Fifty years ago today

1171763_smallA VC-10 Lagos, 1964.  This day, 50 years ago, I achieved an ambition to return home from Nigeria in what was then a new aircraft, note the four engines mounted at the tail. I shared with Sultan Qaboos of Oman (he died in 2019) an appreciation for the plane – he owned one, which left Oman for the last time as I arrived there in 1987 – its last flight was to the Transport Museum, Brooklands, Surrey where it can be viewed.

A different world today.  An American journalist James Foley has been beheaded in northern Syria, by one of the 500 or so young British Muslims fighting in Syria and Iraq, he had been held hostage for two years.  Although life was complicated enough in the 1964, it was only a few months after the Cuban missile crisis when the world was on the brink of nuclear disaster, at least being a disciple of Jesus Christ seemed reasonably straight-forward, then.  As referred to in earlier blogs the joyful, self-sacrificing witness of Nigerian and ex-pat Christians together made a life-changing impression on me.

Ten years later as a curate on Tyneside, I was trying to introduce teenagers like Terry and Doug to Jesus, I met them again two days ago.  Good memories to share, but against the background of ‘a task unfinished.’  How to apply the Gospel of the Prince of Peace (Shalom/ Salaam) to the people/ teenagers of today’s world, where Nigeria, the Midde East Tyneside, London come together?  By prayer….

Psalm 122 – a reflection

Hopefully, C.H. Parry’s great anthem based on this psalm will keep running as you read….

Reading Psalm 122 this morning, I wanted to find a musical setting of it, and came across this one. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (verse 6)… and Gaza, and for Iraq as so many are in such desperate need expelled from their homes, exposed on mountain-sides….

The words of the Psalm must have meant so much to Jesus, the many times he approached Jerusalem with pilgrim bands singing the psalm, and on the last occasion slipping in quietly – as St John records it. And then, for countless Christians since, as we live out our citizenship of the new Jerusalem.

As I watched as well as listening to the words of the anthem, I was reminded of a poem I wrote as a 22-year old student, soon after having been accepted for training as a Church of England minister. (I was clearly confused about a wedding service order! – that the bridegroom stands at the front of church waiting for the entry of his bride, not the other way around – but it was written as a dream – or imagined nightmare, based on St John’s vision of the Church as the bride of Christ)…

A dream –
I was standing before the sanctuary of a great high church.
Beside me stood the bride, my daughter.
The light in the church was very dim,
and I couldn’t see her very clearly.
We stood there, waiting for the bridegroom.

Then my part changed, and I was the best man.
The bridegroom was with me,
and we were making our way to the church.
The atmosphere was as if, a great victory had been won
after a long and bitter war.
The bridegroom had been away for a long period of time,
the wedding had been arranged for the earliest opportunity after his return.
Certainly his reputation was a very great one,
crowds lined the streets and surrounded the church,
there was silent homage to him, and as we walked up the church steps
people fell on their knees.
The bridegroom must have won a very great victory
and was now returning to claim his bride.

And in my dream we entered the church.
And so great was the glory surrounding the bridegroom
that the church was now filled with a great light.
We walked slowly towards the sanctuary where the priest stood waiting.
The bridegroom came and stood beside his bride….
and it was as if, I could see them together, from both sides at once.

And a terror, such as I have never known before
filled me, and my heart was cold as ice.
For as I looked, the glory of the bridegroom lit up
and showed clearly the bride he had come to marry,
and she was the most loathsome creature that I have ever seen.
She was old beyond belief,
only able to stand because she leant heavily upon me.
Her face was barely recognisable as human,
scarred and horribly disfigured.
And the bridegroom looked deep into my eyes
and I will never forget his expression of reproach.

Since Hilary gave me five beautiful daughters (two by ‘adoption’), four married (so far) and two  sons (also married), I have learned the proper order of a wedding procession. Our family weddings were of course just as wonderful as Prince William’s wedding to his Kate, even if only one was in a cathedral (Carpentras).

Just as King David placed the law of God at the heart of worship in his temple, the ten commandments engraved on stone in the holiest of holies (Psalm 122 verse 4) – so a man and a woman coming together in marriage, and societies, and nations must have God’s law as their foundation, if they are to know the peace (Shalom/Salaam) that Psalm 122 confidently anticipates.

At the end of the video of the royal wedding, the camera draws back to reveal the cross shape of Westminster Abbey. What a great symbol to enhance the full meaning of Psalm 122.  Through the cross of Christ, we can confidently pray for Peace – for the sake of our biological siblings (verse 8) adopted siblings, brothers and sisters in Christ, and our friends of whatever faith or none: “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.”