Art: A thing of beauty

The role of arts and the First World War

Sermon preached at the Calne Music and Arts Festival Evensong
14th October 2018, Genesis 4.3-11 & John 20.11-18

It is remarkable that in an era where society calls itself more and more secular, music, arts and literature festivals are increasingly popular. I would like to suggest this evening that a reason may be we are facing a level of disillusionment, and that arts, music and literature are a beacon of hope and truth. I would also like to suggest that this disillusionment is in many ways not dissimilar from where we were a century ago, at the end, and during the aftermath of the Great War.

David Jones
Copyright The Estate of David Jones

Of course, there are many ways in which our society is completely different now from the 1920s – as historians will be very able to point out. However, when I came across the following quote from the artist and author David Jones written in 1926, I sense that there are some parallels to be drawn too. In his first published essay since the Great War, Jones wrote that art must express contemporary culture and that, since today – 1926 – we are generally unable to create ‘a thing of beauty’, the only hope for authentic art is a counter culture determined ‘to avoid … the general decline.’[1]

Art: a thing of beauty, determined to avoid the general decline.

Continue reading “Art: A thing of beauty”

Celebrating our brokenness: St Mary Magdalene

A sermon for the Feast of St Mary Magdalene
2 Corinthians 5.14-17 & John 20.1,2,11-18

mary magdaleneThe reading from St John’s Gospel in which Mary Magdalene meets Jesus after the Resurrection (John 20.1-18) is one of my favourite, if not my favourite Bible reading. Mary Magdalene was known as someone with ‘problems’. According to the Gospels of Luke and Mark, Jesus cleansed Mary of seven demons. And in later tradition in the churches of the West, Mary Magdalene has also been identified as the Mary who anoints Jesus, the woman who used to be a prostitute. Although this tradition cannot be deduced directly from the Scriptures, it has been persistent in history.

Whether or not this was true, I think it is fair to say that Mary was someone on the fringes. Not least because she was a woman. I won’t by any means preach a feminist sermon, but I think it is significant that it is not Jesus’ disciples who are the first witnesses of the Resurrection, but Mary, a woman, a minority if you like, someone who was in some sense an outsider. Continue reading “Celebrating our brokenness: St Mary Magdalene”

I have seen the Lord!

I have seen the Lord! A sermon for Easter Day
John 20.1-18

Mary empty tombWithout wanting to make any judgment, I think that some of you who are reading this may be old enough to remember one of the BBC’s most famous April Fool’s Day hoaxes, reporting the remarkable Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. It was after a mild winter – very unlike this year’s! ­– that the spaghetti crops had come out remarkable well, especially in Switzerland.

I wonder what your first reaction to a news item like this is. Do you immediately know it’s a fake story, or are you for a moment or more surprised, but captured by the news? I have to say that I’m usually quite gullible and my first reaction is to jump up and share the story with someone else: Have you heard about this!? And often that’s the moment when someone else needs to tell me I’ve been fooled. Continue reading “I have seen the Lord!”