Parish Priest's Review Sermon 2014
27th Apr 2014
HOLY CROSS CHURCH CROMER STREET LONDON WC1H 8JU.
PARISH PRIEST’S REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2013-2014.
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER 2014.
The Sundays that follow the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead see the Church taking a quantum leap forward. Our New Testament readings are taken from the Acts of the Apostles, and detail the miraculous coming into being of the Christian community. Our Gospel readings are taken from John, who writes to encourage the growing Christian Church. The Resurrection exists for the Church as a kind of raw energy, and the truth of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus from the dead rests now not on theory or supposition but upon its being experienced in fact and responded to in deed and with joy in our hearts. In other words, the Resurrection elicits the Christian response. It is the response emerging out of the renewal of life it makes possible. It is for us a response to those things we have seen and known in the expression of our life together. The Resurrection transforms everything it touches, for it communicates new life. We, like the women at the tomb, and like Peter and John and the disciples, and particularly like ‘doubting’ Thomas, are to be witnesses in our own time and place to the resurrection in the now. It is in the now all become one in Jesus Christ risen from the dead! We, with Thomas then utter the great and trusting cry of Easter faith, “My Lord and my God!” Easter is what God wants for his people.
This Easter message informs us as we meet in church today to review the past year and to plan for our mission in the year to come. In the past year at Holy Cross Church we have celebrated our 125th year in a beautiful and evocative Mass of celebration last All Souls day as we rededicated our Walsingham Chapel and remembered the hundred years in this church of the ministry of Fr Hope Patten, re-builder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Out of this has grown the regular recitation of the holy rosary on Fridays at 11 am, which is prayerfully attended… During this year the church has undergone extensive repair and restoration of parts of the roof, sky lights and windows in time for Easter, and now at least 30% more light shines into our vestry areas and Lady Chapel, with the cleaning and restoration of its stained glass. Our Gospel Reading this morning reminds us that a figure for a fearful and beleaguered church is the one which has its doors and windows shut out of fear and apathy. Not here! Our great east windows are to be repaired, cleaned and restored in time for our Patronal Festival in September. We aim in the coming year to underline the fact of Holy Cross Church as an open and hospitable church. We seek to find more time to share this building with the many who come to seek God’s presence within its walls. A key event during this year has been the revision and completion of our Mission Action Plan, and one of its most important pledges is to make this church more open to the general public, and with this in mind we plan the second of our weekly open days, most likely on Wednesdays.
The Easter hope is the one which offers spiritual renewal both locally and to the wider world. In this church there is a strong link with the local and the global community as eighteen different nationalities are represented on our electoral roll membership of 77. Last Friday morning I bade a temporary farewell to Naomi Akrong-Johnson, who has returned to Accra in Ghana. I gave her a message to pass on to Bishop Daniel Torto of Accra, wishing to advance our early discussions for a possible link with our parish and another in Ghana. This church extends its life ecumenically and last Good Friday saw a gathering in this church of the differing Christian denominations. The maintenance of our ecumenical networks in King’s Cross is vital to the effective Christian mission in King’s Cross. Each Christian community is offering its own distinctive ministry to our people locally. Likewise, in our links with the local King’s Cross Neighbourhood Association, which I chair, we are establishing friendship with the sizeable Bangladeshi and Somali and other communities that exist locally in the funded work on behalf of elderly residents and young people in the King’s Cross area. My link with Argyle Primary School for assemblies and church visits to Holy Cross ensures that a whole generation of Muslim children will have been provided with a good Christian understanding and experience of the working of their local church at close hand.
God’s message to Holy Cross Church at this time is the Easter message of joy, encouragement and hope. It is the one which embraces the Christian Faith with love and with loyal obedience through thick and thin. It is above all the love of God which holds us and provides for a life which transformed by his presence and calling. I could not end this review sermon without honouring two women of this church who have died in the past year, Elsie Crossland and Joan Maw, two very different women, both of whom had a great love for this church and for whom the Christian Faith was a guiding light and a joy. If they were here now they would be cheering us on, as I think they do from another place, and their prayer would be that this church fulfil its Easter purposes with all confidence and joy. And from them and to us be the giving of great grace in the promise of the glory to come, in Jesus Christ now risen from the dead. Amen.
Sermon for the Easter Vigil 2014
19th Apr 2014
Sermon for the Easter Vigil
‘What a difference a day makes’ We might say as we come to this glorious Easter time. Within the space of three days, everything for the Christian Church changes. And in the passing of this brief period of time -- of Holy Week and now of Easter, the Church has endured the pain of death in the deep solemnity of Passiontide and now all is transformed. The Church’s proclamation proceeds out of the death of Christ, and through his Glorious Resurrection we proclaim new life to the world. It has all been encapsulated into one week, and the saving events into three days, and now the day of Resurrection comes…
The days we have lived through cannot be experienced separately but together; as one stream. The life that Easter makes possible, is brought to us as a flame, flickering delicately, The Light of the Risen Christ proclaimed as “Christ our Light” and then acknowledged and honored in the glorious Easter song ‘The Exsultet’.
Then there is a Liturgy of the Word for the recapitulation of Christian Faith; the tracing of its origins. It begins with The Creation Narrative in Genesis, and then proceeds to the Exodus and Abraham and then the promise of the coming of the One who will promise us the God not our of religious duty alone, but his own being from the communication of one heart speaking to another. This Easter Liturgy will be a profound celebration of the sacramental life that God has granted us through the blessing of the font, of the baptismal water and of the renewal of our baptismal vows. Everything is to find its renewal through the grace which is Easter. We then celebrate the Eucharist, dominated by the presence of the great Easter candle, which is now become ‘Christ our Light’. The whole effect is enriching and transformative.
I was in Waitrose this afternoon and saw the sad sight of the Easter eggs which were becoming too difficult to be sold. They sat on the shelves, forlorn, with their expensive price tickets waiting to suffer the ignominy of being reduced by half, or even more when the supermarket’s ‘Easter effect’, marketed since the end of February, becomes redundant. We live in a supermarket economy in which sell-by dates mix with sales trends and Waitrose’s own seamless thread which runs both vaguely with and absurdly counter to the church calendar – how else can we explain the fact of hot cross buns sold in Marks and Spencer’s at Christmastime? In the popular mind’s eye, very little would be known about Maundy Thursday or Good Friday except as adjuncts to Easter. Easter-time stretches out for weeks. Lent is passed by, forgotten; after all how do you market Lent? A little speech was made after a show three weeks ago at a local theatre in which we were all wished a Happy Easter on the Second Sunday of Lent! And so we experience this disjuncture between a popular, commercial culture which no longer remembers this time of Holy Week and Easter and can give it no care.
For Christians this is very strange. For this is the most important time of the Christian Year, one in which Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are each and alone significant. Each belong to one another, and they all belong to that part of The Church’s life which places a premium on the hallowing of time. The Church allows us to inhabit time with profound consciousness. It commemorates and celebrates and marks time. And at this time for the Church there is the concentration upon so many different parts of our lives with the life and death and resurrection of Christ. The passing of time is not made without its being offered to God in and through his Son. And this for the Church is, in the words of The Bishop of London, proves ‘deeply inspiriting’. It is life-giving and is a way of living the Resurrection in the present and in the time to come. And so we don’t speak of the ‘Easter Effect’ or ‘The Easter Experience’ without it’s having been written on our hearts and alive in our witness to the saving events of the Christian faith.. We then become those same witnesses to the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ who rushed to the tomb. We become the ones who must now proclaim and share this message as a message of life and of hope in the discovery that he has risen.
The contrary movement is the experience of an Easter Bank Holiday with the true Easter taken out, and we return to our unsold but expensive eggs! We see a society which no longer memorizes a calendar which allows for Easter as the time of Resurrection and as the one which is the holder of new life and a deeper, richer sense of the presence and purposes of God. ‘On the third day he rose again from the dead’ we say in the Creed. It has been important to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus in and through his preceding death. The angel provides the vital message not only to the followers of Jesus then but to our world now:
Why seek the dead among the living? He is not dead. He has risen, as he said he would. Go therefore to Galilee where you will find him’.
We can value the Christian manner of time-keeping as it draws us more surely into The Holy Time of Easter, which has proceeded out of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not by accident, but in and through time – the same time frame that we inhabit. The joyful message of Easter is that God’s time and our time have become everlastingly one.
Now, in Christ, our hearts beat as one!
Sermon for Good Friday 2014
18th Apr 2014
Good Friday Sermon 2014
When we speak of ‘Good’ Friday perhaps we are very uncertain about what this ‘good’ means. The following verses of a medieval Good Friday carol rejoice in the Cross as showing the world a true and real love, and in this showing, the saving death of Christ and the life of the singer become involved in one another as though they were partners in a dance. The medieval Christian mind could conceive of these things and draw strength and joy in their expression in a way I think we might find quite strange. He sings:
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance;
“Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold,”
The same is he shall lead the dance.
Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear to my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
Good Friday sees God’s love shown in giving his Son to a fallen and a largely ambivalent world. Christ dies in a Jerusalem swollen in population to ten times its normal size, and busy and preoccupied in coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. Nothing particularly new there, for even this morning as our Good Friday walk of witness wended its way around the King’s Cross churches, you passed working scaffolders, joggers, men delivering beer barrels, a boy practicing his basketball skills and a speeding ambulance passing by with screaming siren. Christ comes to us in the thick of life and speaks to us there. And in the crowd this morning, the crowd of Christians making this walk of witness were Christians who know all too well that if Christ is the God who dies for love of you and me he is the One who dies for all that we have to suffer and for all we have to understand and to bear, of all those things that have caused us pain and disappointment and loneliness as well as those things which bring us that joyful and self-confident exuberance which we find in that medieval Good Friday carol. This morning the Good Friday King’s Cross walk of witness turned out not to be just a mere ritual but one in which the wooden cross wended its way around the district with us following as in a dance, and where life and death and everything else in between finds a partnering of the ambivalent world with the passionate expression of faith, of the Jesus who gave himself not just for the Christian gathering, but also included others in the dance, too, even those who were not strictly paying it much attention.
Good Friday does something which we do not feel that good about. It takes us to a place in which we may know Christ only in the fact of his suffering and death. Only in this way is God leading us to know the Cross as a sign of contradiction. The Cross comes to shatter our illusions about a God we enjoy calling the God of love without responding to that love which ‘searches us out and knows us’. And in that searching and knowing is the plain fact of our mortality with the accompanying fact of its beauty and trajedy and with the existence of faith as a kind of longing and the recognition of life as ‘unfinished business’. The Spanish Mystic, St John of the Cross tells us that
“…we too must have our Cross as our beloved had his Cross until he died the death of love”.
St Paul was certain that to be Christian at all was to share a Cross with the One who dies on the Cross. His Christianity was also a longing,
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. Philippians 3.10
We come before God wounded, vulnerable and broken. That is our Cross. And it is Christ, who lies before us in this church dedicated to the Holy Cross who tells us this. And the teaching we receive from the Cross is the teaching that issues out of Christ’s own manner of living and dying, as the Letter to the Hebrews informs us:
“…during his life on earth, Jesus offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard”.
We all have our crosses to bear and they are not little ones. We are cross bearers too. Many people come to this church in King’s Cross defeated by life. One of these visitors said to me that she had come into this church because prompted. For out of all her suffering came a prayer, which appeared out of apparently nowhere. It was one which told her that something that to give, something had to be done. But this prospect was awful because with it the terrible realisation of all that had gone before and what had brought her to this place. The pain was numbing and deadening. But she came into church as many at rock bottom do – to come to a place of seeming truth. And her coming into this church and the sense of communion with God had helped to addressed and exacerbated the pain. This is the scope of the Cross. ‘It is after all a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Terrible, because all is caught up in God, even and especially when no easy resolution lies in sight…life as unfinished business, the painful waiting for a deliverance which lies beyond immediate reach, the pain of remaining where we are in the midst of so much that is intractible and insoluable with the possibility of the healing of past hurts and their memories… This is a true Cross.
But this is not to be the end of the matter. In this church of Holy Cross, the Cross is the same one of which the medieval caroler sang all those hundreds of years ago. It is proclaimed sadly and yet joyfully, for it has become our true centre, the revelation of divine love, and the arrival at the place of truer witness. This is the Cross through which the pain of this world’s living and longing can be held and channeled and healed. All is being drawn into the Cross as he said “When I am lifted up I shall draw all things to myself”. We are to bear the Cross as the Cross bears us, for in it the promised Resurrection to new life is already being made. In this divine and human at-one-ness is the true ‘good’ which we celebrate and honour and mourn on Good Friday.
Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2014
17th Apr 2014
Unless I wash you, you have no share in me
On this Maundy Thursday night we experience Jesus’ ministry in the raw. Nothing can disguise the fact that what at first looks like an ordinary domestic scene; the scene of the Last Supper, is fraught with tension. The very name ‘Last Supper’ sounds ominous, and it is. It foretells an ending; a death; Jesus’ death, but not yet. It foretells the betrayal by Judas. It takes place in a room that has, Luke mysteriously tells us, already been prepared. The supper itself is preceded by foot washing and then the words of Jesus over the bread and wine ‘This is my body’; ‘This is my blood’. Jesus’ words and gestures all point to a future for which the disciples are unprepared, for they, despite Peter’s pleas, are to desert Jesus in his greatest hour of need. Jesus’ words are also foreboding, because they speak from the point view of a world which will never be the same again. Everything in this Gospel reading is both as it should be and yet it is ominous, and then there is in the Maundy Thursday liturgy the sense of disorientation and then reorientation as tonight’s solemn celebration (yes, celebration) of the Holy Eucharist is followed by the stripping of the Church which speaks to us of a loss and a dereliction. The reorientation that we undergo is the one that takes us from the strange and temporary safety of the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus sweats blood and suffers the agony of his destiny and the falling away of the disciples. The sharing of the supper, with its foot-washing and eating, is soon overshadowed as Jesus prepares to accept his own death in the agony of the Garden of Getshemane. And what intensifies this is in the Gospel is the confident assertion that all these apparently disconnected and ominous signs all happen to fulfil the Father’s will. John tells us that Jesus knows that the Father “had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going (back) to God’ (John 13.3a). And we are to witness these things as we are invited to watch and wait ‘til midnight, when we enter upon Good Friday.
How can it be possible for us to reconcile the terribleness and randomness of human fate, and our fate in particular, with God the Father, who knows it all before it comes to be? How can it be possible that the love of God in Jesus Christ reveals itself as simply and as intimately as in the washing of feet? Can we bear to allow God to get that close to us? Can we bear to accept that God loves us at such close range and so intimately? The washing of the feet is done as Jesus comes to heal the neglected, the embarassed, the shameful, the barricaded and the lost parts of our nature. As our servant Jesus humbles himself and is ready to don the apron, to carry the bowl and jug and to serve us as we are to serve one another. He pours the cleansing and tactile waters of his healing over those parts of our human nature that have become ingrown and hardened and fatalistic. All things, on this Maundy Thursday evening, orientate us towards both the cost and the purpose of Christ’s sacrificial love. But equally, they invite us to accept the awkward fact that Jesus wishes to serve us and our needs before ever we rush to serve him. At the heart of human confusion, the love of God remains, immoveable, unshakeable, purposeful and everlasting. This is what makes sense of the chaos of Maundy Thursday.
But for now, for tonight, all this must be put on hold. It will be enough to echo the words of doubting Thomas,
Let us also go (with him), that we may die with him. John 11.16.
Sermon for Palm Sunday 2014
13th Apr 2014
Palm Sunday 2014
The liturgy for Palm Sunday couldn’t be more dramatic as we meet this morning and gather to process around the church. And as we do this, we sing All Glory Laud and Honour, a hymn of praise to Christ’s majesty, which we sing with our palm crosses as a reminder that that this Palm Procession is leading us to Calvary. As we return to the church and then re-enter it we are entering Jerusalem with Jesus. We are entering his fateful Passion, his trial, his death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead.
Holy Week is called holy because it embodies in Jesus Christ the love of God the Father in the sacrifice of his Son’s body and the outpouring of his Son’s blood. This is what we call in the Holy Eucharist, ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’. Holy week contains everything that is necessary to Christian Faith. It lies at the heart of what we believe as Christians: that God the Father sent his son to die for our sins and to rise again from the dead. He did this as a costly act of love and to show us that we are loved by God even before we know we are loved. And on this day, Palm Sunday, and at this time, before we walk with Christ into Holy Week, it is the Church’s duty to ask you in the strongest terms to make time to come to the Holy Week liturgies. To commit yourself, as best as you are able, to the worship of the Church as we observe the holiest week in the Christian calendar. You can only know the mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection by entering into it and by finding it as you would find something buried within. We are here this morning readying ourselves to encounter the living Lord as he shows us the way to the Father’s glory. We are bidden by the words of Thomas before the raising of Lazarus when he said, ‘Let us go with him that we may die with him’.
Jerusalem today is a place of terrible contrasts. It is a jumbled up mix of warring factions. The old city is bounded by Jewish, Christian Muslim and Armenian quarters. The Church of the Holy Sepulcre stands in the middle of the city as the most holy Christian site in the world, and built over Golgotha, the place of the skull, where Jesus died on the Cross. But even in this Holy Church, differing Christian denominations fight over contested spaces from within the building, and there are often angry scuffles and even violence. Nearby is a busy souk or market, with smells of spices and coffee and frshly slaughtered meat, as well as hundreds of shops selling Christian souvenirs and trinkets.
Well may Jesus wept over Jerusalem. But it is to this Jerusalem of human chaos and doubtful charm, a crazed and yet indifferent kind of Jerusalem, and a holy Jerusalem too, that Jesus enters on Palm Sunday.
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. Luke 19.41-42.
In the church of the Holy Sepulcre you may queue for hours to get to the place where Jesus died on the cross, and then watch others burying their one arm into the ground and down to the rock below and then they touch Golgotha. You stand waiting and impatient and wonder why you’re waiting. Then it is your turn to reach down and touch the rock on which the Cross of Christ once stood. You realise that for a few brief seconds you are the only person in the world touching that rock. The experience is immediate and was for me, overwhelmingly moving.
This is the famous stone
George Herbert ‘Teach Me My God and King’
This morning we go to join Christ in Jerusalem, where we know he will meet suffering and death. We go with him just as we are; knowing all the deficiencies we bring to the task of living and loving, but we go at first reluctant; but neverthless in faith, aware of God the Father’s love going before us, guiding us and lighting our path and drawing us deeper into the wounded, sacred heart of Jesus. We go with Jesus to Golgotha. And you are invited in this Holy Week to enter into these mysteries, to walk with Christ, to wait and watch with Christ, to sit at the foot of the cross, to wait at the tomb, and to experience the joy of his Resurrection and your resurrection. “If we are united with him in a death like his, we will surely be united within him in a Resurrection like his”. (Romans 6.5).
But for now, as we enter on Holy Week we pray:
Holy and strong,
Holy and immortal,
Have mercy upon us…