A labyrinthine Lent

Labyrinths are structures which the pilgrim people use to pray, to wonder, to contemplate.

The pilgrim people called Christians have just entered into their holiest season, that of Lent & Easter. Ash Wednesday is traditionally when Lent begins, but the preparation for Lent occurs the day before, on Shrove Tuesday or pancake day, or carnival. This is the day when all the rich foods in the larder are consumed in a frenzied feast of gluttony before the fast begins. 

I made pancakes for my family, only to have just one at the very end – not much of a feast for the cook! Shrove Tuesday is so-called because it is derived from the old English verb to shrive which means to confess. It was tradition that those who wanted to enter into a holy Lent needed to confess their sins and receive absolution from the Church, the worldly agent of God’s love and forgiveness. Confession was absolutely critical in order to sustain moral standards and provide common endeavours. Lent exposed the impact of sin upon the individual and the community. 

For us today, this talk of sin and all of the customs and traditions associated with it including confession and absolution, might appear to be quite perplexing and confusing. Although it is fascinating to delve into the past and understand how people, the church and society worked, it might well appear less than relevant today.  

Yet how many times have we battled in recent years over divisive moral and ethical issues over vast areas of human life such as abortion, climate change, knife control, Brexit, housing and social care. It seems to me that we are still in need of some sort of mechanism which enables us to say sorry for past mistakes and an opportunity to re-write the script, to make life better not only for ourselves but for others too. Lent is designed to do just that. We are even given tools to help our progress. One of these tools that we will be using at St Michael’s in Summertown is the labyrinth. 

Labyrinths have been used to exercise a form of holiness on these islands even before Christianity washed up here. Labyrinths are structures which the pilgrim people use to pray, to wonder, to contemplate. Ultimately the pilgrim is looking to walk with God. They might look like a maze but they are quite different. Mazes are designed to help you get lost! I remember taking my children to Blenheim Palace when they were quite small. They were desperate to run around in the maze. They wanted to see if they could get out on their own. Rather anxiously, I waited outside while they scrambled around into dead ends, retracing their route until finally they made it out! They would go back time after time trying to record a quicker exit, no doubt flinging people out of their path. 

The labyrinth set up at St Michael’s in readiness for the All Age Eucharist and the Labyrinth Workshop on 7th March starting at 10.30am – people are invited to come at any time during the day.

Labyrinths are different. The pathway is designed to promote stillness and calm. You cannot get lost in a labyrinth, there is no right or wrong way, it only has one path and that path leads to the centre. You can bring anything with you on this pilgrimage – your hopes, fears, questions, hurts, thanksgivings. It is a good exercise to do in Lent because it helps to open the mind and enlarge the heart. Its path is full of purpose and meaning as the pilgrim begins to become aware of their own journey. 

We are going to walk the labyrinth at St Michael’s at our 10am All Age service this Sunday. The children as well as adults will be invited to share this Lenten experience of walking closely with God. We are also inviting anyone who wants to discover more about labyrinths to join us at anytime next Saturday (7th March). The doors will be open from 10.30am. I hope that people do come and experience this ancient pathway. It might help us all realise that we can benefit from ancient traditions and customs. 

My reflection upon walking the labyrinth was that God is not interested in our sin (and for sin I mean the things we do which hurt us as well as others). God is far more invested in our fulfilment, especially our collective fulfilment as a much-cherished created order. God takes our confession and provides us with his forgiveness and peace. So come, bring a friend, take your time and experience the grace and beauty of this pilgrim pathway. 

8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist; 6.30pm Taizé Prayer. Find out more about what’s going on and press this link: https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk

Gavin

Finding wonder in the ordinary


Now that we have crossed the threshold of Candlemas in the church’s pilgrimage through the Christian year, we have arrived in the green of the Ordinary Season. This is Ordinary Season (part 1) because it resumes after the long stretch of Lent, Holy Week and all the weeks after Easter. 

Nature is already working in our church garden.

Being in the ordinary is no bad thing, in fact this ordinariness is the stuff of discipline, vigilance, developing a sacred pattern in the humdrum of life itself. When we look closer at the ordinary we find wonderful things, God-given gifts. Even the colour green of the season gives us a clue about the workings of nature at this time of year. We have already been given the gift of snowdrops and crocuses and budding trees. A whole lot more creative work is being done in the unseen places of the soil, bushes and trees. 


Perhaps we should take this creative process for our sacred learning – to be aware of the growth which is taking place deep, unseen within us, the growth of the Holy Spirit which is waiting to ignite from a creative spark. What might be this spark, what could bring it about? My prayer is that you will discover that spark now in the ordinary where God dwells eternally.

Thor, waiting for the spark. Has it already happened?

I hope to see you at St Michael’s tomorrow. Make sure you wear weatherproof clothing, Storm Ciara is about to blow!


8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist; 6.30pm Taizé Prayer. Find out more about what’s going on and press this link: https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk or look at the Sunday notice: https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk/-/docs/notices/20200209

Gavin

The Arrival

The wise men were wise (magi) because they could see in Jesus the marks of royalty, of service and sacrifice – the servant king.

Welcome to the 4th boy in the Knight household – Thor, the dog of thunder! Thor is a 12 month old black labrador. He works for the Guide Dog Association and has been earmarked as a stud dog. Our job is to keep Thor as a family pet but maintain his discipline, his weight and his health in general. We will, on several occasions, take him to ‘work’ at the Guide Dog Breeding Centre near Leamington Spa. No doubt you will be meeting Thor very soon.

Thor, named after the Norse god of thunder… or the dog of thunder!

Epiphany is a time for new arrivals. The focus of the Christian celebration is of the Three Kings “travelling afar.” Although the historical authenticity of the Magi’s inclusion in the infancy narratives is dubious, many recognise the hand of God in the story. Jesus, God’s own Son, has been born in poverty and has been greeted by animals and the tenderers of those animals, some local shepherds. The arrival of God made flesh seeks a greater public appeal. Very soon after his birth, Jesus attracts the attention of the local ruler – King Herod. The 3 kings bring further recognition that Jesus’ arrival is more than a ‘good news story’ – this is the good news of God.

The word ‘arrival’ brings with it a sense of occasion. It’s almost like the opening of the curtain, or the first beat of the conductor’s baton. Arrival brings anticipation, promise and hope. So it is with us in this season of Epiphany. We desire for the kingdom of God to be brought closer. In Jesus we recognise the king of the kingdom.

“This is the season of recognition, of understanding, of seeing.”

The wise men were wise (magi) because they could see in Jesus the marks of royalty, of service and sacrifice – the servant king.

As we travel through Epiphany make a special point of looking more deeply into the mystery of God made flesh. Perhaps we can look again at the meaning of ‘arrival’ and what that might mean in our lives? I am especially drawn to the sense of welcome and hospitality that we give new arrivals at church. There is a desire to share our faith with shepherds and kings (as well as animals). So, we prepare for our arrival in heaven – will there be fanfares or will it be a quiet walk through a beautiful garden? Heaven knows!

Gavin

Learn more about the Epiphany and the company of those who accompanied Jesus this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am, 10am for the All Age Epiphany Eucharist and 6.30pm for Taizé prayer.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.

For all the saints and souls…

We’ve reached the time in the liturgical year when all the feasts and commemorations pile in at break-neck speed. This Sunday, we not only celebrate the festival of All Saints’ (in an all age eucharist, 10am) but we also commemorate the departed (choral evensong, 6.30pm) at All Souls’. So, we celebrate the company of earth and heaven for those who are living, and those who have lived the Christ-life.

As we come to the end of the Trinity Season and its summer-long, green growing Sundays and autumnal-falling Sundays, we now enter the Kingdom Season. Red is the colour used to reflect this season. November becomes the month in which red symbolises the poppies of remembrance upon the battlefields of the western front, the presence of the Holy Spirit in purity and fire, the sacrifice of Christ the King on the cross of Calvary. The Kingdom Season, starting with All Saints’, encourages us to seek out the kingdom on earth as well as heaven.

The Kingdom Season is a time of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. I would suggest that the world needs these virtues at this time. It is our vocation to seek hope where there seems little but anxiety and despair. I am most encouraged by the way in which God washes up saints in the flotsam and jetsam of life. Flotsam comes from the French word meaning to float and jetsam is the abbreviation of jettison. These words coupled together describe the debris (including saints and sinners) thrown overboard by distressed crews in danger of capsizing and dying.

I wonder if we are at a particular kingdom-making epoch? A season in which humanity continues to throw overboard its treasure and its rubbish in order to desperately keep the ship afloat? In such chaotic times we value little else than our own precious existence with little thought to others. Kingdom building is the opposite of these acts of vandalism. Kingdom building seeks to collect and renew the debris, it attempts to rescue the drowning saint and sinner, it aspires to bring all that has been discarded and bring it back onto the boat (the Church… the world).

Building the kingdom might not look or sound very conventional!

And the kingdom building starts with you and me!

Learn more about the Kingdom of God and the company of earth and heaven this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am, 10am and 6.30pm.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.

Pentecost 100

“What if we could welcome 100 people to church on the Feast of Pentecost this Sunday at 10am?”

Gavin’s dream – Pentecost 100

Pentecost is so-called because it occurs 50 days after Passover and links God’s promise of salvation to the Israelites with his promise of salvation to the all the nations of the world.  

The liturgical colour for this feast is red symbolising the way in which the blood of the passover and the fire of the Holy Spirit converge to form a palette of passion.

On the first day of Penetecost children, women and men throughout the nations of the world became aware of God’s presence.  The presence of God pervades within us today, each human being without exception.  The Holy Spirit, the advocate, the guide, invites us into a fellowship with God and enriching all of our relationships.  

The Acts of the Apostles describes how men and women hurriedly came together to hear and see and feel and touch this Spirit that was moving within and between them.  The disciples were joined together at the time of Pentecost. They were given the gift of communication to discern and understand others, to listen and to extol.  People from many different nations and cultures first heard, on this day, the word of God.  And they believed.  God gives us this Spirit to build up his church on earth.  This Spirit is within us, and it is our decision whether or not we wish to join in or not.

This idea of the Spirit of God being present – whether dormant or alight – is caught by the poet Joyce Rudd:

Inside each of us there awaits a wonder-full spirit of freedom.

She waits to dance in the rooms of our heart that are closed and dark and cluttered.

She waits to dance in the spaces where negative feelings have built barricades and stock-piled weapons.

She waits to dance in the corners where we still do not believe in our goodness.

Inside each of us there awaits a wonder-full spirit of freedom.

She will lift light feet and make glad songs within us on the day we open the door of ego and let the enemies stomp out.  

The ‘dance’ of Pentecost has caused me to dream. I wonder if we, as a parish church, can kindle a flame of hope and produce a bounty congregation on Pentecost Sunday? Can we invite friends, neighbours, work colleagues and family members to church in order to swell our numbers to 100? Are you up for the challenge? All you need is to forego any embarrassment and ask – my hunch is that people will be pleased, even intrigued to be asked. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a full church to celebrate Pentecost. Just as the church grew from that moment in Jerusalem, maybe our congregation will also grow if we intentionally seek to increase our numbers.

I will be printing 100 sheets for Sunday. I will warn the welcomers to expect a large crowd. So now over to you. Who can you invite? I cannot promise fireworks in the nave or a bonfire in the church garden but I can trust that the Holy Spirit will kindle a small flame of hope for those who attend. Please join me this Sunday at 10am in celebrating Pentecost 100!

Gavin