Albatross – a reflection from the Archdeacon of Northampton

Fifty years ago, in February 1969, ‘Albatross’ by Fleetwood Mac was at Number One in the UK charts. It’s a classic instrumental and definitely worth a listen … but not until you’ve read the rest of this article.

However, I must confess that the word ‘albatross’ does not take my thoughts solely in a Fleetwood Mac direction. It also leads me to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Remember that from your school days? A brief partial summary would be that the Mariner’s ship is in trouble until suddenly an albatross appears in the sky. Then everything seems to go well … until, inexplicably, the Ancient Mariner shoots the albatross. From that point on, tragedy follows tragedy for the crew, and, as a reminder of his rash stupidity, the crew blame the Mariner and hang the albatross around his neck:

Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

It’s a strange poem which may owe some of its quirkiness to Coleridge’s opium habit! But before you return to Fleetwood Mac …

Coleridge offers us some memorable and vivid lessons in this poem. Here’s one of them – sometimes we carry our mistakes around our neck as a permanent reminder. Our future can be shaped by the failures of our past. The burden of our sin (as the Book of Common Prayer states so succinctly) is intolerable.

What does the Bible have to say about this?

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 11,12)

Because of the cross and the loving grace and mercy of God, we do not have to carry the burden of our sin around our neck for all to see. In this 50th anniversary of ‘Albatross’, thank God for his eternal solution to our sinfulness. As Jesus said to a woman who had been publicly shamed: “… Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Start again. Let it go.

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