Monday, 24 April 2017

A Cheeky Chancel

Reflecting on the news from last month that a parishioner had accused the vicar of Maulden Church of installing surreptitious children's furniture.  And pondering the concept of a "cheeky" beer or - as is most often quoted - Nando's. Where someone has fitted in a sneaky food or alcohol-based treat that they shouldn't.

What terms should we give to those church improvement features that the minister has slipped into the building without the powers that be knowing? Here are some suggestions.
A Dodgy Doge

A brazen building project
A cheeky underfloor heating system
A clandestine clerestory
A covert communion table
A crafty carpet
An insolent installation of a toilet in the bell tower
Some mischievous misericords
A naughty nave
A quick quire-sacking
A saucy ailse
A secret monstrance
A shadowy pew-removal
A sneaky transept
A subversive east-facing altar
A surreptitious children's corner
An unannounced altar rail
An undercover undercroft
An unexpected Asparagusfest
An unverified coffee bar
A well-publicised modernism

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Defending a Traditional Marriage Stance

GafCon plan to put in a flying bishop in the United Kingdom to defend a "Traditional Marriage Stance."

I have no idea what a traditional marriage stance is. Presumably it's the pose traditionally-married blokes, in socks, shirt and pants, take at the end of the bed, while their traditionally-married wives reassure themselves that the measure of our lives is three score and ten. Or maybe four score if we have the strength.

Some More Things You Don't Want to Hear in a Sermon

"Fourthly"

"Which takes me back to the days when I worked in that doily factory."

"God loves a cheerful giver. Which brings me onto the subject of the state of the organ."

"And if God is the vodka, and Jesus is the tonic, then the Holy Spirit is in a very real sense the ice."

"So go and talk to someone you don't know very well....."

"I think it would help if I translated from the original Aramaic."

"Six points in closing."

"So what three things have we learnt about resisting impure thoughts? Randolph - come and tell us what will help you,"

"Turns out the Rapture was last night. I'm as surprised as you are."

"When understanding this very tricky point in theology I always think it's best to consider the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics."

"This illustration probably is easier to understand if you have watched all the episodes of "Terry and June." Especially that classic half hour where Terry wants to be an author."

"And then on the Tuesday we went to the ruins at Akrotiri."

"Of all the quotations I love from Karl Barth, maybe this one...."

"I don't normally talk about my operation but I do feel that, when preaching on Deuteronomy 23:1, it may have some relevance."


St George's Day is Every Day

So I was all set to celebrate the St George's Day service today. Got the dragon costume for Burton Dasset to wear. And set Charlii up with the lance with which Burton was terribly hurt last year. I love tradition. And the Beaker version of the story, in which St Georgina tells the hapless princess that she's a victim of patriarchy, sitting around waiting to be rescued, and should kill the dragon herself, is always a triumph.

But then a vicar on Twitter told me it was tomorrow.

So instead of holding it today we're going to hold it on the Sunday nearest the 23rd April, like we always do.

Which is today.

Now I just wish I could remember which book of the Bible the story of St George is in.

Does the Church of England still think it's Shakespeare's birthday? Or does that get transferred too?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Folding Pastoral Cycle

Brilliant new bike I've bought for when in London.

It folds up, and it's really handy for cycling from declining congregations to thriving churches where everybody smiles and all the leaders wear chinos.

That's right.

It's a Brompton.
By Jim.Henderson - Own work, Public Domain,

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Welcome Notice

Hello!

Delighted to have you drop in! Please try and shove a couple of quid in the money chest. All major currencies are accepted although , f you must donate sterling, can you also drop a few Euro cents in. We're hedging against an SNP-LibDem-UKIP coalition.
Please note there are no valuables left in the church. The last vicar made off with all the silver.

Harmonium

Please do not play tunes on the fine 19th century harmonium. You'll only upset Elsie. 50 years she's been playing hear on Sundays and we're yet to recognise a hymn.

Postcards

If you want to pay for postcards - yes we know they're dog eared. If you'd hung around this damp  building for years so would you be. Have you seen the vicar? Sorry state

Guest Book

There's a guest book on the postcard stand. Feel free to leave us a note. But out of courtesy, and to help us with our fundraising and communications, could you follow a few guidelines.

Keep your handwriting neat. Some people's writing looks like a spider has fallen in an ink blot and staggered across the book. And that does occasionally happen. The biro's unreliable and we've some big spiders.

In the column that says "Address" please put your address. Not some comments about your feelings on entering the building. "Peaceful" may well be a place in the United States for all I know. But without a Zip code it's just a feeling. And we're not really interested in your feelings.

If you are from Abroad please enter your full name and address. This is definitely because we want to keep you in touch. I cannot stress enough that we don't have a team of international jewel thieves, specialising in houses whose owners are away. Definitely not.

Bats

Don't be disturbed if you hear scratching from the bats living in the roof space. They will almost certainly not  fly down en masse and cling on your face, biting and scratching in a blood frenzy. Honestly, it's been weeks. You might want  to use an umbrella. That's to avoid droppings. And very rarely to keep the bats at bay while feral badgers invade the church and chew your shoes.  Note that bats are protected species. So should you succeed in killing one, can you stick it in the chute marked "solid fuel". Costs a fortune heating this place.

Spirits

If you sit in any of the pews, don't be surprised if the ghost of a former parishioner appears to tell you it's their pew. If you've accidentally sat in Norm Lyvington's seat, please note the box on the pillar, bearing the message "break glass for exorcist." If you're lucky you'll be able to get help before you find yourself unaccountably complaining about the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Green Men and Gargoyles

You will find a number of fascinating grotesques and other images around the place. If you see one with a spectacularly ugly face and wide-open mouth, that's Major Dumpling. Just beat him away with one of the bat umbrellas.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Last Rites of Spring (this year)

A lovely map from i100 of the ways different languages say the word that means "Easter".

You will notice that all the countries around the Mediterranean - the place where Easter was first celebrated, use a word that approximates to "Pascha" - coming from "Passover".

You may also be aware that the earliest celebrations of the feast were in the Mediterranean world, and no later than the 2nd century.

You will note that as the English used the word "Lent" from Anglo-Saxon - which was a month name meaning "Opening up"  - so they used the word "Easter" - which was also a month name.

There is only one logical conclusion.

The early Church adopted a pagan festival from Germany. They then completely removed all clues that it was pagan by attaching it to a fictitious story about a man being executed - and unexpectedly rising from the dead. They further removed its pagan clues by changing its name from that of a pagan goddess to that of a Jewish festival that fell at the same time.

They then further covered things up by decreeing that nobody was to mention Eostre's hare / rabbit for 1,000 years. They kept the eggs, though. Because once they'd kept quiet about the rabbit they knew nobody would guess where the eggs came from.

And that is how a totally pagan feast, with a totally pagan timing, became the central feast of the Christian faith. Christians. eh? They'll believe anything.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Venerable Bede Discovers Eostre

Bede: So, these wild Anglo-Saxon months! Blood month; First Yule; Second Yule; Holy Month! But what does "Eostre-month" mean?

First Angle: Erm.... it's named after something...

Bede: Sounds like "East". Is it named after the East?

Second Angle: Maybe. But - if we say it's just named after the East, that's pretty dull, ennit?

Bede: True. Hardly an exciting mythological explanation. Just because it's the time of the year when the sun rises in the due East....  Can you give me something a bit more mystical and pagan?

First Angle: Some kind of goddess?

Bede: Like it. Like it.  What's she like?

Second Angle: Ooo! I know! She's fond of rabbits!

First Angle: Or maybe of lagomorphs in general?

Bede: I don't want to be splitting hares...

First Angle: Even today, in the 8th Century AD, that is not a new joke, Ven.

Bede: Fair do's. So she's the goddess of the dawn. And of rabbits.

Second Angle: Rabbits that lay eggs.

Bede: WHAT!!!!!

First Angle: Well, she is a goddess. Surely rabbits can lay eggs?

Bede: No idea. How do rabbits produce other rabbits?

Second Angle: Has anyone invented that joke about...

First Angle: Yes.  Like rabbits. Brilliant. .We all know it.

Second Angle; OK. Well, she's got egg-laying rabbits, and Austria will be named after her.

First Angle: And the hormone oestrogen

Second Angle; And Estragon, in "Waiting for Godot". 

First Angle: And the supermarket, "Asda".

Bede: You're just making this up, aren't you?

First Angle: Well, you started it...

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Grim Inevitability of Death

Sad news from Italy, where the oldest human being on the planet, Emma Morano, has died. 117 years of age. Whenever the oldest person dies - which is, after all, quite frequently, what with them being old - we hear about their advice on how to live a long life. "Her doctor for 27 years, said Morano rarely ate vegetables or fruit. “When I first met her she ate three eggs a day, two raw in the morning and then an omelette at noon, and chicken at dinner.”"

Well no wonder she died, with that kind of diet.

There's a grim inevitability about death. You read the accounts of the patriarchs in the book of Genesis: you know, the ones that lived for five or six hundred years, long enough to beget the next in line and other sons and daughters - and then it always says "and then he died." Drives it in. Even the mythical heroes of the past, who lived great long lives, are dead.

There's a scene early in the sit com series, Red Dwarf. Dave Lister has been awoken from suspended animation - all the other crew having died in a radiation leak on their space ship. And the computer, Holly, is trying to persuade Lister that everyone else has died, but Lister can't get it: 


Lister: Where is everybody, Hol?
Holly: They're dead, Dave.
Lister: Who is?
Holly: Everybody, Dave.
Lister: What, Captain Hollister?
Holly: Everybody's dead, Dave.
Lister: What, Todhunter?
Holly: Everybody's dead, Dave.
Lister: What, Selby?
Holly: They're all dead. Everybody's dead, Dave.
Lister: Peterson isn't, is he?
Holly: Everybody is dead, Dave.
Lister: Not Chen?
Holly: Gordon Bennett! Yes, Chen, everybody, everybody's dead, Dave!
Lister: Rimmer?
Holly: He's dead, Dave, everybody is dead, everybody is dead, Dave.
Lister: Wait. Are you trying to tell me everybody's dead?

Thing about death - we know it's utterly natural. An inevitable result of the way our bodies work. The result of the way the universe works. Everything dies. It's how it is. And yet - it's always a shock. The discovery that a loved one has terminal cancer. The news that people have died in a terrorist attack. Even the death of an old, old woman like Emma Morano - we know deep down that, however much this may be how the world works, it's not right. Someone who laughed, danced, cried, hugged us, loved us - they are no more. And there's a hole where love should be. And it's not bloody right.

Early on a Sunday morning, a grieving woman called Mary goes down to a tomb. Her teacher, her leader is dead. And it's not bloody right. But even so she's going to do what needs to be done - to dress his body with herbs and then leave him until the flesh is gone from his body. The Jews didn't flinch from death - they would return after a few years, take the bones and put them into an ossuary - a bone box - where they would take up less space.

These days they're always getting dug up in Israel and Palestine in archaeological digs, ossuaries. Every year or two somebody will dig an ossuary up and find it's got the name "Jesus" on it and get over-excited in the press for a day or two. But it doesn't mean anything. Being called "Jesus" in 1st Century Judea and Galilee was like being called Harley or Kylie today. They all were. Well, a lot of the men at any rate. Not Kylie. Jesus.

But that's the precise point here - the Bible makes the claim that when Mary went down to the grave, there was no body there. The rock - put in place to make sure nobody could steal the body - is out of the way. The guards - well, they've run away to make up stories to cover their respective backsides. Ideally a story that doesn't involve the awful, shocking news that the one they were supposed to be keeping neatly stacked away, had decided to go for a walk in the dew of that first morning of the week. Because death is shocking, but this life is even more so.

Mary's not stupid. She knows that people don't just go rising from the dead. Not a normal activity. Especially not from a bloody, hideous, thorough death like being flayed with a Roman whip and then nailed to a cross and left there till everybody knows you're dead, then stabbed in the side with a javelin just to make sure. Nobody who's been through that is going to be running around the garden in the cool of the day. So this bloke hanging around must be the gardener, mustn't he? The one person he can't be is Jesus.

And he says just her name, "Mary", and she knows who he is. Despite the fact that it's impossible; despite the hideous cold finality of death. This is her Lord. And he's calling her.

And the world changes.

It's not that death becomes less ghastly. It's an outrage - a hideous outbreak into the way we believe things should be - and we know it. It's not that disasters are less terrible. Not that injustices are less unfair. The 96 of Hillsborough, the refugees car-bombed in Syria, the trafficked innocents drowned in the Mediterranean - they are all dead, and their deaths call out to heaven. And we can't undo them by wishing.

But it offers hope through the valley of the shadow of death. It says that when an evil empire and a cabal of powerful men got together - when the Devil himself thought he had won - that their vision was too weak. The bounds of their vision were those of death. They did not see that justice would outlast injustice, that love could be stronger than death. 

In his death, Jesus Christ - the Son of God - descends with us into the depths of our human experience. His pointless, evil, cruel death is just one more in the litany of evil that starts with the death of Abel and goes all the way up to the Copts that were murdered at their Palm Sunday service last week. There's no distance down that we might encounter, that Christ has not descended with us. He's gone there all the way with us.

And as he rises from the tomb, he drags us back up from Hell with him. His arms - shattered on the cross - are still strong to lift us. His back - torn by the whip - is able to carry us. And all things are changed. Death is still death, but it's not final. Evil is still evil, but love wins in the end. And we wait, and hope.

Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed.