Over Holy Week and Easter I had occasion to share both joy and sorrow with three families. With regard to two of the families, there was news of a new baby on the way, the cause of great delight, but at the same time, there had been the recent bereavement of a loved one; there had also been the recent bereavement of a loved one in the third family, but alongside, for one of them, the successful completion of a long and difficult course of medical treatment which had been accompanied by the customary round of applause from hospital staff. These experiences of light and darkness seemed to tie in poignantly with the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, and also made me think of the scripture text from the Book of Job, which is always part of the Morning Prayer of the Church of Wednesdays in Week Three: The Lord gave; the Lord has taken back; if we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too? My thoughts and prayers will remain with those families at this time.
Even today, as I write, there would seem to be an appropriateness about that text from Job. This is Father Justinian’s 90th birthday. In Psalm 90 – which also seems appropriate - it says that the normal span of a person’s life is 70 years, but 80 for those who are strong; so, what are we to say about someone who reaches 90? He is keeping extraordinarily well at this time, and we are looking forward to a community celebration this evening, with nice Italian food, his favourite, and, without a doubt, endless teasing from Father Gareth and Father Antony who, between them, don’t even get close to 90. I’ll say nothing about my own age. At the same time, today is also my own father’s anniversary. He died on this date, 8th April, in 1960, a day etched in my memory, and at the time he was only 40 years of age, which seems far too young. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away – Blessed be the name of the Lord!
The Easter Ceremonies seemed to go well. How very different from last year when myself and Father Antony celebrated them in an empty church, Father Gareth being at home in Wales at the time. So, even without the Washing of the Feet; the Veneration of the Cross; the Lighting of the Paschal Fire, and the Service of Light; still it was good to be with people in these, the most important liturgical services of our Christian Year, and to be able to acclaim an Alleluia together, giving thanks to the Risen Lord. Please God, next year, no restrictions.
Entering into Holy Week, I was relieved and delighted to get a paschal haircut from Father Antony. I was beginning to look like one of these aging hippies who had not yet learned to let go of the 1960’s which, when I come to think of it, seems to describe me well enough. All of my favourite music belongs to the 60’s, and of course the 60’s was the decade of Vatican II. It was also the decade when a certain Scottish football team became the first British club to win the European Cup and so, while I hope I have let go of many unnecessary things, and managed to mature in the most important areas of my life, there are some things I just don’t want to let go of, and probably never will. Hair continued to be a theme over the period. On Palm Sunday morning, one of our church volunteers told me that Radio Clyde had tweeted a picture of my older brother, the doyen of Scottish soccer journalism, sporting a perm. When I got a colleague to find this for me, not being a tweeter myself, I could remember this picture well, back in the 1970’s, when he and his long-suffering wife had identical hairstyles, very curly perms, and I have little doubt he would not have wanted those photos to see the light of day ever again. I don’t know whether it has anything to do with the perms, but they will be happily celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary later this year. Then, on the first day of the barber shops re-opening, 5th April, Father Gareth, not having been willing, for some reason, to trust himself to Father Antony’s clippers, and with a mass of thick, dark curls, that had him compared to Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate in Jesus of Nazareth, went off to queue up at the local hairdressers, and return with a short back and sides. He is now a new man. So, as ever,
protect yourselves, protect your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.