Saturday, 16 March 2019

Exploring the meaning of Lent

Drop, Drop Slow Tears: An Exploration of the Meaning of Lent 
For a Lent Quiet Day at St. Giles' Cambridge, 16th March 2019. 
Focus texts: Genesis 1:26-28; Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; John 2:18, 3:16-17, 6. 

We've just come to the end of the first full week of Lent, with about another five weeks to go. We may all know or have a good idea as to what Lent is; especially if we're used to it, or if it's something we or our families have always observed. But what is it really all about? What is the meaning of Lent? 

Lent is a time of commemoration. In most traditions, Lent lasts for forty days and forty nights. This is Biblically founded; Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the desert, when He was being tempted by the Devil. Accounts of Jesus's temptation can be found in the three Synoptic Gospels; Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11, and Luke 4:1-13. Mark's account is relatively brief, but Matthew and Luke offer more detail the three temptations Jesus experienced. The Devil tempted Christ to turn stones into bread; to jump from the Temple to then be caught by angels; and to own all the Kingdom that is set before him. You might also observe that the order of these temptations differs between the accounts of Matthew and Luke; commentaries have all sorts of things to say about this. There isn't an account of Jesus's temptation in the Fourth Gospel; but some scholars, such as Whittaker, have identified parallels to these three temptations in John. I agree with Whittaker; his claim seems to be well-founded. John 6:26-31 makes reference to the temptation of turning stones into bread; Jesus is told to perform a Messianic sign inside the Temple in John 2:18; and there is mention of taking the Kingdom by force in John 6:15. Christ was, being fully human as well as fully divine, tempted just as we can be tempted today. He was like us in every way, although He did not sin. Especially in Lent, we commemorate Christ's resistance to these temptations; and we also aim to imitate Christ in His resistance of temptation as best we can. 

Lent is a time of self-examination and contemplation. We are human beings, and while we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28), we are not perfect. Only God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - is perfect. By the life and example of Christ, by our God-given gift of reason, and with the guidance and assistance of the Church, we are also able to reflect on our own lives, our decisions, our thoughts, words and deeds, and to discern how we can love God and our neighbours more dearly. By doing this, and allowing God to form us in these ways, we can follow Christ more nearly. 

In some traditions, and particularly in Anglican and Roman Catholicism, pilgrims pray the Stations of the Cross during Lent; this allows us to further contemplate and experience something of what Christ Himself experienced for us, because of His great love for us - further evoking a response of love and awe of Him. Additionally, some Christians find it helpful to go to Confession; a particularly personal way of saying sorry to God and being absolved by Him, as well as being a reminder of His infinite mercy and forgiveness, together with helpful advice from the priest as to how we can do better in the future. 

In Lent, Passiontide, Holy Week and at the Easter Triduum (the latter being the sequence of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday), we contemplate the Paschal Mystery. This eventually culminates in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ; three distinct occasions in Jesus's final week of His Incarnate life on the Earth, and yet also each constituting an element of the one, united, perfect salvific event - Jesus's salvific work which opens the gate of life to all. Observing a holy Lent is perhaps one of many ways we can thank God for freely choosing to send His Son to us, to save us from our sins, and to open the gate of life to all. 

Today, many people around the world - Christians and also non-Christians - observe Lent. This often involves giving something up - some traditional examples of things to give up for Lent include meat, fish, alcohol, and various other things. There are also lots of other things people today give up for Lent - like chocolate, social media, and more. What would be a good challenge for you? What might you find hard to give up? Whatever it is, that's probably what you could consider giving up for Lent. It shouldn't necessarily be too difficult a task; I think it is often the intention that matters the most. But it isn't supposed to be too easy either; Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, did not find His temptations easy. Doubtless, after the Devil had finished tempting the Messiah, Jesus will have taken much comfort from the angels who helped Him after the temptations, in Matthew 4:11. But remember - Jesus is the Son of God, and - while we are children of God - we are perhaps not expected to always respond as perfectly as He did, for only God is perfect. It is God who heals us, and God – being omniscient, or all-knowing – knows all that we can and do experience. In good times and in bad; in easy times and in difficult. And that's incredibly comforting! 

For many, Lent can also involve taking something on. For example, by doing more exercise, or spending more time reading the Bible or other Christian literature. Today, more people are doing the Forty Acts of Kindness - a generosity challenge by Stewardship, a UK Christian charity. Many Christians spend more time in prayer, fostering their devotion and relationship with God. A Lenten calendar may be especially helpful for people who would like to draw themselves closer to God again in these ways, and I think such practices over time can help us to be formed more in the ways God wants us to be – and, being open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – allowing God to do that formation even if and when it can sometimes prove too much for us to take on. 

So in Lent, some people give something up; others take something on; and some people do both. What about me? I've given up alcohol for Lent; so for instance when I go out with friends from university, instead of having a pint or two I have a fruit juice or one of those alcohol-free beers or ciders (yes, those are a thing – I don't know how they make them but they're delicious!). I've also taken on extra exercise, as I prepare for the athletics season with my sports team, the Croydon Harriers. What are you doing this Lent? 

Why do we observe Lent today? It is because of our love of God - our response of love to God, who has infinite love for us. We read in John 3:16-17 (one of my favourite Bible passages!) that God so loved the world, that He gave us His Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life. God didn't send His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that through Him, we may be saved. 

And, for me, this is the core meaning of Lent - a time to remember; a time to say sorry; a time to say thank you; and also a time to rejoice (but saving the word “a**e*uia” until Easter!) - that by His stripes, we are healed. It is a time in which we especially thank God for His great love of us; so, let us too thank God by and through love, as best we can. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Jesus's journey to Golgotha: the Stations of the Cross

Jesus's journey to Golgotha: the Stations of the Cross 
For a Catechesis class at St. Michael's Croydon, 28th February 2019. 
Focus: New English Hymnal, Stabat Mater; The Stations of the Cross; Rood, St. Michael's Croydon. 

The Stations of the Cross are a series of fourteen images or depictions of Christ, following His journey from being handed over by Pilate to Christ's burial in the tomb after being crucified. These images are used in devotion by many Christians, in the form of a spiritual pilgrimage both inside and outside the Church building, with prayers and contemplation about what Christ has achieved for us. This devotion is especially practised during Lent and Holy Week. 

Most of these stations are Biblically sourced; however, one that is not is station number six - and I would like to focus on this, and to consider what (if any) impact the station's lack of Biblical foundation may have for the practising Christian. The sixth station remembers how a lady called Veronica, during a beautiful display of adoration at Jesus's passion, wipes the face of Jesus with her towel. Jesus, who is fully human as well as fully divine, is visibly suffering during His journey to Golgotha, and Veronica recognises this and helps Him - which He freely accepts. The towel then became imprinted with the Messiah's face on it, upon Christ handing it back to Veronica. 

But does the fact that this account is not in the Bible affect our understanding or devotion compared with stations that are in the Bible? Should it? To me, in a word, no. Of course, the Holy Bible is God's word - a revelation to us by God, the divine author, through human writers, and as such we should always recognise its authority. But that doesn't take away from the authority of God's revelations to us that are manifest in other ways; two of these other such ways being reason and tradition. While still acknowledging the priority of Scripture, the importance of integrating Scripture, tradition and experience together was first clearly articulated by the sixteenth century Anglican priest Richard Hooker; and his legacies are of great value to us today. 

If we want to be reminded of exactly how Jesus instituted the Eucharist, or of some ways in which we can help the poor (such as feeding the hungry), or loving one another, do we look to the Bible? Of course we do; Jesus teaches us clear guidance on this, seen throughout the Gospels (such as in Matthew 22-25). But what about dealing with climate change and global warming? Yes, we have a duty to look after the world as it's stewards (see Genesis 1-2), but what of the scientific details? And if anyone is unlucky enough to have their bank account or computer hacked, how do we go about solving that by looking at the Holy Bible? Not as easily. 

It is in instances such as these where the Holy Bible sometimes doesn't give us a clear answer to a question or problem. But, be it by direct revelation by Him, or indirectly through others, God still can. God is omniscient; He is all-knowing. He has given us many other methods of discernment - especially through our use of reason, a God-given gift, freely given to us - and which sets us apart as unique when compared to other animals. It is this reason that is used together with the interpretation of Scripture when discerning various teaching and doctrinal aspects of the Christian faith - such as the Church councils, the liturgy of our services if they feature non-Biblical texts, and more. And thus, because of this, the inclusion of the sixth station of the cross is fully correct; while it may not be Biblically sourced (unlike the other stations), it still greatly assists our devotion and contemplation of Christ, what He experienced for us, and how Veronica - and we ourselves - can respond to His love for us, with our love for Him. 

The Rood here at St. Michael's displays a portrayal of Mary the Mother of God and the Beloved Disciple next to Jesus on the cross. They are giving a similar response to Jesus as Veronica does in the sixth station of the cross - a response of adoration, as they gaze upon the peaceful yet powerful Messiah on the cross. This is the response we might ourselves offer to Jesus, as we contemplate His passion while praying the Stations of the Cross – adoration. 

This image is based on the account of Jesus's dialogue with Mary and the beloved disciple in John 19:25-27, where Jesus - moments before his death, in John 19:30 - proclaims Mary is the beloved disciple's mother, and the beloved disciple is her son. Here, Mary - the Queen of Heaven - is dressed in a blue robe, which is frequently how Mary is depicted. The beloved disciple is believed by many to be St. John the Evangelist; the writer of the Fourth Gospel may have inserted himself into the narrative here, a literary technique often practised by eye-witnesses, although scholars are divided on whether this is John the Evangelist doing this here. Again, this is an image of love - the love Jesus shows for us, and also the love that others show for Him - and an invitation for us to love Him fully, too. 

Many of these very moving images and depictions of Christ at His passion are powerfully expressed by the Stabat Mater, a thirteenth century Latin hymn for Good Friday (hymn number 97 in the New English Hymnal, here set to music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries). 

It is a traditional hymn for the Stations of the Cross, which we can see from the first line of verse one "At the cross her Station keeping." It is written in F Major, the key of complaisance and calm according to Schubart. This is highly fitting when we think of Jesus on the cross - once he had died, His suffering was over - He was at a full, perfect peace. He knew exactly where He was going; the last words of Jesus on the cross were "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit" (Luke 23:46), and "It is finished" (John 19:30); and even the cry of dereliction seen in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (where Jesus says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") could be part of a recitation of Psalm 22 - which concludes with joy and celebration at God's saving work. 

A great sense of calmness and peace is evoked by this hymn also by some of the performance directions; it is suggested that the hymn is performed "in moderate time;" that it should progress, but not at all rushed. The events - the event - of the Paschal Mystery ought to be fully contemplated, with nothing risking being overlooked. 

The text of the hymn invites worshippers to engage in an act of devotion, marvelling at the death of Jesus, just as we do when we pray the Stations of the Cross; this is especially true of verses one through five. We do not hear of the Beloved Disciple's response to Jesus's death in this hymn; the focus is firmly on Mary's response. She is "weeping," "bereaved of joy" and "deeply grieved" in verse one, as any mother would be upon losing her child. In verse two, her eyes are fixed on her Son, and in verse three the worshippers are invited to "share" something of the suffering she felt at seeing her son on the cross; this theme is expanded in verse five, when the worshippers sing "May I bear with her my part." 

But death is of course not the end; the resurrection follows. It is important to remember the Paschal Mystery is the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus - three events, yet also all one, perfect salvific event collectively. Verses six and seven, while still speaking of the cross, are more centred on the salvific action of Jesus on the cross, and looking forward ultimately to "Paradise," seen at the conclusion of verse seven. In verse six, Jesus's wounds "heal... enkindle, cleanse, anneal" the worshippers, and we are thus guarded on the judgment day. We are "befriended" by Christ, in verse seven - and into Christ. 

The Stations of the Cross, thus, are a beautiful way of engaging in devotion and adoration of Jesus Christ, particularly during His final hours before and at His death. But what is equally and especially important is what happens after then - our eschatology, our eternal future, has been made certain by His salvific action - the Paschal Mystery, in which Christ died and rose to save us all. Thanks be to God! 

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Consistency, continuity, and God as our Creator & Sustainer

Consistency, continuity, and God as our Creator & Sustainer 

By William Lyon Tupman. Sermon for the Eucharist at Christ Church Chelsea, on February 24th 

2019 (2nd Sunday before Lent) 

Bible readings: Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-end; Psalm 65; Revelation 4; Luke 8:22-25. 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your 

sight, O Lord our strength and redeemer. Amen. Please be seated. 

Good morning everyone! It's wonderful to see you all here at Christ Church Chelsea again. I'm very grateful to Mother Emma, Father Brian and Father John for inviting me back to preach today. For anyone who I haven't yet met, I worshipped and sung in the Choir here while I was studying for a Master's degree in Biblical Studies and Theology at King's College London, last academic year. 

Today, I'd like to focus on the themes of consistency and continuity. As many of you will know, I'm on the journey to hopefully becoming a priest in the Church of England. This is a very exciting journey for me, and it's a time of both discernment and formation. When talking about exploring a vocation to ordained ministry in the Church of England, it is easy to follow the traditional understanding of what discernment and formation is - that you are in the Discernment Process from when you start meeting with your incumbent or chaplain to talk about the possibility of being ordained, until you attend your Bishop's Advisory Panel or BAP (the selection conference I'll be attending in less than three months from now, after which I will learn if I'll be training for the priesthood) - after which, you then start the Formation Process, which sees you through your training at theological college and beyond. 

While this is presented both logically and helpfully by the Church, I think to confine these terms like that may risk being too narrow an interpretation and understanding of them. We are always discerning what God is asking of us; we are always being formed in the ways He wants us to be, in accordance with His will. We are always learning; and we are always making progress, however much or not we may consciously feel that at times. What underpins this, to me, is continuity - something which has been a significant characteristic of my journey in faith, discernment and formation so far. 

Continuity - what is it? It can be something that is unbroken, and it can be something which is consistent; but it still allows for change and progress. Here's an analogy for any car enthusiasts like me here today. Take the Jaguar XJ, as it was produced from 1968 to 2009. While the car was occasionally updated and modernised over time, the core design was left relatively unaltered; if you saw the 1968 and 2009 models stood next to each other, you would doubtless observe their strikingly similar appearances – hence, there is much continuity between them. Most significantly, the same character is still present in both, and in all the models in between. But at the same time, progress had been made over the years - the newer models were more energy efficient; they were faster; they were modernised; and they were better for the environment. But they were still, unmistakably, the Jaguar XJ. (For anyone who's wondering, the car is still produced today, but it was completely redesigned in 2010!)! 

This concept of continuity is something which underpins and characterises much of my journey in the Church so far. I've had a lot of change in my life so far. I was home educated; I'd lost both my parents by the time I was thirteen; I then started school; I lived in two different foster homes; I went to university, and I loved it there so much that I went on and did a Master's; and more. Some of these changes have been, as you can imagine, quite challenging to me, such as my bereavements; whereas other changes have been both positive and exciting, such as pursuing my studies, and meeting more friends. Much change, therefore; but an equal level of continuity, too; if not more. The Church has always been there for me; the Church has always been here for me. In all of my sorrows, and in all of my joys - the Church has, is, and always will be, here for me. And the same is true for each and every one of us. 

Here's some more continuity. I've not moved too far away from Christ Church; as the priests here all know, I now serve as a Lay Pastoral Assistant just a few miles away at St Michael's Church, Croydon - and the parish priest there is good friends with Fr Brian. Moreover, one of the reasons I came to King's to do my Master's was because our director of music, Gareth Wilson, recommended both King's and Christ Church to me, having also been my choir director at Girton College Cambridge where I did my BA. Now how's that for continuity! It is a placement which I love very much, and it is giving me a whole range of different experiences. I work six days a week, mostly serving and being with the community in my Church, but as part of this placement I also volunteer once a week at the chaplaincies of the refugee day centre at West Croydon Baptist Church, I run the chess club at Croydon College, I visit the patients and staff in Croydon University Hospital, and I also currently volunteer once a week at the Croydon Churches Floating Shelter for homeless people, which is currently at Croydon Minster; I'm on the overnight shift there tonight. All in all, and especially at my young age of twenty-four, my placement at St Michael's Croydon is equipping me with many valuable experiences, and a great variety of different aspects of service - both Sacramentally and pastorally - and both inside and outside of the immediate Church setting. I am truly grateful for this. 

And we can see this theme of continuity in today's readings from Scripture, since it is God who is both our Creator and Sustainer. God is continually bringing about His creation, and sustaining us. Psalm 65 is a helpful reminder of God's continual involvement and faithfulness in creation, even when we transgress. He is making and shaping the world as we know it, and brings order about from chaos. This is brilliantly illustrated by Luke in today's Gospel reading, when Jesus – who, being fully divine as well as fully human - calms the storm, and displays authority over the waters, bringing them from chaos into a state of peace and order. In the Hebrew Bible, watery storms are symbolic of chaos - and God conquers them and brings about order, as we can see for example in Genesis 1, and also in Psalms 29, 106 and 107. Jesus doing exactly the same thing in today's Gospel reading is therefore a reassuring reminder that God still brings order where there is chaos. 

In our first reading from Genesis 2 today, we read the Yahwist creation account; the second of two accounts of creation at the start of Genesis (the other one, spanning Genesis 1, being known as the Priestly account). In Genesis 1:26-28, humanity is created and is given "radah" in Hebrew - that is, dominion or stewardship over all the created world and its inhabitants. But there is a very different balance of power in these two words, dominion and stewardship - can both be correct? Are there two different interpretations on offer here? And if so, can both be connected? 

Let's consider the beautiful and majestic description of God in Revelation 4. Can you imagine having the same level of dominion as that? I can't. Both this reading and our first reading suggest that God appoints us to be stewards of the earth; He still has ultimate authority, as the creatures who sing God's praises in Revelation 4 recognise and acknowledge in their worship of Him. Creation is a gift by and from God to us, and we are given ultimate responsibility for looking after it. That's a kind of calling in itself; we all have a responsibility - a vocation - to look after our created world. Do we still have a special, superior ranking in the order of creation? Yes, we do; but this means we have a particular degree of responsibility, in accordance with how God has equipped us more than other created beings. 

The remainder of today's first reading tells us about the creation of Eve; in Genesis 2:18, God states that it is not good for humans to be alone, and thus creates for Adam his wife. Does this suggest that everyone should get married? Are we all called to marry? Some of us are (I feel called to marry when the time comes); while others are not. It is another example of vocation. Let's remember two of the most prominent Church leaders from the New Testament; as far as we know, Peter was called to marry (for Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14-15), while Paul tells us that he remained unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8), presumably for his whole life. 

Sometimes being alone is good - especially if you want to go on a relaxing run, or if you need to finish an essay perilously close to a submission deadline (these being a couple of scenarios I often find myself in!). But I don't think it's good to be permanently alone. And we are not. Marriage is a beautiful and wonderful thing, but of course it isn't the only way of being in company; many of us here will have a network of friends, be it from Church, from work, university, school, college, neighbourhood or otherwise; and those living the religious life in monasteries or convents are unmarried but living together in a community. 

Whatever our vocations are in these areas, God is always with us. He is consistently with us; again, that theme of consistency comes up again, no matter how changeable our lives can sometimes be. God is unchanging, infinite, and eternal. He is omnipresent (that is, present at all times and in all places) and especially when we meet with Him and receive Him in the Sacrament of the Mass. Thus, we are never alone. How comforting! 

Psalm 65 also reminds us of God's forgiveness. Even when our transgressions "overwhelm" us (verse 3), we all still have the assurance of God's forgiveness. If we carried on reading just a bit further beyond our first reading today, we'd see how valuable that is when Adam and Eve sinned by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil! 

This is guaranteed forgiveness, thanks to the salvific work of Christ in His passion, death and resurrection - the Paschal Mystery. It is everlasting, since Christ's one, eternal sacrifice for us is perfect and complete. This forgiveness is, thus, consistent. If we weren't to accept this, we wouldn't be fully appreciative of the scale of what exactly Christ achieved for us on the cross, and in the whole Paschal Mystery - something we will soon contemplate in further detail, as Lent quickly approaches. 

And that's certainly something I'm grateful for! In my journey, sometimes in the past I've felt unworthy to even consider the concept of being called to the priesthood. But I've come to realise that God still counts us all worthy to live the lives we are being called to – and for me, I feel, hope and pray that that is the Anglican priesthood, if it is in accordance with God's will. He will never ask us to do something we cannot do; and even if He does, He will equip us. And not just adequately at that, but fully and beyond fully. He counts us worthy - because, since He has made us worthy, we are worthy. 

We are all on a journey, as we pursue our various callings - our primary, common vocation in Baptism, and any other vocations God is calling us to. A nurse, a doctor, a teacher, a priest – these are just some of the many vocations people can be called to. And, no matter how changeable things may at times be, there is consistency and continuity in our lives - in small ways, in bigger ways, and in perhaps the greatest way possible - that God is always here with us. Let us give thanks for His presence with us now, and in all our lives, especially as we now come to receive Him in the Eucharist. In the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Hymns for Passiontide: "Cheerful He to Suffering Goes?"

Hymns for Passiontide: “Cheerful He to Suffering Goes?” 
By William Lyon Tupman. For a Catechesis class at St. Michael's Croydon, 21st February 2019. 
Focus texts: New English Hymnal, Passiontide hymns; Apostles' Creed; Julian of Norwich, Showings

Hymns, such as “My Song is Love Unknown” by Ireland and Crossman, are a beautiful and important feature of our Christian worship. They allow us to put two of the many gifts God has given us (music and words) to a perfect use – to aid our worship of Him, giving Him glory. How fitting. But hymns are also able to teach us more about aspects of the life of Jesus Christ, His ministry and our theology, and often reiterating Christian orthodoxy over heresy. I will now examine four hymns for Passiontide from the New English Hymnal; if you have access to a copy of the hymnbook, having it to hand now will be very helpful, but otherwise you can find all the words and tunes to these hymns online (including rolling scores on YouTube). 

Hymn 82, "Drop, drop, slow tears," is a well-loved devotional hymn. Being very short (with only three relatively short verses), it is both simple and effective in its devotion to our Lord. 

It is a hymn which emphasises Christ's agony and anguish throughout; all three verses focus on the tears of Christ. Verse one opens with the line "Drop, drop, slow tears". The repeated "drop" comes in a major third higher than the first instance of the word (F to A), immediately fixing the focus on Christ's tears. It seems doubtless that Christ's suffering is the focus, here; the words "tears" in verse one, together with "eyes" in verse two and "floods" in verse three (all occurring at the end of the first line of each verse) are all set to the note C in the soprano part; the highest pitch of note heard in the hymn. 

However, it is not only Christ's passion which is in the spotlight; so is our hope and salvation in Christ. The tonality is firmly settled in F Major (with major keys or chords generally signalling positive emotions in music), which hints at reassurance. Furthermore, this hymn is usually sung slowly and moderately quietly; a real sense of peace is implied. For wider context, the beautiful and peaceful 'Spiegel Im Spiegel' by Arvo Pärt is written in a similar way. And it is indeed peace which equally prevails in this hymn; Christ is the "Prince of Peace" (verse one), and He brings us peace by drowning "all" our "faults and fears" (verse three) - through and with the tears of Christ. 

Hymn 84, "It is a thing most wonderful," is longer and has a more elaborate tune than "Drop, drop, slow tears." The hymn expresses the awe of the worshipper at the love Christ showed us, by how He Himself came to save us from our sins. 

In last term's Catechesis sessions at St Michael's, we explored many aspects of the Incarnation of Christ; this term, we are focusing on the Paschal Mystery (Christ's passion, death and resurrection). This hymn showcases the union of Christ's Incarnation and Passion, as seen in verse one, where we see how "God's own Son should come from heaven, and die to save a child like me". A sense of awe is felt strongly here; E-flat is the highest note heard in each verse, and it is set to the word "Son" in verse one. Yes, it really is God's own dear Son who came from Heaven to save us from our sins. Is it "almost too wonderful to be"? Maybe - but this is the decision God has made for us, to come as God Incarnate to save us from our sins (as the worshipper sings in verse two). The Incarnational words "come from heaven" is creatively word-painted to a falling melodic line in verse one; Christ freely chose to stoop down from Heaven, in order to save us. 

Throughout, this hymn evokes awe at Christ's death because of His love for us, with the worshipper singing of seeing His death in verse three. This is almost like Julian of Norwich, who prayed to suffer so she could experience something of the suffering of Christ, as an act of devotion and love. And this is the key-note of the whole hymn - love. As well as it being written in the key of love and union with God (E-flat Major), love underpins the whole text of the hymn; Christ's love for us in verses one, two and three, and the worshipper's love for Christ in verses four and five. While the love Christ shows for us is still infinitely more than we can possibly express (perhaps symbolised to a degree here by the three-two verse ratio), we still do our best to love Him; the word "love" in verse five is, again, on the highest note of the verse (E-flat). The hymn concludes eschatologically, with the worshipper looking forward to when they see Christ "as thou art" in verse five. 

Hymn 85, "Jesu, meek and lowly," is again emphatic of the love Christ has for us, and of our gratitude at His salvific actions. The suffering of Christ is not as pronounced in this hymn as it was in "Drop, drop, slow tears"; here, the emphasis is more on the salvation won for us by the powerful, triumphant Christ. 

On the surface, it would seem that Christ's meekness is emphasised (in verse one); but this refers more to His character than any notion of Him being weak, and it perhaps also reminds us of His Incarnation (as seen in verse one of "It is a thing most wonderful"). Verse one introduces the crying theme also seen in "Drop, drop, slow tears"; but this is the worshipper's tears here, rather than Christ's. Jesus is predominantly portrayed as being powerful and triumphant in this hymn; He is the "Prince of life and power" in verse two, and our "salvation's tower" who still calls sinners to follow Him - even while He is on the cross. Christ is, here, clearly in control of His passion; just as the Gospels of Luke and John explicitly emphasise (and Mark and Matthew, albeit more implicitly). Indeed, his display of power on the cross inspires the worshipper to bend "low" before the Lord in adoration in verse three - just as we do at Benediction in front of the Blessed Sacrament. 

Christ's passion and suffering is, of course, still remembered in this hymn; His "red wounds streaming... blood" in verse four are a testimony to this. But the wounds stream with "life-blood" which is "gleaming," "flowing" and "bestowing" pardon freely. Thus, the focus remains firmly on the salvation Christ has won for us, His followers, by his death through love for us, uniting us with God. Moreover, the tonality of the hymn maintains this positive focus, again being in E-flat Major - the key of love and union with God. In addition, the eschatological direction of verse six brings the hymn further into the present context; Jesus's salvific actions in the past have guaranteed for us a safe future, and now we may be continually accompanied, guided, directed and protected by our Lord. 

Hymn 93, "Were you there?," is as well known as an anthem as it is a hymn. It is a Spiritual song; in its traditional form, the melody is an American Spiritual designed to be sung in unison throughout, and the words are a Negro Spiritual (the choir version and adapted anthems feature various harmonisations). It is in some ways quite different to the other three hymns seen so far; but it also shares much in common. 

The hymn unmistakably resonates with the Creed, in a way much more so than the other three hymns; yet all four of these hymns promote orthodoxy over heresy. Let us consider how Christ was, as the Apostles' Creed states, "crucified, died and was buried... On the third day He rose again from the dead." In this hymn, Christ was crucified (verse one); Christ died (verses three and four); Christ was buried (verse five); and Christ rose (verse six). 

The way in which the Creed is set here invites us to ask, "do we realise what Christ has done for us?" And also, "do we know what this means for us?" Every verse is composed of one Credal line, repeated once, and using a similar melodic contour but at a higher pitch in its repetition (and once again, like two of the three other examples of Passiontide hymns I've analysed here, it is written in the key of E-flat Major – the key of love and union with God). And each verse – whether being about Christ's crucifixion, death, burial or resurrection - evokes the same response from the worshipper, in the chorus - three-fold trembling (repeated), followed by a further repetition of the content of the verse. To me, this emphasises how Christ's passion, death and resurrection are all parts of Christ's one, complete, eternal and perfect salvific event. 

Together, these hymns for Passiontide show both the suffering and triumph of Christ, in His passion, death and resurrection - the Paschal Mystery – and how we respond in devotion, awe and love. While some hymns may emphasise either the suffering or the glorification of Christ more, the hymns are united - directly or indirectly - in their recognition of Christ's motivation of love for why He performed His salvific actions - and our love for Him. 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Walsingham: my first pilgrimage to England's Nazareth

Reflections on Adoremus – my first pilgrimage to Walsingham 

Just over a couple of months ago, I made my very first visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham - a particularly sacred place in Norfolk affectionately known as England's Nazareth, and where many Christians frequently gather to worship the Lord. Many parishes and other groups make their pilgrimage there, and my first encounter was with Adoremus (a pilgrimage for young adults, aged eighteen to thirty-five). I thoroughly enjoyed my first time at Walsingham, and as soon as our weekend there ended, I found myself looking forward to my next pilgrimage. 
During the weekend, we had a series of workshops where we discussed various aspects of Christian living, vocation, and practising evangelism. As well as finding such a chance to openly discuss the Christian faith with other like-minded people in this way particularly valuable, one of the most significant things I was reminded of was how all Christians have a common vocation in our Baptism. This is then supplemented by our distinct vocations (such as to academia, priesthood, teaching, nursing, foster care, a combination of these, and many more). What a great joy, to be united with Christ and my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ by our common Baptism, as well as in the wide variety of ways in which God's gifts are manifest in us and our lives. 

We spent many hours together in worship, and our first visit to the Holy House is an experience which I will always remember. The stunning altar and statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was most striking to me; no amount of searching for pictures of the Shrine on Google Images could have prepared me for the experience of actually visiting the Shrine and praying there! Some of us returned there the following evening spontaneously to say Evening Prayers together there. The Mass at St. Mary's Parish Church was also very moving, together with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament afterwards. But perhaps my favourite service we all attended was on the Saturday evening - after a beautiful Mass, we received the liturgy of Reconciliation (including the anointing by the priests), and we then prayed for a while afterwards in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Shrine Church. With no time limit, and no need to think of anything else at all at that time, we could easily keep our eyes focused on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) - something we should always aim to do throughout our lives, at all times and in all places, as best as we can. 

On the Saturday afternoon of the pilgrimage, we had some free time. Many walked the Holy Mile to the Slipper Chapel (something I would like to do on my next pilgrimage to Walsingham); others stayed at the Shrine; and some of us went for a nice and relaxing walk by the sea in Wells. I was in the latter group, taking photos of the beautiful seascape as I went. Especially since my first Walsingham pilgrimage, I now often pray when I go to the beach. I'm often in Church when I pray; certainly, I find it especially easy to focus on my prayer when I'm in a magnificent building like St. Michael's Croydon. But I also feel very lucky indeed to be able to pray anywhere - for God created all things, and He is omnipresent (that is, present at all times and in all places). To pray somewhere where the natural beauty of His creation is so powerfully evident, such as at the beach, for me is always a wonderful and moving experience. 

In many ways, the Adoremus weekend felt to me like a retreat. A different context; a different set of surroundings; a different setting. Only the previous weekend, I'd been on a wonderful retreat at Cumberland Lodge (Windsor) with the Chaplaincy of King's College London; again, a weekend of interactive classes and other activities, fellowship and worship, and in a different setting. This was also very helpful to my process of discernment. But I think that while a pilgrimage has all of these characteristics of a retreat, it is also distinct from being a retreat; we make our pilgrimage to a particular place, and - in the case of Walsingham - to a Shrine where Marian apparitions have occurred, and to a place where Christians from all around the country are drawn to see - and drawn to be. 

Over the past couple of months, I've observed the positive impact my first visit to Walsingham has had on my journey in the discernment process, my devotion (especially when praying the Angelus and the Rosary), and my faith as a whole. Together with the experiences of my time so far at St. Michael's, I feel I now have a much greater understanding and appreciation of the person and role of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To take a couple of further examples, I often think of that feeling of awe when I first visited the stunning Holy House in the Anglican Shrine - especially as I say Morning and Evening Prayers in Church. Moreover, whenever I serve at Low Mass, I am usually either near or facing the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham - a comforting daily reminder to me of how a candle is lit in the Shrine Church at Walsingham, where St. Michael's is prayed for there every day, together with many other Churches. 

One of the things I loved the most about the pilgrimage was meeting the community with whom I stayed there; like-minded people, new friends and Church family, and we all had a wonderful time together. In pilgrimage, in worship, in prayer, and of course in fellowship and friendship during our free time at meals and at the pub! I will continue to keep in touch with all those I met there, as we journey onwards together in the Christian faith - and I'm hugely looking forward to my next pilgrimage to Walsingham. 

Friday, 4 January 2019

Jesus: His Parents and our parents

Jesus: His Parents and our Parents 
By William Lyon Tupman. Bible passages used: Mark 9; Matthew 1, 6; John 14, 19, 20; Galatians 3-4. 
Today, on the twentieth anniversary of my late Father's passing, I had a very special experience at Mass. The priest asked me to do the reading - this was Galatians 4:4-7, which speaks of how we are all adopted as God's children, and by His grace and Holy Spirit we cry to him "Abba! Father!" 
This was no coincidence; God had this beautiful moment, during Mass today at St Bartholomew's Church in Brighton, perfectly planned. I somehow managed not to cry (in amazement) while I was doing the reading, when I realised this! God works in beautiful and mysterious ways - and infinitely more than I can describe. 
As many of you will know, both my Father and Mother died young during my childhood. As a consequence, I went in to foster care, for six years. My foster carers, among others, filled in and played the role of my Parents as much as they could, helping me to come to terms with what had happened in my life, helping me to progress along my journey, and helping me to get into the world of university. 

There are many people who are being, or who have been, fostered at some point in their lives - more than one may ordinarily imagine. Jesus assures us that we will not be left as orphans (John 14:18) - and the Messiah Himself needed to be fostered too! God the Father, while sending us His Son into the world so that we may be saved, Himself remained in Heaven - and appointed St. Joseph to be the foster-father of our Lord and Saviour. While Jesus is of course fully divine, He is also fully human - and He was just as needy as you and I during our childhood. Thus, with the Father not being physically present with the Son after His Incarnation at that first Christmas, the chaste St Joseph was commissioned by an angel (Matthew 1:18-25) to become Jesus's foster-father, raising and nurturing the young Lord, together with his wife the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. 

Most of us have, or have had, a "normal" (however one defines that word!) relationship with our parents. But many people haven't; and yet, we still have more than one set of parents. Yes, more than one set of parents! For, in addition to our Godparents and / or Baptismal Sponsors, God Himself is our spiritual Father, together with His representatives on earth. And the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is our spiritual Mother. We are all God's children, for Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 9:7), and since we are all siblings in Christ (Galatians 3:26), we all now share in this beautiful truth. Jesus Himself entrusts us to Mary, and Mary to us, in John 19:26-27. 

After Mass today, Fr David also very kindly gifted me a book on the Wisdom of the Greek Fathers (compiled by Andrew Louth). In it, he wrote a message wishing me well in my ministry in the Church. As well as someday becoming a father to my future offspring, I am so excited to hopefully becoming a father to the flocks God gives me in the Church, providing the Bishop gives me the green light at my selection panel. 

We all have, or have sometime had, our parents - and we all still do, thanks to the grace and salvific action of God. But in addition to our own parents, we may in another sense also look to God Himself as our Father, and the Blessed Virgin Mary as our Mother. God is Jesus's Father and our Father; His God and our God (John 20:17). Let us now pray in the way our Saviour Himself taught us: 

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.

Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Hymns and carols in worship and teaching, the Nicene Creed & the Incarnation

Reflections on the Nicene Creed, Hymns, Carols and the Incarnation 
By William Lyon Tupman. For a Catechesis class at St. Michael's Croydon, 21st November 2018. 
Focus text: Nicene Creed; Come Thou Redeemer; A Great & Mighty Wonder; O Come All Ye Faithful. 
Hymns, carols, anthems, songs and other kinds of Christian music can help to enrich our worship of God; indeed, St. Augustine is widely believed to have once said "To sing is to pray twice." But hymns are also intended to help teach and remind us of some very important Christian doctrines, and in some cases as a response to some heretical strands of theology which conflict with more orthodox Christian doctrines. Let's now take a closer look at three Advent and Christmas carols, examining the theology they teach and what heresies they may be refuting - these carols being Come Thou Redeemer Of The Earth; A Great and Mighty Wonder; and O Come All Ye Faithful. It's best to now have have a copy of the Nicene Creed and the texts of these hymns ready at hand to see, and also access to an audio or visual recording, if possible. 

Come Thou Redeemer of the World was written by St Ambrose, who lived from 340-397 AD. He was an Archbishop of Milan, and was a staunch opponent of Arianism (the heresy which rejects Christ's divine attribute of pre-existence). He has also widely been regarded to be the Father of Western Hymnody; he was responsible for introducing metrical hymns into the liturgy. Perhaps his most famous hymn is the Te Deum – a hymn of praise to God, which has been set to countless musical settings in ancient and modern anthems and hymns. Here at St Michael's, we also pray the Te Deum during the Divine Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) on certain Feast Days and Solemnities. 

The hymn is very theologically sound. The Virgin Birth is emphasises all through from verses one to eight, and the heresy of Arianism is particularly countered in verses five and six, which clearly state that Jesus came from God the Father, is equal to Him, and goes back to Him. To reiterate the refute against Arianism, verse two sets the word "Begotten" on a melisma, for further emphasis - Christ is, as the Nicene Creed states, "Begotten, not made," and the text "the Word of God in flesh arrayed" is set to a descending melodic contour; would that is most appropriate for the Incarnation (using a musical technique called word-painting). Moreover, verse three reminds us of how Mary is the Mother of God, since God now dwells in her womb as His Temple - a title perhaps to clarify the often more frequently heard "Mother of Christ", and therefore emphasising how Christ is fully divine as well as fully human. The loud dynamics of verses six and eight, in addition, reflect and further emphasise some of the most important aspects of St. Ambrose's message - a nice, Credal summary. 

A Great and Mighty Wonder is a carol written by St. Germanus, who lived from 378-448 AD, set to music by the German composer Michael Praetorius, who lived from 1571-1621. This popular hymn, which is often performed at the annual carol service from King's College Cambridge, emphasises the nature of the Virgin birth of Jesus. 

The obedience of Mary is greatly contrasted with the disobedience of Eve, a theme initially bought into the spotlight by St. Ireneaus, Bishop of Lugdunum (now modern-day Lyon); this is particularly evident in verse one (“The Virgin bears the Infant, with virgin-honour pure!”). Moreover, the hymn alludes to both the First and Second Comings of Christ - first, how Christ comes in the flesh at Christmas, by His Incarnation (verse two), and how He will come again at the end of time (verse five) - all in the same hymn. This is highly relevant for our practice as Christians in Advent, a time in which we commemorate and celebrate the first coming of Christ, and also we prepare for and anticipate His second coming. 

O Come All Ye Faithful, is a Christmas carol usually attributed to the English hymn writer John Francis Wade (1711-1786). It is perhaps one of the most well-known and best-loved Christmas carols of all time; indeed, it is sung in Churches, Chapels, Cathedrals and in all kinds of settings every year, and is a perennial favourite. In addition, while it was written long after the heresy of Arianism first surfaced centuries ago, it is one of the most Credal carols we have today, as it sets to counter heresies as they resurfaced. 

The full divinity and full humanity of our Lord is emphasised throughout this carol - and, together with the words of glorification and praise to God, the text of the Nicene Creed features prominently in this carol. This is most clearly evident in the words of verse two, which quotes the Creed verbatim with "God of God, Light of Light... Very God, begotten, not created." This again strongly reiterates the Divine attribute of pre-existence which Christ has, while at the same time also rejecting Arianism. Additionally, with fewer words to set to the music, the notes are held for longer; one could almost imagine the Creed being spelt out in block capital letters in this verse, especially with the melisma clearly emphasising "Very God". Furthermore, in the final verse (which is normally only sung on Christmas Day itself, unless the tense of some of the words are cleverly altered just as the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union do at their carol services!), Jesus is described as the "Word of the Father," set to a striking chord which draws much extra attention to the word it is set to. This clearly demonstrates a high Christological view of Jesus, that identifies Him as the "Word" of Genesis 1 and John 1. 

Hymns and carols, as these three examples demonstrate, are of course here to assist us in our worship and prayer to God – and to sing to Him the praise that is due. But they also reiterate vitally important Christian teachings and understandings, especially in order to maintain orthodoxy over heresy. 

So next time you're singing hymns or carols, perhaps ask yourself the following questions: 
Text: What is the message of this song? 
Music: How does the music express this message? 
Context: What was happening at the time; when and why was the text written?