Since I was a boy, I’ve wanted to find out more about my family tree and only recently have I done anything about it. Thanks to the Ancestry website, the basics of genealogy are at our fingertips. Inspired by the TV series Who do you think you are? I’ve enjoyed finding out where my family originates. The Tavinors (or Taverner, Taviner, Tavenor, Tavenour, Tavemor - all these spellings are used in the records!) are concentrated in the town of Chippenham, in Wiltshire. The first records I have are from the early 17th century. Most seem to have had humble, artisan backgrounds and I’ve yet to find an exciting or notorious ancestor!
One thing became clear to me as I did my researches - all the surnames that came out of the blue - maiden names of grandmothers, great grandmothers - we’re linked with families we never imagined - and the list is endless. Genealogy is certainly an enlarging experience - it’s also dangerously addictive.…
The Bible is ambivalent on genealogy - on family trees.
Yes, we have the two great genealogies in Matthew and Luke. ‘Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, etc. etc’. These genealogies are intent on showing that Jesus is descended, in the case of Matthew from Abraham and in case of Luke from Adam. It was important to Jewish readers to know that Jesus had an impeccable pedigree.
Yet elsewhere, it’s a different story. In the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is shown to be High Priest - but not descended in this through a family tree. In the Old Testament all priests had to be descended from Levi - Jesus is shown to be High Priest, descended from an unknown - Melchizedek - who, we’re told had no genealogy at all.
In Baptism, we’re given membership of a familv tree - but it’s a different kind of family tree. Our membership of the tree - or the body of Christ - gives us a new relationship in which we’re all part of that tree - no matter what our human circumstances and background - God is our father and Jesus is our brother - it’s as simple as that.no need for Ancestry or Who do you think you are? to establish that - but our faith and belief in Jesus Christ to draw us together through grace.
Genealogy reveals new relationships - and so does baptism - hugely - and it breaks down barriers. Last year, you’ll remember the fuss when it was discovered that the man Archbishop Justin thought was his father wasn’t actually - and the archbishop, turned round what might have been an embarrassment into something rather positive when he said I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics and my identity in him never changes.
May that confidence be ours as we celebrate our membership of the great family of Our Lord Jesus Christ - our friend and brother.
A letter from the Dean of Hereford