Thinking allowed

A community of forgiveness and reconciliation

bread and cup

Read­ing the gos­pel accounts it is clear that Jesus spent a fair amount of his min­istry eat­ing. Wheth­er he’s hav­ing private meals with his dis­ciples, pic­nick­ing on a hill­side with a few thou­sand listen­ers, invit­ing him­self or get­ting him­self invited to din­ner, or bar­be­cuing fish on a beach, the gos­pels record a sub­stan­tial num­ber of meal­time occa­sions. Clearly there must have been many, many more meals which are not spe­cific­ally recor­ded, but which are part of the same pattern.

For Jesus some of these meals were teach­ing oppor­tun­it­ies, occa­sions to share with his fel­low diners a story or par­able or some oth­er teach­ing. But they were more than just this. Quite a few of the meals are in the houses of out­casts – tax col­lect­ors, col­lab­or­at­ors, the ritu­ally unclean, adulter­ers, and oth­er sin­ners. Jesus preached the good news of joy, peace, social justice, free­dom from our slav­er­ies; that in God’s king­dom our sins can be for­giv­en, are forgiven.

Jesus taught his dis­ciples to pray: ‘for­give us our sins as we for­give those who sin against us’ (Mat­thew 6.12, Luke 11.4); and he also taught them: ‘if you for­give any­one’s sins, they are for­giv­en; if you do not for­give them, they are not for­giv­en’ (John 20.23). For­give­ness and recon­cili­ation hap­pen when people for­give each oth­er. When oth­er people for­give us for the wrongs we have done to them then we are for­giv­en; and when we for­give oth­ers for the wrongs they have done us, they are for­giv­en. Jesus, in his life and death, in his teach­ing and in his actions, lived a life of for­give­ness and recon­cili­ation, even at the last, and inspires us to try and emu­late that life: liv­ing in the king­dom, for­giv­ing and being for­giv­en. In this way we are recon­ciled to one anoth­er and are at one with God. In God’s king­dom such for­give­ness is freely avail­able: all cit­izens of the king­dom will will­ingly and freely for­give the people who have wronged them, and no one will bear grudges or hurts. And every­one will be for­giv­en. (Of course, in God’s king­dom every­one will strive not to do wrong or cause hurt, but that’s anoth­er part of the story.)

So when Jesus sat down and ate with out­casts he showed – to every­one who was pre­pared to see it – how near God’s king­dom was, how it was already here among us. He showed how it was pos­sible to live in God’s king­dom of social justice and recon­cili­ation. For­give­ness was actu­al­ized. In the social aspect of shar­ing a meal togeth­er and being pre­pared to accept one anoth­er, to give and to receive for­give­ness, to be recon­ciled to one anoth­er: in doing these things we can glimpse the king­dom, and indeed not just glimpse it but enjoy a fore­taste – the king­dom in action, right here and now.

And that brings us back to the liturgy. Jesus’s dis­ciples con­tin­ued to share their meals as an enact­ment of the justice and peace of the king­dom of God, and in doing so they recog­nized the con­tinu­ing pres­ence of Jesus as they broke bread togeth­er. This meal con­tin­ues to this day, whenev­er Chris­ti­ans gath­er togeth­er and share bread and wine in remem­brance of Christ: Christ is present, for­give­ness and recon­cili­ation are giv­en and received, the king­dom is brought into existence.

This then is our vis­ion of the Euchar­ist. It is a vis­ion that the Church some­times seems to under­stand only very dimly, per­haps because the Euchar­ist – and Chris­tian­ity in gen­er­al – has become over­laid with so many ideas and prac­tices that add ‘reli­gious’, ‘cere­mo­ni­al’ and ‘ideo­lo­gic­al’ com­plex­ity. Some of those lay­ers can be help­ful, and oth­ers may be less so. Here we are con­cerned primar­ily with liturgy, and how the king­dom of God is pro­claimed and lived through the liturgy. How does the Euchar­ist exem­pli­fy the king­dom? What kinds of prac­tice are use­ful? What do we need to recov­er, in our lan­guage and our cere­mo­ni­al? What do we need to pre­serve, or enhance, what do we need to lessen or jet­tis­on? How has the litur­gic­al revi­sion of the last hun­dred years helped or hindered? Quite likely we shall con­clude that there is no single answer, but dif­fer­ent emphases in dif­fer­ent con­texts, with some lim­its, and sug­ges­tions for a range of ‘nor­mal’ usage.

But this is our start­ing point: the pro­clam­a­tion of the good news and the recog­ni­tion of the pres­ence of Christ in the shared meal where all are wel­come, where the hungry are fed, and where sins are forgiven.

‘Your king­dom come on earth, as in heav­en: give us this day our daily bread and for­give us our sins as we for­give those who sin against us.’

illus­tra­tion by Leigh Hur­lock, from Gath­er­ing for Wor­ship, Can­ter­bury Press, 2005, 2007; used with permission.


An apology

It’s been a while since I pos­ted here. That’s because life is busy, and time to write detailed art­icles is lim­ited. Rather than wait any longer I’m going to sketch out anoth­er piece, and at some future point I will add more detail.


call for transgender recognition rite

Under the pro­voc­at­ive head­line “Should church intro­duce trans­gender bap­tism?” the BBC reports that the Revd Chris New­lands, vicar of Lan­caster, has

asked the Church of Eng­land to debate intro­du­cing a cere­mony akin to a bap­tism to mark the new iden­tit­ies of Chris­ti­ans who under­go gender transition.

The idea came after a young trans­gender per­son approached him, seek­ing to be “re-bap­tised” in his new iden­tity. Sim­il­ar cere­mon­ies are already hap­pen­ing in some oth­er Anglic­an churches.

This week­end, Nick Benn and his friends gathered at his church for a ser­vice to mark one of the most sig­ni­fic­ant events in his life so far: the trans­ition from his pre­vi­ous iden­tity as a young woman, to a new life as a man.

At Lan­caster Pri­ory, Chris New­lands is keen for the Church to have an offi­cial liturgy to guide the clergy on such occa­sions. He wants the Church to be able to demon­strate its accept­ance and love, and to help mark a mile­stone for someone trans­ition­ing from one gender to another.

Susie Leafe, dir­ect­or of Reform, is quoted, com­ment­ing on the ques­tion of ‘bap­tism’.

“The Bible gives us the notion that there is one bap­tism, so the idea of ‘re-bap­tising’ people is cer­tainly some­thing that would go against a lot of the deep theo­logy of the Church and would be confusing.”


New baptismal texts; and rules on eucharistic ministers

The Gen­er­al Syn­od of the Church of Eng­land, meet­ing in York, yes­ter­day gave final approv­al to the addi­tion­al bap­tis­mal texts. The texts are author­ized from 1 Septem­ber 2015.

The syn­od­ic­al report reads:


Art­icle 7 busi­ness Final Approval

The Bish­op of Sod­or and Man (Chair of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee) moved:

‘That the litur­gic­al busi­ness entitled “Chris­ti­an Ini­ti­ation: Addi­tion­al Texts for Holy Bap­tism in Access­ible Lan­guage” be finally approved for a peri­od from 1 Septem­ber 2015 until fur­ther Res­ol­u­tion of the Synod.’

The final vote was approved after a divi­sion of houses, with the vot­ing fig­ures below:

House of Bish­ops: For – 23, Against – 1, Absten­tions – 1,
House of Clergy: For – 114, Against – 6, Absten­tions – 5,
House of Laity: For – 126, Against – 10, Absten­tions – 6,

The Syn­od also approved new reg­u­la­tions on the author­iz­a­tion of people to assist in the admin­is­tra­tion of Holy Com­mu­nion. The rules allow the bish­op, on the applic­a­tion of the incum­bent or priest in charge, to author­ize named indi­vidu­als. The bish­op may also give the priest gen­er­al author­ity to allow people to admin­is­ter (with PCC agree­ment), and this may include chil­dren who have been form­ally admit­ted to Com­mu­nion before Con­firm­a­tion. Chil­dren in church schools may be author­ized with the agree­ment of the head teach­er rather than the PCC. The full rules are in the linked file. The new reg­u­la­tions come into force on 1 Octo­ber 2015, and revoke the old 1969 rules.


Reg­u­la­tions under Can­on B 12 Art­icle 7 business

The Bish­op of Sod­or and Man (the Rt Revd Robert Pater­son) moved:

‘That the Admin­is­tra­tion of Holy Com­mu­nion Reg­u­la­tions be approved.’

which was approved.