With a late Easter we have Ascension Day at the end of May. Usually we think of bluebells at Ascension and Whitsun but this year it was bluebells for Easter. Ascension is one of the important days of the Christian year along with Christmas, Easter and Pentecost (Whitsun). We usually celebrate Ascension, which always takes place on a Thursday, with a Benefice Service at St James, Chilton Cantelo. This year Bishop Peter Hancock, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, suddenly announced that he was coming to our Deanery - we are in the Deanery of Yeovil - to do a Confirmation Service on Ascension Day. As visits of the bishop of the Diocese and services of confirmation are very rare, it seems fitting that this year we join with the Deanery in going to St John's, Yeovil. Making this service even more special, as confirmation candidates are even more rare here, is that we have someone from Chilton wishing to be confirmed.
Less and less people seem to wish to be involved with belonging to a church these days. I officiate at a lot of funerals. Some baptisms and weddings take place at Mudford, usually as there is a family connection to the church. It is rare that the people actually live there. Very occassionally there are baptisms/christenings and weddings in the other churches of the Benefice.
So what is a Confirmation? At Christenings/baptisms, it is usually a baby who is being baptised. The promises are made by the parents and godparents on behalf of the child. It is hoped that, when the child or adult wishes to make those promises for themselves, they will be Confirmed by a bishop making the same promises and affirmation of beliefs for themselves. Then they are able to receive the bread and wine at the Communion services that Jesus asked us to remember him by.
In years gone by, as in Medieval times, visits of Bishops were even more rare than they are today and adults would receive communion without being confirmed but would be confirmed when the bishop actually came to their part of the world. In more modern times, the Church of England has adopted a similar practice to the Roman Catholic Church, with something called the Admission of the Baptised to Communion. These would be children, who have been baptised and are used to coming to church with their parents; they would do a short course suitable for them and be able to take communion. A little bit like the first communion of the Roman Church, Confirmation comes later as a confirmation of their beliefs.
In my youth, when lots more people were confirmed, the bishop would come to the parish church in which the candidates lived. I still remember my confirmation in the small parish church in the outskirts of Portsmouth, where my mother's family had worshipped for years. I have no certificate to prove it, but still have the little book given me by the vicar and signed by the bishop. It is still sometimes used.
The Hot Cross Buns and the Easter Eggs are all in the shops. Sadly, the daffodils are nearly over but I hope the primroses and wallflowers will still be out along with the tulips and cherry blossom. A garden features a lot in the Easter story. Mary Magdalene, when she went to the tomb in the garden where Jesus' body had been taken, met Jesus, but in her grief, and certainly not expecting to see Jesus alive, mistakenly thought that he must be the gardener. Not a bad mistake; in a book I have been reading about Easter, it suggests that in many ways that was what he was, a gardener of souls. The picture accompanying the last section of the book by Jane Williams, the theologian wife of our last Archbishop, was a beautiful Monet from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. I went there last year but sadly I cannot remember seeing it. There were so many great works of art.
In the beginning of the Bible, God walked in the Garden of Eden, when all was new and perfect but then it was spoilt by the first people. Now Jesus can be seen as the new Adam through his sacrifice making it possible for all to join him in his kingdom. Easter morning makes me think of the freshness of a garden, as in the hymn “Morning has broken like the first morning.” It is in the creation section of the hymn book like that other wonderful hymn, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder”, a Russian hymn apparently. However, my favourite hymn Easter hymn is “Now the green blade riseth”, a French tune this time. It too makes me think of new life coming out of grief and pain, made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus, God's own Son. Do look up the hymns and read the words.