Sunday, 22 April 2018

Peter's Bravery and an Open Church

Acts 4:5-12

The previous day a man lame from birth was being carried to the Temple where he daily lay at the Beautiful gate to beg for alms. Peter and John were asked for gifts along with everyone else but instead of giving him money Peter said “I have no silver or gold but what I give you, I give you in the name of Jesus Christ.” “Stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up. And immediately his feet and ankles were made strong - jumping up he stood and began to walk and he entered the temple walking and leaping and praising God.”

The Temple police came and arrested Peter and John and put them in custody until the next day.

Now I have been in a custody suite - as a visitor I hasten to add not as a customer - and even in our modern times and our enlightened country they are uncomfortable places: bare, made of steel, institutionally coloured, barred, unfriendly, worrisome, threatening, destabilising, and once there you do not know what will happen next.  The term custody suite is a misnomer with its sense of comfort, of facilities, of sofas - not at all - the depersonalisation starts here, you are a number in a system that will grind its weary way with you - thankfully in our country more rationally than in many others we might think of where we know the conditions are more violent. Believe me they are still intimidating though and it is in this context that Peter and John with a sleepless night in the cells behind them are arraigned.

And arraigned in front of whom - none other than Caiaphas and Annas and other members of the of the high priestly families who controlled the temple. Peter and John know already how powerful and ruthless this group are for they have seen them act with Jesus, these same authorities had been instrumental in Jesus’ crucifixion they have no limits to the sanctions they might impose in the name of the temple law and of bolstering their place - beating, scourging with rods, unlimited imprisonment. These are people not to take lightly not people to irritate  - they made the prisoners stand in their midst not I imagine a gentle invitation “Will the prisoners please stand?” but physical threatening and probably chained.

We know things about Peter, that he denied Jesus three times, that he sank into the ocean when Jesus asked him to walk towards him, that he was reluctant to have his feet washed, that he was impetuous but now in an aggressive legal setting far from his experience as a fisherman and surrounded by his enemies we witness a forthright declaration of faith. He has certainty that the power that cures the lame man came from Jesus Christ and nowhere else. Notice there is no temptation to accrue any credit to himself or John and this is not humility or shyness but bravery. We see a Peter who is brave.

Jesus said, and we read this in Luke’s Gospel, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”

And surely the Holy Spirit was with Peter and Luke tells us that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, but still, you know, even if you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit you need to be  brave.

It is unlikely that we will face a situation where we need choose between proclaiming our faith and  being imprisoned or worse although many have been and many still are challenged in this way but nonetheless we sometimes have to take risks we have to give things up or make ourselves vulnerable to change how we are to proclaim the things we believe.

As you know just outside those windows is a the Icknield Way, probably in use since at least the Iron Age one of the four key highways of medieval Britain, running from Norfolk to Wiltshire and today it is used by many ramblers and walkers both local and from afar. Our church stands on this route and so during the summer weekends we plan to open our doors and to encourage people to visit us, to spend a moment of prayer within and to discover our church. As well as walkers this will I know be welcomed by the very many visitors to the graveyard. The PCC have agreed that we should experiment this year and to help with that I am asking for volunteers to sit in the church for a few hours on a Saturday and for two hours on a Sunday.

I have placed a sheet at the back of church with times and spaces for you to sign up. I would appreciate your help with this and once the volunteers are known we can meet to discuss the details. And of course there will be sheets for July and August to follow.

Bishop Alan a few years ago gave a Presidential address to Synod outlining the signs of a welcoming, flourishing engaged  church and one of those was that their doors should be open - and I agree with him and think that we are ideally placed geographically, emotionally and spiritually to do just that.


Friday, 6 April 2018

Jesus appears to the disciples

Jesus appears to the disciples.

Some years ago now I visited my aunt , I happened to be in the area so I called in for a cup of tea. It had been a long time since we had met but Auntie Sheila was just the same as ever. While we were talking I glanced out of the kitchen window and at that moment I got a shock, for there walking up the path was my uncle. Now it was not that I was trying to see my aunt in secret that startled me but the fact that he had been dead for ten years. It took a perceptible time for my mind to work out that this could not be my uncle but twas my cousin, who had grown so like is father as to be indistinguishable.

So the disciples were gathered together, this is still Sunday, they knew the tomb was empty but were there together talking of recent events; sharing their guilt, sorrow, disappointment, puzzlement, surprise, disbelief and reliving it all in their grieving just as we do with our family and friends when someone we love dies.

“While they were talking about this Jesus himself stood among them.”

Luke’s Gospel captures those feelings I had when I saw my uncle/cousin by telling us “they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.”

What  would like you to  notice though is the gentleness that Jesus shows: “he stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’” Surely there were many other things that could have happened -”There you are - I told you so!” or maybe a more exuberant excited expression of joyous reunion but no Jesus comes among them with love: “Peace be with you” Of course he knows that his appearance will unleash a torrent of turbulent emotions and we see his gentle loving approach in all of his first appearances. To Mary in the garden he reveals himself by simply calling her name “Mary”, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus he falls in step with them accompanying them on their journey. Only when he breaks the bread at supper are their eyes softly opened.

This is still Sunday, the cauldron of the vents of Good Friday, the fever and the clamour of those hours from Gethsemane to Golgotha are still in their heads, they cannot erase the picture of the torture, the agonising and painful walk with the cross, the intensity and brutality of the crucifixion and here is Jesus come to them and sensitive to every nuance of feeling:

Peace be with you.


Thursday, 5 April 2018

Vicar's letter for May : Psalms

He maketh wars to cease in𝀃all the𝀃world :
He breaketh the bow and knappeth the spear in sunder and burneth the𝀃chariots𝀃in the𝀃fire

Dear Friends,

Those words come from Psalm 46, “God is our hope and strength” and we sang them on Easter Sunday in St. Margaret’s between the reading of the first lesson and the Gospel. Now the Psalms are poems and contain all the emotion, hyperbole, lyricism and imagery that we expect from poetry but they are not poems as we might recognise them for their form does not depend on rhyme or metre as our English poetry does but on a different idea coming from the Hebrew tradition.

The Psalms were written by many poets and at many different dates, some do go back to the reign of David but for the most part they were compiled in the third century B.C. They must be read as poems to be understood and indeed these poems were meant to be sung.The most distinctive and pervasive feature of the Hebrew shape is parallelism. Most of the Psalms are composed of two balanced segments where the idea in the first line is repeated in different words in the second, either in developing it or by antithesis. C. S. Lewis makes the  observation that this is an intrinsic aspect of many arts - his example is of the country dance where you you take three steps then three steps again - the movement is the same but the first three are to the right and the second to the left. In modern printings of the Psalms these thoughts are separated by a diamond mark ◆ or a colon : which in some spoken traditions mark a pause between the  thoughts - a space for proper reflection. An alternative interpretation is that they mark a conversation which is why we often say Psalms antiphonally - that is to say one side of the church or choir alternately talks or sings to the other. In this way they agree and reinforce one another.

So in the example of Psalm 46 which begins this letter,  the first line speaks of God’s will for peace and the second develops this in much more detail. You will notice that the lines are not the same length as we would expect in a western poem, but listening again  to C. S. Lewis, he considers this a divine intention. Translating poetry into other languages provokes problems of the syllables in equivalent words, and the intrinsic momentum of another tongue but the notion of repeating or enhancing of an idea is universal.

The popularity of Psalms extends across all musical traditions, from baroque to classical from  reggae to pop and you would probably be surprised at how many you know and the reason is surely the universality of the emotions ranging from lament for example “By the Rivers of Babylon” to glorious praise “I was glad”.  In the quotation above I have used an ancient musical mark to show the separation of the bars in the music - they are sometimes called taste marks and I have chosen them to emphasise that the Psalms are a way to connect with the deep spiritual roots of worship or put another way, to allow us to taste the word of God.

St. Margaret’s choir is exploring the long tradition of Psalmody and you are invited to come on Friday evenings at 7.00 for an hour to sing with us. We will always be rehearsing one psalm (at least)

For  more on this topic please visit Paul Ingram’s web page, where he has collected a wide range of musical offerings for you to sample.

With best wishes,