The work of God

My mother was a great one for a routine.  Monday was wash day, Tuesday lots of cleaning, Thursday was the trip to the shops, Friday afternoon baking and so forth. She said that this was the only way that she could work. My sister and I have inherited some of that and living by routine feels to me to be liberating.  You may question that.  Isn’t it just a bind, no space for experimentation, no wriggle room? Wouldn’t it be good if occasionally I washed on a Wednesday and not a Saturday, that I did this or that on another day, live a bit more spontaneously, a bit more dangerously? Well it might work for some but for me. To be honest, I like the security of knowing that the washing and the cleaning will get done because they happen predictably and I don’t need to make decisions about them, in a way think about them.


So I suppose that I naturally fitted into the regularity of the pattern of living and praying expected of a priest.  I say expected because there is a Canonical duty upon us that we pray the Office, Morning and Evening Prayer, daily and publicly. All Christians are expected to pray and so we are no different in that except that the priest does it on behalf of the people dashing off to work, they hear the church bell ringing as they catch the 7.45 to Waterloo and know that the priest is on their kneew.  Well, that is the formal, romantic ideal – but an ideal not to be disparaged or dismissed.

One of the best things about my smartphone is the Church of England ‘Daily Prayer’ app.  It is the most wonderfully useful app I have to be honest.  Wherever I am I can say my prayers, without lugging a library with me.  Romnan Catholic clergy have the blessing of the Breviary which in three volumes, one for each part of the year, contains all the texts necessary for praying the ‘Divine Office’, the Liturgy of the Hours.  But Anglicans have to take with them at least three books – the Lectionary, which is the most complicated document, a kind of clerical ‘log tables’ which gives you the calendar and readings and psalms for each day.  Then you need your prayer book, either the BCP or Common Worship: Daily Prayer which has the form of the Office and the psalms.  Then you need a Bible and as both main Offices include readings from the Old and New Testaments you can’t get away with just the NT.  So praying ‘on the go’ involves lugging all of this around.  So the app is a godsend in that it is like a virtual Breviary containing all things necessary.  It means that the priest can say the Office where they are, and the person on the 7.45 to Waterloo can equally say the Office where they are! It’s a great act of democratisation in doing the work of nGod, what we know in church-speak as the ‘opus dei’.

The poet George Herbert wrote lines which we often sing

Seven whole days not one in seven, I will praise thee.

That is the rule we live by, the regularity that we seek to establish, the pattern of prayer that is as routine as breathing that doesn’t involve making decisions but is simply part of living as a child of God. I’m fortunate to have colleagues to pray with and a choir who will add glorious music to the opus dei enhancing the experience of praying.  But neither of those things is necessary for praying, just the will, the desire to pray, the time, the place, be that in a cathedral or church, in a crowded carriage or a quiet kitchen after the kids have gone to school, with books, or an app, knowing that God is with us in our praying as God will be with us in our working.

God, give us the desire to pray, and the space to do it. Amen.

I’m in York

Just in case you were waiting for a Living God blog today, I’m at the meeting of the General Synod in York. So, please, follow me on my General Synod blog and you will catch up with what we are up to.

What do priests do?

It’s ordination season and 33 years since I was ordained priest. My bishop kindly reminded me that that is a third of a century! He had also invited me to lead the retreat for those to be priested. That was a real privilege and great to be with 17 women and men looking forward to beginning priestly ministry in parishes across the range in the Diocese of Southwark. As priests are ordained in this diocese in the three episcopal areas – Woolwich, Kingston and Croydon – I was only able to go to one set of ordinations. So I was invited to preach at the Woolwich ordinations which took place in the lovely church of St Peter, Walworth. The church was designed by Sir John Soane, classical and beautiful.

There were three men to be ordained priest – Michael, Sam and Simon – and this is the sermon I preached on that occasion. The readings were Malachi 2.5-7, 2 Corinthians 5.14-19 and John 20.19-23.

I wonder how many of you’d admit to having watched the wonderful Cilla Black in that dating show of many years ago, ‘Blind Date’? If you do admit to having watched it you’ll no doubt remember her opening question to each of those expectant people perched on their stools, ‘What’s your name and where do you come from?’

They’re the kind of questions we come out with when we meet anyone for the first time – and we might add to it the question ‘What do you do?’ We ask these kinds of things so that we can figure people out, get to know them a bit more, a bit more quickly, pigeon hole them maybe – ‘Oh, you’re an accountant!’

But if you were to ask a priest what it is they did I wonder what kind of answer you’d get, or what kind of answer you’d expect?

In a few minutes the bishop is going to address these three about to be ordained to tell them basically what it is that the church will be expecting of them. It’s a huge list, more than any one person could do, but some of the things are the stuff we’d expect, presiding at the Eucharist, blessing, the things that deacons can’t do and I’m sure things that Simon, Michael and Sam are longing to do.

There’s one other important thing that priests do, however, and something which I think is a vital ministry in the world in which we now live. It’s something that’s fundamental to priesthood but also to the ministry of the whole church, which of course finds its focus in the priest. It’s something that a priest both does and is, something that the church does and is and it’s all about this business of reconciliation.

The disciples are locked away in the Upper Room, the place in which they’d spent that final evening with Jesus, the place in which he’d startled them by taking the towel and washing their feet; the place in which he’d baffled them by taking bread and taking wine and talking of both as his body and blood; the place in which they’d been shocked as Judas stormed out and left them to it, off on his way to betray the one they loved.

It was in this room, the doors locked, the windows barred that they now were. They’d been through the most dreadful three days and now they were here in a place of safety, even though there were stories doing the rounds that Jesus was alive. And into their fear Jesus breaks in with a greeting of peace – ‘Peace be with you’ he says. They see him, they hear him and they feel his breath on them as he gives them the authority, the ministry to be reconcilers, to forgive sins, to share God’s shalom, God’s salaam, God’s peace with the world.

For much of the history of the Church of England when priests were being ordained it was these words of Jesus that were spoken to the person as the bishop laid their hands on their head. In the Book of Common Prayer this is the defining ministry into which we’re called, for which we’re set apart. We’re to be reconcilers, we’re to do reconciliation.

I heard a wonderful and moving poem the other day, written in Polish by Adam Zagajewski but read in translation. It begins like this

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.

It was so beautiful I could have cried. ‘The mutilated world’. We’re living through days and months and years of mutilation. The events of three weeks ago at London Bridge and at the Borough Market brought the horror of what we’ve witnessed on the TV in so many ‘other’ places, to our own doorstep, to the edges of this community where we gather today for this Mass. It was horrific, as was the fire at Grenfell Tower, another form of terror, as was the attack on the worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque, as had been the attacks in Westminster and in Manchester. Lives and communities have been mutilated. And the world is being mutilated, God’s good creation, ‘June’s long days and wild strawberries’ are being mutilated. But the poet urges us to praise this mutilated world, to love it.

As the news of the attack at London Bridge appeared on my phone I put on my dog collar and attempted to get to the Cathedral to open the place up so that we could minister from it. Of course I couldn’t and I ended up on Southwark Street with the injured and the terrified. And I was scared, I don’t mind telling you. I learnt so much about being a priest in those hours and days afterwards, when I couldn’t get to the altar to offer the Eucharist, when the Cathedral was locked inside a cordon, bearing the scars of the atrocities that’d taken place around it.

What are priests? We are breakers and menders. We are people called to take bread and brake it so that many can share in its strength. We are people called to take hold of the chains of sin which bind people and with the grace and power of God to break them so that they can be free. We are people who take the wine and water and pour them into the wounds of the injured to mend them, to bring them Christ’s healing. We are the people to bring God to the people and the people to God so that true reconciliation can take place. We are the breakers and we are the menders and we enter every situation with the words with which Jesus enters that locked and terrified space, ‘Peace be with you.’

The prophet Malachi recognises this in our First Reading when he says of the priest

‘he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts’.

You, we, priests, the church, the priestly people of God, we are the messengers of the Lord of Hosts, we are the breakers and the menders, we are the people of peace, we are the ones who, as Paul says to the Christians in Corinth, are entrusted with the ‘message of reconciliation’.

God holds the mutilated world and must weep over it and over us, as Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus – but not in hopelessness. For out of his tears Jesus cries ‘Unbind him; let him go’ and that out of the depths of his priestly nature.

What do priests do? None of us really knows. Each day brings its joys and challenges and we face them equally but we go armed with the grace of orders on behalf of the whole church, with the authority to break what must be broken, to heal what must be healed, to forgive what must be forgiven, to reconcile what must be reconciled, to bless whatever should be blessed.

The day of my ordination as a priest

One of the heroes of our faith is Queen Esther. It seemed she was destined for a life of relaxed glamour when chosen for the king’s harem. But instead God had a task for her, to be the advocate on behalf of her people, the Jews. She didn’t feel up to it. But then a message came back to her. She’d been chosen by God ‘for such a time as this’.

My brothers, my friends, we are the church, the priestly church, for such a time as this. All we can do, however daunting it may be, is to take it to the altar, to offer it in broken bread and wine outpoured and then go out onto the streets of the mutilated world and be the breakers and the menders, the peace speakers and the peace livers who will make Christ known – that is what we do, that is who we are, that is who Jesus is – and he is out there doing it already and waiting for us to join him.

And this is the prayer I used before each of my addresses at the retreat.

God give to your priests grace to fulfil their ministry,
reverence in celebrating the sacraments,
faithfulness in proclaiming the word,
zeal in mission,
diligence in pastoral care
tenderness in comforting,
power in healing the wounds of your people
and humility, self-sacrifice and courage in all things.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

‘I am with you always’

This is the text of the sermon I preached at Southwark Cathedral on Trinity Sunday 2017 the day on which we were able to reopen the Cathedral following the terrorist attack on our community a week before.

Saturday night last week was like a living nightmare. It’s the kind of experience that only happens to other people, not to you, not on your own doorstep. But it happened to us, it happened on our own doorstep, literally; it happened in our own community that we love and that we’ve served in Christ’s name for over 1400 years. Those years have seen their share of war and pestilence and fire but I doubt that ever before has the church been inaccessible to worshippers for a week, inaccessible as the place of peace and contemplation that people expect and need, inaccessible as the place of welcome and embracing, radical hospitality and love that we seek to be. But it happened.

Flowers

When I first heard that something was happening in the London Bridge area I put on my dog collar and headed down Bankside to try and open up the Cathedral so that we could be a place of refuge. But initially I didn’t get far.

So I went through the back alleys and got as far as Park Street and Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Market Porter. But heavily armed police barred my way and forced me back. ‘Run, run’ was all they shouted. I was directed on to Southwark Street and there saw people lying on the pavement being cared for by the emergency services. ‘Run, run’ was all I could hear through the sound of sirens and helicopters and I was forced on and on until I got back to the Deanery and shut the door behind me on the living nightmare.

Around midnight I received a text from Amir Eden, a young man who lives on Park Street, a lawyer who was a pupil at Cathedral School, a practising Muslim who’s the chair of the Bankside Residents Forum. ‘Could I come to yours? I can’t really go anywhere.’ was his text. I texted back ‘Of course’ and so he arrived and with 8 other people spent the night in our house.

The rest I suppose you know about. 8 brutally killed, 48 horribly injured. The Cathedral was forcibly entered by the police searching for more attackers, doors broken down, glass smashed in a desperate effort to stop more bloodshed. It happened on our doorstep, on the threshold of God’s house.

And now we’re here on this Trinity Sunday, back in this sacred place, which is still sacred. The risen body of Jesus bears the marks of the nails and the spear and Jesus shows his hands and his side to his disciples. The Sacristy door shows the marks of the baton rounds fired at it to break open the door and allow the police access. We bear on our body the marks of suffering that so many bear in their flesh and in their soul and spirit.

St Matthew places the final encounter of the disciples with the risen Jesus not on the Mount of Olives, just outside the city of Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, the place where they started, the place of call and from that place of call he sends them out to the nations, to take the Good News, to baptise and teach. But then, before he leaves them he makes a promise, a promise to them and a promise to us.

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

In the horror of the moment it’s all too easy to imagine that you’re on your own, that you’re abandoned to the nightmare, lost in the terror, but Jesus says ‘No; remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

God was not absent on that Saturday night; God is never absent. The Psalmist knows it to be true when they say

Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. (Psalm 139.7-8)

We are not abandoned by the Sprit, we are not abandoned by the Father, we are not abandoned by the Son for we have this promise ‘I am with you always.’

On Friday I was invited to go to our local mosque by the Imam. I went with other clergy from here and we were welcomed with open arms. I’d been invited to speak to a packed congregation. The Imam preached about our shared humanity and our shared heritage through Adam and I was able to respond to that, taking your greetings to our brothers and sisters, telling them that we do not hold the Muslim community to blame, telling them that we recognise that we share so much, praying, peace upon you, greeting them as Paul greets the Christians in the multi-cultural, multi-faith, complex and exciting city of Corinth

‘Live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you’. ( 2 Corinthians 13.11)

That is what we have to do. What we share is what God has given, a shared heritage, a shared humanity, not just with the Muslim community but with all people, all men and women, regardless of anything that others might identify as difference. Difference does not mean division unless we chose to make it so, and we chose to make difference a blessing and an enrichment to our community which is why we celebrate who you are, who we are, male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight – and I will say that again and again and again from this pulpit until it is deep in all our hearts, to the very core of our being.

The great metaphysical poet and Dean of St Paul’s, John Donne, famously wrote a poem, so well known.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

‘Any man’s death diminishes me’ which is what the Quran teaches, that killing one life is killing all life. We have all been scarred by what happened last Saturday on our doorstep and we will bear those scars. But they will not make us bitter but make us stronger.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ said Edmund Burke. We will not do nothing. We will rebuild with the community what good things we have, we will rebuild the joy and diversity, the confidence, the acceptance, the inclusive, radically beautiful nature of this community that has been built over centuries and millennia. The roots go deep and cannot be destroyed by evil men and we will not allow it but will confront that evil with love.

wounds of crucifixion

We bear on our body the marks of Jesus

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is the feast of relationship, that beautiful relationship of diversity in the very Godhead, the Perichoresis, the divine dance into which we’re drawn. And we’re drawn and invited to this altar, through the Spirit, by the Father, to share in what the Son gives to us. With scarred hands he gives his broken body to us, gives his shed blood to us, and he asks us to eat and drink so that through his death we may have life. He is always with us, always, at the altar, in the world, walking through the dangerous places and showing his scarred self to a scarred world and making it, ultimately, beautiful.

Loving God,
when terror came to our doorstep
and stalked our streets
you were there with us in the fear and agony.
Remain with us
and with all those caught up
in the horror of these events
the injured and distressed
those who died
and all who seek your peace
which passes understanding.
Amen.

Reformation

I had to vote last week – in the General Election. When the snap election was announced and the date was set I realised that for once in my life I was not going to be in the country on election day.  So I sent off the form for my postal vote, duly received the papers and had the weird experience of standing in the kitchen with my pen – I wish the envelope had contained one of those stumpy pencils obviously only manufactured for UK elections – and made my cross in the box.  On the radio the arguments between the parties were continuing.  The campaign hadn’t ended but I had to make my choice, one way or the other, or the other, or the other ….

1529MartinLuther

Martin Luther

 

The reason that I won’t be here on Thursday is that that will be Day 4 of our Cathedral pilgrimage in the steps of Martin Luther.  Monday sees over forty of us from the Cathedral and its wider community flying off to Frankfurt to begin tracing the life of someone who had an amazing effect upon the life and shape and beliefs of Western Europe and, indeed the world.  To be honest I knew very little about Luther or indeed Lutheranism.  Southwark Cathedral has had a very long link with the Norwegian Lutheran Cathedral in Bergen and has an even longer association with the work of the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe. But, as I have discovered, Lutherans are even more complicated than Anglicans (though as yet I don’t think they consecrate curates as bishops!) and knowing the churches of Porvoo doesn’t mean that you know or understand Lutherans.  My formation as a priest at Mirfield prepared me for lots of things that would be vital in my priesthood but Martin Luther was not one of them.  I do remember one lecture by Fr Norman Blamires CR, now long since gone to his rest, in which he seemed to suggest that Luther had his best ideas on the loo.  But just as people often only remember the most insignificant part of a sermon I can’t remember much more than that, or the point he was trying to make.

So I’m looking forward to travelling around Germany, with an expert guide and learning a great deal more about some hammer blows in a door that became hammer blows on a church. Of course, we shouldn’t talk about reformation but reformations because it wasn’t one movement but a whole series of movements that manifested itself differently in different communities, in different churches at different times.  No expression of church in the west remained the same, we all reformed in one way or anther, to one degree or another. Neither is it a process that has ended.

In preparation for this year of commemoration the Lutherans and Roman Catholics produced a joint document entitled ‘From Conflict to Communion’ and at the end of that there are a series of ‘Five Ecumenical Imperatives’ the second of which is this

Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.

It’s that process of continuous transformation that should excite us.  The church, as we understand it, is never static, it changes, develops, but never loses its essential character as the Body of Christ.

Pentecost-2012

Transforming Spirit

 

We travel to Germany the day after the Feast of Pentecost, the great day of transformation for the church as locked in, frightened men were emboldened to become witnesses, as wind and fire brought energy and life, not just into them but into those who heard them. The crowds who heard the hubbub, people from every nation, hearing in their own language, asked one question

‘All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ (Acts 2.12)

That gave the opportunity for Peter, with a new found voice and confidence to stand up and preach the first sermon.  Thousands of lives were re-formed, transformed as a consequence.  I hope that as we travel around Germany we can experience some of that transformation that continuous process of change through encounter.

You can follow the journey by reading the blog here.

This is the prayer we will be using throughout the pilgrimage.

O God, our refuge and our strength: you raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Saviour, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A night of terror

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

Loving God, when terror came to our doorstep
and stalked our streets
you were there with us
in the fear and agony.
Remain with us
and with all those caught up
in the horror of these events,
the injured and distressed
those who died
and all who seek your peace
which passes understanding.
Amen.

The 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!

BAPTISM_1

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).

St D's

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.

1024px-Church_of_Saint_Simeon_Stylites_22-_Baptistry

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.

BoschChristCrownedWithThorns1495-1500Version

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.

london-skyline-silhouette-01-01-01

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.

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