‘Peace be with you’ (a sermon for April 27th on John 20:19-23)

Who wants to be a failure? No one that I know! We’d all like to succeed, whether we’re talking about our work or our personal lives. Most people would like to have good marriages and strong families, with kids who grow up to be happy and successful as well. We’d like our businesses to succeed so that we can earn enough money to get by on, as well as having a sense of pride and satisfaction in what we do. Most clergy that I know want to be pastors of successful churches – churches that are growing in numbers and growing in the good effect they’re having in their communities.

And I suspect that all of us here today would like to be successful in our Christian lives as well. We’d like to get better at reading the Bible and praying; we’d like to be stronger in our faith, more resolute in turning away from our sins and learning new habits that help us follow Jesus. We’d like to be growing more like Jesus with every year that goes by. Who wouldn’t want to be a successful Christian?

No, we don’t want to be failures who find ourselves falling back into sinful habits that we thought we’d gotten the better of. We don’t want to be people who let the Lord down. We don’t want to be people who are too scared to speak up for him when all our friends are dissing the Christian faith. We don’t want to be people who run away and abandon Jesus when he is arrested and taken to trial before the high priest and the Roman governor.

And that, or course, is exactly what the disciples we read about this morning had done. On the night before Jesus died, when he was arrested in the garden, they had run away and abandoned him to his fate. Peter and John were a little braver; they had followed the guards to the high priest’s house, and Peter had even gone into the courtyard. But there he was recognized, and his courage failed him, and he denied three times that he even knew Jesus.

Imagine the feelings of these men and women on the first Easter Sunday when they begin to hear strange stories about the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Jesus. No doubt they felt as we would have felt. No doubt they were caught between joy and skepticism, not knowing whether they dared believe it. No doubt they were also caught between excitement and fear. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if it was true? If we really did see him alive again, we’d know for sure that he was right, and that he really was the Messiah God sent. But wait – what’s he going to say to us? Is he going to remember that we all abandoned him and ran away? You know what he’s like: if he’s frustrated or angry with us, he’s never slow about expressing it! Do you think he’s going to have any time for the likes of us, after what we did to him on Thursday night?”

Read the rest here.

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan: ‘Dance to Your Daddy’

As I said on Facebook yesterday, James Fagan and Nancy Kerr are one of the most consistently enjoyable duos in traditional folk music today. I regard Nancy as one of the finest folk fiddlers in the world, and their voices complement each other perfectly. The instrument James is playing is actually a guitar-bodied bouzouki (if you look closely you will see that it doesn’t have six strings, like a guitar, but eight strings arranged in four courses).

Here are James and Nancy at the 2013 Bath Folk Festival playing their version of the traditional folk song ‘Dance to Your Daddy’.

James and Nancy’ website is currently under construction but you can follow them on Facebook here. Their latest CD is Twice Reflected Sun.

Tim Hart and Maddy Prior: ‘Copshawholme Fair’

The amazing voice of the young Maddy Prior, taken from the 1969 album by her and Tim Hart, ‘Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1’.


A traditional song about the Spring hiring fair in Copshawholme which is located on the English Scottish border. Apparently the last time this hiring fair was held was in 1912.

On a Friday, it fell in the month of Avril,
O’er the hill came the morn’ with the blithe sunny smile.
And the folks were a-throngin’ the roads everywhere,
Makin’ haste to be in at Copshawholme Fair.

I’ve seen ’em a-comin’ in from the mountains and glen,
Both rosy-faced lasses and strappin’ young men
With a joy in their heart and unburdened o’ care,
A-meetin’ old friends at Copshawholme Fair.

There’s lads for the lasses, there’s toys for the bairns,
There’s jugglers and tumblers and folks with no arms,
There’s a ballad-singer here and a fiddler there,
There are nut-men and spice-men at Copshawholme Fair.

There are peddlers and there’re potters and gingerbread stands,
There are peepshows and puff and darts and the green caravans,
There’s fruit from all nations exhibited there
With kale plants from Harwich at Copshawholme Fair.

And now about the hiring if you want to hear tell
You should ken it as afar as I’ve seen it myself.
What wages they addle, it’s ill to declare,
The muckle they vary at Copshawholme Fair.

Just the gal I have seen she’s a strapping young queen.
He asked what her age was and where she had been,
What work she’d been doin’, how long she’d been there,
What wages she wanted at Copshawholme Fair.

Just then the pit lass stood a wee while in gloom
And she blushed and she scraped with her feet on the ground.
Then she plucked up her heart and did stoutly declare,
“I’ll have five pound and ten at Copshawholme Fair.”

Says he, “But m’lass, that’s a very big wage.”
Then he, turning about like he’d been in a rage,
Says, “I’ll give ye five pounds but I’ll give ye nae mair,
And I think you maun take it at Copshawholme Fair.”

He took out a shilling for to hold the pit wench
In case it might enter her head for to flinch,
But she grabbed at it, muttering, “I should o’ had mair,
But I think I will tak’ it at Copshawholme Fair.”

Now the hirin’s o’er and off they all sprang
In to the ballroom for to join in the throng,
And “I Never Will Lie With My Mammy Nae Mair”
The fiddles play briskly at Copshawholme Fair.

Now this is the fashion they thus pass the day
Till the night comin’ on they all hurry away,
And some are so sick that they’ll never go more
With the fighting and dancing at Copshawholme Fair.

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.


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.