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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Wells Cathedral on a sunny afternoon

Choral Evensong in a cathedral only eight miles away is an experience that I have neglected. Today my sons helped me put that right.

It all went very well, Charlie drove us to Penniless Porch and Trevor wheeled me into the church and up to the choir, where a friendly attendant saw us to a spot just by the lectern with a good view of the pulpit.

The setting of the canticles was new to me, and we don't know the composer, [Helen Lunt has just emailed that it was Kenneth Leighton's Second Service] but it was almost certainly 20th century. The "world without end" in the Gloria was repeated over and over again, most effectively.

The first lesson was read by the precentor, who was also preaching. It was from Exodus chapter six, and he introduced it well and read it almost in a whisper, clearly well acquainted with the possibilities of the cathedral's amplification system.

The second lesson was Romans chapter five, which I shall post separately.

The intercessions were carefully chosen and sensitively introduced. There was a theme of imprisonment and injustice, arising out of the first lesson. Among others, we prayed for people in Myanmar/Burma and Tibet. After a brief word on praying for one's enemies, we even prayed for Osama Bin Laden, misled as he is.

The sermon, arising out of Romans five, was about the contemplation of the cross. The preacher faced head-on the possibility that gazing on the wounds of Christ was an unhealthy practice, but he said that if it was anybody else that would probably be true -- as we gaze on Christ we see how we ourselves are wounded and it all becomes a healing experience. He made comparison with images from revered figures from other religions -- the dancing Shiva and the contemplative Buddha -- and remarked that the image of the cross was unusual for representing suffering.

His closing words were: "What did Jesus first show the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection? His wounds."

At the end of the service, the choir walked around the east end singing a recessional chant, a prayer for forgiveness, and in so doing walked and sang a full circle around the congregation. When the choir is great, as it was here and in King's a fortnight ago, there is often a focus on them as performers. It was wonderful to be surrounded by their prayerful song, but not to see them.

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