Christ is Risen

That’s the importance of the day. Jesus the Christ is risen from the dead.

A few words on some of the symbolism, The term Easter comes from the old Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, although the only real mention is from the Venerable Bede. The egg being proscribed during Lent was offered in abundance at Easter and is an obvious metaphor for rebirth. There is some evidence for a hare hunt being traditional on Good Friday but, it’s a fairly obvious sign of “go forth, be fruitful, and multiply” anyway.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And so we come to the crux of the matter. The triumph over original sin and death itself. For if you believe in the Christ and his message you will have eternal life. This is what set Christianity apart, the doctrine of grace. For if you truly repent of your sins, and attempt to live properly, you will be saved. Not by your works, especially not by your wars and killing on behalf of your faith, valid and just though they may be,  but by your faith and your faith alone. For you serve the King of Kings.

The day after

John Keble

[Another one of Jessica’s wonderful posts, this one from last year. Neo]

Secular Christmases, like our lives in general, have a great build up to important events, quite often the event itself does not quite live up to it, and then the day after is a bit of a let-down – and that’s where we are now!  I did think of letting everyone have a day off my musings as a late present, but I promised dear Neo that I would fill the gap, and in thinking about this, it hit me that there is a parallel with our religious life. For those who have had a conversion experience, is there the same sort of anticlimactic feeling, or does the new life into which you are born supersede this? I’d be interested in hearing.

I’ve never had a conversion-experience. From my earliest memories of Sunday school as a little girl, it all made sense to me; God is there, and I have never felt he was not; even when he seemed far away, I knew it was me who was far off, not him – and he was always holding out his hands to receive me when I stopped being a brat. I know some here, and elsewhere, who have had the experience of ‘lapsing’ and coming back, but again, my life has been more mundane. That’s why it would be interesting to hear from you if you have been through a conversion about what happened next.

In many ways, we like dramatic moments in our lives, and we may even need them as an antidote or corrective to the mundane nature of much of what happens to us everyday. But is that the right way to respond to what God has given us? My beloved John Keble provided quite another way of looking at this in a poem written in 1822 which is now a hymn which includes two wonderful closing verses, which are our present on this day after the Christ Mass:

The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask, —
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us daily nearer God.

Prepare, O Lord, in your dear love,
for perfect life with you above;
and help us, this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray.

He suggests that we can ‘hallow’ – that is make holy – even the meanest thing we do if we will do it for God. There is nothing, however humble it is, that cannot be done well in God’s name – and that can include resting from our labours.

As some of you will know I have not been very well, and for a time it was thought that I might not get well again. I moved from a time of immense busyness through to one of complete inaction – and I’d imagine that the ‘bends’ which deep-sea divers get could be a bit like that – the sudden absence of pressure makes one dizzy and ill. Our modern life – with the Internet ever there – does but little to prepare us for quietness and reflection. That’s why a well-spent Advent can be a blessing because it helps prepare us for the sudden cessation – even if for many it is replaced by another sort of activity at Christmas.

One feature of the way in which Advent has all but disappeared as a concept in our society is that we miss the way it paves the way for Christmas. Advent, in the church, is a time of penitence and waiting, which is then succeeded by the joy and the feasting of Christmas – all the way through to the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. But I see now that even clergy, after the climactic events of Christmas day itself, take time off and see this as an opportunity for their own holiday. I can see why, but think it a shame, because we have just entered a time of celebrating the most important event there will ever be. So, here at Neo’s, we’ll be remembering some of those celebrations which seem to becoming lost. Christmas is the beginning of our thankful celebrations – not the end. It is a time for giving thanks. And for those of us still clearing up – I recommend Keble’s lines.

O Holy Night

nativitybg22I wanted to give you something for Christmas Eve as we are thinking about the birth of our Saviour. I found I didn’t have much to say, at least that was new or interesting.

Most of what I want to remind you has been said, and better than I can, and on this blog, no less. Last year Jessica wrote on Christmas Eve and she said this:

In the Christian calendar, Christmas is of secondary importance when compared to Easter; although the former brings us the Word made Flesh, the latter brings us eternal life. As our society here in the West sees little in either of these concepts, it tends to focus upon Christmas, because it is a time of the year when merchants can move much merchandise; let there be a celebration of all the wealth we have; that is a temptation to which only a rich society can succumb.

But that first Christmas Eve was not given to the rich, the powerful and the elite; it was given to the poor, the marginalised and the ordinary. There was nothing special about Joseph or Mary in human terms. Joseph probably got a decent living from his hands, but it is unlikely that his house was anything special; and Mary, well, a young girl with child is, to any decent society, and object of love and sympathy, but nowadays someone would be telling her she was too young and should be considering her career, and pointing her to ‘Planned Parenthood’. These were simple people.

God could have chosen anyone for His purposes, but He chose these people. we cannot know why, except to know that they were obedient to Him; they did not question His will, they did not argue or suggest they knew better; in them the self-will of our first parents burnt low. Joseph did what men through countless ages have done. He earned his living by the sweat of his brow and he looked after his family. He does not seem to have made a great fuss about things, and even when he discovered that his betrothed was pregnant and he was not the father, being a righteous man, he was minded not to have her stoned, but just to set her aside; sadness rather than wrath seems to have been his reaction; and he believed what he was told in his vision. Upright, straightforward, Joseph did his duty, and that first Christmas Eve it involved making sure there was somewhere for the baby to be born where his betrothed and the child could be sheltered; the primeval task of all men.

Her post is called Silent Night, Holy Night and it is one of the best posts on the site.

Frankly I have little to add except for this, my mom’s favorite Christmas song, one of mine, and you all know how I feel about [a] Celtic Woman.

The Coming of Christ, the Golden Blossom

christ-in-majesty

Christ in Majesty (Benedictional of St Æthelwold, BL Add. 49598, f.70)

Advent is, for Christians, a time of waiting, in some ways, it is like Lent, but not exactly, here we await the birth of the Lord, and by extension, his return in Glory. It is the time of beginning, of promise. My favorite Clerk gave us Sunday, a homily from an anonymous Anglo-Saxon author, in the Blickling homilies, and is likely from the tenth century. Quite remarkable and amazing.

‘Dearly beloved, we have often heard tell of the noble advent of our Lord, how he began himself to intervene in this world, as patriarchs said and proclaimed, as prophets prophesied and praised, as psalmists sang and said, that he would come from the kingly throne of his glorious realm here into this world, and would take for himself all kingdoms into his own keeping. All that was fulfilled after the heavens broke open and the supreme power descended into this earth, and the Holy Spirit dwelt in the noble womb, in the best bosom, in the chosen treasure-chamber, and in that holy breast he dwelt for nine months. Then the queen of all virgins bore the true Creator, Comforter of all people, Saviour of all the world, Preserver of all spirits, Helper of all souls. Then the golden blossom came into this world, and received a human body from St Mary, the spotless virgin. Through that birth we were saved, and through that child-bearing we were redeemed; through that union we were freed from the exactions of devils, and through that advent we were honoured and enriched and endowed.

And afterwards the Lord Christ dwelt here in the world with men, and showed them many miracles which he worked in front of them. He intended lovingly to heal them and teach them mercy. They were stony-hearted and blind, so that they could not comprehend what they heard there, nor could they understand what they saw there; but then the Almighty God removed for them that wrongful veil from their hearts and shone upon them with enlightened understanding, so that they could understand and know how he descended into this world to be their helper and healer and refuge. Afterwards he opened for them the ears of compassion, and kindled faith in them, and manifested his mercy and made known his kinship to them. Before that we had been made orphans, because we were deprived of the heavenly kingdom and were put out of the original… [text missing in the manuscript] Christ lives and reigns with all holy souls, eternally without end, for ever and ever. Amen.’

What beautiful writing (the translation too), and as accurate as anything ever written on Advent, but here the imagination and verve of the language is simply remarkable.

This is her translation, and it sums thing up admirably. She says that the original would have been quite beautiful when read or spoken aloud. I suspect she is correct. Anglo-Saxon English is very often even better to listen to than to read. It was a time of the spoken and sung word, reading not so much, for reasons which I hope are fairly clear. That is true of other times as well, one of the reasons the King James Bible is so loved is that it was specifically designed to be spoken aloud. An amazing language, and it is no less amazing to see this homily written over a thousand years ago, and still as relevant as it was then.

via A Clerk of Oxford: The Coming of Christ, the Golden Blossom Do read it all, as usual, exceptionally well done.

The Changing Faces of the Papacy

This is a fascinating overview of the last 50 or so years of the Catholic church, not so much a lecture as an audio/visual memoir. While he doesn’t take anybody’s side in the controversies racking our churches, he gives a perspective on why things are as they are, one of the best talks I’ve heard anywhere. I think you’ll enjoy it, and profit from it.

His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is a retired bishop and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster and former President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. He was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the 2001 Consistory.

The next, and last, lecture for this year will be Bishop Philip Egan, Bishop of Portsmouth

Sponsored by:

Diocese of East AngliaUEA

Feed my sheep?

1263

Jesus spoke about how when we ignore the hungry and the homeless and the dispossessed, we ignore him. His followers hadn’t cottoned on, and as so often, he ended up having to explain to them. In becoming man, he saved us, and we are all made new in him – and have a common bond. This was one of the most powerful things about early Christianity. At a time when everyone made distinctions – ‘Jew’ or ‘Gentile’, ‘Roman’ or ‘Barbarian’, as well as the ones we’re still familiar with – rich and poor, insider and outsider – Christians were all brothers and sisters, and one of the things which impressed the Pagan society within which it was situated was the way in which it considered those who were of no account – widows and orphans – as mattering. They mattered because like the rest of us they are made in the image of Christ – and in helping them, we help Christ.

Over here, during the twentieth century, the State took on many of the philanthropic functions previously carried on by voluntary organisations, not least the churches. But over the past decade or more, as the over-reach of the State becomes apparent because of economic crises, the churches have sort of begun to insert themselves into some of the gaps. So, in terms of the refugee crisis which you may have heard of, with thousands on thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing the crises which have engulfed their countries, our Government has tended to give some funding to the churches and to other groups and told us to get on with it.

That’s how I find myself helping a couple of nights a week, and one Saturday a month, at a help centre for refugees. We serve food, we help find accommodation and schooling, and we put them in touch with others who can provide professional help such as psychiatric care. Though we have some funding from the local authorities via the Government, much of what we spend comes from donations, and the generosity of people is humbling. So, too, are the stories we hear.

I’m in no position to take sides – except that of the people we are trying to help. When you hear what these people have been through, your heart breaks – and there but for the Grace of God we all go. Most of the people I meet were, until a few years back, middle-class professionals, teachers, doctors, lawyers, who suddenly found their lives destroyed by the civil war in Syria. If anyone had told them, five years ago, they’d be eking out an existence in a bedsit in a foreign country depending on handouts, they would not have believed you – but that is just where they are now. But, once they are in a stable place, they help us to help others coming after them.

It’s not always easy. Some of the men in particular clearly feel humiliated in having to take charity, and some of them don’t much like being helped by women. It would be easy to get irritated by that, but what’s the point?  True charity is not setting conditions on what you do such as expecting those you help to be grateful in the way we would express gratitude. A female friend expressed some crossness that I was covering my hair when I go to help, but I know, from talking to many of the women, that they feel more comfortable when their men aren’t unsettled. Some will think this a form of appeasement of Muslims, but I left out one detail – most of those we are helping are Christian refugees. In their churches women and men sit on opposite sides of the aisle, and the women always cover their hair. In following their custom, we’re simply making them feel comfortable – it is an act of courtesy, acknowledging that even if they are homeless refugees totally dependant on our charity, they are men and women from a culture which we can show some respect to.

They say that you shouldn’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes, and having shared some time and space with these men, women and children, all I can say is that it isn’t hard to see them as brothers and sisters. What is heartening is to see how they respond, and how a comradeship grows between us. As one women with whom I prayed recently said to me: ‘You are good sister to me, and if needed, I would be to you, we are one in Jesus Christ.’ Yes, I thought, we are, and I believe you would be if the boot was on the other foot.

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