Today in church: women and frogs

Today’s Gospel reading, for those of you who care about these things, was the tale of the Syrophoenecian woman, from Mark 7:24-end. The sermon drew out some interesting aspects of this story.

Firstly, having just come back from a spiritual retreat on the nature of women in Christianity, the curate emphasised that it’s sometimes necessary to read the New Testament with a suspicious eye. The Gospels were written by men in a time when the genders were most certainly not equal. So this makes the story of the¬†Syrophoenecian woman even more incredible. That a woman from a very lowly part of society could draw up the courage to speak to Jesus, and even to answer him back when she doesn’t get the answer she wants.

Secondly, this is a story about persistence. A sort of “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again,” if you like. She finds strength and courage in her faith. And good things happen to her.

Thirdly, we must accept that Jesus is really pretty mean to her. He basically compares her people to dogs, and initially won’t help her. But, thanks to her persistence, he changes his mind. This is intriguing when compared to the concept of an all-seeing and all-knowing God. For us lesser mortals, it’s heartening to see that even Jesus sometimes has to go through a thought process. It’s sometimes okay that we don’t get the right answer first time, so long as we continue to be responsive to the situation.

As for the frogs, we were fortunate enough to have Messiaen’s wonderful O Sacrum Convivium as the communion anthem. I remember singing this for the first time and, as we sight-read through it, finding myself drowning in its overlapping dissonances and resolutions. And, at the end of the service, the organist played Cesar Franck’s Chorale No. 3 in A. Youtube links for both are below.

Thought for the day, “Advent”, 12 December 2011

Here is the text for my forthcoming ‘Thought for the day’, to be broadcast on Monday 12 December on the subject of “Advent”.


Advent is for many a joyous time. It brings the promise of Christmas, a wonderful time of giving and receiving presents and enjoying some time at home with your family. It may bring thick blankets of snow, that slow the impossibly rapid pace of modern life to a complete standstill, while also dulling its noise and bustle. The long winter nights mean time spent indoors huddled together next to a warm fire, enjoying the merry twinkling lights of a Christmas tree. It is a month-long extravaganza of mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas carols and parties.

That’s all peripheral to Advent’s true purpose, which is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, in a stable faraway, some 2,000 years ago. Through Christ we were all saved.

But there’s a dark side to Advent. Long nights mean short days, and the inevitable dark journeys to and from work and the bleakness of seasonal affective disorder. There are some who cannot afford to keep their houses warm, or even to buy a Christmas tree. Snow means tragic accidents on the roads, delays in gritting streets and pavements and cancelled public transport. The colder weather causes leaves to shrivel up and die. And, while we can enjoy time with our families, it necessarily reminds us of those – such as my own father – who are not here to enjoy Christmas with us this year.

When you have lost your father, you can seek solace in the fact that – like Jesus in the manger – your father is in Heaven on Christmas Day. And, finally, it may be your turn to get the best bits of the turkey.