Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Five - Friendship

My friend Kathrynzj (with whom I shared a cabin on the very first RevGals Big Event, 2 years ago) is just home from this year's joyous reunion...and writes thus 

I spent the better part of last week on a continuing education cruise with a group of revgals. Both the class on hospitality and the connections made with friends (old and new) were phenomenal. I always have a difficult time with re-entry into reality from times away but this, aided by getting nailed with strep throat, has been more difficult than usual. Not only does it a take a few days (weeks? months?) for it to stop feeling like I am on a boat, but my heart misses my friends.

In parish life the boundaries are clear and they are there for a reason, but it can make the life of a minister a lonely one. It is such a tremendous gift to spend a few days with women who not only are wonderful and gifted, but who also get exactly what you do and why you do it. The hugs are genuine and free and the laughter is awesome.

Many of us have friendships - past and present - with these same qualities. And so today we will celebrate Friday with friendship:

1) Do you remember your first best friend? What did you do together? Are they still in your life?
C. and I met in the sandpit on our first day at school...We were both 4 years old. After a hiatus when we went to different schools, we reconnected in the 6th form and have never looked back. Her parents hosted my 18th birthday party in a wonderful barn conversion her father had just finished...At my 21st birthday party, she met her future husband. She is Godmother to my first born, as I am to hers...who celebrated HIS 21st birthday just this week. We dont see each other often now, as we're some three hours drive apart (which, in the UK, feels like a big deal), but when we do we always pick up exactly where we left off. We have shared so much - birth, death, joy, tears...I love her dearly.

2) Did you ever have to move away or have your best friend move away from you?
We were a fairly stable community growing up...S my other best friend, who felt more like a sister, went away to boarding school when I was 8 - I remember being supposed to be happy that she had won a place at the school she needed to attend,and just wanting to cry and cry because she would be going away and nothing would ever be the same again. As it happens, I was wrong...some friendships transcend even boarding school!

3) Are there people in your life now that you can call 'friend'?
Thanks be to God, there are indeed. I'm blessed with many wonderful women, (and some no less wonderful men)  many (though not all of them) clergy - because, you see, this is a VERY odd way to spend your life, and it does help if those whom you spend time with have some understanding of its many peculiarities. I have friends from the last parish who are now allowed to be proper friends, as the muddy waters have retreated...I even have one friend just across the road. But I am so exceedingly extrovert that I really need all of them - and can still feel quite forlorn and out on a limb occasionally. Having people about with whom it's safe to both laugh and cry without reserve is really important...Learning to make sure I spend time with my friends doing just that is something I'm working on this year...

4) What are some of your favorite things to do with your friends?
Walk with the dogs and talk as we go
Enjoy a curry and talk as we go
Share a bottle of red wine as the rain beats down and ......yes....that's the one

5) What is a gift friendship has given you?
The confidence to believe that I am loveable...None of the beloved people I call "friend" has any obligation to seek me out and spend time with me...that they do so, for no good reason beyond the fact that they want to, makes my world a shiney place.

Effective ministry in every parish??

That's the title of a report commissioned by FabBishop and currently making its way around deaneries, after a mixed reception at diocesan synod.
It's central premise is  that each community needs, and thus each community already has, a "God person" - someone  prayerful, holy, to whom people naturally turn when they have a spiritual need.Thinking of the Cotswold villages where I served as a Reader, each place did indeed have such a person - and when Local Ministry came on the scene, they were early and obvious members of the LMT. In larger urban or suburban communities, though such people might be obvious to the church family, they won't be evident to the wider world so some form of official category begins to be helpful...
So far, so good.

Now we're revisiting the same issue - with the thought that all such "God people" should be trained, accredited, licensed. Some might discern a call to Local Ordained Ministry, others would become Locally Licensed Ministers.
It's causing all sorts of upset.
On the one hand, there's anxiety and indignation that those who are actually doing the business, acting as resources for prayer and pastoring in (particularly) rural communities should be asked to jump through further hoops by way of training and accreditation. There's worry that the end product of the whole initiative might simply be a new tier of ordained ministry, and a way of propping up structures of church that need to be challenged, changed, transformed...There's worry too that licensed Readers and Local Ministry Team members might feel sidelined and undervalued as energy is channelled into the new scheme.
Then there's a different sort of anxiety, that some communities might simply not have any identifiable candidates. I think that might be the case in one of my parishes,-so there has been talk about the scheme leading simply to the publication of details of a "first call" person for crises in each location.....perhaps a Church Warden. That sounds more attainable, but loses sight of the initial vision of holiness.
Further upset.

It seems to me that once again we are in real danger of confusing ministry with function.  I have just had to write a report for the Bishop about the Herring of Christ's diaconal year. It's been a good one, I think, though absolutely unlike my own experience as a full time stipendiary curate. He has other responsibilities, other spheres on ministry and I think that for the moment the parish will continue to take second place...So what does this mean for his priesthood. Will he be jetted in as a "Mass Priest" - able to preside at the Eucharist in one community, but acting as the holy person most consistently in another (his workplace)? He can and will carry out the liturgical functions of priesthood, but his priestly formation and the fullest expression of his ministry is in his weekday community where I, his training incumbent, have absolutely no points of reference, nor any legitimate access...It has led to some interesting conversations through the year, and I hope that the report that I submitted will stimulate similar discussions on high. In my final paragraph I described the diocesan template for the year as rather a procrustean bed...I spent too long worrying about our inability to conform to something based on a different sort of ministry altogether, and have doubtless missed out on, and failed to celebrate,the many God-moments that have not fitted into the confines of parish life.

I have a feeling that there is a connection between all these half understandings of the nature of ministry - but I can't quite articulate what I think it is. It has taken me over a week to not really finish this post...I'm certain that if the church (including me) cannot decide what we actually mean by ministry, we'll go on failing those people whom we are called to serve...

Ministry in a time of transition is no easier than anything else. Not being sure where we are going as Church, it's very hard to work out how best to get there...but I'm pretty certain that looking backwards over our shoulders is unlikely to work.

Which is a shame, as I do love being a parish priest...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Morning Prayer in the Garden.

Lord God, you draw us by your beauty
and transform us by your holiness;
let our worship echo all creation’s praise
and declare your glory to the nations;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Isn't that lovely? It's the prayer provided in the Common Worship psalter at the end of psalm 96, one of those set for today. Because we never used those prayers in my training parish, I've tended not to engage with them often myself - but as I prayed the Office on this perfect spring morning these words said all that I needed.
Maybe it's time to review my approach in this season of new beginnings.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Easter 3 Year C

One day, I may actually get the opportunity to engage with the text and write a whole sermon from scratch once more...This week, which looked so gentle, but turned to bite me on the bum, is not the week - so I'm thankful that I can re-work an oldie from my curacy, and hope it will pass muster.

Two weeks ago, when some of us gathered on Holy Saturday night for perhaps the most significant service of the whole liturgical year, we rejoiced in a baptism. For centuries all baptisms were reserved for this Vigil service. It was the pivot around which the whole year was structured - and so the readings from scripture for the Great Fifty Days between Easter and Pentecost were chosen to help the entire Christian community understand the meaning of their baptism and of their life in Christ. Those themes are still clear in the readings today. In the Common Worship service, as in the rites of the early church there is one specially striking question Do you turn to Christ? In the early church, candidates literally turned at this point from the west, the direction of sunset and their old way of life, towards the east…sun rise, a new dawn…That's what we're recalling when we turn to face east during the Creed…And since we recite the Creed Sunday by Sunday, we are given a weekly reminder of our own continued need to change direction.

Turning, repenting, changing our focus should be a daily activity for us- and it’s demonstrated in our readings by both Peter and Paul. Saul/Paul, after all, could be adopted as the patron saint for of all of us who've ever realised we were facing the wrong way. Having done everything in his power to suppress the strange new cult that seemed to be threatening the cherished traditions of his Jewish faith, he found himself confronted with unmistakeable evidence that he had got it all wrong...So he made a U turn, and set forth with equal zeal in precisely the opposite direction...Having recognised the error of his ways, he made the most of his second chance, and from his conversion flowed so much else.

For Peter, things were very different. We all believe that where there is life there's hope – but for Peter it seemed as if all hope was extinguished. What could he do but repent, alone at the end of a long Good Friday?

Poor Peter.

On one level, his feelings are a normal reaction to bereavement. After a death, survivors are gripped by all sorts of feelings, - grief, of course, relief possibly, but often guilt as well, no matter how unjustified, unreasonable or downright silly. My father was unable to eat at all in the last 2 weeks of his life – but after his death I beat myself up for some months because I had not, as I’d promised, made him some of the cheese scones he so much enjoyed. I would have loved to have been able to put the clock back…to cut short the exam revision and do some baking instead. It felt as if that would have made all the difference to my ability to cope with his death. Silly, I know. It wouldn’t have made any difference to anything…but grief is rarely rooted in common sense and guilt is so often part of the package.

Feelings rise in a tide that can threaten to engulf us even after a “Good death”. Suddenly, things seem to be irreversible and there are too often unresolved issues words unspoken and deeds regretted,

Small wonder that we’re prone to thinking

“If only I could have him back, just for long enough to put things right – then I’d be able to move on”

Just one more chance….

Usually, those guilty feelings are simply our reaction to our own survival in a world which someone beloved has left…but occasionally, there are real grounds for contrition.

And we can’t put the clock back. There are no more chances.

We can repent as much as we like but we can’t hear the words of forgiveness we seek from the lips that we long for. And that’s hard, very hard – even if there's actually little reason to reproach ourselves.

But of course, it was different for Peter, wasn’t it.

He had a genuine reason to beat himself up – reason enough to wallow in misery till the end of his days. He has let his best friend down and catastrophe has followed.

So we find him days, a week perhaps after that fateful Passover weekend, mired in guilt and regret.

He longs to put the clock back – but since he can’t, he decides to pretend that the whole Jesus event, this wonderfully exciting chapter of his life, never really happened.

It’s easy to imagine the disciples, sitting round in a dispirited huddle until suddenly Peter takes the initiative.

“Right. That’s it. The past is over. He’s not coming back. – so let’s get on with our real lives. I’m going fishing…”

The wheel has come full circle. Peter is heading back to the beginning. He had been called away from his accustomed business but now that his dreams have been shown to be delusions, where else can he go but back to the boats? Fishing is in his blood. It’s who he is. Peter the fisherman, back at his nets.

And the others join him.

The comfort of familiar things, familiar places….

Again, quite a common reaction to grief – a way of trying to pretend that recent events just haven’t happened, so we act as if we really can put the clocks back.

If the world is changing around you, clinging to the tried and trusted seems the best thing to do.

But even this comfort is denied the disciples…for a long cold night out on the lake nets precisely nothing.

If Peter needed any confirmation that the world has gone awry, this must surely have provided it.

He can’t even make it as a fisherman any longer.

Deep gloom.

And then, as in each of the resurrection appearances, Jesus is there, changing everything.

First, he recognises their situation.

“You have no fish, have you?”

Then he offers them a remedy.

“Put your net out on the other side. Change direction yourselves. It will make all the difference.”

Another U turn….and a fruitful one.

This time, having learned their lesson three years earlier, the disciples take his advice without demur, and are duly rewarded, not just with a bumper catch but with the sight of the One they most long to see.

But everything has changed after the resurrection – even Jesus! There’s something unrecognisably different about him. And so it’s as though he appears for the first time again. This is a new commissioning to a new ministry…

Here’s Peter, trapped between love and loyalty. It’s his love that makes him respond as he does,- impulsively leaping out of the boat to reach his Master as fast as he can. He’s always loved Jesus like that .But being ruled by his feelings he was also particularly vulnerable to his fears…It was those fears that spoke in the courtyard as he denied his Lord, and his own love for Jesus. Can you imagine the inner turmoil he’s been wrestling with? Not only did Jesus die, but he died believing (as far as Peter was concerned) that Peter did not love him.

John’s gospel doesn't tell us whether Peter has actually encountered the risen Jesus before this…Perhaps like Thomas he too had been away, missed out…or had hesitated, hidden among the press of disciples crowding round in the upper room, conscious of his own consuming shame.

If ever there was someone who needed to hear words of absolution, it’s Peter and in this new world of restoration and second chances Jesus offers him the chance to take back those words he wishes he had never said.

Three times he asks the question that has been tormenting Peter:

“Do you love me?”

Three denials balanced by three chances to affirm his love afresh, three opportunities for forgiveness.

In human terms, forgiveness is one thing but trust in quite another. After we’ve been let down, disappointed in a significant way, we may try to forgive but the reality for most of us is that mistrust and anxiety cloud the relationship from then on.

We may manage to get along on a superficial basis, but we’re unlikely to make ourselves truly vulnerable to someone who has let us down…

But with Jesus, things are rather different.

Peter is not just told

“There there, it doesn’t matter”

He is confirmed in his vocation as the rock on which the church will be built. He’s not to be a fisherman but a shepherd.

A new identity for him, as for Saul (turned from persecutor to apostle).A new certainty, for all of them, that they are now heading in the right direction, following the One who is way, truth and light.

To encounter the risen Christ is to be challenged, challenged and changed.

He forces us to reflect on our own direction, our practice of life and faith. Perhaps like Saul we’re side-tracked by legalism or by the fine print of observance, and have missed the living reality of Christ staring us in the face? Maybe we’re so intent on getting it “right” that we have forgotten why “it” exists at all?

Perhaps we’re conscious of failures and shortcomings, of lacking the courage of our convictions, of putting safety before radical love. But the message of Resurrection is that transformation is possible, if we can accept it.

We’re bound to fail, gloriously, ignobly, repeatedly.

But thanks to the transforming power of the resurrection, we mustn’t give up even on ourselves.

Do you turn to Christ? Do you accept the reality of his resurrection for yourself….because it happened to him so that it could happen, likewise, to the world.

Resurrection, never resuscitation. This is not a question of putting the clocks back and undoing the past,- but of moving with joyful confidence into a future beyond our imaginings.

And so by the grace of God we find ourselves at Eastertide gazing in wonder at a world made new, a world of grace and Life and Light.,a place of transformation. Easter Sunday is not just the first day of a new week: it is the dawn of a new creation and things can never be the same again.

And, in the light of that new dawn, Jesus invites us to come and eat with him.

Thanks be to God!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Pack your Bags Friday Five

I'm preparing to pack my bags for the Big Event Three, and as I gather what I need I'm thinking about just that: what do I *need* to take with me? As a person who likes to pack light, I worry that in the end I may underpack and wish I had other things with me.  I own the gigantor version of the bag to the right, but my morbid fear of having it go astray and not get to the ship means I'm more likely to try to pack it all in a carry-on bag instead, especially since I have a very tight connection on the way to the cruise. But won't I be sorry if I don't bring _______________?

Thus writes my dear friend Songbird, who is about to set forth on the third RevGals BE...Can it really be 2 years since we embarked on the first one? That seems incredible in itself, without the added realisation that I've not used my posh suitcase, brought for the event and with Serious Travelling in mind, even once since. Holidays on Polyphony are only notionally concerned with the contents of the suitcase...the boat is very much home from home, and every bit as scruffy as the vicarage on a bad Sunday night, so packing has a rather different feel. But there was so much hope and excitement represented when I purchased my lovely pink I couldn't bear to miss out on the game....Here are Songbird's questions.

1) Some fold, some roll and some simply fling into the bag. What's your technique for packing clothes?
Does anyone need to ask? Do I sound like a careful packer?? Everything is flung in as best I can, then I generally sit on the lot to ensure that extra things can be accommodated...Don't know what I'd do if I were ever to go somewhere where formal wear was required at it would undoubtedly arrive resembling a dishcloth collection (it could be a problem even at home, actually...the only hint of a professional wardrobe is the presence of clergy shirts, and some of those are t shirt type)

2) The tight regulations about carrying liquids on planes makes packing complicated. What might we find in your quart-size bag? Ever lose a liquid that was too big?
Contact lens fluid is the issue for me...Last time I flew I was only using glasses, but now I'm back to a contact lens there might be all sorts of  issues arising. I've always TRIED to travel light, though, so quantities of liquid have never been on the agenda.

3) What's something you can't imagine leaving at home?
My beloved Nokia N97. Sad, isn't it. Once upon a time I would have said a journal and pens...and they still matter but.........connection is all!

4) Do you have a bag with wheels?
Said pink suitcase does indeed have wheels...and I was v grateful as I negotiated my way across America 2 years ago..and even more grateful as we trekked towards the ferry terminal in New Orleans. I also have a smaller, overnight sized, wheelie case which my m-i-l gave me some years ago, clearly hoping that sensible luggage might have an impact on the relative sense of her son's wife. Bit of a failure, that...

5) What's your favorite reading material for a non-driving trip (plane, train, bus, ship)?
Pretty much anything! I love that there's no possible guilt-factor in spending the journey time reading, though I do fret about running out of print...Clearly books need to be light in weight, but not necessarily in content. Coming home from BE1 I read all the Ann Lamott's that NOLA airport could supply, as I knew they'd be harder to find here. I do read alarmingly fast, so it's hopeless to try and take enough reading matter with me...thus I prefer to take books I won't miss if I have to discard them in order to have something fresh to read later on the journey. Can't remember what I actually took with me when I headed out 2 years ago, but suspect I left it on the ship, whatever it was..I try to read an English language newspaper from the country I'm visiting too - the Times of India was a regular delight during my time there...

Work in progress

Another session with the Shiny Work Consultant yesterday.Conversation ranged far and wide around myriad aspects of parish life and clerical chaos theory.This hasn't been a great week for work/life balance here at the vicarage. First there was the discovery of a couple of impossible double-bookings, occasioned by my tendency to believe that I'll REMEMBER fun things that I really want to do (sadly no: I very nearly committed myself to conduct a baptism on a SATURDAY when I should have been at not one but two weddings...) and by the folly of thinking that I can even see straight during Holy Week, still less take hall bookings in a responsible way.
Learning points there: abandon attempts to handle hall bookings (which I only took on as a temporary measure almost a year ago now)...Once something is handed on, don't worry about the details of how it is done - it will almost certainly work out, though not necessarily as you've envisaged, and that's no bad thing.
Write everything down immediately if not sooner, in red if it's fun.

Though when I returned home from holiday there were several promising gaps in the diary, a wedding couple, a funeral and a hospital visit soon ensured that the space that I'd imagined using for thoughtful work on a few biggish projects soon dwindled to nothing.
Learning point: write in preparation time...It absolutely has to happen, and burning midnight oil is rarely a route to achieving the best

On Monday, a small group of clergybirds met in my sitting room to talk about Justin's book. We are all contemporaries in ministry, who recognised that when we finished the CME1-4 training and were launched as fully-fledged incumbents we would miss the regular contact which the monthly doses of curate training had ensured...We also worried that we might never read a serious book again, so planned a regular reading group. 2 years on, I think we have actually managed to read 4 or maybe even 5 books (let's see...there was "Blue like Jazz" (which we largely hated)  
"Take this Bread" (even split...I loved it but others were unimpressed...) "Tokens of Trust" (did we actually discuss this...or were we sidetracked by Life along the way?) 
"Velvet Elvis" (still great - though this was by no means my first reading of it) and this time "If you meet George Herbert....". It says alot about the way life spirals out of control that it proves so hard to actually read books that I have suggested, or to find time to discuss them with people whom I want to see...and it's not much consolation that it's just as hard for the others too. Symptoms, symptoms...
Hence our decision to read "If you meet..." Sooo much of the book resonated with our own experience...I'm still giggling ruefully about the train-spotting vicar who, when quizzed about his daily pilgrimage to the railway line said
"It's good to see one thing in the parish that I don't have to run" : sometimes this can feel so close to the truth.
BUT (sorry Justin) we could see ourselves using the book, with all its hard-won knowledge, as another weapon with which to beat ourselves. I loved the balance in the suggested Rule of Life but the thought of even trying to implement it myself filled me with a wholly unwelcome panic. Yes, I want time to read, time to study, time to write, time to grow - but not at the cost of relationships within these parishes...I can and will attempt at monthly reading day, but more than that simply wouldn't help me. And that's what it's about, isn't it...Finding a route to enable flourishing in every aspect of life...If it works, splendid...if not, put it down. Yes?
For the moment, I'm committed to  the SCP Rule  , which should keep me on track spiritually, and any addenda are likely to result in my throwing in the towel altogether.

That's what's so fabulous about Shiny WorkConsultant. She recognises the struggles and issues for ENFPs in any sort of planning, understands that I will always throw caution to the winds and timetables out the window if I think someone "needs me" (whatever that might mean) and is prepared to start where I am and help me find a route through, that I actually have a hope of taking.
So this time I've come home fired with enthusiasm for bright pink star shaped memos, writing "to do's" on red  paper, and encouraging the congregation to write in a notebook those things they'd like me to attend to. It's really not great to keep on washing reminders to "Pray for X" or "Visit Y" when the notes get left in a pocket after the Sunday Eucharist!
I might even try and manage the diary, at least a little bit. Next week includes 2 important bits of writing...perhaps I could factor them in to the planning now. How's that for revolution? 

Important PS I'm very aware that wise and wonderful friends have been saying all of this to me for months, if not years. Please don't think I've not heard your advice or tried to follow it...It just takes a very long time to turn round a liner, and your wisdom (some of which remains blutacked above the desk, beside my bed AND on the front door) is almost certainly the only reason I had the courage to ask Shiny Work Consultant for help at all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Unconscious mutterings

I have zillions of photos of Holy Week and a good few of our gentle cruise up the Avon, which I really would like to post soon. One day I may even find time for some real blogging again - but for now, because it's Sunday, here's another installment of the procrastinators' delight......

  1. Habit ::bad
  2. Relaunch ::company
  3. Mondays :: I don't like
  4. Bootstrap ::pull up by
  5. Funk ::blue
  6. Appreciate ::assets
  7. Yay! ::done it! (with reference to three months of expenses - oh the shame!)
  8. Life :: class
  9. Sheets ::blank
  10. Date night ::Friday

Monday, April 05, 2010

Unconscious Mutterings again

  1. Philanthropy :: Quaker
  2. Said :: sung
  3. Blanks :: fired
  4. Tapas :: olives
  5. Orgasm :: chocolate
  6. Movement :: symphony
  7. Detention :: centre
  8. Restaurant :: universe (at the end of)
  9. Weird :: sisters
  10. Sniffle :: cold

Friday, April 02, 2010

One more piece of perfect Good Friday music....Crux Fidelis by John of Portugal

Homily for Good Friday at Church in the Valley

I wrote something like this last year, but in the event I didn't need to use it - so I preached it this afternoon. I'm pretty certain that I borrowed a chunk of it from elsewhere, - but cannot for the life of me remember if you recognise your own words, my apologies for not thanking you by name, and my gratitude for kick starting my thoughts too.

Every year, the same question…what’s so good about Friday.
This year it was voiced by a 10 year old who had just finished the first 5 stations of the Experience Easter trail & was brimming with frustrated anger at the pain he had recognised in the 100s of post-its that were covering this cross
GOOD Friday? I don’t think so
It is a hard day for most of us.
Are you against capital punishment?
To-day we are forced to remember it.
Do you see Jesus as wholly innocent & good?
Today we remember his agonising death as a traitor
Do you trust that virtue is rewarded?
Today tells a different story..
And are you fearful of death?
Today we have to stare it in the face

But it is, nonetheless, Good Friday…and actually the truth of its goodness lies deep in the pain of the world, is recorded on each one of those post-its, that fell like autumn leaves around the cross.
Good Friday is the day when those who suffer find hope, because God is suffering with them.

God knows the suffering of those who could with integrity claim the "suffering servant" passages of Isaiah as their own story, those who might find themselves voicing the Psalms of lament as their own song.
God knows the suffering of the poor, the refugees and the displaced, of those who live in fear in occupied territories, of those who have lost their jobs, their homes, their self-confidence.
God knows the suffering of the hungry and the outcast, of the meek whom the world delights to trample on.
God knows the grief of the grieving, the pain of betrayal at the hands of those from whom you expected friendship.
God knows the anguish, the terrible loneliness of one who is suffering all of these things, - and even the desolation of feeling yourself abandoned by God.

God knows all of this pain, personally and profoundly, because God suffered it all in the person of Jesus.

Our Lord naked on the cross, vulnerable to insects and birds, to sun and wind, and to the cruellest of creatures, human beings whose humanity has been twisted by violence ...Our Lord hanging there is an icon to the poor, suffering, and vulnerable that says:

You are not abandoned.

The broken body of the Christ is not some garment that God tried on, didn't like, and tossed aside in favour of more festive Easter finery; it is an icon of who God is in God's eternal nature.
The risen Christ will forever bear the print of the nails.
God was and is and always will be, there with, at one with, suffering with, the suffering, the outcast, the poor.

At Christmas we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.
Today as we look at the cross we see God with us again in all the pain & dereliction of broken human flesh.

And why is he there?
Not to appease a wrathful deity demanding recompense for sin.
Oh no…
God loved the world so much
Christ on the cross shows us that there is nothing, nothing that God will not do to show us we are loveable.
It was not the nails that held him there – it was love…love that, in just three days, showed itself to be stronger than death.

One day I will once again be part of a church that can sing these on Good Friday

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis - Lotti

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Homily for Maundy Thursday

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
A few weeks ago, The Herring of Christ (TM) and I were reflecting on the Last Supper...
Why, he wondered, was it the breaking of bread that became the Sacrament of Christ's presence for his followers?
Why did the church not place equal emphasis on the washing of feet?
After all, St John, from whose gospel our reading came tonight, doesn't even mention the breaking of bread at the Last Supper (it's there at an earlier feast - but not in this pivotal place on the night before the crucifixion)
So why, when Jesus told us to carry out both actions have we chosen simply to focus on bread and wine as the centrepiece of our devotions?
I suspect the reasons are many and complicated.Breaking and sharing bread, blessing and sharing wine was already an integral part of all formal Jewish meals.It wasn't a new ritual, or one restricted to the Passover - it was a completely natural practice for all of Jesus' disciples...but at the Last Supper it is invested with a new meaning. As so often, we have translation to thank for some of the confusion and suspicion that has been felt and voiced at the idea that we are consuming the body and blood of Christ...Listen to these words from Bosco Peters, a NZ priest who writes
"We regularly bring to our reading of the scriptures a Greek philosophical concept of a person being a “soul” – and “having” a body. Hebrew and Aramaic language regularly used “body” for “person” and .....identified “blood” with “life”. Jesus breaking bread and offering a cup of wine was saying: “this is me – my self and my life – I am giving you my self and my life – do this in remembrance of me.
An amazing reality.
Christ's self, his life, entrusted to us in bread and wine...
Awe ful.
So, through the centuries the church, perhaps mindful that we seem to find it easier to worship the God we've not seen than the neighbour over the fence, has allowed us to focus on this mandate,
"Do this in remembrance of me"
And hoped we could take the other “you also should do as I have done for you” for granted.
The problem is that it seems much easier to care for others, to wash their feet, than to accept care ourselves
It's not so very surprising
Foot washing, you see, is intimate, makes us uncomfortable just thinking about it (remember how it made Peter feel, and it was part of everyday life for him!)It's always a struggle to find a collection of people willing to let their feet be washed in church, even just once a year.
Feet are rarely our most beautiful feature (no matter what the Bible tells us about the feet of those who preach good news) and we prefer to keep them safely hidden from view...
Perhaps we worry that taking off our shoes and revealing the corns, callouses and peeling nail varnish we may accidentally reveal other equally unsavoury aspects of ourselves....that the God we find unexpectedly kneeling at our feet may see us in all our vulnerability and muddle.
MAY see us?
Of course he does...He sees us, as he knows us, through and through...and as he sees us, he loves us.
As I took groups of children round the Experience Easter stations this year, it was the activity at the font that provoked the most thoughtful responses. We considered the title "Servant King", pondering how such contradictions might be joined in the person of Jesus. One small boy changed my understanding forever as he said
"Jesus understands exactly how it is to be doesn't matter how different they  are,  what  they look like to other people...Jesus knows how it is because he has been there - from servant to king. He understands children and bullies too".
Jesus, in one action,  giving us not just a model for Christian life, but a glimpse of the heart of the God who knows us all inside out and loves us just the same....
George Herbert, priest and poet, grasped this when he wrote

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
 From my first entrance in,
 Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
 Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
My dear, then I will serve.
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.

Let us celebrate that amazing love as we accept his gracious invitation to
“Take, eat...”