Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday food for thought

When I got home last night, I parked the car in one of the few available spaces still left in the street. For the first three days of this week, getting in at eight, there were none left and I had to leave it across the main road in Greenfield Avenue. The space was almost too small, but I parked the car with less than a hand span of space front and rear. Clare was watching from the bedroom window and remarked on the feat. I'm not sure how I did it without touching or shunting the cars hemming me in. I decided to leave it there in case I had early morning hand eye co-ordination trouble trying to remove it for the drive over to St German's, and went by bus instead, taking advantage of more frequent services along Cowbridge Road, to drop me in town by half past nine, in good time to walk the second leg to church by ten to ten. I met St John's City Parish Church organist Philip Thomas on the bus, looking well and still playing there regularly. Our paths cross rarely these days.

I decided that I would offer a little improvised reflection at each of the Stations of the Cross today, now that I've got back into the pattern of conducting them and feel more relaxed about it. It's something that I recall other priests doing back in my youth, but not something I've ever done in a traditional framework. I wondered if I'd either dry up, or be too garrulous, but once I'd made a start, it came easily. I enjoyed this little experiment and a few of the sixteen people present expressed their appreciation and found it relevant to their experience. What more could I ask for?

We had coffee and hot cross buns in the church hall afterwards. Then I sat in the Lady Chapel, said the Office of Readings and Midday Prayer and enjoyed an hour of quiet (including a meditative snooze) before it was time for the afternoon Liturgy of the Passion, again with a full serving team. We had no organist to accompany the hymns, and I led unaccompanied singing. It sounds so effective in this church and enhances this solemn occasion. The dialogue Passion reading edited by James, the member of the congregation who read the narrator part, was a refreshing success, worth his effort. I hope it will get used again in future. He'd edited out the attributive statements i.e. all the 'He said..' mentions in the text. This causes it to flow more freely with greater dramatic intensity. With a natural tendency to visualise what I hear spoken, the Passion reading felt a little like watching a soft focus film with voice-over. It's extraordinary how the mind processes what it receives.

All went well until we moved to the High Altar for Communion. I discovered the reserved sacrament was not in the aumbry, looked puzzled and stepped back. When I was asked what was the matter, I said spontaneously "He is not here.", and thought what a strange thing that was to say on Good Friday. Then I went and checked in the Lady Altar aumbry, and it too was empty. At the end of last night's vigil, the Sacrament had been put in the sacristy safe, but nobody was aware of this, least of all me. Soon we were back on track, eighten of us communicated and we concluded after the final prayers singing 'When I survey the wondrous cross'. No Good Friday would be complete without it.

I walked back to the city centre and caught a 61 bus home, suitably tired and hungry, glad to have no further commitments, just time to relax and reflect. On Channel Five in the evening was a two hour long documentary called 'The Last Days of Jesus', presenting recent historical research into the political and social background of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus, and proposing interesting and quite plausible theories about the timing of key events leading up to the Lord's Passion, being spread out over a six month period rather than three days, during which there was a major power shift in Rome which had ramifications for the political status quo in Palestine, a way of stating that Jesus was a victim of rapidly changing events in terms of the balance of power, which deprived him of popular support and drove him into the hands of his religious enemies.

Scholars interviewed expressed the conviction that nobody knows who the authors of the four Gospels were, and that they were all written late in the first century, and in a way that was self censoring in relation to the powers that be, and so don't give us a full account of the  historical record, which is in any case pretty incomplete. The question of whether John's Gospel is an eye-witness record, or at least had its origins in one man's personal eye-witness accounts, was not considered. And there, to my mind stands the un-addressed question when it comes to building a picture of available evidence about what occurred, and how Jesus understood his mission and the part played in it by the country's overlords. It may be time for me to bring myself a bit more up to date on contemporary New Testament study.

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