Sermon for Good Friday
25th Mar 2016
Good Friday Sermon 2016
This Good Friday morning, as I was walking my dog in a sunny Argyle Square, I passed alongside a group of men seated at one of the benches, dressed for Summer and drinking from a large brandy bottle which lay on the ground in front of them. One of the men came up to me and greeted me and told me of how important it was to be a Christian and of how much he had learnt from his mother. He then proceeded to recite from memory whole chunks from St John’s Gospel and the words for Good Friday from John 3.16 “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoso believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. I was astonished. I had only been listening earlier this morning on the radio the same words set to music for Stainer’s ‘Crucifixion’. God is reminding me and you on this Good Friday that he sent his Son to save the world and you and I as the world and you and I are found. He has not come to perfect the world but to save it.
Eternal God, in the Cross of Jesus Christ we see the cost of our sin and the depth of your love: in humble hope and fear may we place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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 as well as those things which bring us that joyful and self-confident exuberance which we find when faith is refreshed from the stream of love which flows out of the Cross in blood and water. This morning the Good Friday King’s Cross Walk of Witness wended its way around the district as in a dance, 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 includes others in the dance, too, even those who feel they are on the outside looking in.
Good Friday takes us to a place in which we may know Christ only in the fact of his suffering and death. In this way is God leading us to know the Cross as a sign of contradiction and the confounding of expectations based on electric certainty or stubborn ambivalence. The Cross comes to shatter our illusions about a God we enjoy calling the God of love without our responding to that love which ‘searches us out and knows us’ and who meets us at those times and in those situations in which life threatens to tear us apart. For in that searching and knowing is the plain fact of our mortality with the accompanying fact of its beauty and tragedy and with the existence of faith as a kind of longing and the recognition of life as ‘unfinished business’. It is also God’s desire that we should be at one in Him and at one in our own selves and our world. The Cross surely beckons. It is God searching us out at the deepest levels of our being. 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 realization 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 sanctuary with the promise of healing. And her coming into this church and the sense of communion with God had both helped and exacerbated the pain and the ever encroaching plague of hopelessness. 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 true Cross.
But this is not to be the end of the matter. The Cross 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 honor and mourn on Good Friday. This is the declaration of the man in Argyle Square this morning. The man who could proclaim the central message of Good Friday amid the fact of a life which remained so incomplete, so bewildering and so unresolved : the declaration in fact and in form of a true Cross.
We take the Cross of Cross into our hearts and lives on this solemn, holy day. May it be for us
Our life, our witness and our true hope, even unto death.
Sermon for Maundy Thursday
24th Mar 2016
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 2016
20th Mar 2016
Palm Sunday 2016
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 Mothering Sunday 2016
6th Mar 2016
Sermon for Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)
This morning the Church observes not just one but three commemorations, namely the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Refreshment (‘Laetere’) Sunday and also 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.
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 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.