The life-long journey

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

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A well behaved baby!

 

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

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

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The baptistery at St Doulagh’s

 

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

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

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The baptistery of St Simon near Aleppo

 

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

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

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

This prayer is also from Common Worship.

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

Under attack

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

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

Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The vulnerable God

 

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

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

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

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

More tea, Vicar?

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

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‘More tea, Vicar?’

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘calmed, strengthened
and comforted.’

A simple prayer for a simple pleasure.

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

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

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London

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triduum – The tomb

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

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

The wraps coming off the restored Aedicule

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

Mark tells us all about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abandoned .. empty

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

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

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

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

Triduum – The tree

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

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

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

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

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

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The Monastery of the Cross

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

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The tree is watered and blooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triduum

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

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

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

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Palm Sunday in the Borough Market

 

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

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

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

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

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The mounting black at Bethphage

 

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

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

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

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

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

Home grown

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

BoroughMarket

Home grown in Borough Market

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are not afraid

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

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

We have to say the same to each other.

westminster candle

A candle burns for Westminster in Southwark Cathedral

 

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

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

Respect

I have a feeling that Her Majesty The Queen does not ordinarily wear a mantilla when she goes to church.  But, of course, on those occasions when she has met the Pope at the Vatican there she is, dressed in black, mantilla on her head.  She dresses respectfully as is expected in those circumstances.

The Queen and Pope John Paul

The Queen and Pope John Paul

So why would Marine Le Pen refuse to cover her head when she was to meet the Grand Mufti last week in the Lebanon? We can only assume that it was a deliberate publicity stunt to make her point about people of the Muslim faith. Her supporters will be gleeful but the rest of us, I assume, only saw someone lacking in respect, unwilling to accommodate the traditions and teachings of another brother or sister.

When I was on sabbatical in Jerusalem I had the real privilege, with clergy from the Diocese of Southwark and the dioceses with which we are linked in Zimbabwe, to visit the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on Haram al-Sharif, otherwise known as the Temple Mount.  The Arabic name for that ancient and deeply holy site means ‘The Noble Sanctuary’ and as any visitor there knows there is a real nobility about the place.  We went, however, as guests of the Waqf which is the religious trust in which is invested the care of religious and other property on behalf of the Islamic community.  But before we went there we were clearly told how to behave, so that we were appropriately respectful.  The women in the group would have to ‘cover up’ and we would all have to remove our shoes when we went into the Mosque.  We would talk quietly, not shout like tourists and respect those who were praying or reading their scriptures.

It was a wonderful visit, we respected our hosts, they respected their guests.

There is one of the Ten Commandments that stands out from all the rest.  Nine of the ten tell us what not to do but the fifth is different

Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20.12)

Having respect for our parents, honouring our father and our mother leads to the promise of a blessing, that life will be long and good.  Good things flow out of respect, we are being told; the opposite must be true.

This constant battering of the Muslim community, constant finger-pointing, disrespect, criticism, denunciation, vilification that we see not just in Trump’s USA but elsewhere is an utter disgrace to the whole of our society.  I was reading a blog by the only hijab wearing member of the White House staff.  She had worked for President Obama, she lasted only 8 days in the Trump west wing.  She wrote that she had to go because she could not stay where her people were being singled out in such aggressive ways.

In Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brain’ the members of The People’s Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front) sit around asking the question ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ and they come up with a long list.  We can ask ourselves the same question about Islam and the Muslim community and, if we do so, we end up with a list that includes mathematics, algebra, medicine, architecture, the preservation of libraries of thinking and philosophy otherwise destroyed in the western world, the most beautiful roses and sublime poetry.  Just as with the dominant Christian culture in the west they have been responsible for some horrors and we see some of them being played out by sects of Islam today.  But that is not the real story just as the Crusades are not the only story to tell about Christians.

The poet Rumi

The poet Rumi

The Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic beautifully writes in one of his mystical poems

Others call you love, I call you the king of love;
O you who are higher than the imagination of this and that,
go not without me.

God, who is love, God who is the king of love, calls us to the honouring of those in our family, blessings will flow from it.  Covering our heads, removing our shoes is the least we can do, it doesn’t dishonour the God we know in Jesus Christ, it celebrates the love that all people of faith know is at the heart of the divine, the structure of the Noble Sanctuary in which God invites us to dwell, at ease with each other.

God of love,
I stand before you
on holy ground
with all my sisters and brothers.
Amen.

The echo of a vision

It was a hard week, last week.  If you haven’t read my various blogs from the General Synod then you can find a link through on the sidebar.  But no doubt you will have heard about the debate on Wednesday in response to the report from the House of Bishops on sexuality and same-sex marriage.  Since then a number of things have happened.  The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement – you can read that here – and various bishops have issued Pastoral Letters, including one by the Bishop of Southwark which you can read here.

General Synod - London

A silent vigil at the start of Wednesday

 

Other groups will be preparing their statements, making their assessments of what was said, reflecting on the vote, lauding or criticising the House of Clergy, suggesting its the best outcome or the worst.

One thing that encouraged me, however, was hearing Archbishop Justin’s speech, the last one in the Take Note debate on the report, much of which found its way into the Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter.

The letter says

‘We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church …. The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.’

There was something of an echo of a vision in this.  I know that makes no sense, but bear with me, please.  You may remember that at Southwark Cathedral we’ve been working on new vision and priorities for the next season of our life.  The vision statement that we finally arrived at is this

Southwark Cathedral an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love.

That is the vision and in what the Archbishop said there were clear echoes of what the community at the Cathedral has pledged itself to be and pledged itself to working together to be more perfectly.  So I was delighted.  It means though that we really have to move forward and to get on with the work and the witness to which we believe God is directing us.

However, that will not be easy because there will be many in the Diocese for whom we have care and concern, for whom we are the Mother Church, who will not agree with us, who will have serious disagreements with us.  At the end of the day this all boils down to how you regard Scripture and what authority it has in the life of the church.  The Archdeacon of Southwark, Dr Jane Steen, in her first speech in Synod, compared the way in which the Church of England coped with the remarriage of those previously married who have a former partner still alive, even though Jesus is very explicit in his teaching on the subject.  Nevertheless, in 1992 the House of Bishops issued guidelines to help the clergy make a decision about whether such a marriage could take place in church and those same clergy were given latitude in their decision on the grounds of their own conscience based on the reading of Scripture.  Why can’t the same apply in deciding whether or not to bless a same-gender relationship?

Well, talking to some who do take a different position they suggest that Scripture envisages and allows for the fact that relationships fail but that the issue of committed relationships is part of the created order, because there it is in Genesis 2

‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2.24)

This critical verse is then repeated in Matthew 19.5, Mark 10.7 and Ephesians 5.31.  That really does make this an authoritative text for many.  It’s interesting that the debate has moved on to focus on the issue of marriage rather than the issue of homosexuality.  Perhaps people are beginning to accept that LGBTI people really do exist but cannot accept that they can live in blessed relationships because such a relationship is contrary to scripture, contrary to creation, and thereby is sinful and what is sinful cannot be called holy by blessing it.

Empfang des Eheringes

With this ring …

 

So that is where we seem to be and its going to take some radical love within the church to move that one forward.  But the end point of the discussions seems to have been identified and that is the really good thing that has come out of the Synod debate – that ‘we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.’ That is the task and that is the goal.

I was at Premier Radio’s studios on Friday recording some ‘thoughts for the day’ but also being interviewed for another programme.  That involved, in ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, choosing three favourite pieces of music.  I won’t give it all away but one of them was a hymn written by Fr Faber.  Frederick William Faber was ordained a priest of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism.  He was a Victorian and a friend of John Henry Newman.  But he’s best known for his hymns.  The one that I chose is ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’

It was written in 1862 but it seems so modern and relevant and its sentiments seem to echo the vision that we have in Southwark and that we now have in the Church of England as a consequence of last week. One verse says

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

It’s a fantastic expression of the vision, an echo from another age into ours.  We now need the grace and the guts to get on with the task.

Lord,
direct your church
as we seek to embrace the vision
and sing songs that echo with your love.
Amen.

The smoke that thunders

It’s hard to describe just how fantastic the Victoria Falls are.  They are massive yet you seem to be able to get so close to the water pouring over the edge as the Zambezi drops a distance of some 355 feet down into the gorge below.  A cloud of water droplets is thrown into the air and rises constantly from the falls.  One ‘factoid’ you may like is that the quantity of water needed by Johannesburg for two days descends over the falls in just one minute.  The real name of the waterfall is Mosi-oa-Tunya which means, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’ and the falls live up to their traditional name – the smoke rising and the thunderous noise sounding.

img_5710

Our first sight of the thunderous smoke

 

At the present time the waters are swollen as a result of much higher rainfall than is usual.  The irony is that Zimbabwe was suffering as a result of drought, now she suffers as a result of the floods.  As we say ‘It never rains but it pours.’

I was reminded of the psalmist, who obviously knew a thing or two about the grandeur of waterfalls,

Deep calls to deep
   at the thunder of your waterfalls.
(Psalm 42.7)

It could have been written of this place. It is said by some to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and standing there, transfixed by the sight of so much water and overawed by the sound it makes you give thanks for the sheer wonder of creation. Deep truly does call to deep – you never escape the sound of the waters in this place.

img_5714

The statue of Livingstone

 

So this is where this journey through Zimbabwe has begun for us.  Victoria Falls lies on the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia and the Zambezi Bridge spans the divide, built in 1905 under the direction of Cecil Rhodes. And it was here that David Livingstone came on 17 November 1855, perhaps the first European to see the falls.  His statue still looks out over them.  But we are here not to do sightseeing, though this first day has been wonderful, but to visit the dioceses, their cathedrals, parishes and their many projects with which we in the Diocese of Southwark and at the Cathedral are linked.  So there will be plenty to see and tell you about.

But here where the smoke thunders we glimpsed something of the awesome nature of God.

Creator God,
in a single drop of water,
in a mighty waterfall,
we glimpse the delicacy
and the awesomeness
of all that you have made.
Amen.

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