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.

Palm Sunday

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.


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.


My Holy Week – The Eighth Day

Yes, I know, it’s not Holy Week but that’s my point. This Sunday is one of my favourite days in the year. We call it ‘Low Sunday’ for some reason but in many ways it’s as high and celebratory as last Sunday, as Easter Day itself. This is the eighth day, we have come full circle, back to where we began. But there is no sense of deja-vu, this is a new beginning in itself. That’s why it’s so sad when people seem to think that this is a Sunday they can legitimately have off, as though arriving at Easter Day was such an effort that they need to put their spiritual feet up, turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. There is no such thing as a Low Sunday. Every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection, every Sunday is an eighth day, a recapitulation of the resurrection – and it is thrilling.

That sense of repetition is found in St John’s account of what happened this day.

‘A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.’ (John 20.26)

Thomas meets Jesus on the eighth day

Thomas meets Jesus on the eighth day

They were there again, in that room where everything seemed to happen. But as John goes on to say ‘the doors were still shut’. But Jesus breaks into that space and says ‘Peace be with you.’ It was the same greeting as on the first day and Thomas was there to hear it.

The church exists in this eighth day. We’re people of the new creation and whilst the first day of the week is important it is always the eighth day for us when new creation, resurrection happens.

I’m sorry that Octaves in the life of the church seem to have diminished in importance. The Easter Octave remains quite powerful, the Christmas one seems to be less so – and that is it, no more Octaves in the calendar. But this cycle of eight days of celebration that we can have serves to reinforce this point that the Christian week extends beyond the week, that we haven’t finished celebrating until we revisit the feast, revisit the place, for as Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

So this for me has been a week of celebration, Easter Week, brought full circle to this Octave Day and then beyond. For we’re called to live in the new, not the old creation, in the new, not the old dispensation, in the new not the old covenant and to know that peace which Jesus brings again and again into the spaces where he finds us.

Lord, easter me,
recreate me,
not only on the first,
not only on the eighth,
but on every day.

My Holy Week – Easter Day

It was being verged into the Cathedral to preside and preach at the 9.00am Eucharist when it struck me. The forecast had not been so good for today – rain, heavy showers, even thunder it said on my phone. But we had been able to go into the churchyard during the Vigil and the Bishop had lit and blessed the new fire there – and the rain held off. But as I walked into the Cathedral for the next eucharist the sun had risen to a point where it was shining directly through the east window with such brilliance. It was almost blinding in its intensity and surprised me – I hadn’t realised the sky had cleared and the sun was shining. There was something so thrilling about it and whatever the rest of the day held, weather-wise, that was a blessing in itself.


The day has continued in that way. At the Choral Eucharist there was hardly a seat to be had in the Cathedral, everywhere there were people. What was amazing was that people had remembered to change their clocks, to lose an hour and still come to the Cathedral. I looked down the nave and into the transepts and it was like the world in miniature – people of all ages, people from all backgrounds, women and men, old and young, people who I knew, people who I didn’t -and all eager to celebrate Easter. The liturgy and the music were wonderful but even they, as powerful as they were, were carried by the energy that all these people brought into the place.

We always conclude that service by giving bags of Easter eggs out, principally to all the children there but also to all those who’ve contributed in some way to Holy Week. The Friends of the Cathedral had prepared 300 bags – and they all went. So many children, including the boy and girl choristers, so many volunteers – servers, Stewards, the flower arrangers, the Hospitality Team – and some paid members of staff, musicians, vergers, all making the Cathedral what it is.

Afterwards I was loitering at the west end as clergy do, saying goodbye and a happy Easter to people. A woman came up to me. ‘I told everyone I was leaving the Church of England for another denomination. I announced it. But I came here today and I’m staying, I’m not going.’ She went on to talk about the inclusive nature of the place, of the sense of joy, of the energy that she had experienced as she worshipped with us. It felt like those moments that clergy and other preachers are familiar with when one person comes up to you after a service and says ‘Your sermon spoke to me today – it was exactly what I needed to hear’ – and no one else makes a comment. That happens more often than you would perhaps imagine. It’s as though, sometimes, what we do is for one person, for one individual – and that’s fine and that’s how it should be – as though the whole community is ministering to, holding one person who needs to be held, then, at that moment.

It reminded me of the deeply personal approach that Jesus takes with Mary Magdalene. She was so locked into her grief, she was so distraught that only her name, spoken by the Lord, could bring her out of it and awaken her to joy.

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

It was as though, at that moment, Easter happened for her and she was rescued by the Risen Christ and set on the apostolic path to help bring others to the faith that now filled her renewed and reborn heart.

Mary Magdalene in the garden of despair

Mary Magdalene in the garden of despair

That rising sun was so powerful for me that just for a moment it was my Easter, as this has been my Holy Week. But of course it is our Easter, it has been our Holy Week in which each of us, in our rich diversity, is ministered to as beloved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters by the one who was born and who rose ‘for us and for our salvation’.

It has been a wonderful Holy Week, brim full of blessing. Thank you for sharing it with me.

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

There is no other song, there is no other prayer worthy of this day.


My Holy Week – Holy Saturday

I get so frustrated when people call this Easter Saturday.  That’s a week away.  This is Holy Saturday! Get it right!

In an ideal world, of course, it should be a day for peace and contemplation, for considering the harrowing of hell, coming to terms with the fact that Jesus died and was buried and that his friends had to leave the tomb with the job half done because the Sabbath was fast approaching. It should be the day for reflecting on how the eleven felt. They had been thirteen and within the space of a day two of their number had gone – Jesus, nailed to the tree, Judas hanging from a tree, one at the hands of others, one at his own hands.  On Thursday night they were all together in this room and now there were two empty places around the table.  I should have been thinking about all those things and they are rich themes to reflect on.


Most clergy and most people intimately involved in the business of church don’t have that luxury. Holy Saturday is often church spring clean day.  Everything was stripped out at the end of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday.  Anything decorative and removable was put in the sacristy or the hall.  Before it can be put back it has to be cleaned, polished, repaired.  The church, if it normally smells of incense, suddenly smells of polish and Brasso and Silvo.  Mots of dust can be seen in the shafts of light coming through the windows.  Hassocks are beaten, carpets hoovered, the seldom cleaned places exposed by the stripping on Thursday need to be dealt with.  At the same time ‘the flower ladies’ (but they may be men) are in and they want their space.  They need to soak their Oasis, they need more space than the Vicar ever gives them to arrange all the lilies donated by people in memory of loved ones who died last year. The Sunday School are in setting up the Easter Garden – but they soon get bored and run around the churchyard and get under people’s feet and the Easter garden is left again to the head of Sunday School – setting out the Primulas around some rocks and hoping it looks a bit like the sepulchre.

It’s a full-on Saturday, yet even though it’s busy it has its own holiness.  The harrowing of hell is mirrored in the harrowing of the vestry, and the victory over sin becomes a more prosaic victory over the dust ‘that clings so closely’.

Of course, as a Dean, I have an army of people to do all of that and I’m very grateful to them.  But don’t worry, I have been doing my own preparations.  Part of that was writing two sermons for tomorrow – one for the Dawn Vigil and one for the 9 o’clock. The truth is that I find it much easier to write a Good Friday sermon than one for Easter Day.  As someone said to me ‘Being at the College of  the Resurrection, it should be easy for you.’ But it isn’t.  I always worry about what to say at Easter and I hope I have it right.  But I also wonder why I find it such a challenge – maybe it’s because I feel that I experience in my life more of Good Friday than I do of Easter Day – or is it too honest to say that?

Then I too got hooked by spring cleaning.  For some reason I decided to tackle the Utility Room which is in the cellar of the Deanery.  It had become a bit of a dumping ground.  So on with the Marigolds (goodness there’s a lot of product placement in this blog!) and out with the Flash and into rubbish bags went all the junk.  I sorted out all the cleaning products – why I have I bought so many window cleaning sprays? why have I more bottles of Parozone than anyone could need? – and was able to stand back and see a job, reasonably well done. It was very fulfilling and maybe that’s why this is Holy Saturday because we make ready in such practical ways for Easter. The Old English poem, ‘The Descent into Hell’ concludes like this

The young warrior awoke,
dauntless from the dust, majesty arose,
victorious and wise.

Perhaps defeating the dust is where the holiness lies.


Part of the depiction of hell from Chaldon church


Now though, jobs done, sermon written, Easter wreath on the door, Easter tree decorated with wooden eggs in the hall, I can at last sit down and think about an early night.  The clocks go forward and the Dawn Vigil it at 6.00am! But actually I’m now feeling a tinge of excitement!

Jesus, meet us in the dawn
as you met Mary
and fill us with that same
Easter joy
that changed her life.


My Holy Week – Good Friday

There’s such a sense of momentum from the second half of Maundy Thursday until now on Good Friday. It is as though events overtake you and you’re caught up in the breathlessness of it all. And that must be good, and that must be how it must be, because that is how it must have been for Jesus and his disciples. Events took them over as they were taken over, as evil had its day, as political power buckled under the demands of the crowd, as one man bore the weight of everything.

Yesterday evening, the ‘Evening Celebration of the Lord’s Supper’, was amazing. I’ve presided at that service so many times but this year it seemed to affect me differently. It was something to do with the feet to be perfectly honest. Twelve members of the congregation had offered to have their feet washed (or at least a foot) and they were seated down the nave. Canon Mark Oakley, our Holy Week preacher, had already challenged us to think what the church would have been like if the command to wash one another’s feet, which Jesus gave to his disciples, had replaced as foremost and paramount the command to eat bread and drink wine ‘in remembrance of me’.

‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ (John 13.14)

What, he asked, if we were a community of foot washers rather than bread breakers. The bowl rather than the altar would then have been at the heart of our liturgy and our life. It was a fascinating idea. It is an evening of commands – to love, to wash, to eat, to drink. And we perhaps couldn’t follow them all and so we chose the meal, we chose to follow the command to eat and drink, and forgot the command to wash, until this night.


One of the things that the priest becomes very familiar with is seeing the row of hands held out waiting, wanting communion, the bread of life. Those hands have been part of the Lent art installation ‘Earthworks’ and have reminded me of those hands. But we have also had a series of feet in the Cathedral, at the High Altar. And so seeing these twelve feet before me, waiting to be washed I found very moving. And it’s physically demanding. Up and down, up and down, juggling the bowl and towel and the water – pouring, holding, drying the feet. It’s intimate, personal, nothing quite like it. You look at the feet, not at the face. Young feet, black feet, gnarled feet, feet that have taken long journeys, feet that have been well looked after. We know hands well, we hold them, touch them – but feet are so different. Yet, like hands they tell their story – and it’s a story of pilgrimage, of the journey people are on.

'Earthworks' feet

‘Earthworks’ feet

That journey continued today because some of those same feet were on the Walk of Witness that I took part in from Blackfriars to Waterloo. On the way we gathered people and at the Pop-Up Church in the station people stopped hurrying for trains as we sang ‘Amazing Grace’. It was amazing and there was grace abounding. Then back in the Cathedral we took that journey with Jesus to the cross.

The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday is for me perhaps the most powerful service of the Christian year. It has its own pace, the slow walk to the cross, the walk of the mournful, the solemn walk that brings you to Calvary. Within all the solemnity though its the veneration of the cross which is amazing. The line of people down the nave, each wanting their moment at the cross, making that journey to be near the cross on this day, is staggeringly humbling.

In the station I was asked to give an interview. ‘Why have you been doing this; why is Good Friday important?’ I spoke about the way in which so many people don’t know what’s going on when they see the procession coming down the street, and maybe, maybe we just remind them of the day, like on Palm Sunday. And why do it? Because whilst some may think that this was something that happened then, we know that it happens now. Christianity, Jesus, God, is always in the now, in the present moment and setting the cross at the heart of the busyness of Waterloo Station as people hurry past, their feet bearing them on their journey and setting the cross in the heart of the Cathedral where the pilgrim journey always continues is a reminder that the foot of the cross is planted in the now of the world.

Holy feet, holy journeys, the sacred feet of Jesus nailed to the cross, the foot of that cross driven into the earth, feet to be washed, feet to be cherished, journeys to be made.

may every step I take
be on the path
that you tread before me.


My Holy Week – Maundy Thursday

Football, so they say, is a game of two halves. Well it’s not a game, obviously, but Maundy Thursday is the same – its in two halves (excuse the tautology!). Holy Week has many strange gears to it.  The week begins on Palm Sunday with real energy.  There’s a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation as you set out on the procession and into church.  Choristers are excited at getting a palm cross and, whilst the director of the choir isn’t watching, having a swashbuckling time with them as they become swords or daggers in their imaginative hands. And then it all goes quiet.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week have a very different feel.  At the Cathedral we attempt to reduce the number of regular meetings that occur, but the emails keep filling up the inbox and the devil plays his games and there are things to be done and decisions to be made and whilst you may try to fit in some pastoral, sacramental ministry and attendance at some extra services, there’s a ‘business as usual’ feel about the place.

We’ve been really blessed this year with Canon Mark Oakley who’s used those first three days to introduce or reintroduce us to George Herbert, John Donne and W H Auden and that’s been fantastic.  Those addresses concluding with Compline have had a quiet reflective feel about them.  And that’s quiet right because in this way we somehow manage to touch something of the week with Jesus.

After that noisy beginning, the unstoppable rejoicing of the crowd, the beginning of the week then sees Jesus slipping in and out of Jerusalem, doing some teaching, causing a frisson or two in various places and with various people and disappearing off to his friends in Bethany – his bolt hole.  But there’s something of the calm before the storm about it all.

Maundy Thursday though is the turning point for us as it was for Jesus and getting up in the morning and heading off to the Cathedral I know that.  Years as a Precentor have made me very aware of the amount of work that goes into staging the liturgy in the next three days.  The Vergers, the musicians, our Stewards, other volunteers are all geared up for this change of pace, this change of gear, as Holy Week becomes the Triduum, the Great Three Days.

The two halves of the day are very important as well.  Whilst Her Majesty The Queen is somewhere – St George’s Chapel Windsor this year – distributing the Royal Maundy money – in many Cathedrals preparations are being made to receive all the clergy, and sometimes lay ministers as well, for the Chrism Mass and the Renewal of Ordination Vows – or whatever it is that the service is called. Southwark is no exception.


There I am, trying to get in shot this morning!


As I said yesterday, Paul, the Dean’s Verger, has been busy over the last few days preaparing the oils and yesterday afternoon there was a great deal of furniture shifting going on to get the stage set for the eucharist this morning.  When I arrived all was ready, the silver was out, the wafers counted, seats had been labelled for the ‘dramatis personæ’ and all we needed was all the people who had a role in the service and the congregation, of course.

Then, in the evening it will be the Celebration of the Last Supper, the foot washing, the Watch, our immersion into the events on Mount Sinai, the Kidron Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane, which form the second, dramatic half of the day.

As I was thinking about it all, and at the moment I’m in the gap between the two halves, it struck me that this day is so important for me because it puts me not only in touch with Jesus and all that was happening to him, a liturgical folding of history so that past and present come together, seem to touch, just as they do every time we offer bread and wine in the Eucharist, but also with the priesthood in which I am privileged to share.

After 32 years of being a priest its hard to imagine any other way of life and, to be honest, I’m not sure what else I could do. However, the reality of a lot of ministry is that you get dragged away from the very things that you were ordained to do.  Knowing what you were ordained to do is of course a moot point.  Church tradition, generational differences, temperament, giftings all make us view ministry and priestly ministry, in particular, in different ways.

So I’m pleased that in the Chrism Mass I can be drawn back to the beginning, to the vows that I made in Ripon Cathedral all those years ago and recommit myself to them and in the evening I can wash feet and break bread which, for me, symbolise what it is that I feel called to do – to serve and to feed.

Both of those things – to serve and to feed – can be developed and expanded, they are both sacramental to a greater or lesser extent.  Foot washing symbolises visiting the sick, going round someone’s house, being known at the school gate, helping at the Food Bank, sleeping out for the night shelter, visiting the bereaved before and after the funeral, all those things. Breaking bread encompasses all the feeding that we do, the preaching, the teaching, the Alpha, Emmaus, Pilgrim courses, baptism preparation, house groups, assemblies, as much as placing broken bread in those outstretched hands.


Wash the feet and break the bread


So I’m brought back to the heart of it and reminded who I am and as I looked down this morning from my stall and saw all those dog collars, hundreds of them, it was great to feel that we were in the same business. And as I look down the nave this evening and see the people whose feet I’ll wash, and see the people who’ll receive bread and wine, the body and blood of the Lord, at my hands and from my hands, I’m deeply thankful. It helps me get through the other 364 days when perhaps I forget, for a moment, that I am living the life of a priest and become seduced by the idea that I’m doing the job of a Dean!

Lord, you call us to service;
make us worthy of that calling.


My Holy Week – Wednesday

I was in the congregation for the lunchtime Eucharist. That’s always an interesting experience. I seldom sit down in the nave and to be honest, I should do it more often. One of the problems with ordained ministry is that you rarely get to see things from the opposite perspective, looking up the nave rather than down into it, if you know what I mean. And things do look very different; you notice things that you hadn’t before. But it was something rather wonderful that struck me this lunchtime and nothing in fact to do with the Eucharist (though that was great).

At one point the Verger on duty came back out of the Sacristy which is on the north side of the nave. He’d had to hold the door open for some people. That gave sufficient time for a smell to emerge from the Sacristy. Now sacristies and vestries have a variety of smells – the musty smell that comes from those boxes of service sheets and Series 2 booklets on the top of the cupboards that should have been thrown away years ago; the smell of candles; the smell of coffee being brewed; the smell of centuries of cassocks and robes hung in the cupboards. Church smells are very evocative. Someone in fact bought me a bottle of ‘perfume’ which captures exactly the smell. It’s called ‘Liturgie des Heures’ and when I wear it I smell like church! But the smell that emerged through the open door and pervaded the Cathedral was different again.

The oils are prepared

The oils are prepared

Behind the door, in the Sacristy, Paul, the Dean’s Verger, was completing the task of preparing the oils for the Chrism Mass tomorrow. This is a big job as at Southwark as we provide individual bottles of each of the three oils – baptism, for the sick and Chrism – for each of the priests who need it. That means that he prepares about 400 of each. The labels are very distinctive and so it was a joy to see them in one of the photographs in the exhibition ‘Of things not seen : A year in the life of a London priest’. It is on at the Oxo Tower on the South Bank. In one photo the bottles are lined up on the sacristy windowsill. Paul was preparing the Chrism which is full of wonderful and exotic smells. It wafted out and it was transporting.

It reminded me of a verse from the gospel we heard on Monday. It was the account of the anointing of Jesus by Mary at the meal at Bethany and I’m still thinking about it. John, describing the event says,

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12.3)

It’s one of those wonderful lines for me, speaking of much more than was happening in the room, speaking in some way of the pervasiveness of God. It’s a wonderful link between what happens before the crucifixion and after as women anoint both the living and the dead body of Jesus with fragrant oil. The scent emerged from the Sacristy and nothing could stop it and it filled the space where we were.

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume

This week we have the privilege of sitting at the feet of Canon Mark Oakley from St Paul’s Cathedral. For the last two evenings Mark has been using the poetry of George Herbert and John Donne to think about the things of faith. It’s been marvellous and there’s more to come. But there was something about being caught by surprise by the wonderful fragrance during the Mass that took me back to the poets.

It’s hard to describe a smell but we instantly recognise it and it can trigger so many inner thoughts. It isn’t always easy to understand poetry and as Mark reminded us yesterday evening as he talked of Donne, you never actually finish thinking about a poem, you simply put it down to continue thinking about it later. And poems, for me, are like fragrance, that speaks in a deeper way, a more pervasive way than other things often do.

In his poem Prayer (1), Herbert concludes his fantastic attempt to describe prayer by layering image upon metaphor, upon image upon metaphor by saying

‘The land of spices; something understood.’

The spiciness of the Chrism, which the priests will receive tomorrow for ministry, is almost a capturing of the fragrance that filled the room at Bethany and a vehicle to transport both anointer and anointed to another place. That place may be understood but it may also be indescribable yet we breathe deeply and inhale the fragrance of God – and we are there – in the room and in the tomb, the places of anointing when the poetry of God breaks into the prose of life.

God, when words cannot do it
may I touch
your presence;
may you
my life.


My Holy Week – Tuesday

The news from Brussels this morning, the terrible terrorist attacks once more striking in a neighbouring capital city, made it a sobering beginning to the day. Though we live with a constant threat of terrorism it’s still deeply shocking when these events occur. There’s nothing that really prepares you for the pain that these attacks cause – and our prayers are with all those who were caught up in the attacks in Belgium and not least those injured, those who died and those who survived physically unharmed but will be emotionally scarred.


I decided to write this blog as a way of reflecting on my own personal journey through Holy Week. I thought it would be interesting for me – and I hope for others – to see what happened and how this, in any way, is illuminated by what we are remembering in these days. When you decide to do some more purposeful, intentional reflection on the day its interesting what connections you begin to make. So it may look a bit contrived to you, but genuinely it isn’t. The thing is that we had arranged, some time ago, that this morning an officer from the Counter Terrorism branch of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) would join us at the meeting of the Senior Management Team to update us on the terrorist threat that we face at the Cathedral.

The specific reason for wanting to do this was to help the Chapter make the decision as to whether or not we should take out specific Terrorism Insurance. This would cost us half as much again as our usual insurance costs us – so an extra £20k. So before we said yes, or no, we wanted help with assessing the risk.

The presentation was really helpful but especially as we gathered, ourselves and the members of the MPS, knowing about what was happening in Belgium, not so far away. It was a sobering beginning and made it even more real. At the end of the presentation we were shown a short video that has been produced to help people understand what to do in a terrorist attack. You can watch it on YouTube – it’s called ‘Stay Safe’ and promotes a three stage response – ‘Run Hide Tell’ It’s very simple and was powerfully portrayed in the short film. We’re going to make sure that the volunteer groups who help us look after what goes on io the Cathedral, the Stewards, the Welcomers and others – benefit from this presentation.

Those words though – ‘Run Hide Tell’ – took me by surprise to part of the passion narrative and became even more powerful for me. What I was suddenly reminded of was that little detail in St Mark’s Gospel

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. (Mark 14.51-52)

I love the little details that you get in the Gospels, events, people, that you could almost skim over but which have significance. The events in the Garden of Gethsemane, of which this is part, are so monumental, so terrifying that a nameless onlooker escaping could be overlooked. But it is there, he is there, not to be ignored.

The flight of the young man by Correggio

The flight of the young man by Correggio

There was terror all around in that garden as the soldiers and the priests arrived out of the shadows and Judas stepped forward and planted the kiss on the cheek of Jesus which would give him away. In an instant what had been a place of peaceful prayer became the place of terror and Jesus was in the middle of it. Swords were out, an ear cut off, Jesus was grabbed as though he were a terrorist himself, brutally treated and it was all witnessed from the sidelines by a young man.

The tradition is that this was Mark, the evangelist, the one who mentions the event, the only one who mentions the event, in his gospel. Perhaps he was the only would who would know. His presence and departure were lost in the dark and confusion except to him. And it was the officer from the Counter Terrorist branch who shed light on what happened.

As the writer of the book Ecclesiastes so rightly says ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1.9). The young man’s reaction is the one we are being taught to adopt. In that moment of terror he ran, he needed to save himself. Like so many of the disciples, he hid, perhaps with them in the Upper Room, waiting for the safe time to emerge. Then he told, he spread the Good News as an evangelist, told his story alongside the Jesus story. Run, hide, tell.

The horror and terror of the Garden of Gethsemane is being replicated in so many places – and Jesus is there in the streets of Brussels as he was there in the garden on a hillside, as he will be, as he is, in our own place of terror.

Lord Jesus,
enfold in your love
those who face terror today
for you faced terror then
and defeated it
by your cross.


My Holy Week – Monday

My illustrious predecessor as Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee, used to always say that ‘the devil has fun in Holy Week’. It was often true. Things went wrong, people fell out, the stress levels rose and what could be dealt with ordinarily, somehow, in the hothouse of the week, became a real problem. I’m not sure it’s the devil but certainly gremlins have been at work today. The computers seemed to be on a go-slow this morning and then basically stopped. Two of the hard disks had failed and we were unable, as a consequence to do anything. It’s remarkable how much we depend on the computer. everything is done via it. There’s no physical diary to book things into. Emails contain so much vital information. Service booklets are not typed by a typist with correcting fluid and a Gestetner anymore. We are totally dependent on the keyboard, attached to the box and the screen and its worldwide connections. Take that away and as one member of staff said to me in desperation – or was it exasperation – ‘I suppose we could talk to each other!’

I saw a great deal of filing and desk clearing going on and when the disks didn’t arrive as quickly as we had hoped people began to make their way home. If this was the devil’s work then Colin was right.

Of course he was right in a deeper sense. Holy Week is the devil’s playground. That always comes home to me whenever I sing – and that isn’t often nowadays – Sydney Carter’s hymn ‘Lord of the Dance’. One verse says

I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black –
It’s hard to dance
With the devil on your back.

It’s almost playful, given the tone of the song, but the reality of evil in the accounts of the Passion is obvious. The devil is at play and Jesus is the playground victim and I suppose, the church as the body of Christ is the next target.

The devils at work in Bosch's famous image

The devils at work in Bosch’s famous image

Fortunately, whilst there was no access to the computer I had somethings to do that didn’t need that kind of technology. Rather than meetings in the diary, in Holy Week there are people booked in to make their confession and I was also due to go to my confessor to make my confession. It is one of the privileges of priestly ministry to be able to hear confessions and to speak those words of release, the absolution that undoes the devil’s work and make’s the salvific work of Jesus on the cross real for the person to whom I’m ministering, real for me as I am ministered to.

‘By his authority committed unto me, I absolve you, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’

These are powerful words to say and hear, words to make the devil shudder. Of course it was on Easter Day that this gift was given to the church. As Jesus appears in the Upper Room and shows them his wounds of love he then says to the apostles

‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ (John 20.22-23)

'I absolve you ...'

‘I absolve you …’

The hard truth that a priest has to hold in mind is that the authority to forgive sin is also the authority to retain sin. The Seal forbids me to say how it was resolved today for my penitent or for me – but as I approach the cross through the devil’s playground I give thanks that in Jesus there is always the opportunity, the offer, of the new beginning.

I’m reminded to pray that great prayer from the Indian tradition, the Christaraksha.

May the cross of the Son of God,
which is mightier than all the hosts of Satan,
and more glorious than all the hosts of heaven,
abide with me in my going out and my coming in.
By day and by night, at morning and at evening,
at all times and in all places may it protect and defend me.
From the wrath of evildoers, from the assaults of evil spirits,
from foes visible and invisible, from the snares of the devil,
from all passions that beguile the soul and body:
may it guard, protect and deliver me. Amen.


My Holy Week – Palm Sunday

In previous year’s I’ve written specific blogs that people have been able to follow during Holy Week.  This year I thought I’d do something a little different.  I hope you don’t object to me calling it ‘My Holy Week’. It’s as much yours as mine, ours in fact.  But what I want to do – and this may prove to be interesting or not – we have yet to find out – is to simply record what Holy Week has meant for me this year, what has got me thinking, reacting, reflecting.

People often say to me, as they did last week, ‘It’s your busy week coming up!’ In one sense, of course, they’re right – it is a busy week.  But not in the same way as other weeks are busy.  Lacking in self discipline and diary management skills some of my weeks are almost undoable – but I manage to scrape through. But Holy Week is different in that the normal round of meetings is absent and instead I’m able to worship and lead worship and hear confessions and do things that are priestly in a way sometimes that, speakinging frankly, some decanal tasks aren’t.

The other thing that makes a huge difference is that I can listen to someone else preaching and not have to worry as much about preaching myself.  It’s not that I won’t be preaching – I am tomorrow lunchtime and twice on Easter Day.  But the Holy Week preacher – this year Canon Mark Oakley from St Paul’s – does the bulk of the preaching.  It’s great.  I can be fed alongside the rest of my colleagues and the congregation.

Having recently returned from co-leading the Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Bishop of Southwark, I was eager to begin Holy Week so that the fresh memories of Jerusalem could be brought to life again in the liturgy. It’s only a few weeks since we began on the first proper day of pilgrimage as most pilgrim groups do, standing at the top of the Mount of Olives and looking across at the view of the Temple Mount and the beautiful Dome of the Rock and being reminded that the rather precipitously steep road down is the route that Jesus would have taken. On this occasion it was pouring with rain and I mean pouring. As we left Dominus Flevit the road outside had become a river and we struggled to hang on to each other as we made our way down to the Garden of Gethsemane.


The Mount of Olives


I woke this morning to a gentle shower of rain and that question that’s in the head of many priests on Palm Sunday morning ‘Will we get away with it this year?’ The IT is the outdoor procession and last year we didn’t – it was really raining and we had to make the difficult decision not to go out.  That was such a disappointment – the procession is so integral to the liturgy and doing a ‘figure of eight’ round the Cathedral just isn’t the same.


The congregation arrives


Fortunately the weather wasn’t too bad as the time for the procession approached and we headed off to the Borough Market.  That’s where the first part of the liturgy is held.  In what is normally a packed space with market stalls and shoppers we pack with worshippers and it’s a great beginning.  Then out onto the Borough High Street and shocking the people wandering about there or passing by on one of the many buses.  You can see bafflement in people’s faces – ‘What are they doing?’ – for some it clicks and they remember, others remain baffled.  A builder working on the High Street stopped what he was doing and stood back and a Steward went and gave him a Palm Cross.  He really beamed with the most tremendous smile and proudly held it up to show his mates in the shop behind him. Some others joined us, caught up in the fun, just as must have happened on that first Palm Sunday.


Entering the Cathedral


There is something good about Palm Sunday, it’s sameness.  It takes me back to my days as a chorister, out on the streets then, singing the same hymns – ‘All glory, laud and honour’ and ‘Ride on, ride on’ – the same style of palm cross, the same sense of anticipation and there is something so connecting about this.  Not messing about with Palm Sunday is as it should be.  Egeria on her pilgrimage experienced it like this in the 4th century and we connect with that experience and every large or small procession, with or without donkey.

Yet, even though its the same as ever, its always a fresh expression of church.  The procession is made up by a new congregation, with new Christians and, being in the northern hemisphere, there is a spring-like freshness to it all.  I love it and I loved it today.

In the first of his sermons in the afternoon Canon Mark Oakley spoke of something which I had never thought of before.  He said that we had to remember that in fact two processions occurred that first Palm Sunday.  One came from the north, a peasant procession which in many ways had begun in Galilee.  The other came from the east, from Caesarea Maritima, the Roman headquarters.  This was an imperial procession bringing Pontius Pilate to bolster his troops in what could be a difficult and fractious week in Jerusalem, Passover week, when the memory of shaking off oppressive rulers and finding freedom made the people restless in their present, dominated situation.  Two very different processions – one with imperial stallions, one with a donkey; one with gleaming standards one with palm fronds; one with the glint of armour worn, one with coats spread on the road.  Both were triumphal entries but from very different worlds and these worlds, these images of the kingdom, were to collide and would collide around Jesus.

It has given me a lot to think about as I begin this week and the day is not over yet.

your humility challenges
our need for power,
your majesty challenges
our attempts at glory.
As worlds collide
hold us together
with wounded, majestic hands.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

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


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