Christ the King – In Him, can we? Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43

What I think is a male Duke of Burgandy butterfly... a close view of the photograph suggests  stubby legs at the front! (Noar Hill, near Selborne, late May 2016)
What I think is a male Duke of Burgandy butterfly… a close view of the photograph suggests stubby legs at the front! (Noar Hill, near Selborne, late May 2016)

This morning as part of my placement in the North Hampshire Downs I was in All Saints, Odiham marking the end of the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King. My reflections start with the super-moon and a very small butterfly!

Epistle: Colossians 1:11-20  Gospel: Luke 23:33-43

I suspect few of us will have seen the full-extent of the super-moon on Monday, though on Sunday as I returned from a late afternoon service in Greywell I was blessed with a wonderful view of the apparently huge rising of the ‘nearly’ super-moon, in the glowing colour of autumn’s glory. But as there was no-where suitable to pull-off and capture the phenomenon in a photograph, it has to stay purely as a memory.

There was something so fascinating about this phenomenon of the moon being 30-thousand miles closer to the earth than usual, that images of it filled our news bulletins, our papers and our social media. Something we usually feel very far removed from, suddenly appeared closer (due to angles and orbits) and we were drawn into the detail of the moon, especially the craters and their impact ray systems. From a greater distance we normally just accept these by projecting onto them features with which we are more familiar: a man, or a rabbit, depending on our cultural context and physical viewpoint. Instead the different materials of which the moon is made were highlighted, emphasising for those of us that aren’t scientists that the moon is a far more complex thing than perhaps we realised. We understand more of the universe when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.

I originally come from the New Forest and have been fortunate to be surrounded by wildlife most of my life, learning to understand the differences in coat colour, markings, size and other physical attributes of some native animals and birds. But it took the discovery and accessibility of digital photography to bring to the fore the detail and significance in an insects eye, antennae, wing-case or legs. Did you know for example that some of the small, rare and beautiful Duke of Burgundy butterflies have only four apparent legs, the vestigial remains of the front two marking out such individuals as males?! It’s important to those studying the viability of butterfly populations to know whether individuals are male or female. We understand more of the world around us when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.

On this final feast of the Christian year, known as the feast of Christ the King, we are given the opportunity to understand in more detail the significance of our Servant King by drawing close-up to the cross on which he died.

In Luke’s account of the crucifixion the accepted view of Jesus’ pretentions to the role of a Messiah who brings salvation, inspire mockery and derision with the thrice repeated challenge to save himself. The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers and one of the criminals with whom he is being crucified see Jesus as-if only from a distance, and even then, perhaps only as what they want to see: not a man or a rabbit on the moon, or an insect with the usual legs but another defeated and humiliated trouble-maker put out of the way.

Yet the second criminal takes a much closer view. Recognising his own death as justified by the law of that time because of his own wrongdoing, his vision of the innocent next to him is enhanced, and he sees clearly in his character, words and actions, the truth of who Jesus is, and the power of which his crucifixion speaks. For the irony of the mockers demand that Jesus should “save himself” to prove he is “the Messiah, the chosen one”, is that in his crucifixion lies the means by which this King achieves his royal power and offers salvation not to himself, but to all humankind. As in so many other examples from his earthly ministry, it is an outcast from society who is capable of a unique insight into who Jesus is, the Servant King.

The early Christian Hebrew poem that we now read in English prose in Colossians, draws this image of Christ as Servant King still closer, like a telescope on a distant moon or perhaps the macro lens on the minute detail of a passing insect. Here is visible even more detail, highlighting the supremacy and sacrifice of Jesus, giving us a greater understanding of the nature of the God we too are called to serve.

Jesus, it highlights, is the first-born of all creation. In him all things hold together. It is easy to forget when looking in awe at a super-moon or the beauty of a butterfly, that actually they are, because Jesus. Jesus Christ wasn’t simply the person for whom the whole creation was made, it was his idea, his workmanship in the first place, designed for humans to enjoy and care for. He who flung stars into space, created us to rule with justice what he had brought into being (Psalm 8).

But, we’re told, he is also the first-born from the dead. Why? Because the evil and pain that came into that creation through humans wrongdoing, their inability to care appropriately for it and for each other, could only be healed by the very one who created it, the living God. Christ the agent of creation is also the agent of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope, which is why Christ the King, the head of the church, the fullness of God, is a crucified Christ, the Servant King.

As WE look in detail at these close-up images of God made man, refusing to save himself because of you and me, and the world we live in, we should also see something else: Jesus is the blueprint for the genuine humanness which is the gold-standard of what we are called to be as humans. The cross isn’t just about the perfection of love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice which Jesus made, it is a summons to find and exhibit that love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice in our own personal humanity.

Unlike the images we have of a super-moon, a butterfly or any other aspect of the world and life around us, whether purely in our memory or on a camera or computer chip, this close-up, detailed image of Christ, the Servant King, can only be retained in our memories, and, importantly, shared with others, IF we willingly admit our own wrong-doings, strive constantly to understand who Jesus is by being up-close to him in all things, and bring that image alive in our own lives.

JESUS withstood the mockery of those who really should have understood and recognised him, and rose with humility above the derision of those whose last laugh was at the expense of an innocent. In him, can we?

JESUS recognised in the words an outcast criminal condemned for crimes he really had committed, a hope and faith in God that deserved a place with him in paradise. In him, can we?

JESUS, first-born of all creation, brought the world into being as a place of beauty, in which the abundance of life was to be enjoyed, celebrated and cared for. In him, can we?

JESUS, first-born of the dead, brought healing and forgiveness to a broken world and to broken people. In him, can we?

In the image of Jesus we show to others in our own lives, can we welcome people into this kingdom of Christ, our King?

Advertisements

Remembering loved ones past and present at weddings

Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary's Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson
Registering my first wedding in the Bolton Chapel of St. Mary’s Old Basing. Photograph: Tarran Patterson

One of the joys of this summer is to have presided at my first weddings.

The first was the fulfilment of a prophesy, at least for me, as having a vision of me officiating at my first wedding had been one clergy friend’s encouragement for me to seek selection for ordination! I am most grateful to Tarran Patterson, the photographer on the occasion, for snapping the photo here as I completed the registers without me being aware of it at all, so that I have a visual memory of the occasion. We are blessed at Old Basing with room for official photographers to take a few photos during the ceremony without intruding into proceedings at all, and she managed to do that brilliantly, which was a gift to a rooky priest.

Today’s wedding was my last for this year. The bride will be ‘given away’ by her mother, as sadly her father died a few years ago, and is laid to rest in our churchyard. She asked to lay “his” button hole on his grave before she entered the church so he is included in the day, so I suggested that we not only do that, but we say a prayer as we do so. She, her sisters, and particularly her mother, seem very grateful for being able to ‘fill in the gap’ in this way.

Loved ones are always more acutely missed on such occasions, especially when they would have otherwise fulfilled a special role. At my first wedding the bride paused at a siblings side when coming down the isle to give them the flower token that their daughter would have carried, had she survived infancy. Another lovely touch that it was easy to enable, and we also remembered the child by name in the prayers when acknowledging other deceased loved ones, parents again.

When we rehearsed last night with this weeks couple, it was also decided that I would pray a blessing over the whole family, so that their children feel not only part of the occasion as bridesmaid and pageboys, but visibly included in God’s love in a special way too.

Needless to say there’s not a standard prayer in Common Worship for either circumstance (that I could find anyway, as this is not a blended family) so it was time to turn to and write my own. With a little encouragement from Rev’d Ally who confirmed my use of language fitted with the tradition of my serving parish (my incumbent being away), I shall be using these on Friday (as this blog post goes up).

A prayer at the graveside of a parent (in this case a father):
Gracious God
We remember at this special moment
the example of love that N shared with his family.
Understanding that he rests with your saints in your glorious presence,
but acknowledging his part in today in the symbol of this flower,
may each person here
know that N’s prayers, comfort and goodness are with them,
and that with Christ,
his love for them is never ending,
through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A blessing for the family:
Father God,
as N and N stand before you with
A, B and C,
may they know your presence in their lives together,
experience patience, trust and truthfulness among each other,
and trust daily in the example of love that is in Jesus
that together they may live joyfully
through the power of the Holy Spirit,
that is at work in all our lives. Amen.

Gates, stiles and openings… as prayer stations

A New Forest gate, well padlocked. A familiar part of my youth.
A New Forest gate, well padlocked. A familiar part of my youth.

I grew up opening gates, unlocking barriers, and sometimes climbing over fences that had no other means of being navigated.

That was part of life as the daughter of a Head Keeper in the New Forest, at any chance I had to go out to work with him, and even when we just went because we love being out in the natural world.

When we went out looking at wildlife, or some other excitement, I was given ‘the’ key and spent much of our travelling time behind the scenes of that wonderful place, hopping in and out of the land-rover/van unlocking and opening gates and barriers, and then closing them again once Dad had driven the vehicle through. They all (mostly) had the same lock and many were from a limited range of designs. These days, I’m often the one driving if we’re out on the forest with him, so others get to do this.

A narrow way: above Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales near Mill Gill, August 2013 (Note the appears to be a steep drop on the far side, and a choice of directions!)
A narrow way: above Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales near Mill Gill, August 2013 (Note the appears to be a steep drop on the far side, and a choice of directions!)

On holiday in the Yorkshire Dales this summer, I was reminded of this, as I clambered, pushed, wormed and struggled my way over or through the most amazing selection of gates, stiles and other passageways I have ever seen. I became utterly fascinated by their variety and how they spoke to me with regard to my circumstances, faith and journey in ministry. Several weeks on, I find myself returning to the photographs I took, and regarding some of them as prayer stations. In fact as I prepare some ideas for an act of worship based on Psalm 84, I am struck by the fact that a montage of such photo’s as these might prove something people might use as a focus for their reflections:

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favour and honour;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
(Psalm 84:10-11)

St. Oswald's, Askrigg viewed from a narrow gateway on the walk down from Mill Gill, August 2013
St. Oswald’s, Askrigg viewed from a narrow gateway on the walk down from Mill Gill, August 2013

The image that speaks most clearly of my own circumstances at the moment is one of a narrow gateway, in a rather awkward field corner which was hidden when viewed from any distance, looking across to a village church. I know where the church is in this photo, but in the reality of my developing ministry that isn’t the case. Some of the reason for my sporadic blogging at present is the journey of discerning where I will serve my ‘Title Post’, or ‘Curacy’ as it may be better known. This is done under the guidance of my Diocesan Director of Ordinands, Bishops’ and others, and it isn’t a process that can be shared publicly, but suffice to say I’m waiting on “Plan B” and trying hard to learn something about patience.

In the meantime, I shall keep seeking prayerful inspiration from my photos – and I think I might be able to put together a montage that would fit Psalm 84:3 too, but that would involve nests, rather than gates!

Last Swallows of Summer (and other news)

Young Swallows photographed at The Bell, Willersey in August 2011

It looks like the Swallows left before summer had had it’s last gasp!

It’s now just over a week since I last saw Swallows heading South-East across the heath at the back of Blackbushe Airport. For the sake of the records in was 21st September.

But there are plenty of other wildlife sights to keep me interested on our regular dog walks. This week alone I’ve seen Buzzards and Red Kites riding high in the late summer thermals. There are Nuthatches hard at work in the copse, and out on the heath there are still a smattering of butterflies including numerous Small Heath and what I think was a faded Grayling.

Is this a late and faded Grayling?

And if you’ll excuse the pun, we’ve been swallowing the last fruits of summer too. The french beans and courgettes are over, the chard is probably on it’s last legs. We’re still pulling pot-bound carrots. I had hoped to late sow more carrots, but gardening looks like it’s going to be purely maintenance this autumn as we’re now spending alternate Saturday’s in Winchester where our son is rehearsing with the County Double-Reed ensemble. That means we’re exploring new places with the dog too, especially Farley Mount Country Park, that started our Sloe picking season. This year we’re freezing them before starting the Sloe Gin process!

We’re still eating the last few tomatoes (some were roasted with garlic and sieved to a mush for winter stews). Of particular note have been the Dasher turbo tomatoes which are by far the most delicious addition to the summer salad. I shall be looking to have more than one plant next summer. Outside the late Alicante tomatoes have meant we’ve been able to produce big batches of Green Tomato Chutney (with, and without onions). Even the rather odd apple tree is feeding us. As well as contributing to the chutney, I’ve discovered a fab Dorset Apple Cake recipe in The Countryman and they are now keeping us well caked, despite not being particularly tasty raw!

The best of summer 2011 - Brimstone

So that’s a bit of a round up of late summer interest really. Amidst it all I’ve completely failed to make a link to what I reckon is my best photograph of the summer. So here it is – photographed in August on a footpath near Upper Slaughter:

In other news, this weekends sees the 5th Reader from St Peter’s Yateley to be licensed in 3 years, and we’ll all be turning out tomorrow at Winchester Cathedral to celebrate at the annual Reader Licensing Service. In fact with a new vicar to be licensed to, we shall all be getting our new licenses I guess. It was really wonderful that (together with those with ‘permission to preach’ and pastoral training) we have so many people in our church who have committed to authorised ministries as lay people.

A heavenly scene of “Life…” on canvas

A photo, of a canvas, of a photo, of a painting, of "Life..."

Well it’s been a while, but I finally achieved something special in time for my husband’s birthday today – with a lot of help from some lovely people.

Back last summer, I wrote about a wonderful trip to Hitchin Lavender, and posted some of my husband’s photos of the heavenly scenes. At the time I said I was saving the best – the reason being that I wanted to get it put on canvas and hung in the extension we completed in 2009.

I like to give credit where credit is due, so today’s roll of honour goes to 3 local photographers with great skills and generous, encouraging hearts:

A friend from church, Steve Mann (who is Nelson Art) for tweaking the original image slightly (at his own suggestion because he liked G’s photo when it was posted on Flickr) which removed some distant telegraph poles and people. He also made the colour balance look like the sunflowers are so real you could reach out and touch them – and suggested the canvas idea.

Another Christian friend (a GP who is a rather cool photographer) Dr Andy Teo (Photocillin) who suggested the right man to make the canvas and did the clever uploading bit I wasn’t sure about.

And Glenn of Digital Blush who was that man, and has produced a wonderful canvas that looks like it could be an oil painting. He is a man I think we will be visiting again.

Glenn, like us, likes the label on the artist’s box. It says simply “Life…”

Life… is good, praise God!

Lavender’s Blue – heavenly scenes and scents in Hitchin

Hitchin Lavender

There was a brief interlude in the steep learning curve that is lay ministry in an interregnum (sorry, vacancy) last weekend, as we travelled north up the A1M for a wedding in Lincolnshire.

A truly excellent and relaxed occasion it was. The wedding itself, a civil service in a hotel, gave me much to ponder if contrasted with the language of a church ceremony. The reception was in a lovely marquee on the family’s farm with lots of games, a bbq buffet with few food miles, and I even danced (to the shock of my son I suspect). But another treat was on store, as we stopped on the way home at another farm connected with the extended family of our friends… this time at Hitchin (near Letchworth).

Hitchin Lavender has restarted a historic tradition of growing lavender in the area, and now makes a wonderful lunch stop between late June and early September, for anyone wishing to step off the A1M at J10.

Not quite the best photo the husband took - I'm saving that!

The refreshments in the old barn were delicious, and there is shade to sit outside if you have a dog. There is also an excellent gift shop selling the delightful goods made from lavender grown on the farm. Then for a small fee (which includes the scissors and bag to cut some lavender for yourself) you can walk the fields, which now include not only lavender but the most gorgeous sunflowers. The whole thing just made my heart lift, as is a fantastic antidote to long-distance car journeys.

We were particularly impressed by the artist sat quietly in the edge of the sunflowers painting. I have no idea who she is, but would love to find out. I also thought the husbands photo a real cracker… and I think both could be real winners if they ever entered competitions!

We even bought a couple of lavender plants to bring home – one for us for the back garden (we’ve already got a plant of their lavender in the front) and one for Dad, as a thank you for looking after the dog!

One tip – be careful in the lavender fields if you’re wearing sandals; bees sting!