Sermons 2024

Trinity III, 16th June

by Fr Jack 

 

1 Samuel 15. 34-16.13

2 Corinthians 5. 6-17

St Mark 4. 26-34

 

Today’s first lesson could be read to be about not judging by appearances. Rather appropriate in a year full of elections, here is an election of sorts. And it’s not the male, alpha, tall, thick dark haired, leader that God chooses. The ones everyone assumes should probably be in charge. They usually are. ‘Oh that person’ (usually that *guy*) ‘looks like a leader’, because all our prejudices about what leadership means and looks like acts as a self perpetuating cycle of stereotypes that are as predictable as they are inadequate - I mean look at the state of the Old Testament. And look at the state of the world today. Even a brief glimpse probably makes our models of leadership and progress look a little, er, optimistic

 

Anyway, the point is, God looks differently, we’re told, and the lad who has been ignored - left to look after the sheep - is chosen. The Cinderella figure, perhaps. 

 

But I still love the description of David’s ruddy handsomeness. It’s a charming detail in an ancient text. He’s not altogether without merit, in a worldly sense, then. Aristotle reckoned that beautiful people were more likely to be happy. It’s an interesting thought. Certainly I notice in the City, the people who gravitate here, who have good diets and are looked after, who are more likely to be successful, have beautiful gym bodies and bouncy hair, and whatever else we’re supposed to have… it’s quite a contrast with the physical reality of folks on the depressed high streets of depressed towns many of my friends serve in in the provinces. The contrast is sometimes so stark, even in people’s faces and posture. I know these are generalisations, but I suspect they hint at something real. It can feel a little bit like the hunger games sometimes - here the glittering city with all its beautiful people. There, the regions. 

 

And Jesus, we know, does not play these games. He doesn’t see diet, or skincare or social place. He sees the heart, the substance of the people he meets. He sees their capacity for repentance,  renewal, love, faith, justice. He sees disfigurement, ritual uncleanliness, sickness that would have terrified and repulsed those around him, wounds within and without, and he sees beauty in each every person.

 

Having fed on him here in the Eucharist each week and midweek, we are called to look with Jesus’ eyes of love on the world. As St Paul says today in his letter to the Corinthians - we walk by faith, not just the surface of what we see. 

 

Fr Ken Toovey was a saintly west London vicar. He happened to be Diana’s vicar in Teddington for a while, as well as vicar of a parish I knew . A lady there once told me of a sermon he’d given several decades before. She had never forgotten it. Fr Toovey challenged the congregation from now on to walk up and down the long, wide suburban high street looking on each and every person with Christ’s eyes. See their beauty, see them as a gift of God and a miracle of life. Just as St Paul says today - not to regard anyone from a merely human point of view, but as a new creation - holy, redeemed, called, blessed, destined. Each of every person, beautiful. Faces glowing, shining with their God given beauty, each and every one, like Moses’ face shining with the presence of God.

 

And in seeing every life this way, said Fr Toovey, to pray for everyone you pass. Imagine a world, he had said, where everyone meets everyone else with prayer and reverent holiness? What a transformation this would be! And we mustn’t be delayed because others don’t join us living this way. That’s no good. We just have to start.

 

So there you are. There’s your challenge. And you see it’s a mustard seed challenge. It’s a small seed. We are God’s scattered seeds, who are called to be the green shoots of the kingdom, springing up in the fields of our lives. We go from here and return midweek and next Sunday to top up on the soil and water and nutrients and sunshine, to grow as green shoots out there. 

 

They say ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ - well yes and no. Yes we are to have eyes that see what God sees, to see the beauty, truth and goodness that our prayer, our perspective can help bring out of every person, every aspect of creation. But it’s not in our eye that the beauty resides - it’s there because it’s there, whether we see it or not.  Whether we are wise or perceptive enough or not. Whether our stereotypes or social categories permit us or not. It really doesn’t matter. 

Beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is in the mark of the maker. 

 

So one last challenge - as well as to walk the high streets and tube platforms and Barbican high walks and office floors of our lives with Jesus’ eyes on the world, just as Fr Ken Toovey said. Praying everyone and everywhere and marvelling at God’s beauty. 

And - the little extra challenge is - in preparation for being such green shoots, mustard seed signs of God’s Kingdom… next time you’ve had a bath or shower, to stand before the mirror at home and to look at yourself, not with your own eyes, not with the eyes of social marketeers and magazine editors, but with God’s eyes of love, rejoicing in the beauty of all that God has made. 

 

If we all did both these things, just imagine the world we would find ourselves to be living in. Well you don’t have to imagine it, you just have to begin.

Trinity I, 2nd June 2024

by Fr Jack

 

1 Samuel 3.1-20

Psalm 139

2 Corinthians 4.5-12

St Mark 2.23-3.6

 

 

It’s all about Sam and Dave this morning. When I was ten or eleven in between watching endless episodes of Come Dine with Me with my mum in the kitchen, she also showed me The Blues Brothers. For the next 5 years I think I probably watched The Blues Brothers at least once a week. I loved the chaos, I loved the outrageousness of the whole thing, but most of all I loved the soundtrack. Sam and Dave (alongside Aretha and James Brown and the others) taught adolescent me so much about heartbreak and love and joie de vivre that really I was (and probably still am) too young to understand, but I knew that it was real and wonderful, and I wanted it.

 

Sam and Dave are famous for their hits ‘Hold On I’m Coming’ - not too tricky to shoehorn that into our lively expectation of Jesus’ return and the coming of His Kingdom. That’s ok for a sermon.

And what about ‘Soothe Me’? As a cry to the Holy Spirit? Of course most famous of Sam and Dave’s hits is ‘Soul Man’. Well, that’s got Jesus written all over it, surely? (Although perhaps not the actual lyrics!) Maybe over coffee we might talk about which songs (maybe apparently secular ones) have stirred your soul with the Holy Spirit over the years, and meant a lot to you?

 

Anyway, back to Sam and Dave. Of course not the Rhythm and Blues duo, it’s Samuel from the book that bears his name in the first reading, and David the King, as Jesus retells the story, also from 1 Samuel, to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel.

 

I have purposely jumbled the sacred and secular this morning - Sam and Dave, Samuel and David, because today’s readings are all about confounding the so called ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’. In Old and New Testaments (and in the Gospel according to Motown and Atlantic Records) our prejudices are being reshaped by God, so that we might have the wisdom to see God’s face where God is actually choosing to show it, not just where our prejudices delineate. ‘The light [the insight] of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ’, as St Paul writes today in the epistle. And Christ’s face, God’s face, is everywhere.

 

Let’s see how far we get… look at today’s first reading: Samuel thinks he’s hearing Eli’s voice. A few false starts and then the wisdom of the old man Eli helps Samuel understand that it is God speaking here.

 

In a previous existence I ran a film club in school where the kids would watch a film over a series of lunchtimes, and we’d talk each times about the deeper meaning of the film. I remember watching Narnia (an obvious starter for ten) and one of the teenagers said: ‘you mean stories have deeper messages within them?’ It was a real ‘Eurkeka!’ Moment. Had no one had ever told her that before? What a tragedy, what an abuse, if she had lived never knowing that? Art, music, film, novels, architecture, poetry, the night sky and everything else is, as poet GM Hopkins says is ‘charged with the grandeur of God’. We are called to be Eli’s for ourselves (when we forget, maybe) and Eli’s for each other: sentinels that spot and point out God’s fingerprints in the world.

 

Because Jesus wants us to see that our categories of sacred and secular are rather silly in the face of the maker of all things: God’s fingerprints are everywhere. And today Jesus tells this story of David to confound the religious elite who lived with such a fiercely compartmentalised world view.

 

So why (in order to do this) does Jesus bring up David and this mysterious Bread of the Presence? There are a few mentions of the Bread of the Presence (or the Shew Bread as the KJV calls it. lechem hapanim in Hebrew, literally the ‘bread of the face’), but many never notice it. As a little survey (no judgement!) does anybody here know anything about this Shew Bread, the Bread of the Presence? Anyone remember hearing about it before?

 

Well it’s fascinating. David and his soldiers are hungry, there’s no other bread, so they raid the sacred bread to fill their empty bellies. You see how Jesus is dismantling the rules and categories of the Pharisees?

    But what makes the Shew Bread scared, and what role does it play? There are twelve loaves, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel, presented on a holy table, made of pure gold, along with a flagon of wine and incense and a burning lampstand. Sound familiar? They are consumed by the priests in the line of Aaron and refreshed each Sabbath (hence why it was so scandalous for David’s men to eat them, even though they were starving hungry). The breads were signs of God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, and of the covenant between God and humanity. And at given times of year - Passover, Pentecost and the Festival of Booths - the priests would carry the table with the Bread out amongst the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for those holy days of obligation, lift up the Bread and declare ‘Behold, how beloved you are by G-d’. 

    This is clearly a powerful foreshadowing of the Eucharistic life of the Church. Jesus gives us a new Passover meal in which He is the sacrificial lamb: His Body and Blood, in the form of the Bread that is His presence with us. This Bread of Christ’s Presence is reserved as a focus for prayer (for Home and sick Communions) in churches all over the world, with a burning lamp to mark that Jesus is here. And before we - Christ’s priestly people, made so through baptism - come to eat from the holy table, we are shown this means of God’s love ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’: ‘Behold, you are beloved’.

 

In this fascinating prefiguring of God’s gift in the Eucharist (waiting to be unearthed in the Old Testament) we find the key to what Jesus is saying about sacred and secular. At the Last Supper Jesus takes bread and wine and makes them His love and presence with us until He comes again. He takes the most ordinary things, and makes them the holiest thing imaginable. And then what does He do? He gives them away, with gratuitous generosity and lavish love. He takes ordinary schmucks like you and me, and by our baptism, makes us holy, priests for God’s kingdom of love and goodness. Sacred and secular are not separate categories in Jesus’ eyes, because all is charged with holiness.

 

The bread of God’s presence is holy, and not despite that, but because of that, it fills David and his companions’ empty tummies. Because the sabbath is holy, it is a time to heal and be human, Jesus says. Because humanity is holy; of our nature, because God has made us, and loved us, and became one of us, the whole world (including Rhythm & Blues) is ‘charged with the grandeur of God’, and the things that are holy - Christ, Eucharist, Baptism - reveal and reflect and recharge the holiness of all things. This is not lowest common denominator theology - not everything washed together until it all becomes the same grey mush. This isn’t about bringing everything down, it is about raising everything up to become its true self - beloved and holy and of God. Sam and Dave. 

Sam and Eli teach us to spot God at work when life has made us forget, and help others to do the same. Dave, teaches us that the life of God in the holiness of worship gives us the grace to uncover and name God’s presence everywhere. That’s our challenge for the week ahead.

 Sermon for Trinity Sunday, 26th May 2024, by Fr Edwin

Isaiah 6. 1-8
Romans 8. 12-17
St John 3. 1-17

 

Just as a preface to this sermon I should say that a few years ago Taylor and I had a lodger from Afghanistan who was a Muslim, and one day I was chatting to him about preaching on Trinity Sunday, and I explained that the Trinity was quite a complicated doctrine to preach about. And he replied, ‘Oh I understand the Trinity; it’s a mystery.’ So, I hope this means that if in a few minutes’ time we’re all a bit more baffled, then perhaps we’re on our way to understanding and enlightenment about the whole thing.

 

Now you’ll be pleased to hear that I won’t be trying (and failing) to provide a comprehensive exploration of the doctrine of the Trinity, replete with the usual heretical analogies of water-ice-steam, Sun-heat-light, and shamrocks. But I would like to reflect very briefly on what it means for us to say we have a relationship with God as Trinity. 

 

Our reading from Romans today provides very fertile ground for reflecting on this theme, but before we do, there really is no more helpful place for us to start than in the words we hear time and again in this service. At the beginning of the intercessions, we normally hear some variation on the words ‘In the power of the Spirit, and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father’. That, in a nutshell, is everything we need to know about our relationship with the Trinity. So, let’s look at each of these elements in turn.

 

‘In the power of the Spirit.’ This does not simply mean that we are geed up, or that our prayers are somehow turbo-boosted by the Spirit. What it means is that we by ourselves have no power at all to reach out to God. So often in the modern world, with the great buffet of spiritualities and religions to choose from, it’s easy to think that our relationship with God is something we begin; we consciously choose to believe in the Christian God. But as St Paul says, ‘You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’ (8.15–16) God has already adopted us as his children, already loves us as his children, already initiated a relationship with us through the grace of his Spirit, whether we consciously ‘believe’ in him or not. Our prayer is not in our own power at all, but is always in God’s power, in the power of the Spirit at work in us, bearing witness in us, uniting us in a loving relationship with God too deep for words. In our relationship with the triune God, it’s in God’s power that this relationship begins and ends, and we must accept our utter powerlessness.

 

And this brings us neatly to the second part of the formula—‘in union with Christ’—because for St Paul the greatest example of utter powerlessness is the cross of Christ. The cross for Paul is the very paradigm of faith, because it’s here that we see what it looks like when a person has utterly renounced selfhood, self-will, and is entirely transparent to God. When Paul tells us we must ‘suffer with him so that we may also be glorified in him’, he is not claiming that suffering has any value in itself, but only to the extent that it reveals to us how powerless we are to change our situation and so how totally dependent we are on God to save us. The only reason this suffering has any worth, therefore, is how it unites us with Christ on the cross, the moment of his supreme self-emptying and supreme glorification. And so, when we pray ‘in union with Christ’, it doesn’t mean alongside him, or using the words he used. In its truest sense it means emptying ourselves so fully that it is ‘no longer I who live but Christ who lives’—speaks, prays—‘in me.’ Paul’s emphasis in this reading on suffering and bodily mortification is not an invitation to self-flagellation, or to improve ourselves in a ‘character-building’ kind of way. Rather it’s the invitation to empty ourselves and to allow Christ’s life, Christ’s character to grow in us. Habituating ourselves to an emptiness, an openness to Christ, builds up a newer, truer life in us, one which may bring hardship, but which leads us to a relationship of breathtaking intimacy with our God.

 

And so, we come to the third part of the formula ‘let us pray to the Father’, because St Paul tells us that this intimate relationship, in which we are drawn by the Spirit and united with Christ, doesn’t simply give us the hope of future glory, but gives us the present hope which permits us to cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ (v.15) As beloved joint heirs with Christ, we have been endowed with a hope that is not just an expectation for the future, but is also ‘a perception of the present’ rooted in the sure knowledge of God’s presence and power now. Just as we have been united with Christ through the cross, so our human nature has been brought into the Godhead, and we have been granted the ‘hope of sharing the glory of God’ (cf Rom 5.2). It is a hope which has already been revealed to us in part, a hope which will be known fully on the Last Day, and a hope which allows us now to dare to ‘pray to the Father’, knowing that he hears and loves us.

 

So, to summarise that, when we begin our intercessions, we are declaring three fundamental truths about our relationship with the Triune God to whom we pray. When we say, ‘in the power of the Spirit’, we declare that this is a loving relationship entirely initiated by God, that is rooted in our acceptance of our own powerlessness. When we say, ‘in union with Christ’, we accept that this relationship with God requires our being emptied of our selfishness and self-will, and being filled with Christ’s own life. And when we say, ‘let us pray to the Father’, we are daring to believe that in our reconciliation with God through Christ’s life and death, we have access to the Godhead, and therefore can hope ‘that we may also be glorified with him’ (v.17).

 

This, as my friend says, is indeed a mystery. But whilst this is a mystery which will always escape our minds, it is a mystery that first and foremost touches our hearts. God, of his infinite goodness, has invited us to be swept up into the mystery of his triune life. Let us not seek to understand, let us simply kneel and adore.

 

Adoration ay be given,
with and through the angelic host,
to the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


Amen.

Whitsun, Pentecost 2024

19th May by Fr Jack

Acts of the Apostles 2. 1-21

St Paul to the Romans 8. 22-27

St John 15. 26-27; 16. 4b-15

 

We’re in the age of the Spirit. After Christ’s ascent to heaven, and before His coming again. In the meantime, He has sent the Spirit, He tells us today. 

 

But what can we say about this Holy Spirit - lets dig about and see what pops up that might be helpful.

 

The first thing is that the Spirit given to us, the Church, at Pentecost (as the Acts of the Apostles recounts today) was not a latecomer, like the cavalry arriving in the nick of time. The Spirit is as eternal as God the Father, and God the eternal Word (the Son). The Spirit is there from the beginning hovering over the waters of creation. It is a very particular gift, that we are still living in that was given at Pentecost, but She’s always been there. And I say She because Ruach (the Hebrew word from the Spirit meaning the Divine Breath) is feminine and Pneuma (the Greek word - the breath of the soul, the spirit) is neuter. So it’s a perfectly sensible thing to do. We have forgotten that, in the long history of men constantly muscling their way to centre stage. Even depictions of Pentecost often show the male apostles all gathered receiving the Spirit as tongues of flame, but Mary, the Lord’s mother was there too, so were all the other women. Those who had bankrolled Jesus ministry from their own wealth (St Luke 8), and Mary Magdalene who had faithfully gone to find Jesus at the tomb.

 

But it’s not even just that that we’ve got wrong. In the western Church - Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches - very often we have forgotten about the Holy Spirit all together. Our liturgy, our music, sacred art, our prayers - to God our Father, to Jesus - in theory and in practice for whole swathes of time - we have neglected the Spirit, and made Her a bit-part character, or simply a functionary. How foolish we are. The Orthodox Christians of the East have never marginalised the Spirit. They have kept Her front and centre in liturgy, art, music, in how they relate to God, and read the Bible and say their prayers. We would do well to do the same. After all, we are living in the age of the Spirit. The Father is not calling Moses up the mountain nowadays. Nor is Jesus walking the dusty roads of Palestine. God’s Spirit is with us.

 

But how, you make ask?

 

The first place to turn - the first handholds on this climbing wall of the Holy Spirit are the Sacraments. These rituals are not just teaching tools, or holy flipcharts that tell us stuff about God, they are ways in which God - through the Spirit - is in our midst, right now, entangling our lives with God’s life. Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, Reconciliation, Anointing, Eucharist. God has given us stepping stones through life, or God’s trellis on which the vine called you and me can grow and flourish. 

 

But the Spirit is not limited to the life of the Church. The Spirit is at the heart of everything - everything came about through Her, and still does. St Paul writing to the Galatians (Gal. 5.22-23) says the fruits of the Spirit are ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’. When we show or share those beautiful things at home, work, in the street - that is the presence of God in us, to us, through us.

 

The Spirit is everywhere, if only we would acknowledge Her presence and join in. 

 

So what of that potentially confusing triad in today’s Gospel. Jesus says the Spirit ‘will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.’

What does Jesus mean by this? 

Well, the Spirit will expose our sin, because we have not believed that Jesus has come from God - perhaps this is especially aimed at the religious elite? 

About righteousness, because lots of people were convinced that their ethnic identity or their elite forms of ritual cleanliness were what made them righteous (that is, right with God). But Jesus is the one by who’s friendship we are made right with God - Jesus will return to the Father He says - He is the one who is God with us, to bring us home to God. 

And about judgement? Because St John’s Gospel never wants us to forget that the ultimate moment of glory and victory is the cross. Jesus is glorified, St John tells us, when He gives Himself completely for love’s sake - God’s love of us. There could be nothing that condemns the values of this world more comprehensively than such a self-gift. It explodes all our earthly sense of justice and good sense, because divine love always explodes such finite boxes. God’s judgment is altogether different, thank God. And the Holy Spirit will lead us, as She has over the centuries and still does, to see in these ways and more, who Jesus is, what His life, death and resurrection mean for the universe. That’s what Jesus is getting at.

 

If you’re feeling slightly faint headed, that’s fair enough. Either that, or you’ve received the Spirit like at Pentecost and your hair is on fire. Could be either. 

 

Either way, I’ll finish with St Paul writing to the Church in Rome, our second reading.

 

I said that we in the West had simply forgotten or sidelined the Spirit in many theological and practical ways in our Christian family story. St Paul gives us real help in reversing this foolishness, both practical and theological today. He writes so compellingly of the Spirit in us, praying in us. When we pray, it is not we who pray, but God who is in us, uniting us with God’s life in heaven. It’s a beautiful image of God’s life and unity coming to birth in us as we meander through life. God prays in us, gently, bringing about His will in us, if only we’d tune in to it. St Paul says we ‘hope’ and ‘wait’, but not passively, but actively joining in.

 

What a way to think about life? Not as childhood, adolescence, working life maybe, having a family maybe, retirement, maybe a new spring time, maybe illness and then death. To sweep that narrative aside and instead see life as a continual coming to birth, growth always forward, held by the trellis, or supported by the stepping stones of the sacraments, Sunday by Sunday, day by day, and the big rites of passage, and all the time growing more mature in that birthing process of God in us. God’s life and hope in us patiently being brought about by the Spirit - no matter the worldly contours of life. Our unity with God not declining as perhaps our physical or mental vitality does, but always growing ‘green as a leaf’, because the Spirit is amongst us.

 

What might it be to see life that way, as a Spiritual growth. What might it be to see your diary this week - full or empty, exciting or seemingly mundane, be it leaning on the Spirit as a crutch, or skipping through green pastures with her, to see life not in the world arc of assent and decline, but all as a growing, flourishing pilgrimage of potential encounters with the Spirit. Every person, every thought, every encounter, however apparently unspiritual, as actually a dwelling place of God’s Spirit calling us to join Her as she makes the universe.

The Worshipful Company of Salters, Thanksgiving Service 2024

by Fr Jack

 

The Master’s Themes: Integrity, Love, Charity , Hospitality

 

The Readings:

Genesis 19.15-26 

St John 21, 1-14 

1 Corinthians, 13 

 

The Master’s year is rich meat. This we know. Dinners, meetings, lunches, visits, committees, ceremonies. All rich food, literal and metaphorical, requiring a strong stomach, that hopefully doesn’t expand too much in the course of the year.

 

Our readings and hymns the Master has chosen for us this evening are also not for the faint hearted, or stomached. But they are a marvellous spread, rich food, and highly flavoured; pertinent for us all, no matter our faith, background or story. In the next few minutes, we’re going to meander our way through them and see what God might be trying to say to the Master and all of us in the Scriptures this evening. 

 

In a short while we’ll hear 1 Corinthians 13. Perfect for a wedding. Indeed, Master and Mistress Salter were married on this spot 38 (Master?) years ago.

 

We know these words: Faith, hope and charity, that is caritas: love. But their familiarity mustn’t dim their power. Faith, hope and love. Of the blurred vision we have of God, ourselves and each other we have in this life (as in a beaten sheet of polished metal being all they had for mirrors most likely). But then we shall see everything as it truly is. A mystery, that even exceeds the Mistery of the Salters if I may say!

1 Corinthians is not simply the things of twee embroideries over victorian bed boards. They speak eternal truths, of human spirit, and God’s presence in our lives, to a world that too often equates cynicism with wisdom, or is too afraid to dare that faith, hope, and love are the real things of life.

 

So in chewing these words of St Paul again, don’t let familiarity soften their edge, or perhaps, for us, we should say don’t let familiarity shouldn’t dim their flavour

 

Elsewhere Jesus says, Salt has to stay salty; otherwise it’s useless and can only be thrown away. Retaining our savour, our saltiness. How do we do that? How do we keep our savour of faith, hope and love? And, through the Company, help others do the same.

 

Well, obviously, we turn back to Sodom and Gomorrah, our first lesson! Steady on?! Sodom and Gomorrah!?

 

But here too, we need to suspend what we think we know about this passage. We find Lot and his wife and daughters seeking refuge in the cities. They are seeking hospitality and charity. Two pillars of the Salters’ life. They are seeking new hope and a good future - just like all those who benefit from the Salters’ Education work. 

Clearly Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t have Livery Companies because instead of hospitality, charity, support for a new future, the visitors are exploited and abused. 

That is the crime of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Again and again in the Old Testament (Ex 22.21, Lev 19.33, Deut 23.22, Isa 58.7, ) God tells His people ‘welcome the stranger’, extend hospitality to the alien, because YOU were a stranger once. 

 

Our foundations in these Scriptures teach us that hospitality and charity, giving people hope and a support for a good future, are not luxuries or occasional niceties - they are essential to the human vocation. By your life as Salters’ you embody that message. 

 

But what about poor Lot’s wife? Looking back turned her into a pillar of salt. ‘Great’, says the clerk, ‘that would look smashing in the lobby of Salters’ Hall!’ But not so great for Lot’s wife. 

What’s going on here. God called them forwards, and she was stuck in her own preoccupations. A salutary image for all of us. God’s call on our lives is what will bring us life and joy. As individuals and as a company - whatever God is calling you to is the most exciting and fulfilling life you could ever live. It is the real you, your life as it is supposed to be, less and less blurred by an old mirror, more and more who we truly are. Any vocation we confect for ourselves will ultimately lead us to a dead end: a pillar of salt. Dry, desiccated, dead. 

The Livery is called to go forward with God. Trusting in our first love, our first calling. Faith, hope and love. Hospitality, charity, fellowship, integrity.

The Salters’ at your best.

 

and you better do that because otherwise you’ll end up like S and G. And the Salters’ have had enough halls already, you don’t need any more fire and calamity!” Is that what I’m saying?!

 

Well, no. All that smiting made complete sense in the tumult and toughness of the ancient desert world of embryonic societies and their emerging world view.

 

Is that the God before whom we come tonight? 

 

So finally, we come to the beach with Jesus. Our second reading. 

 

Jesus has gone through the unthinkable agony of torture and death. He has descended into hell and emptied the Kingdom of the Dead, Hell, Hades, Gehenna, whatever you want to call it. What does He do next? Ride in the conquering hero? No. He makes a barbecue on the beach for His friends, and invites them for breakfast. Once again, looked at afresh its astounding and… wonderful.

 

The King of glory, sat round a beach barbecue at sunrise. This image of God’s hospitality and intimacy, is the flavour we seek for our own. The abundance of life He brings - shown in the catch of fish - is what we long for, and long to share with others. It’s all there.

 

And here on the beach at God’s barbecue is where (you’ll be pleased to know) I’ll finish. Because it draws together everything that is woven into our readings and hymns, the Master’s themes, and your life together. It’s all here, sat around the barbecue on the beach with the Risen Lord. 

    Here in churches like this, in the churches were you live and work, in our homes and relationships, in the life of the Salters’. The light and savour of the resurrection promise is breaking through all the time. Hospitality, love, faith, hope, integrity, fellowship. Our calling is to do life with God, such that we have eyes to see and ears to hear where it’s all happening, and join in.

Sunday After Ascension 2024

12th May by Fr Jack

 

Ezekiel 36. 24-28

Acts 1. 15-17, 21-26

St John 17. 6-19

 

In St John’s Gospel today Jesus is in the midst of a beautiful soliloquy. It’s not the snappy dialogue of a Netflix series, like we’re used to nowadays. It’s several chapters of Jesus overlaying images and ideas. The structure of this sweep of St John’s Gospel is a million miles from a BBC Radio Four Today ten second soundbite. But this is an ancient text, not a modern one. Picture it more as a helter-skelter slide circling through ideas, layering them up, and when it comes to land, its not the landing that matters but all that movement - that’s the point.

 

And vertical movement is rather appropriate for today, the Sunday after the Ascension. Rather like those spectacular lifts on the outside of modernist City offices, including Lord Rogers’ primary coloured 88 Wood St next door, Jesus, forty days after His resurrection ascends back to heaven, to the right hand of the Father. And ten days after that (next Sunday) we celebrate God’s descent in the person of the Holy Spirit. All this up and down. It could all seem rather removed, or even a little bizarre. But really it's about intimacy and presence, us and God doing life together. That’s today’s headline. 

 

Those ancient words of Ezekiel’s prophecy, today’s first reading, from six hundred years before Christ speak so vividly of this presence and colour. God and us doing life together. Because by ascending home to heaven, Jesus has not left us. He is no absentee landlord, or absent parent. From His heavenly home, Jesus is no longer tied to one physical location - the lakeside at Galilee, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or whatever. Now, as heavenly King of all, Jesus is paradoxically more intimately present with us and all creation, as we await His bodily coming again. And in the meantime, while we await Jesus’ bodily return, God gives us the Spirit. The Pneuma (in Greek), the Ruach (in Hebrew), She who is the Breathe, the life of God. The Spirit who breathed the universe into life, and whatever else happened before the Big Bang that we are yet to discover. That same Spirit is breathed afresh at Pentecost to work through the new community of the Church. It is the Spirit who baptises, you makes bread and wine Christ’s Body and Blood. It is the Spirit who seals the gift of human love in marriage, who forgives and heals. In all these ways and more, God is with us. 

 

Today we especially rejoice in welcoming back folk who’ve not been for a while, or who were baptised or married here. We want to celebrate you as people, as parts of God’s big story in this place. And to see in you and each other, the life of God’s Spirit, in the gifts of the Church’s sacraments, in the gifts of love shared and celebrated here in all their forms. Today too, we will have our APCM (Annual Parochial Church Meeting) after the Eucharist. At our church’s ‘AGM’ we gather not just to fulfil the legal necessities of running a church, but to recognise and celebrate God’s Spirit in our midst. In all that has happened here in the last year, in the beautiful people around us. God is alive and active amongst us.

 

So you see, that all this going up and coming down really isn’t a celestial French farce, or the nerdy hobby of some people who care to talk about such things. 

    These days of the Resurrection, of Ascension and of Pentecost are the events at the heart of the universe. They are love made flesh in human history, and the divine love that they contain spreads like wildfire, leaping through time and space even to us here today - to what we do here in Eucharist, Baptism, Marriage and Funeral - and to our lives as we live them out from here, beyond these walls. Day by day, Sunday by Sunday, we come here to plug back into the source of life and love, so that we can live loving, Spirit-filled lives out there. When times are good, to have the wisdom to rejoice. When time are tough, to have the strength to keep going. When we forget that we are only part of the human race, to be reminded of the bigger picture. Lives planted in this Spirit-ual soil, so that our roots and foliage can grow through life much more than they ever could relying only on our own strength, our own ideas, or capacity. 

 

The Apostles in today’s second reading ask for God to take over as they seek to fill the slot in the twelve left by Judas. It is a remarkably simple thing. It almost sounds too simple, just to cast lots and leave it to God. Sometimes simplicity can be deceptive. 

    Two people say some words and join hands. And yet because God is here, it is a life changing moment of grace, that will take a lifetime to discover and explore, to live out and grow together. 

    Bread and wine are blessed and shared, and God’s life is put within us. Through our mouths and stomachs, into our very flesh and life.

    A baby or (as the Prayer Book says) those who ‘are of riper years’ are splashed with water and some words are said. You could blink and miss it, but actually a life is changed forever: this person has died and risen with Jesus and is made an inheritor of eternal life, not because they’ve earned it, but because God is Love, and love has conquered sin and:death.

 

Today between Ascension last Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday, we wait here, on the threshold of heaven, trusting that God is with us, just as God promised.

    As we celebrate the life we share here, your lives and our life together, as we rejoice in the beauty and holiness of everyone here, and the love to which we are called. I hope you always know that you belong here, and in every church in the world. And that’s really where I want to leave us, on the threshold of heaven. Invited, called here, us and God doing life together.

6th Sunday of Easter

5th May by Fr Jack

 

Isaiah 55. 1-11

Acts 10. 44-48

St John 15. 9-17

 

I spoke a few weeks ago about the vital link between the Old and New Covenants: Jesus’ jewishness. His fulfilling of the old ways, the rituals, the Temple and the vibrant multi-layered Hebrew vision of the universe, that Jesus has, and that we should too.

 

That same reality is alive in today’s readings. In Acts, written by St Luke picking up where his Gospel left off, we have the Early church beginning to negotiate the Jewish and gentile nature of the way things would unfold. The whole world (not just a religious or ethnic group) is invited to this party. God’s Spirit, God’s love will not be boundaried or constrained. This is the Acts of the Apostles exemplifying those moments in the life of the Early Church that is basically: ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’ (remember that moment in Jaws?). This, God and what God is doing in the Resurrection of Jesus and the life of the Spirit, is B I G big.

 

And although we, like our forebears in our Christian family story, are constantly surprised by God’s B-I-G bigness, we really shouldn’t be. It’s always been the case. The Prophet Isaiah writing eight centuries before Christ has this extraordinary vision (today’s first lesson): 

‘Come, all you who are thirsty… who have no money, come, buy and eat!…

[an] everlasting covenant… faithful love’

The Holy One of Israel seeking His creation with the passion of a lover, and the generosity of One who made it all in the first place. 

This vision of Isaiah is as fresh and urgent how, as twenty-eight centuries ago. It comes from our past and belongs to our future. It is not a daydream, but God’s promise. And it’s the promise put before us today, because this big promise is the new creation that is the Resurrection of Jesus.

 

And that’s what I really want to speak about today. As we said the other week, we are still reeling from Jesus’ Resurrection. Our Christian family have spent twenty centuries trying to work out and live into the meaning of these events in Jerusalem at the heart of history.         In Adam and Eve humanity foolishly sort to be self reliant and independent. That instinct, deep within all of us - a panic-induced need to be our own creators - has led to untold bloodshed and discord, and still does. Christ, in perfect union with God is the new Adam, His mother’s ‘Yes, be it unto me’ makes her the new Eve. They put right what had been undone. The great Easter hymns, the Exsultet and endless beautiful artistic depictions show this. (In Canterbury Cathedral, the great West window has Adam at the bottom, miserably tilling the soil, and Christ the new Adam at the top, humanity restored to right relationship with our Maker. Incidentally, the Archbishop’s Throne puts his or her eyes directly looking at Adam. A medieval architectural piece of elbow nudging genius!)

 

Anyway, the Church has always found this parallel of Adam and Christ helpful in understanding the resurrection. But it is not just that Christ undoes the mistake personified in Adam. He doesn’t just set the clock back. No, in the risen Christ we glimpse a new creation, greater than the first. A new Adam. That is quite clear in the ancient texts. This new everlasting Kingdom, of which the risen Jesus is called the ‘first fruit’, is even more wonderful that the first. And it’s towards that reality that we walk life’s pilgrimage. It is into citizenship of that kingdom that we are baptized.

 

Baptism and the Eucharist and the life of the Spirit in those and the other Sacraments, and in our prayers and lives, relationships, and everything else, are the signs of this new creation which has been inaugurated in Christ. The now and not yet of God’s promises. Isaiah’s vision - for everyone (just as Acts says today), ahead of us, and within us, coming from behind us (from the empty tomb, 20 centuries ago). 

 

You see why I said it’s B-I-G big?

 

It is nothing less than a completely new way of seeing the world. A new creation. All creation - people, matter, animal, vegetable and mineral are swept up in this new life. The Orthodox Christians of the East are the ones that kept that cosmic universal understanding of Christ’s resurrection alive, as we in the west forgot it.

 

But this is not a nice philosophical or theological idea. This new creation of which we are heralds, affects everything. Why are we here? What does life mean? How do we spend our time, money and energy? How do we face the challenges of life? 

    All this is different because of the new creation of the resurrection. It is precisely these practical questions that the philosophically-minded St John puts front and centre in today’s Gospel. Not ‘lurve', sentimental and floaty but the real cost of being and discipleship. The concrete reality of the love that belongs to Isaiah’s vision. It is challenging, especially when life is tough, but it is the only world worth living in, because it’s the real one.

 

On your Sunday sheet you have two images, both with a person at the centre. They are quite different. One is a picture I saw and loved in Dublin’s National Gallery on holiday a couple of weeks ago. Dermot Seymour’s painting is called ‘Towards the Boredom of the Turgid Brimming Male’. This man walks away from symbols of Ireland’s past - conflict and the beauty of the landscape - clutching his new preoccupation: a bucket of factory farmed, artificial junk food, and he yawns. I read this as an image of the anaesthetising nature of the comforts that have accompanied our prosperity and peace. We have so much, and yet so live so half-alive to it.

 

By contrast, you also have an icon from the Greek tradition of the Resurrection of Jesus. The risen Christ stands at the centre of the cosmos - the stars unfold around Him. Beneath Him are the two doors of Hell which He has smashed off their hinges (like Bruce Lee or some cowboy entering a saloon). The devil lies bound in his darkness beneath, and the chains and locks and keys of death are scattered all around, broken. Adam and Eve (you and I), all of humanity, are being lifted by the hand, by Christ, out of our tombs to go with Him and the saints who stand around Him into the new creation, the new cosmos, that has burst from the empty tomb with the risen Jesus. All this is what happened when Jesus slipped out of the tomb in the still dark hours before dawn in Jerusalem twenty centuries ago. 

 

What difference does it make for us? Everything. I began by saying Christ’s world view is ancient, vibrant and multilayered, and ours should be too. And that this is bigger than we could ever conceive. And so it is. Nothing will be left unchanged by this new reality. There are no boundaries that will stand, not limits that we can impose on what God has done in Christ. Love and life will conquer all, renew all, just as in our Baptism and in every Eucharist we are enfolded in the promise, the life, of the new creation. This is the world we live in, we just have to see it that way and live into it.

Sermon for Fifth Sunday of Easter, 28th April 2024, by Fr Edwin
Acts 8.26–40
Psalm 22
1 John 4.7–21
John 15.1–8

 

‘My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit,’

 

Until moving here and getting a proper garden to design and plant and tend, I’d never realised just how stupid plants are. They frequently grow in the wrong places, and must be moved if they aren’t to die. They send out branches at the wrong angle, put all their energy into that one until it gets so big that it snaps and then they get diseases. And they have to be—with the aid of secateurs, hedge-trimmers, flame-throwers and a heck of a lot of twine—butchered and bludgeoned and bullied until they finally resemble something vaguely healthy, shapely, flowering and fruiting. No one told me gardens require near constant attention for the plants to flourish as individuals and as a whole.

 

Now, it won’t have escaped your notice that our Gospel reading this morning is very horticultural—or more specifically vinicultural—in its theme. Jesus tells us that he is the true vine, and that we are the branches grafted into him, and that through abiding in him we can bear fruit, to the glory of our Father, the vine-grower. This is an incredibly rich passage, and I’d just like to pick out three key horticultural elements that I think are essential to understanding our relationship to God in Christ, and our relationship to one another, namely: grafting, fruiting, and pruning.

 

So the first is grafting. Just like a twig must be grafted into a living stem if it is to live itself, so we must be grafted into Christ if we are to be truly alive. And the interesting thing about this is that Jesus seems to imply that this isn’t a one-off thing, that this is in fact an ongoing activity. The decision to follow Christ isn’t enough: he tells us that we must abide in him, that we must keep ourselves grafted into him if we are to bear fruit. I think what Christ is warning us against here is the temptation to trust too much in our own growth. We’ve chosen to join Christ’s vine, but we can basically get by as if we were our own plant, we can grow and spread and try to produce our own harvest all under our own steam. But Jesus tells us that to do so is to become a fruitless branch. ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’ No matter how great we think we are, no matter how much progress we seem to make on our own, in the end we will wither and be cut off.

 

Now that might sound dispiriting, but actually it should be the opposite. Jesus tells us that all of our great back-breaking plans and schemes and projects are nothing worth without him. He is the one that gives the growth not us, and all we have to do is abide in him, and so become channels of his growth and his grace. We need to keep ourselves grafted into him, to return repeatedly to the source of our lives, to remind ourselves in all that we do or plan or build or grow, that it is not our life, but his life flowing through us.

 

The second thing is fruiting. Jesus tells us repeatedly how essential bearing fruit is. We cannot bear fruit without him, we cannot but bear fruit with him. Fruitfulness is the necessary result and proof of our abiding in Christ. It’s not enough to pay lip-service to our following of Christ, to consent coldly and intellectually to the premise of Christianity. Lives that truly abide in Christ are lives in which Christ is visibly and fruitfully alive and at work. And this fruitfulness is not necessarily about racking up a great list of good works, and praiseworthy endeavours, and converted souls. This fruitfulness, John tells us in his first Epistle, is fundamentally about love. To abide in God, he tells us, is to abide in love. ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.’ (1 Jn 4.7) It is love that is the true fruit of the true vine, and to be grafted into Christ, the true vine, therefore, is to allow his love to bud and blossom and fruit in us; to be united in love with him and with all our sisters and brothers.

 

And that brings us onto the third element, which is pruning. Jesus tells us that, ‘every branch that bears fruit [the Father] prunes to make it bear more fruit.’ (15.2) This might seem to us quite violent imagery. What does it mean to be pruned, to be chopped back? Well, there are all sorts of answers to that question, but I think what is at the heart of this, is the costliness of love. The more fruit we bear, the more we allow Christ’s love to permeate every aspect of our being and doing, the more we will discover its costs and its challenges and its difficult decisions. 

 

The more we love our brothers and sisters in need, the less we can sit still when we consider their plight, and this will make costly demands on our lives. The more our love drives us to build a fairer society, the more we will set ourselves in opposition to the forces of this world, and this will painfully test our strength and our faith. The more deeply we journey into the love of God, the less we can keep from him, and the more he will prune away our selfishness, our comfort, and our pride. And I suspect pruning hurts a bit. But just as Jesus tells us that the pruned branch bears more fruit, so we know that our love will only grow and flourish more and more as we allow him to pare back the fruitless and unloving parts of ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable that might be.

 

So there we have it: grafting, fruiting and pruning. I don’t know about you, but in all the busyness and difficulty and complication of our lives, I find it hugely encouraging to think of our lives as simply branches of God’s vine, as plants in God’s garden. It’s an image that reminds us that it is God, and not we ourselves, who takes responsibility for our growth; that he is constantly caring for us, tending us, snipping and watering and encouraging and training us until we flourish. All we have to do is graft our lives into his, and God the loving gardener will do the rest.

4th Sunday of Easter

21st April by Fr Jack

 

Acts 4. 5-12

Psalm 23

1 St John 3. 16-24

St John 10. 11-18

 

Jesus, the Good Shepherd. One of my favourite images of God. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before from me, or from another preacher, but there are such riches in the Good Shepherd. 

 

The last time I was in the Dales walking it was with a group of refugees and asylum seekers with a small local charity I was then a trustee of. We saw a shepherd a work - presumably a good one. He drove up onto the hillside in his Landrover, and with a shout, out jumped the dog. Together the dog, running, and the shepherd, driving they worked the flock through the gate and on. This is not what Jesus means. 

 

My companions that day, among them Faraz who had walked from Afghanistan to the UK twice (we deported him, so he simply set out again and walked back), my companions from the Middle East and Africa are much closer to Jesus in knowing what Jesus’ shepherding image is about. Not cars and collies, but a shepherd in the Middle East, in the time of Jesus certainly, and very often now, lives with their little flock. The shepherd spends day and nigh with them, guiding through the often dry rugged hills of Palestine, from water source and grazing to the next safe spot. At night, if some bushes, thorns, or fenced sheepfold can be found, the shepherd might well sleep across the entrance to it, to guard the flock within. Literally laying themselves down, to safeguard the flock. Jesus says elsewhere I am the gate to the sheepfold. Still with Good Friday in our recent memory, what a beautiful image that is.

 

And there’s no driving and shouting of the flock. These shepherds lead their little flock, calling out to them to follow. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice, and recognising, trusting, they follow.

 

I am the Good Shepherd. Your shepherd, says the risen Jesus to us today.

What does that mean for your spiritual life? To see Jesus that way. Ponder that this week. And if you find yourself doing that now and stop listening to me, please do!

 

But if you want to return with me to today’s readings, we find the New Testament as representing an unfolding post Jesus’ resurrection.

The Church then (in those first days and years since the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus) as the church is now, is the community of reeling. As the days and first few centuries unfold since the first Easter, we are a community alive with debate. Who was/is this Jesus? What decoding do the Hebrew Scriptures give us? What is the core of this new Jesus Covenant, fulfilling the Old? Gradually, the Early Church came to some core insights - the God is one who reveals Gos’s self in Trinity. That Jesus is God come to be with us. We collate the Hebrew Scriptures and the emerging New Testament documents and sift and weigh them, and then form the Canon of Scripture - the Bible. 

It doesn’t happen in an instant, it is as ever, God’ unfolding life in us. And I say all this about the Church now (us!) and the Church in those early days because basically we are still just people wondering back from the empty tomb, friends of St Mary Magdalene, saying together ‘what now?’ ‘What does this mean for us all?’ ‘What are our lives supposed to mean now?’

 

We are and always have been the community of the reeling. We have met Jesus, and we know everything has changed. The community of the reeling - twenty centuries ago and today, it’s really just the same

 

And St John speaks right into that space today in the second reading from his epistle.

It’s such a subtle, and rich unfolding of what I’ve been getting at in just a few verses. 

We have encountered Jesus: who are we now? What does this mean? How then shall we live as a community, and as people?

 

Look again at that second reading on the Sunday sheet. St John tells us, we are beloved. We are people who have received the Spirit. We are people who are loved, and called; and called to be a people in whom that belovedness and calling God has given us, overflows lavishly from us to each other and everyone around us.

 

And if we are to live like this, we know to whom we are to turn. Because our faith is not an elaborate self help regime. It’s not a set of school rules for life. And we never do any of this under our own power. 

We go back to Jesus the Good Shepherd. What defines us is not the many labels we have been given or given ourselves in life. Fundamentally what defines us is that we do life in the company of Jesus. Who are we? We are the sheep of His little flock. Just as St Peter tells the religious elite in today’s first reading. Jesus is the cornerstone, the pavement beneath our feet. The one we have encountered, and are still reeling from that encounter, because in our heart of hearts we know that it changes everything.

 

Because that’s why all those debates in the early church are exciting. Not just because of their historical significance. Not just because of their political intrigue - because heaven knows there is LOADS of that in the history of the church, and in the world around us. What’s exciting about life, and faith, is the person at the heart of all this. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who comes to us face to face in Christ.

 

That is, after all, why we’re here. Why we got out of bed this morning and came to the Parish Eucharist. Because together we have gone from Advent Sunday through Christmas and Epiphany, and Lent and HW, and now are living Eastertide together. Because God has come to meet us, and nothing will ever be the same again. 

That’s why we are hearing these readings, and are about to offer Eucharist together, for ourselves, this parish we serve and God’s beloved world. Here we are led to spiritual food for our journey through life by Jesus our Good Shepherd, held here in His arms. And from here we follow His voice back out into the week ahead, life’s adventure in God’s company.

3rd Sunday of Easter

14th April 2024 by Fr Jack

 

Acts 3. 12-19

Psalm 4

1 St John 3. 1-7

St Luke 24. 36b-48

 

Today’s readings are full of references to the Old Testament. But why, when we’re looking forwards - resurrectionwards - why does the Lectionary want us to look backwards now?

 

Let’s dig around and see what arises.

 

In St Luke’s Gospel today, the risen Jesus appears to the disciples. He eats a piece of fish in front of them, (I love that detail - and you can just picture him doing it!). St Luke is telling us that resurrection isn’t about disembodied floaty spirits, but real people. Glorified, and fleshy. Anyway, having made this point, Jesus and St Luke really want us to know that the law of Moses must be fulfilled, along with all the prophets and the psalms. All this is obviously really important to Jesus, so it is also really important to us. He quotes the Hebrew Scriptures all the time in His ministry, and even as He dies in agony He is quoting the psalms, making it clear that they are being fulfilled. 

 

This stuff matters! But in what way? Let’s keep digging.

 

St John’s first epistle today speaks of the general resurrection - when Christ appears - and we shall be like him. Resurrection bodies again. But here too, St John finds his way navigating all this new resurrection theology by speaking about the Old Covenant, the Old Law, and how Jesus fulfils it.

 

St Luke, St John and Jesus want us to know that this resurrection promise and its fulfilment are the fruit of a great unfolding story of continuity. It’s not come out of nowhere - it surprised the disciples that’s for sure - but Jesus wants us to see God’s foundations for all this. In short, Jesus’ Jewishness is essential.

 

And that’s exactly what St Peter says in Acts today. Acts, incidentally also written by St Luke. When St Luke’s Gospel ends, Acts picks up the story of what happened next in the Early Church. St Peter’s saying it’s all there: the suffering servant of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the one rejected and restored in the psalms. It’s the sweep of Scriptures that the church puts before us in all those Old Testament readings at the Easter Vigil on Easter eve: growing in the womb of the human imagination, tradition and ritual and Scripture, until all these images are birthed into new life from the empty tomb on Easter Day. 

 

Is your head spinning? Well it might. Today’s Scriptures ask the question - why are Jesus and the Gospel writers so keen for us to read these events as being at the heart of our present day lives, through the Old Testament? We are being invited to look in multilayered technicolour, and to change how we see our lives.

 

But the Old Testament you say? That’s often pretty awful, isn’t it?

 

Richard Dawkins (in the news again recently) was so keen in the noughties that we saw the Old Testament as the teenage diary of an angry God. He was good at making that image stick. It worked for many of us, me included; and it’s still there in the back of my mind, if I’m honest. And don’t get me wrong, there is lots of ‘that’ in the Old Testament. But look around you, turn on the news, there’s lots of it in our religion, because there’s lots of it in the world. Scripture reflects the truth of life: often bloody, waring, then and now. Often we say God did this or God thought that, but these scriptures reflect our actions and prejudices; the labels we throw at God, the false costumes we have made God wear. Thank God that in Jesus God reveals Himself quite differently. And what’s more, we Christians have always read the Old Testament through Jesus. So when we read Abraham going to Sacrifice Isaac, we see a pattern that God later turns on its head, when God puts Himself in the place of sacrifice in Christ. Likewise, the drowning Egyptians in the Red Sea as they chase the Hebrews. We read that as an image of Baptism - in which all our enslavements to sin, to greed and hardness of heart, even our subjection to death itself is drowned in the resurrection waters of Baptism. We read the Old Testament through Jesus, just as Jesus today is asking us to read the New Testament through the Old.

 

In short, what we are given today is not only Jesus’ endless love and goodness… but also His Jewishness. That Jesus wants us to read our humanity - the story of God and us - through Him, and through the whole of the great story of Scripture. He points us to a world view alive with ritual and symbol and life in layers of mystery and meaning. Think of Jesus, worshipping in the Temple - rich with the round of sacrifice, sumptuous visual and sensory immersion, chant and incense, the law and the prophets. Jesus’ Judaism, Temple Judaism, is a long way from today’s Judaism or today’s culture for us.

 

And that’s the gift of today’s Scriptures. Jesus’ resurrection is not a modern, western event. Christian life and worship is not made better by being stripped back or explained away in the simplest terms possible. Quite the opposite, today Jesus points us to how He sees the world: a maximalist world view, charged with meaning, symbol, story, ancient and fresh, deep mysteries, that enfold us. And those being hallmarks of God’s presence for us.

 

In modern western society we have created a bizarrely (in historical and human terms) de-ritualised world view. Today, Jesus Luke and John want us to be bold. To dare to see the world in glorious technicolour, the layers, as a gift from God. This Eastertide, in church, home, work and everywhere else we are called to be bold in seeing all things, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, as ’charged with the grandeur of God’

 

I’ll finish with a snippet from Narnia in which CS Lewis is echoing something of what we find in today’s readings too. Aslan has had his Good Friday: execution on the Stone Table. The Pevensie children are devastated. It seems to be all over, until…

 

“At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant's plate.... The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.
    "Who's done it?" cried Susan. "What does it mean? Is it more magic?"
"Yes!" said a great voice from behind their backs. "It is more magic." They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
    "Oh, Aslan!" cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
    "But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."

2nd Sunday of Easter

by The Rev'd Dr Tina Beardsley

 

Acts 4. 32-35

Psalm 133

1 St John 1. 1-22

St John 20. 19-31

 

Thank you very much indeed for inviting me to join you, and to preach and preside at this Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Easter, as God’s people continue to rejoice in the Risen Christ, who gives us his peace, breathing on us his Holy Spirit for mission and service. So may I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

 

On Good Friday evening, as I left the tube station, my neighbour, Lino, was passing by with some shopping, so we walked home together. That morning he’d taken his family to the ancient Egypt museum at Stratford in the East End. Named the House of Kofu, after the builder of the pyramids, the museum is situated between John Lewis and Primark at the Westfield Stratford City Mall.  

 

An incongruous sounding location, but it was an amazing experience as they’d been given virtual reality visors to wear, enabling them to see the land of the pyramids as historians and archaeologists think it would have looked in the time of the Pharaohs. To quote the website: ‘A captivating journey that transports you through time and space.’

 

It sounds wonderful. But I missed an opportunity! I should have told Lino that I was returning from the Good Friday Liturgy, where I too had an extraordinary journey: to Calvary, where I’d knelt at the foot of our Lord’s Cross, and kissed his feet. And that was only part of it! The previous evening, at the Maundy Thursday Mass, I’d been in the Cenacle, or Upper Room, where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet; watching with him afterwards in the garden prior to his arrest. And the next night, at the great Easter Vigil, I’d acclaimed the Risen Christ as the Light who conquers darkness, and sprinkled with the water, a reminder of my Baptism, that I have died with Christ who now lives in me that I may live for him. 

 

And I didn’t need a virtual reality visor for any of that! Because the liturgies of Holy Week are highly immersive, plunging us into the Paschal Mystery, into Christ’s dying and rising; shaping, and forming us, so that we become more like Jesus, more Christ-like. 

 

For all Christian liturgy is immersive. In the Sacraments, God uses matter – water, bread, wine, and oil – to communicate his grace and mercy to us, and transform us.

But note the difference here. Lino and his family were promised ‘A captivating journey that transports you through time and space.’ Theirs was a journey to the past. The visors gave them an impression of what life might have been all those centuries ago in Egypt. 

 

But in the Liturgy, the Risen Christ comes to meet us in the present. Christ is risen. Easter isn’t simply a commemoration of past events. Through the Paschal Mystery, the Crossing of the Red Sea, and Christ’s rising from the dead, burst into our present realities. Our own preoccupations and private thoughts are rendered ‘virtual reality’, compared to the life and light, the liberty and joy, that accompany the presence of our Living Lord. 

 

It is Christ who is reality, and the Easter season is our opportunity let him shape our lives so that we might become more like him: time to ‘get real’!

 

Of course, we can allow liturgy to wash over us, without ourselves going deep. On Good Friday, apparently, at the Veneration of the Cross in Southwark Cathedral, a little boy aged about 7, came forward and hugged the Crucifix, giving Jesus a good cuddle! That was immersive! What a pity we adults can’t unself-consciously embrace the deep love and compassion of God in Christ Jesus like that little chap did. We hold back in the virtual realities of our private thoughts. Inhibited, we’re not transformed and so the world around is not transformed either.

 

One Maundy Thursday, a few years ago now, I was waiting to have my foot washed, and primly holding my foot above the water in which some people’s feet had already been washed. What was I worried about? Catching foot and mouth disease? When it was my turn, the curate, grabbed my foot firmly in her hands, looked me in the eye and smiled. It seemed she’d read my thoughts, my virtual reality, my hanging back. Then she plunged my foot into the bowl of water. That ‘dirty’ water I’d feared, irrationally. The fear went. It was good to be immersed!

 

In our gospel reading today, Thomas is crying out for an immersive experience of the Risen Christ. Rightly so, as he’s missed out. On the first Easter Day, Jesus had appeared to the other disciples, penetrating, not just locked doors, but the virtual reality of their fear. Then he invited them to immerse themselves in the reality of his Risen Life, sharing with them his Peace, showing them his wounds, and breathing his Spirit on them, so that they could forgive and be forgiven. This life in all its fullness would make the early Church a community of deep equality and sharing, as we heard in the reading from Acts. No wonder Thomas felt left out!

 

His thirst for God, for a deeply immersive experience of the Risen Christ, and the power of Christ’s risen life, made him extremely bold, audacious even. Not content with simply gazing on Jesus’ holy and glorious wounds, Thomas said he wanted to put his hand into the cavity where the lance had pierced Jesus’ side when he was crucified. 

 

From that wound had flowed the water and the blood, which Christians have subsequently understood as symbols of the Sacraments of Baptism (the water), and the Eucharist (the Blood of Christ). Thomas was seeking a deeply embodied experience that is available to you and me, here and now, this morning in the Eucharist, where the matter of Bread and Wine, become, through the Holy Spirit, the very Body and Blood of the Risen Lord.

 

No visor is needed to share in this encounter with the Risen Christ which St Thomas had so long ago, for the Risen Christ is in our midst – ‘Christ is Risen’ – present in the Eucharist which we celebrate in his ‘memory’ – the Greek word here is anamnesis, meaning the past is recovered, and the future draws near, here, today. The Risen Christ who appeared to Thomas, is alive and active now. The Real Presence of Christ is true reality, poised to transform the self-serving virtual realities that we’re all too prone to inhabit.

 

Over the Easter weekend two young people I spoke with were on zero hours contracts, with all the insecurity that entails. One had been employed on that basis for seven years. Compare that with the first Christian community where people cared for one another enough to share their wealth and possessions. Which of the two do you think is virtual and which is real?

 

The Pharaohs are long gone, but we remain fascinated by ancient Egypt. It was a brutal world though, from which, the Bible tells us, God liberated his people at the Passover. In the Christian Passover of Easter, God in Christ continues to liberate his people. Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. What did the Romans ever do for us? Quite a lot, apparently, yet the Romans too are gone. But Christ Jesus continues the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Egypt and Rome, still fascinate us, but were cultures built on power and cruelty. Christ’s reality is peace, vulnerability, forgiveness. Time for us all to get real!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easter Sunday

by Fr Edwin

Acts 10.34-43
1 Corinthians 15.1–11
John 20.1-18

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

 

Again, may I take this opportunity to wish you a very happy Easter. Today we rejoice that death has not had and will never have the last word. Today the stone was rolled back, the tomb was found empty, and our lives have been set free from the death of sin in the eternal liberty granted to us through Christ’s glorious resurrection. As St Augustine said: ‘We are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song.’ This is the happiest and most important day of the year, the day that changes our lives forever, the day that makes us who we are, and our feast today and in the days to come should be of sufficient splendour to count at least as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that will be ours in the kingdom to come. Nothing but sparkling wine and choccy biccies for the next eight days, at least.

 

Now, before I begin, and whilst we’re on the subject of feasts, I’d like to talk to you about my encounters in a chip shop, specifically the chip shop where I used to live in Norwich. I should explain that outside of the gloriously varied culinary bubble of London, takeaway options are rather limited: chippy, curry house, here endeth the lesson. So, over time, you get to know your local takeaway staff really well, particularly if you like takeaways as much as I do. Now, the problem with this particular chip shop was that they thought my Christian name was Morgan, and after three years of frequenting this shop, it was just too awkward to correct them, so I just kept going in and lying by omission, and scurrying out before anyone who might know me had the chance to enter and discover my scurrilous double life of deep-fried carbohydrates and lies.

 

The problem arose because of a thing I have about names. I like to think of myself as a fairly laidback, liberal sort of chap, but a strange and powerful strain of conservatism swells within me whenever a complete stranger—be that a waiter, a call-centre operative, or the man from British Gas—calls me by my first name. I really don’t like it. I think this is because my first name is not the name I go by. My first name, in case you didn’t know, is Timothy. So when the gasman calls me up and asks, ‘Hi Tim, how are you doing?’ it feels like they’re claiming a level of friendship and intimacy with me that automatically fails.

 

Anyway, because of that weird dislike of strangers using my first name, I, when asked to give a name for my order, gave my surname to the lovely man at the chip shop, and after three years, rather than correct him, it just became easier to move to London. It was either that, or change my name by deed poll to Morgan Wilton-Morgan.

 

This is all to say that I think there is something very intimate, very personal, very powerful about names. Names, I think, are not just labels or descriptors. They’re more than just the first word on our passport. Our names—the names we go by or feel comfortable with, the names we really feel are ours—are not just badges used to distinguish us from our siblings, but are much deeper than that: they shape and are shaped by who we are. They get to the very heart of our identity, both individually and relationally. Individually, because each of us can affirm that there is something irreducibly me about me to which my name points. And relationally, in the very intimate act of naming another: really seeing them as we call them by their name, and claiming relationship with them as we do so.

 

This is something that we see throughout the Scriptures. There is something about our name, our being named, that is fundamental to our relationship with God. Abraham, Sarah, Israel, Peter: in naming or renaming them, God both claims a relationship of exceptional intimacy and care with them, and also sets them free to discover who they were always meant to be, in him. When God says to his terrified people, through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine,’ God is claiming us as his own, and with us, our care, our protection, our salvation, as his own. And in the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we discover that on the Last Day we will finally be given, on a white stone, our name. All of these things point to the idea that we do not know who we are, we do not know our own name, until we find it in God. 

 

In this Holy Week we’ve been engaging with the Gospel narrative through the body’s senses, and last Sunday, Palm Sunday, we considered the sounds of the crowd welcoming Jesus arriving into Jerusalem. Their cries were less ones of recognition, as they were cries of projection, of desire. Their cries, and the names they gave Jesus—the ‘coming one’, the ‘Son of David’, the ‘King of Israel’—were not about comprehending the new reality Christ was inaugurating, but about seeking to brand him in order steer him towards their desired destiny. Trying to name God, instead of letting God name them. 

 

In some ways, our Gospel reading today brings us full circle. I’ve always found this reading so hugely moving, when Mary Magdalene, so terrified, so lost, so alone, so bereft of the one she loves that she no longer knows who she is anymore and cannot even recognise him when he stands in front of her, hears the gardener say, “Mary,” and she discovers who he is. 

 

And not only does she discover who he is, but she discovers who she herself is. Because although that name has been hers all her life, it is only on that morning in the light of Christ’s resurrection, that she discovers her true identity, her true name. Mary’s life, her identity, her name, have been nailed to the Cross, buried with Christ in his tomb, and been sprung forth into the totally and utterly new reality of Christ’s resurrection.

 

And this is true for all of us. On this very morning, this happy morning, we too are born anew from the womb of Christ’s tomb into his life. As St Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians, ‘you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.’ We have suffered, we have died, and the life into which we have been born this morning is not our own, but Christ’s.

 

Our names feel intimately and irreducibly our own, but when Christ speaks Mary’s name, he isn’t just acknowledging her separate and individual identity, but recognising the deepest reality of her existence, a reality of which she has until this moment been unaware, the reality of her Christness, her participation in his own life, which through his death and resurrection is her true identity. In Christ’s resurrection, Mary and Peter and all of us have been renamed by God, not with our nicknames or surnames, but with the name of the Lamb written on our foreheads, to quote Revelation. Christ’s name is ours. Not in a way that destroys or dissolves our integrity and identity, but which reveals that identity as one with Christ in his resurrection.

 

So our life has indeed been hidden with Christ in God, and revealed with him in glory. Here, on this joyous morning we, like Mary, encounter Our Risen Lord in whom we now live and move and have our being, and like her go forth into the world with alleluias in our hearts, and Christ’s name on our foreheads, to tell our brothers and sisters, ‘I have seen the Lord.’

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

St John Chrysostom's Easter Homily, Easter Vigil

 

St John Chrysostom (literally the golden-mouthed) received his name because of his reputation as one of the greatest preachers in the Christian tradition. His Easter Homily so beautifully captures the message of this glorious feast that few have tried to top it, and it has become a tradition of the Church to hear it read during our celebrations. And so in this wonderful vigil, let us hear again those ancient words of praise and glory.

 

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

 

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

 

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

 

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

 

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavour.
The deed He honours and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

 

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

 

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

 

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

 

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

 

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

 

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

 

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

 

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

 

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

 

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

 

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Three Reflections for the Three Hours of Good Friday

by Fr Edwin

 

First Hour

 

‘Upon him was the punishment that made us whole’ (Is. 53.5)

 

Today is the end of the road. We, who left everything to follow this man—a man who seemed to embody the hope and possibility of a world beyond our imagining; whose message of freedom and new life grasped our hearts and pulled us along in his wake; a man whose gentle power seemed unstoppable, evading the desperate grasp of mobs, of authorities, of officials—now see him pinned down at last. Our hope, that this man who has eluded capture so many times might do so again, dies. 

 

We see the miracle-worker betrayed, condemned, caged, tortured, his pathetic mundane humanity whipped into his back; his embarrassing nudity disfigured under the weight of his own instrument of execution; his busy hands and feet crunched and stilled by nails, hammered in like full-stops at the end of a disappointing story.

 

Today is the end. And we are left considering what all this was for. Who this man is, or very soon, who this man was. What kind of God this man believed in, what kind of God lets this happen, what kind of God insists this happen.

 

It is perhaps appropriate today to be angry at God. We know why the crucifixion is necessary. We know that it is our sin, and the countless sins of all humanity, that drove Christ to suffer and die for us. But it’s not we—in all our crumminess—that designed the system, not we who made this essential, surely, not we who insist upon this—what appears to be—vengeful, mathematical transaction. 

 

If we are angry it is a defensive anger, born out of shock and outrage at the evidence of God’s anger towards us. That God, in his anger, demanded recompense for sin, and exacted it in the outrageous cruelty of human sacrifice on the Cross. It would indeed be appropriate to be angry at such a God.

 

But, of course, that is not what takes place on the Cross. The Cross is not the arbitrary killing of a perfect human down here by a vengeful, transactional God up there. Because the one who goes to the Cross for us today is not only human, but is God himself. The loving God whom our sin offends does not demand satisfaction, but instead steps between us and the agony of our sin, and lovingly gives himself to save us from it. Today the Cross doesn’t simply point towards heaven, with us hiding behind it, as an offering to God. Today the Cross is turned around and faces towards us, God’s sacrificial offering to and for us.

 

It is easy to be angry at God. To be angry with one who allows the agony of human suffering; the arrogant destruction of our planet; the wars waged in his name; the abuses of his Church. It is indeed easy to be angry. But today, on the Cross, we don’t just seek God’s forgiveness, but God seeks ours too. He lays down his life in love for us, and asks us to try to love him; to forgive the suffering whose fault we lay at his door; to forgive the pain of the freedom that he has given us; to forgive the anger that we assumed was his, but never was. Today he dies that our reconciliation would be complete, in both directions; to ensure a relationship free from fear, recrimination, and ransom; a relationship of total love.

 

Today God holds out the Cross to us, a symbol not of anger or revenge or judgement, but a promise of his love. And he humbly asks us to love him in return.

 

 

Second Hour

 

I wonder if you are disappointed. I wonder if the first disciples were disappointed on this day. Scripture tells us that much of Jesus’ teaching the disciples only understood once he was raised from the dead, but I wonder whether, if they had grasped it beforehand, nevertheless today would have been the most bitter of disappointments. All of Christ’s teaching about his death, about the love it would reveal, about his glorification, all come to nought. 

 

In the days, months, decades after Christ’s death, they would understand that this was the day that changed everything, they would learn to articulate that on this day sin was defeated, death was conquered, evil overcome. Perhaps this helped them, helps us overcome the disappointment, or perhaps it deepens it. If sin was defeated, why is there still sin? If death was conquered, why is there still death? If evil was overcome, why do its forces ride roughshod through our world today?

 

These are good questions, important questions, and I daresay we’ll never have the full answer this side of glory, but I do think these questions, and our disappointment, are born out of focusing too heavily on what the Cross achieves, and not what it reveals: what it reveals, which are God’s faithfulness and God’s love.

 

If the Cross does not ‘achieve’ the total eradication of death and sin and evil, it does ‘reveal’ their ultimate destruction. The Cross reveals that God’s faithfulness is so strong that he will persist in forgiving and reconciling his beloved creation through the depths of its sin and wickedness to the end of time. The faithfulness to us that the Cross reveals breaks the chokehold of sin and death, and forever clears for us a path of life.

 

And, in addition to his faithfulness, the Cross reveals too the depth and power of God’s love. It reveals to us that there is no human agony or darkness or cruelty that can keep us from God’s love, and in which he has not shared in his Son. The Cross is a promise to us that Christ is with us today in every depth of our suffering and disappointment and questioning. The Cross is a revelation of a love beyond our imagining, beyond our suffering, a love infinitely more powerful than sin and death, a love from which nothing can ever separate us.

 

Perhaps occasionally we are disappointed, or saddened, or angered that the Cross didn’t seem to ‘achieve’ more for us, here on earth. But what the Cross invites us to consider is not what God does ‘for’ us, but what he does ‘with’ us. Here, in living with, loving with, suffering with, dying with us, Christ embodies and reveals the ultimate destiny of all creation: God with us, us with God, forever.

 

‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom. 8.38–39)

 

God with us.

 


Third Hour

 

It’s said that St Francis of Assisi was so in love with his crucified Lord that on journeys his brothers would often find him lost in wonder and reverie when beholding the sign of the Cross in nature, even if it was just two twigs crossing over one another. It’s an instinct that would have been familiar to John Donne, perhaps, who in the poem ‘The Cross’ that we just heard, suddenly finds the imprint of the Cross all around him:
Swim, and at every stroke thou art thy cross ; 
The mast and yard make one, where seas do toss ; 
Look down, thou spiest out crosses in small things ; 
Look up, thou seest birds raised on crossed wings ; 
All the globe's frame, and spheres, is nothing else 
But the meridians crossing parallels.

 

But this obsessive recognition of the cross-shape all around him is not born out of simple piety, but almost out of revulsion. The poem is crafted to consider his and our reaction to the image of the Cross, recognising that we might be disgusted by its physicality, that we might wish to shield ourselves from its brutality, its ugliness, or even scorn it. But he recognises too that such an instinct is born from a desire to shield ourselves from its full implications. To consider, really consider the broken, humiliated, pathetic figure hanging limply from the tree is to see the cost of our sin, see the price he paid for our love, and consider what it demands of us.

 

Such a graphic reminder, displayed countless times in the simple form of two intersecting lines, cannot be escaped, and so Donne invites his readers, and indeed himself, not to run away from it, but to immerse himself in its implications: For when that cross ungrudged unto you sticks,| Then are you to yourself a crucifix. That is to say, only when we see the Cross not as shameful, but as an embodiment of love; only when we can understand the mechanism of Christ’s sacrificial love and its implications; only when we can understand the implicit and explicit invitation to embody the same love and die to our selfish desires; only then can we be delivered from our fear and shame, and be set free to live the abundant life of Christ. For when that cross ungrudged unto you sticks, Then are you to yourself a crucifix. 

 

It's a remarkable hymn of self-sacrifice, written not by a two-dimensional sanctimonious preacher, but by someone who knew all too well what it was to give in to selfish desires, but has grown to find them lifeless in comparison to life in Christ. Donne recognises the paradox of a death bringing life, of horrors bringing beauty, of sorrow bringing eternal joy; a paradox of such power that it cannot be ignored, or sanitised, or swept aside, but demands the response of his whole life.

 

Soon, we will leave this church, out into a world that hasn’t really known or cared what day it is. We will leave this place having witnessed the same paradox of horror and beauty, sorrow and joy, death and life that Donne saw, and that Christians have seen on this day down the generations, right back to the unspeakable paradox of the Cross. And as we do, we know that that paradox will demand the response of our lives too. 

 

Soon we will leave this place, but we cannot leave the Lord who hangs broken from the Cross, and whose image is burned into our retinas. We will leave, and like Donne, will be haunted by the myriad crossed lines of our lives: churches, pavements, trees. And we cannot escape the invitation in them to embody that Cross ourselves; to let the sacrificial love that we witnessed here infect and permeate our lives; to die to ourselves and give our lives to a world that may not care, but which Christ cared enough to die for.

 

For when that cross ungrudged unto you sticks, | Then are you to yourself a crucifix. 

Maundy Thursday

by Fr Edwin

Exodus 12.1-14
Psalm 116.1,10-17
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
John 13.1-17, 31b-35

 

As we’ve been journeying through this Holy Week, we’ve been engaging with the story of Christ’s final days not only in our reading of the Gospel, but also through our senses; immersing ourselves in the narrative through sound, smell, sight and touch. And today, it’s appropriate on this day when we celebrate a meal, that we consider the sense of taste.

 

Taste is, of course, something that crops up in its literal sense throughout the Bible—from the sweet manna in the wilderness through the salt in Jesus’ parable to the bitter wine on the Cross—but its predominant use is one of discernment. Whether that be in the Psalms—‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps.34)—the erotic love poetry of the Song of Songs—‘[my beloved’s] fruit was sweet to my taste’ (2.3)—or in the New Testament, references in Hebrews to those who have ‘tasted the heavenly gift…tasted the word of God’ (6.4–5) or in First Peter to you who have ‘tasted that the Lord is gracious’ (2.3). Taste is an intimate discernment, a taking into our body of a tangible, empirical knowledge.

 

My best friend is Jewish and she and I lived together in our final year at university: I was involved with the Student Christian Movement, and she was president of JSoc. I like to think we were helpful points of reference for one another in considering how our faiths and communities related, and it was a particularly helpful relationship when it came to sharing stories and busting myths. My favourite was from a friend of hers, who had asked her in all seriousness, ‘You know Christians believe that the bread at Communion becomes the Body of Christ. How many wafers do you need to make a whole Jesus?’

 

This is of course, a manifestly ridiculous question, but it does ask us to consider what it is that we are receiving in this Eucharist, in this re-presentation of the Last Supper this evening. Because all Christians believe that in Holy Communion we are somehow sharing in the Body of Christ, regardless of how far along the metaphorical spectrum our particular faith or denomination sits, and if so, what does that mean for us? What does it mean to share in Christ’s Body, to encounter it, to taste it?

 

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, which we heard earlier, St Paul gives us the earliest account we have of the Last Supper, and the ‘words of institution’ as we call them: this is my body, this is my blood. But immediately after our reading, St Paul goes on to say, ‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. […] For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves.’ (11.27,29) We must only share in this meal worthily, and that means being able to ‘discern’ the Body. Again, what does that mean for us?

 

Well, there are two ways of answering that question, and they depend on how we define the word ‘body’ (σῶμα). Does it mean discerning the presence of Christ’s body in the eucharistic elements of bread and wine, or does it mean discerning the body of Christ as the Church? At first glance, these two might seem to be opposing or mutually exclusive interpretations—and Lord knows there have been plenty that have come down fairly belligerently on either side—but for Paul, these two meanings of the word ‘body’ are much more interwoven. 

 

For Paul, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not simply about the stuff and ritual of the meal itself, and nor is it just about their relationship as a community: it is about how the community is formed around the death of Christ made manifest in the Lord’s Supper; how in sharing the bread and wine we are bound to each other as fellow members of Christ’s Body, and so share in his death and resurrection. As Paul says earlier in the letter, ‘The cup […] that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, because we all partake of the one bread.’ (1 Cor.10.16–17)

 

The celebration of the Eucharist is therefore centred around this twofold tasting, twofold discernment: discerning the Body of Christ given, broken, killed for us, and discerning the Body of Christ in which it now unites us. It is only after sharing the Last Supper together that Christ gives his followers the essential new commandment—or mandatum, whence ‘Maundy’—that we should love one other as he has loved us, with the same total and sacrificial love. This meal initiates his followers into the mystery of his sacrificial death, inviting them to taste that all-consuming love that would be made manifest on the Cross, and in which they are now united as his Body on earth. A love that so naturally flows into the kind sharing of simple food, into generously serving our fellows, into humbly washing one another’s feet.

 

And so here, tonight, in the ordinary stuff of bread and wine, overtaken by the mystery of God’s love, and shared with fellow members of Christ’s beloved Body, we are invited once more to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’

 

‘Though we are many, we are one Body, because we all share in one bread.’ (1 Cor.10.17)

Spy Wednesday

by Fr Edwin

John 13.21–32

 

In this Holy Week, we’ve been engaging with the Gospel narrative of Christ’s journey to the Cross through the body’s senses: the sound of the Hosannas, the smell of the perfume, the sight of Christ’s glorification. And today, I’d like us to consider the intimate sense of touch, and particularly the touch of a kiss.

 

Today, the Wednesday of Holy Week, is known as ‘Spy Wednesday’ because it’s the day on which Judas Iscariot officially switched allegiances, and decided to work to betray Jesus. It’s the day of the year when we most closely consider the tragic figure of Judas, and specifically, what we call ‘the Judas paradox.’

 

The paradox is rooted in a verse from St Matthew’s Gospel, ‘The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ (26.24) But if Judas hadn’t been born, Jesus would not have been able to go ‘as it is written of him’. Judas plays an inevitable, a predicted, and an essential role in our salvation, and yet he himself is condemned for it.

 

Down the ages people have tried to untie this knot in various ways. By saying that Jesus foreknowing Judas’ betrayal doesn’t rob Judas of his free will in doing so. Or that if Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus, that someone else would have. Some have gone so far as to say that Judas won’t ultimately be condemned, that it was Satan and not Judas that was the traitor, or even that Judas and Jesus decided on the betrayal together. Some have even said that ‘Judas’ isn’t a real person, but a symbolic Jewish everyman, written back into the Gospels by later antisemitic writers.

 

I do not think that, however we attempt to crack this particular nut, we will ever have the full answer this side of glory. Nor do I think that particularly matters. Because to focus too heavily on Judas, is to ignore precisely that same mechanism of sinful betrayal that resides in each and every one of us. And here we return to that kiss.

 

Judas had told the chief priests’ guard that the one he would kiss is the one they must arrest. A peculiar arrangement for such a famous man as Jesus, but perhaps necessary in the darkness of the night. Regardless of its practical necessity, it remains a deeply intimate moment, a moment as intimate as the penitent woman kissing Christ’s feet, or Mary wiping them with her hair. What was Judas thinking at that moment? Did he meet Christ’s knowing look? Did he feel love, or sorrow, or fear, or regret as his lips touched Christ’s cheek?

 

This touch, this moment of physical intimacy reminds us that it is too simple to say that Judas’ love for his Lord was able to be switched off in an instant like a tap. This kiss tells us that his betrayal isn’t an act of cold hatred, but a distortion of love: not the over-simplified love of money embodied in the thirty pieces of silver, but the love that Judas has for Jesus that, somehow, ends in betrayal; a love that becomes warped and twisted by sin and fear and ambition and hunger and political expediency; warped and twisted, but not diminished, not ended. A love which brought about not only the death of his Lord, but his own death too: his love driving him in grief, and remorse, and self-hatred to the desperate act of suicide.

 

And that’s why it’s too easy to scapegoat Judas, and to polarise love and hate, loyalty and betrayal. This kiss asks us to examine our own love of Christ: where it is shallow and where it is deep; where it is self-giving and where it is self-serving; whether we really love Christ, or whether we love our idea of him more. This kiss asks us to question how our love is at risk of being distorted from the adoration of our Saviour to the idolatry of our desires. This kiss asks us to recognise the many ways in which we betray Christ, not with the cold hatred of an enemy, but with the fervent passion of the lover.

Temple Tuesday

by Fr Edwin

John 12.20–36

 

In yesterday’s Gospel reading, the emphasis was on smell—the smell of the perfume that anoints Jesus for his death—whereas today, our Gospel centres around sight. It starts with some Greeks coming to Philip and saying, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’ This moves into a long passage in which Christ predicts his own death, which he describes as being ‘lifted up’ and ‘glorified’, before finishing with an invitation to follow his light, and so become children of light.

 

This shift to the visual is deliberate. Whilst the language of ‘glorifying’ and ‘lifting up’ might make us automatically think of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, John is clear that Christ’s supreme moment of glorification is when he is lifted up on the Cross. This is intensely visual: looking at the Cross, and seeing, in the pain and suffering, glory and triumph; the image of our salvation. 

 

John earlier links this image back to an episode in the book of Numbers, when God sends among the sinful Israelites venomous serpents, which causes the Israelites to repent. They pray to God to get rid of the serpents and, interestingly, he doesn’t. Instead, he instructs Moses to fashion a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, and anyone bitten can look to it, and be cured. God doesn’t get rid of the snakes, but he does provide a way by which the people might be saved from the snakes’ destructive power and so be granted life.

 

John likens Christ on the Cross to the bronze serpent on the pole. He does this to illustrate that through Christ’s saving death on the Cross, God does not eliminate the forces of sin that beset us, instead he sets up a way by which we might be saved from sin’s destructive power and restored to the path of life. We continue to be afflicted by sin, we continue to be bitten by the serpents, but in looking to Christ and returning to the saving power of the Cross, their power is vanquished. The image of the Cross is a reminder to us of the salvation Christ won for us, and a constant invitation to share in the life he offers us.

 

But, of course, sharing in this life is not as simple as looking at an image. In predicting his death, Jesus’ words today should both comfort and terrify us, as we consider his death on the Cross: ‘where I am, my servant also will be.’ (v.26). Christ invites us to share his glory, but we now know what that glory looks like. To share his glory our lives too must be laid down, must be fashioned after the sacrificial pattern of Christ’s Cross, must be lifted up as lives ‘of visible self-giving’. This is what it means to be ‘children of light’: to die to ourselves, and to shine forth with the light of Christ’s self-giving life flowing through us; to become images of the Cross ourselves.

 

For, just like the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, it is the life that is freely given—a ‘cross-shaped’ life—that becomes the occasion for God’s transformative power in the world. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, just as the Son of Man was lifted up on the Cross, so we too in our lives must become visible, obvious signs of that sacrificial, life-giving love of God, by which all are saved. For if the Cross is the pattern of our lives, then our lives embody the power of the Cross.

Fig Monday

by Fr Edwin

John 12.1–11

 

The Authorised Version of the Bible was not written for comedy. Nevertheless, the oddness of some of its phrases to the modern ear frequently raises an eyebrow, or even a titter. I struggle to take seriously any priest who, when reciting Psalm 18, can thunderously pronounce, ‘the strange children shall fail’ (v.46) with a straight face. And one of those moments comes in John ch.11, when Jesus asks to open the tomb of Lazarus, and Martha tells him, ‘Lord, by this time he stinketh.’ (v.39)

 

‘Stinketh’ is a great word. It’s somehow so much more visceral than the polite, modern rendering ‘there is a bad odour’. And I think the emphasis on smell is quite deliberate, and links to our reading today. It’s a chapter later in John’s Gospel, again we’re in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and again our attention is drawn to smell, as Mary pours out ‘a pint of pure nard’ on Jesus’ feet, and ‘the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’ (v.3)

 

John seems to link these two episodes through the two overwhelming smells that have filled this home: the smell of death, and the smell of anointing. At the heart of both of these stories, we see the same movement, which is the outpouring of love. 

 

In the first, Lazarus has died. Martha declares her faith in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, and Jesus knows that through himself, all will be delivered from the power of death. It’s a death like any other: deeply sad, but ultimately hopeful, and for now there’s nothing to be done. And yet Jesus does do something about it: he weeps bitterly, he opens the tomb and exposes himself to the stench of his friend’s body, and he raises him from the dead. It makes no practical sense. It doesn’t further Christ’s ministry (in fact it makes it harder). Instead, what we see is the outpouring of pure, impractical, nonsensical, wholehearted love.

 

In the second, Mary pours on Jesus’ feet a preposterous quantity of perfume—worth a year’s wages—and wipes them with her hair. It’s a moment of complete abandonment, of embodied self-giving, of utter wastefulness, of love. She would have known the seeming foolishness of this act, but faced with the one who brought her brother back to life, the one whom she loves above all else, she has no choice but to honour him with all she is and has.

 

Watching both of these episodes is Judas Iscariot, the pragmatist. Recognising that raising Lazarus would curtail Jesus’ practical ministry, he is presumably one of the disciples that try to persuade him not to go. Appalled by the waste of an asset worth a year’s wages, he demands to know why the money could not have been spent on the poor. In many ways, it is a fair question, but it reveals Judas’ inability to understand Jesus, and to participate in the love which he embodies.

 

Because God’s love is not practical. God’s love is about total self-giving, self-offering, the laying down of life in love for our brothers and sisters. It cannot fit into Judas’ calculations. And so Mary embodies it, and Judas rejects it. For him, it comes at too high a cost.

 

But it’s because of the recognition of this cost that Jesus says, ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.’ (v.7) Mary’s gift embodies the cost of Jesus’ love, by foreshadowing his death, and anointing him for it, as priest, and king, and victim. He too will pour out himself like a fragrant offering for the salvation of the world. He too will give the gift that is beyond price, his very life. He too will display such utterly nonsensical, impractical, incalculable love, in his death on the Cross.

Palm Sunday

by Fr Edwin

Mark 11.1–11

 

Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings films, said in an interview a few years ago that he was considering getting hypnotised to forget everything about the Lord of the Rings films, so that he could have the experience of watching them for the first time. Now, he sounds like a prat, but I do recognise something of that desire within me on this Palm Sunday, as we stand once more on the threshold of Holy Week.

 

In this most holy of weeks, the stories are familiar to us. We are now on the conveyor belt of Jesus’ final days, and whether we are new to the faith or cradle Christians, the stories of triumphal entry, last supper, betrayal, crucifixion will be well-known to us. Occasionally, the power and immediacy of this remarkable narrative can get lost in the accumulated layers of memory and interpretation and familiarity. It can be difficult to engage with the words of the story, when we already know its ending. 

 

I don’t think we need to go as far as hypnosis for us to be able to engage with this familiar narrative afresh. Instead, may I invite you this Holy Week not just to hear the events of these days as they are told to us once more, but rather to try to enter into the stories, to place yourself each day among the people, the places, the events; to close your eyes and experience the sights, the sounds, the emotions of those crucial days; to journey with your heart, your mind and your senses alongside Christ to the Cross.

 

As part of this, in each of these days in the run-up to Good Friday, our sermons will be using each of the body’s senses to engage more deeply with the Gospel narrative: the smell of Mary’s perfume, the touch of Judas’ kiss, even the taste of Christ’s Body.

 

On this Palm Sunday, I think it’s the sounds that seem to stand out most vividly. Close your eyes and journey back into the story that we heard in our Gospel reading earlier, place yourself in the scene. 

 

An itinerant preacher, about whom rumours have swirled, enters into the holy city, Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Almost immediately the people around him realise something out of the ordinary is going on. The crowds press around you as they recognise in this enacted sermon a fulfilment of a prophecy they’d heard long ago, a prophecy of a king, an anointed one, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. 

 

Pay attention to what you hear around you. Is it the sound of hope, of expectation, of desperation, of scepticism, of fear of the authorities? Suddenly, over the hubbub of the crowd, the jostling of people, the braying of the donkey, comes the cry of ‘Hosanna!’ Soon, all around you are bursting forth with the same chants: ‘Hosanna’, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’, ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

 

These are the cries of a joyful and expectant people, but listen carefully and you’ll hear a darker tone amid the sound. Hosanna! Literally, ‘save [us] we pray’. Save us, save us. Within the chord of praise, there is a note of desperation. Save us. The shouts of the crowd have even distorted the prophecy that Jesus has come to fulfil. The prophecy of a king of peace riding on a donkey, bringing peace and righteousness to Jerusalem, has been replaced. As the crowds around him cry ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ they are, knowingly or not, quoting a passage about a very different king, a king who brought peace, but only through weapons, and fire, and bloodshed. Save us. Save us from our enemies. Save us from our occupiers. Save us through power and strength and destruction. Save us.

 

Perhaps some of the voices around you, you will hear again in five days’ time. The voices that now cry ‘Hosanna’ might soon cry ‘Crucify!’ as the king they journey with to the temple disappoints and betrays their expectations. Hosanna, crucify. Little do they realise that in Christ’s anguished screams on the Cross, both of their requests are granted. A king who does indeed bring peace through bloodshed, his own; who does indeed embody strength and power, through his surrender of them; who does indeed bring freedom, through his own captivity; who does indeed bring life, through his death. A king who does indeed save them.

 

Hosanna. Crucify.

Passion Sunday

17th March 2024

 

By Sister Hilda Mary, Community of the Sisters of the Church

www.sistersofthechurch.org

 

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  St John 12:23

 

In John Chapter 2, Jesus says to his mother “My time has not yet come’. In chapter 7 he tells his brothers that he will not go with them to Jerusalem for the feast of the Tabernacles  because ”My hour has not yet come but now in Chapter 12 he says “The hour has come for the son of Man to be glorified”.

 

We know he is talking about his death. What glory is there in the atrocious way of death by crucifixion?

 

When I was about 8 my parents gave me a copy of the Centenary Prayer book. 

In it was a gloomy and scary picture of the crucifixion with the word “The Atonement” written underneath it. I remember in the middle of a service finding this picture and asking my mother what the word Atonement meant. She whispered . “Being made one with God”

Well I did’t understand then how something so horrid as dying on a cross would make me one with God and 70 years later I am still wondering, pondering and searching.

 

The atonement, the saving action of Christ, fully human and fully God, on the cross. There are so many ways people over the last 2000 years have tried to explain this. There are many understandings but in them all is the knowing that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In all ages, cultures and religions there is a sense that we all fall short, that humans sin and need ways to find reconciliation, forgiveness, redemption. Many rituals have evolved, scapegoating, sacrifice , penance, simply asking forgiveness. Diferent ways of turning our lives round. Metanoia.

 

But why a man dying on a cross? Coming from the Jewish tradition this was seen by the first Christians as the supreme and ultimate sacrifice that saves us once and for all.

 

All I can now begin to realise is that Jesus poured out his life in love for human beings , for us. When he forgave the soldiers nailing him in excruciating pain to the cross, he did’t see soldiers but men, human beings. He saw individual people in their joys and sufferings. 

 

He was aware of how the religion of his day had lost sight of its basic commandment to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as ourselves. He poured out his life for that love and it inevitably led to others feeling guilt and shame that they fell short of such demanding love and they wanted to get rid of him.

 

Was it once for all? I see such love, I see Christ in such people as Alexie Navalny who gave his life for the people of Russia. Poured himself out in love, and never ceased to make jokes which must have infuriated Putin!

 

At times, like all of us recently, with the wars in the middle East, Ukraine, The Sudan and many places in the world I feel quite overcome by so much hatred injustice and pain . 

One night, in my mind, I saw the face of Jesus. A face tormented and suffering, A face wounded and bleeding. What ever the atonement, the crucification means I see it as Christ with us now and always in and with the suffering of our world. With those in our own lives who are suffering now.

 

But that was not and is not the end of the story. He overcame death, pain and torment.  He rose again and is alive now. So easy to say. Such familiar words. Do we deeply believe them?

 

I think I was invited here today because of my love of Charles Wesley !

I am not an expert but an enthusiast! Very dangerous.

 

Susanna Wesley’s father was, Dr Samuel Annesley. He was a popular Protestant minister here at St Giles in 1658 as many of you will know. Susanna was the youngest of his children. Annesley was extremely  keen on education and made sure all his children including the girls were very well educated. He had a large library and Susanna read extensively. She married Samuel Wesley, also a minister but of the High Church tradition. She had 19 or 20 pregnancies. 10 children survived into adulthood! It was a very difficult marriage. Twice the rectory was burnt down and they only just got out with their lives and Samual was often away.

 Susanna set out to educate her three sons and Severn daughters. They could play till they were 5 then classes began. They were expected to learn the alphabet in the first day and except the youngest they did. Susannah is buried very near here.

 

By the time John and Charles went to school in London they were proficient in Latin,  Greek and maths and many other things.

Both the brothers went on to Oxford. They were deeply religious due to their up bring they had from Susanna. Charles started the Holy Club in Oxford which involved strict daily discipline if prayers, bible study, discussion, and self interrogation though the day. They were up at 4am! They prayed and studied the bible  for at least three hours. They were also academically very bright.  John became a Fellow of Lincoln College. In those early days it was not all work. John played tennis, loved to swim and enjoyed billiards and cards! He was also very interested in health and medical remedies.

 

In the midst of it all they decided to set off as missionaries to Georgia, a newly founded colony in America . It was a disaster!

 

One thing that happed on their voyage out was meeting the Moravians. They had terrible storms on the crossing and John was very afraid of death. He was deeply impressed by the Moravian men women and children who were very calm and just kept singing. Their leader explained that they had no fear of death because of their trust in the saving power of God.

 

When they both eventually arrived back in England one of the young undergraduates who had joined the Holy Club, George Whitefield, had almost died of his  severe ascetic practices. They were all very influence by William Law. George was physically very ill as well as on the point of a break down. In his despair he called out to God “I thirst, I thirst” He had a moment of deep realisation that he could not save himself. He could not be saved by all his good works. His heart was opened in a quite new way to God and his life radically changed.

 

 He began preaching in the open air attracting crowds of 1000s. This was all very amazing and disturbing to our two brothers but they too came to a point of realising the power and wonder of God and the outpouring of the Holy Sprit. It all happened very near here. Charles had also become very ill. He was reading writings of Martin Luther and one passage suddenly touched his heart.  His heart was warmed. He came to a point  surrender and acceptance of the love go God, I might say three days before John Wesley’s heart was “Strangely warmed!

 

Well I don’t know about warmed I think they were set on fire. They had come to experience what the atonement meant, what is was to be one with God. And they didn’t look back for the next 50 or so years! 

 

In those years Charles wrote over 7000 hymns and poems through which he expressed his understanding of God of the questions and experience in his life. John rode over a quarter of a million miles on horseback in his itinerate ministry ( probably should be in the Guinness book of records!)  and published over 600 books and pamphlets some very substantial. 

He and Charles both read as they rode and wrote! 

They must have been fine horse men! It was a ministry that in many ways changed our country. For the first time working class people, this was near the beginning of the industrial revolution, heard the Gospel but not only that, John was a great organiser and ordinary people found their voice and through the  meetings set up by John found a way of making their voices heard. So much more to say, so many wonderful stories but I will just share one little quote:

 

“Less happily, Wesley had to endure a frosty interview with the Bishop of Bristol, Dr Joseph Butler,  ( John had begun to preach in  Bristol in the open to crowds of many thousands). The Bishop was aghast that this was happening in his diocese.

”Sir, the pretending extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing, Mr Wesley, a very horrid thing.”!

 

So what has all this to do with us today.

St teresa of Avila said we can never sit still on our quest for God. Always there is more to discover, more to surrender, more to be open to that very Holy Ghost the Bishop of Bristol was so worried about.

 

I must say at times on the journey I  would like rest and look at the scenery. But it is true, like the Wesleys who grasped that for all their prayer, study and rigorous disciplined life something was missing.They had to learn their their dependence of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts then all the rest bursts into new life.

 

What is God calling us to today?  What new adventures, what new realisations what abundance of life?

 

In the end what ever the atonement means it is knowing we are loved, forgiven and filled with new life new beginnings new hope.

 

I am going to end with a poem of W H  Vanstone which says so much better than I have tried about Christ’s life, death and resurrection. About the Atonement that so puzzled me as a child and we will later be singing one of Charles Wesley’s famous hymns which gives us a glimpse of his understanding of God’s saving love for each one of us.

 

Morning glory, starlit sky,

Leaves in springtime, swallow’s flight, 

Autumn gales, tremendous seas, 

Sounds and scents of summer night;

Soaring music, tow’ring words, 

Art’s perfection, scholar’s truth. 

Joy supreme of human love, 

Memory’s treasure, grace of youth;

Open, Lord, are these, Thy gifts, 

Gifts of love to mind and sense; 

Hidden is love’s agony,

Love’s endeavour, love’s expense.

Love that gives gives ever more, 

Gives with zeal, with eager hands, 

Spares not, keeps not, all outpours, 

Ventures all, its all expends.

Drained is love in making full; 

Bound in setting others free; 

Poor in making many rich; 

Weak in giving power to be.

Therefore He Who Thee reveals Hangs, 

O Father, on that Tree Helpless; 

and the nails and thorns 

Tell of what thy love must be.

Thou art God; no monarch Thou 

Throned in easy state to reign; 

Thou art God, Whose arms of love 

Aching, spent, the world sustain.

 

(Some of you may have spotted this in our Common Praise hymnbook as hymn no 259 set to a lovely tune by Orlando Gibbons known as song 13)

 

Mothering Sunday 2024

By Fr Jack

 

Mothers, like families, come in all shapes and sizes. This Mothering Sunday, Mothering isn’t defined for us by post war American advertising billboards. It is a much richer, more diverse gift.

 

Jesus calls himself a ‘mother hen’ who longs to gather God’s people up. (St Luke 13.34). Earlier in St Luke’s Gospel today we have the cost of mothering - the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart. All shapes and sizes, you see?

 

So I’d like to ask you a question, and then invite you to see that our answers lead us to a wonderful fourfold image of Motherhood.

 

Mothering, like mothers, come in many shapes and sizes, many guises and people. Some good, some bad, some present, some absent, some biological, some not.

 

So, thinking big picture, what words spring to mind when we think about ‘mothering’?

 

Nurture, teach, lead, feed, discipline, care, healing, resting, birthing, forgiving and repairing?

 

So how about this fourfold picture that emerges. 

 

Well we all have a mother, known or not, here or not, we all have a mother. And today we pray for them whoever and wherever they are. We pray for them and hopefully have cause to thank God for them. That, incidentally is not apparently the roots of this day. 

    This was the day when domestic staff had a full day off to go to their mother church, where they were baptized. As we approach the paschal mysteries of death and resurrection at Easter, it is especially appropriate to begin to recharge our baptismal focus. But it has become a day about mothers. So, we all have a mother. 

 

But today, our answers, in the context of this Eucharist, present us with a more expansive image. That actually we all have four mothers.

 

“As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother.” (See Matthias’ and Amanda’s amazing anthem set today). We have been journeying through Lent with the Lady Julian of Norwich. This amazing woman of faith who is the writer of the earliest text in English by a woman that we have.

She names this wonderful truth when she writes “As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother.”

 

So we have our biological mothers, and we have God as Father and Mother.

That’s one and two. What about mothers three and four? Well here St Julian can help us too. 

 

She also points us to the motherhood of the church. Again and again she speaks warmly, lovingly of how glorious this rich family, this spacious home, in which to grow, live and die well is: in the Church as our mother. The church is our place of birth - baptism. Our nourishment - in Holy Communion and Scripture. Our church family in which we grow and develop, and in which we share life, year by year. The church draws us together around this altar, as perhaps a mother might gather a family around a loving table. So the church is a kind of mother too.

 

So that’s three. Who is the fourth mother Julian wants us to know?

 

She also speaks of Our Lady St Mary. That’s what Julian calls her. I rather like that. ‘Our Lady, St Mary’. St Mary, the old English name, as shown in our window and the name of so many churches. And Our Lady, not shying away from Mary’s womanhood, and expressing a real sense of that family connection with her, as we are in God’s family together with the saints.

 

Mary’s motherhood is brave and costly, as St Luke tells us today. To stand beside the cross, and not to turn away. She prompts Jesus into performing His first miracle at the Wedding at Cana in St John’s Gospel. She made it all possible with her ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel. She is there with the other women when He has died. She is praying, waiting with the 12 in the room of Pentecost when the Spirit comes. Mary is brave, active, and there. 

 

She teaches us what motherhood can mean - a motherhood we can all share in, 

whatever our gender and the shape of our biological family. If we take Mary as a mother in heaven we are asking to be inspired by her, and we are making it clear - as we should - that this glorious family in which we live is not limited to the people we can see, but that our family reaches right around the world, and from earth to heaven and back again. To claim these four mothers today is a beautiful statement of hope and humanity.

 

So you see, its a very messy family we belong to. Worthy of the Jeremy Kyle Show. Not dad in pipe and slippers, two blond children and mum holding some form of baked goods. Ours is a family with four mothers and any number of siblings, and Jesus our brother and Lord. This is God’s family, into which we have been baptized, and through which we grow through life, us, with Our Lady St Mary, God our mother and father, the church who mothers us, and the women we quite possibly call or called ‘mum’. Thank God for them all.

Lent III

by Beverly Levy, a member of the congregation

 

? GOD at work

 

I was so taken by surprise when Fr Jack invited me to talk on the subject of God at work, that I said, yes! 

 

When I look at my own path to faith, 

I’m fairly late to the party, so, my story is a relatively short one. 

As for parties, Fr Jack does throw a good one and so my transition was relatively easy..

 

I didn’t have a religious upbringing although I was always aware of other people’s religion as they would, mostly, wield it like a sword. Or that’s how it seemed to me. Religion was something provocative, devisive, rather than something bonding - particularly in Scotland, where I spent a lot of my childhood.

 

My very early memories of attending church aren’t great - and I’m really only referencing a handful of occasions as a school girl In Scotland in the sixties…. Everything about Churchgoing and God seemed to fixate on judgement and punishment. And everything was terrible and everything was doom & gloom.

 

They really didn’t seem to sell it well in the sixties.

 

There was nothing that felt to me, nurturing, inclusive, loving, democratic or accepting, about my earliest experiences, which is what a House of God should be about. Surely? It shouldn’t be about scaring the heebeegeebees out of the congregation..

So I crossed church off the list of options at a very early age. 

 

This experience was compounded by an educational rollercoaster of different faith schools and their unwelcoming attitude towards children of mixed faith marriages, of which I was one. This too, didn’t seem like a healthy landscape of inclusiveness. 

 

My parents marriage was of mixed faith - my Mother Catholic my Father Jewish. Sadly, even members of my Father’s family disowned him and never accepted my Mother. 

 

Jews, generally speaking, didn’t acknowledge my ‘Jewishness’ - my Mother wasn’t Jewish, so I didn’t really count, otherwise, non-jews considered me a Jew. For most Gentiles, you only have to be a little bit Jewish, that still counts.  

 

This can be a weird no-man’s land to come to terms with. Particularly when you’re grappling other growing pains. 

 

When you’re looking to find your place with God it can feel like you have no place. Or, it can just take longer to find that place. 

 

I decided prescriptive religion wasn’t for me. 

I didn’t want to be judged by that

 

So I followed my own religion & prayed in my head. 

I had a Christian heart. I knew there must be something else. I was sure that God existed for me - I just didn’t know where exactly he existed for me. But I never doubted that he heard my prayers. 

 

Each night as I lay in bed I’d count my blessings and thank God for each one of them. For living such a blessed life. 

 

I’ve been lucky with most things in life.  I have a wonderful mother, I have wonderful friends, I’ve always been lucky to be absolutely passionate about my work. I have a wonderful home. I live a privileged life and I know it.

I’m very lucky.

 

Okay, this next bit doesn’t sound terribly lucky but it’s a crucial part of my story and a pivotal point of my journey to faith…

 

In 2022, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. 

I was devastated. 

The hospital appointment letter said to come alone due to limited space in waiting rooms. My Mum knew nothing in the lead up to this as I’d been hoping there might not be bad news to break. After the consultant had told me the news, I left in a blind daze. I needed to be with someone. I can’t remember my journey home, only that I found myself standing looking at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was almost time for the evensong service and I really needed that tranquility. I made my way inside.  

I sat and prayed, and cried, and prayed, and cried, and prayed, and cried and prayed. 

I asked out loud, 

“Please God help me through this”, and immediately I felt Gods arms around me and I felt the warmth of his embrace and I felt the weight lift from me.

I knew I’d be okay whatever happened - I would be okay.

 

I accepted my situation, I felt peaceful about that, and my mind felt still. I felt guided by God. 

 

A year later, the most wonderful thing happened, I was baptised in St Paul’s. Cathedral.

 

I have Fr Jack to thank for that.

This was an opportunity that came to me at the right time in my life.

 

This was an important step for me in my faith journey, because it was my opportunity to show my love, and my devotion to God, and to thank God. And through it, I feel I’m now with God.

 

Being present at church each Sunday is like revisiting that peace and tranquility. It’s like an exhale of breath of all the week’s follies and an intake of God’s love to start over. 

 

My faith journey began at St Giles, where the atmosphere was a revelation to me - It felt truly inclusive - unlike any past Church experience. I’m acutely aware of my ‘newness’ to Church and Fr Jack is all about nurturing & encouragement. And now, equally, so too is Fr Edwin. So, I’d say I lucked out with my timing. 

 

I realise I’m speaking to the converted so none of this will sound strange or weird to you, but it still sounds strange and weird to me to say that I feel like I walk with God. I feel like God is part of me now, God is a part of my life. I consider God more than I ever did. 

 

I’m still new to this!

 

MUSIC! 

I have to mention music! 

Music is so important in my life and it’s what gives me the most pleasure and the most peace.

Music is often what makes me feel the closest to God. It’s where I find myself in the zone, it’s my zen, it’s my path to God. I find it completely rapturous. My Mum always laughs because I’m always swaying in church, well for most hymns I don’t know the tune and I certainly haven’t got the voice so it’s probably for the best that I’m only swaying….

 

One of the most wonderful things about being in church for me is the music and the song. Devotion to God through song, that for me is completely heavenly. 

 

I want to say a heartfelt thank you to Anne, to Elizabeth, to Penny, to Louis, to Amanda, to Robin, to Inga. To all our musicians here in St Giles. For all that you do, brings me closer to God. So thank you for that. 

 

And my thanks to God.

Lent II 2024

 

By Cyril Leroy, Crucifer, pictured,

and his Church Beadle Grandfather pictured below.

 

It was a strange sensation to have been asked by Father Jack to write the sermon for today. What legitimacy could I have to take your time about my vision of God and faith.

 

Me, French migrant (or expatriate as the French prefer to figure out themselves ), living in UK for

8 years, playing rugby, loving gardening and building Lego.

 

Religion and faith is something really sensitive coming from France. One of the few country where

secularism is a dogma. As I used to say : Watch Les Miserables, we haven’t done 3 revolutions for nothing. And I don’t even mentioned the 4th one : 1968!

 

So talking about religion is something we don’t do in France. Except in few fundamentalist catholic family only. Which mine was far away. Thanks Lord !

 

My parents were raise in a basic religious pre-1968 family. Having to go to church every Sunday, a

communion and confirmation. Joining the Scouts and equivalent for girls. At least, that how they

meet. Everything is always useful!

But 1968 arrive. They were 20yo. And everything changed. They become Hippy. Bought a Combi Volkswagen and travel all around Europe in their combi Volkswagen van with a large Peace & Love sign on the side. Then they have me and my sister quickly and decided to raise us far from religion: we will decide later on if we wanted to follow or not.

 

My grandparents were mortified. Both really religious. But didn’t want to make any fuss with their

own kids. And didn’t want to lost their grandchildren visit. So religion was a sensitive topic at the table. Only at Christmas we were allowed to create a nativity. And during vacation at their place, seeing them leaving the house for going to church or watching the service on TV on Sunday morning. Or seeing my grandfather prepare for the Sunday service. And like everything forbidden, it was so excited to watch!

 

My first memory of faith was the beautiful faces of the Italian Madonnas on the renaissance frescoes in Italy. How not be touched by so much grace! And as kid, I was fascinated of the tale of Noah and all his animals for 40 days and a night in his Arch. One year, at Christmas, the French TV present a peplum with the life of Christ. I might have been 6 yo at that time. Not sure I understand everything but at least apparently something stuck in my mind…

 

Promptly back to school, my parents were called by the Director : apparently I was playing with my classmate at recreation as putting them on a cross and simulate crucification of Chris.

Scandalous in a French public school ! But so much fun. All the kids were happy. Even the one who haven’t seen the movie! No clue why we were all grounded.

 

My grand-grand father was a Beadle/verger. I always admired his picture at my grand-parent’s place, all in his suit in an old fashion outfit. Carrying a huge silver staff in one hand while wearing gloved for a humble farmer. And apparently helping for baptism or buried. What a strange feeling when years later, I have been asked to do the same.

So teenager, religion wasn’t something I was really in touch. Except some little unrighteous prayer requesting a good result at an exam. Which strangely enough, if I worked a little bit, prayers were

exhausted. God will always recognise themselves

 

It is more getting mature. Feeling the difference between community and knowing the feeling of

being different that I feel more incline of faith and offended when such basic principal as “love your neighbours as yourself” wasn’t in fact not for everyone.

Getting adult, I kept being interested of what happened in the Book, not agreeing on everything, but - finally – enjoying a late catechism by my grands parents. Learning that the sin of gluttony is the most forgivable (how to resist to French food!) I always being sharing feeling for faith but which couldn’t match with the catholic church with its – excuse my French – silliness of deciding that priest can’t get married of having a love life with someone and woman can’t do service.

But this change when I moved to UK. I always loved to visit church where ever I go. Orthodox in

Greece, byzantine in Sicily, Baroque in Austria, and moving to the Barbican, this little church

surrounded by those concrete buildings always intrigued me. One Sunday, I wake up earlier decided to attempt to one service. A tall woman dressed as a religious with white hair was welcoming everyone at the door. She might realise that I was the only stranger compare to the parish usual and already informed me that I could just stay and watch and didn’t need to do communion if I didn’t’ want to. The church seems nice, cold and simple compare to the French one. But at least, for once, I automatically felt to be welcome, expected and at home. A couple of men, whom one was helping during the service, Tim and Allan, welcomes me at Tea & Coffee. I said to my mind: that’s a progressive church ! Finally

 

Then I was quickly integrated to the parish: X and Patricia invited me to help them with their flower balcony and we had Tea at their place. Mona was living in the same building as us on Ben Jonson house . And Dawn was so happy to find someone speaking French to her. In no time I was feeling part of the community. That’s an important feeling when you are stranger/ foreigner / ostracised in your own country to fell welcome. I wish to all foreigners to know that feeling one day.

 

So when Covid arrived and everyone was baking or walking dogs in park, I took time to realise and wonder what is important for me. And I realise that after all these years living in UK, I wanted to become an Anglican. And I followed classes through video and had the luxury to be recognises as Anglican under St Paul’s cathedral dome! Who can say it wasn’t a sign…

So when I have been asked :

And you what have you done during Covid. I am proud to reply : I become Anglican !

 

I created an LGBT rugby team in Paris in 2023. 20 years ago. The first even ever in France. For the same reason: why not giving the change for those who wants to practice that sport but being always afraid to not give the opportunity to try and like it. As much as I am pleased to see this team still existing 20 years later, I would never thought that it would inspire so many others and having now 7 LGBT teams in France. Not only rugby taught me to push myself, but as well the team spirit. That you can’t do anything without your team. That we need all the different body types to have the best team: young/mature/fast/slim/stocky. Rugby is one of the most inclusive sport for that. And that all players need to share the some strong values. Otherwise it’s just carnage on the pitch.

 

It takes time to realise that -truly- God has a plan for a all of us. All different for each one. He sent us many signs during our journey. It’s to us to see them. And catch them at the good time. That’s

honesty my philosophy. No need to rush, everything will happened if it has to happen. The more

you get mature the more you understand : God has a plan for everyone. Otherwise, Why would I

joined in the XXe century, the same church where an ancestor of my American spouse get baptized in XVIe century ?

 

We have all our different way to live our faith. Mine is to find a home in the best parish I could

dream of. Hoping it will keep going inspiring and attracting other lost souls as mine.

 

If I would be honest, I would say that God has been more patient and tolerant with me than I have

been for Him.

Lent I 2024

By the Bass from St Giles' Choir, Louis Hurst

Thank you, Jack, for inviting me to speak about “God at work”. 

But what do you mean by “God at work”? Is that how God affects my work, or how my work affects my relationship with God?

If the answer is “how God affects my work”, should I be changing Opera plots so that people act in a Christian way to each other? The problem is, if characters in Opera make good decisions, then Opera becomes rather dull and very short. Tosca ends up having an early night if Scarpia decides to cut out all the torturing and decides not to kill the tenor. The Marriage of Figaro ends after the first duet if the Count gives up trying to molest Susanna. If the baritone doesn’t play the baddie, then the audience doesn’t get to experience and understand the pain and suffering of the soprano. OK, so probably not that. 

Should I be acting in a Christian way to colleagues and audiences? Well obviously I should be doing that, but I don’t think that’s unique to being a musician. Is there something unique about working as a musician that informs how I think, and affects my relationship to God?

I think the best place to start is by telling you what musicians do, and how you become a musician.

Normally you start learning to play your instrument when at school, making music with others and taking your ABRSM exams. Then once you’ve passed your grade 8, and done A-level music, you go on to do a 4-year undergraduate course at a Music College. After that, you do a 2-year Masters, a 2-year Opera course, and then a 2-year Opera studio programme. Eventually, after more than 10 years of study in institutions, you’ve learnt to play your instrument, how to analyse and write about music, the foundations of stagecraft, and a bit of composition and how to arrange. You’ve even learnt how to translate medieval Italian poetry. Then you’re ready to start learning on the job and do a 2-year young artist programme working in an Opera company.

Nearly every musician is a self-employed, freelance contractor. There are a couple of exceptions, but if you are a Soprano who wants a full-time job with paid maternity leave, and employment rights, after the redundancies at ENO this Friday, there are now only 32 jobs in the whole of the UK. Every other job is contract to contract, moving on to the next place, and working with new people. On a typical weekend, you can do a gig in Glasgow on a Friday night, then be in Manchester on Saturday for an afternoon rehearsal and evening gig, drive to London to sing a church service on Sunday morning, do evensong, and then drive back up to Glasgow so you’re ready to rehearse on Monday morning. One of the most stressful things is sorting out all that scheduling, making sure that all these different contracts fit together so that you’re always working. 

I suppose the most visible part of our job to non-musicians is performing shows in the evening. Because it is normally quite late by the time you finish, get out of wigs and make-up, and your dresser has packed away your clothes, morning rehearsals rarely start before 10.30. Rehearsals are normally 3-hour sessions with a break, so you will warm up on your own, rehearse 10.30-1.30, have lunch, then 2.30-5.30, have dinner and be ready for a show in the evening. 

In that schedule, which will change week to week, you also need to find time to keep on top of your emails, do your invoicing and expenses, analyse, research, translate and then practice the music you need to learn, and occasionally try and see your partner. 

So, what unique insight does this itinerant lifestyle give my relationship to God other than learning how to pack your hand luggage so your concert clothes don’t crease? 

Well, making music is always an act of collaboration. Since you’re working so many different contracts at the same time, you are always working with new people. You need to quickly listen to your colleagues, and actively think about how your voice interacts with theirs. You need to understand how you are experiencing the piece, how others are experiencing it, and how that fits together into one performance that you can communicate to an audience. Even if you are performing a solo organ recital, you need to listen to the audience and understand how they are reacting to this shared experience. Music is a communal act. But those are the skills of being a good colleague and being good at customer-facing, which isn’t unique to being a musician. 

What about how Art is very efficient at communicating an experience? I watched the Toby Jones drama Mr Bates versus the Post Office the other week. It was incredibly moving, and if you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend watching it. But what I found most interesting was the ability that it had to effect political change. Computer Weekly wrote its first article about the Horizon scandal in 2009. Private Eye first wrote about it in 2011 and has been writing about it ever since. But it takes a TV series, broadcast this year, for politicians, Post Office managers, and Fujitsu bosses to start engaging seriously with this horrendous miscarriage of justice. Why? I think it’s because of how powerful art can be in sharing an experience and allowing the audience to participate in that experience. People knew the facts of the Horizon scandal but seeing and experiencing these very human stories helped people understand, and they were angry.  

But that isn’t unique to music. That’s what Art does. I think what is unique about art music is that it’s very good at communicating something that words are often inadequate in describing. Music is something that you need to listen to and experience. You can’t read about it from a book. Take for example our modern understanding of ancient music. We have no idea what the music of ancient Rome sounded like. We know about the intrigues of the Imperial court, we have love poetry that explores Roman attitudes to having an affair, and we know about the logistical needs of a soldier in Northumberland, but we don’t know what their music sounded like.

Let me try and describe one of the most famous pieces of the last 200 years and see if words can do it justice. The first musical idea is made up of 3 repeated short notes followed by a fall to a long note. The second musical idea is a contrasting 8, even note tune that is very lyrical. Each of these ideas is repeated and the repetitions get quicker and quicker, and stack one on top of the other. The exposition is repeated and then those ideas are explored harmonically in the middle section before a recapitulation in the home key. Anne and Elizabeth, can you demonstrate what I’m talking about?

PLAY OPENING OF BEETHOVEN 5, 12 seconds.

Thank you, Anne and Elizabeth for playing the opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

What I think music is very good at showing, is that describing the thing isn’t the thing. 

Another example of that is Schenkerian Analysis. When at music college, one of the analytical tools you learn is by a German, early 20th-century musicologist called Schenker. He basically stated that all tonal music, when simplified down, was based on an underlying, abstract deep structure, which he called the Ursatz, and that you could draw graphs showing the relationship between this background, the middle ground, and the foreground. You then show how important something is by how large the notes are. Riveting right? One of my favourite Alfred Brendel quotes comes from him looking at a Schenkerian graph of a Beethoven sonata. Supposedly he looked at the graph and said “Where’s my favourite passage? Oh, it’s those tiny little squiggles there.” 

Another example of how art music is very good at communicating something that words are often inadequate in describing is how Church musicians get very excited about singing the Wilcox harmonisation of the last verse of O Come All Ye Faithful. Now you only get to sing the last verse on Christmas Day. It’s the verse that starts “Yeah, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning”. There is this wonderful line “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing”, and Wilcox uses this really scrunchy chord to describe the idea of the Word becoming flesh. Technically the way to describe it would be a minor seventh flat five chord. But being able to describe it and write it down isn't experiencing it. As a musician you’ve gone through Christmas, doing the same carols again and again and again. You’re knackered and bored of the repetition. Then you hear this novel chord, which describes something miraculous, and you know that you're nearly finished and that you get a day off soon. It’s a moment that church musicians look forward to every year. I’ll not ask Anne to play it, you’ll just have to wait until Midnight Mass. Describing the effects of something isn’t the thing.

So, what am I trying to say? The brief was God at work. I think what I want to say is, thank you, Lord, that I can experience music so deeply and profoundly, in a way that words can’t always adequately describe. Thank you, Lord, that I can experience You so deeply and profoundly, in a way that words can’t always adequately describe. 

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t try. We should try intellectually rationalising the experience, analysing it, and trying to describe it so that we can understand it better. We should try to put it into words, so we can communicate and share it. But ultimately those tools only enhance the experience. They aren’t the experience.

One of the things that always gives me pleasure and refreshes my soul, is listening to Elizabeth playing Bach fugues. They’re seen as these great intellectual exercises. A fugue is constructed from a subject which is played in isolation at the beginning. Then there is a contrasting counter subject which can be played at the same time. Different voices successively play these ideas, and the listener has fun seeing how they repeat and interact with each other. Because of all those years of study, all these years of working as a musician, all these years of listening, I can follow along. But that is not what I am enjoying, even though following along, and understanding how those ideas play with each other, enhances the experience. I can get that intellectual understanding from reading the score. What I’m enjoying is Elizabeth’s playing and experiencing her communicating with me through Bach. 

This may be surprising, given the length of this talk, but one of my favourite Francis of Assisi misquotes is “Sermons should be short and use words if necessary.” Which isn’t just a jab at priests to get on with it. I think it’s trying to say sometimes words aren’t enough. If you want to communicate about God, words will ultimately fail you. In other words, proclaiming the Gospel by example is more effective than proclaiming it with the voice. In the same way that a musician gets to share a piece of music with the audience through the music, we get to share the Gospel by sharing the experience of experiencing God.

Thank you, Lord, that I can experience You so deeply and profoundly, in a way that words can’t always adequately describe. 

I’d like to finish with the choristers’ prayer. A prayer said in song schools and choir vestries by musicians before or after a service.

Bless, O Lord, us thy servants,

who minister in thy temple.

Grant that what we sing with our lips,

we may believe in our hearts,

and what we believe in our hearts,

we may show forth in our lives.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Next before LentQuinquagesima, 2024

by The Rev'd Dr Barry Orford

2 Kings 2. 1-12;

2 Corinthians 4. 3-6;

St Mark 9. 2-9

 

This year, it seems that we’ve only just recovered from Christmas and now we have Lent staring us in the face, and few of us think of Lent with enthusiasm and excitement. All too frequently, Lent feels like the Church equivalent of a school teacher saying to us, “you’ve been slacking, and you need to do a lot better.”

By tradition, Lent asks us to look at our Christian discipleship seriously. To begin with, we’re meant to think about our sins against God and other people. That’s important, of course; but doing it for five weeks could become a bit unbalanced, as though God has no interest in us apart from condemning our sins. (Admittedly, some Christians do picture God in just those terms.)

Also, I’m sure you’ll have heard sometime the message that Lent is an opportunity to “share in Christ’s sufferings.” But how can we imagine ourselves into feeling Our Lord’s physical and spiritual torments during His Passion? Anyway, most of us have trials enough, without wishing to add to them. Isn’t it enough that Christ should suffer for us without thinking that we should suffer with Him? Christian discipleship will always bring its hardships - Christ warned us it would - but we’re not meant to chase after them. 

Perhaps we need to look again at how we keep Lent, and why. Certainly it’s a time to think about the events leading to Our Lord’s crucifixion, and what He makes of them, and what they say about human behaviour, including our own. Yet the word Lent means Spring, a time for fresh growth, and we need to see Lent in that light. And there’s the clue – Light. It’s light which is at the heart of our readings today, and they can help us in our Lenten observance.

The Gospel reading is a familiar passage about the three chosen disciples who witness Jesus transfigured by the Light and Glory of God. Now, it’s natural to think that this event is something which happens to Our Lord; but the truth is that the real transformation takes place in Peter, James and John. The glory which they see in Jesus is a glory which is always there, though usually hidden. But in this moment, the disciples are given the gift of seeing with rinsed eyes. They’re given a glimpse of the Lord’s Divine nature which will be fully revealed in His Resurrection.

Does this sound extraordinary? It shouldn’t. There are many testimonies from people who have seen the Light of God shining through people and things. Moses saw it in a desert bush; Elisha saw Elijah being swept away in a Light intense as fire. That’s why St Mark includes Moses and Elijah as supplementary witnesses to Christ’s glory. To come nearer to home, in the 1930’s, a friend of the great Anglican spiritual writer, Evelyn Underhill, recorded visiting her and for a moment seeing light streaming from her.

The light of God may come to us as something seen, though that’s probably rare. More likely it comes as a sense of God’s presence with us, or as something which illuminates our minds and lifts our hearts. It’s this knowledge that the Glory of God is all about us which provides a foundation for keeping Lent. We can’t clear our sight by our own efforts – glimpses of God are a gift – but we can ask where we are putting up barriers which hinder us from becoming aware of God. This is what St Paul is saying when he tells the Corinthians that we can make choices which prevent us “from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4)

If, in Lent, we give some thought to our sins, then we need to see them not simply as infringements of rules, but as things we deliberately decide to do which block from us the light of God in its varied manifestations. Sins are always freely chosen; on some level of ourselves, we decide to do things which will cause veils to fall between us and God.

Looking at our temptations to sin in this way enables us to see them from a new angle. There’s no benefit from indulging in spiritual nit-picking about how wicked we are. (Most of us never achieve that distinction.) Instead, Lent becomes the time when we remind ourselves that as Christians, we’re called to offer ourselves to be enlightened by God, and by God’s grace a little of that light may break through us to others.

So me must ask, what are the things in my life which prevent me from receiving the light of God? (And let’s remember that in our time the things which block God’s paths to us may be familiar ones like too much food and drink, and too little time in prayer, but they may also be such things as too much involvement with social media.) We should ask the Holy Spirit to show us where our problems lie, then we can ask, what changes is God wanting me to make which will help to keep my relationship with God open?

This way, the traditional Lenten self-denials cease to be dreary restrictions, and can become a means of walking the path toward the Light. Our Lenten disciplines are meant to assist God in opening our eyes, our hearts, our minds to what we’ve never noticed before.

For example, Fr Jack tells me that here, in Lent, you turn to the BCP for your Sunday Eucharist. You may like that, or you may not care for it; but come to it ready to find an opportunity for seeing something in your worship which you’ve not previously seen.

We are God’s work in progress. Come to Lent not to be miserable, but as the opportunity to be prepared for Glory.

Second Sunday Before Lent

By Fr Jack

 

The fifth of five 'Teaching Eucharists'

 

We engaged in a helpful 'Q and A' reviewing some of the thought provoking content of the previous Masses.

 

We also reflected on the Baptism rite: the three signs of water, oil and light. Their resonances in Scripture, and their powerful communication of the Paschal Mystery into the life of the Baptism candidate

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

By Fr Jack

 

The fourth of five 'Teaching Eucharists'

 

Epiclesis - Come Holy Ghost!

 

After the Preface we sing the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, the Sanctus. We join our voices with the song of the angels in heaven, as both Isaiah in the Old Testament and St John in the New Testament book of Revelation tell us (Isaiah 6.3 and Rev 4). We are stepping out of time and into eternity. Heaven is here and now, and we stand with saints and angels. Death, time, distance - all such barriers are rendered obsolete: in this song we are welcomed to the Banquet of the Lamb. It is about to happen.

 

And hot on the heels of the Sanctus, usually comes the Epiclesis - the invocation of the Holy Spirit. We ask the Spirit to come. 

 

Charismatic Christians (with a capital C) are known for energetic worship. They may throw their hands in the air, convulse on the floor ‘slain in the Spirit’. They seek miracles. The rest of us who aren’t ‘Charismatic’ are sometimes thought to be rather lukewarm (Rev 3.16). Actually it is nothing of the sort. As people of the Eucharist, all Christians are Charismatic: of the Spirit. We trust that God turns up.

    Jesus promised us that He would be with us until He comes again, so He gave us the Eucharist. God the Holy Spirit is the seal of this promise, and it is kept. We invite the Spirit to turn bread and wine into Jesus with us, just as He said. By God’s outrageous love and lavish grace, in mystery and truth, so it is. 

 

‘Send down your Holy Spirit, that these gifts of bread and wine may be to us the Body and Blood of your dear Son…’

 

 

Jesus is the host, the guest, the meal.

 

There are saccharine Victorian postcards that show a priest offering the Eucharist, and the priest is faded out and Jesus is suddenly forefront saying the words and offering Holy Communion to the people. The artistry is dated, but the substance is as good as ever. It is Jesus who invites us here and does what He desires to do.

 

St Giles’ Church has been pulled from pillar to post over the years. We were a medieval church, then a Puritan one, then one that threw out a Puritan 400 years ago for being extreme (so he made his way to the little chapel of St Helen at Bishopsgate, where presumably he would still be at home!). Then along came the doldrums of the eighteenth century, and the (both Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic) fervour of the nineteenth. 

    We have found our way now (along with much of the Church of England) to a rather beautiful, deep place of belonging to all Christians, everywhere. A faith that is ancient and fresh, Catholic and Reformed. The old battles for which we burned each other are long past. Our liturgy is now pretty indistinguishable from the Methodists and the Roman Catholics. Our faith and worship would be recognisable (hopefully) to saints of every age and place. We are Christians, that is all. And hopefully we offer the particular gifts of our Anglican Tradition. 

 

So, as Christians, we come to Jesus, as He gives Himself to us. 

It is mystery, love, a promise kept, a foretaste of what will be, and food for the journey through life until we get there. It is ever so simple, and a gift beyond all possibility of telling. ‘Take, eat. This is my body…’

 

What was it HM the Late Queen Elizabeth I 

is supposed to have said? 

’Twas God the Word that spake it,
He took the Bread and brake it:
And what that Word did make it,
That I believe and take it.’

 

 

Our Father

 

Now at the heart of the Eucharist, Jesus is with us and we pray the words He taught us to pray. In whatever language or version we prefer, our voices are united in offering this perfect prayer. Each line is worthy of meditation. 

 

Jesus told us to do it, so we do. 

 

All the Lord’s Prayers we have offered in the mornings and bedtimes of the week, on buses, or when we sit down at the desk, or as we come here to church: they are all drawn into this offering of the Lord’s Prayer at the heart of the Eucharist, at the heart of the week.

 

 

The Fraction

 

In the Breaking of the Bread we are ready to recognise Jesus, just as the disciples did at Emmaus after His resurrection (St Luke 24.30). 

    Also, we are brought to the foot of the cross on Calvary and witness His body, broken, in the torture and death He suffered. His blood is poured out (1 Cor. 11.26). 

    In this moment (as in the Eucharist as a whole) time and space are all simultaneously present, gathered in.

 

 

The Centurion’s words

 

Often at this point we adopt the words of the Centurion in St Matthew’s Gospel (8.8-13). The Centurion’s beloved servant was ill. He came to Jesus and asked His help. Jesus offered to come. But the Centurion said that he was not worthy to have Jesus come into his home, but if Jesus only spoke the word, he knew that his beloved servant would be healed.

 

We say that although our bodies are not worthy to house Jesus, if He speaks the word, we shall be healed. 

    God’s healing is not only of sickness or symptom, but a deeper healing: the wholeness and life-bringing fullness of the Kingdom.

Lamb of God

 

At this point we reaffirm what St John the Baptist said: that Jesus is the Lamb of God (St John 1.29,36). The true Lamb, slain once and for always. 

    No more sacrifice is necessary, Jesus has done it (Hebrews 10.26). This Lamb has removed the power of death and all evil, all darkness, forever. Because He is not just a lamb, but God Himself (Ephesians 5.26). 

    That promise has been made in Christ and will be consummated when He comes again. We look backwards to the Cross, we are here and now, and we look forwards to Christ’s return. ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!’

 

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us, 

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us,

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; grant us peace.

 

 

Holy Communion 

 

As we come for Holy Communion we are told what we are about to receive (the body/blood of Christ) and we say ‘Amen’. That is, ‘Yes, I know.’ Apparently, an old monk once shocked a young monk at Communion when he simply said: ‘Yes, I know’ instead of ‘Amen’.

 

In Holy Communion, we take the love of God into our bodies. It is an intimate moment. Profound and transformative, but simple and humble. Not caviar and champagne, but bread and wine.

 

The State of Grace that we enter at Communion is not by our will or achievement. It isn’t a thought or a strategy or a policy or a contract, it is the simple, earthy, reality of eating and drinking. In the Sacrament, love is made matter, and becomes part of us. 

 

That’s why the first thing Buzz Aldrin did on the Moon in 1969  was share Communion that he had brought from his church. 

‘Amen.’

 

 

Go!

 

And now it is time to go. Not because the party is over, but because it is continuing. Calling it Holy Communion highlights our communion with God and the Body of Christ. The Lord’s Supper reminds us who has called us here. The Eucharist puts the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving at the heart of this heavenly feast. The other name for this is the Mass. That name comes from the final words: ‘Ite, missa est’ 'Go away!’ 

Well, actually, ‘Go, it is sent’: ‘Go in the peace of Christ’. 

 

All that we’ve been about here has been a gathering, a feeding and a sending. Each Sunday (and midweek too) is the ‘locker room’ in the game of life when we come to be with Jesus, to be refreshed and renewed, and then go out and live for Him.

 

We are being sent to live lives shaped like the Eucharist. Lives that embody all that we have done here: lives of praise, love, care, nurture, and sacrifice.

 

As we heard at the beginning of our pilgrimage, at our Baptism: 

 

‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father!’

Third Sunday of Epiphany 

by Fr Jack

Genesis 14. 17-20;

Revelation 19. 6-10;

St John 2. 1-11

 

The third of five 'Teaching Eucharists'

 

The Peace

 

It is Christ’s Peace. 

We acknowledge that the Lord is here. 

That He has drawn us together, and that we are one in Him. 

So, if we have a grievance with someone, or especial love for someone, or if it’s someone we’ve never met before - all and any of those: we are one in Christ (St Matt 5.23). 

And then, we are ready as one, to go to the altar of God (Colossians 3.15).

 

The Offertory vs. Collection

 

And we don’t go to the altar empty handed. We approach by means of the Offertory. That is not the collection. At the collection we acknowledge that everything comes from God, the least we can do is give a ‘thank you’ back. The Church of England recommends tithing 10% - perhaps 5% to the parish church and 5% to other charities (Leviticus 27.30: “tithe” or “עשר” or “ten” ). I’m sure we each have our own pattern. 

 

I purposefully don’t know who gives what to St Giles’, but nonetheless I want to thank you for your generosity. We need it, and we rejoice in it. Personally, I give a little over 10% each month of what pings into my bank account and I find that really freeing and good. I recommend it!

 

Under the offertory hymn (as the collection is taken) bread and wine are presented as an offering. That’s why they are brought up from the people. We offer them for sacrifice (it’s a lot tidier than a sheep or goat, thankfully). We offer bread and wine to God, and God gives them back to us a few moments later, when they have become the Lamb who was slain: Christ. 

 

It’s a very powerful moment of gift, transformation and return. Given from earth - they touch heaven - and then we are invited into the fringes of heaven to receive them here, before returning, spiritually recharged, to earth. (1 Corinthians 10:16-21 and Hebrews 10.10)

 

Sursum Corda 

 

As this transformation takes place we sing loads. The Old Testament is full of singing - Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) that will be taken up by Mary’s Magnifcat centuries later (St Luke 1). David’s Psalms. The chants of the Temple. In the New Testament Jesus and the others sing psalms and hymns at the Last Supper (St Mat 26.30). 

    Human beings were made to worship; and song and worship go hand in hand. You may not be a strong singer, but your singing delights God and does you good no matter what. Singing together is one of the most beneficial things we can do, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually. This is no accident, after all, we’re made to worship. St Augustine famously said, ‘the one who sings, prays twice’. Singing our prayers carries them deeper inside us, and it throws them up joining our voices with the song of heaven (Rev 5.8). 

 

And so we sing: ‘hearts up!’ 

In English we say ‘li-i-i-ift up you-r-r hear-r-ts’. But the original Latin ‘sursum corda’ is more direct. Is it an instruction or a statement of fact? “Sursum corda’: ’Hearts up!’

    And what a wonderful thing to have: hearts that aren’t low, or locked away for fear that they might get trampled on. But hearts that are lifted up. What a way to live! And that is what we are aspiring to now.

 

And we give thanks, as ‘it is meet and right so to do’. ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving’. 

    We are people who decide day by day and Sunday by Sunday to define our lives, to spend our time, giving thanks. A people defined by gratitude and open hearts - that is who Chrisitians are. And it’s true of us today, with so much to give thanks for, as it is for many persecuted Christians gathering to celebrate the Eucharist in fear, as it is for Christians who time and again in our family story have offered the Eucharist with the last piece of bread they have. A people defined by gratitude and open hearts - that’s our aim, so we sing it until it becomes so.

 

Eucharistic Preface

 

It has been said that ‘The Eucharist makes the Church’ - in every sense of those words. We eat what we are and are what we eat: the Body of Christ. Jesus didn’t come to give us a new religion. He already had a religion, He was and is a faithful Jew. Jesus came to give us the Church. A community, His body, His gift, then and now. Imperfect, ridiculous, and utterly amazing. 

    

Jesus directly gave us The Eucharist so that we could be the Church; to be with Him until He comes again. His life given to us day by day and week by week, so that we would be His Body on earth until He comes again and everything is made new in His Kingdom (1 Corinthians 10:16-21, St John 14.1-7). It all makes sense. Read the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and St John’s Gospel Chapter 6 - it’s all there.

 

So the priest, on behalf of us all (priests always act on behalf of everyone in liturgy), praises God for God’s goodness in the words of the Preface. The same themes of salvation and grace are woven with seasonal specific images. They are beautiful and ancient words.The devisers of Common Worship (the year 2000  liturgy for the C of E that we use) took great pains to translate and use ancient prayers and texts from the early centuries of the church, and different denominations.

 

The prefaces tell us a lot, but they aren’t simply didactic. These prayers don’t just tell us about God for our benefit. The Eucharist does something. That’s why we offer the Eucharist and other prayers in St Giles’ every day, irrespective if there is a congregation or much of one. We don’t just worship for us. 

 

By offering the Eucharist the world is transformed, the love at the heart of the universe is let in that little bit more, the broken hearts and lives of human beings everywhere are met in solidarity, and held in love. We come to church for other people, joined with all people, as much as for ourselves. 

The universe is changed every time we celebrate the Eucharist because we join in with what God is doing. We don’t do anything, we join our lives that bit more with what God is doing. It is indeed a ‘fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10.31). And in the Eucharist we jump in with both feet.

 

‘It’s not just about us’, you say… so what if no one comes?

 

‘Success’ for the Eucharist is not necessarily lots of people. We do want to invite the whole world here, but not because it’s about numbers: it’s about God, people, love, life. ‘Success’ is us fulfilling our purpose, not ‘counting heads’. After all, at the Eucharist we not only celebrate the Resurrection and the  banquet of heaven, we also conform our lives to the crucified one - His body broken and blood poured out, and we literally take that into ourselves. 

 

‘Success’ for us looks like the cross and resurrection of Jesus, which is very different from worldly measures that the church is always in danger of being seduced by. 

 

But if we are being what  we’re called to be: full-fat, caffeinated Christians, then we shouldn’t be surprised if other people want to join the party. Because this party of praise and thanksgiving is (literally) heavenly. It is human beings being what we were made to be, it is us as close to God as we can be on this side of death, changing the world with love. 

 

Come as you are, and bring the whole world with you.

Second Sunday of Epiphany 

by Fr Edwin

1 Samuel 3. 1-10;
Revelation 5. 1-10;
St John 1. 43-51

 

The second of five 'Teaching Masses'

 

As Fr Jack explained last week, each of these Sundays leading up to Lent will be what are called ‘Teaching Masses’ or ‘Teaching Eucharists’: instead of a sermon we’re delving more deeply into the Eucharist itself, and exploring its constituent parts, in four main chunks. Last week Fr Jack talked about the opening part of the service. This week we’ll look at what’s called the Liturgy of the Word: the readings, the hymns, and so on. Next week we’ll look at the Eucharistic prayer, and the week after we’ll consider receiving communion and being sent out, all to help us to engage better and more prayerfully with the Paschal mystery that sits at the heart of our worship.

 

Now before I begin I want to go back to something Fr Jack said last week that is so important in understanding the liturgy, and will be particularly so today as we consider the Liturgy of the Word. Fr Jack talked about the notion of a journey: a journey through the building, a journey through the liturgy, a journey through the story, a journey through the Christian life. The notion of journey is utterly integral to our worship. 

 

Worship isn’t just a spectator sport, in which we can sit and watch it happening around us. Nor is our liturgy just an aqueous solution into which we can drop different elements, like readings and prayers in any old order. Rather, our worship is one journey in which we all must participate with our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. And the shape of this journey isn’t arbitrary but is, in many ways, given to us by Christ himself. 

 

You may remember the road to Emmaus, when the disciples walk with the risen Christ, whom they don’t yet recognise. Having confessed their confusion and opened their hearts to him, they hear him unfold Scripture, and then see him revealed to them in the breaking of the bread. Sacramental worship follows the same journey, and must contain the same elements. Learning about Christ in Scripture is incomplete without meeting him in the sacrament. Meeting him in the sacrament cannot happen without knowing who it is we meet through Scripture.

 

And so we go on this journey both physically and metaphorically. As Fr Jack said last week, we enter past the waters of baptism in the font, and so enter into the main Body of Christ. Here we enact the stuff of our Christian lives—prayer, the study of Scripture, adoration—before finally moving forward through the gate of death (historically a screen with the Cross of Christ above it) into the sanctuary of heaven, where with choirs of angels, we encounter the real presence of God. Birth, life, death, resurrection. A journey of our feet as well as our hearts.

 

And this is really important for us today as we consider the Liturgy of the Word (the readings, hymns, Gospel, sermon, creed and intercessions). For some of us, this is the most ‘enjoyable’ bit. For some of us, this is the bit we want to rush through to get to the good stuff beyond. But either way, this is the part that represents where we are now: trying to understand our history, and how we and Christ fit into that; trying to understand our present, discerning Christ among us, learning how to live out the Gospel, praying for the world; and preparing ourselves for our future, as if we’re peaking through the veil to the glory that awaits us. 

 

So let’s look at each of its parts! 

 

Readings and psalm
First, the readings and the psalm. Why do Christians read the Bible in worship? Well, predominantly so that we can understand our story. We read the Bible not just to hear the story of people long ago, but to understand our story: how we fit into the story of God, the story of his people, the story of his revelation in Christ, the story of our salvation. As Martin Luther said of the Bible: ‘de te loquitur’, ‘it’s talking about you’. 

 

When in our first reading God says, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’, he is calling all of us by name to be his people, his prophets. In our reading from Revelation, we know that is we that are somehow called God’s saints, a kingdom and priests serving him. In our Gospel, St Philip is inviting us to discover Jesus, when he says, ‘Come and see’. We read the Bible together, not just with the people in the pews next to us, but the people of God down the generations, and the people of God who appear in its pages.

 

Hymnody
The next element of our Liturgy of the Word is our hymnody, our hymn-singing. We do this for various reasons—hymns teach us, commit things to heart and to memory in a way that words alone can’t, hymns build our community and fellowship as together we sing unto the Lord—but perhaps the most obvious and important reason we sing hymns is, simply, worship. As Fr Jack said last week, our primary call as human beings is to worship our creator, and how natural it is for heartfelt worship to bubble up into song. And that doesn’t simply mean joy all the time, it can mean lament and confession, as well as thanksgiving, praise and wonder. Hymn-singing touches something deep within us in a way that words alone barely can.

 

Gospel
Next let’s look at the Gospel and its procession. If the Liturgy of the Word represents our Christian life here on earth, this side of glory, then the Gospel procession dramatises the Incarnation, the coming into our midst of the Word made flesh. The Word of God comes from the heavenly altar and journeys into his people, accompanied by, of course, the Cross. We turn with our hearts and our bodies towards Christ in our midst, and hear him speaking to us once more. This is the summit of our Liturgy of the Word: here Christ is revealed in word, before he is revealed in flesh and blood at the altar. 

 

And here we practise too discerning Christ among us. We practise using our bodies, our eyes and ears to discern Christ in our midst—in the people around us, in our friends and neighbours, in the homeless woman outside—and we practise turning our hearts to them.

 

Sermon
Next we hear the sermon, which I’m sure is your favourite part, and you can’t wait for it. The sermon is simply an aid. We have listened to the word, and now we listen to its interpretation, or rather an interpretation from people we, hopefully, trust. The preacher doesn’t tell us what to think, as much as she or he encourages us to think: to connect what we have heard to our lives and our world; to consider what this means for our faith; to provide further context, information or interpretations to help us understand what particularly impenetrable or disparate parts of Scripture might be saying. But the chief preacher is, of course, Christ. Christ is the perfect revelation of God and God’s will, and if we ever need to understand what God is saying to us in Scripture, we look to Christ, to whom hopefully, every preacher will point.

 

Creed
After the sermon, we pause to consider what all we have heard means for us and for our faith. And then we stand and affirm that faith, taking ownership of it, if you will, in the creed. The Church has three main creeds: the Apostles’ Creed (which is the shortest, perhaps the most personal, and used at baptisms, and morning and evening prayer), the Nicene Creed (or to give it its full name, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, is the longer, collective affirmation of faith we use at the Eucharist, and will use today), and the Athanasian Creed (which goes on forever, and we are only subjected to once a year at Easter). 

 

The creeds are, of course, born out of the early councils of the Church as a way of setting in stone precisely what we believe in order to weed out heresies, but for us today, they’re ways of calling to mind the central elements of our faith: the mystery of who God is, and who we are in him. 

Each time we read them, we might feel different things: we might say them proudly or tentatively, might be encouraged or confused, new things might jump out at us. The creed is a summary of our faith, but it isn’t our faith itself. The creed only comes to life, is only made sense of, in the context of the revelation of Christ in word and in sacrament.

 

And, during the creed, we bow at the account of the Incarnation: ‘he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.’ We reverence this amazing mystery with our bodies. Just as Christ humbled himself in the Incarnation, so we humble ourselves before him. 

 

Intercessions
And finally, the intercessions, the prayers of the people. These are not simply a divine shopping list, telling God what we want. Instead here, just like with bowing in the creed, or turning during the Gospel procession, we are putting ourselves in the posture of Christ, who loves and intercedes for our world. We come to God and hold before him the brokenness and need of our world, and bring that with us to the Eucharist, the saving mystery of Christ, who entered into that brokenness and redeemed it, and who at the altar gives us a glimpse of a world beyond war and suffering and death.


So that, dear friends, was a whistle-stop tour through the Liturgy of the Word, the part of our journey in which we discover again who we are as the worshipping, listening, believing and praying people of God, and in which we ready ourselves to encounter our Lord once more, through the gates of glory.

The Epiphany of the Lord

Parish Eucharist

7th January 2024

by Fr Jack

 

The first of five 'Teaching Masses'

 

Some people have asked for Teaching Eucharists, so here we are. ‘Why?s and wherefore?s’… 

We’ll also produce a booklet - a guide through all this for the back of church and the website.

 

So today I’ll meander through the opening actions of the Eucharist, and in the coming weeks we’ll look at a few in turn in place of the sermon. Don’t worry if you don’t remember it all. Hold on to one or two things, and then perhaps enjoy the webpage or the book in church once it’s ready. It’s especially appropriate top consider these things in Epiphanytide. At Epiphany the Magi represent all of us who are gentiles coming to Jesus - the great showing of Emmanuel. Just as we will reveal God with us in these teaching Eucharists - what we do and why, and how God uses it to enrich us. Like the Magi to the Christchild, we come to worship and be transformed, and God shows God’s self to us.

 

The Procession

 

We assemble each Sunday. It is what Christians do - it is in our DNA to assemble on the Resurrection Day. 

Church, from the Greek ‘Ecclesia’, means ‘assembly’.

God draws us together. 

 

And then from amongst our midst - the entrance of the ministers in procession (even just a procession of one, sometimes!) This isn’t just about pomp. It has a theological value too. Processions in Church remind us that we are ‘a people on the move’. We are sojourers, pilgrims through this life, on our way home to heaven. The stories of the Exodus and the Promised Land aren’t limited to the Old Testament. Quite the reverse, they are there because they are to be echoed from the pages of the Old Testament into all human life.The Procession at the beginning and end of each service signifies this, and reminds us of our true nature.

 

Vesture 

 

Very early on Christians began to ‘dress up’ for worship. The poshest things they could think of were the Roman senatorial robes. So they inspired the priestly vestments still used today. Each has a significance. The alb (meaning white) echoes Revelation (7.14) speaking of our Baptismal identity - those robed in white, washed in Christ’s blood. The stole is a symbol of priestly authority. The girdle is chastity and temperance. The amice is a spiritual helmet. The chasuble is God’s all-encompassing love. Incidentally, the great and good of Rome would often be proceeded in the streets by acolytes with torches and a censer burning sweet smelling incense to purify the way through the smelly streets. Of course on our altar is the vision of the angels swinging censers before God, from both the Old Testament (Exodus 30), and Revelation (chapter 8) in the New Testament. This is an honour Christians came to give the Gospel book, the processions in church. They wanted to give God their best after all. That’s why are vestments are beautiful too, and our church building for that matter; purposely so. We give God our best. 

 

They are not about priests dressing up! Promise! They help the priest’s individuality take a back seat as s/he simply performs their role in the assembly. It’s about Jesus’ priesthood not any ordained clergy person taking centre stage. For as long as the priest is celebrating the Eucharist s/he is ‘in persona Christi’ (in the person of Christ) - it isn’t about them, it’s about Jesus, in whose place they stand to administer the Sacraments to His people. That’s why we stand as clergy process in and out, and some people bow as the celebrant passes, not because of the person walking in, but because Jesus ministers to us through priests.

 

Reverence the altar 

 

This place is the heart of the church. A place of miracles. As we enter church, and as the procession does, we bow to the altar. 

Most churches are a progression from font (by the door) to altar (at the east end). The architecture takes us on a theological journey, a mini pilgrimage from birth to death and beyond death to heaven (see the east window full of Saints - the Company of Heaven). 

We bow to the altar, and genuflect (bend the right knee) to the Sacrament of Holy Communion itself. It may not be something you’re used to. Don’t worry, give it a try. Clearly in belongs to courtly fashions in times gone by, when we would have bowed to Lords and Ladies, Kings and Queens. It may seem a unnatural when you start bowing or genuflecting, but soon you’ll find that your body can help you pray even when our minds might wonder! Our bodies, and the physical movements of the ritual can anchor us in prayer, remind us, stir us to worship in a deeper way than our minds on their own.

 

Begin in God’s Name and the sign of the cross

 

A good example of that comes next: the Sign of the Cross. Traditionally Christians make the sign when we invoke the name of the Trinity. In the west we go up, down, left, right. In the Orthodox east they go up, down, right, left. 

    Making this physical prayer, this gesture, your body is saying: ‘Yes, I take the cross of Christ and make it my own. Yes, amen, My body is a part of His Body’. We take His death and resurrection, the mystery into which we were baptized and say ‘yes, I am part of this story’. Perhaps you’ve never done that before. Give it a go, let your body pray as well as your conscious mind.

 

And as we make that sign we say that everything we do from here on in is done in the Name of the Trinity. Names are powerful. In ancient times, and in theological terms, names are not just labels or a means of talking about something or someone, the name is the presence and essence of the person or thing itself. That’s why the Jews don’t speak the Name of God, because it’s so powerful. Jesus’ name is given him by an angel (Lk 1.31), so is St John the Baptist (Lk 1.13). The name of God is written on the foreheads of the redeemed in Revelation (Rev. 14.1). Names are powerful, we begin our worship, and the week ahead in God’s Holy Name. We pray through the Name of Jesus (Jn 14.13-14). God’s name is God’s power (Psalm 83.18). 

 

So we begin to worship

 

Worship is our primary calling, and all life flows out of it. Birds sing, fly, eat, reproduce. We do all that too. But our worship is our highest calling, our truest and most honest use of time. After all it is what we will do forever in heaven. Just as Charles Wesley, who’s grandfather was vicar here, and his brother curate of our St Luke’s Old Street says in his hymn Love Divine: ‘when we cast our crowns before Him, lost in wonder, love and praise'. 

 

Some people are fond of saying ‘you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’. But being a Christian isn’t just a matter of what you believe - Jesus is God. Or being nice, being kind or giving to charity. Christ came that we might be drawn into relationship with God - and that is built on worship! Can you be a Christian without coming to Church? … ‘Why try?’ Is my answer!

 

Time in worship is not productive. It can’t be measured or submitted to a Management Consultancy process of analysis and improvement. It is the beginnings, faltering with the limitations of our earthly life, on an ecstatic union that will last forever and fulfil all the longings of our nature. Medieval writers and saints often used sexual imagery for prayer and worship, being the closest we have with the blunt instruments of language to say what we are doing here. That’s why art and music are so key to our faith, they reach beyond what we can say, feel or know. Sunday church, receiving Holy Communion may not feel terrible charged in a super-erotic-ecstasy-kind-of-way most of the time (if it does, great, but prob not most weeks!), but in fact it is the same depth of being and alive-ness, that those experiences are reaching for. When we worship we fulfil our place in the universe. We swim with the tide of life, like birds when they sing and fly.

 

Confession 

 

So is it a come down to then fall into the Confession? What a gloomy start!?

No! A fresh start.

 

I used to think this need to confess at the start of most acts of worship could be a little overdone, but as I have grown into adulthood, and aware of my shortcomings both inherent and systematic, and also the stupid stuff I think, say and do day by day - I am more and more grateful for this space to articulate and let go of those barnacles of life week by week.

 

In the monastery, the monks end each day with Compline, Night Prayer. It begins with a confession. They wipe clean all the emotional, spiritual, relational mud they have acquired in the course of the day, and ready themselves for a good night’s sleep, and, when it comes, a good death. Confession is such a gift.

Epiphany. Evensong with Holy Baptism by Fr Jack

 

The Magi represent us, coming to the manger. Here God shows Himself. Not warrior or emperor, not a captain of industry, but a tiny baby. God’s strength in weakness.

 

He will destroy death and take away its power, by a shameful, sad death. God defies all our small boxes and shows through weakness, strength, through death, life.

 

This is the God who reveals Himself to this little baby, come for Baptism, today too. The Lord of heaven and earth, unknowable, immutable, before whom even our best efforts of language, art, music are blunt instruments. 

Says through the prophecy Isaiah to Sammy today, ‘I will hold your hand, I will go with you through life’. So to all of us. 

Not that life will always be easy, or as we want it, but I will be with you. That’s what God says to Sammy today, to all of us if we choose to hear God.

That’s why God came to be with us in Jesus, because He came to be with us.

 

After all, from age 1 - 30 (apart from the brief episode of the finding of the adolescent Jesus in the temple) we hear nothing of Jesus in the Gospels. What was He doing all that time? Well, living a human life. God came and spent 30 years hanging out with us. He ‘wasted’ all that time, being with us: life, relationships, work, worship, community. What an amazing thing for God to do.

 

But it’s not just the offer of friendship with God Samuel gets today.

 

This Sacrament of Baptism also speaks to Sammy’s and all of our belovedness. 

St Paul wiring to the Ephesians today condemns the lusts of the flesh. Remembering that in St Paul’s world, men could possess and exploit women and boys all they liked. It was a world in which life was cheap and power, everything. 

Whereas the Christian view of life is one in which each and every creature is beloved of our creator. St Paul is writing against these horrible social mores and pointing us to a better way. St Paul wants us to know that our dignity and beauty, our belovedness, is not the result of status or wealth or anything else, but because God has made us so. 

 

This is the reality proclaimed, the promise sealed in Baptism by the Holy Spirit through water, oil and light. Samuel you are beloved, of these people and of God. You are loved not because of what you do, or what the world thinks of you, or what others do to you or you to them, but because you are a child of God. 

 

But it’s not just the offer of friendship with God, and this promise of humanity and belovedness that Samuel receives today.

 

The last thing I want to highlight for us today is that Samuel is to be ‘quickened’, as St Paul says, (that’s not to be sped up, quickened, but as in ‘the quick and the dead’), to be brought to life in a new and life-changing way. (By the way, embrace the arcane words of the Prayer Book today. These words have brought God and humanity together in a beautiful poetic dance for centuries. They may need a little unpacking at times, but you’re all up to that I know.) Anyway, back to Samuel being quickened today…

 

Jesus died and rose again. In baptism, it is as if we had too. We get the gift of resurrection life without having to go to calvary ourselves. Just as St Paul says, next time Sammy faces death - we have confidence that death has already been put behind him, through his baptism. Death and sin and darkness and hell have no more claim over him - even in our frailty and the rubbish bits of the human condition - no, Samuel has been sealed with an eternal promise.

 

Life is an adventure. 

God has called us to this amazing pilgrimage of life. God bless Samuel as he treads the way of life in God’s friendship, beloved as he is, and with all you wonderful people as companions, on the way of life, home to heaven.

St Giles' Cripplegate Church
Fore Street
London EC2Y 8DA

 

Registered Charity               Number 1138077

Sunday 

8.30- 8.50 Morning Prayer

10.00-11.10 Parish Eucharist with Children's Sunday Club

4.00-4.45 Choral Evensong on 1st Sunday of the month.  

4.00-4.45 Little St Luke's Church at St Luke's CofE Primary School on 2nd Sunday of the month 

4.00-4.20 Evening Prayer

on 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays in the month. 

 

Monday 

8.00 - 8.20 Holy Eucharist
8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer
5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer
 
Tuesday

8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer 

5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer

6.00 - 6.20 Holy Eucharist

 
Wednesday
8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer 
10.00 - 10.20 Holy Eucharist and coffee 
12.30 - 1.00 Bible Study in the Rectory
5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer
 
Friday 
8.30 - 8.50 Morning Prayer
12.30 - 12.55 Holy Communion BCP 1662       
5.30 - 5.50 Evening Prayer

 

Wednesday 19 June             Lectio  Divina on Zoom  at 7.30pm.

Please contact Susan Royce for details   susanjroyce@gmail.com

 

2024 Dates for Silent Prayer from 1-1.30 pm and Cleaning Angels from 1.30-3pm with tea and cake, on first Thursday of the month.

You are invited to join others in church on  the first Thursday of the month.

If you are not able to join us, we hope you will continue to pray with us wherever you are,

  • 6 June,
  • 4 July
  • not in August
  • 5 September
  • 3 October
  • 7 November
  •  5 December.
     

2024 Dates for Standing Committee Meetings - held in the Rectory at 6.15pm

  • 3rd June
  • 16th September
  • 4th November

 

2024 Dates for PCC Meetings

(please note the themes for each meeting in Dark Blue) held in the church at 7.30pm but in the Rectory when with Supper,

  • 3rd July 
  • 7th October   Safeguarding

 
Parish Office Hours

For the Parish Administrator 
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10am-4pm

Phone 07535 442955 or 

tola@stgileschurch.com 
 

For the Bookings and Events Co-ordinator, Buildings Supervisor 

Phone 07766 202731 or 

jake@stgileschurch.com 


Safeguarding is at the heart of our Christian faith. We are all made unique and in the image of God.

‘Jesus came that we might have life and have it in abundance’ John 10 v 10.

St Giles’ works to ensure a safe environment for everyone. Please click the ‘safeguarding' tab on this website for more information.

Print | Sitemap
© St Giles Cripplegate Church