NEWSLETTER – August 2008
Festivals of August
Some will be carrying on as normal in August - I don't mean in a dodgy way! But for many it is an opportunity for rest and re-creation (I insert the hyphen deliberately), perhaps with a holiday, as well as the challenges of keeping children and grandchildren entertained. It's a month without church meetings, on the whole, enabling us to give our full attention to worship. Here are some thoughts on the three festivals and saints' days of August – two of which are relatively recent in the Anglican calendar.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, on 6th, did not feature in the 1662 prayer book, though was added in 1928. It marks the mountain-top experience of three of the disciples who saw Jesus 'transfigured', or transformed, in the company of Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets. It was a moment when they glimpsed his true significance and destiny, in anticipation of his cross and passion (which is why we read this gospel passage again before the start of Lent). It was, in the phrase of the philosopher of religion Ian Ramsey, a 'disclosure situation', a moment when the penny dropped, and the disciples understood.
Or was it? One of them wanted to fix the vision, by building booths or shelters – much as we might try to capture a fleeting experience by photography or video, but miss its essence. And when they went back down the mountain, they didn't tell the others what had happened, which is rather a puzzle – though this may be because of the gospel writers' theme of the 'Messianic secret': Jesus' time had not yet come. The story is a rich and complex one, and is central to much Orthodox spirituality. All of us must be transformed into the likeness of Christ, 'from glory to glory'.
There is a bitter irony to its date in the calendar, for it was on 6 August that atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perhaps this brought the end of the war closer, but it was a terrible act. In place of the divine, transfiguring radiance was the demonic, disfiguring flash. Were we setting ourselves in God's place? Sydney Evans, when Dean of King's College London, distributed little cards marked 'Company of the Transfiguration' which said:
The marks of a Companion are as follows:
to contemplate the mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus, his disfiguration and his transfiguration, and his continuing presence as personal power making for interior transfiguration of men and women in the world today.
to stand within the redemptive and re-creative energies of God, to stand with Christ at the place where Divine Love and evil meet, to stand alongside individuals in their need and in their pain, to put hands and heart to some work of help and healing within reach.
to keep August 6th not only as the celebration of the Transfiguration of our Lord but also as the day when men and women in Hiroshima were disfigured by the exploding of the first atomic bomb.
to draw strength from the hidden companionship of all others, who hold themselves by faith in Jesus Christ at the heart of human suffering and redemption, and to invite others to take their life-stand there.
On 15 August Catholic Europe shuts down to keep the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, and protestant tourists are often taken by surprise! The Assumption – the bodily transporting of Mary into heaven – has long formed part of Roman Catholic (and, in a slightly different form, Orthodox) teaching, but was only formally declared a dogma of the church by the Pope in 1950. Some Anglicans celebrate this feast, but most do not, regarding it as unbiblical and therefore, as is sometimes said, 'no more than an assumption'! All this is explored in the recent Anglican-Roman Catholic statement on Mary.
Our calendar included various other festivals involving Mary – principally the Annunciation, 'Lady Day', on 25 March – though these are really festivals of Our Lord, linked to his incarnation. That is why the Common Worship calendar now lists 15 August as the principal feast of The Blessed Virgin Mary – without specifically linking it to the doctrine of her Assumption, and giving permission for the squeamish (or for those whose churches are empty in August) to transfer it to 8 September, when we commemorate her birth – a typical Anglican compromise!
This year Bartholomew the Apostle (24 August) falls on a Sunday. Having a son with this name, I enjoy keeping his festival. (And in case you ask, he was born before Bart Simpson hit our screens; it is a link with his part-Polish heritage. I remember how his grandfather, cradling him as a baby, crooned 'Bartoshu, Bartoshu, you will save Poland'.) In my last parish, I often pointed out to visiting children the image of Bartholomew in the east window, with a butcher's knife – the grisly symbol of his martyrdom in Armenia, where tradition says he was flayed alive. He is the patron saint of butchers – hence St Bartholomew's Hospital, next to the meat market. But in truth we know little about him, other than that his name means 'son of Tolmai' and that he was one of the twelve - though others list Nathaniel rather than Bartholomew: was this the same person?
There are two events linked to his feast day. On St Bartholomew's Day 1572 large numbers of French Hugenots were massacred in Paris. Survivors fled the country, many of them to Spitalfields where they became the first of several immigrant groups seeking religious liberty. And on 'Black Bartholomew's Day' 1662 those who did not accept the restoration of the Church of England's structures and liturgy were ejected from the church, despite the pleas for tolerance and 'comprehension' – the creation of a truly broad church with space for all, an issue with which our communion still struggles. Poor Bartholomew – what a legacy!
The Church Council has been sifting through all the comments and suggestions that were made at the Awayday, so that we can re-shape our Mission Action Plan. It was agreed that we should have a parish consultation about our worship, so that it best
reflects who were are and what we can offer to newcomers, and this will taken place on Sunday 7 September, as part of the morning service. It's right that the process should start here. It will then broaden to include other issues, such as our financial health (about which I wrote last month), and our service to the community.
Anniversary of Consecration
Many thanks to all who provided such a splendid spread for our parish lunch on 20 July, pictures of which will appear on our website! The weather was not especially kind, but we were able to enjoy each others' company in the Rectory garden, and continue our tradition of hospitality.