The “Mother of the Bridegroom” Speech

Ladies, Gentlemen, friends, members of the human race, members of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley – it is not, I know, traditional for the bridegroom’s mother to  make a speech at a wedding. But then, let’s face it, it’s not traditional for the groom to be given away, rather than the bride, nor for the bridegroom to have a black eye that he received from an irate, costumeless, French Mickey Mouse. There are many good things about tradition, but let us not be bound by it.

But tradition can be good at times. That’s the best inter-family wedding fight I’ve known in years. But still, we’ve moved with the times. In the old days you had to wait for the reception for that kind of punch-up. Not getting out of the church before it all kicked off was a real achievement. And I was really pleased to discover that Charlii’s family are all Quakers. And I’m sure we all wish Charlii’s dad uncle well as he recovers from that broken jaw.

Now, first I would like to turn to my own son, Keith. Young Keith, as we still persist in calling you,  you’re an irresponsible, self-centered, awkward beggar. I’m proud to call you my son. I can only wish that, on this special day, your dad was here. I really wish he was  Then I could smash his face in – the oily, double-crossing, fake get.

And Charlii. Funny, clever, strong-minded, with a dangerous streak of aggression. I’m so pleased to welcome you into the family. I think of this wedding as not so much losing a son, as gaining a full-time, unpaid assistant. Family firms are great, aren’t they?

I’d like to thank Revd Nathan for his part in the service. It was really good of him to let me preach, and to allow a traditional Beaker 25-tea-light salute. Nathan would like to be here with us this evening, but unfortunately he’s got seven sermons to prepare, and a couple of people who need him to visit because it’s Christmas. One of them isn’t even housebound, but she’s off to Brighton on Monday, so thought he’d better get round quick.

I’d also like to thank the providers of the Marquee, the celebrated Marque Marquees, Marquee providers to the Marquis of Tavistock.  It’s a great marquee. If the Daily Express’s predictions are to be believed, it will all be blown halfway across Warwickshire by the morning. But I reckon there’s actually at least a fifty-fifty chance of it still being here in the morning. Good news for the Beaker Folk, who will be sleeping here once the dancing’s over and everybody else has gone home. Although, if it blows away early enough, at least you won’t have to deal with the army of badgers that patrol these parts at night.

So, now the legalities are legalised, and the knot there’s no untying is tied, I can safely unload both chambers of the old shotgun, go back to the knitting needles, and relax. God bless you both, and, on this Winter Solstice, may Charlii grow larger – at least for the next five months or so. God bless us one and all.

The Crunching Gears of Revd Nathan

It’s a damp day – saturated from last night’s downpour and gale. Yet it’s also a cold one, on the edge of frost, and bright.

All of which extended pathetic fallacy is to introduce the following summary of Revd Nathan’s next few days.

This morning he has the Great Tremlett Junior School Nativity in the church. All cherubs and amusing lines failures. And then at 11 it’s the funeral for Donald. Ninety years old and a church stalwart. Outlived his friends and family, so a mostly-old, mostly-Church affair.

This afternoon? Christmas Revue at the Middle School. In somewhat whimsical fashion, the theme is, apparently, “The Christmas Ceasefire”. I doubt there’ll be a dry eye in the house. Couple of home communions (has to be the Vicar at Christmas) and then, after tea, it’s Martha’s  Mulled Wine Evening.

Tomorrow, he completes the set with the Infants’ Christmas Concert. Then the Retirement Home Old Folk Xmas Singalong.  And then, having had no funerals for a couple of months – the second in two days.  Young mum to be lowered into that quiet, cold, damp earth.  Friends from all over coming. Dreadful.

Followed, of course, by the long-planned Christmas Tree Party.

Saturday, of course, he has the Wedding of the Year, in amongst a couple more home visits and a hospital visit. Which is a twenty mile each-way trip.

And then, it being Sunday before Christmas, all five churches want the Vicar at their service.

And so he goes through this time of year, crashing the gears from first to fifth in quick order, slamming on the brakes too fast and then, if you pardon the pun, over-revving. He tops off Christmas with the 4pm Crib Service,  11.30 Midnight Mass, with annual Midnight invasion by confused inmates of the Hanged Man pub, and then after a few short hours’ sleep, down to Grilby-on-the-Hill for the Mass of the Dawn.

And then somebody who he’s not seen at church all year will top it off, at the 10 am Christmas Morning, by joking that he’s got to work more than one day in the week.

It’s a wonder, all things considered, that it’s only the Halls that get decked.

Settling Time

A few days to settle. Apparently ale needs a few days to settle.

Not that I have any problem allowing the Old Rectory and its grounds to be used for the Reception. But Burton’s organised the alcohol and it’s all real ale. And then, knowing about the ale, the Beaker Folk are all sleeping in the Marquee on Saturday Night. It’s going to be like Greenbelt in my own back garden. But twice as smelly. And without Bono sneaking in.

Atkinson Offensive

Rowan Atkinson’s Comic Relief sketch pretending to be a bishop was the most-complained-about TV moment of the year. Apparently it was “offensive”.

I didn’t find it offensive. I found it boring, tired, cliched, very 1980s. Totally lacking in edge. Just remember the Not the Nine O’Clock News “Life of Christ” sketch for comparison I didn’t write to Ofcom to complain. I would have made a mental note not to watch comedians who have long gone past their sell-by date. But as it happens, with Rowan Atkinson, I already had.

A Virgin Most Pure

That’s the old carol, of course. “A Virgin Most Pure”. Implying that non-virgins, for whatever reason, aren’t pure. An odd state of affairs, when the whole existence of the human race depends upon sufficient people deciding that being virgins is not a long-term option. But there you go.

The thing about that whole “virgin most pure” thing is, it’s not something we actually find in the Bible. Virginity was kind of the expectation of a new bride, but had no particular intrinsic value. Jews thought having children was good, and virginity – with a few weird exceptions – wasn’t a great idea, for males or females.

There’s only two Biblical references to Mary’s virginal state at all – one in Matthew and one in Luke. Matthew uses it to crowbar in an inexact prophecy based on the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible*, while Luke uses it to far greater psychological effect as he explores Mary’s and then Joseph’s response. The important thing, though, is to note that neither of them worry about it too much. Matthew would find just about any excuse to stick in a prophecy, at the best of times. Luke tells us that the angel sorts out Joseph’s minor niggling worries, and then kicks on into the story of the census and the shepherds.

That relative lack of interest isn’t that surprising – it’s just an other miracle, in one sense. And in some ways it’s a non-essential one. Mark and John, in their totally different ways, manage to get along without mentioning it just fine. Paul doesn’t draw any conclusions from it. It’s just a thing. Just there, in amid all the other wonders and unexpected stuff going on around the life of Jesus. Personally, I’m going to go with it being true. Simply because there was no need to bring it in. Because Matthew deals with it (via a fairly dodgy bit of prophecy-fulfilment) in the same way he deals with the awkward fact of Jesus growing up in Nazareth. I reckon it’s just what it is. It doesn’t mean sex is bad, it just states that God, sovereign and merciful, decides to act in a miraculous way to bring about God’s bodily presence on the earth. And I believe in it, for the strangely ordinary way it’s treated.

She’s under-loved, in my opinion, in the Protestant world, is Mary. The sheer significance of her bringing God into the world is underplayed, lest we start to idolize her. Her persistence – her sheer motherliness. When Jesus starts going round preaching the Kingdom of God, notwithstanding the miracles, Mary is there – deciding he’s gone off the edge of normal behaviour and trying to get his brothers to drag him home.

But, in case we start to think she’s just concerned about the good name of the family – she, the woman who got pregnant in  unexpected and possibly embarrassing circumstances – she’s there, later on, at the Passion. There, feeling every lash of the whip. Every thud of a hammer on a nail. Every pull upwards, against the screaming of the muscles, to get a breath – and there for every gasp for breath. There, to watch the blood fall that will make her, and you, and me, and all things clean. There through the whole thing.

But she’s not there when the big news starts to break in the garden. I wonder where she was – maybe too exhausted, too distressed, to make that journey with Mary Magdalene and the rest, down to where her son’s body was laying. Maybe she just couldn’t face it – first widowed and then bereaved again, so early, of the son who had promised so much – the bright boy who drew angels, and shepherds, and wise men, and argued with the scribes of the temple. And I wonder – when Mary Mag bursts back with the news – “I’ve seen Jesus! He’s alive!” – did Our Lady think, typical – can’t reveal himself to his mother?

But she knows the joy no other bereaved mother can know – though they can cling on with hope and faith – the joy of seeing her son again. Of seeing him there, beyond pain, yet bearing her pain – and your pain, and my pain – forever. And I assume, from the first two books of Acts, that she was there to see him ascend, and there to receive the Spirit – alongside John, and Mary Magdalene, who knew and shared her pain so well, and the joy that came after.

So she was there – and she alone, with Him – at the beginning and the end-which-is-a-beginning. The source, and the bearer of grief, and the receiverof joy. She plumbed the depths with him, and soared to the heights with him. She shared his pain, and walked our way. And she is the one who first did our job – the one who brought Christ into the world, as we are called to do.

It’s strange we write her out of the story so often.

* The Septuagint