Happy Maundy Thursday everyone! Yes it's the day we've all been looking forward to, when the Queen performs the ritual of washing poor people's feet. Of course she doesn't do that any more. That sort of thing would be alright for Jesus, but it's not really appropriate for the head of the Church of England and head of state.
Some people think of rituals as being empty and meaningless but there is another side to rituals. They can show us a different world, where the powerful do something lowly, like washing a poor person's feet. That's why the Maundy Thursday ritual would be really meaningful if we actually did it.
"Maundy" comes from the Latin for "new commandment." The new commandment was this: be nice. What could be nicer than for the powerful to wash the poor's feet? This is the kind of ritual, the kind of tradition, that had it been performed for the last 400 years, would be really meaningful.
So, given that Her Majesty can't be expected to wash people's feet, who should? People that we all hate or, at the very least are extremely jealous of, would be good. Bankers, CEOs,
The Commission on Improving Dignity in Care for Older People has come up with the startling new idea that people who look after elderly people should actually care about elderly people. They've called this new idea "compassion".
The government has taken this new idea on board and has instantly set up degree courses in compassion all across the country. Nurses will now spend at least three years learning how to be compassionate. For many this will be vocational training but some will move on to advanced research in compassion in places like Trinity College, Cambridge. In decades to come this will make Great Britain one of the most compassionate countries in the world.
Christianity, of course, invented compassion. The Romans in particular didn't have any compassion. Fortunately, Jesus came along. He pointed out that even Samaritans and prodigal sons can be good and that's how compassion got invented.
Happy Ash Wednesday everyone! Yes, it's that jolly time of year when we all get to spend six wonderful weeks contemplating the suffering of Christ.
But it's not only the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend who suffers, lot's of people suffer. Whether it's war, famine, pestilence or natural disaster, all over the world there are lots of people suffering, just like Christ did. You don't even have to take my word for it, you can get all that suffering transmitted into the comfort of your own home.
Now, with the arrival of Lent, you can join in too. You can do your little bit of suffering to show that you really care. Just by giving up your favourite legally available addictive drug for a few weeks, you can show solidarity with Christ and everyone who suffers as Christ did.
Of course, you won't suffer the way a starving child in sub-Saharan Africa does. They suffer the way Christ did, which you won't, but at least as you forgo your evening glass of wine, you'll be able to say, I have given up my evening glass of wine, I know what it is to suffer.
But aren't we all enjoying all this suffering a bit too much? How many of us rush home from work to see the latest Famine in Ethiopia, or Somalia's got Pirates? I know I am. That's why I'll be giving up something for Lent, to show that I'm not just treating others' pain as a form of entertainment.
Lent is about recognising other people's suffering. It's got nothing to do with me showing how holy I am.
Yesterday was Valentine's day: a day of romance, true love and conspicuous affection.
God I can't stand Valentine's day. It makes me want to vomit on all those roses and pink champagnes and god awful cuddly teddy bears. I loathe and despise cuddly teddy bears. A curse upon all cuddly teddy bears.
Which brings me neatly onto the subject of science-and-magic. No one in the field of science-and-magic knows what love is. This just goes to show how rubbish science-and-magic is. I know rather a lot about science-and-magic people. The college that I'm dean of has rather a lot of them and I can tell you that science-and-magic people don't know half as much about love as Saint Paul did.
Which brings me neatly onto Saint Paul. He knew a lot more about love than science-and-magic people do. If you want to know something about love, the person to consult is Saint Paul and not science-and-magic people. Saint Paul wrote a famous bit about love. This is often read out at weddings with a horrible sentimental voice, full of emotion. This is all wrong. Saint Paul should always be read in a cross, angry, brutal, annoyed, bitter, teddy bear crushing way.
If there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of, it's that Saint Paul, even when writing about love, absolutely hated teddy bears - teddy bears and women, teddy bears and women and homosexuals, teddy bears and women and homosexuals and just about everybody, but mainly teddy bears.
It's one of the pressing problems of our age: what version of the Lord's prayer should we use? Should we forgive trespasses, forgive debts, or forgive sins? It's a tough one, but fear not, that's precisely the sort of vital challenge that Christian theology is willing to take on.
As luck would have it, debts have been in the news lately in the form of pay day loans. These are loans that poor people have to take out. Poor people are people who've run out of money. Just at the time when there are more poor people about, the British are becoming less tolerant of poor people, with many thinking that the poor just deserve to be poor.
Fortunately we have Christianity. Christianity invented being good to the poor. Judaism, which was a kind of dummy run for proper Christianity, also did some helping of the poor, although mainly their own poor. Christianity decided to help all the poor, which is why we don't have any poor people left today.
The Emperor Julian said so, so I must be right.
A death by suicide affects us all. We wonder what depths of despair and hopelessness they must have felt to push them to such lengths. We wonder if there wasn't more that we could have done to bring them just enough hope, enough consolation, to bring them back from the brink.
Naturally we, and by "we" I do of course mean "you", turn to Christianity to find out what it has to say about this. Well it mostly says "don't do it", it's a mortal sin and you really don't want to die with a mortal sin on your soul. Then it argues quite a bit about how culpable the person who committed suicide is and how extensive their punishment in the afterlife should be.
If they had taken advantage of the Christian facilities for confession and forgiveness they may well have decided not to commit suicide. Alternatively they could have consoled themselves with knowledge of the wonderful invisible magic afterlife and how important it was to delay getting there as much as possible.
In this way, modern Christianity faces up to the reality of depression and despair.
Saif Gaddafi has been captured.
I think he should have a fair trial.
Giving people a fair trial, even when they are nasty, horrible people, shows that the rule of law is working.
Jesus thought people should have a fair trial, which pretty much ends the need for any further argument on the subject.
Now to pad that out for 3 minutes.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Jesus said that.
He said it in the garden of Gethsemane.
"People who live by the sword die by the sword," he said, in the garden of Gethsemane.
What he meant by this was, people who live by the sword die by the sword.
People who don't live by the sword might not die by the sword and might, in general, be exposed to less violence.
Not living by the sword and dying by the sword, and being exposed less to a cycle of violence as a result, is a necessary condition to ensure the rule of law and fair trials.
To all you Radio 4 listeners out there who don't believe in fair trials, I'd just like to mention Saint Augustine.
(He was a bishop in Roman North Africa you know. Not many people know that, so I thought I'd just throw that little factlet in there. It helps pad things out a bit, otherwise I'd never get this rather obvious and unoriginal idea to sound as if it were the product of some unique scholarly insight.)
He thought fair trials were a good idea too.
Him and Jesus.
Him and Jesus and me.
Just how many people do you need to tell you that fair trials are a good idea before you'll accept that fair trials are a good idea?
Even Saif Gaddafi should have a fair trial.
Goodness, is that 3 minutes up already? I had so much more I wanted to say.
We asked 100 people about something associated with university. You said "fun". Let's see, how many people in our survey, when asked to mention something about university, said "fun".
X - The top answer was in fact "expense", followed by "fees" and "cost" and trailing way behind was "love of the subject being studied".
In actual fact love of the subject should be the single most important reason for going to university, or at least Cambridge University. We don't want people doing a degree in hospitality management for fun. We want people who woke up as youngsters and said, "YES - when I grow up I want to run a hotel!" These must be people who delight in stock control, whose one ambition in life is to ensure that every pillow has a complimentary mint, people who really know how to grovel to a dissatisfied guest.
When a young person studies accountancy, we want people who love accountancy. They will have started off with a simple hobby, perhaps purchasing a book like "100 Ways to Have Fun with Double Entry Bookkeeping". At university they can develop their interest and progress to such fascinating subjects as corporate tax law, or fixed interest securities pricing.
We don't teach any of these wonderful subjects for the rather vulgar aim of making money. We do it to open up a wide new world to young people, to satisfy their sense of wonder.
And for reasons that are not entirely clear, I would just like to mention the Invisible Magic Friend.
That notorious communist, Warren Buffett, wants the rich to pay more tax.
Like me, I'm sure this reminds you of the good old days of medieval feudalism, where jolly peasants and serfs laboured away on their strip of land for the benefit of their betters. And their betters worked for their betters all the way up to really important people like lords and bishops, who worked for the king. The king worked for the Invisible Magic Friend, who, luckily for the king, seemed to prefer a more hands-off management style.
No one really owns anything, or really earns anything. We all rely on our betters and our lessers and sometimes even our peers to get us to our position in life and then to keep us there. There is no such thing as a self made man, or woman for that matter. It is simply not true that what is mine is mine. What is yours is mine and what is mine is yours. What is somebody else's is not theirs but ours, or yours, or mine, in a way that what is mine, or yours, or there's, is not.
In these troubled times, let us look to medieval feudalism, Ian Duncan Smith, the psalms and to higher taxes to "inform and inspire our search for social reconstruction and well being."
It's perhaps not the best time in the world to be asking for improved prison conditions, but we really should be looking to improve prison conditions. Prisoners in Wandsworth are routinely bullied and confined to their cells for 22 hours a day. Even prisoners should be entitled to certain basic standards of decency and dignity.
Most of us instinctively know what is right and wrong. We don't need reward or punishment, or to have someone watching over us (such as the Invisible Magic Friend). Our own sense of self worth is sufficient to make us behave in a socially acceptable way.
When Jesus told sinners to stop sinning, he would often join them for dinner and generally make themselves feel comfortable and good about themselves. He gave them the sense of self worth that they needed in order to reform their character. If Jesus did it then it must be right. I'm sure telling you what Jesus did really serves to reinforce my point that in order for people to behave well they need to be motivated to do so.
Failure to grant dignity and decency to prisoners removes any chance to motivate them towards rehabilitation.
Jesus says so.