Friday, 2 September 2011

"The Old Is Good", he says

A Homily for Holy Communion on
Friday, 2nd of September, 2011, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Gospel: Luke 5:33-39

“The Old is Good”, he says

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I wonder if some of you might share the experience of hearing something from the New Testament for the first time, having been convinced that we’d heard it all before? ““The old is good” he says” falls into that category for me. Why would Jesus say the old is good? He is surely the new wine, not the old, and he is good. Is he being ironic? Teasing those who are conservative and old-fashioned? Or is it to be taken at face-value, that there are riches in old things – and, dare we suggest, in old people? Of course there are riches in old people! We all know this for a fact. I have a great-aunt who will be ninety next month, and even just on the telephone she can make you laugh within a minute. She is blessed with a projectile kindness, and she doesn’t care who knows it.

But what is true of old people is also true of old things. When I was a college chaplain in Cambridge, the cellar convinced me at last that there is a genuine truth behind wine snobbery. I came a little unstuck when having sampled a most delightful Crozes Hermitage 1985 (I think it was) I ordered a case – 8 of the 12 bottles were corked! But the other four were sublime. I got them for a song, it would have been churlish to demand my money back. This year we have been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible. No translation since has achieved such poetry in its prose. Combine it with Coverdale’s Psalter, and Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, and “the old is good” indeed.

But no matter how old we are, didn’t Jesus mean us to be “new wine”? We can’t do much about our old skins, and sometimes we creak and groan a bit when newness comes upon us too fast and furious, but isn’t the Gospel about “newness of life”?

There was a television programme some years back called “180 – not out”, which I think was a title drawn from the pub game of darts, which was having a bit a craze back then. Two people were interviewed. One was the journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who was 80, and the other was Catherine Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army, who was 100 – combined score – 180.

Mr Muggeridge, as might have been predicted, went on and on about how awful old age was and how he’d really rather like to die soon. Miss Bramwell Booth said, “I know I’ve had more than my fair share of life, but I still wake up each morning and pray, God, if you please, it’s so lovely, could you maybe spare me just one more day?”

Of the two, I think I know which one was the new wine. And hers was a most attractive gospel. She lived to be 104.

“The old is good”, indeed.


Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
September 2011

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