He is risen!

Last night at midnight I stood in a candlelit church for Easter Vigil. In the courtyard we blessed the new fire and the Christ candle for this year, and processed in, each lighting our candles as we entered the church. The only light throughout the service were our candles and the seven lamps and candles in the sanctuary. We read passages highlighting the redemptive narrative of the scriptures and proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ. He is risen, alleluia!

This Easter has been pure joy. Rejoice, ‘he is not here, he has risen’! This morning we went to the sunrise service at St Mary’s on the Rocks, the church ruins on the top of the cliff beside the Cathedral. A hundred or more of us were there from all the churches in town. We sang praises to the accompaniment of waves crashing below us and seagulls above and in the light of the rising sun over the North Sea. I told Ros I wanted a tambourine, so I could lead the throng with singing and dancing. Tristan teased me for wanting to be Miriam, but I didn’t mind. I was happy. And I did skip and dance and sing ‘Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it’.

Ros and I had breakfast with Faith and Isaac, and so I both began and ended Lent with pancakes. Then was the service, and afterward Ros and I walked down the pier where I witnessed the iconic Pier Walk, then along East Sands, and finally home. Polo greeted us at the door and I visited with her for a while outside. Lunch was preceded by Easter baskets, and then we picnicked in our back garden.
 

Miss Kitty joined us as we spent the afternoon singing hymns, and when she left Polo came back. (This afternoon was spent also negotiating their respective claims to our garden and our attention.)

Both last night during Vigil and this morning during the service, we renewed our baptismal vows. All are worth repeating, especially the Creed, but for brevity’s sake I’ll put just the last three:

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

And now, off to Evensong, and then to a lovely dinner and evening spent with friends. Happy Easter! He is risen!

Good Friday

Each Holy Week for the past several years has been very different. Last night I went to my church’s Maundy Thursday service. It’s been commented more than once that our church is more Catholic than the Catholic church in town. I had been to Stripping of the Altar services before, but none so striking as last night. While the congregation read Psalm 22, the ministers stripped the altar. Usually so ornate, it was completely stripped — all the hangings on the walls, on the altar, all the cushions where we kneel for communion, even the candles and candlesticks were removed, leaving only bare walls and a plain wooden table. The bells were rung for the last time until Easter, and we left in silence.

Tonight’s service to commemorate the Lord’s Passion was even more solemn. What I noticed immediately upon entering the church was that the one lamp that is normally always kept burning was not lit. All was dark, and became darker as the sun faded outside, leaving the colourful stained glass windows grey and blank. The Light had gone from the world. The cross that had been carried out last night was brought back in with the words, ‘Behold the wood of the Cross, whereon was hung the Saviour of the world’, and we replied, ‘Come, let us worship’. The ministers, choir, and congregation then went forward for the veneration of the cross. I stayed back; for me it felt too much like directing my adoration toward a specific object. I was not the only one to stay seated, and that is one reason why I like my church: we follow traditions, but not so rigidly that everyone must do the same, there is still freedom and diversity. I was content to sit and pray and sing the chant along with the choir.

Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.

We sang in English, but I’ve sung this in Latin, and the Pange lingua chant is simply beautiful.*

And now we mourn.

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Sunday afternoon


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Palm Sunday always holds a special significance for me, because I was baptised by my grandfather Papa on a Palm Sunday. The service today was lovely, and a beautiful day, too. Now we enter into Holy Week, everyone.

Sermon update

The sermon I wrote about a couple of Sundays ago has been posted to the church website. I added the link to my earlier post, but here it is, too. And also a quote from D’s sermon:

So what I want you to reflect on this morning is that temptation is not just about the things we should very obviously not do – tell lies, hurt others and so on. It also takes much more insidious forms, for it comes equally to those of you who are good, holy and devout. It is there when for perfectly good reasons you get your priorities wrong, as in Jesus’ first temptation. It is there too, when, as in the second temptation, you are not content to rest in the love of God and of those human beings who especially care for you, but instead constantly require that love to be demonstrated, wanting the show and not just the reality, as it were. Finally, it is there too when we come to prefer the good but grand gesture to the humbler responsibilities of the specific context to which God has called us, as in Jesus’ third temptation.

Jesus fasted – went into training – to defeat those temptations, because even he found them difficult to defeat. So will we, unless we also accept that Lent is a call to discipline ourselves, a summons to think clearly and carefully about where our values and motives really lie. Only once we get beyond the view of goodness as an easy conformity to rules will we escape the full power of temptation to corrupt the good. Jesus leads the way not by being totally different from us but by showing that, even as we get closer to God, the temptations get not easier, but more challenging still.

The best sermons, I think, are the ones that challenge us, make us squirm a bit uncomfortably in our seats…

Our Garden, Part 1

First things first: Many congratulations to Kelly, who passed her thesis defense today. Hooray!

Now, to other things. I finished preparing the beds on the east side of the front garden yesterday, and planted more flowers. So this is now what greets us when we walk up to our door:

There is a lot more work to be done in the front garden, but this helps make it look so much better.

We also put up a bird feeder in the back garden, where we can see it from the kitchen window. I hope the birds won’t think that it is too close to the house. Rebecca pointed me to the RSPB‘s application for a free ‘Birds in your garden’ booklet, so I have ordered mine. Here’s the link so you can order one, too!

While my mom and I were lashing the poles together, a kitty came to join us. She was very friendly and very curious. As soon as we started petting her she wouldn’t stop purring, and she and I played in the garden when we were finished with the bird feeder. She is also just simply beautiful. Hopefully my new friend will come back to visit.

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My body is sore from gardening most of yesterday afternoon, but it is a good kind of sore. Muscle-tiredness is different from joint-tiredness. I’m joint-tired, too, but I’m used to that. Feeling my muscles stretch doesn’t so much hurt as to feel part of being alive.

I think gardening is a good activity to pick up during Lent. My favourite part of weeding yesterday was pulling up the plants with long runner roots. I liked just seeing how far and the unexpected places the roots would go. I’ve been studying 1 John for Lent, and thinking about God’s love also makes me think of 1 Corinthians 13. While I was thinking about how sin roots itself in our lives like those runner roots, I also thought about what it takes to pull up those long, winding roots from our hearts. When a root is pulled from the soil, it dislodges the dirt around it; likewise, our attitudes will have to be altered for the root to be pulled free. For me, relating this back to 1 Corinthians 13 means aligning my heart with verses 4-7. ‘Love keeps no record of wrongs’ particularly has been pricking my heart. Each Sunday I am reminded of this in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us’. It’s frustrating that it’s taken so long for me to learn (or relearn) this lesson. Thankfully I have plenty more weeds to pull for it to get through this thick skull of mine.

First Sunday of Lent

This morning’s Gospel reading was from Matthew 4.
I know that Jesus’s testing in the desert is intentionally chosen for the First Sunday of Lent, and it is very fitting. But though it is one of my favourite passages, most sermons I’ve heard on it have been variations on the same theme: the first temptation is Jesus relating to physical temptation/need, the second about showing off to win authority through miracles, the third about thirst for power. This morning, however, the sermon was different.

I’ll just have to rattle off the most interesting points, because I’ve been trying to write a coherent summary and keep failing. Sometimes sermons are put on the church website, so if this one gets posted I’ll add a link later so here is the link: ‘How Jesus’ Temptations Relate to Our Own’.

  • D. suggested that the figure in the background of Jesus’s time in the desert was Moses. Moses fasted twice in the wilderness for a span of forty days and nights, each time on the behalf of the people of Israel. There is then the suggestion that Jesus did not go out into the desert for his sake only, but also for the people who would follow him.
  • The first temptation was not merely an issue of Christ experiencing physical hunger. Also at stake was the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reason; to lose sight of priorities. Physical needs should not trump the spiritual.
  • The second temptation: almost always I have heard the test of whether Jesus would throw himself off the top of the temple to see if he would be caught by angels put in the context of winning followers by putting on a big show. ‘Think of how many people would see him, and see the angels! They’d have to believe him!’ Except that isn’t the only interpretation possible from Jesus’s response, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’. It could also mean, do not put God’s love for you to the test; do not demand that he prove himself to you. Faith and love require trust; instead, let us be confident in the certainty of God’s love. It is not right for us to demand more evidence — to leap off of buildings expecting him to catch us — when he has already given us so much. (D. also went on to point out that this can be said for human relationships as well…)
  • For the third temptation, D. spoke not only of thirst for power, but also of the issue of timing. The kingdoms of this world already belonged to Christ — but not yet. His mission on earth was to the people of Israel; when he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, then he also held the keys to the kingdoms of the Gentiles. Again, the temptation here is one of priorities: do we focus on distant problems, on grandiose goals, instead of those much closer, those at home.
  • Also, I appreciated how D. allowed for the testing of Christ to endure during the forty day period of his fasting. He suggested that it is all too easy to read the exchanges between Jesus and the devil as a repartee of scripture quotations. But Jesus hadn’t just been sitting around the desert doing nothing for forty days before the devil showed up. He was meditating with scripture, wrestling with it, probably Deuteronomy since all of his quotations came from that book. Jesus was human. It is good to have been offered the idea that he took some time between each suggestion of the devil before giving his response.

After lunch, my mother and I talked about the different churches we’ve gone to, particularly the size of the churches and how they did or did not encourage community. I made an observation, and I pose it here: What would it be like if churches didn’t let themselves grow larger than 100 or so members? If every time they reached that number, they split into two congregations, endlessly growing and dividing, like cells?

Intentionality

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

For me, choosing a fast for Lent means choosing something that will affect my daily routine, but is not so legalistic as to be a heavy yoke to bear. A slight alteration made to encourage a healthier lifestyle. I don’t think that heavy burdens are the purpose of Lent; instead, it should be something that encourages a shift in perspective, a turning towards God.

This year I have given up ‘social networking’ in favour of the here and now, to be more intentional about how I spend my time and in my relationships. For a study break I’d rather take a walk around the cathedral than compulsively check websites that only serve to only further fragment my mind. ‘Being intentional’ is the theme I want to follow: being conscious of how I spend my time, and spending it doing things that I actually want to do. A lot of these things mean pushing away from the computer and going outside, to learn the names of plants and birds, find new paths in town, to bake, to knit, to read and write, and and spend time with people instead of passively reading status updates. To shift my perspective, to turn toward God and delight in his creation and creativity.