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Eve of Lady Day ( March 24th)

7pm Choral Evensong

Lady Day ( March 25th)

9am Holy Eucharist

 

Jesus Meets his mother – Lent Address 4

On Mothering Sunday ( March 26th) at 6pm  we hear the 4th of our Lenten Addresses Jesus meets his mother with Revd Preb Paul Lockett former Chantry Priest at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and Queen’s Chaplain.

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Fr Paul is currently serving at All Saints, Shrewsbury.

Monday, March 27th

The Ministry Team and Parish Officials will hold their Annual Lady Day Lunch.

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In the third of our series of Lenten Sermon’s on Nigel Pugh’s Stations of the Cross, former Embrace the Middle East Trustee, Canon Daniel Burton looked at Women of Jerusalem.

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Canon Burton opened by quoting words from the Gospel of Luke:

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ Luke 23.27-31

These verses provide the backdrop for what we know as the eighth of the traditional fourteen stations of the cross. Known variously as Jesus rebukes the women of Jerusalem, Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem, and the women of Jerusalem weep for our Lord, this is one of the most mysterious of the traditional stations.

Before we examine what might have been going on here and try to find some resonances with our own reality, let us meditate for a few moments on Nigel Robert Pugh’s stunning representation of this biblical scene, for art can often illuminate the written word. Having only seen these pictures on the internet, I was looking forward to seeing the actual work of art for real. It is a painting of astounding contrasts:

  • The shrouded women contrasted with the semi naked Christ
  • The gigantic women contrasted with the diminutive Christ, inverting the perspective of the eye
  • The conspiring women contrasted with the isolated Christ
  • The inscrutable women contrasted with the vulnerable Christ
  • The self-contained women contrasted with the outwardly-focussed Christ, pointing the women to something beyond themselves
  • The safe women contrasted with the dangerous Christ
  • The living women contrasted with the dying Christ

If we take the word “contrast” as the lens through which we view this scene, we see that Nigel Robert Pugh has identified something integral to understanding this scene, and the biblical text reveals an additional contrast:

  • The noisy wailing and weeping women contrasted with the silent Christ

What is going on here? Well, let’s deal with the conundrum of the title of this station. Surely what is going on here is a Rebuke, not a Consolation. These women were professional mourners who gathered on the streets of Jerusalem every time there was a spectacle or a riot or an execution. There are many references to this cultural peculiarity in the pages of the bible. Jeremiah 9.17-18 reads:

Thus says the Lord of hosts:

Consider, and call for the mourning-women to come;

   send for the skilled women to come;

let them quickly raise a dirge over us,

   so that our eyes may run down with tears,

   and our eyelids flow with water.

 

That is exactly what was going on. In a demonstrative culture where outward show denoted inward emotion, it was essential that every funeral, every tragedy, every execution, should be accompanied by wailing and weeping of the most extreme kind. One can argue that these professional mourners provided a cathartic function in that their manufactured grief released the genuine emotion of the real mourners, for thus it must have operated on countless occasions. But the point about the women’s grief is that it is indiscriminate and it is superficial. They had mourned the previous day for some other unfortunates; they were mourning now as much for the two criminals as for Our Lord; and they would be mourning the following day for the next batch of Roman victims, the name of the Nazarene already forgotten. I say again that their grief was indiscriminate and it was superficial.

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Contrast that (contrast again!) with Jesus. He has spent his ministry unmasking the superficial in life and in religion; he has spent his ministry living and pointing to that which is authentic and integral and real. Of course he rebuked them! Consoled them? Absolutely not! Unless one means console in the sense in which Job was consoled by his comforters – in other words not at all. Jesus REBUKED the women of Jerusalem. He was on the way to his death; he had been betrayed; he had been abandoned; he had been tortured; he had been abused and manipulated by Jewish and Roman authorities; and worse was still to come. And in this state, in this condition, in this critical moment he encounters a group of screaming actors, indiscriminate and superficial – everything that he was not. “If you knew what was coming; if you knew what Jerusalem had rejected when it rejected me; you wouldn’t be pretending to weep for me; you would be weeping for yourselves and your children; indeed there will come a time in your life when you will regret that you ever gave birth to children.”

 

These women had been truly and well rebuked, and one can imagine that their wailing and weeping ceased, embarrassed silence replacing their hysterical performance.

 

I was in Jerusalem just last month with a group of pilgrims and as always we walked the Via Dolorosa. Never a day goes by without countless visitors doing the same. The way of sorrows, the way of the cross, never goes out of fashion. And surely this is not only because it offers a unique opportunity to identify with Our Lord on his most important journey, but also because it speaks so much of suffering and in countless ways successive generations are able to link their contemporary suffering with that of the saviour. Indeed it is impossible to contemplate that the stations of the cross will ever go out of fashion, because it is impossible to imagine a world without suffering. But I want to suggest to you that the stations of the cross have a particular resonance for the women of the Holy Land – both Arab and Jew – for this enigmatic scene of Jesus rebuking the women of Jerusalem is at its heart a Palestinian story, and the same blood runs through the veins of the 21st century women as through the biblical women.

 

There is an enormous crime being perpetrated in the Holy Land today: it is the systematic theft of Palestinian land by the Israeli government who have constructed their Wall or Separation Barrier not on the internationally recognised border of 1967 but along an arbitrary and meandering route that divides ancient communities, severs ancient roads, and allocates sparse resources to the victors. This and the daily expansion of illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories gives the lie to the oft quoted commitment to a two state solution, for such a solution is now impossible. This in its turn creates what is in many ways a greater crime and that is the strangulation of hope, a rare commodity in the Holy Land today.

 

In the resistance to the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the descendants of the women of Jerusalem continue to play a pivotal and heroic role. Two groups of Israeli and Palestinian women have come together to form “Jerusalem Link” which includes the Palestinian branch, the Jerusalem Centre for Women, and the Israeli branch, Bat Shalom. Together they promote a joint vision of a just peace, democracy, human rights, and women’s leadership. Women in Black began witnessing against the occupation in January 1988 and continue to this day, every Friday in Jerusalem and in other towns in Israel, always at the same time and at the same locations, dressed in black and holding up black signs in the shape of a hand saying “Stop the occupation” written in white lettering in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Machsom Watch was set up in January 2001 in response to human rights abuses of Palestinians at the checkpoints in the occupied territories.

 

These women are outstanding human beings, people of integrity, authenticity, empathy and courage. Among them there is no one of greater moral stature than the Palestinian Christian polymath, Hanan Ashrawi. As I draw things to a close, I am going to read a poem of hers which reminds us that Jewish and Palestinian women have far more that unites them than divides them:

 

Women make things grow:

Sometimes like the crocus,

surprised by rain,

emerging fully grown from the belly of the earth;

Others like the palm tree with its promise postponed,

rising in a slow deliberate spiral to the sky…

 

Women make things smooth

to the touch,

like the kneading of leavened bread

at the dawn of hunger;

And coarse like the brush of a homespun coat

on careworn shoulders and bare arms

barely touching on the night of deportation.

 

Women make things cold sharp and hard

like a legal argument thrust before the threat of search and detention;

Or warm and gentle like

justice in a poem,

like the suggestion of the image of freedom

as a warm bath, and a long soak,

in an undemolished home.

 

Women make things

And as we, in separate worlds,

braid our daughters’ hair in the morning,

you and I,

each humming to herself,

suddenly stops

and hears the tune of the other.

 

I do not believe that the wailing and weeping women of Jerusalem referred to in Luke chapter 23 were capable of hearing “the tune of the other” and for this they were rebuked by Jesus. Nevertheless their awkward encounter with Our Lord has often led Christians to reflect that a world without empathy is indeed a foretaste of hell. Nigel Robert Pugh’s interpretation has shed new light on this scene, not least by evoking the many contrasts of the eighth station of the cross. As we continue our Lenten journey, may we renew our efforts to “hear the tune of the other”; and may we never cease to pray for the kindling of hope in the Holy Land that one day Palestinian and Israeli women, men and children will live in freedom, justice and peace.

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Speaking in the 2nd of our Lenten series on Nigel Pugh’s Station of the Cross,  Judge Huw Rees looked at Pilate.

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After speaking of cases at Abergavenny he had been involved in he turned to Pilate’s trial of Jesus:

Purpose.

When I was persuasively asked to give this talk and when I reluctantly agreed, I had to re-visit parts of the Easter story that I had not properly read since being a child. Perhaps you, like me, will have a passing familiarity with such biblical references to Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, that act of washing his hands, the Sanhedrin, the criminal Barabbas, and other aspects.

By re-visiting this topic I quickly came to the conclusion that rather than experience a Trial, a judicial process which should have been based on the application of the rule of law and fairness between the parties, it was no such thing. What Christ endured was not a Trial but a Mistrial.

By the end of this address –which will not be a dry exposition of the legal process he endured – I hope you will appreciate that by subjecting Christ to one of the world’s worst examples of a mistrial, a real miscarriage of justice – man made Him suffer even more in other ways than just the degrading flagellation and ultimate painful and enduring death by crucifixion.

Christ was not given a fair trial at all.

If we can understand that together tonight it may well make us conclude that Christ’s sacrifice had an added dimension and our appreciation for what He did for the sake of mankind, and our love for Him should be that much greater as we come to remember the Easter message.

 

Famous miscarriages of justice

Our process of criminal justice has as its base the fair and proportionate application of the criminal law. We have an adversarial process where each party is allowed to adduce admissible evidence and present its case with the assistance of barristers, who are experienced in doing so. We have a criminal justice system in the Crown Court of trial by jury – which allows a dispassionate decision to be made by lay people, which is the envy of the world as being the fairest system deployed to find the truth in a conflicting situation. We have a professional judge overseeing the process, whose function is to apply the law required in the case and to over see fair play between the parties. All that goes without saying but needs to be said in this talk, because there have been failings and we can all think of miscarriages of justice, when someone is convicted and punished for a crime they did not commit.

Examples.

Those old enough will remember the cases of:-

Timothy Evans, wrongfully executed in 1950 for two murders that had been committed by his neighbour, John CHRISTIE.

Derek Bentley case in the 1952, hanged for the murder of a policeman after a trial before Lord Goddard LCJ which based the conviction on joint enterprise on the basis of the ambiguous phrase: “Let him have it Chris” (Bentley’s alleged instruction to his then 16 year old accomplice, Chris)

Guilford Four including Gerry CONLON, wrongfully convicted of being Provisional IRA bombers in the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.

Birmingham Six, including Paddy HILL, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 for the Birmingham pub bombings at the height of the IRA campaign on the British mainland

Closer to home, the “Cardiff Three”: wrongfully convicted of the 1988 murder of Lynette White in Bute-town.

More recently, the American Amanda KNOX sentenced to 26 years imprisonment in Italy for the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher.

Ched EVANS, the footballer, convicted in the court which is my principal court centre (although I hasten to say that I was not the judge!)

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Why do I say that Christ suffered a miscarriage of justice?

We should remember that the mistrial of Christ can be divided into six constituent hearings:

  1. The hearing before Annas;
  2. The hearing before Caiaphus;
  3. The trial before the Sanhedrin;
  4. The initial hearing before Pontius Pilate;
  5. The hearing before Herod; and,
  6. The second hearing before Pontius Pilate.

I will touch on the first three but concentrate on the last three.

Arrest

The midnight arrest of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane included the first four of a series of more than a score of illegal acts that made the entire proceedings the greatest travesty of justice in all the annals of mankind:-

  • Hebrew law prohibited arrests and trials leading to capital punishment from occurring at night.
  • The use of a traitor or an accomplice in effecting an arrest or securing a conviction was likewise forbidden by the law
  • The arrest was not the result of a legal summons (but the execution of an illegal and fictitious resolution of the Sanhedrin)
  • Hebrew law prohibited the binding of an un-condemned man: “So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him” – John 18:12-13

 

The illegitimacy of the hearings before Annas and Caiaphus.

  • They were a violation of the rule of law that forbade all proceedings by night.
  • Hebrew law prohibited a judge or a magistrate, sitting alone, from questioning an accused person judicially, or to sit in judgement on his legal rights, either by day or by night. No one judge courts were allowed – their smallest sessions had three and their largest, 71 judges.
  • Private preliminary hearings – no matter how many judges were present – were specifically forbidden by Jewish law
  • Jesus was physically assaulted by an officer during the hearing before Annas.

 

The trial before the Sanhedrin.

  • The Gospel of Mark tells us that there were two separate sessions of the Sanhedrin and that they were both held the same night. Hebrew law demanded two sessions in the cases of condemnation to be held a day apart. The Hebrew trial of Christ was thus illegal for it was concluded within one day. He was tried, convicted and sentenced in one day. Not allowed.
  • It was held at night, which was prohibited: “…the examination of such a charge is like diagnosing of a wound – in either case a more thorough and searching examination can be made by daylight” (Sanhedrin).
  • During the hour or two between the two Sanhedrin court trials, the Jewish leaders permitted the rabble to spit upon, torment and persecute Jesus, the un-condemned. The laws of most nations presume a person to be innocent until he is proven guilty, and prior to a final sentence of condemnation, he is entitled to and be given every possible protection by the court from ill treatment. The permitting of a small riot over the person of Christ between the two court hearings was totally illegal.
  • No acceptable testimony of witnesses was produced against Christ. The law required the testimony of witnesses to agree in all essential details or be rejected.
  • An indictment against a person must deal with a definite crime and the trial must be carried to completion on the basis of that charge. When the false witnesses failed to prove the charge of sedition, Christ should have been set free and the case dismissed. This was not done. Instead the judge suddenly shifted to a new charge, that of blasphemy.
  • The sentence on Christ was unlawful because it was founded on His own confession. The judges not only violated the law by acting as accusers, which witnesses were to do, but in addition they illegally extracted a confession from Jesus and then used it as the basis for a death sentence.

 

Christ before Pilate.

The Jews had authority to hold court trials, but the Romans forbade them from executing the death sentence. For this reason they had to have the Roman government confirm the sentence as correct.

Pilate asked on what charge Christ had been brought to him and was met with the reply: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King” – Luke 23.

The men who sought in vain to find a valid charge against Christ when He appeared before them four times earlier that morning, now dreamed up another on the spot. A political charge was needed – and so three were given. And each one, though without a foundation in fact, was a charge of treasons against the government of Rome.

Theses charges of sedition or treason against the government hit Pilate in a weak spot. It was recorded that the emperor, Tiberius Caesar had “a morbid and capricious temper, whose fretful and suspicious temper would kindle into fire at the slightest suggestion of treason in any quarter. Tacitus (the Roman historian) records fifty two cases of prosecution for treason during his reign. The most harmless acts were at times construed into an affront to the majesty or into an assault upon the safety of this miserable despot”.

 

PILATE questioned CHRIST briefly and proclaimed to the crowd that he found no fault in him:

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man” – Luke 23.4

 

As Professor Simon Greenleaf, a professor of Law at Harvard University, and regarded as the keenest legal mind at the beginning of the twentieth century, put it: “Here was a sentence of acquittal, judicially pronounced, and irreversible, except by a higher power, upon appeal; and it was the duty of Pilate thereupon to have discharged Him”.

This all caused consternation amongst the baying mob who protested that PILATE had insulted all of Judea, beginning in Galilee, which was under Herod’s jurisdiction

Accordingly, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for judgement. However, this was illegal. He had already rendered a verdict of innocence and the trial was actually over; case dismissed.

It was a rule of Roman law that “no man shall be put twice in jeopardy”.

This principle of double jeopardy is an important one even in modern jurisprudence.

But instead of reacting to this offence to the Roman system of law, Pilate used it as an excuse for an easier way out of it. Rather than stand by Roman law, now that the trial had been concluded, Pilate reopened the case and sent Jesus to Herod.

Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and his provincial capital was Tiberius in Galilee.

Jesus was now to appear before Herod, who had been responsible for the deaths of nearly all of his ten wives, as well as thousands of innocent victims and the prophet John the Baptist as well.

Herod had an idle curiosity, he was hoping for grand entertainment and ordered the sick and the lame to be brought in that he might see them healed. And thereafter Jesus would be released (Luke 23:8). But Jesus did no respond.

The silence of Jesus brought the patience of Herod to an end. “And Herod with his men of war set Him at nought and mocked Him and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him again to Pilate”   – Luke 23:11

There is evidence that if the Roman soldiers that were standing there in Herod’s courtroom that day had not saved Him, Herod and the rabble and the priests would have torn Jesus to pieces. Maddened with fury, Herod left his throne and acted like a demon, and he was immediately accompanied in this diabolical work by nearly everyone in the room

Herod refused to pronounce sentence in the case, and this was the equivalent of an acquittal.

Pilate acknowledged it as such upon the return of Jesus.

“You have brought this man to me as one that perverts the people. And, behold, I have examined him before you – have found no fault in the man touching those things whereof you accused him. No, nor yet Herod. For I sent you to him, and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.”               – Luke 23:14 -15.

For a second time Pilate had rendered a verdict of “not guilty”. But instead of releasing Jesus, he said he would have Him beaten before freeing Him.

This promise of a beating, however, could not satiate the blood lust of the mob and immediately there went up a crying and shouting for Jesus’ death. Gradually it subsided as Pilate proposed something new.

Pilate stated he would set either Barabbas or Christ free, in accordance with Jewish Passover tradition.

With a roar as of an ocean in storm came the reply: “Barabbas, Barabbas, release unto us Barabbas”

Pilate answered and shouted at the top of his lungs: “And what shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” Like surging waves of sound came the answer: “let him be crucified!”

Forgotten now amid the hollering, cursing and shouting, was the last concern for legality or justice. All that remained was the battle between the will of Pilate and the will of the mob.

And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe, and said, “Hail, King of the Jews” and they smote Him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and said unto them, “Behold, I bring Him forth to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate said unto them, Behold the Man”

–John 19: 1-5

This is the illegal beating of an un-condemned man.

And in presenting Jesus to the multitude, for the third time, Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent: “That you may know that I find no fault in Him”

 

“From thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend: whosoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar”

– John 19:12

 

So by framing their argument through the paradigm of a crime against Caesar – rather than a mere crime against the Jews – the mob was able to convince Pilate.

“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgement seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha” – John 19:13 

It was time for a legal decision, based on the authority of Rome – but Pilate wasn’t thinking about authority. He wanted to wash his hands. And calling for a basin of water, he did so before them all.

“I am innocent of the blood of this just person. See you to it.”

Pilate had given his fourth acquittal of Christ. In response came the cry: “His blood be on us and on our children – Mathew 27; 24-25

“And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that He might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevail. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.”

– Luke 23’ 23-24

Having acquitted Christ no fewer than four times, Pilate finally acquiesced to mob rule and gave them what they wanted.

 

Conclusion.

So when we say, as we are required to most Sundays that “Christ died for our sins and the sins of the world…”, perhaps we should sometimes remember before he was condemned to make that ultimate sacrifice, his unfair punishment had already started by being the subject of the worst miscarriage of justice in the whole of the history of mankind.

 

 

 

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Next Sunday (March 19th) at 6pm we hear the third sermon in our Lenten series based on Nigel Pugh’s Stations of the Cross with Canon Daniel Burton, formerly Chair of Embrace the Midddle East.

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Canon Daniel Burton

Canon Burton transfered to Anglicanism after serving for a time as a Baptist Minster. He was Ordained in 1994 and served as Curate of Mountain Ash before moving to Sarn near Bridgend. He is currently a Canon of Manchester Cathedral and Rector of the Salford All Saints Team.

He stood down from the Board of Embrace the Middle East three years ago this month and has lead many Pilgrimages to the Holy Land over the years.

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Nigel Pugh’s Women of Jerusalem

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It has been confirmed that our Vicar, Canon Mark Soady will be the preacher at the Sunday Choral Eucharist on the first weekend of the world acclaimed St David’s Cathedral Festival this year.

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Responding to the news Fr Mark said “It is a great honour to be invited to preach at the Cathedral, 20 years after I was Ordained Deacon there.”

The Service will be at 11am on Sunday, May 28th.

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In the second of our series of Sunday Evening Sermons on Nigel Robert Pugh’s Stations, His Honour Judge Huw Rees looks at Pilate.

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Pilate

Huw Rees was appointed as a Judge to the Wales and Chester circuit last Autumn, and is a Churchwarden of his local Parish church on the Gower.

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The Service is at St Mary’s Priory at 6pm on Sunday Evening, March 12th.

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The Anglican Churches in Abergavenny are supporting Fair-trade Fortnight.

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On Thursday, March 2nd we will hold a Coffee Morning at Christchurch, North Street .

The Following Tuesday, March 7th we will look at this theme at our Mums & Toddler’s group Littlefootprints.

Fair trade products are used across the the St Mary Priory site, including the Tithe Barn

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