Heading Ever Onward, Back to the Start

This morning’s Pentecost service saw us arrive at the end of three and a bit months of being “in season”. Hinged around the mysteries of Holy Week and Easter, Pentecost mirrors Ash Wednesday – with an anointing with sweet smelling oil instead of the imposition of ashes. We may be returning to dust but, in the meantime, we have work to be getting on with, places to go…

So, out into the wild places we go. For many of us, that will mean family, work, friends and leisure – it may be the same business as usual but hopefully the forty days of preparation and fifty days of celebration, topped off with a Spirit-filled encounter, will have changed us, setting up to go as God wants through this long, green, non-season towards the coming cold winter of Advent…

Top Ten Albums – for My Non-Facebook Friends

So, on Sunday, Robb (who can be found over at changingworship.com) nominated me to take part in a ten day challenge with the following ‘rules’:

In no particular order – 10 all time favourite albums. What really made an impact and is still on your rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain and nominate a person each day to do the same.

I’ll be adding an image every day to the slideshow below and will comment on the post so I don’t spam anybody following the blog…

Maundy Thursday 2018 – How Does Your Garden Grow?

At this year’s Maundy Thursday service, things were a bit different.

For a start, I was serving as an acolyte rather than just attending – helping with candles and wine and water and assisting with the stripping of the church as the service ended and the Watch was beginning.

At St Peter’s, there’s a statue of Mary in a small tabernacle/grotto to one side of the church, in line with the low altar. There are votive candles before it and during the set up, I was asked to light one so that, should they wish, other members of the congregation could light another from it. As I stood there, making sure the flame took, I felt moved to apologise for what was about to happen – both later in the service and later in the weekend – it seemed entirely appropriate to express regret for what we (the people) were about to do in terms that suggested that Mary didn’t know what was coming…

The main service was held around the low altar, to better recreate the feeling of gathering around the table with Jesus at the Last Supper. This had the practical consequence that the Altar/Garden of Repose was moved to the high altar and all eyes were on this, as the church was stripped of all removable dressings. It felt a much more private thing to be involved with than I had expected.

As I carried Mary to the back of the church and into the vestry I experienced (very) mild panic as I couldn’t find anywhere to put her – on a chair and she wouldn’t balance, on one of the desks or tables and she’d be knocked off by the next passing elbow. I tucked her away as safely as I could manage, standing on the floor between a couple of banners, and felt very sorry for her, I apologised again, and told her to take care of herself.

I worry about her – I know Jesus can take care of himself and chooses his path of suffering – Mary was only told about hers after she was well down the track. As Jesus was eating this final meal with his friends, was she there? Did she sense that the long foretold sword was about to pierce her soul?

I wonder how her story ends – the last mention of anything happening with her in the Bible has her at the foot of the cross, although she’s later mentioned in Acts as being with the disciples in an upper room.

Back at the foot of the cross, I wonder how she felt. Sorrow at her son’s plight? Anger with the authorities for doing this? Anger with Jesus because she knew he could “save himself” but chose not to? Bewilderment at being palmed off onto the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, when all she wanted was for him to be down off that cross and in her arms?

Did she ponder these things too and make the connections with the things she’d pondered at the start of Jesus’ life?

I wouldn’t say I was devoted to Mary, but it seems we’re becoming quite attached.

Distant Stirrings

I’m currently sitting in a church in which a bunch of reflective stations around the Passion Narrative have been set up. The evening is alternating between a chance for the congregation to move between the stations whilst very old plainsong plays and some reflective sung worship.

I’m experiencing a slight, possibly inaccurate, sense of deja vu tinged with regret. I remember being involved with putting together this kind of thing in the past and that it was a worthwhile and valuable thing. But tonight I’m just the caretaker. I’m not a gobby youth, nor a student. I’m no longer involved with any local groups that do this kind of thing..

I want to help people encounter God.

I want to help people worship.

I want to change lives.

Later I will need to think about the hows and the whens.

Tonight, I’m just the caretaker.

A Story, Whilst I’m Not Sleeping

The Suicide arrived at the gates of heaven with the rope still around his neck. It seemed like he had been travelling for a long time and he was very tired. Wearily, he knocked and was mildly surprised to find that the door in the gate swung open to reveal a friendly-looking man wearing a Friar’s brown robes.

The Saint welcomed him in and showed him to the comfortable quarters that had been prepared for his arrival.

The noose remained around the Suicide’s neck – hanging down, with five neat loops creating a perfect hangman’s knot, and a further six feet of rope dangling to the floor and trailing behind him, tripping him up from time to time and occasionally tangling round his legs quite completely. One day, the Saint asked him, “Why do you still wear that thing?” “I’ve tried to take it off but it doesn’t want to go.” The Saint left it at that and afterlife went on.

One day, the Suicide approached the Saint, tapped him on the shoulder and gestured to the rope. “This was the only decision I ever truly made for myself.” He turned away sadly and went on his way, barely noticing as one of the loops of the hangman’s knot loosened.

Another day, “I must have hurt so many people.” The second loop of the knot loosened.

As huddled as two people can be round a fire in a courtyard, “I need it to remind me.” The Saint gently replied, “You’ll always have your scars.” The Suicide felt around his neck and touched his arms – how had he never noticed the welts and tears left by the trauma before? How had he failed to see the marks of a lifetime of pain? Something shifted inside him and the third loop loosened whilst the remaining two stayed true and tight.

Days or months later, “This is all that I have.”
“Do you really want to carry this ugly thing with you for all eternity? Look at how it’s getting in the way of doing the things you enjoy.” The Suicide sat and thought and realised the truth of it – if only he could be rid of this troublesome rope! The penultimate loop came away.

Not long after that, “This is who I am.” The Saint leaned over and whispered in his ear. Sitting back up, he said, “That is your true name, who you are, what you have done, the lives you have touched. That is who you are. It was first given to you at your birth and is given again to you in your death. You will not forget it again.” And the man realised this was true. The final turn of the knot loosened itself and, as he stood up, it slid from his shoulders. The Saint took a step forward and it looked like he trod on the end of the rope as it slithered down – but he was just picking it up and tidying it away.

His scars glowing with a strange and beautiful light, and grasping his new and old true name deep inside, the former suicide walked through another door and further into paradise.

…like a metaphor