Sermon for Easter Liturgy

30th Mar 2013


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 now proclaim new life for the world. It has all been encapsulated into a week, and the saving events into three days, and now the day comes…

 

The days we have lived through cannot be experienced separately but together, and as one stream. The life that Easter makes possible, is brought to us in this Easter Liturgy as a flame, flickering delicately. The Light of the Risen Christ is 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 our 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 who will be God incarnate, the one who will turn put flesh and blood into hearts of stone. This Easter Liturgy is a profound celebration of the sacramental life that God has granted us in Baptism through the blessing of the font, of the baptismal water and the renewal of our baptismal vows. Everything is to find its renewal through the grace which is Christ's Resurrection. We celebrate the Eucharist, dominated by the presence of the great Easter candle, and the words for its inscription now  ring in our ears, "Christ yesterday and today, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him and all ages. To him be glory for through all ages, for ever and ever!"

 

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 real attention or even 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 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.

 

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 memorises 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!

 

Amen. Alleluya!

 



Homily for The Easter Liturgy

30th Mar 2013


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 a day, or more properly, three days, everything for the Christian Church has changed. In the passing of this brief period of time --  of Holy Week and now of Easter, the Church has endured the pain of Christ's suffering and death in the deep solemnity of Passiontide. But now all is transformed. The Church’s Easter proclamation proceeds out of the death of Christ, and through his Glorious Resurrection we proclaim new life for the world. It has all been encapsulated into a week, and the saving events into three days, but now the day is here.

 

The days we have lived through cannot be experienced separately but together, and 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’.

 

I was in Waitrose this afternoon and saw the sad sight of 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, ends. 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 is known about Maundy Thursday or Good Friday except as half-forgotten adjuncts to Easter.  Lent too 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 real attention or even 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 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.

 theThe contrary movement is the experience of an Easter Bank Holiday with the real Easter taken out, and the return to our unsold but expensive Easter eggs! We see a society which no longer memorises the Christian Calenday except as the order to be ready and buy-in. The angel in the tomb provides the vital and needful 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.

 

Some words for the inscription of the Easter Candle:

 

Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, alpha and omega, all time belongs to him, and all ages; to him be glory and power, through every age and for ever.

 

 

Amen. Alleluya!



Sermon for Good Friday

29th Mar 2013


Good Friday

Holy Cross, Cromer Street.

 

 

I well remember as a boy that the Mass contained one expression in the Creed which then and even now never ceases to shock me. It is an expression which unnerves the believer and sticks in the gullet, for it is the one which says that Jesus ‘descended into hell’. However this expression is qualified by the Resurrection, the fact of the descent into hell is given to us as the mark and purpose of Good Friday. And it relates most closely to that has been called the awful particularity of the Cross. God has sent his beloved Son into the world to die for the world as the world is, and as we are. To enter completely into the human condition is for Christ to take it all upon himself. To take it into himself, into his heart and to offer it back as love from the place of his own death, a death which is ‘freely accepted’. This is an action which involves a ‘descent into hell’ and the scope of this action is all-encompassing and all embracing.

 

The dying body of Christ on the Cross is being shown to the world today as both a spiritual lightening conductor and as ‘the eye of the storm’. The body of Christ on the Cross is to be the instrument which for Orthodox Christians brings about ‘the harrowing of hell’. The Cross is a force field into which all human sin and all human hope and longing is drawn into the body of Christ, like a lightening conductor. This body draws everything into itself as darkness covers the face of the whole earth, as lightning strikes, and as the veil of the Temple is torn in two. The body of Christ can draw all the world’s pain into itself because within the sacred heart of the dying Jesus lies God himself, the Creator of all things and perfect love, which exists in the middle of the violence of the crucifixion as the eye of the storm, the place of perfect, God-centred stillness out of which his love flows. This is the harrowing of hell.

 

And so we are led to see that the death of Christ has a vast scope of cosmic significance. It could never be cosmetic. “God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son so that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. The sacrifice of God, if it is to be cosmic rather than cosmetic, must take all things into itself to issue in a complete outpouring of everlasting love. And so there is something mighty that is happening here. There is something which is being fought for us and won for us by Christ on our behalf. There is something worth living and dying for here…

 

When at school I could never really grasp the laws of science. One of my reports for physics reads ‘Christopher just doesn’t have a scientific mind’. It’s just that I couldn’t connect up scientific laws and principles with the realities of my existence, which were no larger or more narrow than most boys, but which were bound up with the Church and the glimmerings of a Christian Faith and a wandering, romantic imagination. But I did learn a basic bit of science which informs and enriches the realities around which people relate to one another. And it is contained in Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion “To each and every force (or gesture or action) there is an equal and opposite reaction”. If we translate this scientific law into our understanding of the Sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross we are to say that above and before all else it is an action which proceeds out of God’s love for us. And as perfect love is offered to a fallen, ambivalent world the reaction it creates is at best a variable one, or as Newton might have said ,‘something like equal and very often opposite’. Dostoevsy's Grand Inquisitor addresses the Christ he meets on the way with the words,  “You loved us too much and you gave us too much freedom”. But how can it be possible for God to love us too much?

 

The risk for the issuing of love toward a person or persons hurt and defended from being loved is that it will result not in acceptance but in defensive anger, resentment and an acting out of that anger in ways which turn out to be spiteful or mean or merely obtuse. Or the response may just be a numb one. Those parts of our nature which have not been loved cry out, perhaps silently, for a healing of the past, a healing of minds and hearts and memories.

 

Always the same hills

Crowd the horizon

Remote witnesses

Of the still scene.

 

And in the foreground

The tall Cross

Sombre, untenanted,

Aches for the Body

That is back in the cradle

Of a maid’s arms.                        

 

                                                       RS Thomas  The Pièta.

 

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”.

 

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”. 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 addiction to alcohol. 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. 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 both 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 intractable and insoluble with the possibility of the healing of past hurts and their memories… This is a veritable Cross.

 

But it is not the end of the matter. The Cross holds out the possibility of what lies beyond it. In the Cross lies the world’s turmoil held within the place of unconditional and inexhaustible love. This is the eye of the storm, the place of healing power and the Divine stillness, the arrival at the place of truer witness. This is the lightening conductor through which the pain of this world’s ransoming is held and channelled. 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.

 

 

Amen. 



Sermon for Maundy Thursday

28th Mar 2013


Maundy Thursday

2013

 

Unless I wash you, you have no share in me

John 13.8b.

 

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 footwashing 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

24th Mar 2013


Palm Sunday 2013

Holy Cross Church

Palm Sunday

 

 

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 has been called 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 long 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
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.

 

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 God,

Holy and strong,

Holy and immortal,

Have mercy upon us…

 

 

 



 

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