Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Thanks, but no thanks!

We had a wonderful day yesterday starting with the awards ceremony where Ruth, our youngest child, received her degree - a 2:1- after three years of hard work. The ceremony in Bristol Cathedral lasted just short of an hour during which everyone was thanked for their hard work - students, lecturers, and family - with rapturous applause and hoots and greetings as each person appeared on the stage to shake the hand of one of the senior staff in congratulations for their achievement. And in a nice little touch at the end the vice-chancellor(?) encouraged the body of students who had received their awards to, in turn, applaud the parents and relatives for their help and support over the years.

But in all the thank-you's that resounded throughout that impressive building - started in the 12th Century and dedicated to the glory of God - one Name was noticeable its absence in the list of who to thank.  God Himself. True the students had studied and sat the exams.True the parents had provided the financial and emotional help that supported their flagging and struggling children. True the authorities had provided the grants - which will one day have to be paid back in full - and true the university had been great in its teaching etc. But all of this - and I mean ALL of this - would not have come to pass if God had not made the world and is, at this very moment, sustaining His creation so that life is made possible.

And who made people, food, material things, people capable of learning and growing, thinking and developing? Who gave the free will to enable us to choose what subject to take and what careers to engage in? Who - through His church - gave universities and colleges and education for all in the first place? Who created many of the subjects and encouraged their research and development over the centuries, making all this possible? Who helped create the environment in which we live, the love we enjoy and the law and order that gives us the freedom in which to flourish? And what about health, hospitals, family structures, values, morality etc.. The list is endless what God has done for us. And so for God to be excluded and overlooked, sidelined and rejected IN HIS OWN HOUSE seems to me to be the height of ingratitude.

It was not always so. In years past this kind of event would have taken place within the context of a service of thanksgiving or at least with a nod in God's direction via prayers and maybe a sermon and a few hymns. But not anymore. God is surplus to requirements, incidental and excluded. the world doesn't need Him and His presence creates too many problems in this religiously diversified world we live in. How far we have fallen. How short our memories. How ungracious and thankless we are. And how stupid and short-sighted.

I am so grateful God is not petty and small-minded, but loving, gracious and kind, otherwise He would have pulled the rug from under this nation years ago and where would we be then.

But, as someone once reminded me, when you point a finger at someone in accusation, you usually find that there are three pointing back at you. And so rather than carp and complain, I must ensure that I am more grateful, more often. Like Paul I must practice what I preach lest "after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified"  (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Keep It Simple Stupid

I don't know if it about getting older, but I am getting more and more fed up with some of the unnecessary complexities of church life and more and more concerned to simplify things.

That is something we are trying to do in our church of St. James in Swansea where I am currently Vicar. Okay, some of the things have just stopped of their own accord e.g. processions led by someone carrying the cross etc. While prayers for the dead (me), no longer passing round the collection plate (the PCC and me ) and lately the use of wardens wands or staves to help usher people towards the front for Holy Communion (the PCC and me) have also disappeared. But there is still too much complexity for me, especially surrounding the Lord's Supper - or is it Mass, Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion etc?

The following article excerpted from Christian Today takes aim at the main service of the Church and - at least for me - hits the mark on so many things. Take a look:

"Sometimes when as a church leader I contemplate everything connected with this thing we call 'church' I ask myself: 'Did Jesus ever really intend all this to be as complex as we often seem to make it?' I am 99.9 per cent sure the answer to that question is 'no'!

Communion is a case in point......Take the Lord's Supper...

...'While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10v22-25).

Let's just pause for a moment and consider what Jesus did not say. He did not say, for example: 'And by the way, when you do this in remembrance of me, please ensure that you use the following items of linen and silverware: a burse, a chalice veil, a pall, a paten, a purificator, chalice and corporal – and let me just pause to sketch out a diagram here to make sure you get it right. Please also ensure you have at least two lighted candles nearby.'

Nor did he say: 'By the way, chaps, I am sure it goes without saying – you need a special table which should be called an altar on which to place all this stuff. And – nearly forgot this one – keep up with your note-taking Peter – make sure that as the months of the year go by, you change the colour of the vestments and also the hangings regularly: violet, white, green, red, gold, black, rose and so on. Got it?'

Jesus did not say: 'My friends, please be clear that when sharing bread and wine in the future, this ceremony should be presided over by someone who has received three years of theological training, ideally in a city far away from where they live. They should then have a kind of apprenticeship for a year before being licensed at a service in a cathedral to say something similar – albeit much, much longer – to the words I have just now shared with you.'

He did not then go on to say: 'Please notice what I am wearing as I share this meal with you – namely an alb, cincture, chasuble, dalmatic, cassock, surplice and stole, plus clerical collar of course! – and make sure you are dressed likewise.'

.............where do you find them in the teaching of Jesus? Where indeed do you see them in the rest of the New Testament?

I am not – let us be absolutely clear – seeking to make light in any way of Holy Communion itself. Indeed, one thing the New Testament makes clear is that anyone 'who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord' (1 Corinthians 11). We are to 'examine ourselves' before we eat, as that chapter goes on (11v28) 'for all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgement against themselves'. No, this is mighty serious stuff and we dare not take it lightly.

Moreover, we do not want to disregard 2,000 years of church history, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us..... But.....let us pause and ask: is it just possible that our Communion services.....
have become so cluttered – by rules and traditions Jesus never instituted, and by routines that have grown over-familiar and stale – that we have lost sight of the cross? "

A good question. Just as it is possible to put so many clothes on a man that you are no longer able to see who he really is, so it is possible - and we do it - to overlay something as simple as a communal meal where Jesus asks us to break bread and drink wine together in His name, with so many extraneous things that we forget it's simple message. Remember Jesus who died and rose again for you.

And so as much as it goes against the grain for some, or changes something we are familiar with BACK into something more simple and meaningful in and of itself, I think we should take another look at Holy Communion (or Mass, the Lord's Supper etc) and see if we can't get back to what it really is. Let's remove some of the layers and see what we can find?

Thanks, but no thanks!

We had a wonderful day yesterday starting with the awards ceremony where Ruth, our youngest child, received her degree - a 2:1- after thre...