In a survey of people in the street in the 1940s, when asked what they thought The Church taught about God the Father it could be summarised like this:
“He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfilment; He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgements and miracles distributed with a good deal of favouritism. He likes to be acknowledged and is always ready to pounce on anyone who trips up or is having a bit of fun, He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary”.
Altogether, not someone to be “loved” or “loving”. Reading some of the Old Testament, particularly the early history of the Jews where God is responsible for ordering the massacre of thousands of innocent people, adults, children, animals, etc. you ask where is this “Loving Father” of whom Jesus speaks?
In fact I sometimes wonder why we read some of the Old Testament publicly at all, particularly without explanation, for it gives rise to a misunderstanding of the Father.
For the majority of folk, whether religious or not, God is a father-like figure who is swift to punish people who fall out of line, and as one doubting ‘teen-ager told me, he thought God was “a misery” and some extreme Evangelicals tend to enforce that view by their constant emphasis on "Sin" and not "Joy".
Watching Dr. Brian Cox’s series on the Universe with its intricacies and breath-taking beauty we realise how vast and beyond comprehension the mind behind Creation is.
“Your God is too small” wrote J. B. Philips in the book of that title, and frankly, our presentation of His majesty, wonder and power is often childish as we try and project human ideas and values upon Him.
If by our worship we could create this sense of wonder and empowerment that runs through some sections of the Old Testament (particularly the prophets, like Isaiah) our faith would come alive, but we rarely do so and as a result it can be somewhat pedestrian and ineffective.
Even whilst wandering in the wilderness for all those 40 years, we get the sense that through colour, song and ceremony the Jews recognised the immensity of the Divine Majesty.
Professor Otto, in his important book “The idea of the Holy” helps to move us away from our inadequate vision of the Divine, trying always to put ourselves in a position where we can accept this mystery and immensity of the Godhead.
In our desire to make Christian worship more appealing to the unbeliever we have tended to devalue the Divine currency.
We approach and engage in our worship almost casually.
We tend to make our worship shrines into little more than village halls. We have lost that sense of “remembrancing” that prevailed when I was young, so that we should be as reverent coming into our churches for our worship as we might be when entering the Queen’s palace. Without that spirit our worship will never will come alive.
Other religions are more disciplined in this than we Anglicans, taking off their shoes and prostrating themselves in prayer whereas we are bidden to “sit”, even hen confessing our failures.
Likewise it was (and still is) a basic Church rule, that we should bow our heads “at the Name of Jesus”. The peers on entering the House of Lords bow to the throne there, while usually it is empty, it is a mark of the power of our earthly ruler. Likewise it is customary to bow to reverence the altar when entering and leaving, for it is God’s throne and He is One who is greater than anything or anyone we can begin to imagine.
We need to reassess our attitude towards our worship and our relationship with God the Father and restore that sense of the Presence and particularly when we worship.
We say “The Lord is here; His spirit is with us” and at the Eucharist, He truly is, but unseen, except with the eye of Faith. “O come, let us worship and bow down” (Psalm 95)
In the desire to make everything corporate, we now begin the Creed (which is a statement of our beliefs), no longer with “I”, but “we”.
Now, I wonder if everyone who recites the Nicene Creed (the one used at the Eucharist) can join in that honestly or perhaps without thought? Do YOU understand and believe what our Creed says, or do you feel that you cannot honestly join in a statement that doesn’t chime in with your understanding?
There is little doubt that the bulk of Christians do not completely understand the tremendous truths to which they proclaim their belief in “We”.
The Creed should be a personal statement of what the believer understands, can take “on board” and implement in their day-to-day living, but how often do we hear an explanation of the Creeds in church, to which we confidently proclaim “WE believe”?
“It doesn’t matter what we believe”, some might say, but an examination of how we rely on “beliefs” in vital decisions, will soon show us that so many things, even such as casting our vote, or marrying a partner, because we believe that our vote will be important or, that we will live happily ever after, may prove to be mistaken beliefs. You can only truly test “beliefs” by acting upon them.
Similarly, when it comes to the Confession, it becomes yet another “WE”; would it not make a greater impact on our thoughts and words if they were professed as “I confess”, which forces us to examine our daily lives
The confession in Church has less (or any) force if we have not prepared in our hearts and prayer to be “Honest to God”?
Do we spend time on a Saturday prior to receiving Communion the next day, recalling that particular moment last week that we did not live up to Christ’s standards?
When I do, I am embarrassed that I am confessing the same traits in my character as I did the previous Saturday, so you feel that God must despair at how little progress I have made spiritually. Nor can we gloss over what we have thought, said or done the past week by perhaps saying “Sorry God, it’s the same as last week!”
We need to remember that in the Early Church the believers stood up before the gathering recounting how they had sinned, asking their fellow Christians (and of course, God) to forgive them. St. James in his epistle (4. v16) orders his readers to “confess your sins one to another” that they may be forgiven.
Understandably, this proved a veritable ground for scandal so that eventually it became a silent confession and the forgiveness conveyed via the priest (as we do today). Far less embarrassing!
In the next few “Jottings” I want to consider with you what YOU believe and what through the Creeds YOU are saying.
In all this you need to remember that the original Creed was little more than “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Saviour”.
As heretical ideas were abounding, so clauses had to be added to ensure that what was spoken was a reflection of the truths about Christ and our redemption that were supported by the Scriptures.
There are 3 Creeds, the “Nicene” (that we use at the Eucharist), the “Apostles”, the original simpler Baptismal Creed used nowadays at Morning and Evening Prayer and the much longer and complex “Athanasian Creed” or “Quicunque vult” that is an attempt to clarify the nature of the Holy Trinity.
None of them are immediately self-explanatory and so if we are going to stand up and recite any of these 3 Creeds, being the basis of our Faith, then understanding them (as best we may) is vital.
"Let my payer be set forth in thy sight as the Incense"
The proper procedure in clerical appointments was once that the candidate’s first encounter with representatives of the parish should be only with the churchwardens. Being persuaded by the Bishop “To go and look at Wootton”, to my astonishment I found the whole of the PCC Standing Committee ready to grill me regarding my intentions if I were to be their Rector.
To be honest, I didn’t want to go there, being nicely settled at St. John’s, Sandown, so I answered their questions honestly, hoping that my suggestions would be considered to be too revolutionary and “Romish” for what I knew to be a very conservative congregation.
If as a result they demurred, then I had good reason to tell the Bishop that “I wouldn’t do” and that he should look elsewhere.
So, “Yes, I would wear vestments, yes, I would have servers carrying candles; and then the question I thought would seal the matter came, when asked if I would use incense, I said, “Yes, I would if I thought it would enhance the worship and the congregation didn’t object”.
There was some shaking of heads, but to push things on, the PCC Chairman (the local doctor) said briskly, “Now we know what Mr. Rayner will do if he comes; is it your wish that we should ask him to accept the post?”. Despite the head-shaking, the positive vote was unanimous and eventually, when St. Mark’s Church was re-opened, early on, we had incense, but on a fairly inoffensive scale with few objections.
But what is Incense? Basically it is the crushed solidified sap of the Middle Easter Olibanum or similar tree, which when heated (usually by charcoal) produces a sweet-smelling odour. Something that religious people in most of the world have used in their worship for more than 4,000 years.
Zechariah (John Baptist’s father) a priest at the Temple was offering incense at an altar set apart for that purpose (Luke 1, vv5-13) when the angel appeared to him to tell him of his son’s future birth.
As the incense burns, a light smoke ascends, thus the Psalm, “Let my prayers be set forth in thy sight as the incense and the lifting up of our hands be an evening sacrifice” being a symbol of the faithful’s prayers ascending to the heavenly throne.
In worship, it has an immediate calming effect, so much so that our College Principal (when Chancellor of York Minster) used to send vergers with censers throughout that great church, and it calmed the behaviour of Bank-holiday tourists like magic as they encountered it. I have found this effective when preparing for one of those weddings or services where one is doubtful whether the guests (after pre-nuptial drinks) will behave as seemly in church as they ought.
What else is it used for? Strangely, it has no use, apart from worship and some healing rituals and has by tradition been always seen as a sign of the Presence of God.
Hence, one of the 3 Kings offered Incense to the child as a sign that He was (and is) God.
For a while in the 60s, it and Incense sticks became one of the “musts” for the “Beautiful People” being part of the revival of a different culture.
Whereas it was forbidden from the Reformation until the late 19th century, it is now found in many of our cathedrals and parish churches, providing an atmosphere of “otherness” helping to refocus people’s minds away from the transitory world to the real world of God and His purposes for us.
7 July 2019
(This jotting is to inform you, not suggesting that you all go out and buy incense sticks; but then, you might do so and find it a help in your prayer life)
Following the bride and bridegroom, I took my place on the outer top step of Holy Trinity Church to join with them and the family for the usual photographs.
As I emerged, wearing a brilliant red and gold cope, I heard (not one of the usual wedding-watchers) exclaim, “Look, the Vicar looks like someone on the Telly!”.
The hardened watchers, to whom this was nothing new ignored her, but I thought, that amid all the arguments on what happened in the “Higher” churches, the fact that it was seen on the “Telly” gave it a certain respectability and acceptance!
Some of our more hardened Evangelical clergy espouse such fripperies, for they feel they must look ordinary, lest it “puts people off”.
Here they are wrong, for regardless of religious decline, people expect Church to be different and rightly so. There is a hymn that runs “Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring, for his grace and power are such that one can never ask too much”.
You have an invitation to the Queen’s Garden Party. Do you look out a pair of well-worn jeans (they’re more comfortable), or do you search through your wardrobe to find something appropriate, and if not, then off to the Internet to find something “Fit for a Queen”? Certainly, I wouldn’t wish to wear my shorts!
I wear a cope for services such as Baptisms and Weddings, because they are important occasions in the family’s life and I want to honour it (and God) dressed in a suitable manner.
Clerical robes go right back to early Jewish history and a study of Exodus, chapter 28, will indicate how amid the rigours of the wilderness, Aaron and his fellow priests were to have the most rich and meaningful robes at God’s command.
The Psalm speaks of “worshipping God “In the beauty of holiness”, but the correct translation is “In beautiful robes”, which makes some sense.
The use of Eucharistic vestments in the Church of England goes back from the earliest days until the Reformation, when they were considered part of the Popish heresies, but it was reported that Queen Elizabeth I, employed priests in her Private chapel who wore them and on whose altar there were two lighted candles during the service.
From then on, the normal wear for an officiating priest was a surplice and academic hood over a plain black cassock until the Oxford Movement revival from the 1840s onwards. All rather dull, but the full vestments gradually came into use, despite condemnation from the Bishops and the imprisonment of two East London priests that raised a great deal of controversy.
Gradually, many of the pre-Reformation practises and customs returned and for most parishes they have become the norm, particularly since the publication of the 1928 Prayer Book (intended to replace 1662, but never legally approved by Parliament), which clearly authorised the use of traditional robes.
Disregarding Parliament, the CofE pressed on with the 1928 book becoming an “unofficial” rewriting of some sections of 1662 and on which much of the Common Worship services are based.
Our vestments are a link with the Early Church and have a “teaching” value as a study of the accompanying diagram shows.
30 June 2019
THE PRIEST'S ROBES
The Beefeaters in the Tower of London wear a distinctive, although archaic, dress, to remind us all that we are a nation with a long history and tradition.
If the priest at the Eucharist wears the robes pictured above, it is because originally, Christians wore their best clothes when officiating at worship, and basically he is dressed like a 3rd century Roman gentleman!
This is a salutary reminder that The Church has an even longer history than our nation, with a contunuity, reaching back to the time of the Apostles themselves.
The CHASUBLE is basically a "poncho" type garment, usually of the colour of the Church Season.
The white ALBE was the basic under-garment of a Roman citizen.
The STOLE was a symbol of authority.
The GIRDLE was a pratctical belt.
The MANIPLE (now disused) was a relic of the towels which the clergy used to wear over their arms to remind them that they are ministers (servants), for Jesus showed His disciples, by washing their feet, that the true follower of Jesus must be a "minister" a "servant" of God and of others.
150 years ago, the two curates (that’s right, two!) at St. Michael’s, Swanmore had their licenses withdrawn by the Bishop (then of Winchester) preventing them from conducting any services there.
What was their dreadful offence?
Simply that during a service, there were lighted candles on the altar that were only there for ceremonial purposes; the Church Laws it was claimed forbad this practise, unless they were necessary for the priest to read the altar book.
Otherwise, it was illegal and described as “Popery”,
Ever since the Reformation it was supposed that this was what the Prayer Book stated and anything that imitated the Roman Catholic practises was suspect and condemned.
The battle between the growing number of “High Church” clergy was bitter, with the Bishops disciplining anyone or anything contravening what they thought was against the spirit of the Reformation.
They pointed to the rule in the first English Prayer Book, which said that “The robes of the minister and other practises were to remain as in the first year of Edward 6th’ reign” but records showed that in fact at that time, altar candles were sill in use, as indeed were the priestly vestments.
This dispute was eventually settled after the saintly Bishop of Lincoln (The Rt. Revd. Edward King) was hauled before the Archbishop Benison’s Consistory Court to defend his use of altar candles and vestments in his Episcopal chapel.
King was found “guilty” although Benison did accept the idea of altar candles, also the mixing of a little water with the Communion wine that had been another offence and from then on there were efforts to make these “Popish” practises both legal and acceptable to Anglican congregations. These differences continued right into the early years of my ministry.
Nowadays in churches, these are all commonplace, with the use of incense, vestments and ceremonies that were still suspect in a number of parishes, even into the 1960s. I was condemned as “Romish”, when I was sent by Bishop John Philips to raise the ecclesiastical temperature at St. John’s, Sandown in 1963 to balance the worship at Christchurch.
(I introduced vestments there at the end of 1963, but on the same Sunday, the church boiler finally died and the local Baptist minister told his congregation that “It was a judgement on the Vicar of St. John’s for introducing these Popish practises”!)
Unfortunately, some of this opposition can still be found in some parishes, but probably this is as much due to the fact that many churchgoers have no knowledge of what these ceremonies mean or why they exist.
Examining the history of these Candles, it stems from the earliest years of Christianity.
In Acts, 20, vv7-11, Luke describes an incident on a Saturday evening (remember, Sunday began at late eventide), when Paul preaches too long and a poor boy, Eutychus, overcome by the presence of so many lights, falls out of a window but is rescued unharmed.
After a meal, the Eucharist began for which many additional candles or oil lamps were brought in, reminiscent of Jesus’ claim to be “The light of the world”.
There is a translation of an ancient Hymn (Our hymn book 253, 3rd century or earlier):
“Hail, gladdening light of His pure glory poured, from the immortal Father, heavenly blessed, Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord”.
This was sung as the extra lights were brought into the room for the Eucharist.
Our lighted candles on the altar remind us of the abiding Presence of Jesus, when we meet to worship Him.