Preparing for Advent

We are busy trying to plan for Christmas without fully knowing what we will be allowed to do. But before Christmas (which starts on the 25th December – I couldn’t resist that) we make an Advent journey. Last week I appealed through this post for people to share a thought, word or image on the theme of “watching, waiting and wondering.” Unfortunately, I only received 3 responses!! The idea is that your creation will be used as a window in our virtual Advent calendar. I would love to have a large collection of material to share. It can be a photo or a work of art or a reading, anything that loosely fits the theme. We will then have a new window to open each day which will remind us that we are part of a wider community and hopefully will give us a lift this Advent. I look forward to receiving your input. If I don’t receive enough material, I will have to post selected lowlights of the Knight family albums old and new! 

The prospect of Advent, the season of the colour purple, signifies a new year – at least in terms of the Christian lectionary. For those interested in such things, we will be entering into Year B and the gospel writer who takes centre stage will be Mark. St Mark’s gospel is the shortest. He has a literary style which keeps the reader’s attention. He uses words like “immediately,” “and then…” his is a narrative that is full of speed and action. Mark’s storytelling is a controversial subject, particularly in the style of the ending of his gospel. (There are various endings deployed). Does  the short ending give us, Jesus’ followers today, the opportunity to live the resurrected life rather than read about it? Make up your own mind. Why not delve into a commentary. I recommend this slim and inexpensive book by three people that I have known in different aspects of my own ministry: James Woodward, Mark Pryce and Paula Gooder. The blurb says: 

“This book’s unique slant is that it asks readers to use their imagination ‘to bring the Gospel to life.’ It asks readers to visualize themselves in the scenes that Mark describes in order to see Mark’s Gospel in a fresh and exciting way.” 

From all good booksellers

That’s all from me! Remember to send me your Advent calendar contribution, many thanks!


Gavin

Guest house mentality

Advent begins on Sunday – the time of intentional waiting to welcome the guest of God, who is the Christ-child.  We need this time of the colour purple to get our guest house seriously ready, to prepare well, to recognise the guest that we will be accommodating. How can we welcome him, this guest of God? The Church’s customs, rituals and traditions give us a helpful lead in this respect. The liturgical season of Advent looks back over salvation history, not only through the lens of the New Testament but further back in time. On the First Sunday of Advent we look to the lives of the frontrunners of faith – Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob…. these patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith were far from perfect human beings but they all demonstrated a knowledge of the Invisible God. We light a candle to remember how the bore witness to God in their age.


ADVENT SUNDAY:YouTube: https://youtu.be/7dG3DRM2Gf4
Facebook: https://fb.watch/21ayqJO617/

As guest house keepers, we are asked to walk in the path of those pioneers of faith. We are called to get ready for the arrival of God in God’s most vulnerable state as well as the Holy Family and friends. We need to prepare the house for our guests, we need to welcome them, listen to their story, feed them, give them rest. The house becomes more like a hospital than a hotel, or, perhaps, a hostel. The Church stands as a place of hospitality not only to God incarnate but naturally to all people who require shelter, friendship and meaning. Despite the global pandemic, this is the task of all churches this Advent – to become guest houses – and for you and me to become guest house keepers!

Gavin

Re-membering

I make the point in funeral services that remembrance is very much concerned with shared memories, of re-membering, of picking up and joining together the scattered associations of a life. Remembrance-tide is also concerned with understanding and reflecting upon the tragedy and loss of people in different times and places. We literally re-member, we re-form or re-constitute somebody or something that we have loved and see know longer. Re-membrance is about putting back the pieces of something that was thought lost, like the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

So re-membering is the opposite of forgetting.  We have a duty to remember, to re-connect, to re-concile ourselves to the ones we love.  And we do this in an attempt to overcome a real sense of brokenness. Sometimes we need help in our re-membering. In which case our memories are aided by signs, symbols and words. The poppy which we wear over our hearts at this time of year is deeply significant, conveying the devastation of Europe and the loss of a generation of young men. We wear the poppy today as a sign of reconciliation with the past horrors of war and as a mark of respect for those who died in the armed conflict.  

The poem, In Flanders Fields, famously cries out to those who survive the war to end all wars not to “break faith with us who die.” Re-member us, do not allow us to be forgotten. The poet cries, it is your duty never to forget. 

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During the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2 May, 1915 in the gun positions near Ypres. An exploding German artillery shell landed near him. He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of his, the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae. As the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening. It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for his now famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.

(www.greatwar.co.uk)

Wherever there is a war memorial in this country, there will also be countless stories of loss and tragedy. This Sunday, Remembrance Sunday, despite the pandemic, people will make a special effort to remember.  At 11am on Sunday a silence will pervade the nation in honour of those who died fighting against the evils of power, corruption and injustice. Although we will not be holding a ceremony at that time, we will record a service so that many more people will be able to join in and remember. We will be reminded not to ignore the past, but to give thanks for those who have gone before us who, in many respects, have paved our way. In many churches throughout the land, memorials become signs of our heritage, giving us an identity and purpose.

Modern day memorials look quite different. Such as the tragic bunching of flowers on roadsides like the site of the death of Mark Bolan, popstar of the seventies with the group T-Rex. The memorial is ongoing, fans mark the death of their hero with a flower vigil. We also remember the famous “outpouring of national grief” at the death of Princess Diana and how Kensington Gardens was awash with floral tributes.

Some disagree with the sentiment of the remembrance which, for them, alludes to the celebration of war, the extolling of conflict. However, the Christian symbol of remembrance is also the Christian symbol of hope: the cross. When asked, ‘do I believe in the resurrection, the life after death, the paradise promised us by Jesus?’ I can only say that that is my hope, but I cannot say for sure because, contrary to popular opinion I haven’t died. All I can do as an authentic response to my brothers and sisters who have died before me is to re-member them, with love, in prayer. That is my duty and my joy.

Gavin

Everything is relationship

I am a keen devotee of Desert Island Disks. The BBC Sounds app is amazing for downloading radio shows and podcasts – I listen to these on dog walks! Billie Jean-King was the latest celebrity to be stranded on the desert island and I was impressed by her story and her values. After winning the Wimbledon title in 1967, Billie Jean-King was awarded a £45 gift voucher. The prize money today for winning the Women’s Singles is £2.35 million! The monetary difference only refers to half of the story. Billie Jean-King has been exposed to – and has been at the heart of – a gender and race revolution. Billie Jean-King is not only one of the world’s greatest tennis players but she is a campaigner, a seeker for justice. 

Early on in her career, Billie Jean-King understood how she would become the best in the world. She knew that “everything is relationship.” She set about campaigning for parity within the men’s and women’s games. She fought for the rights of black and ethnic minority athletes. She also held the torch for gay rights, not only in sport but across all social and commercial platforms. 

Billie Jean King at her pomp

Billie Jean-King talks candidly about her passion to fight for equality and end prejudice and discrimination in sport and society. Her premise is that all people deserve respect, that we should never assume who people are through categorising or stereotyping. My own Christian creed shares the same value system which is passionate about loving difference in neighbours and strangers. I believe that there is a creative force which is present in the differences that exist between human beings. I was struck by a recent testimony given by a group who had volunteered to sponsor a refugee family, how the care of this family had brought the community closer together. 

Political persecution has seemingly driven a Kurdish-Iranian family to their death this week as the boat they were travelling in sank in the Channel. They were caught up in the hands of smugglers and fled to Europe looking for better conditions and a hopeful future. I want to name this family here: the father – Rasoul; the mother – Shiva, and the children – Anita, Armin, and baby Artin, yet to be found. Relationships are everything but we did not get a chance to get to know this family, to care for it, to give it a sense of love, life and hope. I mourn the loss of that opportunity. There is great injustice in our world which leads to such crimes against humanity. 

This Sunday (All Saints’) we celebrate the fellowship of the mystical communion which is Christ’s body. Everything is relationship – strangers and pilgrims together – tennis stars and umpires, politicians and aid workers, north Oxford residents and refugees – everything is relationship.

Gavin

Forget-me-not

As the season of remembrance approaches, the Church of England has helpfully produced a themed range of resources which are designed to encourage people to connect with their local church. The design features the flower, the forget-me-not. The flower’s colloquial name was first used in the English language during the reign of Henry IV back in the 14th century. It has since become a symbol for the masonic movement as well as providing a floral sign for remembering the German fallen in the last two wars.

Remembrance-tide includes All Souls’ as well as Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day. At St Michael’s we are opening up the church for you to come and remember those that you have loved and see no longer. The church will be open from 4pm and you can stay for as long as you wish. There will be candles to light and different creative ways of remembering set up. It is all quite informal! At 5.30pm we will be holding a short contemplative service in which we will call out the names of the departed. You are welcome to stay for this service. (Please see the attached invitation). If you are unable to come, I am also attaching a card which supplies links to prayers and helpful resources. We will be keeping everybody safely distanced and you will be required to wear a face mask in church. 
On Remembrance Sunday (8th November), we will be sending a small delegation to process out of church with a wreath of poppies (and some symbolic forget-me-nots if we can gather some) to the war memorial in the church hall gardens in Portland Road) to witness a short act of remembrance at 11am.

It is part of the Christian psyche to remember. Jesus’ most important instruction to his followers was to say, “do this in remembrance of me.” They were told to remember whenever they broke bread and drank wine at the table. These elements and actions – symbols at first – became the celebration of the real presence of Christ at the Eucharist. So the act of remembrance, for Christians, leads to a renewed path to life. We look back in order to live for today and tomorrow with fresh hope and gratitude. 

Gavin