The usual Ash Wednesday marking of foreheads with a smudged ash cross is not available to us this year – in order to reduce avoidable transmission of the COVID virus.
Our parish will have its usual Ash Wednesday services – on Wednesday, February 17th, just under a month away now! But instead of the ashes being applied in the ‘smudge’ they will be instead sprinkled on our heads.
The action of sprinkling ashes in this way is more ancient than the ‘smudge’ with which most of us are more familiar. It is witnessed to in the scriptures, and it is the form in which ashes were traditionally imposed in the Roman Rite. It remains the most common way of administering ashes in many places.
Ash Wednesday Liturgies 2021 at St Nicholas
0700 – Liturgy of the Word, with imposition of Ashes
1000 – Mass, with imposition of Ashes
1200 – an on-line prayer service for those who are housebound.
1900 – Mass, with imposition of Ashes
Lent this year will see the anniversary of the first national Lockdown due to COVID. It is a time for us to take fresh stock about our values; how we live our love for God, and how we care for our neighbours.
Do mark Ash Wednesday in your diaries, so as to have the best chance of sharing in our parish keeping of this day, and beginning Lent together.
Lent and Easter this year have the potential to be even more important for us than usual as a time of deepening our sense of who, in Christ, we are, and who, in Christ, we are called to be.
One day when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’
Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of fasting while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they could not think of fasting. But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then, on that day, they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins…
A long read today! But an important one for it considers Passover. Passover is one of the principal feasts of Judaism, and has proved one of the most important sources for considering the what and wherefore of Eucharist.
Passover perhaps has its most ancient origins in two distinct feasts/rites – the first a nomadic ritual involving the slaughter of a sheep and the use of its blood in a rite to safeguard the family home against evil forces; and the second a spring feast for a settled community to celebrate the barley harvest.
These rituals of sheep/lamb and grain/bread find new and particular significance when they are newly coined to commemorate the night of the Passover when the angel of death visits the first born of the Egyptians (God’s final act that persuades Pharaoh to let go the people of Israel) and the following day as, in haste, they leave.
As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.
One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called…
Jesus went out to the shore of the lake; and all the people came to him, and he taught them. As he was walking on he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
When Jesus was at dinner in his house, a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them among his followers. When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this he said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’
Spend some time remembering, in prayer and private reflection?
Or maybe have a conversation about how Jews and Judaism are understood and presented in worship, preaching, catechesis in our Christian communities (parishes, schools, other communities) – and by ourselves as individual Christians.
You might be interested in joining me for a conversation about this.
Time has been set aside for such an opportunity from 5-6pm on HMD, 27 January 2021 – the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
It has recently been observed that over decades now Christian churches have been engaged in a continuing and deepening reflection on their relationship with the Jewish people and with Judaism
There are two basic reasons put forward for this.
Christians as Christians have been challenged by the recognition that the sin of anti-semitism – manifested in the most gross way in the events of the Holocaust – has often found safe harbour in the churches, and has often found itself embraced by Christians. Many of those who were active in the crimes of the Holocaust thought of themselves as Christian. Recognition of the truth of this shames the Church and has led the churches and Christians to repentance and renewal. Not least because of the recognition that traces (or effects, at least) of the contagion of antisemitism continue in the churches.
Christians have increasingly come to recognise the richness of Jewish faith, and just how much this can enrich our faith – not only in re-opening to us dimensions of the Old Testament that we may have been blind and deaf to, but also helping us to a fresh appreciation of Jesus Christ and what we receive from him and in him. His Jewishness is a fundamental part of who Jesus is and how he expressed himself, and from his religious tradition come many of the concepts we use to understand the who, why and what of Jesus and the faith and life he draws us into even as, in him, we may reinterpret those concepts. Much of what is offered in Christ is obscured to us if we misapprehend the religious tradition that Christians understand him to fulfil.
Jews, of course, may well not accept that Jesus is fulfilment of their tradition, still less accept the still more that we Christians hold to be true of Jesus, or how belief in Jesus leads us to profess God as Trinity. Jews and Christians have so much in common, but we are not the same.
We are still surely in the early stages of the modern Jewish/Christian dialogue. The teaching documents that come from different Christian communities to promote and share the first fruits of that dialogue still have a certain provisionality about them.
Perhaps in the context of HMD 2021 you might like to read one of them. They include:
God’s Unfailing Wordpublished in 2019 by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission. It considers the history of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and focuses then on four critical issues – Mission and Evangelism; Teaching and Preaching; the Land of Israel; Ethical Discernment and Common Action.
However willing our spirits may be, our flesh may be somewhat weaker! So if you don’t have time to read documents, but would be interested in joining the conversation do please give some thought to the following few questions and propositions which we can use to help get the conversation going.
Notes includes the statement of John Paul II that Jews are “the people of God of the Old Covenant which has never been revoked.”
It also includes the following paragraph: “Jesus affirms that “there shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, “while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.”
What do you make of the tensions implicit in those statements? Where do they impact on your understanding of your Christian faith and the faith of others – Jews, of course, but also Muslims, Hindus, as well as the values and culture of people who profess no religious faith.
When and how and to what purpose is the Old Testament used in Christian worship? If you prepare times of Christian prayer, how often would you choose Old Testament texts for inclusion? And which would you choose? How might this compare to how you draw from the New Testament?
There are reasons to be careful about how our telling of the Passion Story which can cause us to present ‘Jews’ as ‘Christ-killers’ even if we do not use the term. Our explorations of certain of Jesus’ parables can lead us to stereotyping Jews as those who live according to a false faith. Have you experience of this? And of any positive ways of dealing with the problem?
God’s Unfailing Word considers how some of our hymns and carols present their challenges too (p69-70 – and check out the footnotes too!) What do you think? Have you other examples?
And what about the images we use? To depict Jesus? To depict other Jews of the New Testament? What issues might they present?
So, there you are.
The invitation is not to ‘a talk’ but a conversation.
If you are interested in taking part, please email me and I’ll send you the link.
Fr Allen Morris Parish priest at St Nicholas church, Boldmere
When Jesus returned to Capernaum, word went round that he was back; and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door.
He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay.
Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’
Now some scribes were sitting there, and they thought to themselves, ‘How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?’ Jesus, inwardly aware that this was what they were thinking, said to them, ‘Why do you have these thoughts in…
Please pray for the repose of the soul of Father Patrick Joyce who died yesterday, Wednesday, 13th January aged 83 years at Good Hope Hospital, Birmingham.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. May he rest in peace.
May his soul. and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
Fr Pat was ordained on 8th January, 1972 and served at Our Lady of Lourdes, Yardley Wood from 1972 to 1974; at St John the Evangelist, Banbury from 1974 to 1980; at St Francis of Assisi, Handsworth from 1980 to 1981; at St Joseph, Nechells from 1981 to 1985 and SS Mary and John, Gravelly Hill from 1985 until his retirement in 2017.
Fr Pat’s funeral, will be held in compliance with current guidelines.
We will remember him at a parish Mass here at St Nicholas also, timed to coincide as closely as possible with the day/time of the funeral.
Every January for the last few years, #Pray24Brum has brought together Christians in Birmingham and beyond to pray for the city.
Taking place early in the calendar year and during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, #Pray24Brum provides an opportunity for Christians of different traditions to witness to our unity as we pray together for Birmingham.
#Pray24Brum takes place from 8am to 8pm on Friday 22 January and from 8am to 8pm on Saturday 23 January. Due to the lockdown there will be no central venue in which people can gather for prayer. Instead, #Pray24Brum is inviting individuals, households, congregations and Christian communities to set aside 24 minutes during the 24 hours to pray for Birmingham.
Hopefully our parish will be leading one of the time blocks. More details to follow.
Photograph: (c) 2014, Allen Morris. Detail: The Cube, Birmingham