A letter from the Vicarage – Rev’d Andy Stand
While I was at college training for the ministry, I trained alongside Methodist students (which if you didn’t already know, is how Chris and I met!). It was frequently noted in our lectures that if you wanted to learn about Methodist theology, you should pick up a Methodist hymnbook and just read the words of their hymns. Anglican theology on the other hand we were told was to be evidenced in our liturgy, in the words and actions of our services.
I suspect that for most of us, it is a combination of particular hymns and particular parts of liturgy, as well as quotes from books that we read, that shape our personal theologies, our personal understandings of who God is, and how we worship Him.
In a former parish, one year during Lent, we opened the church all day on a Wednesday with different activities and services taking place throughout the day. For some, the actions and symbolism of the Celtic Morning prayer service: the placing of a candle and an open bible and a cross on a table, were simple, yet powerful representations of the place and focus of God’s light, and His word, and His saving presence with us.
For us, it may be the words of a favourite poem, or the imagery of a particular bible verse, or even God’s story told in a different way, such as C. S. Lewis has done in his series of Narnia books, especially ‘the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. And of course for many, (and I’m not just talking about Methodists here) the words of some of the hymns have great meaning for us.
It is these things, which by their poignancy and importance to us, resonate and shape our understanding and our beliefs about God. And where hymnody is concerned, they don’t come with much more resonance and poignancy than many of our Easter hymns.
I particularly like the great Passiontide hymns and I always relish being able to sing them at this time of year. Hymns such as ‘When I Survey’, or ‘My Song is Love Unknown’ or even a more modern song like Matt Redman’s ‘Once Again’:
But I also appreciate the symbolism involved in the action of the services: Palm Sunday processions, the Extinguishing of candles as part of the Tenebrae service – St. Mark’s, Good Friday, 8 p.m. – , the stripping of the altars and the evening vigil of Maundy Thursday – Whittington, 7.30 p.m., and the sombre reflection before the cross on Good Friday – Whittington, 2 p.m. – and the bringing of the Light of Christ into a completely dark church on Easter Morning – St. Martin’s, 6 a.m.
That service, early on Easter morning always reminds me of the Narnia resurrection scene:
The girls, Susan and Lucy, have watched helplessly while Aslan, the great lion, has been tied up and killed under the cover of night. But now, as the sun rises and the new day dawns, Aslan appears. And he is so full of life that he leaps high over the girl’s heads, landing on the other side of the stone table, on which he was killed and which now lies broken in two. Lucy scrambles over it to reach him and a chase begins, full of just great joy and laughter.
Going back to the Maundy Thursday service, I repeat what I wrote last year, “If you wish to come to share Communion, but are not able to stay and keep watch, then that is fine. … You should also feel free to get up and leave the watch (quietly please) at whatever point in time you feel you need to. Please don’t feel that if you can’t manage the whole of the watch that you can’t come to either the service or to the watch.”
However you mark this Easter season, and whatever in it is important and meaningful to you, I wish you all a blessed Passiontide and a joyful Easter.