Sunday 17 April 2022


 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). (John 20:16)

So the Resurrection is the new Nativity. The pyrotechnics happen away from the main action - angels brought the good news to shepherds in the hills, an earthquake has happened early in the morning, bringing the good news to soldiers who would really rather not have known about it.

The earth which received Jesus has given him up, as if from the womb.

And as the dust settles from the quake, and the angels sneak off and the soldiers sculk round to await the anger and bemusement of the high priests, what's left among the birdsong, the dew, and the smell of unrequired spices? Just the loving humanity of a woman and the teacher she now knows is so much more.

This is beyond expectations - because for all of Jesus's promises before, who would have believed he really could rise on the third day? It wasn't that the disciples were too slow - it was that the truth was too rich.

And the exchange is simple and profound - this man who has conquered death, calls her just by her name. The response - respectful and yet still familiar, still what she has always known him as - "Teacher." Mary stands before the God who has conquered death and hell. Yet he is also the man she knows and loves as her teacher and friend.

But she cannot cling to him now. She has a job to do. She is the first evangelist - the apostle to the apostles - the first witness to the news that the Resurrection starts here, in the man she sees standing before her. The news must go into the world. And it must start with her.

And we celebrate with her, each of us who have known what it is to know our living and saving Teacher, Master, and Friend. Each of us whom he knows by name. Each of us who have received glimpses of the hope for us, and for our world. All who cannot physically cling to him, but yet know he is alive.

If the Blessed Virgin was blessed in receiving the first news from an angel, how blessed is Mary Magdalene in receiving the Resurrection news from our risen God himself? Alleluia - Christ is Risen!

Saturday 16 April 2022

The Easter Egg Hunt Revisited

 The Guardian carries the news that the incoming food merchandising laws from this definitely-not-nanny-state Goverment means that in future shoppers will have to go on an Easter Egg hunt to find their chocolatey Paschal comestibles.

Of course, the Beaker Folk are way ahead of the game. Which is why the Little Pebbles have today been enjoying their first-ever Easter Carrot Hunt.

We've developed quite a nice back-story. That the Easter Bunny has been dropping carrots around the Lower Meadow, and the children have to go around with their wicker carrot baskets, collecting the tasty treats. Meanwhile Hnaef, Burton Dassett and Yardley Hastings had the job of pulling the Magical Carrot Cart around the community grounds, dispensing additional carrots.


OK. The Magical Carrot Cart idea went west when Hnaef had the idea of using it as a go cart. Smashed to pieces. The carrot, that is. Weirdly, it crash-landed next to an old man and much younger woman, who insisted they hardly knew each other.

But I was so looking forward to the children, relishing their natural and healthy snacks.

They've been crying for three hours now. If the little gets don't come to terms with this new tradition quickly, I'll have to send Young Keith to Tesco.

Thursday 14 April 2022

Traditions of Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday. When overworked clergy at their wits' ends travel to far-off cathedrals for an extra service. And think next year maybe someone will organise next-day delivery for holy oils instead.

When they return to be told that in Parson Marson's day, the churches would have queues outside of people wanting to join the post-communion Watch until 6am on Good Friday. In fact, some years so many people were on the rota for the Watch that they had to put Easter back a week.

In a new tradition, the parish Covid expert (Arthur, who provides the coffee whitener) will insist that the priest cleanses people's feet with anti-bacterial gel, to guard against the risk of the Plague being passed through hand-to-ankle contact. Priests will be told to wear splash visors against the danger of inhaling Athlete's Foot.

The tradition of Shoe-Shining Bishops has had to be scaled-down to only two or three per town, for safety reasons and to avoid overwhelming the NHS. Asking elderly people to spend several hours in an unnatural crouching position has been associated with seasonal clusters of sciatica. In 2018 at least one bishop, unable to straighten up, had to process down the aisle at the Chrism Mass so bent over, they had to stand his mitre on his back.

There is news that people planning tomorrow's Walks of Witness have been told that, in line with risk assessments, only one person can carry the eight foot long cross at any one time. Crosses of more than 20 feet in length can safely be carried by four people, as long as they wear hazmat suits.

Today is also the one of the Days of Drivel, when traditionally someone who knows less history, religion, and philology than a mung bean will trot out the whole ludicrous "Easter is Really a Pagan Festival" trope. In years gone by, they would be driven far out into the Fens, to improve the average intelligence of the parish.

On Maundy Thursday in Fakenham, nothing happens. The same as the rest of the year.

Wednesday 13 April 2022

The Ghost of Advent Past

Funny thing. For this evening's "Judas wasn't such a bad chap and probably just went to the wrong public school Wednesday" Tenebrae service, I went to look to see if we had some previously-used Advent Candles.

The Beaker Tenebrae, like all our services, tries to be upbeat. Holy Week can be so serious if you're not careful. So I thought we'd mix in some of the pink "You've lit it the wrong week - pink stands for Mary because she's a girl" candles, as well as the purple ones which are maybe more fitting the occasion. And I figured we'd have a few left over in the cupboard at the back of the Liturgical Paraphenalia Everyone Has Forgotten About Room.

Oh boy. Let me just say that I was glad I asked Burton to go in there and have a look, as he was crushed with the remains of the Advent Candles of years gone by. Clearly every year since time immemorial, as the Advent Wreath is put away on the day after Candlemas, someone has figured "there's some wear in them candles. I'll put them away in case they come in useful." Some of us would say that burying Burton is "useful", so fair enough.

We've sent in a team from Wessex Archaeology, and after carbon dating they reckon the oldest candles come from the 17th Century. This appears to be confirmed by a Christmas Card with the inscription, "A Merry England Christmas From King Charles II." 

Which is all a bit strange, as the Moot House has only been in existence since 2003, and has blown up, collapsed or been blown away many times since. Still, strange things happen in the cupboard at the back of the Liturgical Paraphenalia Everyone Has Forgotten About Room. We found Boris Johnson's moral integrity there once, but we put it back since nobody thought it would be of much use.

Sunday 10 April 2022

A Triumph of Palms

I mean, really there's a number of options when it comes to entering a city as a king.

You can drive in in glory, with everybody awed by your magnificence and worshipping the ground you walk on. This seems to have been the story that Vladimir Putin and the Russian army swallowed with regards to Ukraine.
Or, if that doesn't work, you can maybe go to option 2 - marching into a cowed and wrecked city with people fearing your presence.

Jesus chooses neither. He takes a donkey - not a war horse. You may remember how Princess Fiona in Shrek thinks that Donkey is a mighty steed - until she notices that Shrek is an ogre. Donkeys are beasts of burden, hard to deal with, and more your middle-class Judean transport, perhaps.

With a side-order of prophecy, from Zech 9:9 -  "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

And here is that king. No armour. No arms. No captives being brought in for slaughter or sacrifice.  A strange and peaceful triumph - of palms, not armed might. A dusty army of dreamers. And their King of Peace. Being welcomed as if he's the one to free Jerusalem.

Which he is, of course. Just not the way anyone is expecting.

I was discussing this week the ever-pressing question of Safeguarding. And reflecting that one thing that put and puts men in power in the position to abuse is a system that encourages deference. That pumps up the bloke up the front. And puts him on a box that says, isn't he great. That says Father - or else the bloke wearing the poshest suit - is always right. That puts people beyond challenge.

Well, here's the model for leadership. Vulnerable - anyone can take him out anytime they like. When he sat round a table he was surrounded by his friends. Not up one end for fear of Judas.

Approachable - anyone can reach out and touch him. Nobody is too small, too poor, or two mired in misbehaviour for him.

He sat and ate with the leaders. Herod wanted to see him. But he turned all that round. Went to Jerusalem. Turned his face to the cross. And died with criminals.

Our God is still hope for the poor today. Even after nearly 2,000 years of the Church using power to reach them, not love.

But the love of God is shown in the face of a man on a donkey. Going into the city in expectation of battle. But a battle nobody expected, against the enemy nobody dreamed would be fought, and which would look a lot like a defeat before a victory was discovered.

Friday 8 April 2022

I Have Measured Out My Life in Hallelujahs

Intrigued by the response - mostly of laity - to this reasonable question, from the @OurCofELike account about how many C of E clergy say the Daily Office regularly (twice a day being the legal requirement, as it were). I should at this point add the #NotAllLaity hashtag. And also, in these circumstances, the #NotAllClergy as that's how many say two Daily Offices.

And as an illustration, I'd like to borrow - if nobody minds - the brilliant adoption of the "spoons" terminology that people with, some medical conditions sometimes use to describe what they are capable of today. The concept taken from Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons." 

Now, it should be pointed out that some clergy do suffer from diseases that involve the management of fatigure. Some are suffering from Long Covid. Many are just plain exhausted after two years of ministry in a strange world with more funerals, a divided society, people not going to church for fear of catching a deadly disease, and yet the demands for Parish Share and Statistics for Mission being unchanged. Many are exhausted from sheer caring.

But remembering that many aren't - I'm sure - let's invent the unit of Clergy Energy and Effectiveness. Let's call it the Hallelujah (symbol Hj). The Hj has a close relationship of course with its SI equivalent, the Joule (or the Calorie, for clergy that prefer BCP). And let's assume you're a fit, healthy, 50-year-old Clergy starts the day with 1,000 Hj - if you will, a kilohallelujah.

And the day is as well planned as can be. There are meetings in the diary, but space is left for prayer, and for the preparation of (and recording of) sermons. Study is of course pretty much excluded from the daily clerical routine. But you're intending to plan a study day. On the Noneteenth of Someuary.

The day starts brightly with ablutions. A cup of coffee sits steaming on the study desk. The 8.30 am Morning Prayer in church is blocked out. For which a ten minute walk is required. Healthy, bracing exercise. The perfect minister's day.

The phone rings. It's one of the 10 Wardens. Or, strictly speaking, 7. Little Tremlett has only the one, nonagenarian, warden. And at Great Tremlett they have an annual service to remember the day the Last Warden died and, like the nation of Gondor, they eagerly await the day when Elendil's Warden's Wand will be repaired and claimed by the Warden-That-is-to-Come. So the vicar's got the job.

But this is Melissa on the phone. Apart from her deathly poetry, she's a very capable Warden. But she went for a walk in the  churchyard at Grilsby-on-the-Hill this morning and there's a badger. Or, rather, traces of badger. Diggings around some of the graves and some rather unpleasant droppings. She goes into unnecessary detail.

Melissa says Jeb (local gravedigger, handyman and suspected lurker in the woods) is asking what poison is best. You tell her it's illegal to poison badgers. She then says OK - what about hitting them with a spade when they pop out? You tell her that is also illegal. She'll have to live with it, maybe repair the holes, and refer anyone worried about the remains of Aunt Flossie to you.

It's time to go church. In fact it's just past time. You leave your cold coffee and set off on your walk. Having been refreshed by a reasonable night's sleep, in which you only woke screaming about faculty rules twice, you don't notice the 25 Hj that just went out of you.

Heading down the road, you meet Arthur. Arthur wishes you a good morning. Says how nice it is to see a vicar about the place. Then takes the time to tell you that old Parson Marson did things properly. Would never be seen in public without his cassock. Ten minutes, and 20 hallelujahs, have gone by the time he goes off to catch the bus.

You now don't actually have time to finish the walk to church, say the Office, and then walk back. There is an assembly shortly. So you go back to the paraonage. Put the kettle on for a cup of tea. And stream the excellent Facebook morning prayer from All Saints with Holy Trinity, Loughborough.

While you're at it, you fill in a burial form to send to the Registrar. Then have to double check via Google how the Winklesea Registry Office is operating under the fag end of Covid changed rules - the deceased died while on holiday.  Turns out they've moved Registrar operations to the big office at Spilefleet, but not changed their form. You've not got a paper form via the funeral directors, in case you catch Covid. So you print off the form. But the form's green, and your printer has run out of coloured toner - you've prioritised Parish Share over luxuries since you've missed 9 months of plate offerings over the last two years - so you spend twenty minutes cancelling print jobs, and rebooting computer and printer so they're talking to each other again after the cancellation.

The form comes, out and you deal with it. You wonder vaguely what the reading was in Morning Prayer. But it's ten minutes till assembly. So you put the kettle back on, click on the Zoom link for the Assembly, boot up the PowerPoint and scramble for "special thing" that is used as a prayer focus. It's a stuffed hedgehog, for no obvious reason. You wonder how you'll fit it into the camera, but realise that's academic as the Zoom screen is just whirling sadly at you and no meeting is appearing. You wonder if it's quicker to wait or to reboot Zoom or the computer. You notice that 50 Hallelujahs oozed out of you while you were scrambling under the printer to find a new pack of paper, while it was shredding the last pages of the current pack.

By the time Zoom is working, the teacher i/c assemblies is playing library recordings of Hillsong music. You put the  task of telling him why that is problematic into a box marked "next time I'm in school." Scrap the PowerPoint - which you spent three hours creating - and summarise the story of Ruth and Naomi into "Ruth was very loyal. Her sister-in-law not so much. They all lived happily ever after." Some Hallelujahs escape from you as you say the final prayer and shut down Zoom 

You have a Pastoral Meeting in ten minutes. You put the kettle on, and feed the cat.

The Pastoral Meeting is via Zoom because Maisie Daisie hasn't left the house since March 2020 except for vaccinations. As far as you're aware, she has no actual medical conditions, and she's only 35. She just thinks you can't be too careful. She appears on screen in two masks and a visor. The phone rings. For the 14th meeting running, Melanie has forgotten to plug her camera in. Gabriel is trying to Zoom using 3G from his phone, because he believes broadband causes scabies. There is a ten minute delay while he drives to Melissa's. Melissa spends an hour telling everyone about the badger.

You have a funeral visit. It's a tough one. You chuck 100 Hallelujahs on top of the the fifty that the badger ate.

They didn't offer you a coffee so when you get back home, via a trip to the shop where a parishioner asked you at great length why you're never seen in the village, and where you bought a pasty to eat on the go, you put the kettle on before you have to go out to talk to the architect about the crack in the tracery at Great Tremlett. You get a call to ask if you can stop walking your dog in Little Tremlett churchyard. You spend twenty minutes explaining that, though it's your churchyard and you'll walk your dog in it if you like, you don't actually own a dog. Your will to live is creeping out along with some more Hallelujahs.

You have dreams of one day cycling round the parishes - the full Father Brown job, resplendent in cassock. But as usual it's drizzling and you're short of time. So you drive to Great Tremlett and look sadly at the crack in the tracery. The architect asks why your Wardens don't deal with this kind of thing. You reflect that at least if you ever murdered an architect, you'd be able to find somewhere to hide the body.

It's 3pm. You left the pasty on the unit in the kitchen, next to the cup of coffee you made at 8 am. And your next call is to Woodby Chapel End, where you are taking Mary Mandible her Home Communion. Only there's no answer at the door. Panicking, for Mary never leaves the house, you phone her. You can hear the ringing inside, but no one picks up. You knock on her neighbour's door. 

He tells you that Mary's gone away for a week to Winklesea. You mention that you've heard that's a dangerous place. But - more to the point - how on earth has she managed that? Apparently her boyfriend's taken her for a week of sun, sand and whatever else can be accommodated with her dodgy joints. You go back to the car, wondering how, when the time comes, to tackle the subject of whether Mary might like to actual come to church on Sundays in future.

It should be Evening Prayer, but nobody has joined you in church since last October. And that was someone who was hoping to steal the lectern. So you figure you'll say it in your study. So you go home and put the kettle on. Throw the pasty - warm from the sun - in the bin. Your spouse - back home from work - asks which of you will make dinner. You suggest, given the day you've both had, that you order takeaway. Again. You give thanks that your spouse earns enough to be able to afford to buy takeaways. You put the kettle on, to boil while you say Evening Prayer. You need the time and space - your Hallelujah levels are running low. The Grilsby-on-the-Hill Facebook page, you notice from your phone, is full of uproar about the badger invasion.

As you go to the study, someone knocks the door. There's nobody there. It's just the time of day when students returning from school think it's funny to "play knock-up ginger".

The fourth time, you tear out just in time to catch, on the doorstep, Doreen. She's coming back from the doctors, having discovered what she's got. You spend a couple of hours with Doreen in prayer and chat. And get your first cup of coffee of the day, finally.

As Doreen goes home, your spouse asks what you'd like as a takeaway and when. You remind the spouse that you have a PCC meeting in Woodby, but it will surely be over by nine.

At the PCC there's a major fallout over whether to put an LED light into the toilet in Woodby church hall straightaway, or to wait until the existing 30W incandescent bulb finally goes and then replace it. There is a long story about how Parson Marson installed that bulb in 1957.
At 10.30 pm you are eating cold Prawn Madras out of the tin tray. Spouse has gone to bed. You remember that you haven't said Evening Prayer yet. You go into the study, and find - somewhere deep down in your soul - one, remaining, cold and broken Hallelujah. You can't face the thought of finding your pages in Common Worship, and your eyes are too tired to read from the screen. So you switch on the recording from 6 pm's "Shrine Prayers" from Walsingham. You enjoy the silence for a few minutes, as you await them start of the Angelus.
You wake up at 3 am with your face in the Madras tray.

Monday 4 April 2022

Liturgy for the Death of June Brown (Dot Cotton / Branning)

Introit: Eastenders Theme Tune

Archdruid: Oh I say.

All: I ain't one ter gossip.

Archdruid: I ain't one ter gossip.

All: Oh I say.

Filling-up of washing machines

Young Keith: 'Ello Ma.

Archdruid: Young Keef! Yer've come back!

Young Keith: I'd only been to Tesco's.

Archdruid: Well, you know me.

All: I ain't one ter gossip.

Stubbing out of fags

There is a time for everything.
A time to live and a time to die.
A time to load washing machines and a time to tumble dry.
A time to call the boss Poppydoppyloss and a time to call the boss Poopydropoliss.
A time to do 30 minute episodes on your own and a time to have a fag.
And a time to have another fag.
And another fag.
A time to enter stage right and a time to fade.
A time for intro music and a time for the doof-doof-doofs.

God: Doof-doof-doof.

Sunday 3 April 2022

Pouring Money Down the Drain

An act of devotion, cost, and beauty. Mary of Bethany pours a jar of expensive perfume onto Jesus's feet, and wipes it with her hair. An act of worship. An act that would fill all the senses - the amazing sight of this respectable woman pouring out her love. The sound of the oil pouring. The smell of spikenard filling the air.

But. There's always one, isn't there? One with the hot take? One who says, "I wouldn’t have done it like that if I were you." Sort of person who'd listen to Beethoven's Fifth being premiered, sidle up to the stage door afterwards, and go, "I reckon dah-dah-dah dum is a bit samey as an intro, Ludwig? And maybe just drop a little bit of the 3rd violin?"

And here we have, of course, Judas. Leaping into that role with "You could have sold the ointment and given it to the poor, dear. You're just pouring money down the drain, there."

Now we're not told what Mary says in reply, having been Judasplained about her priorities. But I like to think it was something like, "that was my jar of ointment that I can use for what I like. And you can keep your opinions, mate."

Because it's not Judas's ointment. He has no authority here. Mary has done something wonderful and beautiful and costly, and Judas hasn't. He has no right to criticise because this hasn't cost him.

Isn't that often the way when we criticise? It's not costly to us. We've not taken the risks or paid the costs. It's not us that's learned an instrument or practised for however many hours or put our heart and soul into the thing we've decided isn't good enough.

All the armchair generals telling us how Ukraine should defend itself are very definitely not having to plan a war while bombs rain around them. All the people in media and social media, telling us that they got by in the 1930s with just a candle to warm the house and ice so thick on the windows they had to scrape polar bears off to get the curtains open in the morning. They're criticising those who are struggling with heating and food bills, but they're doing so from positions of comfort. There's no cost for them. No risk.

Mary of Bethany is not taking the low-risk option of sitting back and snarking about others. She's got an expensive bottle of perfume and she's gonna pour it on Jesus's feet. She's seen something  - an opportunity - that we don't have. You know how in his first Epistle, St John says, how can you love the God you haven't seen if you don't love your neighbour whom you can see? Mary is able to see God before her. And she has poured out to him the costliest thing she has.

And the room is full of the beauty of the love she has poured out. This is pure worship - heartfelt, beautiful, and costly.

And prophetic. Jesus is Christ, the Anointed One - and here he is, being anointed. But this anointment is against the day of his funeral. Mary’s pre-empting his death. And doing the job that all the other Marys, and Salome, won't do later - when they go to a tomb to anoint a dead Christ, and find against all science and reason that their services are not required.

So what does this passage tell us about worship? That it's beautiful, personal and costly. That it involves our whole selves and all our senses.

What does it tell us about loving God and our neighbours? The old story. That we love God with all our lives, and then our neighbours as ourselves. After 2,000 years, the poor are still with us.

What does it tell us about cheap criticism? That it's safe for us, destructive to others, and not pleasing to God.

And what does it tell us about Jesus? That he is the Holy one. The Anointed one. The one worthy of all our hearts' and lives' possessions. And yet the one who though deserving all things will bring us to his Father through a cross.