Welcoming the Light

February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

I preached this last night, and people seemed to appreciate it. The Communion setting was the Messe Solennelle, and that started my thoughts going…

Jean Langlais, the twentieth century composer whose setting of the Communion service we are hearing tonight, was blind. He lost his sight as a two year old. His upbringing was not sheltered, and he loved climbing trees. He loved music, and as a teenager heard an organ, determining to learn it himself. He was taught first by another blind organist, and went on to be one of France’s most celebrated organists and composers.

He said that he had no memory of light, yet it seems to me that his music is full of richness and colour and light and shade.  Perhaps because he was in darkness, his evocation of light is all the greater. For light defines us. Apart from a very few animals, we alone create light when there is none. Light is our essence.

The modern preponderance of light means that people today have no real regular experience of darkness. I was on a late train a couple of weeks ago, and all the lights went out. It was rather wonderful, but so disorientating that normally reserved English people started talking to each other.

We make light, because we need it and love it. It is necessary and beautiful. For much of human history candles, and oil lamps, were essential bringers of light into darkness. The lighting of the lamps became a religious act which could never be reduced to the flipping of a switch.

The festival of Candlemas, the Presentation, the Purification is about light. It  commemorates the moment when Jesus was presented in the Temple. There he was recognised by a devout believer, and declared to be a light to lighten the Gentiles – the person whose life and death will be a means of revelation, illumination and warning to all the non Jewish peoples of the earth. He is also to be the fulfilment of all the hopes of Israel, God’s original people.

In church the moment is remembered every time the Nunc Dimittis is sung. It is such a part of our evening worship – first in Compline, then, since Cranmer, at Evensong, that we can become dulled to its challenge. It’s a massively radical statement. Hear it again:

God’s promise has been fulfilled. This child is the means of rescue, for every single human being on the planet. He is a Jew, but will be light, piercing the darkness for all the peoples of the world. He is everything the Jews have been waiting for and everything a dark world needs.

What is amazing here is that Simeon doesn’t keep this as a personal experience – ‘I can die fulfilled now’. Nor does he keep this as a Jewish experience: ‘we will be delivered and our nation’s borders secured’. This is global and eternal. He declares this month old baby to be the fulfilment of Israel, and a light to lighten the Gentiles – the person whose life and death will be a means of revelation, illumination and warning to all the non Jewish peoples of the earth. This child would unleash shalom, true peace, and no one would be able to stop it. It would burst out of the confines of Israel and transform the world.

This requires much of us. It means being the light and proclaiming Christ to everyone – the indifferent, the hostile, and the devout of other faiths. It means taking a long look at ourselves. How can Christians proclaim Christ as a light drawing all people to himself when our lives are not as well lit as they could be, and when as the church we enjoy our disagreements more than what binds us together?

When a candle shines in darkness, things are seen in a new light. When Christians say that Jesus is the light of the world it reinterprets the world as it is, and shows the world as it might be. As we proclaim Christ Light of the World, ask yourself what is being illuminated for you, and what you can illuminate with the light within you. Jean Langlais could not take light for granted. He had to recreate it in himself. Seek Christ’s light. Shine with it. And transform the world.


A Sermon for Midnight Communion 2013

December 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

SONY DSCEven the academic discipline of dictionary making is keen to shake off its dry and dusty image, and to promote itself in a world dominated by social media and instant communication. Every year now there’s a flurry of news stories about new words which have made it into some new publication, as if those words have been given official approval.

This year the words included ‘phablet’, ‘twerking’, ‘bitcoin’, ‘omnishambles’ and ‘cake pop’. But the word which the Oxford Online Dictionary nominated as its word of 2013 was ‘selfie’: defined as

a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.

 Even the coverage of the funeral of Nelson Mandela was dominated by a selfie, as the Danish Prime Minister posed with David Cameron and Barak Obama. The selfie says: ‘Look at me. Look what I’m doing. Look who I’m with’. They are fun.

I bet there will be a lot of selfies this Christmas. If you follow me on Twitter, or are friends with on Facebook, you’ll know that I post very few selfies, but it’s not that I’m against them. In fact I won’t be doing much social media at all in the next few days: another phrase of 2013 is ‘digital detox’ – where you go without tweeting or instagramming for a while – and that’s what I’ll be doing. But the fashion for selfies has made me wonder.

I was wondering if the birth of Jesus is a bit like God’s selfie – God saying ‘here I am’ – and  then thinking that, if it is, it’s not very effective. Not many people found out about the birth of Jesus: his parents, obviously, and then just a few shepherds – though they were the kind of people you’d block on Twitter or unfriend on Facebook. Some slightly weird followers of an odd sect eventually arrived, brought presents, and they went as quickly as they came. Not much else seemed to happen, and after Jesus’s birth it all went quiet for 30 years or so. In a rapidly moving world one week of silence is disaster. 30 years is a catastrophe.

But… what we celebrate tonight is indeed God saying ‘Look at me. Look what I’m doing. Look who I’m with’. God says ‘I’m with you. I’m here, and now. If you look at Jesus, if you listen to Jesus, if you befriend Jesus, you’ll find out all you need to know about me. Do you want to know what I’m like? Look. Jesus will show you.’

Selfies come and go, especially the embarrassing ones. What convinces me about Jesus is that he embraces absolutely every aspect of human life. Those of you who have had small children will know of their immense fragility and dependence. In the last two weeks I have spent time with a family who know to their lasting cost how just one little chromosome will make all the difference to a developing child. God, in Christ, embraces every aspect of human life, down to each individual piece of genetic code.

In Jesus God says ‘look at me’. And, in Jesus, God says ‘look at yourself’. There is nothing about us that God does not enfold and embrace. Jesus doesn’t explode into life six feet off the ground in a cloud of dry ice, like a Strictly show dance or an X factor finale. Jesus struggles like the rest of us, his parents graft like we do, he lives in a complex land full of danger and politics and violence, just like today. When he grows up it takes time for people to really ‘get’ him – he needs to be listened to, he’s not always comfortable, he says difficult things.

This is God living our life. That’s what we celebrate tonight. Jesus, God with us, God for us, is way more than a selfie. It’s not about him. If there’s such a thing as a ‘givvie’ that’s what he us. Tonight God says: ‘in Christ I was once so fragile I could break. I lived your life, and died your death. That’s how I can offer you forgiveness, healing, hope, new life. If you want to find yourself, accept this gift. And I won’t just be standing next to you. I will be in you. For ever’.

In this holy night, Glory to God in the highest, for God’s indescribable gift. Himself. Amen.

Photos for the 12 Days – XII

January 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

First Evensong of the Epiphany already said. So here’s one of the Magi from Beverley Minster’s crib.

I’ll get lyrical tomorrow in church about the amazing inclusion by God of followers of another religion who had upped sticks, going on an educated guess, and being welcomed to worship the true King of Israel. And about the immediate revelation of Good News to the Gentiles.

Epiphany is great. A real shame that it’s swept up into post Christmas tiredness, new year busyness and back to work depression. Free the Magi!

Photos for the 12 Days – XI

January 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Total vanity. But it’s been a busy day, and I’ve never given a blessing on national telly before. And emails are flooding in, from all over the place, saying that people liked the prog.

Not sure what I look like in HD though…

Photos for the 12 Days – X

January 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

The BBC did us proud on Songs of Praise last night. The filming was so long ago that I’d forgotten just how much we were taken over by the demands of television.  It wasn’t just for the week of filming, nor for the large number of planning meetings about practicalities and logistics. Songs of Praise especially do a shed load of research – one person spent a week in Beverley just collecting stories.

A local journalist rang me this morning to ask why the programme had been so good (she’d loved it so much she watched it twice). It certainly captured both the beauty of the Minster and the life of the congregation (apart from the performers everyone who was interviewed is a regular part of our life here).  Perhaps it was because the programme’s makers had spent such a long time in Beverley getting to know us. They had certainly been received warmly, and it might just be that the warmth they received made its way into the programme they made.

When someone is with you for a while, you can’t keep an act up. They get to see you as you are. Both Songs of Praise and the Antiques Roadshow enjoyed being with us, and found a quality here which they reflected in their programmes. There’s no way you can instantly generate such an atmosphere of hospitality, welcome and love out of nothing. You inherit it, and then do all in your power to keep it growing. That’s certainly what I’ve found here over these last 18 months. And it it’s not there to start with, you get there is small stages I guess.

So, a photo of the Minster, taken this afternoon as the sun was setting. It’s from a distance and close up, if you get my drift. Overview and detail. My mission for January…

Photos for the 12 Days – IX

January 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

I must have read it many times before, but have no record of ever preaching on it. Colossians 1: 1-14 (set for the 2nd Service in today’s lectionary) was our chosen reading for All Age Worship this morning.

It’s fascinating – one of Paul’s amazing prayers for fledgling Christians and the fledgling church. The underlying theme is ‘bearing fruit’ – the Gospel has taken root in their lives. Now, he says, you have the power either to stifle that growth, or let the Word grow and develop among you, to do who knows what. His prayer is that they might have knowledge, power, strength, patience and joy.

So we prayed this morning that we would bear fruit this year. The fruit of prayer for each other and for our commuunity and world. The fruit of knowing God and experiencing God’s power.  People wrote their prayers on fruit, and this tree will now be in our prayer chapel, as a sign of our thankfulness to God for planying his Word in us, and our determination to let that seed grow as well as we can make it.

Here’s to being fruity in 2011.

Photos for the 12 Days – VIII

January 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

The year began with an experience I’ve never had before. Cycling 17 miles.

Beverley Minster has a tradition of a cycle ride around our five church buildings, starting and finishing at the Minster. Like all the best traditions it’s, ooh, at least 4 years old. But I wasn’t to know it was so newfangled when I agreed to take part. Anyway, we raise funds for our mission links and for ourselves as the riders get sponsorship.

Great to get going in 2011 with a little exercise. Great to do something new (ish – not ridden the bike for a while). Great to visit each of the buildings in my care. Not so great to consume more calories than I expended – but the hospitality in each church was wonderful, and a vital expression of our being together.

It made me realise that the motor car can insulate us from our surroundings. Perhaps my precedessors, on foot, on horseback, or in a coach or trap at horse speed, will have had much more of a rooted connection with their parish than I do. And it was a reminder that a pilgrimage is about the journey as well as the destination, and that church ministry is perhaps best exemplified in the manner of welcome you get and the expression of hospitality you find.

Well, that was my excuse for eating scones, biscuits and stollen anyway. Would have been rude not to…

Happy New Year.

Photos for the 12 Days – VII

December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

“And what is your big thing for 2011?” asked a friend yesterday.

We do a Watch Night Service here – and 200 came last year, so the change of year does have some significance. But tomorrow is just tomorrow, isn’t it?

The end of one year and the beginning of another is, I guess, as good a time as any to stop, reflect, review, give thanks, seek forgiveness and determine what behaviour, what lifestyle, what direction and what choices are most appropriate for the future. What I don’t like is the sense that everything about the old year was bad and everything about 2011 will be wonderful, if only we behave ourselves. We have the chance to change every day. “New every morning is the love…” and all that.

Much of yesterday, and this past year, will have been wonderful. Much of what we have done will be worth repeating. Some things must change, and if the click of a number on the calendar gives the necessary impetus, then well and good. I’m not sure what my big thing for 2011 will be – perhaps the golf handicap down to 15? But there are lots of little things I need to work on. One of them will be to see if I can do that thing I learned about in Spirituality ages ago: to reflect on each day, give thanks for the good, seek forgiveness for the bad and determine to have more of the former than the latter the next day. The Jesuits call it the Examen.

Today’s photo is at Hornsea, this afternoon. After some grey days there was a glimpse of sunshine. May tomorrow, and 2011, be full of warmth, creativity, depth and life – in all its fullness.

Photos for the 12 Days -VI

December 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

A few photos for this day, because one won’t do.

Today at our regular Thursday Communion we remembered Thomas Becket, who was martyred on Dec 29 1170. Perhaps we ought to make more him here – he was Provost of Beverley in 1154, and did this well enough to be commended to Henry as Chancellor of England soon afterwards. The rest is history; and I rather like the fact that Beverley has its own saint – John, our founder – as well as a saint among its ‘incumbents’.

Canon Terry Munro, who was preaching this morning, took ‘pilgrimage’ as a theme. On this earth we never arrive; we journey in company; and we find places along the way where the hope of our arrival seems much more tangible. Thomas Becket, in any visit he will have made to his Minster, will already have found it a place of pilgrimage: John had been canonised a century before. In reaching this destination, as people were later to journey to Canterbury, we have a foretaste of our arrival in our heavenly home.

Beverley Minster is a pilgrim place, and we encapsulate this it in the Retroquire. Here is to be found a remarkable installation. Two figures, fragmented people on the way to wholeness, strain towards a window, in which a zig zag path leads to blinding yet welcoming light. In each figure is a heart made of the same glass as the window. As pilgrims we journey towards that which we already know.

The installation (which comprises other pieces as well) is the work of Helen Whittaker, of Keith Barley Studios in Dunnington, York. I’m thrilled at the courage of the Friends of Beverley Minster, and the PCC, in commissioning the initial idea and going with its final outworking. Helen’s rationale for the work is here – along with some other photos which show the effect of the morning sun on the pilgrim figures.

Pilgrimage can sometimes be overdone as a picture of the Christian life. The Retroquire makes the whole thing a source of challenge, hope and wonder.

Photos for the 12 Days – V

December 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Foggy day today. Though the liturgical calendar says we should be rejoicing like mad between Dec 25 and Jan 6, the secular one does all that by Dec 25, and then moves into a different kind of rejoicing. At best (for me) it’s a mellow gathering of friends, a gentle eating of good food and a slower pace of life.

As a career liturgist I should be full of religious cheer this week. But as a career parish priest, I got to lunchtime on Dec 26 and needed to do a bit of ‘secular’ rejoicing. Actually, there’s a word that needs reclaiming – ‘profane’. It derives from that activity which took place around, but not inside the ‘fanum’, the temple. It’s activity which is defined by its relationship with the religious. Well…these last two days have been profane: rest, relaxation and enjoyment given as a gift after the hard work of rejoicing.

Sometimes fog descends like a welcome duvet. Tomorrow (with three bits of ‘work’), the sacred will poke its head from underneath and I’ll proclaim the joy of the incarnation once again. Perhaps the gentle fog will lift to enable a longer view.

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