Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Why Easter Matters

What does the average vicar write in their parish magazine for Easter? Who knows. But this is what I wrote for our Belmont and Pittington 'Grapevine' this month:

Christ is risen, Alleluia!

We are now in the middle of Eastertide, the season of the year when we remember and celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Like Lent, Eastertide lasts for several weeks. Over these weeks, we remember Jesus' many resurrection appearances. Sometimes he appeared to an individual, sometimes to a small group, and sometimes to whole crowds of people. By the end of a few weeks after that first Easter, there were hundreds, even thousands, of witnesses to the astonishing fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Jesus's death and resurrection is the central point of our faith. Without it, the church is nothing but a social club. With it, we have the most wonderful message of hope to share.

And the hope that we have in Jesus is one that our culture, our friends and neighbours, and we ourselves, need so deeply. We live in a culture which is desperately scared of illness, weakness and death. So many of our newspaper and TV reports are about what might give us cancer, what might kill or cure us. Our magazines are full of 'miracle' diets and health tips. The most controversial question facing our politicians and society is that of euthanasia - whether people should be allowed to help those who are too frail to kill themselves to do so without fear of punishment.

What do health, life, illness and death mean to us as Christians? Being a Christian does not make us immune from fear of pain or suffering, or from worry and grief when we or those around us are ill and dying. But Christianity does change our perspective on illness and death.

Because we follow a God who showed his love for us most profoundly by being born as a helpless, squalling infant, and by being prepared to die in the most horrible way imaginable for us, we are forced to confront our fears and to see weakness and death in a new light. They are still horrible, still fearsome, but we know that God can and does work through, and overcome, even the worst that can happen. And we know that death is not the end.

We know that God knows what the worst pain imaginable feels like. God knows what it is to suffer in Jesus. And because God is Father and Son and Spirit, we know that God also knows what it is to watch someone close to us suffer and die. Even more, because Jesus on the cross cried out just before his death 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' we know that God knows even the pain of feeling ourselves abandoned by God.

When we think of death, we can see it not as the end of all that is good, but as a movement into things that are even better. Instead of fearing the natural process of ageing and dying, we can relax into it, welcome it even, because we know that this life is not all that God has in store for us.

Because that tomb was empty on that first Easter morning, and the risen Jesus appeared to his friends and disciples, the Christian faith is that we too will one day be raised from death to life with God. Alleluia!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Prayers after (Same Sex) Marriage: A suggested order of service

 You've all seen Rev episode 2, haven't you? That's why I've written this...

A Suggested Draft Order for Prayer and Dedication after the Civil Marriage of a Same Sex Couple*

*NB: The Church of England has a recognised Order for this purpose when the couple concerned are a man and a woman, and that Order should be used in those circumstances. There is no analagous provision for couples of the same sex: instead, clergy are encouraged to make appropriate pastoral provision. This draft order draws heavily on the existing Order (copyright Archbishops Council), and makes some suggested adaptations, but it is not an official or authorised liturgy. It is suggested, however, that it may be of use as a basis for discussion with the couple concerned as to what would be appropriate pastoral provision in their particular circumstances.


God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

A hymn may be sung here, or after the next section.

The minister welcomes the couple and their family and friends, using these or similar words:

N and N, you stand in the presence of God having contracted a legal marriage earlier [today], to dedicate to God your life together. We pray with you that God may empower you to keep the vows you have made to one another.

Edited: Personally, I  might want to include the next bit, an adaptation of the Preface. However, as Peter O points out below, it could be construed as illegitimate under the present guidelines. Since the point of this draft is to offer a contribution that should be fully acceptable, I offer an alternative below. I don't commend this bit as above reproach, but am keeping it here for honesty, as its what I'd like to say - and frankly, I'd prefer to use this version at opposite-sex marriages....

[The Bible teaches us that marriage is a gift of God's grace, a holy mystery in which two people become one flesh. It is God's purpose that, as two people give themselves to each other in love throughout their lives, they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with the Church.
Marriage is given, that two people may comfort and help one another, living faithfully together in need and in plenty, in sorrow and in joy. It is given that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and through the joy of their bodily union may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.]

An alternative paragraph could be:
[We thank and praise God for bringing you together,
God is the creator of all joy and gladness,
pleasure and delight, love, peace and fellowship.
God loves all that God has made, and declares it to be good.
God's Holy Spirit is known by the fruit of love, joy and peace.
In Christ, God shows his love for us in that while we were still far off,
God met us in His Son and brought us home.]
Is it your wish today to affirm your desire to live as followers of Christ, and to come to him, the fountain of grace, that, strengthened by the prayers of the Church, you may be enabled to fulfil your marriage vows in love and faithfulness?

The couple reply: It is.

A hymn may be sung here.


Almighty God,
You have taught us through your Son
that love is the fulfillment of the Law.
Grant to these your servants
that, loving one another,
they may continue in your love until their lives' end.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

At least one Bible reading should be used, and other readings, poems, may also be used here.

The Dedication

The couple face the minister, who says

N and N, you hve committed yourselves to each other in marriage
And your marriage is recognised by law.
The Church of Christ understands marriage to be a lifelong union
For better, for worse
For richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish
Til parted by death.
Is this your understanding of the covenant and promises that you have made?

The couple reply: It is.

Have you resolved to be faithful to one another,
forsaking all others,
so long as you both shall live?

The couple reply: We have.

The couple will already be wearing their wedding rings: it would be appropriate for them to keep them on their fingers, since they are already married, and for this prayer to be said over their hands:

Heavenly Father,
may these rings, we pray, be to N and N
symbols of unending love and faithfulness
and of the promises they have made to each other:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

The minister says to any family and friends present:

Will you, the family and friends of N and N
support and uphold them in their marriage
Now and in the years to come?
All: We will.

A hymn may be sung here

Prayers: these might well be said by a friend or family member, or even by the couple themselves.
Prayers in a church context should usually include the Lord's Prayer.

A hymn may be sung here.


A final Bible reading (in the manner of a dismissal gospel) or poem may be read here.

A blessing of the whole congregation would be usual here, but may be considered contentious in case it is misinterpreted as a blessing of the couple per se, which is contrary to the Bishop's guidance at this time. It may be advisable to use a form that makes the congregational nature of the blessing explicit, for example by using the inclusive 'us' form:

God the Holy Trinity make us strong in faith and love,
defend us on every side, and guide us in truth and peace;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with us [you all] and remain with us [you all] always.

If even this is considered inappropriate, I would suggest a form of the Peace:

We have celebrated the love of N and N
and we now celebrate God's love for us all.
Peace, in Christ, to all of you.
All: and also with you.

The exchange of the peace may follow, and form an informal end to the service; or the service could end on those words, and the minister and couple process out.