The Wine, the Spirit, and the Book: 21 October

My third Sunday as vicar of Burton Joyce and my first main morning Communion. A sizeable congregation inspires the communion assistant to fill up two chalices with deeply red wine. I give thanks, remembering Jesus, joyous at being settled in such a good place. I invite the people to come and receive. I sip the wine, which fizzes on my tongue. Horror! Has the wine gone off? Is this simply a brand I haven’t come across before? As a teetotaller can I trust my judgement?

Both communion assistants taste and declare that the wine is fine. Relieved, we carry on. But over coffee after the service others agree politely that the wine was definitely past its best. What would have been the official procedure? What are we vicars to do with two chalices full of fizzy, vinegary, consecrated wine? Do we have to consume them? Or..? Archdeacons, or anyone interested, please comment!

The following Wednesday, preparing for the 10am Communion, I tipped away all the opened wine and broke the seal on a new bottle. Warily I tasted it. This wine too was fizzy with a bitter aftertaste. A bad case. I dashed to the Co-op for a bottle of QC. What do the shop assistants make of their new vicar hurriedly, some might say furtively, buying fortified wine and only wine before 10 in the morning?

‘Praying in the Spirit’ is a six week course I am running on Wednesday evenings. We began with ‘Praying the Spirit in,’ receiving the Spirit, as we take in the bread and wine. Jesus commanded ‘Take, eat…’ and also ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’ In the Greek the word is the same. We are not passively to let the Holy Spirit pass over us or even touch us. We are actively to take Him in.

It felt like a bit of a risk to be launching into this teaching. Receiving the Holy Spirit, being baptised in the Holy Spirit, has caused huge rifts in churches. But, when I prayed, it seemed that this was what Jesus was pointing me to.

At the coffee break on the first evening one man told me that in Communion at the end of his first Quiet Day a few months ago, he had been suddenly struck with the words ‘by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.’ ‘Spirit’ made him think of breath, in the air. ‘Inspiration’ is about the spirit coming in. Prompted by this musing, he deliberately breathed in. He had come on the Quiet Day hoping to receive some help with distracting thoughts when he prays. As he breathed in, he suddenly found his mind was clearer, focused on prayer, on worship. The Spirit had come in and the distractions had gone. Alleluia! Since then he has found that as he asks the Holy Spirit to come in, and gulps down another breath, his mind becomes clearer again. He is not completely free of distractions, but now it’s not just him battling them. The Holy Spirit is battling with him, in him.

What a perfect illustration of the teaching on receiving the Holy Spirit! It’s hard to think of a better one, showing the difference it makes to receive the Spirit, that we do need to be active in receiving, that this is about practical help in our daily struggle as Christians. What a gift! What a confirmation that it is indeed right to present this teaching now. More reports to follow.

A British Crash, my whodunit, is about to return to its cover price of £8.99. For the summer we have been selling it at the reduced price of £4.99, but this has not made a noticeable difference to sales. Buy now before the price increase –

Should the book have been called The British Crash? Tony Blair’s book A Journey was originally The Journey. John Dugdale in The Guardian points out that five consecutive winners of the Booker Prize (2004-8) have had ‘The’ titles – and an ‘A’ title has never won the Booker. Agatha Christie’s first eleven whodunits all had titles beginning with ‘The.’ The indefinite article, I read, only adorns a handful of flukes, such as A Tale of Two Cities and  A Brief History of Time, which both have lifetime sales of more than 10 million copies. The British Crash would give quite a different impression. May A British Crash yet join the select list of flukes?

Roger Harper


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