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.

The clocks stopped

Yesterday I had the privilege to officiate at the funeral of PC Keith Palmer, a service which was held in Southwark Cathedral. Surrounded by his family, friends and colleagues tribute was paid to a man, doing his duty but in an exemplary way. The readings in the service, which was not broadcast to protect the privacy of his family, were John 15. 12–17 and the poem ‘Funeral Blues’ by W H Auden. This is the sermon that I preached.

The helmet and the rose

In the shadow of one of the world’s best known clocks, in the shadow of a tower from which the chimes announce the passing of the hours and the days and the years, bells which herald news and mark new beginnings, Keith died, doing his duty and it was as if in that moment the clocks stopped.

In moments as terrible as that it’s as though time stops as we try to catch up mentally with what’s just happened. It’s impossible to take in the full horror in a moment, the events of less than two minutes, two movements of those hands in which the injured lay and people were dying.

Keith’s death has affected all of us, in different ways and to different degrees. But for you, his family, that stopped moment in time took away your husband, your daddy. It took away a son, a brother, it took away a colleague and a friend and the friendly face of a friendly policemen at those gates with whom someone had just had a photo taken. A moment, the passing of the hands on the clock stole life and stole so much that we’d valued and thought was safe and secure, so much that’s at the heart of who we are as a nation.

The poet W H Auden describes so well the feeling of grief, of loss, ‘Stop all the clocks’. We don’t want time to move on, how can it when time has taken from us what we love. Grief is an agony deep in the heart of us, deep where love lies, that love we thought ‘would last forever’, that timeless love, killed in time.

Auden ends his poem with a cry of despair

‘nothing now can ever come to any good’

But we can’t allow that to be true, even though every instinct we have, the pain we bear, tells us that that is how it is, now that the clock moves on, we cannot allow it to be true that ‘nothing now can ever come to any good’.

Jesus is speaking to his friends. Time for them is moving on and they’re approaching the events that we’re remembering this week, the week when Christians remember the death of Jesus, the day we call Good Friday. In an Upper Room away from the crowds he washed their feet, the Master became the servant, to teach them how to love and then into their shock and amazement he gives them a new commandment

‘love one another as I have loved you.’

He then says something extraordinary.

‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’

Keith was doing his duty, doing what he always did. Then what happened happened. My instinct would’ve been to run away to save myself, to distance myself from the danger. Keith’s instinct was to run towards his assailant and in that act to lay down his life, for his friends, but for more than that, for much more than that.

Keith laid down his life for each one of us here, and each one of you who’ve lined the streets and filled the bridges of this city today, who kept vigil last night, who gathered in the Abbey last week, who laid flowers on Westminster Bridge and in Parliament Square, who’ve posted messages on social media, all who cried in front of their TVs, who listened in disbelief to their radios – we are those friends, known and unknown. He died for the politicians who represent us, he died for the democracy he was protecting, he died for the freedom we treasure. In a split second he made a decision, not to flee but to confront, and it cost him everything – and none of us will be the same again.

There is no greater love than this.

This week we’ll remember Jesus being led to the place of crucifixion, a seemingly broken man. But our Anglo-Saxon forbears thought of him, pictured him, differently. A poem was written a thousand years ago, as if the cross itself were telling its story and in it the cross says

‘I saw then the Saviour of mankind hasten with great zeal, as if he wanted to climb up on me. There I did not dare, against the word of the Lord, bow or break, when I saw the corners of the earth tremble.’

Not a reluctant victim but a warrior saviour, ready to lay down his life for his friends, a heroic act like a person, like Keith, doing his duty in the split second when he could have saved himself.

‘Nothing now can ever come to any good’ says Auden and it must have seemed the same to Mary the mother of Jesus and his friends standing by the cross, watching, as time stopped and the corners of the earth trembled. ‘Nothing now can ever come to any good’ is something you may have thought, or may be feeling.

Auden has the answer though, except he skips over it in his grief

‘I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.’

He wasn’t wrong, love does last forever. Your love for Keith will last forever and the act of supreme love that Keith performed in that split second before the clocks stopped, will last forever and it will bear fruit, fruit, as Jesus said to his friends, ‘fruit that will last’.

The Christian message and the message of Easter is timeless because it’s about eternity, the forever of God in which love and life and truth and hope and goodness and peace are always victorious. They tried to kill it all as they nailed him to the cross, there are those who wish to kill what we treasure and they think they can with random acts of terror and violence, here on our streets and in Paris, Nice, Munich, Stockholm, yesterday in Egypt and in so many places, but they can’t. Because love is stronger than hate and peace is mightier than war and life is the conqueror of death. That’s why we are Christians, because Jesus rose from the dead so that we might rise as well. The fruit of Easter is eternal life, beyond time, the forever love that we’re never wrong about.

And though we may not see it now, that supreme act of love that, in a split second, led Keith to act as he did, for each of us here, will bear fruit, fruit that will last. For evil to succeed all it takes is for a good man to do nothing. This good man did something, gave everything. Evil will not succeed – it has already been defeated.

Triduum

All over the country people having being begging or borrowing a donkey from a local farm, organising the palm branches and praying for decent weather so that the Palm Sunday procession can take place as both planned and looked forward to.  For many churches this is the only occasion when they take their liturgy out of the church and into the street.  If you haven’t tried it I thoroughly recommend it.

Many years ago now I was Parish Priest in the Parish of Richmond Hill, Leeds and our three churches, All Saints, St Hilda’s and St Saviour’s loved to take religion out of the church and into the community.  Whether it was our May Festival with a bobbing around statue of Our Lady on the shoulders of some of the parish lads, Corpus Christi with the monstrance, or Palm Sunday and then a procession with the cross between the three churches on Good Friday, as well as carol singing in the streets and in the pubs in the run-up to Christmas, we all loved it.  This was witness, this was mission.  People scratched their heads wondering what we were up to or shouting ‘What’re you up to, Father?’ And that gave us the opportunity to tell them and to invite them to join us.

So I’m delighted that each year the congregation of Southwark Cathedral begins Palm Sunday not inside, but outside the building and in the Borough Market.  The liturgy begins, the Palm Sunday gospel is read and the choir sings their hosannas.  With holy water and with incense the palms are blessed and then we all process into the Cathedral through the streets.  And people in the open-topped tourist buses look down, and some may recognise what we are up to and others may wonder, but everyone notices and the pictures go up on Twitter and Facebook.

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Palm Sunday in the Borough Market

 

This blog is titled ‘Triduum’ and before you send me a message telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I do know that Palm Sunday is not part of the Great Three Days, which is precisely what the word Triduum means.  But you can’t get to Maundy Thursday when those three days that changed the world began without passing through Palm Sunday. Jesus had to enter Jerusalem if he was to be expelled from it, carrying his cross outside the city wall to those places of death and burial.

For the past few years I have done a special blog for Holy Week – ‘Passion in Real time’ and ‘Calvary Bound’ and you can still read those.  So this year I thought I would just put onto this blog some meditations for the Triduum itself.  The reason I wanted to be able to set down some thoughts is because, as some of you will know, I was on sabbatical last year and for six weeks of that I was living in Jerusalem.  Each day I was out discovering new places and walking old paths.  I know that as we go through each of the days of this Holy Week and as we celebrate Easter, I will be reliving some of the experiences that I had there.  So I invite you in joining me in some of those reflections.

Almost all pilgrims to Jerusalem will begin their visit looking down from the Mount of Olives and seeing spread out in front of them the fabulous view of the Old City with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground and in the middle distance the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It is an amazing view, breath-taking and though in the distance you can see the towers and tall buildings of modern west Jerusalem, you know that it is something, something like the view that Jesus saw that made him weep.  You walk the steep path down the side of the mount knowing that the triumphal Palm Sunday procession passed this way, knowing that countless generations of worshippers, like the pilgrim of the 4th century, Egeria, have followed the same path, doing the same things, hearing the same gospel, singing the same hosannas.

But I suppose that for me when of the particular memories of being in Jerusalem was being taken to Bethphage.  This little village is just over the crest of the Mount of Olives and is halfway down the eastern slope before you get to Bethany.  That town was of course the home of the friends of Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  He may have begun his Palm Sunday journey from their home but it was when he got to Bethphage that he mounted the donkey and rode the rest of the way.

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The mounting black at Bethphage

 

As a result of the construction of the wall that divides Jerusalem from the Palestinian territories in the West bank it is now impossible to follow the journey that Jesus made.  He would have been stopped by the wall if he tried it now.  But close to the wall is a lovely Franciscan church which commemorates that first day of Holy Week in the frescos around the wall.  But close to the sanctuary is something more beautiful.  Enclosed now in glass is the ‘mounting block’ that Jesus is supposed to have used when mounting the donkey.  He didn’t use it of course, it’s a Byzantine invention, but it is beautiful.  On each of the four sides are the most lovely paintings of the events of that day, reminders of the powerful nature of the events that we have been remembering.

Many congregations will have been singing the traditional Palm Sunday hymn as they made their way from start to finish.  ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty’ was written in 1827 by Greenwich educated Henry Hart Milman

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.

That second verse captures something so important about this entry, the ‘lowly pomp’ that will be reflected on a number of occasions as we enter those Great Three Days, that Triduum as the triumphs now begin.

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified:
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Home grown

We all seem to love a farmers’ market nowadays, the place where we have the chance to buy some really fresh food, to meet the person who grew it, raised the livestock, made the cheese, bottled the milk. That’s one of the reasons that the Borough Market that surrounds Southwark Cathedral and that’s constantly full of people is so popular. That’s also why go to any Church Fete or any sale run by the Women’s Institute or any Mothers’ Union cake stall and you’ll find people queuing up to buy the home-made produce.  It was lovely to read this week, for instance, about the woman from Scotland who has just won the best marmalade award.  It must taste home made at its very best, because it is home made.

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Home grown in Borough Market

 

But when we are using that phrase ‘home grown’ in relation to terrorism it evokes another reaction completely.

The events of last Wednesday were shocking, just as every terrorist act shocks and sickens us to the core. For those of us who have been around London for a while we’ve experienced a number of such incidents, fortunately few in number, but each one stays imprinted on our memory – the Baltic Exchange, Canary Wharf, 7/7 – we will remember how each of them affected us, even if we weren’t any where near what happened.  The senseless and depraved attack on innocent pedestrians crossing one of the best known bridges in the world – Westminster Bridge – packed with visitors to London trying to get that precious selfie with Big Ben – and then the attack on the very heart of our democracy, the Mother of Parliaments and the murder of PC Keith Palmer, an officer doing his duty on our behalf, has left us all stunned.

Then we learnt that this wasn’t done by someone who’d arrived in this country from elsewhere, not a refugee from some notorious and dangerous country, not an immigrant who’d recently arrived here but someone born and raised not far from London, someone who’d been living in the Garden of England, the real ‘home grown area’, living in Birmingham, a convert to Islam, not a young man, headstrong, but slightly older than we would expect in acts like this.  Like so many of the perpetrators of atrocities in the USA this was a ‘home grown terrorist’.  The question we need to ask ourselves is how are these terrorists grown?

What I do know is that all the travel banns that President Trump and others want to impose, all the suspicion directed towards refugees who others imagine are like Trojan Horses waiting to be rolled into our communities is meaningless.  No travel ban, no ring of steel round a country, no walls built to exclude are effective when we grow people inclined to think the unthinkable and commit acts that are against the standards of basic humanity.

The seedbed for growing people with these attitudes and desires is much more subtle, much more dangerous and much more familiar.  It has to be around the ability we now have to do as I am doing now, sharing my thoughts and putting them out there for the world to read.  And this platform, like any platform, can be used for good or evil.  But regulating it when the very place that the attacker was directing his hatred towards, the Palace of Westminster, stands for, is built on, the concept of free speech that is at the heart, the core of our democratic values, is very difficult.

During these days leading up to Holy Week we will at some stage hear read these words of Jesus from St John

‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ (John 12.24)

It’s true for the farmer, its true for the martyr, it true in the secular and in the sacred worlds.  In the musical ‘Les Miserables’ the students, manning the barricades, sing a rousing song which includes the lines

Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs
Will water the meadows of France!

It picks up on the words of Jesus to us but it also reflects something that must go on in the heads of those who choose to commit horrendous acts of terrifying violence against their neighbours, against, as in this instance, their fellow countrymen.

We are not afraid

I have no answers, only thoughts.  All I do know is that, though shocked, London and Londoners are always defiant.  The slogan ‘We are not afraid’ is a powerful one.  Once we are afraid then those who would terrorise us have won.  And Jesus, the planted seed, bears much fruit in the resurrection and to his startled friends, as he walks across the stormy waters, says

‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ (Matthew 14.27)

We have to say the same to each other.

westminster candle

A candle burns for Westminster in Southwark Cathedral

 

Since the attack a candle has been burning in Southwark Cathedral and this prayer has been offered to people to pray.  please pray it with us.

God of peace,
God of healing,
on all caught up in the incident in Westminster
send both peace and healing.
Give to those who protect us
courage and commitment;
to those who govern us
wisdom and insight;
to those who are afraid
peace and assurance;
and to those who died
life eternal in your presence.
We ask this in the name
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Handing on the mitre

With the Church of England if you do something once it’s a dangerous innovation, if you do it twice its a precious tradition! So when the Archbishop of York handed a beautiful mitre to the newly consecrated Bishop Karowei Dorgu at the end of the service in Southwark Cathedral on Friday was he being wildly innovative or simply responding to a tradition?

Dorgu

Bishop Wilfred Wood and Archbishop Sentamu place the mitre on Bishop Karowei

 

It was a bit of both to be honest. The mitre in question had been given to Bishop Wilfred Wood, a former Bishop of Croydon, now retired.  When he was due to retire he passed this mitre, beautifully embroidered by the sisters of the long gone St Peter’s Convent in Woking, encrusted with precious stones, to Bishop John Sentamu.  Bishop Wilfred was the first black bishop in the Church of England; Bishop, now Archbishop, Sentamu was the second.  He was consecrated twenty years ago. Bishop Wilfred had told him that on his retirement he should hand the mitre to another BAME bishop – it is twenty years later that there is one.  As Archbishop Sentamu was at pains to assure the congregation he wasn’t retiring but he wanted to mark the event by handing on the mitre anyway with the understanding that as soon as another BAME bishop is consecrated, Bishop Karowei will hand on the mitre.

It’s like an ecclesiastical, episcopal relay race, handing on the baton.  But it was a very wonderful moment in a  wonderful service that was a great celebration that the church had ordained another black bishop but also a sobering moment to consider that it was in 1985 that Wilfred Wood was made a bishop and that it is 32 years later that we have a third black bishop.  We have to do better than this and not for some  reason of ‘political correctness’ but because unless people see themselves reflected in the church at all levels, in all kinds of leadership positions she will never reflect the beautiful and diverse nature of many of our congregations and the reality of the kingdom of God.

So this handing on of the mitre was an innovation in that it had not be done in a service before but it has become a symbolic tradition, a powerful moment.

It took me to that great moment in the Elijah-Elisha saga in the Second Book of Kings.  Elijah, that fire-brand amongst the prophets, knows his days are numbered so he sets off as God directs.  Elisha, his protégé, follows him and despite numerous people and amongst them Elijah, telling him to leave him, he continues to follow.  His reason? When they had crossed the Jordan, Elisha says to his Master

‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ Elijah responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ (2 Kings 2.9-10)

Then, all of a sudden, horses of fire and a chariot of fire whisk Elijah away into heaven.  Elisha watches and as his Master disappears

‘He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him.’ (2 Kings 2.13)

It’s a powerful moment, a symbolic moment and as he strikes the waters of the Jordan with the mantle and they divide he knows that God has filled him with that double share for which he had asked.

Elijah

Elisha catches the mantle

 

But the question that this story and the handing on of the mitre asks of me is whether I and, more importantly, whether we, are ready to catch the mantle and to assume the responsibility for revealing the kingdom of God.

In the synagogue in Nazareth, at the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus takes the scroll and reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah. St Luke tells us all about it. We often describe it as Jesus proclaiming the manifesto for his ministry.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4.18-19)

The spirit, like the mantle of God, has rested on him and it fits. That seamless robe that he’ll wear until it is ripped from him at the cross, is the mantle that he catches and lives out and proclaims and reveals in everything that he does and everything that he says.

A contemporary poet, Hilary Marckx, in a poem called ‘Pick up the mantle’ writes

Under that mantle we speak
for justice, for hope, for life, for Jesus,
we speak for all those who have no voice,
and we surely speak the Good News
that freedom/liberation/deliverance
is on the way—here!

It’s a powerful call to us to step up to the plate, to take responsibility, to stand in the shoes and wrap the mantle around us. Yet I think that in an age of individualism and isolationism in politics it can be counter cultural for some to think in this way. But the mantle isn’t just about politics, it’s about being prepared to take on all the roles of leadership that exist within society, within the church, watching, as Elisha was asked to watch and catching the moment, being there, involved, attentive and taking the part that we need to take part.

I’m on General Synod. The average Synod member is male, white, grey haired and probably retired. Young people are a rare commodity, black people are an even rarer commodity but when they speak they’re listened to because you don’t have to wait for older white people to be carried up into heaven, there’s kingdom building to be done now and in our churches are the people to do it. We need the prophets, we need the teachers, we need the priests, the witnesses, the proclaimers, the modellers of the diverse and real church who’ll clothe themselves in the mantle of Christ and make the kingdom known.

Marckx concludes their poem in this way.

The mantle is not of a glorious nature,
but it is of an eternal nature…
Go ahead, pick it up and put it on…
it will fit you well.

The mitre fitted well on the head of Bishop Karowei and I welcome this innovative tradition and glad that it began in Southwark Cathedral.  May that mitre rest on many more heads and the mantle lie across many shoulders.

Jesus, as the Spirit rested on you,
may it rest on us.
Amen.

Messy church

A couple of weeks ago Southwark Cathedral was full of children having a ‘messy celebration’. By all accounts it was a really wonderful morning.  The children decorated an altar cloth and a chasuble which the Bishop of Croydon then wore for the Eucharist.  It was wonderful and what was even more wonderful, so our vergers told me the next day, was that everyone cleared up the mess that they had made.  So often people walk away from mess, leaving it for someone else to clear up.  It’s like those awful mornings after a really good party.  You come down and find the place full of stuff to be cleared away.  The messy celebration was nothing like that.

Whatever you think about Bishop Philip North and the events of the past few weeks, whether you think that he would have made a good Bishop of Sheffield or not, whether you think the CNC was right to nominate him to the Crown for this See, or not, whether you think that he had exactly the skills that the diocese needed at this moment in its life, or not, we are in a mess.

LaurelandHardyWayO_3274850k-large

‘Another nice mess …’

As kids we loved watching Laurel and Hardy movies, the tremendous slapstick, the improbable plots in the films and the regular line that Hardy would say to Laurel, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

The Church of England is good at some things – processions, hierarchy and getting into incredible messes and having public fights.  Even though I’m Rector General of another Anglican catholic ‘Society’, The Society of Catholic Priests (SCP) which in Europe, North America and Australia supports the ordination of people regardless of gender or sexuality, I have kept quiet about the whole business as far as the blog world and Twitter-sphere are concerned.  One thing that stopped me – apart from there being far too many opinions flying around – was my membership of the Crown Nominations Commission.  I have to stress that I was not a member of the Sheffield Commission and so know absolutely nothing about their deliberations.  But I do know how complex the processes are that the members of the CNC have to engage in and how strongly held opinions can too easily intervene in a process that you would hope responds only to the promptings of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit!

But whatever happened and whatever has happened we are now left with a situation which seems to have blown those Five Guiding Principles that we gathered around as a church, out of the water or at the very least led people to ask the question as to whether they mean anything at all.

I had the privilege of being a member of the General Synod that finally voted to allow women to be ordained to the episcopate.  It was those principles which were the key to unlocking the impasse that had defeated us on previous occasions from moving forwards in the way that many of us believed God wanted us to do.  That phrase ‘mutual flourishing’ that was included in those Principles was one that I personally rejoiced in – but does it have cash value and is it possible?  The ‘North Affair’ is the first real test of this in relation to a Diocesan Bishop and it looks like a mess that is going to be very difficult to clear up.

The thing is that on the issue of ordained women at all levels of the church and the issue of the place of LGBTI+ people at every level of the church and the recognition and celebration of their faithful, committed relationships, we have been encouraged to disagree well.  At the moment it looks like we are only able to disagree badly.

There are no winners in what has happened in the Diocese of Sheffield and to Philip North, just as there were no winners when my dear friend and colleague Jeffrey John was forced to stand down from being Bishop of Reading.  There has to be a better way, there must be a better way.

Sheffield

The city of Sheffield

Perhaps though I’m just being naïve, perhaps the Five Guiding Principles are unworkable and especially in relation to the appointment of Diocesan Bishops who need to be, of their very nature, ‘a focus of unity’, not just for the clergy, not just for the laity, not just for the church but also for civic society, in the public square and some of what we saw in civic Sheffield was utter disbelief at a church in disarray and displaying, what can appear to be discrimination, and celebrating it.

I think it was also more than unfortunate that the ‘passports’, the ID cards for priests who are members of The Society, reassuring those who need to be reassured that their orders are valid because no woman has been involved in their ordination, were issued whilst the storm around Philip was raging.  To those, like me, who have tried not to talk about a ‘Doctrine of Taint’ being in the mind of some who hold that woman cannot be priests and, even when ordained, are not priests, it seems to suggest that there might be some very unpleasant opinions around that we might not want to flourish.

I have said too much; I am very sad that we are where we are, none of us is flourishing at the moment and Jesus must weep over us. My only consolation and hope is that from the very beginning God brought order out of chaos.  May he do it again and forgive us in the doing of it.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Amen.

Crisps and sackcloth

Presumably Theresa May, our Prime Minister, eats lots of crisps, perhaps as she considers Article 50, her finger hovering gently over the button.  Presumably crisps are the Achilles heel of what appears a well ordered, neat life because we were told last week that the Prime Minister is giving up crisps for Lent.  I was delighted to hear it.  Not that I have anything against crisp eaters (for my American followers I’m talking about chips!). In fact, I love a bag of crisps.  I was fortunate enough growing up in Leicester to be able to go to the Walkers pork shops in the city.  They sold wonderful pork pies but they also sold crisps, Walkers crisps.  Their pork pies haven’t gone global but the crisps have.  Gary Lineker’s family fruit and veg stall was just a short distance in Leicester Market from Walkers’ premier shop.  The queues used to be round the block before Christmas as we queued for a big, family sized pie and presumably some crisps.  So it’s always been good seeing local boy Gary promoting crisp eating as a national pastime!

walkers

Queuing for pork pies and maybe crisps in Leicester

 

Giving up things for Lent is of course an important part of the whole discipline of the season.  Yes, like many priests, I’ve preached about how its important to take things on, have a positive Lent and not see it simply in negative terms. ‘Read the Bible … go walking … help at a project.’ All those things are good but let’s be honest, giving up something we enjoy isn’t easy and maybe there’s some virtue in doing something that does challenge our tendency, my tendency, to self indulgence.  We can only imagine the pain Mrs May is going through as she opens the door to her well-stocked crisp cupboard knowing she can feast her eyes and not her appetite for those greasy slices of deep fried, heavily flavoured potato.

One solution is of course for her to cover the crisp cupboard door in sackcloth.  After all, that’s precisely what we do in church.  The vergers at Southwark Cathedral spent Calop Monday and Shrove Tuesday taking down the altar frontals and hangings and replacing them with ‘Lent array’.  Ours was designed by Sir Ninian Comper, sackcloth on which have been stencilled various symbols, crosses, chi-rho, fleur-de-lis, that kind of thing.  They cover up the more splendid decorations, give a fast to the eyes before Easter comes as the feast for the whole person.  As Passiontide begins on the Fifth Sunday of Lent the statues and the icons will also be covered, obscuring all that is decorative so that our focus is elsewhere.

lent-array

The Lady Chapel at Southwark Cathedral dressed for Lent

 

I had an object lesson the other day as to why its important for clergy to wear a clerical collar (a dog collar) in the street.  I was meeting a friend outside one of the many branches of ‘Pret a Manger’ round the Cathedral.  There was a young guy standing there as well, dressed for the office.  ‘Hello Father’ he said, ‘Have you given anything up for Lent?’ ‘I have’ I replied ‘bread and coffee, which makes me wonder why I’m going to this sandwich and coffee place for lunch!’.  He laughed.  ‘What have you given up?’ I asked. ‘Chocolate’ he replied ‘I eat far too much of it.  But Lent’s longer than forty days and forty nights isn’t it?’  A conversation followed about the season.  I didn’t ask him about church – I’m not a very good evangelist, but the conversation was about an outworking of faith and it reminded me how important Lent remains and how the crisp news story might have reminded people of that.

But a good Lent involves both crisps and sackcloth, the discipline and the repentance that in fact that Lent array represents in a visual way.  A good Lent does involve doing good for the poor and the marginalised, the refugee, the oppressed.  A good Lent does involve treading a hard path and occupying something of the wilderness space.  Crisps and sackcloth are only the beginning.

Robert Herrick, a 17th century English poet, reminds us of the truth of all of this in his poem ‘To keep a true Lent’

IS this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No; ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Those words ‘to fast from strife, from old debate and hate’ are the real challenge.  As the debates rage about the implications for our neighbours, colleagues and friends of Brexit, as we seek the restoration of the Dubs amendment so that lone refugee children can be brought to a place of safety, giving up crisps, giving up anything pales into insignificance. For God wants us to keep the true fast, the good Lent and the challenge comes to us from the prophet Isaiah.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly. (Isaiah 58.6-8a)

Lord,
as I enter the wilderness
and walk with you the path to Calvary
may I keep a true fast
and a good Lent
that lets the oppressed
go free.
Amen.

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Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

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Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

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the personal views of the Dean of Southwark