Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

25th May 2014


Sermon for The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Year A

 

 

In a short time the world will no longer see me, but you will see me because I live and you will live.  John 14.18.

 

There are some individuals who have left the world a massive human legacy. My own experience of one such great person was the founder of the Hospice Movement, Dame Cecily Saunders. I spent a year at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham in the early eighties working alongside patients who had been referred to this place and who were deemed ‘terminally ill’. It seemed at the time a revolutionary thing to establish a place of care, a cross between a hospital and a nice hotel with all the amenities in the service of those whose lives and medical diagnosis had been deemed hopeless. But it was also a Christian community. A community of hope. A centre of excellence in which minds and hands and hearts and voices combined to provide a new light of hope in a dark place. In the middle of so much cancer, something new and important could be set down. The fact of dying might no longer be seen as sinister or awful, but the natural complement to a life well lived. The fear of death was laid bare. I remember in 1970 hearing of the death from cancer of a young woman athlete who had won a silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games. Lillian Board had died of colo-rectal cancer, and its fact had been published in all the papers. The effect of the death of this 22 year old woman, whose athleticism had brought her to the peak of success on the track, was for the publicisation of the unspeakable cancer. It brought a great shiver along the spine of a society still living in nervous ignorance and denial over the disease. Cancer was almost unmentionable, and referred to (even nowadays) as the big ‘C’, with death, the ultimate taboo, as ‘the big D’. The Hospice Movement, and the humanitarian and sympathic care for the dying in an atmosphere of trust and openness helped to slay a terrible demon and to cast out much fear.

 

The Biblical readings for these Sundays after Easter point us to the kind of Church which emerged out of the life and death and Resurrection of Christ. And the picture we are given is of a Church living its life from the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This energy was a life force granted to the Church through the gift, the operation and the proclamation of The Holy Spirit which granted life and substance and future to the Church. The Church was not just a religious organisation, but a living organism whose head was Christ. It was a Church whose identity lay not just in the example and teaching of Christ but in his very body and blood. This was a Church of the Incarnation, a life and death Church. And rather like the Hospice Movement, the Church was to be radically humanitarian, a slayer of age-old and life-denying demons, a Church whose practical human wisdom, healing power and courage in the face of opposition was to break through the barriers that separated life from death and faith from fear. As John tells us in today’s Gospel, “…you will see me because I live and you will live”.

 

It is certainly true of a Christian Church like Holy Cross, that it bears contains life and death and everything else between. We often witness acts of violence in our streets, where the police tape has been ranged across familiar walking paths, and where individual policeman stand guard over an empty scene. At the same time a baby cries, and then streams of children and commuters bustle up and down Whidbourne Street. Someone is playing their music too loud, someone has arrived outside church and sits on the bench to drink his regular can of lager at 9 in the morning. An elderly woman walks past leaning on her shopping trolley for dear worth. The landlord of the pub opposite walks his Alsatian dog. A road sweeper or cleaning operative come to sweep up last nights fag ends while a jogger runs past. Whether it be the Hospice, the life of the early Church or a King’s Cross Street scene, for us as Christians these are all places which have been and are inhabited by the love of God. There is no place and no circumstances in which the love of God cannot be manifest and shown to be real. The mark of the Christian Church from its beginning was its ability to address its place in the big world as an involved inhabitant. Christianity was never only a religion based on ideals. Nor is it a closed off sect. It faces the world as it found it and is called to be involved in all those situations where the world cries out in need. In the pattern of Jesus Christ, the Saviour, it comes to stand for life and death and everything else in between’.

 

For Christians today the Church must surely stand as that place and those people in which the presence and purposes of God are made known and who affirm the wonder of our human being and its great worth. Church as Hospice. Church as place of listening and healing. Church as place and people of hope. This will involve the casting out of fear in its many and various forms. It will be the Church’s call to fully inhabit those places and circumstances into which it is being called; in our case the parish as a sacred zone of influence. An hospitable place which embraces the life inside and around it. God’s eyes and so Christian eyes look with compassion on the world that he has made and everyone in it. He can do no other. The Easter message is that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead is not gifted to the chosen few but to our entire common humanity. Our true calling this Eastertide is the one which finds ourselves newly composed and our hearts more compassionately open to the world around us, a world which needs the love of God just as much now as it did when the tomb first stood gloriously empty. As Jesus says, “…you will see me because I live and you will live”.



Parish Priest's Review Sermon 2013-2014

18th May 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 Fourth Sunday of Easter

11th May 2014


 

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A

 

“I am the door of the sheepfold”.    John10.4

 

Where there are doors, there are also keys and locks, where there are doors there are safeguarded spaces; divided off. Doors may serve as a means of demarcation and even of exclusion, and where there are doors there is the possibility of a welcome entering in or a shutting out. Doors of our churches are Easter doors, they should open like the Easter tomb and this openness will invite us into a place where new life is offered and received. The openness of the Easter message is a proclamation of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. The sheepfold image beckons the believer into a singular and significant place, a place to which the believer is being beckoned. At the Ordination of new clergy in the Diocese of London, the Great West Doors of St Paul’s Cathedral are given a rare opening for the candidates to enter in. At the beginning of an enthronement ceremony for a Bishop, the west door of the cathedral is shut against him, and he must raise his shepherd’s crook and hammer it against the this massive door to gain entry…The new bishop must be seen and proven not to be the spiritual one of the spiritual bandits mentioned in the Gospel, but one a spiritual leader and for whom the church’s welcome is open. There lie here the lines of demarcation which are significant for entry into the life of the church. But they are not lines of exclusion, but fluid lines of entry and exit, in which faith and trust and welcome mix and merge. The One who calls is the same One who also welcomes and receives us in love.

 

For today’s Gospel writer John, Jesus is ‘the door of the sheepfold’. He is both the shepherd and the door. He is the one who both calls us and leads us into the household of faith. The door is the one which leads to the sheepfold and acts as its only conduit. We may have seen a herd of sheep pressed against a sheep door ready for dipping. The door is opened to let one in at a time. The door acts as a control to the means of entry into the fold. And in this simple descriptive way, John’s Gospel, a Gospel for the life of the emerging Church, insists upon Jesus as “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, and it is in Jesus that the way to the Father is secured. Remember that the very early Christian Church practised a Christianity known simply as ’The Way’. One way. Amid a world like ours where there were many completing religions and viewpoints, the insistence on one way was a definite mark of the Church preaching of the Gospel of Christ. And where there was one way there was one Jesus Christ. For the very early Church the common sign of its presence was not the sign of the cross as today but the image of the young, beardless shepherd, The New David, with a young lamb slung around his neck, a figure of care and of nurture, whose call was gentle and nurturing.

 

Most churches like ours have heavy gothic oak doors, which are sadly have so often kept shut. I once read an old book that Elsie Crossland, a former member of our congregation now departed, had left on the table at the back of church. It was written by a former Parish Priest of nearby Mary’s Church Eversholt Street, Father Desmond Morse-Boycott.Father Desmond wrote movingly about life in the London slums of the 1920s from direct experience and decried those churches which were shut against those who needed them the most: the way-farer, the poor and lonely as well as the interested traveller. The care for the churches furniture and properties had surely to be balanced with the Christian Gospel command that the Faith be in all essentials an OPEN faith – open to the outside elements, to the neighbourhood, the society and the world beyond the church walls. How was the Gospel to be proclaimed without Gospel hospitality? At the very least churches like this ours, too little open,  might ask ourselves the question “Do we keep our church locked because we have not yet discovered the imagination or the will to keep it open?” “Is the church locked through our prudence or our lack of risk and of get up and go?” The fact remains that our churches remain a vital point of contact with the living God. Our visitors are a part of our identity as a serving church, and not something added onto it. They are part of us, with their hopes and dreams, their hopes and anxieties, their desire to give thanks, their longing for communion and the receiving of grace, their lighting of a candle or their keeping of silence in such a hallowed space. We should not be a church which leaves our fellow spiritual wayfarers walking away empty-handed.

 

The Gospels for Eastertide are Gospels for and on behalf of the life and witness of God’s Church. The Resurrection is above all else a deliverance from fear and a living for Christ, a listening to the voice of Jesus who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. In the London of 2014 it is going to become more important that our church can make that 180 degree turn outwards and in and among the communities we serve. A Church turning itself toward the stranger, the traveller, onto our local community, onto London, onto our world and its life and especially onto and available to its suffering and pain.

 

The Church is not just a lot of buildings with mock medieval doors, but also people like you and me. The figure of Jesus as the Door of the Sheepfold is the one who is calling us to a greater realisation in our own lives of his loving compassion. As we meet Christ in this Eucharist this morning a prayer is being asked of us. That the doors of our own minds and hearts, closed off through fear may, by the gentle action of this Eucharist, be opened a little, and that the light of Christ’s Resurrection and its liberating power may flood into those places where we may see and love anew. If we can respond to God in this way there lies the hope of a church which begins to really live the Resurrection it proclaims. It will have experienced the renewal of hearts and minds and in turn welcome the stranger with open arms. Christ will have become in His Church the door to the sheepfold where all may be drawn in… 



Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter : The Emmaus Road

4th May 2014


Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

The Supper at Emmaus

 

 

 

The Supper at Emmaus allows us to see the emergent Christian Faith and its relationship to past scripture, to the physical appearance of Christ and then to the means by which what Newman called ‘God’s presence and his very self’ are to be known in the breaking of the bread for all posterity. The Dutch Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was a visionary painter, able to see into the deep recesses of mystery, as is the case in this The Supper at Emmaus (1648), which is now in the Louvre in Paris. He is able to convey so much more than a beautiful surface. In quite a unique way, he is able to conjure up an inner world. He does this, for instance, in his numerous self-portraits, leading us into a rich interiority of the person, delineating the many facets of his humanity at various stages of his life, the truth about himself, his pride, his humiliation, his humor, his sufferings, his compassion, his aging, his wisdom, his greatness, and his littleness. This marvellous gift of disclosing his own inner life can be seen in a self-portrait at Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath of Rembrandt just a year before his death. You can catch a 214 bus and go and see it for free!

 

So likewise the actor Anthony Hopkins in ‘The remains of the Day’ can convey a raft of emotion in one gesture, one look. The meeting of the stranger on the Road to Emmaus is akin to Mary’s meeting with the gardener who happens to be Jesus. She recognizes Jesus as he calls her by name, here Jesus is recognized in the breaking of bread, and reminds us that it is in this same breaking of bread in the Eucharist that Jesus is to be truly known and in which his real presence is inhabited.

 

It is astonishing that the two disciples who met the Lord on the road did not recognize Him, even when He explained the Scriptures to them for we learn that  “…beginning with Moses and the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him.” (Lk. 24:27) Though in retrospect they realized that their hearts were burning, it was only when “he took bread, and blessed, and broke, and gave it to them,” that their eyes were opened. This is the moment caught by Rembrandt. He helps us to see that the world of ordinary things is nonetheless shot through with the possibility of something extraordinary or mystical. Something not easy to explain, and this is how we read the account of the Supper at Emmaus, the life of Christ, his presence and his very self are made known in the breaking of bread, something very physical and tangible and edible though apprehended mysteriously and subtly. This echoes the Letter to the Hebrews 11.1 and the telling description of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” The account of the meeting of the stranger on the road to Emmaus allows us to see how subtle and delicate a flower Christian faith really is and that for its to be otherwise would make of it something too ready made, to sure of itself. Faith as we know is tested, sometimes to the very limit of its capacity to remain as such, and it is this way that God is experienced not as a religious antidote to all that life throws at the world but as the source of tis life and hope.

 

In Rembrandt’s painting we see Christ in His infinite tenderness at a banquet of love and intimate communion with His disciples, as with eyes turned to heaven, He broke the bread. The two disciples, in the company of an uncomprehending servant, are just beginning to be overtaken with astonishment, as expressed by subtle and understated gestures. The love of God breaks into the scene subtly and almost imperceptibly. He must do so for us, too.

 

Blessed John Henry Newman writes:

 

A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next… There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed, but every now and then marvelous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face.”

 

Christ, the Light of the World, is radiant. In the painting, the luminous white table cloth, like an altar cloth, reflects His light. Rembrandt seems to be linking this scene to the mystery of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. In both there is a sudden revelation of His divinity in His humanity, and the disciples are amazed. “Their eyes were opened, and they knew him” (Lk. 24:33).

 

Above all, however, the breaking of the bread alludes to the Last Supper and to the great mystery of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the Mass. Soon (after the Ascension) they will no longer see Christ with their human eyes. Christ is teaching them: they must learn to recognize Him as we must learn to recognize him in his real presence  in the Eucharist. Then the eyes of faith will be opened to Reality, and filled with indescribable light, light in darkness. This is the Mystery of Faith. This lies at the heart of our witness, a witness both to what we see and know, a witness to what our struggles and suffering, as well as a witness to a hope borne out of sacrifice to the One who gave Himself for us, even Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

 



 

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