Sunday, 28 February 2010

Foxes, hens and the divine motherhood found in Christ (via Anselm)

Living in an area with quite a bit of wildlife, today's Gospel reading about the fox and the hen always rings a bell for me. And I love the way the imagery of the hen's care for her chicks is drawn out in St. Anselm's Canticle, " A Song of Christ's Goodness," not least because the modern form it has in Common Worship - Daily Prayer was composed by my Litugy Lecturer and College Tutor, Michael Vasey. You can read what I had to say when preaching by clicking here. This is a taster (from the middle of the homily):

.... “How often I have desired to gather your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” says Jesus. We find these words in St. Matthew’s Gospel too – but in a different context. It’s Luke – in today’s Gospel reading – who makes the connection between Jesus, acting like a hen, and Herod, the fox. It’s the hen who has most to lose when the fox is on the prowl. But this one is not fearful – this one wants to gather the brood of chicks beneath her wings… and this is an image of warmth and safety.

There’s a marvellous drawing out of this image in some words of St. Anselm of Canterbury which were translated into a modern canticle by the man who taught me liturgy, Michael Vasey – they’re words now used in daily prayer by those who use the books “Celebrating Common Prayer “ and “Common Worship”. With the title, “A Song of Christ’s Goodness,” it has the refrain:

Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

And it looks to a divine motherhood in Christ:

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you,
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Could there be a better image for describing the costliness of a mother’s love, the warmth and tenderness which at the same time require sorrow and sacrifice? And isn’t this also a call to see the feminine side of God, whom so easily we depict as a divine male autocrat upon his throne?

It may seem a world away from the Old Testament story of God’s covenant with Abraham. But there is a connection. If our Gospel reading shows us something of the Motherhood of God in Christ, then the story of Abram tells us of the yearning of a father who is without children...

As ever, after clicking on the homily link and waiting for it to load, you'll probably need to use the scroll button to make the text appear. The same is true for Paul Heatherington's sermon for last week, the 1st Sunday of Lent.

But I had success first time in getting into our newly uploaded Parish Magazine for March, online here. You can read it in all its colourful glory online. And we hope the hard copy will be out in a day or two.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Retreat - and ready for Lent

It's probably a good sign that I'm not blogging much! Last week I was in Walsingham for a Priest's Pilgrimage Retreat. I gather there's a Wi-Fi connection in the Norton Cafe Bar - but nowhere else, and my laptop remained zipped up in my bag throughout my stay. What a wonderful experience that was - and the Retreat!

A letter from the Shrine Administrator, Bishop Lindsay Urwin, before the Retreat began said that 65 priests had signed up - but in the event there were rather more. All men, I'm afraid + one woman Permanent Deacon. But happily it was a non-contentious experience. The only reference to events that week in Synod was when we happened to see the TV news one night. And no one seemed bothered to discuss these issues which can be so wearing.

The Retreat itself was invigorating. I stayed awake during the addresses - an achievement for me and a tribute to Bishop Lindsay and Brother Paschal SSF. I found myself reflecting on them and on the larger experience when I preached on Sunday on St. Luke's approach to the Transfiguration. While Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus takes the disciples up the Mount of the Transfiguration as a "place apart," it's only Luke who is explicit that the intention is to pray. And only Luke tells how hard it was for the disciples to stay awake. "They were heavy with sleep but managed to stay awake," Bishop Tom Wright translates it. You can read what I had to say by clicking here. To make the text appear you've got to move the scroll button - I don't know why, but it makes it work!

And you can find what our Reader, Rosie Junemann said the previous week as she looked at the meaning of faith when things go wrong - with special reference to the Haiti earthquake.

Friday, 5 February 2010

A late post for Candlemas

I still have a memory which must go back to the time after the birth of my brother. I would have been six - nearly 48 years ago. It’s the memory of sitting in a pew at the back of our local church, the one my parents still attend, while my Mother went to the front of the church and the Vicar said prayers with her. I don’t think anyone else was there. My Father was probably back home with the baby. I didn’t really know what was going on - but I suppose it was that service which the Prayer Book quaintly calls, “The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called The Churching of Women.” It’s a service I’ve never used. It is a thanksgiving service - appropriate after a child is born. But the way it was used made it more of a service of purification. This was something that had to be done - and done to a woman. I have had the experience of a new mother ringing from hospital to say that she needed to be “churched” before her own mother would let her back in the house - I’m glad to say that it was a long time ago. But it begs the question about expectation, superstition, getting thanksgiving right, and what faith is truly about...

Well that's the second paragraph of the sermon I preached last Sunday as we celebrated Candlemas. You can read the whole thing here. Sorry it's appearing rather late. With the end of the "Christmas cycle" I'm rather relieved to have a couple of Sundays of Ordinary / Green Time, but we're already gearing up for Lent.