A Hymn for the Diamond Jubilee of Coventry Cathedral (May 2022)

This was written for Coventry Cathedral, as the final hymn of their diamond jubileee celebration service, on 25th May 2022. The first, second and final verse are suitable for any service on the general themes of reconciliation, forgiveness, diversity, and so on. The third verse is particularly suitable for the Cathedral, reflecting on the history of that specific building and how destruction paved the way for its ministry of reconciliation. Most of the scriptural, cultural and theological references are probably fairly obvious, but if anyone would like me to provide a short commentary, I’d be very happy to do so.

Be in our midst, and gather us together,
and let your loving-kindness be our guide,
Help us discern your image in each other,
and walk with humble footsteps by your side.
Send us to work, O Lord, Almighty Giver,
‘till all who thirst and hunger now are filled,
Let justice thunder like a mighty river,
And let the storms of strife and conflict now be stilled.

When all the world’s great sorrows overtake us,
and we are crushed by centuries of pain,
lend us your strength, and lovingly remake us
that by your grace we may be whole again.
And when the sins of passing generations
make all the wounds of hist’ry still feel raw,
send out your healing power among the nations,
and fill this broken earth with heaven’s peace once more.

*A verse for the Cathedral only  
And if the cross, the site of such destruction,
a sign of violence, suffering and sin,
can be redeemed to witness resurrection,
and be a place where life can still begin,
then iron and wood and stone can sing their stories:
‘Father, forgive’ these very walls have prayed,
that what was lost could birth still brighter glories,
and what was hurt can be transfigured and remade.

Grant us that peace beyond the mind’s discerning,
Help us to live the truth that sets us free.
And may the Spirit’s fire within us burning
help us become who we are called to be.
In eager longing for your new creation,
a world reshaped by love and hope and grace,
with Christ the Prince of Peace as our foundation,
we’ll build your kingdom now, in this and every place.

Tune: Londonderry Air (

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Some stuff here – help yourselves 🙂

Lent sonnet

These forty days of prayer and discipline
are given for us to slowly grow in grace
and learn to be your people once again,
to find our truest home in your embrace.
In pilgrimage, through hours and days and weeks
of changing who we are and what we do,
the human heart may find that which it seeks:
ourselves, once restless, find their rest in you,
our mother hen, whose chicks at last come home
to find the safest place where they may cling;
we need not face the wilderness alone,
but nestle in shadow of your wing.
Oh, forty days of learning how to be
what you have promised us eternally.

Ash Wednesday hymn (tune: Picardy) – slightly revised

Dust to dust, we mark our repentance,
entering a guilty plea,
Ash to ash, we face our sentence,
Sin writ large for all to see:
Now these signs of all our falls from grace,
mark us for divine embrace.

Dust of earth once shaped and moulded
into this, our human frame,
Body, mind and soul enfolded,
given life and called by name.
Now O Lord remake our damaged form,
Hold us till our hearts grow warm.

Dust that fuels the lights of heaven,
Stars and planets passing by,
Atoms of creation’s splendour,
Earth to earth and sky to sky,
Now our dust, redeemed, sings loud and long
in that universal song.

Lent hymn / song (tune: slane)
the ten commandments verse can be omitted if that’s not your focus

Lord of our life, our beginning and end,
Our Father, our shepherd, our Saviour and friend,
We look to your teaching in each fresh new day
To lead us and guide us and show us your way.

Ten laws to teach us to live in your love,
Ten ways to make earth more like heaven above,
Ten rules to inspire all we think, say and do,
To help us be faithful in following you.

You are our safety, our great mother hen,
Whenever we wander you call us again,
We’ll always be drawn to your loving embrace
To nestle beneath the soft wings of your grace.

This is our story, and this is our song:
For we are your people, to you we belong,
Wherever life takes us, in all that we do,
Our hearts will find peace when we’re resting in you.

Good Friday – thoughts (I’m not usually ready this much ahead of schedule…!)

Scholars of biblical history like to ask each other why Jesus died.  Was it because the Romans saw him as a potential trouble maker, likely to rouse a rebellion amongst the oppressed Jewish people, especially at the time of the Passover when Jerusalem was flooded with visitors and pilgrims and emotions were already running high?  Or was it through a plot by the religious authorities who considered that Jesus had made blasphemous claims to be the Messiah?


Or was it an act of desperation by those same authorities who genuinely feared that Jesus’ actions leading up to his death would indeed inspire some kind of rebellion against Roman rule?  A small-scale and unsuccessful rebellion would have been disastrous – the Romans were not known for being merciful and considerate to the nations they occupied, and the last thing the Jewish leaders needed was someone who would stir up trouble and bring down the wrath of the Romans on everyone.  Can it be that silencing Jesus suddenly looked like the only way of preventing bloodshed on a massive scale?


But if we really want to know why Jesus died, then we can join the two thousand year old tradition of the Church’s interpretation of the events of Good Friday. 


Today we recount the tale of our betrayal, complicity, duplicity, and collusion in the death of Jesus. It’s all there, the worst parts of our collective psychic anatomy:


We see the betrayal of a leader by a trusted disciple, and we never even know what drove him to it – the money? Impatience with the pace of Jesus’ ministry, or misunderstanding of its nature?  Simple disaffection?  Do we, in Judas, recognise our own secret thoughts and doubts about those to whom we have pledged our allegiance or our friendship, even if we have not acted on them?


We see the cowardice of Jesus’ very best friends, who all deserted him at the last, and supremely we see the threefold denial of Jesus by Peter, who only hours before had sworn that he would follow his Lord to the death.  Do we recognize our own potential to be surprised into denial by sudden questions from strangers?  Perhaps we could withstand the very worst persecution for the sake of our faith, but fail, like Peter, at the thought of being ridiculed, judged as ‘one of them’?


We see the anxious conniving of the authorities, the way priests Annas and Caiaphas play right into the hands of the Romans.  We see the potential for law to come before justice, and uncomfortable truths swept under the carpet of perceived necessity. ‘It is better for one man to die for the people’.  Do we recognise the reasonableness of our own leaders, or perhaps even of ourselves, in neglecting the plight of the minority?


We see a weak and nervous Pilate, checking the latest public opinion polls, intent on ensuring his own survival, no matter what the cost, and unable to exercise any real authority.  Jesus even tells Pilate that he only has power over him insofar as it has been granted to him from above, yet even that he is unsure of how to use.  Do we recognize in ourselves an element of self-preservation preventing us really from loving neighbour as ourselves?  Do we recognize in the structures that govern our society a misunderstanding of what power and responsibility are about?


We see the mob, democracy in action, just a few days ago shouting “Hosannah!” now screaming for blood and crucifixion.  Do we recognise ourselves, swayed into glibly accepting received opinions about who deserves condemnation, and not daring to think differently?


We see soldiers, who after all are only doing their job, desperate to establish their superiority by mocking the easy target, and numbing themselves from the reality of what it is they are doing by taking refuge in games and casting lots for a dying man’s clothes.  Do we understand the real cost of our everyday choices and habits for those around us, for the world, and for our own souls?  Are we complicit, however remotely, in systems that deny the dignity of fellow human beings?


And finally we see the crucifixion itself, surely the most cruel and degrading form of execution that ingenious humanity has ever devised to inflict on itself.  It is not just about physical anguish, but also about mental and emotional torture: even the wild animals crawl away to die – but even this privacy was denied to our Lord. Do we see and understand this as simply the supreme emblem of the sort of cruelty and desire for power and dominance that can be found in all human societies – societies of which we are a part. 


At every stage, the passion is possible because of the human capacity to sin. Is it not, in fact, in the nature of human sin that if ever someone perfect were to come into the world we would surely kill him?  God could count on human sin to crucify his Son.  Of course that’s what we’d do. 


Yet in the midst of all this, it is true – and we must hang on to this truth – it is true that we are – each of us, and all of us – made in the image of God.  He created us to be good people, to be people at one with each other and at one with him, and it is to this that he continues to call us.   Our capacity for sin is the sign of how distorted this divine image has become in us.  


It is popular to suggest nowadays that humankind is making moral progress, that we are basically OK in ourselves, and getting better all the time.  Sometimes we can kid ourselves that we are – collectively and individually – doing OK.  And perhaps we could go on thinking that, were it not for today. It might be possible to get by on our own, to delude ourselves in thinking our capacity to hate and deny and delude are not that great, if were it not for this day, this Friday we call ‘Good’.  If we are to believe in our own self-sufficient goodness, we shall have to dispose of this story, of this day in the church’s year.  


Our capacity for denial and deceit about the truth of the worst in us is incredibly great, but this story that knows the truth of us so well and depicts it so graphically, challenges even our powers of evasion.


We really are in a mess. If Golgatha or Calvary were only one place, one moment in time, we have at last grown beyond it. But no, there is Auschwitz, Rwanda, Belfast, Kosovo, and Baghdad, and the list of Calvarys keeps getting longer.  We really are fallen. We really have corrupted the image of God in which we were created.  We really do need someone, somehow, to save us. Sin means that we needed – we need – a redeemer, to restore in us the image of God, so that we can overcome the power that sin has over us, and become the people we were created to be.


On this day, Good Friday, we are revealed, exposed, reproached. But if that were all there was to the story, then Calvary might be remembered like a good novel for its realistic depiction of human evil, and those who recognized their own sin in the passion story would despair. 


But looking back on this day, Jesus’ people realized that there was more. There, on the cross, with Jesus’ arms outstretched, God was embracing us, entering into our evil, our sin. Later, we came to speak of something so horrible as the cross, as the source of our redemption.


Yes, it was our sin that sent Jesus to the cross, but we do very wrong if we ignore the complicity of Jesus in his own passion and death.  Just before the Passover Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Presumably he knew that this would incite the crowds into claiming him as the Messiah promised by the prophets.  And he knew that the political situation at the time made this an action almost guaranteed to get him into trouble.  He predicted his own death (and resurrection) several times, explaining what it meant and why it was necessary.  And he refused to defend himself at his trial.  These are not the actions of an unfortunate victim of circumstance.  No, these are the considered decisions of someone who knows that they have a task to perform, a vocation to fulfil, no matter what the personal cost.


It is human sin that brought Jesus to the cross, but it was and is the choice of God to submit to that sin and become its victim.   From the moment that Judas betrayed Jesus, the tragedy of human sin unfolds and gathers strength, and through it, God nevertheless achieves his saving purposes. 


For we have no hope, except for a God who is willing to meet us where we are, fallen as we are. God met our fallen-ness and brokenness at each and every point of the unfolding passion.  He met each one of our sins: our betrayals, our denials, our willingness to sacrifice justice for expediency, our cowardice, our cruelty; and took them onto himself.  On the cross, Jesus met head-on the very worst that humanity could do, and by the resurrection proved that the love of God is stronger.  On the cross, we meet God, and above all else that we see, we see that God is willing to go to any extreme to have us, just as we are, so that he might transform us into who we were made to be.

The Way of Life

Way of LifeIn Ely Cathedral there is a simple, yet spectacular, relief sculpture in cast Aluminium.  It  is mounted on what used to be the blank north wall of the area at the west end of the cathedral.  When people look at it, they see many things:

  • a winding path – the journey of life is not a straight line
  • dark areas and light areas – the journey of life is not all all in the light
  • a cross at the end – there are moments of suffering, as well as a sense that we are travelling towards God
  • a rough texture – the road is not always easy
  • a very tiny crucifix, very near the top of the sculpture, almost too small to be seen with the naked eye


The image of the Way of Life quickly became iconic of Ely Cathedral as a place of pilgrimage and iconic of the journey of life. Its simplicity makes it immediately appealing and fascinating.  The fact that its creator, Jonathan Clarke, was himself exploring faith during the time the sculpture was being conceived and made, may also contribute towards the appeal of the work to all who see it.

This time of year we might see the winding path, with its pits rough edges, twists and turns, as the journey of Jesus to the cross.

We might see it as our own journey – and we might identify the twists and turns that we have faced, or are about to face, the challenges that we can foresee, and those that may confront us with no warning.

ImageWe might see the path as our own journey of faith, for the progression of faith is rarely straight and smooth either.

We might even see the path as a sport relief mile: a short (but for many people, hugely challenging) journey undertaken in order that so many people whose life journey is unimaginably hard might find their path made a little easier. 

ImageIf there is one thing about this image that leaves me troubled, it is that the tiny crucifix is so alone.  Christ’s path to the cross was lonlier than it might have been (to the mortification of the disciples who failed to stand by him) and our own paths of suffering, or of doubting enquiry, can seem equally lonely.

But we are not alone. When we look around us in church, or at school, or at work, or to our neighbours, our friends, our families, we see fellow travellers. Their path and ours will not be identical, but they are nevertheless travellling, if not with us, then at least near us.  And we are also not alone because the fact that Jesus has already been on the human journey of life, all the way to the cross means that there is no height, no depth and no breadth of suffering (or indeed of joy, or thinking, or challenge, or worry or any other human experience) that is beyond the scope of his love.