Friday, 29 April 2011

The Royal Wedding

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
for you have created joy and gladness,
pleasure and delight, love, peace and fellowship.
Pour out the abundance of your blessing
upon William and Catherine in their new life together.
Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts,
and a crown upon their heads.
Bless them in their work and in their companionship;
awake and asleep,
in joy and in sorrow,
in life and in death.
Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that banquet
where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home.
We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Taken from CW 2000 Pastoral Services

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Vernacular Curate Goes Terminal

Thank you to all of those who sponsored me, and for helping me reach nearly £1,000 for the Lymphoma Association. Your kindness is appreciated by me, by the charity, and by those that the charity helps in the worst of circumstances.

I'll have no comments about the silly hat, either. 55m/s I fell! Forgive the silence too. Put your head next to a desk fan set to 'high', and you can emulate the experience for yourself!

I am now going to take a few days off, to realign my flappy cheeks and baggy neck, and to enjoy a little family time. Thank you too for your support for my Stations during Holy Week.

Back soon.     

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Joy of Marriage

This week will become known not for the wonderful Easter and its perfect weather just enjoyed, but as a week where the institution of marriage is once again re-affirmed. 

I am writing this on a day when Mrs Acular and I are celebrating our fourteenth wedding anniversary. You may be pondering why I am wasting good anniversary time writing my Blogette when I could be thinking romantical thoughts with my life's-love. The truth is, she is off helping her sister pick a wedding dress for her nuptials, so here I am (praise the Lord).

In three days, the whole wide telly-watching world will be tuned in to see Prince William marry the fragrant Kate Middleton (who is related to a fryer of fish, by the way). I have heard that this will number into the 700,000,000s of people. Perhaps it is no accident that we in our church-life have seen a little surge in requests to marry this year, and for that we thank God. I pray fervently that they enjoy a happy, long, fruitful life together. Their happy day is a happy day for us, and I thank them for that. 

I speak as one who knows what I am talking about, as I have been in relationships outside of marriage as well the one within it. Many men and women baulk at the idea of marriage, regarding it as outdated, pointless, 'just a piece of paper'. Rubbish! The only reasons not to marry someone, as far as I can see, is that a 'quick-release' mechanism remains desirable, or that two people just don't love one another quite enough that it can last a lifetime. There, strong words, but it is how I feel. 

I believe very strongly, that marriage is the very best one person can offer to another person whom they love with all their heart. Why would you not marry? And it is different. After I married Jo, it felt different compared to  before. It felt different in the very best of ways. Loose affiliations are fine if you wish to be loosely affiliated to someone, but to stand up in front of the 'world' and say 'I do', takes courage, commitment, and is surely the keenest demonstration for that love that there is (and should be available to all adults who love one another). 

For me, it has been fourteen wonderful years with a faithful kind and beautiful woman who has endured much that I may live my dreams. I hope that I have done the same for her. As a couple we have brought to life two gorgeous children, no better fruit of our love. It hasn't all been plain sailing, and to pretend otherwise would be daft - and oh my word how she nags. I jest, but we have had many good days and few bad. Being married meant that we had days when it felt that love wasn't quite enough, and when just duty to our vows was the glue. It happens in all marriages, not just ours. In simple terms, I have agreed to love this woman-without-taste-in-men for the rest of her life, and she has agreed the same. That simple promise changes my whole world, every day. 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Loose Liturgy

This is for you Anglo-Catholics and you Charismatics out there!

This is Easter Day, the culmination of the arduous journey of Lent, the steep climb of Holy Week, the pause for relief of Mothering Sunday, the agony of the Passion and the desolation of the Cross. Today is the day when we see Him rise. 

I sit here as a tired little curate, one who earned his pennies this last few weeks. The last twenty-four hours, in our church, have witnessed some extra-ordinary scenes, liturgically speaking. What we witnessed was lively liturgy, liturgy in the moment, worship of the second and of the people there - but I have discovered that it doesn't happen by accident.

Last night we had the great celebration of the Easter-eve Vigil, and with it twelve confirmations and eight baptisms. That meant that we had to re-arrange the church to accommodate what was to take place and those who would  come to witness it (a case for churches without pews, just there). Having such a large gathering comprising many who were strangers to our edifice meant that we were often at the mercy of circumstance, within a framework. I am fast learning that 'catholic' acts of worship are at their best if they compromise to the moment. A liturgy that is wrought-iron might look fabulous and is without doubt beautiful, but it offers no room to breathe. A loose liturgy knows where it is going, what needs to happen, and also what can be sacrificed if the need arose. For the gathering, we hope a healthy mix of the formal and the informal; for the priests, a considerable effort not unlike sailing a yacht close to the wind. Our liturgy was acrobatic, spontaneous catholic liturgy, and it worked. 

Today's celebration of Easter welcomed three little ones for baptism. It meant yet more welcome guests who were unsure of what they were doing. It meant, happily, a coach-load of visiting kids who felt comfortable in our Medieval Barn. Some parents worried that their children were too boisterous, but they weren't.

Knowing what is meant to happen when and where is important. It means that liturgy has structure, direction, flow and meaning. I am not one for excessive spontaneity for fear of getting to the end without having journeyed to all the places required, so I have learned the art of holding tight to the rope, while it hangs loose. To a casual observer, the Eucharist may have seemed chaotic, and perhaps in odd moments it was. I firmly believe that good liturgy tabs into order at given points, with times of fluidity interspersed between them. It is, I think, more tiring for we the leaders of the service, but that is the joy of our work. To be thanked by a visitor to our church with comments about how the formal and informal was helpful, made my day.

Happy Easter to you all. Christ is risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Station XV: Jesus Risen From the Dead

The funny thing about Stations is that they tend to be Lenten devotions, which means that this (or its equivalent) Station gets pruned off the end. It is good to be able to complete the cycle - add the conclusion.

Tonight saw our Easter Vigil, and within that we had copious confirmations and a plethora of baptisms. The liturgy was fairly complex, augmented by the perfect spiritual joy delivered in hymns offered by the Zimbabwean Mother's Union - and I even warbled for a moment or three.

For once, a sermon has 'stuck'. The bishop, upon learning of my successful descent from a parachute jump, talked about leaps of faith. Certainly our candidates took theirs this evening. So did the rest of us who engaged with the Vigil of Easter. Was it a leap of faith that Easter would happen? No, of course not. The retailers make Easter happen every year. It was a leap of faith that we could take in its meaning again after another year. Certainly, in my church, the flower ladies received a happy return on their leap of faith, as did the choir. The candidates too, as mentioned, and added to their number the faithful who looked on, and indeed we priests who ministered. Would this Easter be a miracle for us once again?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Such perfect love as this is endless and the significance of the Resurrection is as raw, edgy and potent as it was the first time. Another Easter has arrived, and it is perfect. The white-hot energy radiating from the Tomb has touched our lives once again, and I sit here typing this just a little overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed because the cutting agony of the days past is matched by the warm energy of perfect love and the eternal Answer to everything. By this moment I am saved, and so are you. Drink in that knowledge - and revel in it. 

He has been raised; he is not here [Mk 16: 5]

My prayer at this Station is for every Christian in the world, for their witness and for their courage to walk the whole journey. My prayer is for you, too. 

Lord Jesus, you were dead but now you are alive:
transform the torments of this world’s sin
that we may see your radiant glory.
You were raised from death to life:
may the power of your resurrection live in us,
that we may be channels of your true life beyond measure.
To you, Jesus, who have broken free from the bonds of death,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Friday, 22 April 2011

Station XIV: Jesus Laid in the Tomb

Today, many of us will have endured a flavour of the death of Our Lord. It is a day when some us of had a chance to share in the words of the Passion during our liturgies. Today is a day of noiseless noise. Today is a day when silence screamed, when moments collided into a truth that an innocent man died because of us. 

Jesus's last words numbered 'It is finished' among them, and for him, in his earthly form, that was the case. Jesus died a complete an absolute human death, nothing less. This Station reminds us that even after the horrors just witnessed, there is work to be done. For a whole manner of religious reasons, the body of Jesus could not remain dangling and festering. For yet more emotional reasons, those who loved Christ had this moment to minister to him one a final way. To them, he was still a much loved friend and son, a leader, a hero. He received the burial that he deserved, so incongruous given his mongrel's execution. 

Much is said about the differences between having faith and being religious, with religion often coming off worse in this day and age. However, those of us who are religious know something of its duties. Every time we go to worship God in church, we dutifully take our place in a line of people that spans our globe - all doing what is needed, what has to be done. Religious people take faith, stand up, and are counted. Oddly, in this epilogue to the crucifixion, an event precipitated by religion and fear, we see one that was concluded so tenderly by religion and love. But for now, sleep my Saviour, sleep

Then Joseph brought 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 [Mk 15: 46]

My prayer at this Station is for those who have died this day, and those who mourn their passing. I pray especially for those who have died at the hands of others, and in violent circumstances.

Lord Jesus, Lord of life, you became as nothing for us:be with those who feel worthless and as nothing in the world’s eyes.You were laid in a cold, dark tomb and hidden from sight:be with all who suffer and die in secret,hidden from the eyes of the world.To you, Jesus, your rigid body imprisoned in a tomb,be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,now and for ever. Amen

Station XIII: Jesus Dies on the Cross


Station XII: Jesus on the Cross; his mother and his friend

The thing that I am proudest of in my life is that I am a parent to two wonderful little girls. They consistently take my breath away with their quantum leaps of development, their already well-formed senses of humour and their pure beauty.

The thing I most fear in my life is losing my daughters. The mere prospect of their untimely end is enough to bring me to the edge of tears. For a parent to lose a child is of the most acute tragedies that life can bring to a person, and here we have one such parent. 

Mary knew how this would end. We still have the words of Simeon echoing in our ears - 'and a sword shall pierce your own soul too'. For Mary, this is that moment. I think that most parents would have given their own life to try and free their baby from such a tortuous end. Most parents would claw the cross to match-sticks given half the chance. For Mary, the worst of the worst had to happen and all she could do was watch. 

For Jesus, this is equally painful. No child gladly watches the agonies of their own mother, and despite that, Jesus  assures her of a secure future. He gives over her care to faithful John, yet another act of absolute consideration as his own life waned to its close. 

'Woman, here is your son.' Then he said to the disciple. 'Here is your mother'. [Jn 19: 26]

My prayer at this Station is for all mothers, more especially those who have lost children or for whom relationships with their children is severed or damaged

Lord Jesus, your mother and your dearest friend stayed with you to the bitter end,

yet even while racked with pain you ministered to them:
be with all broken families today
and care for those who long for companionship.
You cared for your loved ones even in your death-throes:
give us a love for one another
that is stronger even than the fear of death.
To you, Jesus, loving in the face of death,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Station XI: Jesus Promises the Kingdom to the Penitent Thief

At this point in the Stations we see the frail broken remnant of Jesus breaking free from his human emotions and making the transition to he who shall rise from the dead. We know already that Jesus's cries of desolation lie ahead, but this is the first of the moments when we see God more fully in the shattered human. 

Again, we also see ourselves in this two criminals. How often have we fired one of the old 'arrow prayers' at the sky in a bid for 'let X not happen and I promise you Y'. I, for one am guilty of that - and I imagine that you are too. However, let us not overlook this confession of faith - albeit on wrapped in selfish ambition.

The first thief wants out; he knows he will die in agony. The 'good' thief seems to be at peace with the verdict cast upon him, but what is clear that, at this moment of hopelessness for them all, they recognise Jesus as the Christ. In the whole ordeal, it is not an Apostle, not Peter who makes this claim of Jesus, it is a common criminal.  

It is important not to overlook the remarkable compassion from Jesus. We cannot imagine how wretched, weak, debilitated, defiled or abandoned Jesus will have felt as he hung helplessly, yet he has strength to reassure another dying man that better awaits him. If that criminal, that executed criminal, can be assured, by God the Son of a place in Paradise, then this moment is as potent for us in our own day. 

Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise [Lk 23: 43]

My prayer at this Station is for those who are bound up in criminal lives for whatever reason; for their rehabilitation and eventual return to a place of equality among us. I pray too for their victims. 

Lord Jesus, even in your deepest agony you listened to the crucified thief:hear us as we unburden to you our deepest fears.You spoke words of love in your hour of death:help us to speak words of life to a dying world.To you, Jesus, who offer hope to the hopeless,be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,now and for ever. Amen

Station X: Jesus is Crucified

William Fairbanks - Forest Stations
It is claimed that crucifixion is the worst form of execution every invented. It is a degrading, slow and agonising death for accused - more often than not lasting up to eight days in many cases, rather than what seemed the 'mercifully' short hours that Jesus was caused to endure. 

Crucifixion is not a death by catastrophic organ failure, blood loss or haemorrhage, but by suffocation. In the prone position that this hanging bring about, the accused cannot breath properly as a result of the full extension of the rib-cage. It is slow, a death served by our very processes of living.

However, and a writing as a priest, it seems that crucifixion dealt a far more cruel blow to Jesus. The nailing of the hands to the patibulum took place through the wrists, not through the palm as it often depicted. This would have immediately severed the nerve system that serves the hand, and by the imposition of the nail, the King of Love was robbed of his ministering hands.  Hands and touch would have been so important to Jesus, and they are to priests. Healing is a matter for human touch, not wands or magic spells. Offering human comfort is done in union, not at a safe polite distance. For Jesus, in his last moments, he is robbed of the things that delivered most good in his ministry. 

And they crucified him, and divided his clothing among them, casting lots to decide what each should take [Mk 15: 24]

My prayer at this Station is for those who have been the victim of murder, and those who mourn their passing.  I pray too for all people called by God to heal, and for the precious gift of touch.

Lord Jesus, you bled in pain as the nails were driven into your flesh:

transform through the mystery of your love the pain of those who suffer.

To you, Jesus, our crucified Lord,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Station IX: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Image by Jon Reischl
In this particular range of Stations, we are given the women of Jerusalem; in others we see Veronica who wipes the face of Jesus. In this case, we hear some very human sentiments from Jesus. His words, although typically 'Jesus' amount to "shortly you will wish you hadn't been born". I have pondered this, in the light of the whole story, and to whom Jesus was speaking to. 

This was further amplified by a comment someone made to me yesterday in another place - a Jewish friend who, knowing I was working my way through this devotion, said "you haven't got to the part of 'the Jews did it'" It is a fair comment, given the sentiments of some of our key theological forbears [Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, Martin Luther to name but a few], who certainly did blame the Jews for this eventual deicide. Jesus's sentiments to this gaggle of Jewish Jerusalemite women would also suggest his anger.

However, while Jesus's anger is wholly understandable (and that he still had the energy bordering on the miraculous), there is no sense that he blamed the Jews. For Jesus, this was the fulfillment of prophecy - a road that had to be trodden. How easy it is to blame, to finger-point - especially when it turns attention from us! I can no more blame the Jews for this act of murder than I can God for letting it happen. In a sense, the actors in all of these scenes were caught up in an embrace that was foreseen over all time. 

This is also a scene of lament and mourning. The women are, once again, us - in futile mourning from a safe distance. I tend to favour the Station that features Veronica, because in that image, we see a moment of significant relief for Jesus. In having his face wiped, he most probably regained the larger percentage of his sight, concealed through swollen eyes and congealed blood which will have pooled in them. Her gentle touch, at such a time of agony and abandonment, must have been incomprehensibly soothing. 

A great number of people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. [Lk 23: 27]

My prayer at this station will be for those who watch and wait with those whose lives are drawing to a close; helpless in the journey that lays ahead of them. I also pray for those who, like Veronica, bring comfort to those in greatest pain

Lord Jesus, the women of Jerusalem wept for you:move us to tears at the plight of the broken in our world.You embraced the pain of Jerusalem, the ‘city of peace’:bless Jerusalem this day and lead it to the path of profound peace.To you, Jesus, the King of peace who wept for the city of peace,be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,now and for ever. Amen

Station VIII: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross

William Fairbank's "Forest Stations" 
Simon of Cyrene represents us in our normal lives, in my opinion. He was, according to the Gospel account, minding his own business, just passing through. The African man would have had no notion of the maelstrom that would draw him in.

My belief that Simon Cyrene represents us is based upon a number of thoughts. He was clearly an inherently good man, he was at first unwilling, and then relented and shared the burden with Jesus to the Golgotha. He was mind-set elsewhere, and I am sure that there were many moments when he wished that he still was. 

The life of a Christian is to follow the example not simply of Christ, but also Simon of Cyrene among others. We are called, by our baptism, to be those who share the burden with those whose strength is gone. This account acknowledges too that we won't always be willing or glad. There are many who will say that by our sinfulness in this age, we add to the weight of the cross laid across the shoulders of the crumpled Messiah. This is a moment, in a tale of destructive processes where we see sympathy - maybe even on the part of the Romans who surely had no need to commission this unwilling passer-by, but certainly on the part of a man who could have counted many places he would rather have been in those long moments. 

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; [Mk 15: 20]

My prayer at this Station is for all those who share life's burden with those too weak or dis-empowered to carry them for themselves. 

Lord Jesus, you were worn down by fatigue:be with those from whom life drains all energy.You needed the help of a passing stranger:give us the humility to receive aid from others.To you, Jesus, weighed down with exhaustion and in need of help,be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,now and for ever. Amen

Station VII: Jesus Carries the Cross

Artists and historians both have different views about this. Some err towards the idea that Jesus carried all of his cross - the vertical stipes and the horizontal patibulum. Others suggest, as this image portrays, that Jesus was tied to his patibulum. Either way, it is important, I think, to be clear about what is actually before us now. 

This image was taken from the seventies series Jesus of Nazareth. Research has suggested that this patibulum would have been anything between 57-80 kilos (up to 12 stones) in weight. Let us not forget the last Station, and the scriptural accounts. Jesus, having been tortured, takes his cross. Jesus, having sustained such grotesque body-wracking injuries, suffering from catastrophic blood-loss and almost certainly in medical shock, is caused to carry the weight of an adult across his shoulders, upon broken bones, sustained thy lungs that were filling with fluid even now. In other accounts of the Stations of the Cross, there are points where we remember Jesus falling a number of times. When we fall, we will have use of our arms and hands to break our fall, but not this shattered Lamb. The weight of the wood would have driven Jesus's face into the rough rock of the road, itself an open sewer - nothing to break his fall, no body strength and arms restrained. I sometimes wonder if there were not enough injuries upon this man's body to match the number of sins being forgiven by this most extra-ordinary act of love. 

Then they led him out to crucify him [Mk 15:20]

My prayer at this Station is for those who face execution, for those whose job is to administrate that sentence, and for those who are helpless in this world. 

Lord Jesus, you carried the cross through the rough streets of Jerusalem:

be with those who are loaded with burdens beyond their strength.
You bore the weight of our sins when you carried the cross:
help us to realize the extent and the cost of your love for us.
To you, Jesus, bearing a cross not your own,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Station VI: Jesus Scourged and Crowned with Thorns

This still is taken from the film The Passion of the Christ, a film that divides opinion. Released seven years ago, it depicted the Passion with absolute realism. It moved away from the stained-glass window imagery of a clean man carrying a lolly-stick cross, to images of grotesque torture. Criticisms of the film surrounded the extent that its director, Mel Gibson, offered these scenes - though none of us can truly know the answer to that.

The process of the torture of Jesus was chilling. It showed a Roman centurion scourging Jesus with a maniacal look of pleasure in his eyes as layers of cutaneous and subcutaneous tissue were ripped from the frame of the accused. Whilst I have never been tortured, I have always been struck by the glee on one hand or complete impassivity on the other of depictions of torturers. They either couldn't care less or derive cheap thrill from the pain being meted out on the bound creature in their grasp. 

This is a moment of particular significance for me. Whilst I gain no pleasure from re-enactments of needless violence, I am frustrated by the ways that actual events such as this are toned down in the interests of decency. Good Friday is not about a man receiving a stern reprimand, but about a frail tired man being torn apart square-inch by square inch. The main thrust of my sermon last Good Friday is that as Christians we have a duty to let this in, and not look away from events that might right cause us to be ill. Why? Because every nerve-shattering, flesh tearing, bone splintering cut into the flesh of Jesus was received out of love for us. This was the price. This

They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt in homage to him [Mk 15: 19]

My prayer at this Station is for those who are subject to torture this day.

Lord Jesus, you faced the torment of barbaric punishment and mocking tongue:
be with those who cry out in physical agony and emotional distress.
You endured unbearable abuse:
be with those who face torture and mockery in our world today.
To you, Jesus, the King crowned with thorns,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Station V: Jesus Judged by Pilate

And so we have this man Pontius Pilatus, the fifth Prefect of Judaea. Only very recently did it occur to me that after the person of Jesus of Nazareth and the Blessed Virgin Mary - that Pilate has the rather odd claim to fame of being the only other human named in any of the Christian creeds. No Apostles, no Mary Magdala, no Peter, no Caiaphas, no centurion, just this Roman middle-manager. 

For me, Pontius Pilate represents the leaders of the world. This otherwise little known Italian man who was reluctant to condemn Jesus has become the physical and historical hook for the entire Gospel account. Pilate contextualises the rest of what we see, hear and read. 

It is easy to paint this man as indecisive and weak, and perhaps rightly so - but only from the perspective as those never having been national leaders can we make that assessment. In church life, we deride our Archbishops, and in our national life our politicians. How easy it is to judge the judges when we are spared the great burdens that these individuals have been caused to carry. Were we placed into the shoes of this Roman Prefect, with the clamor of Jews and conspiracies of those around us - would we have save Jesus?

Pilate asked them, 'Why, what evil has he done?' But they shouted all the more, 'Crucify him!' [Mk 15: 14]

My prayer at this Station is for the leaders of the world and those who carry the burden of leading our nations. I pray for our decision makers; for wisdom and discernment

Lord Jesus, you were condemned to death for political expediency:
be with those who are imprisoned for the convenience of the powerful.
You were the victim of unbridled injustice:
change the minds and motivations of oppressors and exploiters to your
way of peace.
To you, Jesus, innocent though condemned,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Station IV: Peter Denies Jesus

"Do you love me", Jesus said to Peter, three times. Each time, his question was met with an unequivocal affirmation, wrapped in a barely concealed incredulity at the question. This Station brings to mind the moment in the Passion story when the most loved Apostle denies Jesus an equal three times, equal to his claims of love only a short time before. 

In many ways, I have less sympathy for Peter than I do for Judas. Judas, by virtue of his own calling, was instrumental to the progress and fulfillment of the prophecies - but Peter was, in many ways, set up for a pratt-fall. Jesus knew it, and was proved right. Joke on Peter. It could be argued that Peter's denials were self-preservative, but in the end add yet another layer of desolation to the burden carried by Jesus. In one account, we are told that Jesus heard Peter's words - and in Jesus's mind, there went the closest and most militant of his friends. It is hard to articulate, but I have pondered the implicit judgement on the Church as represented in the person of Peter. I wonder if in our petty politics, power-struggles and in-fighting, we deny Jesus by our actions. There will, of course, be much that can be said about this denial being a symbol of our weakness as human beings. In the end, what has to be acknowledged too is that Peter, the Rock upon which the Church is built, by his denial, ensured the birth of the Christian movement. Had he been bold, would it have been a different story?

"Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times" [Mk 14:72]

My prayer at this Station is for the Church across the world, that it may fix its eyes on the cross and not on its own aspirations for itself. I pray too for those torn by inner-conflict.

Lord Jesus, as Peter betrayed you,you experienced the double agony of love rejected and friendship denied:be with those who know no friends and are rejected by society.You understood the fear within Peter:help us to understand the anxieties of those who fear for their future.To you, Jesus, who gazed with sadness at your lost friend,be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,now and for ever. Amen

Monday, 18 April 2011

Station III: Jesus Condemned by the Sanhedrin

Being condemned by our enemies is bad enough, but it is bearable because it is a part of that relationship. In truth, in the same circumstance, we would perhaps do the same. As we walk these Stations, we share not only in the physical moments of the journey to the cross, but we are invited to take in some of the emotional material too. We can never be Jesus, or even come close to knowing how he would have felt in these protracted hours. 

Being condemned or rejected by our own (be that our employer, our family, friends, church community, and so on ...) is the worst kind. I think that is to do with feeling safe among our friends and colleagues  - those who are supposed to share the same opinions to a greater or lesser extent. Being condemned by our own is altogether more unbearable because it not typically part of the relationship. Jesus being condemned by the occupying forces of the Roman Empire would have had far less significance than the eventual betray by the Great Council - the Sanhedrin. Jesus was a observant Jew, and the Sanhedrin the equivalent to his General Synod. To be condemned by Richard Hawkins would irk me, but to be condemned by my bishop or archbishop would cut all the more deeply. This station speaks of the depth of desolation that Jesus will have experienced. Forsaken by his Father, by one of his closest friends, and now his faith community - to the mocking jeers and taunts of the crowds - Jesus cannot have felt more alone,  abandoned by the ones he was called to save.

"All of them condemned him as deserving death" [Mk 14: 64]

At this Station, my prayer is for those people who have been condemned by their peers and their families; for those who feel utterly alone in this fast-moving information-overload age; for those who will lose their lives as a result of being mis-understood by those who should have known them best of all. 

Lord Jesus, you were the victim of religious bigotry:

be with those who are persecuted by small-minded authority.
You faced the condemnation of fearful hearts:
deepen the understanding of those who shut themselves off from the
experience and wisdom of others.
To you, Jesus, unjustly judged victim,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Station II: Jesus Betrayed by Judas and Arrested

How easy it is, when someone does something to offend or upset, to take the moral high-ground and curse their very bones. Imagine the Passion without Judas Iscariot and you will envisage a story that never starts, the proverbial damp squib. The Last Supper would become just supper, the prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane would simply be reduced to 'and Jesus withdrew for a short time before...'. 

As a priest who believes that I am called to my Orders by God, I have a healthy respect for the sense of calling that all people have. The son of Simon Iscariot was called to be the Betrayer, and he met his calling well. I have always had a soft-spot for Judas, because there is much of his experience that mirrors Jesus's own. He was a man of faith, a man who loved Jesus. He will have given up just about everything to walk with him in faith, so his own agony of dilemma would have been terrible. Let us not forget too, that he is the other person in our Passion who makes the sacrifice of his own life to fulfill his own calling. 

Let us spare a thought for Jesus too. We all know how it feels to be betrayed by someone that we thought we trusted, that assault upon us by the last person that we ever expected. It is the most bitter pill to swallow - and I am willing to wager that in the midst of the scourges and whips, Jesus lamented amid his own searing agony - 'but of all people, Judas...'. Two men, both called, both destined to die for that calling, set in opposition one to the other. Jesus, reviled and scorned in the present; Judas to be scorned and reviled for the rest of time.

"Friend, do what you are here to do" [Mt 26:50]

My prayer at this Station is for those people who have little choice but to take actions that will see them condemned. I pray too for the outcast, the misunderstood, and for those who will take their own lives. 

Lord Jesus, you were betrayed by the kiss of a friend:

be with those who are betrayed and slandered and falsely accused.
You knew the experience of having your love
thrown back in your face for mere silver:
be with families which are torn apart by mistrust or temptation.
To you, Jesus, who offered your face to your betrayer,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

Station I: Jesus in Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane
Every once in a while we are put into the place of great dilemma. In my own life it has surrounded jobs to which to apply, choice of schools for kids, even what words for what prayers. In themselves they are big things to me, to others perhaps smaller. 

That whole sense of not knowing quite which way to turn, but all the while knowing that something has to happen is oddly dis-empowering. It brings with that sense of ones hand being forced, of helplessness. 

And so, at this first Station, this whole crushing dilemma. Jesus is human, knows something of the unspeakable atrocities that will be wrought on his finite body. I avoid pain wherever possible, and so do you. Jesus had the capacity, I am sure, to call the whole thing off. That would have been easier at one level, harder at another. Even the most noble and courageous person would struggle to place their arm in the meat-grinder, even sure in the knowledge that it was for the good of others. I doubt that the Romans had invented crucifixion for Jesus, and so he would have seen this means of execution with his own eyes. His physical being repels the idea, his spiritual knowing that it must be done. 

"Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want" [Mk 14: 36]

My prayer at this Station is for all those people who are crushed by the agony of dilemma, for those whose choices are choiceless, that whichever way the choice goes, people will know pain. 

Lord Jesus, you entered the garden of fear
and faced the agony of your impending death:
be with those who share that agony
and face death unwillingly this day.
You shared our fear and knew the weakness of our humanity:
give strength and hope to the dispirited and despairing.
To you, Jesus, who sweated blood,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen

These Stations and the prayers that accompany them are taken from CW times and Seasons. The reflections and petitions are my own.

Sticky Liturgy

During a nimble browse through Blogdom yesterday, I picked up on a sentence typed by the excellent Labradoodle-loving Curate's Wife. She pondered, in passing, how odd all this holy Week stuff must be for kids, and how they might cope with the panoply of perpetuated praise.

I am, as you may have gathered, a liturgical kinda guy. I love the 'doing' of liturgy. There are likely to be many explanations for that, and why we all fall into ecclesial pigeon-holes when it comes to such stuff; but for me, it is all bound up in good liturgy. It might be to do with a slightly extrovert nature, a pragmatic style of learning, a tendency to see the world in image and not, say, in words or numbers. It will have a little to do with the 'nurture' argument too - though perhaps less, because I found my own way to liturgy. 

Another thing that is also true to say, is that liturgically minded Christians tend to 'do' Holy Week and the Triduum well. This week is, in many ways, a show-piece of living liturgy. And I can also say with absolute certainty that it was that aspect of worship that hooked me into faith. Most kids who have ever been near a church will be familiar with Palm Crosses, and in my experience, a good many will know what they represent. For me the most chilling, haunting, beautiful, stunning, affective liturgical moment is the desecration of the church after the catastrophic key-change in the Maundy Thursday Eucharist. We enter the church in white, we leave the church is disarray into a silence of vigil-prayer. We rip every thing beautiful from the place, leaving the altar naked, defiled. With the words of either Psalm 31 or 22 being intoned or read-gently while this stripping takes place, there is no moment in church life that more connects me with the agony of the Passion. And it was so for me as a child. Wide-eyed, dumbfounded, awe-struck - in every sense, a believer. 

I can illustrate my faith journey and maturation not in encounters with people, but in encounters with God through beautiful liturgy. I do not speak of professional-ceremonial though - liturgy and ceremonial, while very closely related, are not at all the same. Beautiful liturgy can happen in the midst of 250 kids all making noise together. The joy of liturgy is that it is, by definition, hands-on. Being caused to process, to wave palm-crosses, sit in drowsy vigil in the Garden of Repose, tear a church apart - all of things demand an action, a committed involvement.

In this post, I  also disclose my plans for the rest of Holy Week. As a personal devotion, and for use to you if you want it, I shall blog the Stations of The Cross all week. There are a few of them, so it will mean three or four posts a day. They are my prayers and thoughts - I offer them humbly, and ask that you do what you will with them. 

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Palm Sunday and Britney Spears

Today is Palm Sunday, this slightly anomalous blip of joyousness in the midst of Lent and Passiontide. Of course, those of us who creep around churches habitually will know that Palm Sunday recalls the story of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Such is the joy of that occasion that we will hobble around our grounds nursing our newly blessed palm crosses whilst singing 'Ride on Ride on In Majesty' at seven different speeds, losing a verse between the front and back of the procession. It's tradition. It must be done.

The story of Palm Sunday has the implicit taunt of 'how the mighty will fall', and the uncomfortable semi-presence of unseen pedestals upon which we will place the soon-to-be-slain. Of course, we read the Gospel and we inwardly judge the perpetrators, knowing of course that we would never do the same. Oh no, not us, m'lud. 

Palm Sunday, for me, has taken on the tint of modern society and its ways, and dear old Britney Spears seemed always to be the poster girl for that tendency. I have never bought or owned one of her records, have no real desire to either. However, the fortunes of this young woman have always troubled me. She is no saint, and maybe even errs in the opposite direction at times. But we all do. I have to say too, that her fall from grace was painful and upsetting to behold. 

The tendency to which I refer is this psychopathy in all of us to raise people up so that we can enjoy the blood-sport of seeing them fall. Oh how we love to watch people fall into disrepute. Britney Spears, Billie Piper, Charlotte Church, Drew Barrymore, and many others - all relative kids who became idols in one moment, and the meat for the next press sandwich the next. In these cases, it was more to do with too much too young - but we have all enjoyed the parades of their retribution. This picture of Ms Spears summed it all up for me; a talented kid who had lost her way and the world itching to see her fall. Fall she did, watch we did. We bought the press editions too, watching our tellies tutting. 

Palm Sunday feels a little like that for me these days. Those who will eventually crucify the Bethlehemite carpenter will be guilty of not understanding what is really going on with Jesus. They were the ones who were so ready to elevate him to such celebrity in one moment only to haul him down the next. We in our third millennium churches will preach and heap curses upon the Jews of Jerusalem of the fourth decade - mere moments before we return to our newsprint and our internets to bay for the blood of the next hapless celebrity (or, in a fit of decency look away because it has nothing to do with us, of course).

Friday, 15 April 2011

Save Your Life Today

This is film that forms part of the PITS campaign for the Lymphoma Association here in Aylesbury. The money raised by my parachute jump will help them raise awareness like this in future years (if you missed it, you can sponsor me by following the link at the top left-hand corner of this blog page - Thank you)


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