Friday 30 April 2021

Unleash the Wicker Person

 Ah, St Walpurga's Night. What a night.

The Wicker Person is already looming over the Big Meadow. Beaker Folk are preparing to celebrate the feast in groups, strictly socially distanced. All the potatoes are lined up ready to bake in the ashes, just like in the original Beaker times.

Please can people note that, if sparks from the fire burn through their masks, they are no longer Covid secure and need to go back to the Mask Dispenser to get a new one. Please do not  get too near the Wicker Person while using hand sanitising gel. We don't need to have to work out how to deal with Beaker People with flaming hands. Some kind of sand bucket thing? See what I mean. Don't chance it on us working out a solution.

The Big Sloppy Hug of Peace, so popular normally after a night at the White Horse prior to the May Eve celebrations, will be replaced with a "Limp Wave of Peace in People's General Direction". Personally I find that both safer and more generally comfortable.

This year's Quidditch match will be socially distanced. In the sense you can't really play Quidditch. So just forget it and put those brooms down, you delusional twerps. Yes, especially you with the Nimbus 2000.

Still, the main thing is that May Eve is here. Summer is icumen in. Loud sing Cuckoo. Somewhere. No idea where. But still, there must be a cuckoo. And if there is, it must be singing. Loudly.

Bit parky though. So wrap up warm as you celebrate that Summer is icumen in. You don't want to get a chill.


Wednesday 28 April 2021

The Legend of Cally Banks

They say the old ironstone railway line in Finedon, Northamptonshire is haunted. Just a feeling. Maybe just a slight chill, or a feeling of being watched. Or the shock of an owl, apparently appearing from nowhere on silent wings on a still evening. Or the red kite that watches the end of the line, ever watchful for a meal, but flapping off if you give it any attention. But few know the true story.

Interesting little place, Finedon. Its main attraction these days is national semi-precious treasure* Revd Richard Coles. But it also has an odd obelisk, celebrating the recovery of King George III (he got worse again), a pub that claims to be the oldest in England (it isn't) and a stone called the Finedon Stone. Which I suppose it is. So one out of three ain't bad.

It also has a disused ironstone mine, now converted into a country park. And part of that park is the old ironstone railway, running down to a nature reserve.  It's a spooky walk, that old railway line. You constantly, gently, descend into increasing darkness. The plants are a bit spindly and sickly. The concrete sleepers still sleep where they have dozed this half a century and more. The bracket fungus could almost look like they're stained with the red of ironstone and human blood.

Bloody bracket fungus

And you always get the impression, when walking down there, as TS Eliot says in the Wasteland, that, "there is always another one" lurking somewhere just nearby. And the guidebooks will tell you that the reserve at the far end got its name - "Cally Banks" - because it is where the iron ore was melted down with limestone - or, as it is known in the trade, "calcined".

Well, that's what they say. And it's kind of true.

But they miss out the key bit.

There was a man who worked on the calcining ovens down there. His real name was Ezekiel Banks. A tough chap - strong as an ox, as you have to be when shovelling lime and ironstone. A bit of a loner, they said. So while others worked up the top end near the village - dragging the lumps of iron from the ground, leaving the great gaping canyon that nowadays threatens to pull the cemetery down into itself - Ezekiel worked at the other end of the line, out where the winding paths confuse the unwary purple-clad wanderer today. Where, when the ironstone train wasn't clanking along, you could hear the bells of Finedon or Great Harrowden churches, depending on the wind, and the gentle gurgling of the River Ise.

They called him Cally because he did the calcining. Also, being unlettered Finedon folk, they couldn't pronounce Ezekield.

Now Cally loved a young Mexican girl. What she was doing working behind the bar at the Bell in the 1930s was anyone's guess. But she did. And Cally spent many evenings, listening to the landlord droning on about how the Bell is the oldest pub in England (it isn't) just for the sweet moments when he could chat with Falina about the terrible fate that befell a young cowboy she once knew.

Not the oldest pub in England

But Falina had a track record of causing toxic masculine behaviour, as we'd now call it. A wild young engine-driver on the ironstone railway - Sam the Shovel - started coming into the Bell more and more often after work. And while Sam was rakish in his engine-driver's cap, and all his wild talk of his mile-long trips down the line from the mine to the calcining ovens - sometimes even hitting 15 mph - poor Cally's clothes were covered in rusty ironstone dust, and specs of lime. It wasn't so bad, except he once accidentally dropped a Coke down his coat. Fizzed for days.

Falina fell deeply in love with Sam. And the more she loved Sam, the more Cally's jealousy simmered.

One day he could take no more. He knew the rough time that Sam would be running the train down, laden with its load of ironstone. He lurked behind an ash tree on the bank, above the railway line, waiting for the moment that Sam the Shovel would appear. He watched anxiously as he saw steam swirling round the little cutting. Eventually, the little locomotive puffed into view, Sam's cap visible behind the controls. Cally flitted from his hideout, took a few paces down the bank, and leapt from a height onto the footplate. He pushed his rival out the other side. He planned to leap on his prone form, and finish him off with whatever lump of rock came to hand.

The falling figure gave a cry - a female cry - and crashed to the ground. As the train continued to race away at 5mph, Cally realised too late that it was his own Falina, wearing Sam's hat as a lover's token.

Sam had been engaged in getting the next shovel of coal from the tender. Realising what had happened, he turned and slammed the now-distraught Cally across the head with his shovel. Cally fell from the loco, bounced off a rock, and rolled back under the wheels of the ironstone wagons.

To this day, the kids say that the mysterious square hole in the Cally Banks nature reserve is the entrance to Cally's grave. They say the whole reserve is a kind of 20th Century burial mound, raised in honour of the smelter, failed lover and murderer.

Do not climb in to check
And they say that if you walk down the railway track, away from Finedon, of an evening or a gloomy afternoon, you'll always feel the presence of Cally - just behind you - just quietly watching. Waiting for that train. Swearing to himself that, should it ever come down that way again, this time he's going to get Sam the Shovel.

If I were you, I shouldn't wear a cap. Stick to a nice hoody.

* I realise I've partially been inspired by, partially plagiarised Richard's wonderful David here. I hope when I see David next he'll forgive me. 

Sunday 25 April 2021

Setting Sail in the Vacuum of Integrity

 I don't know what all the fuss is about.

We all agreed at the last Moot that what the Beaker Folk needed was something to give them a lift. Something to raise the spirits. Something to increase the general happiness of the world.

And so I arranged for the purchase and fitting out of the new Beaker Boat, Vacuum of Integrity. And I think you've got to agree that it's a worthy boat for these difficult times. I'm going to leave it on the Duck Pond for a few days, just to lift everyone's spirits. Then Vanman Bert is going to take it down to Fenny Stratford so we can launch her on her future journeys.

And yes I know some people have criticised the Vacuum as being a waste of money. Some have suggested that maybe crushed velvet drapes, silk bedding and the exclusive design talents of Jasmine Bordello-Boudoir have been over-expensive at a time of hardship and fear for so many Beaker Folk.

But as Young Keith raised the St George's Cross on Friday, while the Sun that Never Sets on the Empire rose over the Amazon warehouse, it struck me that such criticisms are unpatriotic. Aren't you ashamed of yourselves? The Vacuum will fly that flag on all truly English days - St George's, Shakespeare's birthday, the anniversary of Shakespeare's death, the coronation of Charles II and so on. And we've got a Union Jack somewhere for all the saints of the other British nations.

No, the carpers and whiners, doomsters, gloomsters and baby-boomsters need to look deep into their dark, bitter, treasonous hearts and think - why are you begrudging such a beautiful gift to the world?

Some have criticized the lack of transparency around how the boat was paid for. Especially since I was complaining about how poor I was just the other month. I can only say that, if anyone contributed to the boat's purchase and kitting-out, it is shyness that stops them having their generosity praised. We should laud their commitment to putting this thing of beauty on the water and not look for public acclaim. Even though, of course, I paid for it myself. I think the thing to do from now on is create a charity to look after the boat's maintenance and future refits (the autumn-winter fabrics collection looks stunning, darlings) so people don't have to sully themselves with such unworthy thoughts again.

Thursday 22 April 2021

The Good Shepherd - Not just a Stained Glass Image

 Well, ever since that dog chased Grendel across the desk during my Facebook service recording, it appears I've adopted a dog. We traced the owners through the microchip service, but all they did was scream down the phone. An interesting character - half collie, half St Bernard. Which means he has the urge to chase sheep, but loses interest after a quick run because it's too much effort.

Still, that quick run is always amusing if we've insisted Burton Dasset takes him for a walk. I've seen Burton dragged across an entire field because Tommo's herding instincts took over, until the sitting down instincts reasserted themselves.

But it's made me think about sheperds and sheep more. Those fluffy losers, often to be seen laying on their backs in fields in the morning dew. That's the sheep, not the shepherds. In a modern, go-ahead world we think of them mostly as commodities. Not the valuable thing any pastoral animal would have been in the 1st Century. I was intrigued to discover however that even today farmers do have a way of knowing which sheep is which. They give them squad numbers so they can tell which lamb belongs to which ewe. 

Ewe with Lamb - Numbers 76
Come in number 76

Whereas with Jesus, it's every hair on our head that is numbered - not just one number per adult sheep. Still, it helps to look after the lambs, I guess.

I also discovered that if a sheep headbutts a lamb, it's either not that sheep's lamb, or the ewe has taken against her own lamb. Just goes to show. It's no life being a lamb. You may think it's all frisking around in the open air, but there's agressive mothers, random other sheep,  and mint sauce to worry about.

We've got some lovely songs about Jesus the Good Shepherd. And some lovely stained-glass window and Illustrated Bible pictures - which we normally mix up with the Lost Sheep and get two parables for the price of one. And Jesus as the Good Shepherd looking for the Lost Sheep is a lovely image isn't it? And a meaningful one. Especially if you're a lost sheep or a just-found one.

But "I am the Good Shepherd" is also one of Jesus's "I Am" statements. Alongside the Bread of Life, and Light of the World, and "Before Abraham was I Am."  So it's a bit more profound that just Jesus looking after us - great though that is.

It's a direct claim, I think. Israel has always had a shepherd. It once had a shepherd king - David - but thereafter the kings who followed him were always going off the rails, forgetting about God, and losing interest in the things they were supposed to be protecting - foreigners, orphans, widows - just generally the most vulnerable people.

And God repeatedly told them they were bad shepherds.

It's worth reading all the prophets in the Old Testament. Then you get gems like Zechariah where the shepherds exploit the sheep. And Ezekiel 34 where God tells the bad shepherds that from now on, God will look after God's flock.

So when Jesus says "I am the Good Shepherd" , he is stating his equality with God. He is taking God's job on.

So what does that mean for us? It means that God the Son is our shepherd. We are his flock. We depend on Jesus - we stay close to Jesus. Depend on him for the care and attention we need. He knows our weaknesses, loves us and died for us.

And if we're a flock - there's a corporate responsibility. Flocks stick together. There's safety in the numbers of a flock. That's why sheep act in sheepy ways - if Tommo the Dog barks at them going into their field, generally speaking they join together in a mass stampede.

I was walking across a local estate - one of these diversified ones that do everything from stately homes tours to business conference centres to high-wire climbing - and they also do the normal, sheepy stuff in their rolling acres of course. And a chap in a Land Rover drove up and stopped and looked carefully at a ewe with a couple of lambs. And he told me he was a bit worried that a ewe was rejecting a lamb. "Oh,' I said. "Are you the shepherd?"

 " No, " he replied, "I work on the golf course." 

 I've mixed the metaphor up a bit here but I hope you get where I'm coming from. The flock is not a bunch of individuals. Its sum is greater than its parts, and it exists to protect its members. We don't ignore the needs of members of the flock because it's not our job, or we don't care for that particular sheep. We collectively care for all the members of the flock, because they belong to our shepherd. The relationship isn't just vertical, as they'd probably still say in business. It's also horizontal. We live and thrive as one flock, not as multitudes of individual sheep. But we are one flock because we all belong to the Good Shepherd. The one prepared to die for his sheep.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Tess of the D'Urbervilles: 2021 Remix

Roped-off Turberville grave, with square tiles
"Please stay 4 tiles apart at all times."

"Within the window under which the bedstead stood were the tombs of the family, covering in their dates several centuries. They were canopied, altar-shaped, and plain; their carvings being defaced and broken; their brasses torn from the matrices, the rivet-holes remaining like martin-holes in a sandcliff. Of all the reminders that she had ever received that her people were socially extinct, there was none so forcible as this spoliation. She drew near to a dark stone on which was inscribed:


Tess did not read Church-Latin like a Cardinal, but she knew that this was the door of her ancestral sepulchre, and that the tall knights of whom her father had chanted in his cups lay inside.
She musingly turned to withdraw, passing near an altar-tomb, the oldest of them all, on which was a recumbent figure. In the dusk she had not noticed it before, and would hardly have noticed it now but for an odd fancy that the effigy moved. As soon as she drew close to it she discovered all in a moment that the figure was a living person; and the shock to her sense of not having been alone was so violent that she was quite overcome, and sank down nigh to fainting, not, however, till she had recognized a Church Warden in the form.

"Hello," said the Church Warden, "I'm here to supervise your private prayer. Please can you scan the QR code, fill in the visitor's register, sanitise your hands and ensure your mask fits over both your nose and mouth? Please sit only on the blue chairs, but not if they contain a "I have been used for private prayer" laminated card. Unless it is a green laminated card, as they are from more than three days ago. Please do not shout, sing, scream or lick the pulpit. Now command me. What shall I do?”

“Go away!” she murmured."

Sunday 18 April 2021

20 Uses for a Mask in Church

Many intelligent people are complaining about the use of masks to restrict the transmission of Covid. Sorry. Did I say "many"? I meant "no". But still. Masks aren't all downside. There's lots of good reasons to embrace the mask in church... 
  1. Keeping your face warm on cold mornings
  2. Staying at home and paying a person with the same colour eyes to take your place
  3. Smuggling in and eating sweets
  4. Similar, but with a miniature of whisky
  5. Pretending to be Hannibal Lecter
  6. Or Douglas Bader, according to the mask
  7. Slipknot? No, you're probably right
  8. Experimenting with the right breathing method to steam your glasses up
  9. Singing without being spotted
  10. Sticking your tongue out at the preacher when they're making the Bible mean what they want it to
  11. Mouthing complaints about the kids running about without anyone knowing
  12. Wearing the colour of lipstick you really always wanted to wear without being judged
  13. Not bothering to shave
  14. Trying to blow it out like a balloon
  15. Wearing it on your chin instead of your nose, like it's some surreal beard
  16. Hiding a yawn
  17. Use it as a catapult once you can take it off in the churchyard
  18. Hiding lots of yawns
  19. Hammock for the church bats while you've taken your mask off to do the reading
  20. Not causing other people to die.

Not a Ghost

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.( Luke 24.36b-48)

I grew up in a ghost-ridden place, in the eastern fringes of the Chilterns. We had a headless horseman. The "Gray Lady" who haunted our Victorian school building. And the ghost in the village of Markyate was always the one that outshone all the others. Allegedly a former lady of the manor who moonlighted as a highwaywoman, she wandered the grounds of Markyate Cell at night, screaming for help and generally terrifying the locals.  We also had the Black Shucks - the fearsome ghostly dogs of Eastern England - to contend with. And that was to say nothing of dealing with people from Luton.

The belief in and fear of ghosts seems to be a commonplace thing, transcending religion and culture. 20 years ago it was suggested - on the basis of nothing obvious - that the growth in mobile phones was killing ghostly phenomena. And yet, "Most Haunted" kept going till 2019, and is probably re-running on some golden oldies channel even as I type.

Yew tree in Husborne Crawley churchyard
Waiting for what comes next

So Jesus appears to the disciples. This reading describes the evening of the first Easter Sunday. So - remember from last week - this is the day Thomas has gone AWOL. Luke doesn't mention that. Luke's writing down someone else's description of the events - probably not John's. But it does fit in nicely with John's. And Jesus's telling them that he's not a ghost, is backed up by him telling them to touch him, see he's physically real, and him eating the fish.

I'm just imagining Thomas. The first edition of Luke's Gospel comes out. Thomas goes "oh, I was there. Let's have a look." Reads the bit about the first appearance of Jesus to all the disciples. Goes, "Hang on. He ate fish? Nobody told me about the fish. All this time you've called me 'doubting Thomas' and they got to see him eating fish? Had they only told me about the fish."

Because there is something so physical about Jesus after the Resurrection. Yes he can just appear and disappear. But he can build beachside BBQs. He can offer to let Thomas put his hand in his side. and he can eat fish.

God, it seems, is a very big fan of the physical world. After all, at the Creation, God made so much of it. God realised it's good for people not to be alone - they need human contact. And don't we all know that after the last 12 months. God clearly loves colour, and life, and massive explosions in deep space. It was sad to hear that John Polkinghorne died recently - a physics professor before he became a priest and theologian. He was a living statement that if we only pursue a spiritual, wafty religion and want to escape from the earth, then we're missing out one whole side of God's wonder. And if we try to reduce all things to science - which Science doesn't, because Science knows what it is for - we are looking at the world with only half our faculties. 

So I don't believe God is going to give up on this world, anymore than he gives up on us. God's Son is now made of the stuff we are made. The stuff the earth is made of. His Resurrection is a promise to us for our future, that we will be raised with him - but also one for the world. God does not give up on this beautiful, damaged, glorious world. He will make all things new. So give thanks for this world - God made it, God loves it, God's Son died for it, and God expects us to care for it. And when God's Son comes again, all things will be made anew.

Thursday 15 April 2021

Liturgy for Recording a Facebook Liturgy in the House Without Interruption

Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Cat walks in front of camera*

Archdruid: Bum. Start again.

Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Sound of toilet flushing next door*

Archdruid: Rats. Start again.


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Cat walks back across camera*

Archdruid: Bum. Start again.


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Dog chases cat across desk*

Archdruid: I haven't even got a dog....


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Cat starts knocking books out of bookshelf*

*Archdruid throws cat out of window*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Young Keith starts up soup maker*



Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Little Celestine walks in with her new toy tank*

Celestine: Nanna - tank! Kill Russians!

Archdruid: That's very nice, Celestine. Why don't you go and invade Woburn Sands?


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Phone rings*

*Archdruid throws phone out of window*

*Yowl from Grendel the cat, who has been hit by the phone*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Dog jumps out of window after cat*

*Sound of cat and dog fight*

*Archdruid throws bucket of water out of window*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Sound of email arriving on laptop*

*Sound of Archdruid's head banging on desk repeatedly*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Sound of Grade 2 level violin practice*

*Sound of window slamming shut*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Coldstream Guards march across the gravel garden playing Sweet Georgia Brown*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Pigeon flies into window*

*Sound of pigeon sliding down window*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Boris Johnson walks behind desk dressed in PPE and gazing at a fake vial of vaccine*

*Sound of Boris Johnson being beaten with Lubert Stryer's Biochemistry (2nd ed)*


Archdruid: Peace be with you....

Archdruid: And also with you.

*Paraglider crash-lands and comes through roof*


Archdruid: Go into the world with the sun on your hair, the wind in your back, the hills on your face, and the snails rise up to greet you. Until we meet again. Amen.

*Beep of camera switching off* 

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Over-commemorating Prince Philip

There's been some suggestions that we've overreacted to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Just because we've been tolling the Kazakh Mourning Gong every 30 seconds day and night. At least since Amazon delivered it.

And why is everyone so upset about us replacing every single service with a Beaker Requiem Mass? Didn't all the churches?

And making all conversations contain a minimum 40% discussion about Prince Philip.

And yes, in retrospect, flying the flags at half-mast was a mistake. But we couldn't get any online. And the only Union Flags we had, apart from a pair of Burton Dasset's pants (which we firmly rejected, not least as he was wearing them at the time) was bunting. And flying bunting at half mast is a bit of a hazard. But not as much as Burton's pants.

We decided to go a bit more proactive on the mourning after complaints that the commemoration of the Queen Mother was a bit sorrow-lite. I didn't see it. A 24 hour gin party struck me as just the thing she'd approve of. But people were overreacting to the mourning period for Princess Diana. Apparently in Husborne Crawley so many people were weeping onto the M1 from the Bedford Road bridge, that the cortege needed to use windscreen wipers.

Among the complaints I have received are:
Too much mention of Prince Philip 
Not enough mention of Prince Philip 
Too many complaints about too much mention of Prince Philip 
Too easy to complain 
Too hard to complain*
Not enough photos of Diana.

Well, the Diana one is tricky. Doris Medium, the Beaker Clairvoyant, tells us there's a massive fight going on in the afterlife as Prince Philip, with a heavenly shotgun, demands Mohammed Al Fayed takes back his accusations. But then, Doris's psychic abilities are a bit suspect since she forecast that 2020 would be the best year Britain ever had, and Brexit would do wonders for Northern Ireland. Never trust anyone who claims to be channeling Sir James Goldsmith, I say.

Any case. In response to all the complaints, I shall be running an independent inquiry to determine whether the Prince Philip-tide season has been brilliant or merely acceptable.

Today's programme:

8am Wailing and gnashing of teeth 
10am Socially-distanced memorial game of bicycle polo
12 noon Prince Philip Memorial Lunch in the Prince Philip Dining Room (all dishes á la Grecque)
2pm Lamentations of Penny Junor
4pm Presentation: "The Prince Philip I never Met" by Young Keith
6pm Tiffin
8pm Compline, featuring Burton Dasset's memories (yet again) of the day the Queen drove past him in London
10pm-6am Kontakion in the Siberian Tradition.

* but the whingers still managed to

Monday 12 April 2021

Commemorating the Pilgrimage of Dominic Cummings to Barnard Castle - 12 April 2020

 A Song of Ascents

Archdruid: I was glad when they said unto me, 

All: let us go for a bit of a drive.

Archdruid: My eyesight seemed a bit weird 

All: And this seemed like the best way to heal it.

Archdruid: And now behold here we are

All: Feeling sick in the park in Barnard Castle.

Archdruid: Barnard Castle is like a castle that is builded on a hill.

All: Actually, that's exactly what it is. Hence the name.

Archdruid: Surely, surely Dominic is a loving father.

All: He did what any loving father would have done.

Archdruid: Drove 2 tons of machinery 25 miles, 

All: with his child in the back,

Archdruid: with dodgy eyesight, carrying a deadly disease.

All: We've all done it.

Archdruid: Thanks all. That's a wrap. 

All: Oh. Aren't we all going to sing "Laudate Dominic"? 

Archdruid: Against the rules. Besides, I've got to edit the blog to make it look like I predicted Covid in 2007.



Sunday 11 April 2021

On Not Going to the Royal Funeral

I'd like to share with the Beaker Folk that I've decided not to go to Prince Philip's funeral.

Obviously, I would have been invited. But I thought it was more important that little George or one of the other ones went instead of me.

By making this announcement really early, I'm pleased that I'll be taking the pressure off the Royal Family who would have been really embarrassed to ask me and then it would have been bad when I said "no, let little George or the other one go."

I think you'll agree I made the right decision.

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. 


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.