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26 May 2009

by David Winter

Upward and onward

I AM writing this on Ascension Day. We had an early eucharist, and extinguished the Easter candle after the Gospel — the season of the incarnation symbolically over for another year. Then we had breakfast — not exactly full English (most of us watching our cholesterol levels), but cereals and toast, juice and coffee.

It all seemed pretty low-key compared with that traumatic moment when the risen Jesus “withdrew” from his disciples, as Luke puts it. But then they were ordered to wait — to wait “until you are clothed with power from on high”. Which takes us ten days on to Pentecost, and wind and fire and noise and clamour of tongues.

Perhaps you have to have reached my advanced years fully to appreciate the magic of the passing seasons of the Christian year — truly, the “Seasons of the Son”.

The great mystery

THE week after Pentecost is Trinity, however, and I am booked to preach for the feast of title at Holy Trinity, Cookham. I recall the great Methodist Colin Morris suggesting that this was the ideal Sunday to invite a visiting preacher and enjoy seeing him or her struggle to unveil the mathematical mystery of the holy and undivided Godhead.

I remember as a choirboy singing the Quicunque Vult (and that’s a rare claim to be able to make), with its unanswerable assertion that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all alike “incomprehensible”. Being a bit of a geek (as my grandchildren would say), I did know what the word meant, and having heard several of the Vicar’s sermons on the subject felt that the point had been well and truly hammered home. For most Anglicans, it’s the sort of thing we happily leave to others, dismissing it as a “mystery”, which means that we don’t need to bother our heads about it.

A pity, really, I’ve come to think, because, even if no one on earth can hope to provide a precise definition for a mystery, that does not mean that it is without meaning.

For me (again, I sound as old as I am), the Holy Trinity is best experienced rather than explained. At different times, in different circumstances, God comes to me as Father, or Saviour, or Sustainer. “That”, as the poet says, “is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Not for turning

I HAD the pleasure of speaking at a forum for the Readers in our diocese (though we call them “licensed lay ministers”). During our opening devotions, a loud, insistent, and rather bossy voice sounded from somewhere among the assembly. “MAKE A LEGAL U-TURN AT ONCE,” it commanded.

There was a stunned silence. Was this the Voice of Ultimate Truth, warning us that we were on the broad road leading to destruction? Or a summary revocation of our diverse ministries? Then, as someone said, “Oops, forgot to switch it off!” there was a roar of relieved laughter. The dreaded Sat Nav had struck again.

No laughing matter

I WENT with a clergy friend (a fellow cricket fanatic) to hear Alister McGrath give the Eric Symes Abbott Memorial lecture at Keble College, Oxford. Unfortunately, we met another clerical cricket nut on the way in, and foolishly sat together.

There was a while before the (very serious, and thoroughly thought-provoking) lecture began, which gave us time to peruse the stained glass in front of us. Someone pointed out that the saintly figure at the top — arms spread apart — was apparently signalling a wide. We then observed that a no-ball was being signalled by a figure whom casual observers might have thought was simply indicating the way to life.

So far, our boyish giggles were controllable, but when a haloed figure was spotted raising his hand in blessing — the double-fingered kind — we realised that there could be no doubt that the batsman was out. “Twice!” a fiendish voice added.

It was quite hard to regain composure before the lecture, and avoid prompting one of the many students present to compose a letter to Cherwell complaining of the childish superficiality of modern older men.

Café flock

I WAS invited to preach at a “Café Service” at Dorchester Abbey, possibly because I have written a couple of little books called Espresso Bible and Espresso Prayers. It was one of a series of “fresh expressions” introduced by the Rector, Sue Booys, and I guessed — rightly — that it would be exceedingly well done.

On enquiry, I learnt that it would take place in a marquee in the abbey grounds, that there would be tables and comfortable chairs, coffee and croissants throughout, and entertainment — a juggler/clown and music. Oh . . . and me.

What would St Paul have done? Probably what I did, which was to put my faith in the very explicit promise of Mark 13.11: “Say whatever is given you at that time.” Actually, it was the Lectionary that “gave” it — shepherds and sheep; though what they’ve got to do with cafes, or coffee, I have no idea.

Happily, they’ve got quite a lot to do with Sunday lunch, which for most of those present was probably the next thing on the agenda.

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