Tag Archives: Easter

Easter at St James’

The New Paschal Candle

So that’s Easter over for another year. Over the last twenty-four hours we’ve been to five services, and we’ve seen over five hundred people pass through the Church.

We kicked off late last night with the service that starts the Easter Vigil, which as in previous years the Youth Group took part in, and as with last year, we didn’t have to! As with last year we helped set up the vigil service, and then could head home to bed, rather than spending the night in the Parish Centre. This year there were about twenty-five of the young people who spent the night at the Church, and as is traditional, a lot of them looked decidedly rough come 6am on Easter morning.

The 6am service was our first appointment of the day, along with another sixty or so people who also got up early to see the sun rise at the church – although thanks to the cloud you couldn’t see much – and then after the service everybody went over to the Parish Centre to partake of the traditional bacon butties and/or croissants.

Dawn on Easter Morning

Since Beth was down to be sidesperson at the 9:30am Family service, there wasn’t much point in going home after breakfast, so we stayed for the 8am said Eucharist, which also had fifty people appear for it. That was quickly followed by the 9:30am Family service, where things started getting really crazy.

There has been a lot of grumbling about the fact that Easter this year doesn’t fall within the school holidays. That maybe a problem for some, but in terms of our numbers at Easter it seems to have made a massive difference. At 9:30am, even without a choir taking up a lot of pews, the building was absolutely full. We ran out of chairs, so had to go over to the Parish Centre to get some more, and ran out of hymn books too – a total of two-hundred and twenty-seven people squeezed into our little Church. Things were much the same come 11am – this time we had people seated in the vestry, and other people standing in the North Aisle – certainly it looks like another attendance in excess of two hundred for that service too.

The 11am was the big choir service of the day, and we had pretty well one hundred percent attendance – and we needed it as the anthem for the day was the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. It has to be said that we’ve been having problems with this over the past couple of weeks, and although it came together a lot better on the day, it still wasn’t quite right from where we were standing. Having said that, it went down really well – even inducing spontaneous applause from the congregation. As was said afterwards, it may not have been exactly right, but there aren’t many village church choir’s who would even attempt it!

Anyway, the weirdest aspect of the whole day was the weather. You can see a shot from dawn (there are more in our photo galleries) where it was dry but cold – but look at what it was doing a couple of hours later… to be followed by sunshine and blue skies a few hours after that! If you look at this picture, you can see that for a while the snow was actually settling too!


Easter Snow at St James from Richard Peat on Vimeo.

Theological Hoop Jumping

A few weeks ago I commented on the brewing row over the meaning of Easter caused by an upcoming talk by the controversial Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John. Subsequently John has responded to the criticism through the Church Times, and Bishop Tom Wright has produced an extensive article expressing why his original criticisms were valid.

Included in the prominent critics were Bishops Wallace Benn and Pete Broadbent who followed along from Bishop Tom Wright and released a statement from Spring Harvest condemning the talk – without having read it. However this takes on a more interesting twist with the news that the UCCF are withdrawing from Spring Harvest because of the involvement of Steve Chalke as a result of his beliefs first mentioned in his book The Lost Message of Jesus and which Chalke himself summarises online. Whilst the UCCF believe that Chalke has diverged from orthodox Christian teaching – the same accusation that has been levelled at Jeffrey John – Bishops Benn and Broadbent are happy to work with Chalke, but are releasing press statements criticising John.

Needless to say, this can lead pretty easily to the conclusion that John is being attacked because of who he is, rather than what he is saying – so Tom Wright talks about Chalke in the article too. However, having read the relevant passage:

Now, to be frank, I cannot tell, from this paragraph alone, which of two things Steve means. You could take the paragraph to mean (a) on the cross, as an expression of God’s love, Jesus took into and upon himself the full force of all the evil around him, in the knowledge that if he bore it we would not have to; but this, which amounts to a form of penal substitution, is quite different from other forms of penal substitution, such as the mediaeval model of a vengeful father being placated by an act of gratuitous violence against his innocent son. In other words, there are many models of penal substitution, and the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story is at best a caricature of the true one. Or you could take the paragraph to mean (b) because the cross is an expression of God’s love, there can be no idea of penal substitution at all, because if there were it would necessarily mean the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story, and that cannot be right.

where option (a) is the acceptable interpretation of the Chalke statements, whereas (b) is the interpretation that UCCF and most other people have taken. Tom Wright and I assume Bishops Benn and Broadbent take the view that Chalke meant (a).

From my point of view, looking at what Chalke himself says he says the following:

In my view however, the real problem with penal substitution (a theory rooted in violence and retributive notions of justice) is its incompatibility, at least as currently taught and understood, with any authentically Christian understanding of the character of God or genuinely Christocentric worldview…

which strikes me that Chalke is saying that he has the same issue with the traditional understanding of penal substitution as John, but that Tom Wright is doing some fairly subtle theological hoop jumping to argue why what Chalke says is acceptable and John isn’t.

Tom Wright doesn’t help with drawing conclusions that this is personal either. During the course of the nearly half the article where he picks the John talk apart, he at one point uses an example that focuses on Jeffrey John’s sexuality, and alludes to the title of his well known booklet on the subject. Jeffrey John’s letter to the Church Times mentions that much of the hate mail related to the talk focused on his sexuality – when Tom Wright mentions John’s letter he brushes it aside with a ‘we all get hate mail’ type comment, totally ignoring the sexuality aspect, before going on to make comments that could be considered in the same vein. When he starts talking about Chalke he notes that he knows him personally, indeed he got a pre-release copy of the book. He also highlights that the book may be unclear over what Chalke believes, but then says that he has had a chat with Chalke and is happy that he does believe in penal substitution but under another name. He finishes the section on Chalke with this statement:

And this leads to the key point: there are several forms of the doctrine of penal substitution, and some are more biblical than others. What has happened since the initial flurry of debate about The Lost Message of Jesus has looked, frankly, like a witch-hunt, with people playing the guilt-by-association game: hands up anyone who likes Steve Chalke; right, now we know who the bad guys are.

Unfortunately, as with anything with such subtle differences for those of us without doctorates of Theology it really isn’t that clear what the difference is, between what Chalke believes and what John has said. In the book, Chalke states this:

If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. The truth is, the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his son are prepared to go to prove that love.

He then uses Elie Wiesel as an example to make the point.

Jeffrey John says this in his talk:

Because he is Love, God does what Love does: He unites himself with the beloved. He enters his own creation and goes to the bottom line for us. Not sending a substitute to vent his punishment on, but going himself to the bitter end, sharing in the worst of suffering and grief that life can throw at us, and finally sharing our death, so that he can bring us through death to life in him.

As with Chalke, he then goes on to use Elie Wiesel as an example to make the point. Both Chalke and John are disagreeing with penal substitution and saying that it is about love, not vengeance, yes there are differences in what they are saying, and how they say it, but they are largely coming at it from the same direction. The difference between the two is that Chalke has a quote from a certain Tom Wright on the cover of his book commending the scholarship, whilst Jeffery John gets Tom Wright criticising him in the Sunday Telegraph, he then gets Wright producing an epic critique of the talk on Fulcrum.

Ultimately it stinks of being theological sleight of hand buried in pages and pages of exposition to try and avoid accusations of hypocrisy that can be levelled at those involved, Tom Wright especially. Finally, what about the UCCF and their Spring Harvest walkout? Much as I don’t agree with the beliefs of the UCCF, and probably would object to what they are teaching, at least they’re actually being consistent between what they believe and their behaviour, which is more than can be said for certain bishops.

(Thanks to Dave Walker for keeping track of the debate.)

Dawn Service

Sunlight and Shadow

So for the first time in years, we’ve actually had some sleep on Easter night. Beth went up to Church last night and led the vigil service, gave the Youth Group instructions on the readings, and then left the vigil itself to somebody else. We had a reasonable nights sleep, and then were back up at the Church for the dawn service considerably more awake and refreshed than we usually are on Easter morning.

Even better it wasn’t our responsibility to make sure the youth group didn’t snore too loudly during the service itself, nor were we responsible for clearing up the parish centre. We did however still help out with getting the fire going for the lighting of the paschal candle (in Beth’s case), and to fly the flag for Easter in mine.

This year we were treated to a beautiful dawn too. Quite often Easter morning is pretty cloudy and damp, however today we had clear skies on the top of the hill, and mist in the river valley below.

Later on we’re off to attend the first 11am Easter Morning service I’ve seen in six years, and the first Beth has ever attended. (We did make it as far as the 9:30am service one year…)

After that we can come home to tuck into Easter Eggs, all to celebrate (at least according to Somerfield) the birth of Christ… (Well rebirth at the second attempt, and resurection at the third.) Unfortunately the survey into British ignorance at the meaning of Christmas Easter that accompanied the Somerfield press release is now gone, however for the next week or so, The Now Show will helpfully recap some of the best of the questions for your enjoyment…

BBC Saving Our Licence Fee with Eastmas

eastmas

Thanks to Dave for highlighting this little gem. Apparently, in a bid to save licence payers money – which does deserve some credit I’m sure, the BBC filmed the Easter Songs of Praise straight after having filmed the Christmas edition in Litchfield Cathedral last year. The Bishop of Lichfield inadvertently kicked off a bit of a storm over the move, when a speech to his Diocesan Synod was reported in the press. Ironically, he was just using the recordings as a minor example, however it does seem to have kicked off a minor storm over the move. But as the Bishop says, he knew about it in advance, and everybody was briefed. It is apparently quite standard due to the expense for the BBC to film multiple programmes in the same location. Of course it also gives Dave a chance to do a topical cartoon to make light of the situation.

Seriously though, if it is saving our money by doing it that way, who am I to complain? Perhaps they could do the same thing with sporting events as well – perhaps get the teams to change their shirts and film another game straight afterwards, nobody would notice I’m sure. Either that, or just get all the teams to come to one location and film games one after another to save moving cameras around, that would make things so much easier wouldn’t it?