Easter Message 2015: turning the world the right way up

On the evening before Easter, 45 people of all ages and backgrounds will gather with me and hundreds of their family and friends in Suffolk’s Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds to be Confirmed in their faith and start a new life.

As the sun sets we will light a great candle, the sign of a dead man living, of Jesus Christ who really died publicly and in great agony on a Cross on the first Good Friday, and equally publicly rose to a new sort of life with great joy on the first Easter Day, a life he shares with us when we put our trust in him.

This is not airy-fairy, make-believe stuff. The historical evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is as good as it gets. That risen life was as real as your breakfast (he ate one too!) and the only thing that stops us analysing it scientifically is that we aren’t there to do it.

This really matters. We are consuming ourselves and our world to death. We are locked into a system which sees the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We are living the wrong way up.

This Easter, will you join those Easter candidates, will you join me, will you join Jesus, in saying yes to turning the world the right way up again? Will you follow his example and ask his help to put giving not getting at the heart of your life, to live for others not yourself?

We take Jesus for-granted. Far too much. Great minds like C S Lewis were turned round by his teaching. Great writers like Tolkein found their inspiration in his story. Great campaigners like Wilberforce found the strength to change society through faith in him.

Here in Suffolk, now, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things in the strength Jesus gives to run foodbanks and nightshelters, launching charities and ethical businesses, serving in caring professions and public life, just being good neighbours down their street.

Join the movement. Live the light. Be the Easter people of today.

Easter and the Poetry of Hope

This is the last instalment of the Poetry of Lent Making the Journey with Martha, Mary and Lazarus, written by John Parr, available online at http://www.cofesuffolk.org/assets/downloads/life_faith/living-faith-in-suffolk/2015-lent-reflections/Easter.pdf  This publication is intended only to be reproduced, free of charge, by local churches. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means for financial or commercial gain, without the prior written permission of the publisher.  

Just over 30 years ago, the American singer Paul Simon released a song called ‘Train in the Distance’, on his album Hearts and Bones. You can find the words here. The song is about an older man who falls in love with a younger woman. She’s already married, but he doesn’t give up. ‘Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance’, runs the chorus. The poetry of wishful thinking – or is it hope? Eventually they marry, and have a son. But their relationship doesn’t last. They fall apart, ‘two disappointed believers’ in the power of love, but for the child’s sake they stay in touch. She cooks for him occasionally. He makes her laugh. They can still hear the sound of a train in the distance. ‘What is the point of the story?’ asks the singer. ‘What message pertains?’ Then comes the punchline: ‘The thought that life can be better / is woven indelibly / into our hearts / and our brains’. ‘The point of the story’ is that our ability to hope is hard-wired. Some see this as a gift of evolution, a survival instinct. Without the facility to transcend adversity in our hearts and brains, our species would arguably have become extinct. For others the capacity for hope is a gift of God. Either way, ‘the thought that life can be better’ allows us to imagine life differently, as being more than circumstances appear to allow. We take our hard-wired ability to hope with us to the grave. Rituals surrounding death are as various as they are well-established. For all their diversity there are common themes: respect for the dead, space for grieving, hope finding expression. People are buried with their clothing, weapons, jewellery, sacred objects, even food – each in their own way intimations of what is ‘woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains’. The story that has accompanied us through Lent is sparing in its details of Lazarus’ funeral, but Martha’s words to Jesus suggest that he was shrouded in resurrection-on-the-last-day faith (John 11.24). This was a relative newcomer to Israel’s beliefs, and it wasn’t the only way of expressing the poetry of hope (Wisdom 3’s ‘souls of the righteous in the hands of God’ is alternative imagery to Daniel 12’s ‘sleeping in the dust of the earth’ before being wakened to shine like stars in the heavens). But it was common enough, especially in the circles of the Pharisees and their kind, and here in Bethany too. Martha’s declaration of hope-filled faith comes right at the mid-point of John’s narrative. Seeing Jesus as God’s agent of resurrection hope, something we’ve met earlier in this gospel (John 5.25- 29), takes her beyond conventional belief. Yet there is more. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ brings her face to face with the embodiment of her hope, not simply its agent. ‘The resurrection of the body on the last day’ may speak the poetry of hope, but what is woven indelibly in her heart and brain finds its true fulfilment in the one who stands before her. Hard-wired hope is no escape hatch, as some would have us think. There is no softening of the hard edges of death in this story, as we have seen. John shows us its many forms – physical, social, natural, emotional, relational, brutal – and parallels from our own world hardly need spelling out. Easter does not abolish the dark realities of death. But the last word in its darkness belongs elsewhere. The stone is rolled back, to allow the one who performs the poetry of hope to address the world of death. This is the Word that speaks from the beginning, the light that shines into a darkness that can never overcome it. The Raising of Lazarus, 4th century fresco from the Catacomb Cubiculum O in Rome (for further images, see http://wasjesusamagician.blogspot.co.uk/p/appendix-jesus-wand.html). The most common images in the earliest Christian tombs from the second to the fifth centuries in Rome are of Jesus the Good Shepherd and the raising of Lazarus. Some of their details are borrowed from pagan sources, but they have been given an unmistakeable Christian make-over. The one who knows his own sheep by name calls one of them, Lazarus the brother of Martha and Mary, to rise up from the dark reality of death and stand in the glory of creation’s new day. Raised by love, suggests Carol Ann Duffy by comparing Jesus to a lover in her poem ‘If I Was Dead’, which you can read here: ‘If I was dead … / I swear your love / would raise me / out of my grave, / in my flesh and blood, / like Lazarus’. In our expressions of Easter hope, there will always be place for poetry and pictures that speak to the heart and brain of what is written indelibly there. Yet this is poetry performed, words and pictures taking flesh in the one who is ‘the Resurrection and the Life’. Like unquenchable light shining in deep darkness, Jesus still speaks and lives in those who like Martha find their confidence and hope in ‘the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world’ (John 11.27). Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Exploring Prayer at St Edmundsbury Cathedral 18 July 10am-4pm


A day to grow more confident in prayer and to explore it further.
 No experience necessary – and lots of experience welcome!
 Prayer spaces in the Cathedral developed by children and young people for everyone to use.

10.00 Welcome
10.15 Workshops 1
11.15 Coffee / tea (provided)
11.45 Workshops 2
12.45 Midday prayer
1.00 Lunch (bring your own or buy locally)
2.00 Workshops 3
3.00 Tea / coffee (provided)
3.30 Worship and sending out
4.00 Go home!

Each workshop will introduce that way of praying and give time to pray in that way.
 Christian Meditation: a way of silent prayer
 Jesus Prayer: a phrase to help us pray
 Music and Prayer: music and song as prayer
 Praying through Movement: using our bodies in prayer
 Shaping Prayer Together: using words in prayer
 Prayer and Protest: praying with Psalms of Lament
 Prayerfully Creative: using clay or marks on paper to express prayer
 Prayer Walk: reflections in the Abbey Gardens
Workshops will be filled on a first come first served basis so please give your first and
Feel free to take time in the prayer spaces or to walk the labyrinth in the Cathedral.

Book your place and choose your workshops in advance via Jayne Whiteman: deanspa@stedscathedral.org | 01284 748722
Cover image © Anne Ravenscroft

Another Palm Sunday Procession – with Donkey!


David Lamming writes:

 We, too, in the Box Rover Benefice, had a Palm Sunday procession this morning, complete with donkey, also in the rain.  The service (a ‘Five Villages Service’ for the 5th Sunday of the month (with bells but no smells! – see the photo of the bellringers) was at St Mary the Virgin Church, Edwardstone (it was their ‘turn’ to host the 5th Sunday united service) and we processed the 250 or so yards down the track to the church from Temple Bar: the brick gateway to the Edwardstone estate. As Judith recalled in her address, the gateway symbolised the gate into Jerusalem.  
Attached are a few photos.  The donkey was provided by Sally, a vet living in Edwardstone.  Joshua Gray from Boxford (=Yeshúa, as Judith pointed out) appropriately played the part of Jesus, though, as you will see from the attached photos, he walked beside the donkey rather than riding on it!  (You may recall that Joshua was the lad from Boxford who read so clearly and well the first section of the intercessions at the Centenary service at the Cathedral exactly a year ago today.)

As you will see, it was umbrellas up for us, too.  We processed to the church singing (unaccompanied) “Ride on, ride on in majesty“, with the appropriately worded last line, “then take, O God, thy power and rain” (typo intended!)  76 people from the benefice (including a number of children) attended, having both braved the rain and remembered to reset their clocks/watches to BST.

Palm Sunday Procession: Melton and Ufford


It has to be said that the weather wasn’t on our side, but a hardy band of pilgrims gathered at St Andrew’s, Melton this morning to wend their way past Melton Old Church with some suitable shouts of Hosanna to St Mary’s, Ufford where they joined a full congregation for the Reading of the Passion and Holy Communion. Jean and I were very warmly welcomed and had a great time. Ufford has a High Church tradition so there were plenty of smells and bells, and the church itself boasts a very rich collection of surviving mediaeval artefacts and midern introductions. Here are just  three to whet your appetite: the rare don’t cover with it’s still-working rise-and-fall mechanism, one of the carved bench ends, and a fragment of glass showing an angel dressed in the feathered suit an actor would have worn when portraying one in the mystery plays. All fifteenth century I think.



Another interesting relative…


If you think this chap looks rather artistic, you’d be right! He’s yet another of the rather interesting relatives Jean keeps on finding in her family history researches, a nephew of her 4-greats grandfather whose picture I put up a few days ago. This one is William Bartholomew, poet and librettist (1793–1867, also a professional chemist, violinist, and painter of flowers). Fascinating. He collaborated with Mendelssohn, writing the words for ‘Oh, for the wings of a dove’ and the libretto for Elijah.  This is one of the many letters between them:



Art Challenge: Ipswich

Ipswich Christchurch Tree Ipswich Festival Sky over Suffolk

And finally, as I sign off for Holy Week, three well-saturated shots from Suffolk – one of the old, gnarled trees in Christchurch Park, Ipswich, that I’ve passed every time I’ve walked down into town, and imagined Wolsey doing the same; an installation from last year’s IpArt Festival promising warmer days to come; and one of those amazing Suffolk skies.

Why not enter our Suffolk Show Photography Competition? http://www.stedmundsbury.anglican.org/index.cfm?page=landf.content&cmid=422