The Boy Jesus in the Temple

Long before the Home Alone movies. And long before David Cameron left his child in the pub – we’ve all done it! – there was the story of The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-end). All parents know how difficult it can be to keep tabs on a child. One possible explanation for the apparent negligence of Mary & Joseph may be to do with the fact that, as a 12-year-old boy, on the threshold of adult life, there may been a mix-up over whether he was traveling with the women and children, or with the men. They would have travelled in groups of relatives, so it’s not difficult to imagine the potential confusion.

This is the only biblical story of Jesus’s childhood, after the nativity stories and Luke’s account of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:21-40) and it contains the first words of Jesus to be recorded. Jesus’s parents were, of course, devout Jews, and went to Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival. (Jewish men were required to attend three festivals a year: Pentecost, Tabernacles and Passover. In practice, “only Passover was strictly observed” (I Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke) and here, there were clearly women attending too.) Pilgrims were required to stay in Jerusalem for two days during the week of the festival. The boy Jesus apparently thinks that two days is just not enough, so he stays behind. They’ve travelled homeward for a whole day before they realise he’s missing.

Of course, when they eventually find him (‘after three days’), he’s perfectly happy sitting with the religious teachers, listening and asking questions.

And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (2:47)

His parents, on the other hand, are not so happy. They’ve been wracked with anxiety and they let him know that this is no way to treat your parents. Mind you, Mary had previously been warned that it was not going to be easy being this child’s mother…

Jesus’s first recorded words are:

‘Why were you searching for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (2:49)

The King James bible translates this as, “about my Father’s business”. The point is that we see the contrast between Jesus as part of his earthly family and Jesus the Son of his divine Father. Jesus’s relationship with his earthly family was often in tension with his divine personhood and his demands on his disciples to put their divine relationship first was a tough one.

The promise of the nativity story is revealed here: Jesus is the Son of God. This is a moment of epiphany, a revelation. Jesus’s true identity is laid bare. And then he goes back to being a jolly well-behaved boy, obedient to his parents. The next time we meet him, it will be at baptism at the hands of John, where Jesus will be affirmed as God’s Son, the beloved, pleasing to God his Father.

Jesus’s role is unique, but in a way, this is our story too. Our first loyalty is to our Father in heaven. That’s who we are, children of God. Jesus’s relationship is unique but he invites us to become God’s children too. Mostly we live that out as parents and children, brothers and sisters, as friends and so on – our earthly relationships where we are called to love one another. But we too have a heavenly Father and we are called, not just to be in his house, but about his business.

The Rose Queen… and King!

When children ask questions, I believe that it is right to give them the best answer you can. So, when a child recently asked why, if we had a Rose Queen, we didn’t also have a Rose King, I decided I would give the matter some thought. It’s a good question! When I was newly-arrived in this parish, never having had much to do with Rose Queens in the past, I did a bit of research. Some people imagine that it’s an ancient pagan tradition, with its origins lost somewhere in the mists of time… Steve Roud, however, in his book “The English Year[1]”, tells the story of a vicar in Bury who, in 1989, announced that he was banning his church’s Rose Queen ceremony, because, he said, it was rooted in pagan rites and not appropriate to a Christian community. Roud points out that that the hapless vicar:

“had fallen rather publicly into the trap of believing that all traditional customs must be extremely old, and are therefore linked to pagan activities. The Rose Queen was in fact a late Victorian invention encouraged, and perhaps even created, by clergy and respectable churchgoers as a piece of safe and controlled pageantry.”

Roud also points out that Warrington Walking Day goes back only to 1833, and was an attempt by the Rector of Warrington to combat the evils of gambling and strong drink available at the racecourse.

The Victorian enthusiasts liked to believe that they were rediscovering the joys of medieval Merrie England, whereas they were, in fact, mostly making stuff up.

There is, however, a possible precedent to the Victorian notion of a Rose or May Queen. It is to be found in the medieval tradition of ‘Church Ales’. The Church Ale, often held around Whitsun (the feast of Pentecost), and therefore sometimes called the ‘Whitsun Ale’, was a fundraising event for the upkeep of the parish church, which involved food, drink, dancing and games. Not that different from our current Walking Day, in fact. King James I listed Whitsun Ales as suitable entertainment for Sundays, but, with a change in the religious climate, they were banned by parliament in 1644.

Now, this is where it gets interesting! The ‘ale’ festivities were ruled over, not by a May Queen, but by a ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’. So, if our Rose Queen has a precedent in the Lady who presided over the parish ‘ale’, she should be accompanied by a Lord!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: it’s not just political correctness to have a Rose King, alongside the Rose Queen. It has historical precedent!

The only other parallel I could come up with was the tradition of the Boy Bishop, in which a boy (usually a chorister) was appointed ‘Bishop’ for a time. He was dressed in a bishop’s garb and given duties to perform, including leading processions and preaching sermons. The boy was usually elected on the Feast of St Nicholas’ (6th December) and served until Holy Innocents’ Day (28th January). So, the Boy Bishop held his post from the feast of the patron saint of children, through the Christmas season, until the day when the church remembers the children slaughtered by Herod in his bid to rid the world of the boy Jesus. The tradition of the Boy Bishop turns the usual order upside down, and reflects the teaching of Jesus about children: we tend to tell children that they should learn from adults. Jesus says that adults need to learn from children (Luke 18:17).

On Pentecost Sunday  (15th May) we will select (by ballot from those who put their names forward), a Rose Queen and her retinue. We may also (if there are candidates!) select a Rose King. We look forward to welcoming the children who will teach us the way to serve in the kingdom of God.

[1] The English Year, A month-by-month guide to the Nation’s Customs and Festivals from May Day to Mischief Night © Steve Roud 2006, Penguin Books