I know we can have some early Easters, In the bleak mid Winter. but surely reading Result: confusion and laughter the story of Maundy Thursday on Good Friday of all days. at Candlemas is totally out of time. And why, Actually Dr Who fan that I am, when we celebrate a marvellous new parish priest I’m in to being out of time. and a marvellous new Director of Ordinands Like when I led my first Good Friday Three Hours on this day of all days as a guest preacher and celebrant in West Hull. why do I haunt you with Maundy Thursday? I announced the first hymn, Because the account of Peter’s denial no 67 in my book, strips discipleship and vocation and faith When I survey the wondrous Cross. to the bare bones. Unfortunately the congregation This is what is left were using a different book when all the games have stopped: and 67 in their book was the cold dawn, the glare of torches, our hands being Christ’s hands to bless his world, the grinning faces that might laugh it off, our mouth being Christ’s mouth or turn you over the military to preach his words of grace, or lynch you themselves. our feet being Christ’s feet This is true reality without the veneers. to run for him and his Gospel. As fantasies go, And it has particular things to say to us tonight. it is a marvellous one, That image of Peter, a very worthy goal for any parish to commit to gathered with the servants, as it begins a new stage of ministry. warming their hands around the fire whilst Jesus shivers at the trial which awaits him, But we all know that is a very powerful picture of the Church. in our hearts of hearts Perhaps not the picture we prefer. that the Church is very seldom like that. We may like to fantasise about the Church I really do believe that a better image being the body of Christ, is of the Church being a group of people Peter remembers his words. who gather together on a cold night, Peter goes out and weeps bitterly. warming their hands around a fire That’s liturgy at its very best. whilst their Lord is brutalised off stage. At first sight it is an image which is bleak and bald, Every church right to restrict it to Maundy Thursday, busy, busy , busy with its activity, unbearable to let that image roam the world, keeping the fire going haunt our every day. so that hands will be warm or warmish, And yet, it is a good image nevertheless, in that the two centres of action out the corner of its eye, are not separate from each other, sees its Lord brutalised off stage, are not oblivious to each other, and that seeing makes a world of difference. but affect and inform each other. Timothy Rees The Lord turns and looks at Peter. Bishop of Llandaff from 1936 to 1939 wrote a poem about the Passion in other words a church! invading our every day: And their two way conversation The groaning of creation, affects each other. wrung out by pain and care, Don’t be too hard on Peter, the anguish of a million hearts because there was obviously something about him that break in dumb despair: which made him stand out. O crucified Redeemer, He wasn’t just one of the lads or lasses these are thy cries of pain… warming himself. The conversation could have gone another way. Of course, The servant girl saying, those who gathered around the fire ‘Well, one thing’s for sure, Peter, on that first Maundy Thursday you are not one of that lot.’ were a motley bunch, Someone else saying, believers and questioners, ‘You’re one of the lads, Peter, disciples and non disciples: not one of these religious freaks.’ Another asserting, would the authorities have enough on you ‘You can’t be one of his disciples, Peter. to secure a conviction? You’re estuary-speak, like us, No, surely not, you haven’t got Jesus’ northern accent.’ you can’t be a Christian, Before ordination I worked in Barclays Bank in Hull, you’re just one of the lads, one male cashier with eight female cashiers. one of the gals. when the girls realised where I was heading, they said that I was the last person they thought should On the subject of two centres of action, become a vicar, I was too normal. two activities being simultaneously played, I remember being very proud of that image. the each informing the other, Perhaps I should have heard a cockerel crowing of course Richard as we hauled the tills up from the basement safe in his person and ministry as a weak sun dawned over Hull’s forlorn docks. will henceforth combine two activities, that of parish priest If Christianity were a crime, and Director of Ordinands. Tonight’s Gospel speaks to Richard’s work of Maundy Thursday with those seeking ordination. with its shrill scream And that road to ordination ‘I tell you, I do not know this man of which you speak.’ includes many professions of faith, What would we do from interviews with a new deacon or priest to selection conferences who proclaimed that at his or her ordination? to solemn vows at the ordination service, It would bring the service to a grinding halt; akin to Peter’s, hardly the words of someone on track to be pope! ‘Lord, even if all deny you, And yet as the cockerel crowed I will never deny you. and the Lord looked at Peter I will go with you to prison and Peter looked at him and even death itself.’ and Peter went out and wept bitterly, That is the fond hope, that was where Peter’s vocation truly began the heady fantasy, with all the veneers and pretence stripped off. to be balanced by the reality ‘When I am weak, then I am strong,’ St Paul maintained. New Testament Scholarship, Had he read Theology at Cambridge, Theology, he would have no doubt improved on that, Music, ‘When I am weak, then God is strong.’ we are fortunate to have a new parish priest Stuart Blanch, the archbishop who ordained me, and DDO used to talk about candidates’ who is steeped in these things and many more. promising weaknesses. But above all these things, which are considerable, Richard is the man for this hour. it is Richard’s humility, humanity and reality Our paths have crossed over the last two decades, which speaks mountains to me. and from our first meeting Richard impressed me He strikes me as someone who has been there, with massive qualifications has faced head on which he never crows about, the cold dawn, which he wears lightly, the glare of torches, but are clearly his woof and warp. the grinning faces that might laugh it off, or turn you over the military do stop playing games or lynch you themselves. and to do faith straight, Richard has the nerve to take you there to do God straight. and look that dawn in the face That should be our beginning and move you on and our end. through crucifixion to resurrection. When I first met Richard, To spare Richard’s blushes I was the Archbishop of York’s chaplain. I don’t want to get too personal, I was still reeling from the BBC2 series but over the years I have talked to a lot of priests the Barchester Chronicles and a lot of people seeking priesthood, with its chilling caricature and compared to them all, of a bishop’s chaplain Richard has a rare quality in Alan Rickman’s Mr Slope. of being able to tell it as it is, But the image that most fired me to strip off the veneers and pretence in that series was the humble cathedral precentor, He's simply a good man, Septimus Harding. without guile, At the end of the final episode, believing humbly in the religion his son-in-law, he has striven to teach, the rather pompous archdeacon, and guided by the precepts gives Septimus this toast, he has striven to learn. which catches the priesthood, My friends, I give you our Mr. Harding. the discipleship which all of us should be aiming for. My friends, I give you our Richard Spencer. Septimus is not a hero, Take good care of him. not a man that is widely talked about, And enjoy and be thrilled not a man who should be toasted at public dinners, by all the riches, not a man who should be spoken of nothing less than the riches of Christ, with conventional absurdity as "the perfect divine". he will share with you.
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