Sermon for Palm Sunday
29th Mar 2015
Palm Sunday 2015
Holy Cross Church
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 nevertheless 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…
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
22nd Mar 2015
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday)
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”. John 12.21.
There is a story today from John’s gospel about some Greeks who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, Hellenistic Jews from the Diaspora no doubt, who asked to see Jesus. They found Philip instead who went to Andrew to tell him what the Greeks had asked, and together Philip and Andrew went to tell Jesus. I’m not sure in the shuffle whether the Greeks ever got to see Jesus. John doesn’t tell us. But we do know that when Jesus heard about the Greeks asking to see him, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” A page turned, and from that moment on he began to speak of his death. John, the gospel writer, describes Jesus’ crucifixion as his glorification, a marvellous spin on an otherwise horrible end. It is no surprise, then that the entire passion narrative in John’s gospel has been described as the Book of Glory. “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified,” Jesus said when the Greeks came looking for him.
There’s something more happening here than meets the eye or ear. Just before the story about the Greeks coming to Jerusalem there is another story which tells us what we don’t know. It’s a story that really belongs to next Sunday, to Palm Sunday. Jesus has just come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, and the crowds have welcomed him shouting “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.”
The Pharisees who watched this unseemly exuberance were disgusted with the crowd and with those who turned out for the parade. The Pharisees, seeing that they were losing the battle for the hearts and minds of their own people said, “Look at these fools. You can’t do anything with them. The whole world has gone after him.” And under John’s masterful editorial hand, what is the next thing that happens? The world goes after him. The Greeks come looking for him. And it’s the coming of those Greeks, the Hellenists, that sets things in motion according John. It’s the world seeking after him that lights the fuse that will soon explode, the last straw that will lead to his arrest and crucifixion. “Sir, we would like to see Jesus,” the Greeks said to Philip, and of course wouldn’t we all like to see him?
Greeks came to see Jesus: non-Jews, outsiders, people not like us. Their acceptance as followers of Christ changed the early Church decisively from being a Jewish sect to becoming a worldwide Church. In the first few decades the hot issues for the Church were whether men had to be circumcised to be Christian and whether we had to eat kosher food. There were those who resisted the change for good religious and scriptural reasons. They are a warning to us in our day and we need to remember the ways in which the outsider and the social outcast can make God known to us. We are the guardians of the truth that God is in Christ reconciling the world but we are not its sole possessor. Our task is to witness to what God is doing in the world, not to limit God to the Church. We cannot possess God who is bigger than any of us can imagine.
This is a blueprint for a Church turned inside out. It is the one which sets at nought the recourse to automatic religion and instead calls forth in all of us that we now lose ourselves in order to find ourselves and to give unto others so that we might receive from the hand of God in full measure. This is what God calls ‘glory’, and the message is intensified as Jesus now proclaims that his hour has come. You can see in this church that all those delightful visible things, statues, icons and holy objects have been covered in purple cloth. The appearance of the church becomes instantly sombre, and this send out a message, which for Passion Sunday is insistent and unrelenting; that the hour for the Christ has now come, and that he must go unto his suffering and death. The grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die before it bears fruit. But the Passion of Jesus, his suffering and death is not just for sorrow and sacrifice. It comes about to bring judgement to this world. It is the kind of judgement which holds the world’s image if itself back onto itself as though through a mirror. We are being called into question whose response is vital if we are to truly live.
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Mothering Sunday)
15th Mar 2015
Sermon for Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent) Year B
This morning the Church observes not just one but three commemorations, namely the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Refreshment (‘Laetere’) Sunday and Mothering Sunday. It seems eccentric that this should be so, and that a rare liturgical colour, pink, should set the tone for a Lenten Sunday which provides not for a deepening of intensity in our Christian observance of Lent but for an outburst of what in Latin is ‘Laetere’ or joy. Combine all this with Mothering Sunday and the sense of eccentricity is complete. In typical English fashion, we keep the tradition of remembering and honouring our Mothers from days when servants, many of them older children or adolescents, were allowed this Sunday in Lent to return home to their mothers. If they worked in a big house, a kindly cook might well have baked Simnel Cakes as a seasonal offering for the servants to take to their mothers and Simnel cake will be offered after Mass this morning with the usual tea, coffee and toast.
But where is all this taking us? The Church seems at first to have made things even more complicated by offering us a choice of two Gospel readings. One is Simeon’s prediction to Mary that her child Jesus would suffer and that ‘a sword would pierce her own soul’. The second Gospel takes us to the Cross and to the suffering Christ, who even from that place of agony encourages a new and future relationship between his beloved disciple John and his Mother, Mary, “Behold thy Son” and “Behold thy Mother”.
As we begin to understand these Gospel accounts we find that they are complimentary and speak of all those things which Lent, Mothering Sunday, Laetere and Refreshment Sunday express. And it is this: Any experience of a close and loving and committed relationship is at some time or another going to demand of us a costly love. The Gospel message swings between love as consolation and as desolation. Any mother or father or husband, wife or lover knows how painful it is to have to have to relinquish, to let go or to suffer the death of one who has been our life and our love. Such an experience strikes at the very heart of what we are. For parents this might commonly involve the son or the daughter who leaves home as a young adult and away from the childhood home, just like the Victorian child servant. Equally there are times when the young, having ‘fled the nest’ themselves feel homesick and very alone. For others in middle age there may come the death of a parent or parents. For some, the break-up of a past relationship continues to be painful and some of its effects do not seem to be relieved with the passing of time. For the elderly there are the many little and bigger losses that come with encroaching frailty and the loss of faculties once taken for granted, and of the deaths of contemporaries.
The two Gospels offered allow for an understanding of human loving which inevitably involves pain. But this is not to be the end of the matter. We are reminded that, even from the Cross, our Saviour Jesus Christ offers new life and proclaims aloud that even out of great sadness and even death, the possibility of new relations and new understanding and new hope is embodied by the dying Saviour on the Cross. ‘Behold thy Mother’, ‘Behold thy Son’. In the Cross life and death mixes and merges in the one sacrifice. In the same vein the prayer for the mixing of wine and water at the Eucharistic Offering outlines Christ’s sacrifice for a deepening of trust in the outpouring of time with the healing of wounds. ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity’. God’s life and our lives and loves mix and merge in the one faith, the one hope and the one love. The message this morning is that we should not reject these things.
One great English mother, Mother Julian of Norwich sustains this as she observed that “The dear gracious hands of God our Mother are ever about us”. The short-lived Pope John Paul I was to affirm that God was in a real sense our Mother as well as our Father. “God is our Father, but even more He is Mother” he said. It is when the love which holds our lives together is tested that faith is challenged to the uttermost. At such times to we embrace or neglect the love that God offers us? As a loving Father or indeed Mother God is everlastingly compassionate for us and for the establishment and the replenishment of the divine love in us. We are to come to God then, and not to go it alone. To come to him, as the servants journeyed out for the day to meet their mothers and to enjoy the communion of love, the ‘laetere’, the integrated life of love which Christ speaks to us on the Cross through the lives of his Mother, Mary and the beloved disciple, John. The Cross still beckons us at this time and we are being drawn inexorably toward it.
Thanks be to God.
Address for the Memorial Mass of Louis Antill Lewis at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
13th Mar 2015
THE MEMORIAL SERVICE OF LOUIS ANTILL LEWIS
Louis’ father was a Russian emigré. Another Russian émigré, the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, wrote a lyrical autobiography with the title “Speak, Memory”. The recourse we have to memory is either richly evocative or it is unreliable and unsatisfying. On such an occasion as this, is it possible or desirable to find the ‘Essence de Louis’ or to allow this singular and colourful life simply to rest and to say nothing but prayers of commendation and farewell? In the case of Louis, memory does indeed speak. It reminds us of the divinity that resides in and through our human nature in all its many profound and beautiful and varied and contradictory ways. For Louis was a contradiction : as both a force of nature and as a child of God. He was the most fascinating person I have ever known.
As most of you know, Louis lived in two places, Tottenham and Walsingham. This was borne out of practicality. It was necessary to stay in London for his beloved Holy Cross Cromer Street and yet as necessary to reduce to the maximum the time taken for the Bentley to leave London and reach Walsingham. It could all have been less inconvenient but for Louis’ passion and commitment to the Guild of All Souls and the many necessary journeys across the country representing its patronage. His work for the Guild was so vital a part of his being that up until his death, it was not laid down. He was that rare and disappearing type of eminent layman, an Anglo-Catholic grandee, a true Catholic, one who loved his Church and was passionate in his desire to serve it and to guard and protect its honour.
Louis always made very deliberate choices for his life and he lived by them. Look at the way dinner was ordered : begin with strong drink, preferably a very strong gin and French (five parts gin and one of French) with a twist of lime and definitely no ice. Like Louis, stirred, but not shaken. Then proceed to the first course, preferably asparagus with a béarnaise sauce, and then the main, ideally a properly aged steak (rarish, no gravy) and plenty of roast potatoes and vegetables, and then finish with a rich pudding. Always order house wine (Red, not white), for as he said to me “If the place is any good so will the house wine. Fine wines are a waste of money”.
The living in the two houses, in Tottenham and Walsingham, characterised the two sides of Louis’ character. In Tottenham, the animated man of action, the decisive, the brilliant committee man, the money man, the businessman, the mover and shaker, the donor, the magistrate, the youth leader, the distinguished gentleman, socially concerned, London based. Louis was brilliant in committee, and continually able to get to the heart of the matter without ‘hesitation, repetition or deviation’. He was always unfailingly practical and helpful and it was a joy to watch him at work as a Holy Cross Centre Trustee. He would often end an unwanted line of enquiry simply by saying that such and such a person or argument was just ‘silly’. Things were more often than not settled quickly, efficiently and without fuss and with that gentle ironic smile which told you that he had seen it all before.
In Walsingham we see the other side of Louis, his anima side, in the Louis who loved the shrine, and who loved our Lady as a child of God and as a man of prayerful devotion. “Oh, Father she always answers my prayers. She’s been very good to me” he would say. I have here a tattered old copy of our Parish Intercessions booklet, which Louis took everywhere with him to keep the parish of Holy Cross in mind. It says everything about his personal spirituality which was committed and heart-felt. Louis would often stop me in church and a small list of names were in his head of those who were missing on a given Sunday. Where is your friend so and so?” On the hearing the news of his death, our holy woman at Holy Cross, an elderly Philippino lady, Aurora, gave out a sigh, took a breath, looked at me and exclaimed “He was my friend!”
Louis offered the most wonderful tea parties in the Walsingham house to round off the National Pilgrimage and he would have spent the day padding around the shrine grounds and surveying the whole scene dressed in his distinctive short sleeved Summer suits. In one of his many asides he warned against the threatening of the person’s child-like faith, and of the need for caring for people who were not necessarily convenient or congenial to oneself. He loved the Salve Regina, and I have a memory of him holding his churchwarden’s wand as we rededicated our Walsingham Chapel two years ago and weeping profusely as the choir sang to the Virgin. How appropriate it was then, that the clergy surrounding the hearse following his own Requiem Mass had sung the Salve Regina, a powerful and moving testimony. How glad he was for the language of the English Missal Funeral Rites with its emphatic penitential language. How glad he would have been to hear that the Roman Catholic funeral director, Mr France, who has overseen the burial of cardinals, should inform us that Louis’ Requiem was the ‘highest’ he had ever witnessed.
His religion was as strongly defined and full bodied and full blooded as his menu choices. It was nurtured in him from the time of his arrival at Holy Cross as a twenty-six year old in 1958. Father Napier Pitt Sturt was his parish priest, a man who brooked no compromise in his allegiance to the Catholic Faith generally and to the papacy in particular. His strong blend of unyielding faith, the beautiful and solemn liturgy and Napier Sturt’s prayerfulness was imbibed by Louis unhesitatingly. This for him was strong meat and drink. The Faith was taught, and if it were taught right, then it was as if fire had entered the belly. But by definition it was to be a faith which was not compromised by passing necessities or the latest liturgical trends. The words of the well-known hymn would have been his crie de coer, “…We will remain unflinching, One Church, One Faith, One Lord”.
Louis was dismayed and disappointed but by no means downhearted by the modern church. He followed the news of new clerical and episcopal appointments avidly. He expressed his opinions in no uncertain terms and in various circles. In relation to a senior London appointment he said of the current Bishop of London that “…Richard normally does what I tell him to…” and then, as if exasperated, “but of course he’s got a mind of his own”. He was a well-known opponent of women priests, and strongly supported lay ministry, but in the context of what he termed ‘a priest led Church’. However, he would refuse in this vein to receive the sacrament from a layman. He was aghast at the Second Vatican Council, and the consequent installation of nave altars and of concelebrant priests. He railed against St Pope John XXIII and in the next life will manage I am sure to wangle a meeting with the saint, while accusing him of ‘…taking away my Tridentine Mass”. I can only imagine Pope St John XXIII to be surprised at the presumption of such an English Anglican. Louis would never of course have become a Roman Catholic. That would have been to leave home. His tastes and his loves were profoundly English in character and his sympathies national and local. His unbending attitudes may well have been occasionally unreasonable and irrational to some, but Louis never doubted that our Church was in all essence and in truth, Catholic. Louis was above all else a fully informed and committed and disciplined layman. We already miss his strong responses and strong singing voice at the Parish Mass, and particularly his mellifluous responses in the Angelus.
Louis had a good understanding of human frailty and tended to side with the despised underdog or the one who had gone astray; the lot sheep. He stuck firmly to his original opinion of a person. Once given his seal of approvaI you were on the receiving end of his belief in you. Father Lockett and myself and many others here count ourselves proud to belong to the select band of the Louis ‘chosen’. His judgement of people was singular. I think he must have been both a disciplined and well informed JP and one ready to show leniency where evidence pointed to it. I think if you had ended up at the mercy of the law in Bow Street Magistrates Court in the seventies standing before Louis Lewis you would have been given a fair and generous hearing. He was meticulous in all his formal duties, but also delighted in offering simple, home spun hospitality. I remember he had recently provided the Bishop of Richborough and other Guild interviewers, with his speciality, a cold collation in our tiny server’s vestry at Holy Cross Church, Cromer Street. It was all very cramped but splendidly cordial. Louis’ joy in serving his Church was always most evident.
He had an abiding respect for prayerfulness and faithfulness in priests, though he was at pains to say that “I know all about the clergy, Father”. But he was no armchair critic. He was very aware of his own frailties. His famous and telling phrase was the one which went like this: “I go to church, Father, not because I’m a good Christian but because I am a bad Christian”. Louis occupied the New Testament position of the wise steward, commended by our Lord as “a child of this world” and yet he was also I think conscious of himself as the rich man who must get through the ‘eye of the needle’ and this could only be achieved penitentially. The management of money and of responsibility for charge of monies is no mean thing. Louis was a solid, responsible money manager and treasurer, and also a kind and spontaneous benefactor, always paying the coach fare for Holy Cross children on our annual pilgrimage to Walsingham.
To remember Louis Antill Lewis is to enjoy so much. Memory does indeed speak to us in him in so many ways which are enriching and enlivening and uplifting. How fitting now, in this Guild Chapel of All Souls, that prayers for Louis’ soul are said with those of so many others in the long stream of remembrance and hope which this place signifies. Prayers for the dead for the sake of love and loss. Prayers for the dead to recall God’s infinite love and mercy, prayers for the dead to remind us of the God, who, in and through the vagaries of this fleeting world, offers us unending mercy beyond anything we can desire or deserve in this life. Prayers and love and its remembrances today for Louis Antill Lewis, whose life we gladly remember, the worthy laymen, the Anglo-Catholic grandee, the distinguished man, the ironic bystander, the father carer, the child of God, the bruised and hopeful penitent, the doughty Christian soul.
This prayer is used in Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and is the counterpart to the Western prayer Eternal Rest. The "eternal memory" mentioned in the prayer is remembrance by God, which is another way of saying that the soul has entered heaven and enjoys eternal life.
Eternal memory. Eternal memory. Grant to your servant, O Lord, blessed repose and eternal memory.
And so we respond with joyful hearts as we say, “Speak Memory”. Amen.
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent
8th Mar 2015
The Third Sunday of Lent Year B
The Cleansing of the Temple
“Zeal for your house will consume me” John 2.20
We can only imagine why Jesus became so angry that he overturned the tables of the money changers and drove everyone out of the Temple. He was literally consumed with anger. This is not the Jesus we are accustomed to, the one who appears so serene and self-controlled. Could this be Jesus losing it?
We know that John, wrote his gospel only thirty years after the Romans totally destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and drove out all its inhabitants. At a stroke, the Temple, which lay at the heart of Jewish worship and culture, was no more. Jerusalem lay in waste and ruin. Why then, does John mention the non-existent temple thirty years after this all took place? Certainly its effect was traumatic even from that distance. Could it be that John sees the destruction of the temple as a way of purifying Judaism? The destruction of the Temple was followed by the so called diaspora, the scattering of the Jewish people across the known world. No more was there a religious centre, a place lying at the geographical and spiritual heart of their existence. They were now destined to be wanderers, which was their lot until the founding of the State of Israel in 1947.
The banishment of AD70 meant that the Temple which John refers to was no more. So why does John also refer to the cleansing of the Temple in Jesus’ time, some forty years before its destruction?
We have a clue in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, written before John’s Gospel and making a reference to the human body as a temple for the Holy Spirit:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3.16
If for Paul the idea of the body as temple was a commonplace then it becomes possible to draw the link between the overturning of the money changers, the eventual destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, and Jesus’ own prediction of the temple which is his body, which will be raised up in three days. This remember is a Lenten Bible passage and it makes deliberate reference to the fate that Jesus is to endure a death and experience a resurrection from the dead. Jesus makes this reference to his own death and resurrection even as he shows how the Temple’s sanctity was being compromised.
But there is a contradiction here. It is the one which sets the destruction of the temple over and against its sanctity. Jesus points us away from the sanctity we might invest in bricks and mortar, and, toward the new relationship with God which he personifies and which will be rebuilt in him.
In a world in which body image and body consciousness is so evident it is refreshing to reminded that the body has a kind of sanctity. We draw a natural and creative relationship between the body and the soul. Last week’s collect for Lent 2 expresses it best:
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended against all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, we have the idea of the Temple of Jerusalem, the destroyed edifice, being superceded in Christ in the idea of the ‘temple of the body’. It is the body of Jesus which, when sacrificed in the Cross, will be God’s way of drawing us into a new relationship with Him.
“When I am lifted up I will draw everyone to myself”. John 12.32.
Today we observe the 50th anniversary of the race riots in Selma Alabama. The state police fired tear gass and drenched the black protesters with water canon. All was mayhem on that day. It was a desperate action on the part of the state police but it was also a cruel and vain one. Significantly it was being filmed on national television, and the majority of American people reacted again this assault on their fellow Americans because it was wanton, brutal and vindictive. Just as those protesters were assaulted so were the senses of the average American. Their wake-up call lay in their shock at the tactics used to beat down the peaceful protesters in a country that deemed itself, well, civilised. Lying somewhere deep within the life of the person is the soul, of which the body is but the outer receptacle. Nonetheless the body and the soul exist mutually and inseparably. The treatment of the body then becomes a profoundly moral matter in this respect.
Jesus purifies the Temple and makes a strong statement about the sanctity inherent in all being and all becoming. At the same time he offers a prediction of his own death and resurrection. The way forward is not through worship of the Temple built with stones but of the realisation of the holy in the human. In such a way Jesus fulfils the Old Testament promise now accorded to him “Zeal for your house will consume me”
It's worth getting angry about!