Steeleye Span: ‘Gaudete’ Live

This is taken from Steeleye Span’s 35th anniversary tour. I never, ever get tired of this Span classic:

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Happy 450th birthday, Will Shakspear

During his lifetime William Shakespeare spelled his last name in a variety of ways; I’m rather fond of ‘Shakspear’ myself.

Will Shakspear was born 450 years ago this year. He was baptized on April 26th 1564; the actual date of his birth is not known, but baptism at the age of three days would have been a fair assumption, hence the convention of celebrating his birthday on April 23rd (which, 52 years later, was the date of his death).

Personally I would have no problem calling Shakspear the greatest writer in the English language. His plays, of course, were meant to be seen, not read, and I’m sure millions of English schoolchildren, like me, have struggled with them as printed texts but been thrilled by them as they are brought alive on the stage. One of the things I’m proud of is that we gave our children the chance to see Shakspear live before they read him. It appears to have worked; they all seem to enjoy him.

Will Shakspear does not need my praise. I’m reminded of the story of a man who was walking through an art gallery making disparaging comments about the paintings. Finally the exasperated curator said, “Sir, the paintings are not on trial – you are!” By all the standards we possess, Shakspear was at least ‘a’ great writer – I would say, ‘the’ great writer, the one who formed our language, captured our imagination, and gave us a compelling vision, not of humanity as it should be, but of humanity as it actually is, in all its nobility and wickedness. And he did it with that deliciously outrageous sense of humour that has given us not only tragic characters like Lear and Macbeth, or villains like Richard III, or pedants like Polonius and Jaques, but also wonderful comic figures like Sir Toby Belch, or Sir John Falstaff, or Robin Goodfellow (otherwise known as Puck), or Nick Bottom with his donkey’s head.

Thank you, Master Shakspear. You did your job well, and we can all enjoy the benefits of it, if we want to. A very happy 450th birthday to you, sir.


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The Resurrection and the Gospel

Those of us who insist on the centrality of the Resurrection of Jesus have recently been caricatured by a commenter over at Thinking Anglicans as believing that nothing else really matters ‘unless you, personally, get to live forever’.

I think this is a gross misunderstanding of how the early Christians understood the centrality of the Resurrection. Listen to Paul:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-6).

The Resurrection is obviously central in Paul’s thought here, but it’s not primarily about my personal survival of death. It means that Jesus has been declared to be the Son of God ‘with power’; it is God’s declaration that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’. And this is good news, because it means that the Lord of the universe is not the vicious tyrant in Rome, but the one who loved us and gave himself for us. The last word in history will not go to dictators or terrorists or drug lords, or presidents or prime ministers or CEOs of multinational corporations, but to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Listen to Peter on the Day of Pentecost:

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know - this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power… This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand, 
until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ” 
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ (Acts 2:22-24, 32-36).

There it is again: the Resurrection is the evidence that God has made him – ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’ – both Lord and Messiah. It’s not primarily about my personal survival of death. Its primary meaning concerns the victory of love over hate, of good over evil, of Jesus over the principalities and powers. The Resurrection tells us that in the end, love wins.

And this is important, because there’s not really a lot of evidence for that sentiment. ‘Love never dies’, says the popular song, but in fact all love does eventually die, because the lovers die; you don’t see skeletons loving each other. Strong and resilient souls may be able to stand against injustice and oppression with nothing to support them but their own stubbornness, but most of us lesser mortals need a stronger hope than that. The Resurrection gives us that hope: not primarily that we will live forever (although that’s included, and I’m glad for it), but that Jesus is Lord, and that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess his Lordship, to the glory of God the Father. In the end, justice will prevail; in the end, love will win. That’s what the Resurrection tells me, that’s why it’s good news, and that’s why, if Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain.

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Peter Knight’s Gigspanner: ‘The Week Before Easter’

This is one of the most poignant of traditional English folk songs, and Peter Knight’s Gigspanner do a lovely version of it.

Peter Knight is best known for his work as fiddle player with the legendary Steeleye Span. Gigspanner’s website is here; Peter Knight’s website is here.

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Happy birthday to the Queen.

Queen 88thJust realized that today is the Queen’s 88th birthday. And this excellent portrait has apparently been specially commissioned to celebrate the fact.

I’m not especially a monarchist, although I don’t think constitutional monarchy is any worse than any other system of government currently existing on the planet. But monarchist or not, I admire the Queen, and I’m glad to wish her a happy birthday.

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Martin Carthy on traditional folk music

This interview is three years old, but it really expresses what I feel about traditional folk music:

“I regard tradition as progressive,” (Carthy) says, “and a traditional song as a progressive force, because it is concerned with the continuity of things.” The word “radical” is derived from “radix”, a root, and this is Carthy’s radicalism: “You come from somewhere, for Christ’s sake – it’s like holding a grandchild in your arms – and let meMartin-Carthy-007 tell you, there is nothing in parenthood to prepare you for the feeling of grandparenthood. Good folk music is like me holding my grandchildren and wanting to know more about my great, great, great uncle – I’ve got a picture of him – Tom Carthy from Ballybunion, County Kerry. I see his fingers on the uilleann pipes, and I see my father’s hands and my grandfather’s hands. The continuity of folk music is similar, because it is also our continuity.”

Carthy illustrates his point with the exactitude of the cultural genealogist he is: “There’s a great storyteller called Hugh Lupton, who cited the words of a man called Duncan Williamson, who said that when he told a story, he felt behind him a long line of all the people who had told that story before. What we are doing singing folk songs is full of ghosts, and that is what is exciting”.The term “nostalgia” is pointless in a conversation with Martin Carthy; the past is a propulsion, a well of riches, and folk songs are the history of its common people, the expressions of their struggles, tribulations and superstitions, their guile, humour, love, lust and violence – and their “subversion”, often in its subtlest form.

Carthy reflects: “The older I have got, the more the songs have become three-dimensional. They’re not words set to pretty tunes. You are being told something about people. Things that are wicked, naughty, true, funny. About what human beings do to each other, and it never changes. Folk music, says Carthy, “is not an archive. If you see it as that, it becomes like a butterfly in a glass case. Folk music has to live and breathe. I’m not interested in heritage – this stuff is alive, we must claim it, use it.”

Read the rest here. Do.

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Lord of All (a sermon for Easter Sunday on Acts 10:36)

On Good Friday we were talking about the incredible scene in John’s Gospel where Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate. Jesus has been brought to Pilate as a potential rebel against the Roman Empire, one who claimed to be ‘King of the Jews’. Of course, he doesn’t look very much like a king – this carpenter rabbi from Nazareth with his ragtag band of followers doesn’t look like much of a threat to the mighty legions of the Roman Empire. But Pilate has to be careful; unlikely-looking figures have started revolutions before, and if the crowds get behind them, things can get messy.

So Pilate questions Jesus, and at one point he gets frustrated because Jesus won’t answer his questions. He says, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” And then Jesus looks at him and says, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10-11).

Here are the kingdoms of this world going head to head with the kingdom of God. Pilate is the representative of the Roman Empire; he commands the legions and he has the power to kill anyone who gets in his way. And he’s quite prepared to assert that power over Jesus. Jesus, on the other hand, has walked all over Galilee and Judea proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand: that God, not Caesar, is the true ruler here. Even now, when he’s on trial for his life, Jesus still maintains that God is in control. Pilate thinks Jesus is on trial in his court, but Jesus thinks Pilate and the whole world are on trial in the court of God. Pilate thinks there are enormous consequences for Jesus if he gives the wrong answers to his questions. Jesus thinks there are enormous consequences for Pilate, and the whole world, if we reject the one God has sent as his anointed King.

Less than a decade after this scene in Jerusalem, another Galilean preacher stood in front of another representative of the Roman Empire, albeit a much more friendly one than Pilate. The Galilean preacher was Simon Peter, and the representative of Rome was the centurion Cornelius, a godly man who had been told by an angel to send for Peter and listen to what he had to say. We read the words Peter spoke to Cornelius and his household in our reading from Acts this morning; let me remind you of a couple of verses:

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation everyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36).

Jesus Christ is Lord of all – what a breathtaking claim for Peter to make. How had he come to believe it?

He had come to believe it because of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter and his friends had thought that the mission of Jesus was over on Good Friday. Jesus had obviously been wrong, and Peter had wasted three years of his life following him. But on the third day Jesus triumphed over the greatest enemy any human can face – death itself. If he was Lord over death itself, what could possibly be left outside the scope of his authority? And so Peter and his companions devoted the rest of their lives to spreading the good news that their Jesus, the loving, wise, and sometimes infuriating Master they had followed for three years, was in fact the one who God had anointed as Lord of everything and everyone.

Read the rest here.

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