern India to select the best of the harvest spoke eloquently about it.  I quoted another cleric, the Revd Sydney Smith, who wrote in his memoir in the early years of the 19th century

“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”

Hear, hear, Reverend Sir! Lots to give thanks for and especially for we clerics who get plied with gallons of the hot brown liquid as we make our pastoral visits, or at least that was the case when I was in the parish.  Developing a strong bladder to see you through an afternoon’s pastoral visiting, which is what we did every day when I was first ordained, was a necessary stage in proper clerical formation. ‘Never refuse a cup of tea’, I was told ‘and never ask to use the bathroom in someone’s house!’ Conceding to both rules was a physical impossibility for me.  But as Oscar Wilde says in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

‘Tea is the only simple pleasure left to us.’

And so when I was presented with the newly harvested tea in the Cathedral I prayed that all who drank it might be

‘calmed, strengthened
and comforted.’

A simple prayer for a simple pleasure.

Whilst all of this was going on we had been hosting the annual residential meeting of the Deans’ Conference. This gathering of the English Anglican Deans moves around the country year-on-year and this time it was the privilege of St Paul’s and Southwark to co-host it.  Moving around gives us the opportunity to see what ministry in our different cathedrals looks like.  This is important always but especially when the ministry and especially the governance and finances of all the English Cathedrals are under some measure of scrutiny and consideration as the Archbishops’ Working Party begins its deliberations. Some in the press put 2 and 2 together and, with a display of worse numerical dexterity than some Deans are being accused of, came up with 5! The Deans were holding a crisis meeting to talk about failing finances. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.  Of course, the Working Party and the issues around it were discussed but not in some febrile atmosphere. Instead we all look forward to seeing what positive findings the members of the Working Party come up with.

So most of our time was spent looking at the world in which St Paul’s and Southwark seek to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and minister to all his people – London, north and south of the river. To do that we visited what we called the ‘Five Estates’ taken from the famous ‘three estates’ of France’s Ancien Régime. We began with finance by visiting Canary Wharf and the offices of J P Morgan.  That involved a fascinating visit to the trading floor as well as a conversation about Brexit, the markets and the ethics of global finance.  Then to the Corporation of the City of London that ancient and unique local authority.  We had a session with a team from the London Borough of Southwark including both the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council to talk about physical and social regeneration and wellbeing as part of that.  Then we moved to the offices of NewsUK located alongside Southwark Cathedral and spent a fascinating time with members of the editorial, reporting and commentating team of the Times.  What is news? What is truth? What is fact? were our topics of conversation.  And in all of that we talked about how our two cathedrals respond in this fast-paced, fast changing world.

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London

 

The Dean of St Paul’s invited me to preach at the final Eucharist of the Conference celebrated at the high altar in St Paul’s.  It was the (transferred) Feast of St Mellitus, the first Bishop of London.  I concluded my sermon in this way, speaking of what I see the role of the Dean to be, pondering on the question suggested by the readings for the Mass as to whether we were to be builders or shepherds.

‘We have to be what the time and the place need, what Jesus needs of us. And he needs us first and foremost to be disciples, he needs us first and foremost to be priests. It’s our discipleship which helps us to walk with others, it’s our priesthood that enables our ministry to others. What will make a difference is not how high the tower gets but what happens in the pulpit and what happens at the altar, that’s what’ll make a difference, the difference, a place buzzing with theology, a people encountering God in the most sublime worship, a community meeting the risen Jesus in broken bread.

That’s the real Christian project and I believe Cathedrals have to be flagships of that, champions, exemplars of that in a church crying out for confident, radical, inclusive Christian commitment that’s life changing, faith enhancing. We can build it and shepherd it but it will be in people’s lives that we see our real priestly work bearing fruit, fruit that will last.

Whatever we take away from this time we’ve had together in London and Southwark I hope and pray that we’ll take away a renewed commitment and confidence in the task, wherever we are and whatever that particular task is, but knowing that we can only build on one set of foundations, those of Jesus Christ and shepherd only one flock, his.’

That may include blessing asparagus or tea; it may involve walking the City trading floors, debating truth with journalists or looking to the wellbeing of communities undergoing regeneration.  It will involve being the Body of Christ, visibly and passionately and welcoming the faithful and the yet to be faithful, through ever open doors.

God of the Church,
bless our cathedrals
and the communities
they serve,
welcome,
and bless
in your name.
Amen.

Running the race

I may have admitted this before, but if not, I was terrible at PE.  There, I’ve admitted it to the world; I was appalling. When teams were being chosen in a PE lesson I was always the last to be selected, it was like a constant re-run of those heart-rending scenes from Ken Loache’s film, ‘Kes’. So looking out from the Deanery every day, walking to and from the Cathedral, every day, I’m passed by so many runners, in their Lycra, putting themselves through their paces and I’m reminded of my physical inadequacies.  Many of those runners at this time of the year will be getting themselves race-ready for the London Marathon.  All  credit to them.

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The memory is all too real!

 

In fact, however, I was happier doing a long distance run when I was at school than playing a team sport.  The prescribed route took us from the playing fields at the rear of our school, across the railway bridge, along a length of the Grand Union Canal and then back through a housing estate to the school.  I’ve always assumed that as we disappeared over the horizon the staff went and had a coffee and awaited our return.  That was the premise I worked on which allowed me to walk the rest of the route until we were back in sight of the school.  That was why I enjoyed it.  So no Marathon for me!

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, however, is keen on running as a metaphor for the Christian life.

‘Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’ (Hebrews 12.1-2)

and St Paul uses similar ideas in his First Letter to the Corinthians

‘Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.’ (1 Corinthians 9.24-17)

But with every race there’s a start and finishing line just as there is in the Christian life, something to which we look, a place from which we start, a leader who sets the pace.  Which is what made the announcement by the Prime Minister on Tuesday such a surprise.  We were all expecting an easing back into the parliamentary summer term as they, like our schools, returned after the Easter break. We were assuming that all energy and concentration would be on the urgent negotiations following the triggering of Article 50.  And anyway, there was a Fixed Term Parliament Act in place so that politics could not be manoeuvred and engineered at the whim of a PM! We should never assume anything. So the starting pistol was fired (even before the debate the following day in the Commons) and the race was on towards the finishing line on 8 June.

Though Brenda from Bristol (the surprise star of social media since her honest and disbelieving response to the news of another election) may represent the views of many of us, in fact many people seeming to be saying ‘bring it on’. Politicians need to be able to respond with freedom to the events of the last two years in this country and we all need to register our feelings on a number of issues, not just Brexit.

Christians need to be there, in the race, standing for election and engaging with the issues.  The care of the elderly, the NHS, prisons, the farming community, the rural and urban poor, the environment, overseas aid, defence, schools, immigration, you name it, people of faith have a view on it because God has a view on it.  Mary makes that clear when she sings the Magnificat to her cousin Elizabeth; Jesus makes that clear when he reads Isaiah to his family and neighbours; Paul makes that clear when he tells the Council of Jerusalem that he’ll concentrate on the poor.

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A preacher of Gospel justice

 

One of the heroes of the modern church and a saint of our time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, got it exactly right when he said

‘I am puzzled by which Bible people are reading when they suggest that religion and politics don’t mix.’

And speaking about the Millennium Development Goals back in 2006 he said

‘I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.’

Tutu is a marathon runner for Gospel justice. As Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, who knew all about the Games, ‘Run in such a way that you may win it.’ Witness to that in the race that is set before us – even I will be running and that’s saying something!

God of justice,
God of peace,
God of the poor
and of the rich,
empower and inspire us
in the race set before us
and keep our eye on the goal
of your kingdom.
Amen.

Southwark Gloria

As an Easter gift I received a poem from a friend, the Revd Elaine Dando. I first met Elaine in 1980 when her husband and I began training at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield. Since then Elaine herself was ordained. Both her and her husband, Stephen, have a deep love for Southwark Cathedral and this poem, written by Elaine, comes out of that. I asked if I could share it with you and she kindly said yes.

‘Gloria in the space of silence’

Southwark Gloria

Gloria in excelsis:
Gloria in trains trundling
Past cathedral windows,
In tall shoots, stretching skywards
Over rumbling viaducts, high.
Gloria in the space of silence
In waiting Harvard
And the retro choir.
Gloria in our multi coloured,
Multi gendered revelation,
Of blessed incarnation
Inside this womb of consolation
and without.
Gloria in lonely isolation,
Gloria in blessed congregation:
In Bishop, priest and people dressed
For splendid celebration.
Gloria, as wafts of spicy food
and traffic fumes
Invade our nostrils,
As people lap our borders
With their gastronomic buys.
We sing our Gloria
To the glorious,
To the hopeful
And the suffering;
To the present moment
In all it’s deep fecundity,
In all it’s sweet theophany
From Earth to heaven, high.
Gloria, Gloria, Gloria
We worship and adore you
Our dear and suffering servant
Our endless life-filled spirit
The source of all our being
Gloria in excelsis Deo
Et in terra pax hominibus.
Glory to you, most high!

Triduum – The tomb

The tomb of Jesus has been in the news recently.  Whilst I was in Jerusalem on sabbatical the unheard of thing happened.  The tomb was closed to visitors for two days.  Not in recent history had this happened and it came after a long period of negotiation between the various denominations that have rights and vested interests in this most sacred place.  The tomb itself is located in what is called the Aedicule which is the free standing chapel under the rotunda.  I can’t say that it’s my favourite structure.  But what made it even more ugly than I think it is was the metalwork cage that seemed to surround it, to keep it together.  That was put in place during the period of the British Mandate in order to keep the structure in one piece.  But even that, for all its ugliness, was beginning to fail.  The Aedicule had been rebuilt in 1809-10 in the style described as Ottomon Baroque but it surrounded the original tomb which had become isolated from the mountain of which it was originally part.  The place where the body of Jesus was laid had been clad in marble to protect it from holy souvenir hunters.  But when the cladding was removed on 26 October and the material that lay beneath it removed, it was found by nightfall on 28 October that the original limestone burial bed was intact. This suggested to the archaeologists working on the project that the tomb location has not changed through time and confirmed the existence of the original limestone cave walls within the Aedicule.

The tomb was then sealed up and, when I went in as soon as it was open to pilgrims again, all I could see was fresh mortar between the marble panels.  But now, all the restoration work has been completed and the Aedicule is in a sound state to welcome millions more across its threshold, into the first chamber and then the burial place itself. It will be from this restored Aedicule that the Holy Fire will emerge for the first time this Easter.

The wraps coming off the restored Aedicule

But, to be honest, it still is a mammoth task of the imagination to imagine that this chapel, freestanding, under the dome was part of a cave in a rock into which had been carved a tomb.

Mark tells us all about it.

Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. (Mark 15.46)

Matthew tells us exactly the same thing as does Luke.  It’s John who adds a few more details

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. (John 19.41)

But whether it was in a garden or not it’s clear that the tomb was hewn into the rock but the pilgrim can feel very disconnected with that.  But behind the Aedicule in the wall of the rotunda, close to the Coptic altar that clings to the back of the tomb is a little doorway that leads to somewhere more hidden and holy.

If you go through you find a kokhim complex, a series of passages cut into the rock in which are tombs (there is fantastic example alongside the road down the Mount of Olives which is signposted as the Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi).  Pilgrims clamber through the small opening and with a torch can make out the chambers, cold empty holes cut into the rock.  Some say that this was where Joseph of Arimathea, the same Joseph you gave his tomb to Jesus, was buried.  We don’t know that.  But what this place does help us do is to make a bit of a connection with what the original tomb of Jesus might have been like.

The emptiness of these tombs, the sense of abandonment that surrounds them is, of course, important.  The tomb is just the tomb, the place of resurrection, but abandoned, vacated, left behind. The very emptiness is a challenge to death and you get a sense of that in this great poem by John Donne called ‘DEATH, be not proud, though some have called thee’, one of his Holy Sonnets.

DEATH, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

It’s a really, aggressive, almost cheeky, confident response to death, with that final cry of victory ‘Death, thou shalt die’. What could be stronger. So, however good the Aedicule now looks, it has to be an empty experience for the pilgrims who enter it if it is to speak properly of the resurrection to which it testifies. Those who bow and enter through its door must leave almost disappointed – there is nothing in it.

Abandoned .. empty

The stark ending to St Mark’s Gospel always has the ring of authenticity about it. The angel says to the women who have entered the tomb

‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16.6-8)

We won’t find Jesus in the tomb – we must always meet him in the ‘Galilee’ of the world.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Triduum – The tree

Whilst the cross is being venerated (in places where this sort of thing goes on) during the Liturgy of the Day on Good Friday the choir may be singing the traditional hymn ‘Pange Lingua’ (Sing my tongue) with the refrain known as ‘Crux Fidelis’

FAITHFUL Cross!
above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
 none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!

So often in hymns and readings for this season the cross is referred to as a tree.  It’s a useful way to refer to the cross when you want to be able to make a connection between Adam and Jesus. If the first man, Adam, fell from grace because of the fruit of a tree then the new Adam will himself be the fruit of the tree that will restore grace.  Jesus is that Second Adam and so the tree connection makes the connection. The fruit of one tree brought death, the fruit of a second tree brought life. ‘None in fruit thy peers may be’, we sing as we ‘behold the wood of the cross’.

It was therefore wonderful for me in my quest for the ‘hidden and holy’ in Jerusalem whilst there on sabbatical last year, that I came across a monastery set right at the heart of modern Jerusalem but off the beaten track as far as pilgrims are concerned.

The Monastery of the Cross is in Emek Hamatzlevah, the Valley of the Cross which is now part of west Jerusalem, just below the Knesset, the Parliament of Israel. The place was founded around the 4th – 5th century on a site venerated by the early Christians as being where the wood was obtained from which the cross was made.  But the story that surrounds it is amazing.

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The Monastery of the Cross

It goes back to the hospitality of Abraham and his three visitors, three angels, an experience of the Trinity.  The tradition is that before they left after they had been fed by Abraham and Sarah, they gave their staffs, made of different woods, to him.  The story then moves on to after the events concerning Lot and his sinful acts that we read of in Genesis.  Lot comes to Abraham and asks how he can be forgiven.  The Patriarch tells him to take the three staffs left by the angels and plant them on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  He was then to water them with water from the River Jordan.  If they blossomed it would be a sign that God had forgiven him.  Lot takes the staffs and despite the attempts of the Devil to prevent him, waters them with Jordan water.  They blossom and grow into one tree composed of three woods, pine, cypress and cedar. The story then moves forward to the trial of Jesus.  Pilate orders that this cursed tree (as he sees it) made up of three woods of different heights, be felled and brought for use in the crucifixion.  That is what happened.

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The tree is watered and blooms

The monastery that you find today is peaceful and beautiful.  The frescos in the main church are stunning and seldom seen as there are few visitors.  Behind the main sanctuary is a chapel in which, beneath the altar, is a hole from where the tree was removed.  Whatever the truth of the story it was a beautiful and holy place and it put me in touch with the tree, with the wood.  I was reminded of that wonderful Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Dream of the Rood’, and a passage from it

I beheld sorrowful the tree of the Saviour,
until I heard it utter a sound;
it began to speak words, the best of wood:
“That was very long ago, I remember it still,
that I was cut down from the edge of the wood,
ripped up by my roots.”

I traced the journey of that tree from that valley across to where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands which was itself at that time ‘without a city wall’ as Mrs Alexander’s hymn describes it. I climbed the steps up to Golgotha and to that other hole beneath the altar into which this tree was replanted. I had placed my hand in that first hole from which the tree had been ‘ripped up by my roots’ to us the Rood’s own words, and now placed my hands in this second hole, cut into lifeless rock in which the tree would bear fruit.  Then I went down the stairs that led to the quarry in which St Helena’s workers found the discarded wood, the discarded tree.

The carol ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’ a setting by Elizabeth Poston of a poem by an unknown author dating back to the 18th century, begins like this

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

The tree we venerate is the tree of life and the fruit of that tree is what gives us life.  Planted, replanted, it continues to bear fruit.

Jesus Christ,
fruit of the tree that gives life,
may I too be
a fruit-bearer
and
a life-giver
as I follow you.
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