Choral evensong

York Minster smallRecently when I was working in York I went to choral evensong at York Minster. The building is beautiful and the choir was outstandingly good. But what struck me most was not the imposing surroundings or the quality of the music but the content of the service. You don’t get a brief bible reading – you get whole chapters from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and long extracts from the psalms appointed for the day, as well as the regular items like the Magnificat, the Lord’s prayer, the creed and so on.

If you listen to what these say you get an idea of the church’s message (and presumably God’s priorities) that is very different from what is often portrayed.

For example, Continue reading

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The long walk home

In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Jesus paints a compelling picture of the character of God. A simple story can sometimes communicate more effectively than a detailed theological analysis. There’s so much here – the folly of sin, the father’s love, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. I think that if I had to choose, this would be my favourite parable. Perhaps my favourite story of all time.

It illustrates well the meaning of repentance. The Greek word is metanoia which means to change your mind. Turning round and heading back home to God. We have become accustomed to thinking of repentance and forgiveness as instantaneous things. But that is not what we see here. Continue reading

Psalms and sinners

A couple of Sundays ago, I was on my way to a wildlife photography workshop with Andy Rouse and listening to Radio 3 in the car. (There you go – two passions in one, photography and music.) One of the pieces played on Private Passions was Allegri’s Miserere, one of the most beautiful pieces ever conceived. It is based on Psalm 51, and I’d only ever heard it performed in the original Latin before. But this performance was in an English translation, and reminded me vividly of some of the well-known words of the psalm.

I found myself rebelling against its apparent take on human nature. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Ps 51:5, ESV) The old King James translation says “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity…”  Continue reading