Beating the Bounds

Even in the modern urban church parish boundaries are still closely guarded.  If I am straying into someone else’s territory I always feel a little nervous and if I am going to be doing something anywhere else I always tell the vicar.  So there is something wonderful about the tradition on Rogation Sunday of ‘Beating the Bounds’. I have happy memories of doing this as a child when we would head out of the church in procession after the Mass and the priest would bless the community.  It was a large parish on the edge of Leicester and so I don’t remember us struggling around the actual boundary!  At Mirfield, however, we left the Community Church and made our way in full procession to the rhubarb patch in the garden and there there would be a solemn blessing and sprinkling of that area.  I have to say there were some bumper harvests whilst I was there, not just of rhubarb but also gooseberries and beetroot!

SC events 2016.05.08 Beating the Bounds 1

Beating the Bounds on a previous Rogation Sunday

All this makes me convinced that going out to ‘Beat the Bounds’ is a good thing.  It’s basically the same principal as a dog putting its leg up against every lamppost on its daily walk.  You mark out the territory so that everyone is clear where the boundary lies.  But the other aspect of the walk is this business of responding to what Jesus tells his disciples.

‘Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.’ (John 16.23-24)

Our word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin ‘rogare’ to ask and the passage is part of the Gospel for this Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer.  So we go out and we ask God’s blessing on the fields, on our homes, on our streets, on our parish.  It’s the other end of the Harvest Festival – we give thanks for the harvest because we asked God to bless the fields from which the harvest would come.

This year, of course, there was no possibility of having the procession from the Cathedral as in former years.  In fact it is possible to walk round the boundary of the Cathedral parish.  It isn’t a huge distance and it is a fascinating walk.  So, last weekend I did the walk, taking my phone with me and filming 14 ‘stations’ along the way.  You can share in the journey here.

It was amazing walking along, stopping and reflecting on both the history and the present day in this fascinating part of south London, in this area alongside the river.  For me it was a powerful journey and I hope for those who view it and make the journey with me it is too.

So, what do we ask on this particular Rogation Sunday? Well I suppose we need to see growth, blossoming and a fruitful harvest in all our communities, in all our industry and commerce after this fallow period of lockdown.  That is my prayer, for as Jesus says to us

‘if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.’

Father,
in the name of Jesus,
hear our prayer
for a rebirth after lockdown,
fruitfulness after fallow,
plenty after scarcity,
that all may share your blessings.
Amen.

Freedom

In the midst of this lock-down there has been something deeply poignant about commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day.  We had asked people to send in photos of their relatives or friends from those wartime years so that we could include them in Southwark Cathedral’s VE Day service.  And we got so many.  You can see the final montage here.

There are women and men in uniform, of course, but also civilians, children, families, wartime sweethearts and those wartime weddings.  It is amazing to think that in such days of uncertainty a couple would walk down the aisle, giving everything, risking everything ’till death us do part’.  How they said those words knowing that their husband would be back to base, back on his ship, posted overseas after the shortest of honeymoons I simply do not know.

Bill and Vera

This is my Uncle Bill and my Auntie Vera.  Uncle Bill sadly died a few years ago but my Auntie is going strong in her nineties.  They married during the war and he then went back to his ship, he being in the Royal Navy.  You can only be proud, only admire such people.

My mother was from Wigston, just outside of Leicester but my dad (Vera’s brother) was from the Essex edge of London.  Granddad Nunn had a business on the Strand, they lived not far from Hornchurch Aerodrome.  My Nanny Nunn would tell us stories when we were young of having to live in the Anderson Shelter at the bottom of the garden almost permanently during the period of the Blitz.  The children had been packed off as evacuees to South Wales when war began but they quickly came home and Nanny raised them back in London.  But thinking of it now from this lock-down when people are so full of anxiety and fear, how did those before us cope?  Children were sent to school after a night in the air raid shelter, father’s went off to the City to work.  Mums did what mums did, some at home, some in munitions factories, some on buses.  Every morning people didn’t know whether they would see each other in the evening, ever again.  There was no texting, no mobile phones to check up if people were OK, no apps for tracking and tracing.  People set off, in faith, in hope, almost reckless, profligate with their lives, committed to the task, the fight for freedom.

Nanny would tell us what it was like to emerge after a night of bombing, to see familiar streets now unfamiliar, to hear of the deaths of neighbours, everything changed.  Eventually the Nunns moved from London to Leicester.  The business on the Strand was no more and there were opportunities to be had in the Midlands.  That is how my Mum and Dad met, at one of those wonderful dances at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester that happened in those years, people dancing through the terrors.

Mum and Dad

That’s my Mum and Dad on the right

It is good to remember what happened on the battlefield, but it is also good to remember those who fought for freedom as civilians, as mums and dads, as brides and grooms, as schoolchildren, making the ultimate sacrifice.

As Mary stands before Simeon in the Temple he says to her

‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2.34-35)

This child would bring freedom, would bring resurrection, would bring life.  But it was not without a price and Mary would be one of those who would pay it.  The mother would suffer as the son brought freedom.  It was true for Mary, it was true in the war, it is true now.

God of freedom,
we bless you for those who have given themselves for us,
we bless you for your Son who rose for us.
May we seek your freedom for all.
Amen.

Praying for our key workers

It was good to be able to keep a minute’s silence today to pray for our key workers who have died so far as a result of this pandemic. I wrote a prayer this morning that you might wish to pray.

rainbow-badge-banner

Lord Jesus, healer, shepherd,
they came to you for healing,
you went to them for saving;
enfold in your love
those who have followed in your steps
healing
caring
loving
and have died in this pandemic.
Give them their reward,
console those who loved them
and weep with us
for lost lives,
for you are
our resurrection and our life.
Amen.

Stations of the Resurrection

During Holy Week there is the long tradition of following the route of the Via Dolorosa, if not actually then certainly spiritually.  But there is another journey that we can make and that is through the experience of resurrection as described in scripture.  It was a journey that the disciples made, from the desolation of the Upper Room to the release from that locked-in, locked-down space into the freedom which Pentecost brought.  I have tried in this set of ‘Stations of the Resurrection’ to take us on that journey.  You can follow it on the Cathedral’s YouTube and Facebook channels – but the texts and the pictures are here for you to use in your own way and in your own time.


The Stations of the Resurrection

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

The First Station : A new dawn breaks

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Dawn

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. (Matthew 28.1-3)

Lord Jesus, may each dawn fill us with resurrection hope. Amen.

The Second Station : The disciples run to the tomb

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Third Station Eugene Burnard

Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. (John 20.3-6)

Lord Jesus, fill us with eager anticipation for each encounter with you. Amen.

The Third Station : Touch me not

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

Mary Magdalene turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. (John 20.14-17)

Lord Jesus, may we hear you speak our name and know your love in our lives. Amen.

The Fourth Station : In the upper room

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Eighth Station tissot-the-communion-of-the-apostles-751x523

Later Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16.14)

Lord Jesus, meet me in my doubts and in my questions with the assurance of your presence. Amen.

The Fifth Station : My Lord and my God

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.26-28)

Lord Jesus, may your peace rest upon us; may we declare you our Lord and our God.  Amen.

The Sixth Station : On the road

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

walkingwithrisenJesus

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24.13-16)

Lord Jesus, walk with us, our companion on our road.  Amen.

The Seventh Station : The breaking of the bread

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

NEW1200px-1602-3_Caravaggio,Supper_at_Emmaus_National_Gallery,_London

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24.30-35)

Lord Jesus, feed our hunger with your bread, quench our thirst with your wine, your body, your blood.  Amen.

The Eighth Station : On the beach

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Seventh Station Jesus at the lakeside

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. (John 21.4)

Lord Jesus, may we recognise you even when we least expect you. Amen.

The Ninth Station : Come and have breakfast

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

the-apparition-on-the-lake-of-tiberiade-by-duccio-di-buoninsegna-587493454-5b908c96c9e77c002cc44efe

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ (John 21.9-12)

Lord Jesus, meet us in the ordinary with your extraordinary love.  Amen.

The Tenth Station : Feed my sheep

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

V&A_-_Raphael,_Christ's_Charge_to_Peter_(1515)

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. (John 21.15-17)

Lord Jesus, feed us as we feed others, tend us as we tend others.  Amen.

The Eleventh Station : On the mount

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

William-Blake.The-Ascension-for-blog

Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24.50-53)

Lord Jesus, bless us who look to you.  Amen.

The Twelfth Station : At prayer

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_Project

The apostles were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1.14)

Lord Jesus, give us a heart to pray, to lift ourselves to you.  Amen. 

The Thirteenth Station : Wind and flame

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

pentecost_by_purple_whirlpool

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.1-4)

Lord Jesus, drive us with the Spirit’s wind, warm us with the Spirit’s flame, speak through us with the Spirit’s voice.  Amen.

The Fourteenth Station : The witness

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Peter preaching

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. (Acts 2.14, 32)

Lord Jesus, may we be living witnesses to your life; may alleluia be our song.  Amen.

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things that are above
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.  Alleluia, alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!


 

In the garden – Part two

Four hundred years ago the great Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, preached the Easter Day sermon in Whitehall before King James I and the members of his court.  It was 1620 and Andrewes was by that time resident at Winchester House on what is now Clink Street, alongside what is now Southwark Cathedral, where he is buried.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

I was reading part of his Easter Day sermon yesterday after I had posted my blog about the garden.  So I was thrilled to read these words and thought you might be too.


Christ rising was indeed a gardener, and that a strange one, Who made such a herb grow out of the ground this day as the like was never seen before, a dead body to shoot forth alive out of the grave.

But I ask, was He so this day alone? No, but this profession of His, this day begun, He will follow to the end. For He it is That by virtue of this morning’s act shall garden our bodies too, turn all our graves into garden plots; yea, will one day turn land and sea and all into a great garden, and so husband them as will in due time bring forth live bodies, even all our bodies alive again.

Mary Magdalene standing by the grave’s side, and there weeping, is thus brought to represent unto us the state of all mankind before this day, the day of Christ’s rising again, weeping over the dead. But Christ quickened her, and her spirits that were as good as dead. You thought you should have come to Christ’s resurrection to-day, and so you do. But not to His alone, but even to Mary Magdalene’s resurrection too. For in very deed a kind of resurrection it was wrought in her; revived as it were, and raised from a dead and drooping, to a lively and cheerful estate. The gardener had done His part, made her all green on the sudden.


Lord, make us your pleasant planting,
quicken us
that we may live in the garden
of your delight.
Amen.

In the garden

It seems to me one of the very big divides that has been exposed by the times we are living in – these days of lockdown as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic – is that there is a section of the population who have access to a garden and a lot of people who simply don’t.  One of the joys of living in London is the sheer number of parks and public squares that we can enjoy.  These are places where people meet and gather and exercise, the places where children run around with their dogs, where you can sit alongside a stretch of water and feed the wildfowl, the places where you can admire the planting of flowers and breathe fresh air.  The open spaces are part of what makes it possible to live in London, the parks, as well as all the other public places that people can enjoy, the galleries and museums, the shops, and pubs and bars and restaurants.  London is the living room for lots and lots of people who will sleep in their studio flat but never envisaged being locked down in it.  It must be tough when we know that we should stay in to ‘stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’ but feeling that the walls are closing in on us.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

‘Noli me tangere’

The disciples were in lockdown.  They were in the Upper Room for fear, as St John constantly reminds us, of what lay outside.  They sat there waiting, but unclear of how long that wait would be.  But as dawn breaks Mary Magdalene leaves the safety of the room and steps outside.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. (John 20.1)

She makes her way to the garden where, just a few hours earlier, they had buried the dead body of Jesus, hurriedly.  Now she goes to complete the task and to weep, to be alone, but in the fresh dawn air, out of the stifling atmosphere of the locked room.

Whatever is true about Mary Magdalene, and a great deal is loaded on to her by the tradition, I always think that there is something strong and courageous about her.  There has to be a reason why she was chosen to be the ‘Apostle of the Apostles’, the first witness to the resurrection.  She must have had qualities that the others simply didn’t display.  So, regardless of all the conventions of the day, it is a woman, this woman who is chosen to be the principle messenger to the waiting, locked-down world of what God had done for humanity.  History shows us that she, with all her sisters were subsequently sidelined by a male, patriarchal church and that it would take two millennia for the voice from the garden to be heard. But we hear her voice today.

‘I have seen the Lord’ (John 20.18)

In what have become regular visits for me to the Holy Land I have been trying to discover new places, the ‘Hidden and Holy’ as I have been calling them.  Obviously, they aren’t new and I haven’t discovered them.  But they are places that are new to me and, I suspect, less often visited by busy pilgrims.  One such place is St Jacob’s Orthodox Cathedral. It is set on the courtyard that is in front of the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  As you are looking at the entrance, the doorway to the Cathedral is on your left.

To be honest I hadn’t noticed the door until recently and I don’t know what the opening hours are.  But on the last two occasions it has been open and I have gone in.  What is amazing is that as you enter you come first to an ‘outside’ sanctuary.  The iconostasis is covered but the rest of the space is open to the elements.

Outside sanctuary

The beautiful ‘outside’ sanctuary

There are some doors which then take you to the ‘inner’ sanctuary, a lovely space, one or two people there, saying their prayers, an ancient font, lovely icons.

Inner sanctuary

The ‘inner’ sanctuary

But what is very special is the shrine that is in the outside sanctuary.  It stands where the sun can shine on it and the rain can fall upon it.  It stands on the spot where Mary met the gardener, met Jesus.  We are just a few meters away from the Edicule which enshrines Christ’s tomb.  Where St Jacob’s now stands was in that same garden, just a stone’s throw away where Mary wept and was found by the stranger who called her by name.  I found the place deeply powerful.

Shrine

The place of encounter

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were placed in a garden where God walked alongside them – and then, through sin, they were barred from it.  An angel with a flaming sword stood at the entrance and none could enter.  Jesus is raised to new life in another garden; another angel is there with a caring question, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ (John 20.13) and an invitation to see.  Mary is in the life-giving place where the one who has set free from her sins, encounters her and names her.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). (John 20.15-16)

This year we are locked out of our churches as we are locked down in our homes.  But in those moments when you can emerge, get out, breathe fresh air, find that ‘garden’ space and meet the Lord there.  As the poet Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

May we too meet the Lord and hear his voice, naming us, in the garden of his delight.

Jesus, risen Lord,
meet us where we are,
name us and bless us.
Amen.

Stations for our times

Following the Stations of the Cross, whether on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, in your own church, or at home, is always a powerful experience.  The journey is a spiritual entering into the experience of Jesus.  Stations always leave me feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, but at the same time spiritually uplifted.  It was a high-point of the pilgrimage that I helped to lead at the beginning of March – just before the lockdown was introduced.  Pilgrims shared in carrying the cross along what were unusually quite streets in the Old City of Jerusalem.  It was amazing.

Stations Pilgrimage

Pilgrims carrying the cross on our last pilgrimage

This year, unable to enter our churches, unable to gather for processions of witness which often taken the form of Stations, we can still make the journey.  This is the special set of ‘Stations of the Cross’ I prepared for this Good Friday.  My colleague, Mandy Ford, found the pictures and I wrote the words.  It is a tough journey – but at the end there is resurrection, there always is.

Opening Prayer

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.

The First Station : Jesus is condemned to death

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture1

“They grabbed me. They dragged me.  I was like a sack of stuff manhandled into a market, a non-human, ready to be abused, ready to be tortured.  They didn’t look at me, the ones with the rough hands.  If they had they would have seen I was a person.  But instead they looked ahead, intent on doing the task in hand.  I was the task in hand.”

Jesus, condemned to death, arrested, beaten, bless those ill-treated at the hands of others and forgive me the times I have been guilty of the ill treatment.

The Second Station : Jesus carries his cross

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture2

“It was back-breaking, carrying this load.  How long could I carry it, how long could I keep going?  But having taken it up, I couldn’t put it down.  The weight of my family is on my shoulders, all we posses in one bag, grabbed in haste, bundled together and loaded onto me.  I carry it because it is what I have to do.  Like some pack animal I must simply walk, bowing under the weight of my responsibility.”

Jesus, burdened with the cross, burdened with my sins, bless those bearing a heavy load and forgive me the times I have failed to lighten the load that others carry.

The Third Station : Jesus falls for the first time

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture3

“I landed here, on this pavement.  He’s wanting to move me on.  The guy at the door of the shop wants to move me on.  But this is where I landed.  And at the moment I can’t get up.  The rest .. they’re just passing by.  They’ve got used to seeing people like me, on the pavement, just another bit of rubbish thrown down, cast away.  Rubbish, that’s all I am, that’s all they think I am.  I’ll have to move, he won’t go ‘til I get up and am on my way again.”

Jesus, falling on the hard stone of the pavement, bless those who have fallen, on hard times, in hard places and forgive me when I have walked past them.

The Fourth Station : Jesus meets his mother Mary

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture4

“He was my child, he is my child.  I had been living with the pain of separation so long, as though my child had been ripped from my womb, snatched from my arms, and I was left empty.  And now he is here, a man, but still needing his mother’s embrace.  And I need to feel him in my arms, to hold the man and know the child I love.  My broken heart is ready to burst, with painful joy.”

Jesus, glimpsing your mother in the crowd, bless those who are separated from the ones they love and forgive me when I have taken for granted those who love me.

The Fifth Station : Simon of Cyrene helps carry Jesus’ cross

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture5

“There was nothing for it but to pick him up and place him on my back.  They looked at me, a woman, carrying a man, through the streets.  But what could I do.  I couldn’t leave him where he was.  It was the only thing I could do, to take him up and bear the load, to ignore the stares, to risk the condemning hiss and the harsh look.  But what else could I do, but to carry his life.”

Jesus, helped by a stranger, forced to carry your cross, bless those who help bear the burdens that others carry and forgive me when I have failed to help my neighbour.

The Sixth Station : Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture6

“Come here.  This may sting. Let me wipe it better. Let me clean you up.  Who did this to you?  Did you know them?  Why did they pick on you?  Let me wash you clean, let me wipe away the blood, let me wipe away the tears.  It’s a clean hankie.  Don’t worry I’ll wash it.  I have a daughter just like you.  Don’t cry, you’re still as beautiful as ever.”

Jesus, wiped clean by a gentle hand, bless those who go to the aid of another and forgive me when I haven’t.

The Seventh Station : Jesus falls for the second time

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture7

“I fell.  I wasn’t quite sure what had hit me, a bullet, a car, but I fell, right there in the street.  And I couldn’t get up.  I could hear people around me screaming, some concerned, some angry that I was there, in the road, messing things up for them.  But I couldn’t move.  At that moment I couldn’t move – but I knew that somehow I had to.”

Jesus, falling, fallen, bless those on the point of collapse and forgive me when I have lacked compassion for the fallen around me.

The Eighth Station : Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture8

“I grabbed the mike.  I’d never been in this position before, never thought of myself as a protestor. But the others pushed me forward.  You can do it! Speak for us, shout for us.  We were women together, taking control, doing the right thing, fearless of the opposition.  And I knew they were behind me, strengthening me, giving me the courage to speak up and to speak out.”

Jesus, bewailed by the women, bless those who make their voice heard and forgive me when I have failed to speak up.

The Ninth Station : Jesus falls for the third time

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture9

“I had been on the ward … well I had lost count of the hours.  The patients kept arriving, kept being admitted.  We were short of masks, short of swabs, trying to find a spare ventilator, trying to save the lives.  It was exhausting, I was exhausted.  Coffee had kept me going but in the end even that failed.  And, as I was making my notes, well, I crashed out.”

Jesus, fallen, exhausted, spent, bless those with nothing left to give and forgive me when I ignore what others are going through on my behalf.

The Tenth Station : Jesus is stripped of his clothes

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture10

“Like a hounded animal, barely human, dehumanised, stripped, exposed, at my most vulnerable.  There is no where to hide, nothing to shield me, nothing to protect me.  Every vestige of who I am, who I was, has been stripped from me.  It was my mother, my lover, who saw me naked like this, for love, for passion, now my nakedness is degrading, I am degraded and exposed, even to you.”

Jesus, stripped, exposed to us, bless those who are treated as less than human, the vulnerable and the humiliated and forgive me when I have denied the dignity of another.

The Eleventh Station : Jesus is nailed to the cross

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture11

“I stand, a cross, in the carnage of the world.  I once bore weight on my beams, now I wait to bear another weight.  I stand, a cross, in this destroyed place reminding you of another cross that bore the weight of the one who bore the cross.  You survey me, this cross, and you think of that other cross – I can bear that weight.”

Jesus, nailed to the cross, bless us who look to your sufferings and forgive me when I take your cross for granted.

The Twelfth Station : Jesus dies on the cross

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture12

“They held me to the last minute, held me in their love, held my emaciated, ruined, disfigured body, held me to the end.  Then they held their breath as my last breath ended.  They held me in life and they held me into death.  They held me, who could hold onto life no longer.”

Jesus, life destroyed, bless those who have died with the blessing of your eternity and forgive me when I take life for granted.

The Thirteenth Station : Jesus is taken down from the cross

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture13

“Easy does it.  Steady.  Now lower it.  I’ve got it.  I’ve got the weight.  You can let go now of it.  But it isn’t an ‘it’.  But I don’t know who it is.  I was called to this fire and now I must bring down those who have died, lost in the body bag, lost to the flames, but still my sister, my brother, whose dead weight I must bear.”

Jesus, taken down from the cross, bless those who are bereaved and are laying their dead to rest and forgive us when we ignore the pain of bereavement.

The Fourteenth Station : Jesus is placed in the tomb

We adore you, O Christ,
and we bless you;
by your holy cross,
you have redeemed the world.

Picture14

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, light at the entrance to the cave.  But soon it will be closed and there will be darkness.  This will be a resting place, but only that, a resting place, a place for a time, just a time, until the light re-enters the darkness and life re-enters the world.”

Jesus, laid in the tomb bless us as we await the resurrection and forgive us whilst we wait.

Closing Prayer

Lord God,
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters
and did not hide his face from shame:
give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

There is a YouTube video of these Stations which you can view here.

Pegs in the desert

I’m not much of a camper and even the prospect of glamping doesn’t do it for me.  I once shared a tent on the beach at Lowestoft with a friend when I was about 17.  We were pitched near the Bird’s Eye frozen pea processing plant, and you know what, it rather put me off the whole idea!  The thing I do remember is having to pitch the thing and trying to drive the pegs into the ground in such a way that they would stay there.  The only good thing I can say about the experience is that the tent did stay where we had pitched it.

93704

This is a better pitch than Lowestoft!

People keep asking me how I am doing and how I am feeling.  It must be the same for you.  In fact I’m ok.  I don’t seem to have any signs – yet – of Covid-19 but I wake every morning thinking ‘have I’ before I check-in on my CV-19 app on the phone.  It’s perhaps a bit weird to say but I am quite enjoying being at home.  We are eating better than we normally do, I’m doing more shopping for healthy stuff from the Borough Market, and we are spending quality time together.  Work seems to be a little more efficient.  Teams and Zoom are now what I spend a lot of the day on, but it is remarkably good and once you get over the fact that the other person isn’t in the room, it’s ok.  Yes, I miss personal contact.  Yes, I miss worshipping in the Cathedral.  Yes, I miss the freedom to go to a restaurant, or theatre, or even a shop that isn’t selling food.  But there are compensations and blessings that I simply wasn’t expecting.

But one thing is important to me and I think is important for all of us.  There is something still of the novelty of the lockdown.  But that will pass.  What I do know is that it can easily be a wilderness, desert experience for us and it must be if you are isolated on your own.  Pitching the tent of your life in the desert is not easy; that is where the pegs come in, the tent pegs.

Religious communities have a lot to teach us.  The Rule of St Benedict envisages a rhythm and pattern to daily living in which each element plays its part – praying, working, eating, resting, sleeping.  Towards the end of the Prologue to the Rule, St Benedict famously writes this

‘We have therefore to establish a school of the Lord’s service, in the institution of which we hope we are going to establish nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.’

Instead the Rule is life-giving to both the community and the individual.  The one cannot exist without the other, both must flourish in the wilderness of this world, together.  The pegs keep everything in place.  So I hope that you are able to establish something of a routine, a pattern for the day, which is life-giving and life-shaping, something pegged into whatever your own desert looks like.

Part of the pattern of the day that we should have is the walk that we are encouraged to take, if that is what your daily exercise looks like.  I was thrilled to receive in my email box the other day a message from one of the members of the congregation of the Cathedral.  Sue is a poet and a writer of stories.  She penned this poem last week and she gave me permission to share it with you.

A  SEARCH FOR SPRING IN SE1

It is here somewhere. It is almost April.
Lost underneath the gloom of this city
now under siege I need to look for it.
Taking my eyes off the grimy ground,
I look up at blossom-abundant trees in
the streets leading to the river. From far
across the water a lone swan changes course
from centre-stream, comes nearer  to shore.
Slowly we travel in tandem past the Globe,
the Anchor at Bankside, the Cathedral
until I can follow no more. Without pause,
he goes on towards the sea.  For a while I
think he is my escort but I decide after
seeing his indifference I am destined instead
to be part of  an unseen entourage.  He’s late
if looking for a mate, but perhaps he’s heading to
Greenwich, whose waters are white with regal swans.
At home again, two kestrels, mated for life, smugly
perch in a horse-chestnut tree bursting with buds.
In our garden strewn with winter’s remains I see that
foxes have just been dancing on the bird bath
celebrating the coming arrival of every new birth.

I love the images Sue uses, gleaned from her walk, pegs in their own right in this present wilderness in which we are living – the blossom, the swan, the kestrels, budding chestnuts and foxes.

As we enter Holy Week I hope that the shape of this week will give shape to your week, as we travel with Jesus and hear the echoes of his steps and see the signs of his journey in our own living.  It has a wilderness feel but at the end there is resurrection, at the end there is always resurrection.

God, help us to live in this moment
for it is in this moment that we find you.
Amen.

Tabernacling with God

Over the more than 36 years as a priest I have presided at a great many Eucharists.  When I was in my parish in Leeds, it being a very good solid Anglo-Catholic bastion of a place, we used to have 14 masses a week.  That is a lot of ‘going to the altar of God’ as we would say in the sacristy.  Fortunately I wasn’t working on my own for most of the time, so it was a shared and wonderful ministry to be able to have.  However, though many of them have been significant and deeply powerful occasions – given that every Eucharistic celebration is that – I hadn’t presided at one like the one on Tuesday morning.

It was the morning after the Prime Minister’s speech which introduced the ‘lockdown’.  We knew that we were going to be unable to go into the Cathedral again for the foreseeable future.  In addition, there was a restriction imposed by the CofE on live streaming from churches.  So we decided not to live stream but for just three of us, distanced of course, to celebrate the Eucharist in the Cathedral for the last time before we ‘shut up shop’.  It was heart-breaking.

Although Southwark Cathedral has had a rather chequered ecclesiastical history – I suspect that 18th century religion there left something to be desired – yet for the most part, for most of its 1400 year history the Eucharist will have been celebrated on a daily basis.  There will have been gaps, of course, but nothing like now, nothing like the open-ended exclusion and isolation that we are facing.  So I said the Mass and we received our communion there for the last time until …

We had made the decision that worship would be offered from the Deanery.  Those who have been to the house may remember that we have a nice hall, spacious enough to become a chapel.  Like many clergy I have quite a few ecclesiastical ‘bits and pieces’ around the place – a spare prie-dieu, a large crucifix, a statue or two, candles (of course).  But I decided that what I would do would be to bring the Blessed Sacrament home with me.  So from the rather wonderful Pugin tabernacle in which the sacrament normally resides it is now in my ‘chapel’ and is the focus of our on-line prayers and devotions.

Tabernacle

The Deanery Chapel

 

It’s a new experience for me, tabernacling with the God, who tabernacles with us.  First thing in the morning, last thing at night, greeting Our Lord in the Sacrament, knowing his real presence in the place in an even more real way.  I always feel the presence of God but not always with this intensity.

I am reminded of a wonderful story from the Old Testament.  David has recovered the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines but on the journey back to Jerusalem there is a bit of an accident with it and people became a little unsure of its power and whether it should be brought into the city. So

David did not take the ark into his care into the city of David; he took it instead to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. The ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house for three months, and the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had. (1 Chronicles 13.13-14)

The powerful presence of God in the household of Oded-edom over this three month period of isolation was a blessing.  David saw it and knew that it was safe to bring the Ark into the city where it would be a blessing in the midst of the people.  It is the same as people wanting Jesus to stay with them.  To Zacchaeus Jesus says

‘I must stay at your house today.’ (Luke 19.5)

and after the encounter with the woman at the well we are told

‘When the Samaritans came to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word.’ (John 4.40-41)

With the most unlikely people Jesus stays, in the homes of those shunned by others, behind doors normally locked, Jesus tabernacles.  His presence is always a blessing, just as the presence of the Ark was to Obed-edom and his household.

We don’t, of course, need the sacrament in our house to know that Jesus is present with us – Jesus IS present with us, not isolating himself from us, not distancing himself from us, with us behind our closed doors as much as with us in the now empty streets.

This is the prayer I have written for use from our cathedrals during this lockdown.  I offer it to you. Take care.  Keep safe.

A prayer in lockdown

The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked. (John 20.19)

Ever present God,
be with us in our isolation,
be close to us in our distancing,
be healing in our sickness,
be joy in our sadness,
be light in our darkness,
be wisdom in our confusion,
be all that is familiar when all is unfamiliar,
that when the doors reopen
we may with the zeal of Pentecost
inhabit our communities
and speak of your goodness
to an emerging world.
For Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

A long Good Friday

This must have been one of the most difficult and demanding weeks that we have ever lived through.  The term ‘unprecedented’ has been used time and time again. But it is true, there is no precedent for any of what we have been, what we are, experiencing.  Normally you can turn to someone and ask them what they did when such and such happened.  But not on this occasion.  We can look to what has been done in China, what has happened in Italy but they are such different places with governments that have different levers to pull and people with different expectations about life.

Cathedral Eucharist

Worshipping behind locked doors

To be honest it has felt as though I have been making it up as I have been going along.  The decisions that you made yesterday have to be reconsidered if not remade today, especially after the Prime Minister has made his statement at 5pm from Downing Street and you discover that some new restriction has come into effect or some new help is being made available.

The Bishop of Southwark established a ‘Coronavirus Task Group’ which met most days last week.  The Bishop, the Diocesan Secretary, one of the Archdeacons, the Communications Director and me are the members.  The task has been to anticipate and respond to the latest guidelines emerging from Lambeth Palace or Downing Street.  There are so many questions to be answered – what to do about the calling of banns of marriage; how many is a few people at a funeral; who are key workers as far as schools are concerned; does a prayer walk constitute public worship?  This is just a snapshot of the questions that people – mostly clergy – have been asking and they are all good and relevant questions.  It is no good asking priests to be mobilised and proactive, imaginative and pastoral without them coming up with some wonderful but, on occasions, impractical ideas.  But what has impressed me are the amazing ways that so many people are responding, liturgically and pastorally, to the restrictions that are in place.

At Southwark Cathedral we have tried to satisfy the requirement to keep the church open so people can come in to say private prayers alongside the suspension of public worship.  On Friday we live-streamed Evensong for the first time.  We have lessons to learn, inevitably.  But it was great that so many people (476 in fact) ‘tuned in’ to listen and to watch.  But there is a huge amount to do and I feel at the moment as though we are just scratching at the surface.

The language of ‘social distancing’, which many have rightly rejected as a term in favour of ‘spatial distancing’, will have a huge effect upon people.  London has many many isolated and lonely people at the best of times.  But in these days, weeks, months that lie ahead of us, being shut into what are often small bedsits, studio flats ….. well, I can’t begin to imagine what the mental health consequences will be.  Social media is great of course for keeping in touch, but the lack of the real, physical touch, encounter, will be a hugely damaging loss.  Add to that uncertainty over work and income in a city where people have taken on mammoth mortgages and huge rents to be able to live and work in one of the best cities in the world and the stress that people will be under becomes unimaginable when you know that you are in a more privileged position, being paid a stipend, having a roof over your head and having something to do each day.

It is hard for me to describe what it has all felt like for me.  The only way I can talk of it is as a ‘Long Good Friday’.  I always find Good Friday disorienting.  I walk to the Cathedral via Borough Market which is always quiet early in the morning, buy some Hot Cross buns and ‘artisan’ butter and head for the sacristy.  The lights aren’t put on in the Cathedral for services, or anything else.  The place is stripped and feels deserted.  ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Psalm 22.1) the psalmist cries and the building seems to echo that cry.  I say my prayers, wander to my desk, unsure of what is next.  It is as though everything that would normally pin me to normality has been taken away.  I feel adrift in a familiar place taken over by unfamiliarity.  But Good Friday is just one day and Easter is on the horizon.  But this week has felt like one long Good Friday with no prospect of resurrection at dawn.  The usual routines have been abandoned, service times have been changed, I am unsure of what I am doing next, the nave is empty and the cross stands isolated in a vast space in which people can wander but not settle and I am worshipping behind locked doors in a kind of mad reversal of the miracle of Pentecost.

Yet, there are glimmers of God all around, signs of goodness in wonderful people, sparks of humanity in snatched and distant conversations, laughter whilst Facetiming someone, the giggling as we exchange the Peace in an unconventional way.  At the same time we see the worst of human nature as the ‘me’ mentality of so much of modern times means that people clear the shelves of our supermarkets with seemingly no regard to the needs of the people who will follow them.

This will pass, it will get better, we know that.  But at the moment it is, frankly, grim.  But my faith holds firm, my faith in the God who never abandons us, who is there alongside us in the bad times and the good, who is never distant from us, but draws us close and closer still until the dawn breaks and Jesus stands before us, scarred yet glorious.

Loving God,
hold us close
when others stand at a distance,
hold our nerve
when anxiety seems overwhelming,
hold our faith
when it feels so weak,
hold us now and for all eternity.
Amen.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

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

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark