Bradwell Papers 9

Spring 2003

I am pleased to offer another edition of our modest theological journal and hope that you will find it a helpful contribution to our Diocesan life and Christian reflection.

Bishop John Perry, in one of his farewell addresses, drew our attention to a survey which was done amidst the very elderly. They were asked what, if they could have their time over again, they would do differently. The replies were fascinating. First, they would have risked more, second, they would have invested more - more of themselves in the opportunities of life - and lastly, they would have reflected more.

I cannot think of three more interesting pieces of advice from those who have gained the wisdom of the years. We too, in our several and various ministries, would do well to follow that third directive and spend a little more time reflecting upon the deeper meanings of our experience. To that end, this edition of the Bradwell Papers takes on a more contemplative style and takes us through some of the major festivals of the Christian year, with first, a meditation on Good Friday from one of our senior Area Deans. There follows a sermon which I heard preached in the chapel of Burford Priory near Oxford on the Feast of Corpus Christi last year and which struck a chord with me. I hope you too find that insightful, as too the short piece by Martin Edwards, the husband of one of our priests. Finally, two of our chaplains share some thoughts - Carla Hampton, a hospital chaplain, meditates on Conflict; and Ivor Moody, a university chaplain, offers a paper on liturgy with endings in mind.

I am always pleased to receive articles and snippets for future editions, and I hope this offering will encourage you to send yours to me, although you will understand that there is not always room to print everything. Enjoy the read!

With best wishes to all.

+ Laurie Bradwell

Contents

It Is Finished, a meditation on Good Friday by Robin Eastoe

Corpus Christi, a sermon by Sister Mary of Burford Priory

A Seasonal Reflection on Christmas, Martin Edwards

Conflict, a retreat meditation by Carla Hampton

Beginnings and Endings ... Creating Liturgies for our Spaces and Times, Ivor Moody

It Is Finished - A Good Friday Meditation

The Rev'd Robin Eastoe

It is finished. The shrill sound of hammer on nail, the shrieking sound of crucified men in agony, the gasping sound of dying men fighting to force breath into their lungs, the eerie sound of the living mocking the dying - all are finished. The Pharisees smirk, the soldiers shrug, the women weep, John stares ahead - it is finished. Jesus' naked body hangs limp and lifeless, his eyes glazed, the crown of thorns slips to the ground, on his side the blood begins to dry - it is finished.

Above him reads the charge - Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. This is how a king dies, alone, mocked, naked, crowned with thorns - it is finished.

Finished are the parables of love, life and forgiveness. Finished are the miracles of straightened limbs, of seeing eyes, of minds restored to wholeness. Finished are the conflicts with Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. Finished are the constant travels up and down the country, the days of peace on Galilee, the terrible journey south to Jerusalem. All is finished.

John stands and stares with eyes made sightless by tears and grief. Finished are his dreams of a place of honour in the kingdom, finished are his hopes that the poor and meek would inherit the earth, finished is his close companionship with the Master. Finished, gone, destroyed are all that has so thrilled him these past three years in Jesus' company.

John finally moves from where he has stood since the cross was raised. He looks for Mary, whom he will now regard as his mother, bequeathed him by Jesus with one of his few words from the cross. Mother and disciple stand together in silence, both alone with their memories. Memories are all that is left once it is finished forever.

John remembers standing by the sea of Galilee. He remembers the sunshine, the light but welcome breeze, the smell of water and fish. He remembers the sight of Jesus coming striding towards him with Peter and Andrew in tow. He remembers the excitement that he always felt at that time when Jesus came near; then the deep sound of his voice, Come Follow me! He remembers how he dropped the nets, pushed James into line and marched behind Jesus, following him and delighted to do so. The hope in his heart, the delight in his face, the gleam in his eyes - all now finished.

Mary too remembers; she is remembering how she took his tiny body in her arms in a cave in Bethlehem, the smell of the cattle, the sound of the people all around, the tingling and aching of her own body after childbirth. The deep thrill of holding him, feeling him breathe, hearing his cry and feeling him suck at her breast. She remembers cleaning him as best she could, looking into his eyes, knowing how special he is. Now she looks again up at the cross, up at him. She knows that if she waits here long enough the soldiers will cut him down, drag the nails out of the wood and cast his body down on the ground. Then one last time she can hold him again, one last time she can enfold him with her arms and with her love, one last time wipe his face clean and then close his eyes for ever. It is finished.

It could have been so different. The crowds that followed him, the laughter that surrounded him, the authority that sprang from him; his words of hope, his miracles of love, the confident way he confounded the Pharisees; his march down to Jerusalem, the shouts of hosanna, the acclaim of the huge crowds in the city - all these spoke of triumph and victory, not of defeat and death.

It could have been so different, but of course it never is. What good are hope, love and peace when faced by the Romans, the Chief priests the Pharisees. How can there be triumph if Pilate decrees otherwise, if Caiaphas plots against you, if the council decide to block you. The meek will never inherit the earth if the earth is ruled by the Romans, the chief priests and the Pharisees. The earth is inherited by those with the most swords, the quickest thrusts of the knife, the best information and spies. In a few hours dreams are smashed, hopes are dashed and love turns sour. Just twelve hours between arrest and crucifixion. From hero of the crowds to executed criminal in less than a day. When authority is against you, you can be crushed in an instant. It is finished.

The soldiers climb the ladder and pull the nails out of the wood. They throw Jesus' body roughly onto the floor. Mary and John rush forward. The soldiers laugh harshly. Mary cradles the body of her son. One last time to hold him, one last time to enfold him with her arms and her love. John lays a gentle hand on her shoulder.

Mary and John cry, and then howl and wail. They cry for the waste of young life, for the dashing of hopes, for the helplessness of the poor and powerless. They cry for the Gospel of love, brutally cut short by hatred. Unknowingly, they cry for others also; for Janet whose son dies at 30 from drug addiction; for Ahmed whose family are all killed by a bomb which lands on their home while he is out; for Jose, tortured and beaten for weeks before being brutally killed and left by the roadside; for Josiah, forced at the age of ten to be a soldier, forced into uniform and trained to kill and to maim and to hate; for Anna, whose legs have been blown off by a landmine. All these too have a place at the foot of the cross this Friday. Mary and John weep for so many victims, the weak victimised by the strong, the powerless by the powerful, the lowly by the mighty. This is how life shakes out in the end; the mighty oppressing the lowly, those who always have cause to smile and be comfortable, those who always have cause to cry and to stare into blackness.

Mary the mother one more time cradles the dead Jesus as she cradled the baby Jesus - tenderly and with love. 'A sword shall pierce your own heart also' Simeon said once, and how true his words have been. This is exactly how she feels, as if a sword is being thrust into her heart and twisted round again and again. Simeon also said 'he is to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in the land, a light to enlighten the nations and to be the glory of the Israel.' No glory here as she holds him, no light for the nations, but is there a way Simeon could be right about this too? She remembers back further, the message of the angel, so full of hope and confidence. Are the plans of the Almighty to be frustrated by Pilate? Mary wonders. Maybe God will yet speak.

John stands silently. He too remembers. Remembers when he knelt upon the mountain and saw Jesus shining white with glory, talking to Moses and Elijah. They, long dead, were alive on that mountain. And he remembers how as they came down from that mountain, full of wonder and awe, Jesus began to speak about his rejection, suffering and death. The Son of Man must suffer much, and will rise again. John looks at Jesus now - will he rise again, or is it finished? He remembers how Jesus would talk in riddles - destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it - this temple, the temple of his body, has been ruthlessly destroyed. How can it be rebuilt, it is finished. John looks again at Jesus. Maybe God will yet speak.

Janet, Ahmed, Jose, Josiah and Anna all in their way stand by the cross with Mary and John. They too say, maybe God will yet speak. Maybe he will speak through people who will refuse to be cowed by evil, who will have no share in hatred, who refuse to be defined by their own sin. Maybe God will speak to Janet, Ahmed, Jose, Josiah and Anna in words of compassion formed in the mouths and actions of people who, even at the foot of the cross, refuse to believe that evil overcomes love, and that compassion is wasted and gentleness is weakness. Maybe God will yet speak through us.

Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and a few others arrive. There is some urgency now, it is beginning to get dark, and Jesus must be buried before sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath. For the first time John notices that the soldiers have gone. They take Jesus' body and tenderly but with due speed do the best they can to prepare him for burial. They place him lovingly in the tomb. Mary reaches down and closes his eyes. They place the towel over his face. Nicodemus nods sadly; it is finished. The heavy stone is heaved across. May he rest in peace.

They go back to Jerusalem and the return to the city takes them by Calvary again. A woman stands by the three crosses, weeping and shaking with grief. Mary and John know who she is. She is the mother of one of the criminals crucified with Jesus. There is no one to bury him, and his body lies on the ground where it will rot or be picked over by scavengers, the birds of the air and the wild animals of the hills. Mary goes up to her and the two mothers hold each other and cry together, mothers united in shared pain. They have both seen their firstborn die. John lays a gentle hand on a shoulder of each woman. He searches for some words to say, but finds none. Finally he just says what is in his heart. 'Maybe', he says, ' maybe God will yet speak.'

Back to contents

A Sermon for Corpus Christi - Thanksgiving for the Eucharist

Preached at Burford Priory by Sister Mary

Isn't it hard to receive a gift which you're not really thankful for? You might pretend to be, out of social politeness, but it's difficult. Today, as every day, in this (Communion) service we thank God for Christ's sacrificial death which was a disaster politically, appalling physically, and apparently unjust morally. For some of us, at least sometimes, that Sacrifice can be very hard to be thankful for.

Today, as every year, we thank God for giving us the Eucharist all through Christian history. In the gospel, when Jesus said, "I am the bread of life - if you eat this bread you'll live for ever, indeed the bread that I (underlined) will give is my flesh", they responded not with thanks but with grumbling and arguments, and they were downright offended at him. "This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?" I know how they felt! I truly want to be thankful, not argumentative or offended. But how can I be, if I'm not?

I've been wresting with these two concepts of Sacrifice and Eucharist for a long time. Recently I've been ploughing through Leviticus and some commentaries on it, with its descriptions of the ancient Israelite sacrificial systems. It's been some help, but an accident I had during one of my weeks as cook was a lot more helpful! I was making a cheesecake. I was combining two recipes, so perhaps I wasn't reading either quite as carefully as I should have. That's my excuse anyway. One of the recipes was for the sort of cheesecake you don't have to bake. I whacked up all the ingredients for both recipes, ended up with a truly delicious looking cheesecake, put it in the fridge and went off thinking, "Well at least I've got dessert sorted". But my thoughts kept wandering back to it and suddenly I realised with horror that one of the ingredients, from the to-be-baked recipe, was egg. And, as our recent food hygiene course has stressed repeatedly, all dishes with egg in them must be cooked. Otherwise salmonella will rule - definitely not OK. What was I to do? All those lovely, perfectly good, ingredients were now, possibly, salmonella-contaminated. Eventually I decided, reluctantly, that the whole thing would have to be sacrificed. Putting that cheesecake in the bin was one of the hardest things I've done in a long time. But it did give me a clue to what Christ's sacrifice might mean. He totally identified with us, was as mixed up with us as all the other cheesecake ingredients were with the eggs. And he was contaminated by us, by our human failures, imperfections, selfishness, downsides. And just as the whole cheesecake - the perfectly good bits and the dodgy bits - had to go, so Jesus the perfectly good human being had to die with us in all our dodginess. Not just or mainly because of the Jews and their religious bigotry, or because of the Romans in their brutality; or even because of Judas's betrayal. But because he was human. All human beings die, or as St Paul puts it, "The wages of sin is death". Sin kills every human being, even Jesus. Jesus died with us, not as a substitute for us but as one of us, as a fellow member of the human race. His resurrection shows that human death isn't the end, but the way through to God. But we all still have to die and his death shows us how to die, how to accept death, how to hope for life beyond it and how we can be reconciled to God now, and live now, before as well as after it. So his death isn't a substitutionary sacrifice, it's a reconciling, conciliatory one. And that's a Sacrifice I find I can be truly thankful for.

Well, the cheesecake got me a bit further towards understanding Christ's Sacrifice, and being truly thankful for it. But that was only half the story. The other half was wanting to be truly thankful for the Eucharist which speaks of it, which is what we're supposed to be being today. I have particular difficulty with what we're told are Jesus's words, "This is my body - do this in remembrance of me." The cheesecake hasn't been much help here. But this is where my Leviticus reading has come in. It's helped me to hear that difficult verse in a new way: "This (bread) is my body (my sacrifice) on your behalf. Do this (break and eat the loaf) as my memorial." It's memorial not remembrance. Those words "my memorial" were used in the Corpus Christi collect which began this service. "Thank you that in this wonderful sacrament you have given us the memorial of your passion." What does "memorial" mean in this context? To us it sounds more or less synonymous with "remembrance", but to Jesus's original hearers it would have meant something rather different - not an aide-memoire, like a monument or a remembrance ceremony, but actually a part of the whole sacrificial rite.

The rules and regulations for sacrifice in Leviticus make it pretty clear that all ancient Israelite sacrifices were 2-part affairs. Part one was the actual slaughtering of the animal. The worshippers, or the priest on their behalf, laid hands on the animal to identify with it and, so to speak, transferred their sinfulness on to it. Then it died and its blood was poured out in a very obvious way as a kind of visual aid that the death which always results from sin had taken place, the sin had been paid for and so the sinners could be and had been reconciled to God. So part one was a conciliatory sacrifice. Then came part two, the Eucharistic sacrifice or memorial. This didn't involve a messy bloody death, but an offering of fine flour and oil, or actual loaves, together with sweet-smelling incense. It expressed the worshippers' thanks for the reconciliation that had just been made, and their offering of themselves to God in self-sacrificing love and obedient service, and their prayer that God would remember them and give them the strength to go on and live in the light of this renewed relationship. So part two is "the memorial". It would of course remind you of your sin and of the animal's death in your place, but its main purpose was to remind God of your repentance and your renewed devotion. That's what Jesus meant by "Do this as my memorial". Not so much "You remember me" but "Ask God to remember me and us (because I'm part of you) and our self-sacrifice, and ask God to give us the strength to live it in practice."

Jesus stands with us in making this memorial sacrifice. He prays it with us, as us. Incredible as it may seem, he, the already-perfected human being, has experienced and knows what it is to be forgiven, to be reconciled to God, to need God's strength to go on. In our Eucharist, Jesus prays our cry of mercy and our prayer of thanks. That's an understanding of Eucharist that I find I can be truly thankful for.

So the cheesecake has shown me Sacrifice, and Leviticus has shown me Eucharist, not now as problems but as gifts for which I can be truly thankful. And that helps me to pray from my heart, "Thank you that in this wonderful sacrament you have given us the memorial of your passion." At the end of this service perhaps it will help us all more truly to pray, "Thank you for feeding us with the body, and blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we offer and present to you our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a living sacrifice… to live and work to your praise and glory."

Amen.

Back to contents

Seasonal Reflection on Christmas 2002

Martin Edwards

I wish you all the best that Jesus brings to us and that the living word may be made flesh is our lives at this season of "peace and goodwill to all people on earth!"

This phrase from the angels to the shepherds became particularly important to me this year, more so than any year before. This is so because I had recently come back from a trip to the orphanage I help run in Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Nadu, South India. This trip was to me very much a 'God Event' and a trip of 'contrasts'. Some days I slept at the orphanage with the 255 children (the 'untouchable caste') and one weekend I spent in the company of representatives from some of India's top industrial companies, many from the 'higher caste' families in India, at a sumptuous and lavish birthday banquet (five banquets in all over the whole weekend) of a businessman and entrepreneur friend.

When I slept at the orphanage I noticed, stuck to the wall of my bedroom with sellotape, a page that had been torn from a calendar (March 2002) which had on it the following quotation that had been written by the President of India (who is a Hindu) called Shri Narayanan which was as follows:

'Jesus was actually for the whole world, not just for Christianity, and for all races, and for all people, and his message went into the hearts of all people everywhere'.

When I read this I asked myself why he felt the need to use the word 'actually' - I concluded that he had thought this necessary because in his perception as a Hindu we Christians had taken Jesus and put him exclusively into the 'Christian' box to such an extent that he perceived Jesus as being only for Christians. I think that he is spot on and I see this as a prophetic message to the Church of today and one which the Christian Church needs to respond to by doing as the angels said to the shepherds when they announced the coming of Christ, and present Jesus "to all people on earth".

Since this experience I am passionate about finding ways in which we Christians (or Jesus People as OS Guisness puts it in his new book the 'Long Journey Home' - which is a fantastic read about how the church of today has become really good in talking to itself) that we may be able to dismantle our 'Christian-ness' and put on Christ in a way that is inclusive not exclusive to the rest of the world, so that 'Jesus is actually for the whole world'.

Back to contents

A Retreat Meditation on Conflict

The Revd Carla Hampton, Chaplain, Broomfield Hospital

Why is it that there always seems to be conflict?

In our minds -
should we do this, when we really want to be doing something else?

In our hearts, -
when we want to love, but we find ourselves judging, angry - even hating?

In our daily lives -
can we spare the time to meet someone's needs, when we are rushing around trying to complete the daily tasks - for whom?

In our rest -
when we need nurturing and care, so that we can grow - can we dare leave the caring to others?

In our worship -
when we so often need to sink to our knees in sobs of desperation, but we continue to stand defiantly showing 'we are alright'.

or

When we want to shout out in great joy, but continue to be quiet and 'holy' in the usual way.
Why are we so afraid to let the truth be known?

Lord, you began your life in conflict -
Your mother was not married, although called by God for this special task of giving you life and nurturing you.
Your earthly father nearly abandoned both her and you, until he too accepted the challenge that God set him.

The King was so frightened by your presence, even though you were only a small child, that he had many other children killed in order to get rid of you - but thankfully he did not succeed.

The Kings from the far East followed God's star, but sought the wrong advice from the wrong source - nearly ruining the whole journey - but listened to God's message though the angel.

And yet in all of this, somehow realised that although they were searching for a birth -
yet there would be a death too.

After a while you were taken to the Temple where Simeon and Anna both recognised you for who you were - but why not everyone else?

When you were older you caused your parents great anguish when you remained discussing with the teachers in the Temple.
Mary and Joseph thought you were lost.
They must have been overjoyed to find you and yet upset and angry that you were so thoughtless - in their eyes, but perhaps not so in God's.
You felt 'at home' in your heavenly Father's house and yet went home with your earthly parents to be obedient to your humanity.

When you came to John in the River Jordan, he did not feel he should baptise you - rather you should baptise him.
Your humanity was in conflict with what he saw as your divinity -
And yet through the great light came the dove -
and the words 'This is my beloved Son'.
God brought these two things together - a reconciliation of heaven and earth?

After this had happened you went into the desert -
your 'wilderness experience'- when you were in conflict with the devil, the evil one.
You had to go through that time of losing yourself, facing up to the temptations of this world and finding God's purpose for you.
Did this prepare you for that conflict later on, when you wanted to opt out, but sought God's will yet again?

During your ministry here on earth you were often in conflict with those whose 'earthly authority' tried to compete with God's omnipotence.
You had to resist the temptation of worldly demands to 'prove' who you were by constantly performing 'magic' in public - but gently showed through your teaching and example that 'The Kingdom of God is always near'.

When you took your chosen disciples to the mountain top for the time of transfiguration, you again had to resist their demands to 'make it permanent' and bring them back to the reality of their earthly life, having caught a glimpse of 'The Kingdom'.

On the road back to Jerusalem, you saw the crowds cheering and shouting 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' but I'm sure you knew how this would turn around when the cheers would change to jeers and shouts of 'Crucify him!'.

At that very special meal with your friends you encouraged your betrayer to go and do what he had to do, even though you must have dearly wanted him to stay with you?

And then in the Garden of Gethsemane - the time of agony - the inner conflict, when you, the human being, wanted to stand back, or run away from what was to come, but you, as God's Son, the Divine One, had to face up to it all and cry, “Thy will be done, not mine!”
Then there was the physical conflict - when the armed soldiers were directed to you by a 'kiss'. A kiss that should denote great love, but on this occasion meant betrayal - or could it have been both?
And then following this - the soldier's ear was cut off by your angry disciple and then your instant healing, as if it had never been hurt.

When you were on trial - you resisted the temptation to defend yourself and trusted God.
You took all the abuse on the cross - you made allowances for everyone who caused you pain and forgave them with no conditions.
You even avoided that final temptation of the 'magic' to bring yourself down from the cross, which you surely could have done, had you not had complete faith that God knew what he wanted from you.
But then - there came that terrifying moment when you faced the ultimate conflict between your humanity and divinity when you felt that even God had abandoned you on that cross - but eventually reconciled yourself to him by handing your spirit over to him, for all to see and hear.

Lord, you always seemed to face up to the conflict in your life and grow through it and from it.
Help us to 'follow you,' as you asked of all your disciples. As we journey through our earthly existence, help us to face up to the conflict in our lives, and guided and strengthened by your love, as shown to us in the cross and resurrection, help us to grow nearer and nearer to you, with the hope of the great joy of eternal life with you in your Kingdom - when all conflict will be resolved and peace reigns.

Amen.

Back to contents

Beginnings and Endings ... Creating Liturgies for our Spaces and Times

The Rev'd Ivor Moody, Chaplain, Anglia Polytechnic University, Chelmsford

Liturgy and Postmodernity

There is a strong argument that the task of looking at different liturgies and rites for various beginnings and endings is firmly a postmodern one. For to celebrate a divorce, a leaving home, a new job, an experience of unemployment etc is to place one's faith in the telling of an individual story- that there is no one narrative to which we all subscribe but countless narratives, all having equal worth. Green describes liturgy as that which enables a passage from 'feeling to meaning'; 'We all need to tell our own story in order to make sense of it, to make the links between past and present so that both may connect with the future'. 1

Caution is needed though, because even the desire to create many narratives can itself become a metanarrative. S. J. White in 'Christian Worship and Technological Change' argues that by constantly tinkering with Christian worship the process itself takes on an Enlightenment, machine-like quality. The cannibalisation of numerous prayers, liturgies, readings, songs and much more as parts to put into new liturgical bodies not only insists that 'each liturgical participant must have a clearly defined role and function in order for the “machine” to function properly', but that each component 'must somehow be made to work smoothly and the quality of resulting product must be predictable and (ideally) of uniform quality'. 2

And yet the debate about the liturgical celebration of beginnings and endings encompasses both these points of view. It seems to me that we should be open to the insights of (pre)modernity and postmodernity, but shaped by neither in their entirety.3 A postmodern approach to theology is precisely that which 'should be able to benefit from the insights of all of these cultural patterns in our thinking, employing the advantageous and discarding the disadvantageous elements'. 4, 5

God's story occurs in time and space. The incarnation took place in a stable in Bethlehem in the time of Herod and Quirinius the Roman governors; and so the story of salvation is a reality based on temporal events. This allows us, enables us, to use our own time and space 'to commemorate and experience again those very acts on which salvation is grounded', 6 thereby perhaps enabling us to take of the best that postmodernity can give us - the value of our own stories. In arguing this, White refers to the traditional liturgies of the Church (e.g. Christmas and Easter) which recall and make real for us God's salvation story, but why limit it to those? If the telling of God's story in time and space allows us to count our own times and spaces as important for the telling of our stories - that we have numerous beginnings and endings which have at least the potentiality of pointing us to God's activity and transcendence - then the Gospels are full of time and space encounters which we can equate with our own, and thereby set to worship. The woman at the well in Sychar with her history of broken marriages and her current non-marital relationship; Zacchaeus hiding in a tree with his history of fraud and deception; a woman in the crowd with an issue of blood and a history of pain, tiredness and medical failure.

Liturgy and Community

If celebrating different beginnings and endings allows us to combine the (pre) modern and the postmodern and to take the best from both, then the celebration of such rites is important sociologically and theologically for our place within the community. Celebrating beginnings and endings affirms individual experience and establishes the 'I' as important and worthy of note; but because liturgy demands witness, participation and response, it is not done in a self-centred, egotistical way but as each individual having a role and identity within the community. Indeed Perham suggests that there is a reciprocal relationship here - liturgy can contribute to and enrich community, but community can also demand liturgy. 7 Turner in his book 'The Ritual Process' cites Martin Buber's definition of community as 'the being no longer side by side…..but with one another of a multitude of persons. And this multitude, though it moves towards one goal, yet experiences everywhere a turning to, a dynamic facing of the others, a flowing from 'I' to 'Thou'. 8

This is what makes the celebration of beginnings and endings a Trinitarian exercise and reflection. Just as the Trinity values the work and the identity of each of its persons despite (or is it because of?) their togetherness in love, that symbolism helps people to affirm their own uniqueness whilst feeling that they belong to a wider community. In an article called 'The Trinity and Human Individuality' McFadyen writes: 'It is through the energies of the Spirit that living beings become integrated after a pattern which is oriented towards genuine community as well as individuality, and through which the patterns of common life which incorporate them are shaped in such a way that individuals may be integrated into them without distorting their identities'. 9

Liturgy and Eschatology

It can be argued that it is the action of the Holy Spirit that enables us to combine this pre and postmodern approach for our edification. Newlands says that the Spirit 'is not shackled to the premodern, the modern or the postmodern. Thinking about the Spirit can make available the thought forms of different cultures and periods for fresh development, because it is always a challenge to received norms and conventions'.10 By not being in bondage to history the Holy Spirit is able to bring history to the eschaton - the last days. If when we celebrate our beginnings and endings we are marking those (often crucial) periods of change and transition which progress us as human beings, we are also celebrating the process of looking forward to the time when we will 'understand fully, even as (we) have been fully understood'. 11 The celebration of beginnings and endings becomes then, not just a necessity to help us make sense of the present, but a requirement to take part in a dynamic which is thoroughly eschatological.

This forward moving dynamic however isn't something that is merely encouraged or imposed by the Holy Spirit; nor is it only to be seen as playing its part in the progression of history. Beginnings and endings have a momentum all to themselves and which, if identified and celebrated, persistently draw us on to new experiences and discoveries about ourselves and our place in the world; the 'I' flowing irresistibly to 'Thou'. Ramshaw warns us that there is a danger here however; to concentrate solely on this forward motion is to be tempted to 'mention only the positive, hopeful, forward-looking aspects of change'. 12 An essential part of the dynamic of beginnings and endings is the dialogue between them and to celebrate beginnings and endings is often to create what Ramshaw calls a 'ritual embrace' which holds together loss and hope. 13 In 'Life Cycles' Jan Berry makes this point especially with regard to the oppression and marginalisation women experience in society and the Church; that liturgy and worship, if it is to be effective and liberating, needs to capture not only the painful rhythms of menstruation, sexuality, childbirth, menopause, sickness and dying, but the anger, hurt and rejection often contained within them. 14 McFadyen states: 'The stability of a living structure demands a degree of closure necessary to secure its integrity and independence'. 15

Within this movement between beginnings and endings though, the transition between loss and hope, consternation and contentment, can contain a wilderness period of silence and nothingness. Turner calls this the condition of liminality - a period of waiting where there are no attributes of either the past or what is to come. There is no loss of dynamic here; on the contrary Turner argues that such a period of darkness is essential if 'structural action' is not to become 'arid and mechanical'. Alternatively it is 'structural action' - a new beginning - that transforms what he describes as the 'endless power' of the stature of waiting. 16, 17

Conclusion

My final point has to do with healing and it can act as a kind of summary of the points made in this paper. First, it was argued that the liturgical celebration of beginnings and endings combined and extracted the best from the pre and postmodern traditions, enabling a movement from 'I' to 'Thou'. Such celebrations are to do with healing because 'most hurt and pain, particularly emotional and psychological hurt, emerges in a social context'. 18 Perham points to the fact that this social injury finds corporate, community expression at times of national or international crisis and loss (e.g. the death of Diana, Princess of Wales). He argues for the Prayer Book language of the confession of sin - 'the burden of them is intolerable' 19 as the only language that can cope with emotions that are sometimes aroused and need expression. The Church he says, 'must be able to find the means by which the burden of the intolerable can be worked through liturgically'. 20

Second, it was argued that the liturgical celebration of beginnings and endings is Trinitarian in its practice and outlook, with the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, empowering and leading us through the telling of our stories to discover the people that we are. But David Nicholls warns against the traditional, static view of the Trinity as simply an ideal community. He argues that for the Trinity to be a cogent example for human society there needs to be scope for a plurality and an incoherence - even conflict - between the Divine Persons. He argues for a God of justice and a Son of mercy, and says that in principle mercy and justice are in conflict with each other; and so the Son 'intercedes' for us, making representation to his heavenly Father. 21 We have argued for a dynamic within our rites of passage. Nicholls says of the plurality within the Trinity, 'to speak of God as dynamic may be unsatisfactory but to think of God as static is surely worse'. 22 If there is hurt and reconciliation within the Godhead, then it bodes well for the understanding of pain in our beginnings and endings.

Finally, it was argued that endings and beginnings have to be taken together; it isn't simply a question of new life replacing old but that the old, especially if it was painful or sad, informs the new and helps to transform it. So celebrating these rites of passage have much to do with making sense of our experience, so that when meaning and coherence is threatened and life is shown to be fragile and impermanent because of transition or tragedy, liturgy is there with its language and symbols to help us reason and adjust, and if necessary give us permission to grieve. In short, it stops us going mad.

Notes

  1. Green Robin: Only Connect. DLT 1987 page 17
  2. White S.J.: Christian Worship and Technological Change. Abingdon Press 1994 pages 105, 104.
  3. Any criticism for example of the Church's rigid seven sacraments structure as being too confining of God's grace and power to act, and an impoverished vehicle for awe and wonder must be balanced by the fact that the Latin ritual was all inclusive and took no account of gender, race or disability; for many it remains a vehicle of transcendence to the divine, challenging some of the modern liturgies which seem to deny a sense of the sacramental and the mystical.
  4. Newlands George: Generosity and the Christian Future. SPCK 1997 page 133
  5. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate the vast spaces of our Cathedrals in the light of this debate. Cavernous and anonymous enough to allow people space to walk and therefore reflect their earthly pilgrimage; discreet enough to permit them autonomy and isolation in their thought and reflection; high enough to remind us that all our journey stories find their meaning and reference in God's story. Spires pointing upwards to a truth and meaning yet to be fully revealed- an eschatology yet to be fulfilled. Wide enough to allow postmodern 'activity', high enough to challenge the postmodern ethos.
  6. White J.F.: Introduction to Christian Worship. Abingdon Press 1990 page 53.
  7. Perham Michael: Liturgy Pastoral and Parochial. SPCK 1984 page 217. He cites the burgeoning commuter belt parishes having no communal heart or facilities, where a sense of corporate identity and community most needs to be developed.
  8. Turner Victor: The Ritual Process. Aldine De Gruyter 1995 page 127.
  9. McFadyen Alistair: The Trinity and Human Individuality, from Theology, SPCK, January/February 1992 pages 17-18
  10. Newlands op. cit., page 133
  11. 1 Cor 13v12b (RSV)
  12. Ramshaw Elaine: Ritual and Pastoral Care. Fortress Press 1987 page 32
  13. Ibid page 33
  14. Graham Elaine & Halsey Margaret: Life Cycles: Women and Pastoral Care. SPCK 1993 page 177
  15. McFadyen op. cit., page 17
  16. Turner op.cit., page 139
  17. Ramshaw argues for a rite of blessing to mark this 'liminal' state. She says that a blessing (in the absence of any formal ritual) given at a time of great transition when people find themselves 'between states' can 'root us where we are for now and affirm God's presence from here on out'. Page 61.
  18. Green op.cit., page 15
  19. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer
  20. Perham op.cit., pages 127-128
  21. Rom 8v34, 1 John 2v1.
  22. Nicholls David: Trinity and Conflict, from Theology, SPCK, January/February 1993 pages 23-25.

Possible questions for reflection

  1. Does the celebration of beginnings and endings reflect an incarnational desire of God to be at the centre of human life and experience?
  2. Have we a duty to celebrate our beginnings and endings, because they demand a Spirit led theology which, if discovered and contemplated, can help us to discern God's will for and activity upon us?
  3. How does this state of liminality inform our reading of Jesus' Passion and our understanding of living the Christian life?

Back to contents