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Today the Church remembers Mary Magdalene.  Known in the early Church as ‘apostola apostolorum’ (‘the Apostle to the Apostles’) in John’s account, Mary Magdalene alone was the first witness to the Resurrection.  Those words ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb…’ are, for me, some of the most powerful and evocative in the Bible. 

 I imagine Mary, unable to sleep for grief and knowing that the Sabbath was now over, getting up and making her way alone to the tomb.  What does she expect to find?  Does she come simply because of the pull of the place, hoping to be close to Jesus?  But the tomb is empty, and she doesn’t understand – so she goes to tell Peter and the other disciple that the body has gone.  None of them understands.  The others go home but she remains there in the garden, weeping – confused, lost.  She goes back into the tomb – to check again for herself perhaps?  No body, no Jesus, but angels.  ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’  Then she sees him, standing there ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ 

In the half-light, amidst the trees, in the stillness of the early morning as the world holds its breath not yet awake, she doesn’t recognise him.  ‘Mary’  He calls her by name.  He calls her by name and she knows him.  We see him standing there, and don’t recognise him.  He calls each of us by name.  On Easter Morning this year, after our Vigil overnight youth event, we gathered in the shrine chapel in the Abbey.  It was still dark, and raining out in the Cloister Garden.  I read this passage and we called everyone there by name.  And then we set out up the Clumps to light the fire and proclaim ‘Alleluia!  He is risen!’ 

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’

Blessed be Mary Magdalene, first witness of the Resurrection.

On Monday (inbetween worrying about Synod and checking my phone for updates!) David and I went to two really excellent exhibitions in London.  The first, “Scintilla: glittering speck”, by the artist Rebecca Hind is showing at Christ Church, Spitalfields until December (http://www.winsornewton.com/news/rebecca-hind).  Rebecca has painted a stunning watercolour triptych on the theme of Life-Death-Resurrection, and it will hang behind the altar there until December.  I loved the whole composition – the way the colours carried across the three panels, the way the flames seemed to leap upwards, and that the clouds looked real.  And how the paintings looked so right in the setting of a Hawkesmoor city church. (http://ccspitalfields.org/)

We then went to Lambeth Palace as I wanted to look again at the Treasures of Lambeth Palace Library exhibition which closes next Friday (http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/treasuresexhibition)  When I went the first time I spent ages looking at the intricate illuminations in some of the medieval books, enjoying especially the Lambeth Bible and the Chichele Breviary.  This time I stood for ages considering the manuscript draft of the translation of II Corinthians I for the KJV, the 400th anniversary of which we’ll be marking next year.  I thought about the time and effort that went in to getting this translation right, to being as faithful as possible to the original to create something that would build up the church, that would enable people to engage with the text of Scripture.  And I thought about how this has become in many ways as much a work of art as any of the manuscript illuminations, and which has inspired so much other literature and art, and nurtured the faith and spirituality of so many for the last four centuries.

Yesterday evening one of our parish fellowship groups met to discuss music and faith with Jonathan Arnold, Chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford, who was formerly a professional musician singing with, amongst others, St Paul’s Cathedral and The Sixteen.  Several people described the very different ways they engaged with music in worship, of the spiritual experiences reflected in music.  We thought also, and very interestingly, about the secularisation of sacred music, about the differences between performing and hearing music, and wondered together about the ways in which music might provide a space for God to take us by surprise.  I was taken by a quotation from a 2008 lecture by James MacMillan:

“In music, there seems to an umbilical link with the sacred.  Through the centuries, musicians have proved themselves to the midwives of faith, bringing their gifts to the historic challenge of inspiring the faithful in worship.”

I went away thinking – not just about music – but about the gifts we are given, ‘gifts of love to mind and sense’ as Vanstone put it, and how, inspired, we might use them to inspire, how by grace we might help make a space where others might encounter God.

Synod has voted to commit the measure enabling the consecration of women to dioceses.  Thank God!  I rejoice that a good decision for women and men in our church has been made, a decision which will enable us better to serve those who do not belong to us.  There is still a long way to go before we have a bishop who happens to be female, but this is the church saying that it recognises women and men as created and re-created in God’s image, called to serve in God’s church, and affirms the ministry of women clergy.

So, I truly believe, yesterday was a good day for the Church of England.  Not because of women’s rights, or an equality agenda, but because the church has recognised and affirmed fully the gifts and callings of women as well as men.  But, I feel a huge sense of compassion for those who take the contrary view, for those who feel that this decision will force them out of the church in which they too have been nurtured and called.  I hope it will not force many to leave, but I fear that no compromise could have satisfied everyone.  Our greatest strength is that we are a broad church, and it is also the cause of our greatest vulnerability.  This debate about women bishops is only superficially a debate about gender – it is really a debate about authority.  The ordination of women is the battleground on which our church’s identity crisis about our Reformation heritage has been fought out: what sort of church are we – catholic or protestant?  What are the marks and guarantees of catholicity?  Who decides?

We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  Today, and in the days ahead, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable place of having to do both.

This week has not, I think it’s fair to say, been the best news week for the Church of England.  We began the week with the rumours about Jeffrey John and Southwark, and by the middle of the week it was being declared as well-known fact that Rowan Williams himself had ‘blocked’ the appointment.  However, there has been enough cyber-ink spilled on this one, and I don’t intend to add my tuppence ha’penny worth!  And as if one media feeding frenzy were not enough, we have arrived at General Synod and the women bishops debate (again).  The debate yesterday afternoon was, I thought, very good and then there was that vote about the archbishops’ amendment.  I didn’t want it carried, I’m pleased for the future of the church that it wasn’t, but I feel no sense of rejoicing that some of my loyal Anglican sisters and brothers now feel there will be no place for them in our church.  The media tells us that Rowan Williams had ‘staked his reputation on the vote’.  Really?  I heard him say that voting on the amendment was not a kind of loyalty test.   But anyway, we wait to see what happens when the debate resumes tomorrow.

I don’t normally preach about church politics, but I really felt that all this demanded some comment so here’s a flavour of the way I reflected on it at this morning’s parish eucharist:

But how does this matter  to any of us?  I was preaching on the Good Samaritan, or more particularly on the summary of the Law, which leads Jesus to tell the parable.  ‘Love thy God and love thy neighbour’.  It sounds so simple.  I suggested that all this media sound and fury, debates about women bishops or gay bishops or whoever else, matters to ordinary church-goers for two reasons:  first, we are called to witness to a loving God in the places where we are set.  We want to suggest that there’s something serious in this Christianity, something which has relevance and something to offer to our neighbours.  And our task in doing this is not made easier by the sort of arguments we have witnessed this week.  Secondly, we are part of a greater whole.  We are connected, and connection matters.  We don’t exist independently in our own small corners.  We are part of a wider church, and if one member suffers, then we all suffer –  ‘Any man’s death diminishes me’.  However, if the Church is going to split on this issue or that one, we cannot prevent it.  If some people come to feel that God is calling them to another ecclesiastical home, then that will be as it is.  But the world is watching, and Jesus asks the lawyer ‘Who was neighbour to the man who fell among robbers?’  and charges him ‘Go, then, and do likewise.’  We are called, each of us, to love God and neighbour in the places where we find ourselves, and so to witness to a loving God to our watching world.

p.s. I don’t know the source of the quotation ‘witness to a loving God to watching world’.  It has kept coming up in discussions this week, and I’d be really grateful if anyone could help me with it.  Thanks!

Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury has received a lot of negative media coverage this week, largely on the basis of his leaked or rumoured part in supposedly blocking Jeffrey John’s name from going forward as a candidate as bishop of Southwark.

As though one church-centred media storm were not enough, General Synod is currently debating (at huge length) the legislation on the table for allowing the admission of women to the episcopate. The archbishops have moved an amendment to the proposed legislation. I am deeply uncomfortable about the amendment, not least because it may have very many unintended consequences, and lead – and I stress – unintendedly to a two-tier episcopate. However, as I listen to Rowan Williams speak on the amendment, I am reminded just how blessed we are with our archbishop, as a highly intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate theologian and pastor.

I may not want the amendment to be carried, but Rowan Williams does not deserve the condemnation he has received in the media this week.

I’ve been using Facebook for ages (and don’t know how much of my life it’s eaten!) but I want somewhere to reflect at greater length on a lot of what’s going on in the world and in the Church at the moment.  So, here I am blogging.  Could be another way of wasting time, but hopefully it means I can join in more sensibly with a lot of the conversations that I mainly engage with by commenting on other people’s blogs!  So, let’s see what happens…..