Apr 152012

Not quite sure what that title will do to my search rankings, and it’s maybe just as well I don’t have any ads on the blog. Perhaps I should explain though.

Marrying my brother-in-law was one of a number of recent ‘firsts’. And, of course, I mean that it was the first wedding ceremony I officiated at. No pressure of course: first time officiating, in front of family, lots of overseas guests, in the Signet Library, seriously ‘mega’ do, Saturday of the Easter weekend (so nothing else to do anyway).

It was a great day, and there was something special about it being a family affair. It certainly wasn’t the case though of there being less pressure because it was family – if anything it was even greater. But as my first time officiating it was good to know that being family was all in the mix of making the day particularly memorable for all concerned.

But I was also able to look on the event with a ‘critical’ eye and have a few things mentally tucked away for future weddings. Little things like: make sure the pianist has all the music they need. Singing the Aaronic blessing unaccompanied, and with so few knowing it, was probably not a blessing on the hearers. Also, make sure the pianist (who was very, very good actually) is familiar with the hymns. Played too slowly, and in ‘piano-bar’ style doesn’t really work for hymns. And another: when you’re doing the ‘stole thing’ (thanks so much, Will and Kate), wrapping it around held hands, make sure that ‘leg’ is long enough to start with so that you don’t have to haul more stole round. There are plenty more tucked away in my head, but I’ll save my blushes.

Regardless, it all went well overall, and much of the nitpicking is me doing that over-analytical thing I do. One more though – I’ll not be rushing to book a wedding on Easter Saturday again though. By Sunday I was somewhat frazzled.

Another first?

Maundy Thursday was my first communion with my new charge. It wasn’t the ‘formal’ Sunday one I had thought would be my first, and so it was very different to what I had anticipated. On Maundy Thursday, one of my congregations has a meal moving into communion. Everyone sits around tables set up in the (relatively open) chancel area. There are a few hymns, a prayer and readings. Then there is a simple supper, at the end of which the sacrament begins.

It’s a very good way of telling the story of the Last Supper, and allows it to be very symbolic, with more than just the words telling the story effectively. In fact, the ‘narrative’ can be pared down significantly, without losing any of the story, which has, in effect, just been re-enacted. I suppose there’s scope for further dramatisation, but I think that risks detracting from the ‘simplicity’ of the service, and possibly getting in the way of the ‘event’ if not done exceedingly well.

The only thing I struggled with in preparation was wondering how to finish the service. I suddenly remembered though, one of the candidates’ conferences. Much to everyone’s annoyance it was held during Holy Week, but it was the only time available to fit it in. On the Thursday of the conference we had our evening meal, followed by communion (sound familiar?) and then I suddenly remembered how we finished. We went out into the garden and completed the ‘story’ of the events after that first Last Supper. So that’s what we did the other week. We went out into the church grounds (nice night, dry, under the trees, very quiet {the joys of a rural churchyard}) and read the rest of the story up to the point when the disciples all fled. No blessing, no more words. Just the symbolism of the assembled company dispersing. Who says there’s nothing to be gained from conferences?

And another first.

This time for the congregation. On Good Friday we had a Tenebrae service – something the congregation were unfamiliar with, but, according to feedback, very much enjoyed. I was a little sneaky though. There’s still a little bit of suspicion concerning the West Angus Area Ministry setup, of which I am, officially, a team member – it was part of what I was inducted into. Anyway, the area team decided that this would be the Good Friday evening service in Kirrie, and the other congregations were invited to attend. Other members of the team participated in the readings and so it was very much a WAAM event. Drip! Drip! Drip!

There have probably been a few more ‘firsts’ in recent weeks, but they’ve probably been overwhelmed by some of those ‘biggies’.

I wonder what the next ‘first’ will be? It surely can’t top marrying my brother-in-law!

Mar 212008

I said I probably wouldn’t blog this one as it was my own minister, but it’s probably worth noting something in particular from his sermon. The sermon itself drew on a couple of his recent sermons in our own church on the run up to Easter, so, in a sense, there was nothing new. But I was struck by his emphasis on one aspect of the cross, or rather the cross as a means through which we are saved – soteriology, in other words. His focus was on the idea of ‘substitutionary atonement’. This was his theme last Sunday as well and I was chatting to a retired minister after the service and we got round to discussing the ins and outs of substitution.

Substitutionary atonement is just one of many models that seeks to describe how the cross brings salvation, but it’s one that I have a few issues with. These are principally ethical, by which I mean the ethics of punishing one in place of many however ‘willing’ they may be to accept that punishment. In a very real sense, having a substitute lets us off.

Soteriology is not simply about saving from, but saving to. We are not saved from punishment, rather we are saved to a right relationship with God. Most of the classic atonement models are ‘transactional’ where we are uninvolved. Everything is done by Jesus, with God. Substitution can fall into this category. It says, “we can’t do anything to get right with God, it needs someone else (Jesus) to rebuild the relationship”. That, in itself, I don’t have a problem with but all too often it stops there. Standing alone like that it reduces our role to nothing, but our role isn’t nothing. We are required to respond to the cross and whether we see atonement as substitution, moral influence, ransom or whatever, the crucial thing is that each of these demands a response from us.

To focus on one limits our ability to respond; to acknowledge the range of metaphors does justice to the breadth of God’s salvation; to demand a response should underpin all of them.

Mar 192008

Chalk and cheese!

Compared to last night’s sermon tonight was so much better. Actually, that’s not being fair – tonight’s sermon was very good regardless of comparison. Excellent exegesis and excellent application of John 13:1-17.

I was speaking with some others who were at the service last night and they too were complaining that it was poor. One of them went home quite upset and angry about it and later concluded that God was much bigger than that anyway and could work through even the inadequacies.

I doubt I’ll comment on tomorrow’s sermon as that’s from my own minister and that wouldn’t be appropriate.

Mar 182008

Warning – this may well turn into a rant (but, hey! it’s my blog).

For the last few years my church has combined with two others in the area to share Holy Week services. One church is Baptist, the other Brethren – all three evangelical. The services are often a bit hit or miss when it comes to quality but I wonder if I’m getting too critical. I find myself picking up on ‘little things’ that irritate me – or rather, I hear something that makes me think, “wait a minute!” and that sets the tone for the rest of the sermon. The shame of it is that I end up focussing on the negative and sidelining the positive.

Tonight’s one combined my pet hates of dodgy theology and poor Powerpoint use. To be honest the Powerpoint wasn’t too bad, but it could have been a lot better. But there’s no excuse for dodgy theology. But, to be fair, it wasn’t too bad unless, like me, you’re a bit nit-picky. It’s not so much what was said, but what wasn’t said. The sermon theme was “Why the cross?”. One of the points made was that the cross shows God’s love for us. God, Himself (as God), suffers on the cross to show us that He’s prepared even to suffer for us to show His love. What’s wrong with that? you may ask. My issue with it is that it’s all God – by which I mean that there’s no humanity. Jesus is portrayed as entirely divine. That has all sorts of implications for the meaning of the cross. It has all sorts of implications about the nature of Jesus and God and the Trinity. Had it been counterbalanced by a consideration of the humanity of Jesus then I wouldn’t be having this rant now, but it wasn’t. Maybe liking systematic theology is a bad thing after all.

And while I’m on the subject of these services, one of them has communion. But it’s on Friday! I feel that that sets the entirely wrong tone. Holy Week is about reflecting on the journey to the cross and on to the resurrection. We ‘stop’ at key events during that journey. One of them is the Last Supper and that happens the day before Good Friday. The Last Supper and its communion commemoration is not the culmination of the week. The cross should be the focus for Good Friday. If I was being really harsh I could suggest that having communion on Good Friday gives passing credence to an RC understanding of the Eucharist as a ‘re-enactment’ of the sacrifice of the cross. Then again, communion is a remembrance of the body broken and the blood shed on the cross, so, in a sense, Good Friday is an appropriate day to remember. But it still doesn’t ‘feel right’. It misses out on the significance of the meal the evening before (although, maybe we could do some foot-washing instead). It conflates too much into a single day. I think the sense of ‘time’ needs to be maintained – that it didn’t just happen all at once; the whole sequence of events was purposeful, not some mad rush to fit everything in.

Anyway, rant over and having got it out of my system, maybe I do need to be less critical, or at least avoid having the ‘hmmm’ bits overwhelm the rest.