The Holy Spirit: The Presence of Divine Love

The Holy Spirit, though at the centre of our faith, is perhaps the least talked about aspect of our belief and worship. Every prayer, every blessing, every mass, the Holy Spirit is invoked or mentioned, just before we move on to talk about Jesus. This is perhaps not all bad. Jesus himself said that he was going to send the Spirit who would 'bear witness to me ... He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you' (John 15.26; 16.14). […]

Easter series -- “God is gone up with a merry noise”

When I first arrived at the Chapel where I now serve as Chaplain, I was somewhat dismayed to find it dominated by this image of the Ascension. Not that this image, populated by angels rather than the more conventional baffled disciples, is instantly recognizable as a depiction of the Ascension. That in itself is oddly appropriate, since this key episode in the Christian story is prone to being confused or conflated with others. […]

Easter series -- “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

Religion is once again a fashionable subject, at least as far as the media is concerned. It is not surprising to find religion close to our front pages or featured early in our news programmes. Theology, on the other hand, is less and less fashionable; something we hope the School of Theology will address. What I mean by distinguishing religion and theology here is that the media’s current love affair with religion is a love affair on their own terms: religion needs to be juicy, controversial, full of soundbites. It mustn’t ask difficult questions […]

Do you watch Call the Midwife? I’m sure you know it features the same order of nuns who now live in this parish. In a favourite scene of mine, the redoubtable Sister Evangelina chides nurse Miller for buying dolly mixtures for the children. “Barley Sugar twists I said! Take all the jujubes out of there. They're everyone's favourite, and we don't want a riot on our hands.” Older and wiser, she understands that a sweet is a treat. A choice is a recipe for dissatisfaction. [...]

Each of the constituent countries of the British Isles has a patron saint. Scotland has an Apostle, St Andrew; Ireland has St Patrick who though a Roman Britain certainly evangelised in Ireland or at least the north part of it; Wales has in St David one of the very many insular saints of whom there are plenty in every part of our islands. England, however, has opted for an eastern warrior  saint, from the Byzantine world who, in all probability, never existed and  whose legend owes much to a pagan legendary hero of  uncertain credentials. [...]

In a strange way, the events of the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are much easier to wrap our minds around than the events of Easter morning. We can picture the disciples on Maundy Thursday breaking bread with Jesus, we can picture Jesus, a towel wrapped around his waist, washing their feet, we can picture Good Friday with the crown of thorns and the crowds, we can picture the cross and the nails, we can picture the spear, and the dead body, and the tomb. [...]

The gospel stories of the first Easter Sunday morning and the following days have a stark simplicity about them. Although each gospel writer gives an account with a slightly different emphasis and intention, none of them dress the story up with pageantry or high dramatics. There is no attempt to cover up the fear and frailty of the disciples. Nor is there any attempt to explain what happened.  Their message is essentially that of Mary, “We have seen the Lord”. [...]

Today is a day of great celebration. But why? We’re remembering a rather fantastical event that happened, or which is alleged to have happened, almost two thousand years ago. How can that still be good news? How can this man’s coming back to life still be of interest today? Let’s start back at that first Easter, and the experiences of three people. [...]

Crowds are important in Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, as we recall Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem we carry our palms to remind us of the crowds who welcomed him into the Holy City, with blessings, prayers and shouts of praise. On Maundy Thursday, when we strip the church and leave in silence, we become those crowds of people who have now abandoned Jesus to his fate and leave him entirely alone.  [...]

This is a hard text. Jephthah was an illegitimate child of Gilead, and ostracised from his family and lived away from the people. But he was a valiant warrior, and Israel was in trouble. So the elders of Gilead went to Jephthah and asked him to lead them. He does so reluctantly, and leads Israel into battle against the Ammonites who were coming against them. Going into battle, he makes a vow to God that if he has victory and returns safely home the first thing that comes out of his house he will consecrate to God and make of it a burnt offering. [...]

Deborah; Gideon; Samson; and Jephthah next week: the stories of the judges of pre-monarchic Israel are tales of sex and death, violence and debauchery. The judges themselves are morally ambiguous and not irregularly foolish, which is putting things kindly in some cases. Delilah is, of course, not a judge. It is not clear what she is, except to say that without her, Samson would hardly have a story. She is unmistakably the active participant in their relationship, driving the narrative forward with admittedly gender stereotyped activities [...]

Kate Summerscale’s excellent book, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, is based upon an horrific  incident in mid-Victorian England called The Road Hill House Murder. Those studying the mystery are not usually aware of its theological significance.  [...]

In comparison with the other Old Testament Judges, it’s easy not to take Samson very seriously. He is no military leader and hardly a willing deliverer of Israel. Instead he is a brawny, brawling, amoral adventurer. A swaggering, audacious Lothario with a penchant for Philistine women. [...]

Which of you, intending to build an out-house, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Well, of course. Prudence is a very British virtue. And which of you, if you were sent down to a riverbank to drink, wouldn’t kneel, and make a cup of your hands, and lift them to your mouth? Well, of course. Decorum is a very British thing, too. [...]

The Book of Judges describes a period long in Israel’s past, which acts as a bridge between the narratives of Exodus and the conquest and settlement of Canaan on the one hand, and the history of the monarchies of ancient Israel and Judah on the other. There are twelve characters in the book who, we are told, judged Israel, most of whose names we would not now recall, but a few of whom – Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Jephthah – live more easily in our memories because of the stories and songs associated with them. [...]

The Eucharist is the Christian story acted out in miniature. The offering of the sinless Son of God for the sinful children of men is not a past event, if by past we mean something over and gone. The incarnate humanity of Christ, offered, sacrificed, risen and ascended, is always part of the Godhead. It is real humanity drawn up into God and eternally representing humanity to God.  [...]