Saturday, 10 April 2021

Saying Goodbye to Prince Philip

Such a problem in a post-modern worship paradigm, is marking traditional "establishment" type events such as the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.  A hard-working and devoted servant of our nation, so it was concluded we should do something.

It all started when the Beaker Folk heard that the Church of England churches were ringing bells "half-muffled" to mark his leaving this mortal coil. Why couldn't we do that, they asked. Well, we don't have church bells.

We have Tibetan singing bowls, they said. Why can't we ring them half-muffled? But it's not easy to find a Tibetan singing bowl player, and would they agree to being half-muffled? It's not easy in a pandemic. 

Then someone wondered whether Prince Philip might have offended Tibetans at some point in his life, and whether our using their sacred instruments to mark his going might offend them again.

And once we'd realised that, the French Horn section had to be taken out of the planned fanfare.

So we realised pretty much any ritual we could appropriate was probably invented by a nation that Philip had insulted over the years. Albeit always in a good-mannered, well meaning way. Not like the modern professional racists we've had the last five. You always got the impression with Prince Philip that if people from one of the nations he insulted had just said, "naff off big ears" he would have laughed. Obviously, being the husband of a reigning monarch, people mostly didn't.

Anyway. People started saying - why be all sad about it? Why muffle things? What about fireworks? A group of showgirls in memory of his nightclubbing years? A band of accordionists playing Gary Moore's back-catalogue for no apparent reason? Smashing a load of plates to celebrate his Greek heritage? A massive bacon sandwich world record attempt to celebrate his Danish heritage? Let's liven it up, they said. Why not a thirty-foot-high icon of Philip in flowers like we did for Diana?

So we've decided to go out and shoot a few pheasants in memory of Prince Philip. It's what he would have liked.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Amice? Amice?

Sally called when she got the word
And she said, "I suppose you've heard... 'bout the amice?
Well I rushed to the church steps and I looked inside
And I could hardly believe my eyes
As Father walked to the altar with no amice in sight.
 

Oh, I don't know what he's thinking
His alb was white as snow
I guess he's got his reasons
But I just don't want to know
'Cause for 24 years
Fr Jones has been wearing an amice.

24 years of sitting in my place
Thinking that my cotta could use a little lace
Now I've got to get used to him giving up on the amice.


I remember the day that Fr Jones came
With a handsome biretta, "SSC" to his name. And an amice.
Now he walks through the door, with his head held high
And maybe I got some incense in my eye
When I saw that cassock-alb, I started to cry.


Oh, I don't know what he's thinking
His alb was white as snow
I guess he's got his reasons
But I just don't want to know
'Cause for 24 years
Fr Jones has been wearing an amice.

Roy Chubby Brown: Amice? Amice?
Archdruid: Not now, Roy. This is serious.

24 years of lovely Roman Rite
Now he's gone all liberal and it happened overnight
And I've got to get used to him giving up on the amice.


And Sally called back, said "I know you're down
let's go elsewhere,
there's a new priest in town
who wears an amice"

"Jones's amice is gone
But Fr Matt's on fleek
with a cassock, alb, amice
and stole so chic."
So we went to St Saviour's instead.


Oh, I don't know what he's thinking
His alb was white as snow
I guess he's got his reasons
But I just don't want to know
'Cause for 24 years
Fr Jones has been wearing an amice.

24 years I was happy as can be
But now it's Common Worship, Eucharistic Prayer C
But I'll not get used to him giving up on the amice.

 No, I'll never get used to him giving up on the amice.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

The Swedish AstraZeneca Vaccine

 Lots in the press about the Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine.

Seems like the Swedish AstraZeneca may have some side effects. So the Government isn't recommending it for under 30s. Even though only one sixth of the small number of deaths are in people under 30. Which sounds a bit odd. But makes sense when you consider you're comparing the risk of the vaccine versus that of the virus for different age groups.

So, best be careful.

What with it being a Swedish vaccine.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Dead Don't Rise

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20.11-18 20)

There's an idea that those of us who believe in miracles are unscientific people. That we can believe that people rise from the dead. That it might be OK for people in the first century to believe in that sort of stuff, but we live in a civilisation that's invented Post-It notes and Internet trolls. Surely we're more sophisticated?

Trouble with that theory is, of course, that it's rubbish.  In the First Century they didn't believe people rose from the dead the whole time either. They knew that wasn't a normal thing. You can tell that in the account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb.

Mary of Magdala has often been represented as a prosititute, with all the chances for pious blokes to talk about greater rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, etc etc. But that seems - not so much unfair - as why shouldn't prostitutes believe in Jesus? Lots of them did. Maybe better to say, having no evidence to support it. The belief she was a prostitute came from Pope Gregory, who managed to announce that Mary Mag, Mary of Bethany and the woman that wiped Jesus's feet with her hair were all the same person. Dunno why. You'd think being Pope and everything he'd know how to read the Bible and weigh evidence. Maybe he just thought there were too many woman in the Gospel and it would be a good idea to condense a few female personalities down. Anyway, long and short - we have no reason to think she was a prostitute. And maybe better reason to think she was a businesswoman, wealthy, independent of any husband, and so one of the women who bankrolled Jesus's mission.

Any case. Bit of a digression. Let's crack on.

Unexpectedly encountering an empty tomb, Mary's first reaction is not "oh, he's obviously risen from the dead." She's a sensible, rational woman. Even after the wonders she has seen. She assumes "they" have taken away Jesus's body. She's not specific about the "they". Maybe the Romans. Maybe the Temple guard. Maybe the Pharisees. Maybe Mrs Joseph of Arimathea, while berating her husband about his habit of giving nice new tombs over to crucified rabbis. At no point does she think "I bet an angel's rolled the stone away and he's walked out." And I guess this is the point at which Mark's Gospel just stops. Where Mary (who John has focused on) and the other women are standing, scared and baffled.

John and Peter, meanwhile, had turned up - had a look - shrugged - assumed it's just one thing after another this Passover, and walked away. John says Peter "had believed" - but doesn't tell us what he'd believed apart from the body being gone.

Mary stands at the empty tomb and waits and weeps. And there's two angels sitting there now. And again she assumes not that they're angels - because she's a rational woman, remember, not some believer that angels just appear in the morning in Jerusalem gardens - but that they're some random garden-tomb-related blokes. And she says "they've taken him away." 

She turns around. Again - no evidence of massive credulousness here. You don't turn your back on angels. Or, at least, I wouldn't. If I thought there was angels in front of me, I'd keep an eye on them.  You never know if they might break into the Hallelujah Chorus, or upset your donkey, or tell you you're pregnant. Tricksy things, angels. But Mary thinks they're just the tomb patrol or something, and turns around. And Jesus is there.

And again, Mary is a hard-headed woman. She doesn't say, "oh it's you. I was wondering when you'd rise from the dead." 

She says, "have you got him?"

Now, in John's Gospel and in Luke's account of Emmaus, Jesus is not instantly recognisable. Maybe there's something about a resurrection body that is different to a mortal one. It wouldn't be surprising. I mean, it's a big change, not being dead any more but instead being raised to eternal life. If that's the case, I'd like a slightly smaller nose, if there's any Recording Angel taking notes. Not too much. Not your actual Voldemort. Just a bit less. A bit off the ridge. 

In any case. Mary thinks he's the gardener - because who else would he be, in a garden? It's not going to be Jesus because she knows he's dead, remember? Given the choice of there being an unusual amount of garden foot traffic this Sunday morning, or her rabbi having risen from the dead - she goes for the obvious, sensible, scientific, rational explanation. And she thinks maybe the gardener has moved the body.

Mary's a pious first-century Jew, we can assume. And so we can imagine that, like the other Mary (or the same Mary if Pope Gregory was right, which he wasn't. I mean, he wasn't infallible), she believed in the Resurrection. But when they believed in the Resurrection, they believed it would all happen at the end of time. It wouldn't have occured to Mary, or for that matter Mary, to have thought that the Resurrection would just happen to one person. Kind of an all or nothing thing, they (or she) would have thought.

So that's ruled out. So she waits for the bloke in the garden to say "it's a fair cop". Or "not me, random woman in the garden" or "actually it was the Romans".

And instead he says "Mary". And that's all it takes.

Mary now knows there aren't a plethora of gardeners about this morning. This is far more unlikely. And yet she now has the evidence she needs, in the one word he's said. This is her teacher, her Lord - the one she's been crying for since Friday morning. The one she watched die on Friday afternoon. And here he is - alive. 

"Rabbouni."

But she's not to hold onto him. 

There's an echo here for me. Remember when Jesus' mum comes to drag him back home? The one that Pope Gregory didn't think was the same as all the other women. But when she does, Jesus makes it quite clear it ain't happening - he's heading for Jerusalem. 

Now another Mary can't hold onto him either. Maybe she'd like to go back to the days pre-Thursday-night. Teaching she can't quite understand, and neither can anyone else.  Unexpected miracles. Evenings where her Master explains the words his Spirit gave in the Hebrew scriptures, and gives his own insight on them. But she can't hold on to him. He is always moving forward. The next stage in bring all people to his Father is for him to ascend, and send his Spirit. So all believers can have Jesus with them all the time. That's why Mary can't hold on to him.

"Go and tell my brothers I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."

And she goes. And becomes the apostle to the apostles, the messenger to the messengers. The first preacher of the Easter Sunday good news. Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same. Jesus is alive.

From that Sunday in the garden, to today. for the rest of time - everything has changed. There is no grave without hope. No cause or person too lost. Nothing too unlikely. Because against all common sense, against all science, against everything we know about how the world works - Jesus is alive.

From that Sunday, for the rest of time, we know that although Death may win its battles, Life has won the war.  Jesus is alive.

And though we grow old, and though we lose loved ones and know that one day our loved ones will lose us - we know that beyond the painful days there is coming a joyful one. Jesus is alive. 

And while we wait to see Jesus  in person - at the Resurrection or when he comes again - we can know his Spirit with us, every day, the Spirit of Jesus telling us that no matter where we are, or what we've done, we can know God's love and fogiveness. Because Jesus is alive.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Judgementtide

 Two days in and welcome to the season of Judgementtide. When people take to Social Media to criticise people who are doing what they're allowed to do.

We can expect from now till the end of Judgementtide complaints that people couldn't go to the park because there were so many people in the park; that people out jogging where literally surrounded by people out jogging; that people on the beach can't believe that so many other people go to the beach. 

Meanwhile Daily Mail photographers will be hitting every public space to take photographs of other people in the public space, to prove how selfish they are.

If you are someone who celebrates the season of Judgementtide, please don't.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Beaker Brexival of Britain

 Delighted to say that the Beaker Folk have won our bid to host an attraction at the 2022 Brexival of Britain. We're running the "Cake Zone".

The Cake Zone lures you in with 3D holographic images of a massive cake. The cheerful song over the Tannoy will tell you that you can both have your cake, and eat it.

When you get through the one-way doors into the Cake Zone, you discover that in fact you have to make the cake before you can have it and eat it. But you figure it's an interactive Zone, it's a fun zone - it's hands-on - you knuckle down and you mix and bake a cake.

Three hours later, you come back to the Cake Zone. To discover that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dido Harding are eating your cake. When you complain that it's your cake, Mogg tells you it's a very happy cake. A British cake.

When you get home and look at your credit card bill, you discover that the cake ingredients cost you £2,000. And Jacob Rees-Mogg's nanny has dropped a note through your door letting you know it will cost the same next year as well. And every year.

But good news. At least it was a cake. It wasn't a brioche.

Annunciation Eve

 Tucked away in the story of the Fall, just so you notice it without noticing it, are a tiny little couple of verses with a huge promise.

“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:14-15)
Blink and you'd miss it. But it's there. It's a promise worked out before time began. As our mythical ancestral mother, streaks of Fruit of Knowledge still on her cheek, is told she's barred from the Garden, yet then God announces in code how one day we'll get back. When that serpent from before time, from force of habit, will strike at the wrong heel. And the Son that was always to come from Eve's line will crush his head.

It's a lovely reversal. Just as sin first entered the world through a woman's disobedience - and then the man followed, in his gormlessness - so redemption first comes into the world through a woman's obedience. Mary's "Yes" to God reverses Eve's "It wasn't my fault. The snake made me do it." Where Eve let sin in, Mary will let in its cure.

And I like to think, when Mary's Son smashed down the doors on that Holy Saturday in Hell, that Eve wiped the apple juice from her face, grabbed hold of Adam and said, "Come on then. Our lad's done it. Just like his Father said." And marched on out behind the descendant she was promised. Heading for the garden she lost so long before.



Saturday, 20 March 2021

Celebrating Vernon Equinox

And so, as we stand around the smoking ruins of Duckhenge, looking out across the fetid waters where Young Keith drove the sit-on mower during his ritual First Mow of Spring, and as the Little Pebbles learn about proactive environmentalism by dunking mallards in soapy water - we remember the sad life of Vernon Equinox.

When Orton Equinox married his blushing bride, Summer Solstice, back in Yule 1964, they had no idea of what might befall little Vernon, the cause of their rapid wedding. 

Born in March 1965 young Vernon was a dreamy child. He made it his habit to see the sun rise over the Rollright Stones each day. This was inconvenient to his parents, who nearly killed themselves driving there from their home in Leeds.

As he grew up, Vernon Equinox became increasingly frustrated with people who confused his name with that of the first day of astronomical spring. Googling his own name - a natural hobby for those wanting to know what people think about them - only turned up pages of badly-informed reddit posts, Canadian Chevrolet garages, Beaker Folk pages making the same joke every year, and terrible poems. And the ever-mocking question: "Did you mean Vernal Equinox?"

 Vernon had to make his own name. For a while he changed his surname to Junction. But people thought he was a village in Buckinghamshire, and asked him if they could still get to Ramsgate.

Eventually Vernon decided show biz was the way. He painted himself green, put a giant flower over his head in the manner of Peter Gabriel, and went around town centres as a dancingdaffodil - the living embodiment of Spring. But he found himself involved in a turf war with a bunch of itinerant Morris Dancers from Cleckheaton.  In keeping with West Yorkshire tradition, their battles were fought out in local food. Many a Morris Dancer came to grief under the weight of Vernon's mum's heavy-battered Yorkshire pudding. And one skirmish - outside the fish shop in Garforth - he won by throwing a large cod with plenty of vinegar at the ringleader. But they came back in larger numbers. Bought a special meal deal with a can of cola. And Vernon had had his chips.

So in light of his terrible failure, the Beaker Folk mark this day in honour of Vernon Equinox. A man doomed by his name. A man who embodied the way each bright new year fails in the pitiless light of the summer sun, and dies in the bitter cold of winter. And most of all, a reminder to us all. Never get in a butty fight with a Morris Dancer.


Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Zoom and Tea Lights

 I'd like to apologise for the certain amount of chaos that broke out during today's Filling up of Beakers on Zoom. 

The first issue was during the "Howling at the New Moon" when my PC decided to install updates. I thought it had finished, but it turned out that as a result of some kind of driver clash, I got the sound back but no picture. And that's not much use in such a visual service as Filling up of Beakers. I mean, if all you're getting is the sound of flowing liquid and no visuals, you might be thinking it's like that time Burton Dasset accidentally pocket-dialled the conference call number from the toilet, when we were holding the "Over 90s Quite Bright Half-Hour". That was a terrible time.

Set them all off, as well. It was nearly three hours by the time we got everyone back together.

So I knew I needed the video. So I got the session up again using my phone. But then I got feedback. So I switched the PC off. Only the PC was the host. So I had to boot it up again. And this time I had the video but no sound. 

At which point, Grendel the Community Cat, angry at being ignored, started knocking the left over palm leaves from last year's cancelled Palm Sunday craft activity off the top shelf. Falling beautifully onto the ring of tea lights on the hearth. So I jumped over to stamp the palm leaves out when they caught fire.

As the free Zoom 40 minutes expired, I am aware that the visuals weren't great. All that any Beaker Folk could see was me, with my fluffy "Brian from Family Guy" slippers on fire, surrounded by burning palm leaves. Screaming silently while Young Keith and Charlii threw beakers full of water over me. 

It was truly the most urgent Filling up of Beakers we've ever held.

But maybe not the most spiritually fulfilling.