July Poem

Marzella Kirchner

Marzella

Are you looking at me?
What do you see?
Lipstick, kohl, they slash
and burn my too pink flesh
into the canvas of your eyes.

Stiffly the white ribbons in my hair,
flag no naked surrender,
even while I cage my modesty
behind lank arms yet to feather into elegance.
For I am not yours,
not suckling meat, not a party favour;
neither a bud  nor a buddy.

You shall not cross the line –
I will it so,
even as my fresh skin quivers from
the cold flicker of your connoisseur’s gaze.
Turn away your cloudy eyes,
with their mucky, mustard reflection,
for it is my time to stretch and grow
beyond the acid angles of this too tight frame,
to possess the world your ochre-tainted fingers
are too slow to grasp.

Marzella
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1909-10

June Poem

Kandinsky Improvisation No 2

Improvisation No 2. Funeral March

The shouting is over, is over, is over,
the procession moves on,
pace printed by a donkey’s prancing,
reins taut as the rider approaches.
Beginning or ending?
The saints are seated, opening the mystery
of death’s darker chambers –
places where no colour shines.

Megalith, or Bauhaus,
up-lit in either a sodium glare,
or the fading flare of Hors’ descent.
A rider approaches, ahead by a neck.
Beginning or ending?
The saints have won their race,
and take my place at the sundown,
seeping into cerulean shadows with indigo bones.

Improvisation Nr 2, Trauermarsch/ Improvisation No 2, Funeral March
Wassily Kandinsky, purchased 1933

May Poem

Picasso la source

 

The Spring

The river ponders gravely with a circling weight,
neutral greys shuffling folder-buff shadowing
across too solid flesh, pending animation,
persona waiting ritual formulation,
an empty vessel paused, before breath’s hallowing
pumps up calcified lungs, cold blood to activate.

Shoulder strap slipped astray exposing modest breast,
her mannequin expression unmans interest.

Dispassionate naiad, source of the river’s spate,
urn impartially upturned in solemn pouring,
flowing torpidly with such careless cunctation,
heedless of her waters’ final destination,
whether it gives or takes life on its journeying,
coursing gravely onwards forever circling fate.

La source/The Spring

Pablo Picasso, 1921

 

April Poem

Rauschenberg Monogram

Monogram

 

I cannot escape the desert

or a sly sense that I am stuck halfway,

like an ill-used clapper in a

worn out leper’s bell,

bleating a tone meant

to warn, or curse, or clear

a path through the wilderness.

 

Of course I’m tired,

encircled by the sins of

a whole nation, white-walled

onto my back,

a lime-washed sepulchre standing foursquare

upon a field of grays.

 

Initially my voice was pure –

Daaa Daaa, Daa Daa, Da Da.

But now I am a singular weight,

straddling the Alpha and Omega,

even as I wait to hear you chant

in flat-brushed whispers

my father’s name.

 

Monogram

Robert Rauschenberg, 1955-59

 

 

 

 

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble

Good Friday meditations, 2017

Good Friday 3

GOOD FRIDAY: Meditation 1                                                      John 19:23-25

‘The tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.’

Before the seed was ever sown he knew of my existence, when the tight cased blue buds of flax mirrored the distant edges of the sky it was his breath that unfurled their petals and set them facing the fertile warmth of the brilliant sun. When the seed was set and the harvesters came then his hand was with the hands which plucked each plant by its roots, tenderly preserving long strands of stem, and he knew the precise details, the true cost, of the retting, the crushing, the spinning that turned those strands into fibres, into the finest of fine yarns.

Before those fibres reached the loom, where many thousands were knit together, he knew how, why, when I would be formed, woven with great skill, soft, seamless and strong, practical and beautiful.

I came billowing off the loom, whipped into animation by the hot, dry wind, caught in the arms of the weaver’s daughter, who washed me with sweet herbs, folded me with careful hands and laid me on a stone shelf in a cool, dark room.

Days later I was lifted out into the light, turned and twirled and paraded before a crowd in the market place. There was hollering and haggling, a woman held me to her face, took in my perfumed cleanness, pressed my fresh softness to her cheek and handed over gold coins to acquire me.

Even as she carried me away – eagerly, tenderly, stroking my rich, fine weave – I wondered whether she was thinking of me or the husband, lover, son to whom I might be her precious gift.

But we did not get out of the market place. The square was alight with shouting, laughter and cheers. A dusty preacher dropped pearls of wisdom both lustrous and opaque before the eager expectations of a restless crowd, he laid hands upon the sick, proclaimed forgiveness for the repentant, and welcomed home the dispossessed. The woman, my new mistress, listened.

Listened and followed, wept, sighed, pondered over his words, took in his coarse country clothes and the sheen of sweat upon his limbs. Forgot all her chores and stuck with him until the end of the day when she shyly pushed her way between the dispersing crowds. Holding me out in her arms, she offered me to him, saying, ‘Master, please take this gift, your words speak deeper truths than any rabbi, and I know you do not need fine clothes to proclaim your authority, but take this gift as a sign of my own changed heart.’ She was gone, hardly hearing his words of thanks.

Later, in the privacy of a desert place, he stripped his dusty robes from tired limbs, then slipped me over his head. I slid like a cool balm over the knots and sinews of his day-worn body, felt the muscles relax as my fine softness touched his skin. A fierce fire seeped into every single fibre of my weaving, a jolt of knowledge that this what I had been made for to clothe and soothe the one who instinctively knew each and every molecule from which I had been created.

We became inseparable, he and I. I floated over his skin, as light and refreshing as the breeze, soaking up his scent, his sweat, his tiredness as the days grew longer and the ears of the people grew deaf. I was there to buffer him from the crowd’s mad press, the stares of the inquisitive and the barbs of the hostile. We became so close that when I was touched by those who believed in his healing heart, he knew that his power flowed through me, he knew their unique fingerprints upon my hem, he knew their needs and the cure.

But then came a dark night in a dark garden when my light strength was no match for the cruel wind biting at his limbs. There was a commotion, a scuffle and a kiss. Cords around his wrists, a crooked trial.

I was stripped from his torso while soldiers made mocking obeisance and vicious, lashing torture was their wild joke, written on his body. Afterwards, I was thrown back around his shoulders.

Now my fine luxury was to become imprinted with much more than sweat. His blood was soaked into the very core of every fibre of my weaving. Rough wood roughly thrust upon him tugged my threads in one direction while the stickiness of congealing wounds pulled them in the other and slowly, with every exhausted, dogged step he took towards the crooked hill, I was unravelling.

A respite, the chafing wood laid aside. A knife thrust against my hem, itching to slit me into ribbons and unclench my tight embrace from his battered form. But then the noble delicacy of my weave was spotted. Grasping hands plucked more leanly, I was a prize to be cherished as his life was not.

The hammer struck and nails clocked home. He was lifted up, naked, devoid of any protection, respect or dignity.

As he gasped for breath, as his blood and sweat flowed unchecked, as his life’s energy was lost, bone dice were thrown and I was ransomed, won, screwed into a tangled ball, thrust into the sour darkness of a soldier’s knapsack.

It was not my destiny to shroud his limp and breathless frame, to enter the cool and clean darkness of the fresh tomb or to be neatly folded when his breathe returned and inspiration rocked him back to life shattering the rule of death.

Instead, I will be misused, creased and torn, mended with coarser cloth, washed badly, or not at all. Eventually my fine seamlessness will crumble back into the soil.

But I have been woven into his story, for a brief time my finite fibres encased the infinite as he followed his seamless purpose that led from the muck of the stable to the blood of the cross, and from the blank coolness of the tomb to a new future dressed in cloth spun from the Creator’s own tears and the Creator’s own love.

Good Friday 2

GOOD FRIDAY: Meditation 2                                                      John 19:28-30

‘they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’

Wine at the start and wine at the finish – that’s Passover.

Wine at the beginning of his ministry and at its ending, that’s how John tells it.

The starting point, a moment of definition, took place at a very public occasion, a wedding, a consciously social expression of love, of a contract, the binding and loosening of ties, the bringing together of families, the prelude to a new creation.

The party was going flat, the ritual was faltering, one vital element was missing. The wine had run out. Invited, as guests, Jesus, his mother and his disciples noticed the scurrying stewards, the whispered conversations, the expressions of horror. She looked to him – do something! His friends looked at him – what did he have to offer? He gazed back at her – his hour had not yet come. He wasn’t ready for this. But his ready or not he heard the cry of human need: No wine meant no celebrations, no celebrations meant no ritual, families reneging on promises to guests, a wedding blighted, social failure that would be branded onto them, pariah families, cursed, mocked, belittled.

So Jesus declared his hand. Wine was poured out, gallons and gallons of surging, gushing red liquid, the finest vintage and the wedding was saved, the relationship blessed, new life given new hope.

Here was abundance flowing unasked for, yet so desperately needed. A sign initiating a new ministry, opening ‘The Book of Signs’, as scholars have designated the first half of the Fourth Gospel.

Rich, luxurious, intoxicating, uninhibited, this ministry, like the wine, surprises, delights, overwhelms. Not everyone likes it – for some it is too frivolous, for others it leaves a sour taste by its very generosity – too fine a gift to be splashed around indiscriminately, and shared with those who’s palate isn’t truly refined.

For here is the Creator,  the one who spoke every cell of every grape, every molecule of water, every grain of sugar into being, treading the soil of our earth. Here is God walking, uncontained, unrestrained, pitching his tent on our land, laughing and crying with us, listening to us, teaching us, healing us, revealing divine glory, tending us, feeding us, stirring our spirits.

Tending us, feeding us, pruning us. Before the wine was bottled, before the fermenting began, before the grapes were crushed, there was the True Vine.

The True Vine – John the Evangelist lets its tendrils curl about the centre of his Last Supper. They stretch and breathe and unfurl around the new commandment that Jesus has released into the hearts of his followers, to love one another as he has loved them. This is the fruit from which his vintage is created. Love, love in service, which he models, on his hands and knees, with a towel around his waist, with water, as he washes his disciples worn and callused feet, feet that have followed him for days and weeks and years on a journey from Cana to Calvary.

‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’

This is a Passover where the main ingredient is love, love as giving up to give life, hope, freedom. There is no bread broken as John tells it – for hasn’t Jesus already said  ‘I am the Bread of Life’? And there is no wine as John tells it – for we are in the presence of the creator of wine, the True Vine, the one from whom all blessings flow.

But there is wine at the end. On the Cross, when the axe is about to strike at the root of the Tree, there is wine. The Passover meal is ending. The story of redemption is reaching its climax.

And there is one cup remaining. The cup that is poured for Elijah, the one that no one gets to drink, the draught that is held back for the day when God’s messenger will come in glory and snatch his children from the hands of their enemies.

‘A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’

This is the cup that Jesus takes in his hand at the Last Supper. The last remaining vessel after the Passover rite is concluded.

He takes the cup, blesses it and says: ‘this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.’

Wine poured out at the beginning. Gallons upon gallons of the finest, sweetest vintage. Blood and wine poured out at the end. Wine, the cup of Elijah drunk – ‘It is finished.’

And it is finished. Blood mixed with water flows from his side.

But it is just beginning. ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.’

Good Friday 5

GOOD FRIDAY: Meditation 3                                   John 19:31-37

‘But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.’

What were the things he carried on that last journey from Jerusalem to Golgotha?

There was the cross, probably just the cross beam taken from the garrison stores and thrown back in there at the end of the day. A coarse cut plank inches thick, heavy, unwieldy and stained from previous use.mOnly he would have known, with his carpenter’s eye, the potential this piece of wood once had to be a thousand useful or beautiful objects – the shaft of a plough or the leg of a table, the mast of a sailing boat or a finely turned feeding bowl. But perhaps it did become a plough shaft, ploughing the fertile soil that God had sown

with the crops which would grow and feed all peoples. Perhaps it was the table on which God’s abundant feast would be spread. Perhaps it was the feeding bowl where all would dip their hands and eat together. Perhaps it was a mast and  Jesus was the sail to be lifted high leading us out of the waters of death. But that would not have been how he felt when he grasped its splintered roughness and hefted it on to his scourged back. This wood had been reduced to the lumpen keystone of a savagely devious killing machine.

When Jesus carried his cross he would have known how barbarously tortuous and barbarously efficient a form of execution crucifixion was, designed to cause the maximum amount of pain for the maximum length of time. Refined by the Romans as their weapon of choice for keeping subjugated peoples in line, its use was commonplace. Across the empire forests of naked trees bore a deadly strange fruit. Crucifixion made a good spectacle. It was horrifying and fascinating in equal proportions. Crucifixions drew crowds. Some following in sorrow and terror. The rest with morbid fascination rubbernecking over the grief of others, swept up in the excitement of the moment, screaming accusations, reduced to a herd mentality, united in their hatred of the defenceless victims, perhaps through relief it was not them, perhaps through terror that they could be next, perhaps for a myriad ghoulish reasons.

It is easy to do, to follow the crowd, an easy way to stop yourself from having to think too clearly, an easy way to stop having to stand up for your principles, an easy way to abnegate your own responsibility.

As Jesus carried his lumpen cross beam so he also carried his responsibilities, responsibilities for the crowd yet which put him at odds with the crowd. They saw failure, promises unfulfilled, when for him this was love unbound.

He may have carried his cross of his own volition but he had no choice in his coronation, the crown of thorns rammed down upon his head. The vigour of natural growth twisted into a circlet of pain. A pantomime parody of kingship telling stark truths about the authentic character of leadership. Jesus had led as a true king, living as a servant to his people, prepared to get on his knees and wash their feet, prepared to treat them as brothers and sisters, prepared to deal decisively with those who reject him. Prepared, also, to pay the ultimate sacrifice and lay down his life for his people.

The seamless robe he carried was the last vestige of his humanity, a symbol of his own purity. Once it was stripped from him he was dehumanized, his individuality taken from him, his dignity shredded, his connection with the crowd cast aside. Like so many poor victims across the centuries, beaten so harshly that their tormentors no longer see them as human, rounded up and stripped of all distinguishing marks, reduced to the status of dumb creatures by their captors, Jesus became not a person but an animal, a scapegoat for his generation and for every generation.

Yet the physical things that he carried are only a small part of his burden. On his shoulders rested all our sorrows, all our disappointments, all our terrors and all the times his message, his mission, his vision had been misunderstood. The sorrows he carried – for he was the man of sorrows – were all those moments of pain, of disappointment, no matter how small or how grievous, that cut into our lives, or cut lives short, that made our vision grey and our energy dissipate. He carried his own sorrow, that made him weep at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, that made him cry out with the women of Jerusalem over the horrors he saw would happen to their children in the name of religion and politics.

He carried the sorrows of his followers and of all who misunderstood his mission. Those who rallied to his preaching because they were searching for a warrior king to expel the Romans, those who thought his cry from the cross was him calling on Elijah to save him and prove him to be the all-conquering Messiah. Those who thought his words were about upholding the status quo and those who thought his words were a license to destroy their enemies.

And so we reach perhaps the most harrowing burden of all. For on his shoulders were also pinned the sins of the entire cosmos, sins both universal and personal: All the crushing remarks I have ever made to my loved ones. All the tiny cuts I have inflicted on another’s dignity. All the times I have been so lost in my own self-absorption that I was unaware of the pain I was causing to others or the good I could have done for them. All the intemperance that I have indulged in for selfish ends.

All the energy we have squandered on the pursuit of comfort. All the waste that we send to landfill. All the missiles that we have stockpiled. All the dictatorships we have tolerated to safeguard our own resources. All the economic systems founded on ever-escalating consumerism. All the animals we have caused to suffer in the name of fashion or an overfull belly. All the rain forests we have deleted. All the wild-flower meadows we have ploughed up. All the innocents who have been defiled. All the poor who have been exploited.

He carried it all as he carried Peter’s denial and Judas’s silvered kiss. He carried it because God so loved the world… and because God came to call the sinners into his arms.

He carried our sins because he wanted to carry us.

For ultimately on his shoulders he carried the love of God. The love which meant that out of his most gruesome pain he could turn to the equally pained man hanging next to him, could discern his change of heart from thief to penitent, and could offer him hope of a better life, a new life free of suffering, held in the arms of God.

The love that meant that even as his persecutors nailed him to the beam and hoisted him high he could say ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ The love that he had given to his friends hours before – his new commandment.

He carried that love with him right to the end, against all odds. He carried it to the grave. With that last despairing breathe he opened wide his arms on the cross and offered that love to us all. Then he carried it beyond the grave. A gift of love freely given for us to freely give.

Let us carry that love with us always. Let us do more than carry it, let us open our own arms as wide as his and share it.

 

What we do in Holy Week

Holy Week 4

Holy Week – Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday – is the most intense period of the Church year. In many churches there will be services every day as the story of  Jesus reaches its climax, leading from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through to Jesus in the Temple, the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday then the  horror of state   sponsored murder on Good Friday; the empty waiting time of Holy Saturday and the transformation of death that came with Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

From the beginnings of the Church this was a very special time. The earliest record of the liturgical events of Holy Week – known as the ‘Great Week’ – was written by Egeria, a Spanish nun who visited Jerusalem sometime between 381 and 384AD. She records the worship as taking place on the site and at the time of day that it was believed the actual events occurred.

This booklet tells a little about that early Christian worship, sometimes using Egeria’s own writing. It also explains what we do today to remember and re-immerse ourselves into those momentous days. Our worship incorporates some of the layers of symbol and meaning that have been added to those early services over the centuries and sometimes we have added fresh expressions that help us to explore the meaning of these events in a world much changed since the days when Jesus carried his Cross to the hill of killing.

Holy Week is the pivot on which the Christian faith turns. Without the Cross and the empty tomb, the nativity, the Sermon on the Mount, the healings and teachings of Jesus would have had no lasting significance. As it is, this Great Week changes the whole relationship between God, the Creator and the entire universe.

Palm Sunday 2

PALM SUNDAY

Read:        Matthew 21:1-11                      Psalm 118:19-24

From Egeria’s Travels:

“Sunday is the beginning of the Easter Week, or as they call it here ‘The Great Week’. On this Sunday they do everything as usual. Then at one o’clock all the people go up to the   Eleona Church on the Mount of Olives. The bishop takes his seat, and they have hymns and antiphons suitable to the place and day, and readings too. When three o’clock comes, they go up and sit down at the Imbomon (the place from which the Lord ascended into heaven). At five o’clock the passage is read from the Gospel about the children who met the Lord with palm branches saying, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’

At this the bishop and all the people rise from their places, and start off on foot down from the summit of the Mount of Olives. All the people go before him with psalms and      antiphons, all the time repeating ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ The babies and the ones too young to walk are carried on their parents’ shoulders. Everyone is carrying branches, either palm or olive and they accompany the bishop in the very way the people did when once they went down the hill with the Lord. They go on foot all the way down the Mount to the city, and all through the city.”

What we do today

We begin our service outside Flax Bourton church at 10.00am and, ocassionally accompanied by a donkey, we carry palm leaves twisted into the shape of a cross as we sing joyful songs and process into the building. During the service we hear one of the Gospel accounts of what is called ‘the Passion narrative’, that is the story of the events of this Great Week until the burial of the broken body of Jesus.

Lent 2

MONDAY OF HOLY WEEK

Read:       John 12:1-11                                    Psalm 36:5-11

The practice of the early Church was to remember the events of the Great Week as they happened, at the sites where they originally took place. In the late fourteenth century the   Franciscans were given responsibility for these holy places and erected tableaux to aid devotion. During the Crusades, when the holy sites were not accessible to pilgrims, these tableaux were adopted by churches as an alternative means of walking the Way of the Cross. The number and selection of events and images have varied over the centuries from five to thirty-six but settled into a more regular pattern of fourteen or fifteen.

What we do today

Christians from all over Nailsea, Backwell, Long Ashton, Barrow Gurney and Flax Bourton gather together at 7.00pm in St Francis Roman Catholic Church in Nailsea to walk the Way of the Cross together, united in following Jesus and in praying for the world as we remember all those who suffer as Jesus did.

TUESDAY OF HOLY WEEK

Read:      John 12:20-36                               Psalm 71:1-8

In Egeria’s time there were services throughout each day of Holy Week. On Tuesday, she explains that late at night everyone travels to the church on Mount Eleona.

“When they are inside the church the bishop enters the cave where the Lord used to teach his disciples, and taking the Gospel book, he stands and reads the passage from the Gospel according to Matthew where the Lord says ‘See that no man leads you astray.’ The bishop reads the whole of that discourse (Matthew 24:1-26:2), and, when he finishes it, there is a prayer. Everyone goes home very late indeed.”

What we do today

There are many pieces of music written as meditations on the events of Holy Week. This year we have an opportunity to hear one of them, the popular late Victorian oratorio, ‘The Crucifixion’, written by John Stainer. There will be a performance at All Saints’ Church, Long Ashton, at 8.00pm.

WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK

Read:       John 13:21-32                                    Psalm 70

According to Egeria, the services continue all day as for Monday and Tuesday, but then at night a presbyter “takes the Gospel book, and reads the passage about Judas Iscariot going to the Jews and fixing that they must pay him to betray the Lord. The people groan and lament at this reading in a way that would make you weep to hear them.”

What we do today

We rest on this evening to prepare ourselves for the next part of the week.

Holy Thursday 7

MAUNDY THURSDAY

Read:      John 13:1-17, 31b-35                         Psalm 116:9-19

On Maundy Thursday, Egeria records, that there are again services all day. At about 4.00pm an announcement is made: “‘Let us meet tonight at seven o’clock in the church on the Eleona. There is a great effort ahead of us tonight!’ Then the bishop makes the Offering and everyone receives Communion. Then everyone hurries home to have a meal, so that as soon as they have finished it, they can go to the church on Eleona which contains the cave which on this very day the Lord visited with the apostles. They read the passages from the Gospel about what the Lord said to his disciples when he sat in the very cave which is in the church (John 13:16-18:1).” The people then continue praying all night.

What we do today

This is the start of what is known as the Paschal Triduum, worship which begins this night and doesn’t finish until the blessing at the end of the service on Easter morning. We gather in Flax Bourton church at 8.00pm for a service where we hear the Gospel reading about Jesus at the Last Supper washing his disciples feet and giving them the new commandment to love one another. One of our ministers then washes the feet of members of the congregation (who wish to do this), a sign of our taking on board the humility and servanthood of Christ.

We then celebrate Holy Communion together, remembering that first time, with Jesus in the upper room offering his body and blood to his disciples as a sign that he is about to give up his life out of love for us all.

After we have received the bread and wine together the    service does not end. Instead the lights go out, all the communion ware and altar linen is stripped from the building and we hear the Gospel reading about Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane with his worn out disciples. Those who want to leave quietly. The rest remain watching and praying until midnight.

The high altar will have been decorated with spring flowers as a reminder of the garden where Jesus went with his disciples to pray. The traditional name for this is ‘an altar of repose’. As we leave the church any consecrated bread and wine is removed from the building, a symbol of the emptiness of the world on Good Friday when Jesus had died.

Crown of thorns 2

GOOD FRIDAY

Read:       John 18:1-19:42                          Psalm 22:1-11

Egeria’s report for Good Friday is the longest section of her description of the Great Week in Jerusalem. The people, who have been praying all night, move to each of the places   mentioned in the Gospels where Jesus prayed and spoke with his disciples before his arrest. Because they are all very tired from praying and fasting through the night they move around Gethsemane carefully looking after each other. By the time they hear the Gospel reading of the Lord’s arrest everyone is groaning and weeping loudly. Next, they walk to the city,  arriving as daylight allows them to recognise each other. On this day no one breaks their vigil, everyone gathering at the place of the Cross, where they hear the Gospel reading about Jesus being led before Pilate. “The bishop’s chair is placed on Golgotha behind the Cross, where he now stands and takes his seat. A table is place before him with a cloth on it, the deacons stand round and there is brought to him a gold and silver box containing the holy Wood of the Cross. It is opened, and the Wood of the Cross and the Title are taken out and placed on the table.”

The Wood of the Cross and the Title are parts of the relics of the Crucifixion found by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, some fifty years earlier. The faithful are encouraged to come forward and kiss the Wood on the table. From noon until 3.00pm there are readings about all the things that Jesus suffered. “It is impressive to see the way all the people are moved by these readings, and how they mourn.”

The readings finish with the verse from John’s Gospel when Jesus says “‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” The people are dismissed, but many stay right through the night reading the passages about Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for Jesus’s body and then laying it in a newly cut tomb.

What we do today

In the morning, at 10.00am, in Flax Bourton church there is an opportunity for young children to explore, as gently as possible, the story of Jesus’ journey to the Cross. This is in direct line with the worship of Egeria’s time where every person, young or old, participated equally in the events of the Great Week.

At 2.00pm we gather in the Court Chapel of Barrow Gurney church for a simple service of readings, prayers and meditations centred around a set of responses traditionally known as ‘The Reproaches’. Our focus is the Cross, an image of which stands before us, on the wall behind the Court Chapel altar. In question and answer form the Reproaches articulate our responses to Christ’s sacrifice while meditations help us to contemplate the seriousness of his action as well as ours.

Lent 2

HOLY SATURDAY

Read:       Matthew 27:57-66                     Psalm 31:1-5

Egeria talks a great deal less about worship on Holy Saturday and Easter Day. This is partly because she only describes  ritual that is different from that of her home church. It also needs to be remembered that the new day started at sunset. So, when Egeria tells us that in Jerusalem they stop keeping Saturday at three because they are preparing for the Paschal vigil in the Great Church, then the day is only ending a few hours earlier than usual.

Holy Saturday was the one day of the year when the Eucharist was not celebrated. Instead the Paschal, or Easter, vigil began at 4.00pm. The tradition at this time was for all baptisms to   occur at Easter. The candidates would finish their schooling, listening along with the rest of the congregation to the vigil readings, drawn from across the Bible, that tell the whole story of God’s continuing engagement with creation. Then they would be baptised by the bishop and receive their first Communion. They would remain watching while the rest of the congregation went home. Everyone would then gather together to celebrate the Eucharist again at dawn.

In essence Holy Saturday is an empty time, a bereavement, when we are processing the events of Good Friday while waiting for what is going to happen next.

What we do today

We gather at Barrow Gurney Church at 8.00pm, as dark is falling, taking us back to the early Church and Jewish  pattern of the new day beginning after sunset. There are no lights on in church except those to read by. A selection from the set vigil readings, psalms and prayers is read. The congregation then gathers outside around a bonfire. This is the ‘New Fire’, the introductory rite in a ceremony first   documented in the sixteenth century, which brings a new large candle – the Paschal or Easter Candle – into church. As we bring this candle through the church we recognise it as a symbol of Christ, the Light of the world, resurrected and coming back into this world. Light spreads through the church flowing from the one candle, hymns are sung and a great joyous noise is made with bells. In remembrance of the early Church’s practice we then gather round the font and renew the vows we made at our baptisms, after which we are sent out with a reminder that the service is only half over and that we are to gather again for our Easter Holy Communion in the morning.

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EASTER SUNDAY

Read:       Matthew 28:1-10                      Psalm 118:14-24

For Egeria the vigil on Holy Saturday and the Eucharist on Easter Day were all of one piece, with worship continuing right through the night until that first Eucharist at dawn. Later the newly baptised were taken up the Mount of Olives for special instruction and services. These occurred right through Easter Week and there were special services and celebrations for the whole period of Easter time, the fifty days that run from Easter Day to Pentecost. This was the only season when there was no fasting at all.

What we do today

We gather at Barrow Gurney church for 10.00am to celebrate with joy the resurrection of Jesus. The Paschal Candle is lit, ‘alleluias’ are sung, we hear how the disciples discovered that Jesus is risen, we share Holy Communion together and celebrate both the new life that Jesus brings us and also the fresh hope that comes with the Spring.

That Easter hope is our theme for our worship over the next fifty days: ‘alleluias’ continue to be sung and we step out in the Light of Christ with joy in our hearts.

Easter 10

Some Candy Talking

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Back in the mid-80s I crept into an AKC lecture in King’s College where a professor of music was discussing the contemporary forms of pop and indie. He cued up a track by the Jesus and Mary Chain – the fuzz of feedback distortion screaming round the lecture theatre. Then he played the same song in a stripped back (Peel Sessions?) version. His comment was that if you took out all the noise these cheeky Scots lads actually made some dem fine songs.

But it was the feedback that made the Mary Chain such an energising and exciting force. Of course, noise annoys, and they weren’t really doing anything that hadn’t been tried before, yet there was something about the frenetic pace and the tangled, lovely, sometimes pained, druggy, occasionally erotic lyrics sweeping through the sound, coupled with the don’t care attitude of the Reid brothers that created a fresh form of indie with real bite. A few years later Neil Young, at the prompting of Sonic Youth, would release a whole album of feedback, and SY themselves would use bent and distorted noise in artful and innovative ways along with complicated tunings and a whole barrel load of effects straight out of the contemporary classical larder. The Mary Chain were more basic, their noise was more elemental, more tenement concrete than art school pasteboard.

Some twenty-seven years ago I forewent a Mary Chain gig in Brum – can’t remember why – and since then have been miffed that I had missed out on one of their legendary twenty minute sets. Since then Psychocandy, has consistently been in my list of top debut albums – I love it to bits, know the lyrics inside out and, along with Darklands, Automatic, Honey’s Dead and the great B sides album Barbed Wire Kisses, it has been a perennial source of endless enjoyment. The Mary Chain make music that gives me energy, lifts my heart and gets me moving. For all the darkness of their lyrics, their onstage persona and their album sleeves, they always came across as a band imbued with an impish playfulness, which came to the fore in their gloriously arch covers of Can’s ‘Mushroom’ and Bo Diddley’s snake-eyed ‘Who do you love?’.

The Mary Chain have invaded my sleep – dreaming that I stumbled out onto the stage of a Sex Pistols gig and start singing Mary Chain songs (or was it the other way round?). Maybe my subconscious links those two bands through the transgressive aspects of their names, or their strutting anti-establishment arrogance. Yes, at times, as a Christian, I’ve found the name annoying, a touch embarrassing. Still, many of their lyrics have slipped into my writing, sermons, poems. Yes, lines like ‘I want to die like Jesus Christ’ are uncomfortable – but so is John Lydon screeching ‘I am an anarchist, I am an anti-Christ’. They are words which provide a challenge, need to be heard in context of the whole song and deconstructed as part of a wider exploration of the big life questions. Sometimes it might be pugnacious but there is a dialogue with the divine streaming along underneath the surface of pop. One of the many bands that the Mary Chain inspired was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who have played the Christian festival Greenbelt. The lines from ‘White Palms’, a song on their debut album, that run ‘Jesus I dare you to come back/Jesus when you go will you come back home?’ are directly addressing Christ – there is a personal conversation going on between the band and Jesus and they are asking an important question. Seeing the state of the world since he left it, why would Jesus come back? If he does then, implicit in the song, it shows an incredible sense of strength and purpose, beyond that of most of us, particularly the singer. Of course, you can put up a traditional theological rebuttal of these verses, but the point is that when it comes to contemporary music God is still in the house.

That’s a digression, a snapshot of how and why the Mary Chain and their ilk matter to me. Music is more than a wig out, a feel-good frenzy, a sing-a-long. It is the passion of life flowing in myriad directions unearthing new streams of thought, possibly, even, (but here’s the part I’m wary of) emotion, fresh ways of seeing, of coming to terms with the unreality of reality and the reality of that which is beyond reality. As such it needs to be opened out, analysed, unpicked as well as felt, immersed in, floated through.

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And so, at last, I get to a Mary Chain gig. Occasionally I notice that a band from my ‘youth’ (was I ever young, have I ever grown up?) is playing locally and I wonder whether seeing them will be simply a nostalgia fest. More than that, will it be a let-down – as waist bands have expanded will the energy, the faith, the passion have dissipated? With Swans, Michael Gira continues to push the boundaries of music, creating sounds that have huge potency and resonance. A Swans gig is always going to be more like liturgy than entertainment – a liminal moment. Primal Scream – the Mary Chain’s direct contemporaries (wasn’t Bobby Gillespie their drummer for a while?) – are creating new music that moves their sound a step further forward, and they are great showmen, orchestrating their sets with a DJ’s precision. The Jesus and Mary Chain have a new album out. It sounds like a Jesus and Mary Chain album heard through a bath of warm, soapy water. Quite pleasing but not memorable, there are no prickly, ‘wow’ moments. Was the gig going to be like that?

Well, no, it was better although, at times, when the new songs were aired, the Bristol O2 was bathed in that warm soapy fuzz. Like me the Reids are older, less angular, possibly more at home in the world. Most of the gig, when the early back catalogue came up to air, was electric, the feedback was screaming and great lines cut through the dry ice. The second song in, ‘April Skies’, gave the first goosebump moment – ‘hand in hand in violent life/making love on the edge of a knife’ is still a powerful description of the precariousness and fierceness of living. There were plenty more as songs from Darklands, Automatic and Honey’s Dead licked and flicked around the stage, lines dripping out with languor and snaky lushness. Then came the Psychocandy tracks  – ‘The Hardest Walk’, ‘Just Like Honey’, ‘You Trip Me Up’, ‘It’s So Hard’, ‘Some Candy Talking’, etc. This was music on a different level. Even though they didn’t seem as fast as I remembered, there was an electricity to their delivery that sparked around the room. The mosh pit was busy with those young enough to still be able to shake a leg. No, this wasn’t 1985, and yes, there was a sing-along element, but those early songs were well worth the lonely bus trip into the city. Nostalgia won out – the new material, only released days before, hasn’t the fire, or the subtle dark romanticism of the early songs – and there wasn’t the political acuity of Lydon or the sheer damn genius of Gira, but it was a good night with some high moments and I’m glad that, at last I’ve made the trip from A to B to C.

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