Sermon Preached at Tonbridge School on The Feast of St Hugh of Lincoln

17th Nov 2013


A Sermon Preached at Tonbridge School, Kent.

Sunday 17th November 2013.

(Second Sunday before Advent and The Feast of St Hugh of Lincoln).

 

 

I am kindly invited here as the Parish Priest of Holy Cross Church, Cromer Street in London’s King’s Cross, and I am bound to Tonbridge School by our joint history, which takes us back to your founder, Sir Andrew Judde.  Judde owned lands in what was then St Pancras, and it was from this largesse and from the Skinner’s Company that the School was established and endowed in 1553. It is a great privilege to be invited here to preach this evening, and I greet you from a small Anglican Parish in London set in the heart of King’s Cross, once a no-go red light district but now redeveloped and at the hub of a vibrant and multicultural world city and the nation’s gateway to Europe. I can cross the road from my Vicarage in the early morning, catch the Eurostar train and be in Paris for in just over two hours. Mine is the London parish in which Charles Dickens wrote his novel ‘Barnaby Rudge’ in the local pub, ‘The Boot’, and in which the actor/comedian Kenneth Williams was brought to Sunday School as a boy in the late 1930s. The English modernist war painter Paul Nash lived in the parish and the composer Georg Friedrick Handel and William Hogarth were governors at the nearby Foundling Hospital. We still have Judd Street, Tonbridge Street and The Skinner’s Arms…

 

Listening to that small reading from the life of St Hugh of Lincoln, whose feast day The Church celebrates today, I was alerted to a phrase used by its writer, the trusty monk scribe Adam, who speaks frankly of Hugh’s ability to care at close hand to lepers and to wash and bathe their sores. He makes the startling observation that Hugh ‘clearly saw their internal splendour’. This is no chance remark. It’s a spiritual observation based on a deeper reading of the surface facts. It makes plain that the practice of Christian Faith is bound up in a deep-seeing affection for all things human. In Hugh’s case this was realised when you abandoned yourself to the care and the attention of the other. This abandonment represents in human terms, a vital breakthrough from the norm. For the Christian Way of living rests on a paradox founded in the Holy Cross of Christ and it is this : that to find yourself, to truly find yourself in this life, you must in a real sense lose yourself. This is not a loss to oblivion but to the finding of the God we cannot see or fathom in the life of the other. This is not a movement out of the self alone but a movement of the human heart. It risks a sharing of lives that are perhaps ‘poles apart’ from yours and yet promises the hope of what one writer has called our ‘co-creative potential’. Each one of us is a living presence, an Incarnation in itself, and Christian wisdom, following after the example of Jesus, tells us that it achieves its true fulfilment when it gives itself for the other.

 

It is in this same vein that many young students plan their ‘gap year’ and decide to go somewhere, to do something, to take a risk on a venture which contains perhaps an element of daring, of the unknown and of some risk to their own existing world view. My own attempt way back in 1979 as a nineteen year old was to spend time as a nurse at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, alongside patients with terminal illness and under the auspices of the then ‘new’ Hospice Movement and its founder Dame Ciceley Saunders.  This experience was for me completely life-changing and reinforced my longing to serve God as a priest. But for you it might take many other forms. The gap year might be physical active, adventurous and adrenaline-filled, but it might also be complimented by some work that helps you recognise the ‘internal splendour’ of the world around you and of the new acquaintance standing in relation to you. It might certainly involve travelling. “Vive la difference!”, as the French say…

 

This idea of going out of yourself to find yourself was upmost in the minds of the Tonbridge School authorities in the last century. How was this school to respond to this interesting and invigorating challenge? Well, their response was not an original one, but it was nonetheless effective – to plan for the setting up and then the building of The Tonbridge Boys Club. It allowed King’s Cross and Tonbridge School boys to meet during the Summer period in both places. I have seen a happy photograph on ‘Friends Re-united’ which is taken of one of these Summer Camps in 1947. I like to think that Tonbridge School was to some extent putting back what the school had received from the old St Pancras Lands in an honest attempt to connect to those parts of life in a poor part of London of which it would otherwise have been unaware. A kind of recycling. Critics might now ridicule the idea of an organised mixing of the classes, but I think the intention in those days was a good and strong one, guarding against an outcast mentality and embracing mutual difference. They were obedient to a call which seemed to emerge as an order from the school’s title deeds.

 

I have met many former Tonbridge Club boys who remember with real affection those days of meeting up with the Tonbridge School boys and what was gained in terms of a mutual sharing of lives and in them the recognition of that ‘internal splendour’, that basic humanity, which exists beneath the surface appearances of class or type, and which offers the opportunity to fulfil our co-creative potential. And so, dear Tonbridge School, I salute you and your forebears for all this while I turn to the present. For I want to suggest that Tonbridge School decide upon the re-establishment of a youth exchange  between King’s Cross and Tonbridge School and that we all do something to bring it about. I want some of you to agitate for this and to get something going. As well as Priest at Holy Cross Church I am also Chairman of the King’s Cross Brunswick Neighbourhood Forum, whose youth team premises is a fantastic building opposite my Vicarage in Argyle Square. Most of our youth are Bangladeshi, street-wise, amazing, creative and making their way in a London environment which is very challenging and often very difficult. I am certain you would benefit from one another’s company. I must make the strong suggestion in this address if it is to mean anything, that you decide to think about these possibilities and make something happen. I am sure that those who worked tirelessly to sustain the Tonbridge Club over many years past would not want to find that in this dynamic age it is dead and gone. King’s Cross is very much alive and leaving you its calling card…

 

The monk scribe Adam, companion to St Hugh of Lincoln sees deeply into the heart of things, and his comment upon the presence of ‘internal splendour’ recognises that as Cardinal Hume once said “In very human heart there is a God-shaped space”. Another Cardinal, Cardinal Newman spoke of ‘heart speaking to heart”. Hugh’s legacy is the one which calls us to trust in these things and if possible, to realise them. Will you dare to do the same, I wonder? Will Tonbridge School come again to Kings’ Cross? In the meantime I instruct you, in this matter, like the voice on the London Underground to ‘mind the gap’. 



Sermon for Remembrance Sunday 2013

10th Nov 2013


Remembrance Sunday 2013

 

 

Their hope was rich in immortality.       Wisdom 3.4

 

Remembrance Sunday remains a very vivid memory from my childhood. In my home town of Plymouth it took place on the vast esplanade which provides a dramatic high platform overlooking a wide expanse of sea. And it was on this platform and from a Plymouth that has been completely rebuilt after the ravages of the blitz, that the old soldiers marched. And I remember on one of these Sundays seeing a small and very elderly group of ex-soldiers and asked my Dad who they were? He said “They’re Boer War men”, and then the guns from the nearby barracks on the Hoe boomed out to sea and their echoes returned.. The two minutes’ silence was held in an intense atmosphere full of deeply felt remembrances.

 

Standing back from this memory, I had once felt sure as the years passed, this Day of Remembrance for the War Dead would spend itself with the passage of time and with the deaths of the combatants of the World Wars. But this has not been the case. For this Sunday strikes a chord in the human heart. Remembrance Sunday is much more than the sum total of the observances that take place. It occupies a sea of human experience which spans life and death and the life beyond. It brings us in touch, yes with the brutality and the futility of war and the sorrow of loss and yet at the same time with the dignity and the eternal worth of human sacrifice. And the promise is there of the God whose presence, even amidst the horrors of suffering, is seen in many acts of self-giving.

 

These are of course Christian figures of speech – the reaching out beyond the life here to the life beyond, and the transformation of the human condition in a life which gives of itself to the other. Jesus values. But in a simple way it is the valuation of every human life. The book of Wisdom declares this an expression of a hope ‘rich in immortality’. The many war memorials across the world with the giant stones and the seemingly endless rows of names, each name has been a whole life, a life of hopes and dreams and cares and joys and pains. And as the poppy petals fall down into the Albert Hall each year at the Festival of Remembrance each petal represents one life lost. Each one counts; each one was significant; each one gathered up and made present in the falling of red petals.

 

God’s very being, bright with immortality, is manifested in the living world and among us now. And in a world in which war and the waging of war still remains a reality we ask ourselves as Christians how we are to understand this Remembrance Sunday in relation to life in the early twenty first century? We commemorate this Sunday only days after the Christian World commemorates All Souls, for others the Day of the Dead. In London the dead leaves fall to the ground and crunch underfoot as nature accompanies the hallowing of the dead and the poppies are seen everywhere. The present day vocation for the Christian is to proclaim a life that has not secumbed to the deadliness of materialism but to the bright hope that lies beyond a closed personal world with the closed mind and a stone heart.

 

The way forward for us the living ones is through a proper honouring of the human condition as it is found, and a patient preparedness to sacrifice our own selves for the good of the greater whole. The Christian Gospel and the teaching of Christ is before else a summons to attend to these things in a kind of spiritual watchfulness. Deadness is there in the life which has withdrawn into itself and which takes no risks and avoids having any demands made upon it. Abundant life is there when it is held for us in Jesus Christ. The life of Jesus has shown that victory over the powers of death is won through in the laying down of our lives; perhaps in necessarily little ways. Sometimes what seem to be large amounts of sacrifice might be given for the sake of the good, and for peace of the world. This day reminds us that the self-sacrifice of the many in the past may lead us on to a powerful and moving and effective understanding of the power of human self-sacrifice in this and every age. Jesus Christ is our guide in all these things. He mediates the love of the Father and holds out the promise of renewal of life out of the sacrifice of self for the good of the other. In such a way do we become true channels for his everlasting peace. In such a way do the words of the Wisdom writer emerge as a hope rich in immortality.

 

THERE'S A LAND OF BEGIN AGAIN
(Hughie Charles / Ross Parker)
 
Vera Lynn – 1942. A song sung slowly and out of hope.
 
There's a land of begin again
On the other side of the hill
Where we learn to love and live again
When the world is quiet and still
There's a land of begin again
And there's not a cloud in the sky
Where we'll never have to grieve again
And we'll never say goodbye.
 
There's a prize we can win again
And together, somehow, we will
There's a land of begin again
On the other side of the hill.
 
 
 



Sermon for the Commemoration of All Souls

3rd Nov 2013


All Souls Sermon 2013

 

“Praying for one’s departed loved ones is a far too immediate urge to be suppressed. It is a most beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death”.                                                                  

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

 

 

At this particular time of the year in the first days of November, the Church seems to wrap itself in the lives of those who have gone before: On the 1st November in the lives of all the saints, which we celebrated on Friday last. Then as the days in November wear on, we come to that moment on the 11th hour of the 11th month as Armistice Day is observed. And then there comes Remembrance Sunday next Sunday and the wearing of poppies… Today’s All Soul’s Day is the Church’s Day of the Dead, and forms an inseparable apart of the general commemorating and remembering of the dead. And its purpose is to keep us in mind of what we know as Christians already. That there is a fine veil that separates life from death. Similarly, there is a fine veil that separates us from those who have gone before us, and especially those whose lives we have come in the past to know and to love. They are a part of us and their influence upon us is with us there for us in the present and for all time.

 

For the Christian, life is of God’s making and it is sacred. And this  is vital for our understanding of who God is. As God’s creatures we stand in awe of the grandeur and the mystery of what he has made and how he has made it. The true meaning of life lies beyond mere speech. No wonder, then, that the appropriate response in the remembrance of the dead is one of silence. The Two Minute’s Silence speaks to us clearly in this busy world more than ever in ways words never could. In the silence is communicated that place where the living and the dead hold communion. Yet another tradition in the remembering of the dead is the writing down or the reading out of the names of the dead. We may imagine the war memorials, with their thousands of names, the books of commemoration and condolence, as well as the engravings for those known and unknown on countless memorial stones. And at his All Souls Mass, the long list of the names of the dead, known by you and I both individually and severally is solemnly read out. It is stands both as a list of the dead and a declaration of our faith in the one who has risen from the Dead – Our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In his great poem ‘The Wasteland’ TS Eliot, recovering from a nervous breakdown, describing a crowd of commuters  crossing over Westminster Bridge in the year 1921:

 

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

 

I had not thought death had undone so many.

 

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

 

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

  65

Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

 

To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

 

With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

 

 

Eliot observed them; a people recovering from The Great War and and most of them suffering the deaths of their menfolk: sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins. And the feeling is one of great sorrow and loss. And this is a sorrow that Eliot describes as a kind of emotional and actual ‘undoing’. “I had not thought that death had undone so many” he says. Death and the brevity of life and the loss of a loved one still comes to us as a kind of undoing. Another poet, Dylan Thomas writes a poem which is an elegy for his dead father and bids us ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

It expresses a passionate anger that must form a part of the sense of impotent rage at a life gone from his midst, and the terrible loss of it. This too, forms a part of the human experience of death.

This Solemn Commemoration of All Souls on this day each year is in the words of a Pope  “…a beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death’. However faint are our powers of recollection we nevertheless feel in our own lives the influences of those who have gone before us. We feel there is more here than words can express, even for an Eliot or a Dylan Thomas. At this time each year we remember the dead in faith and in thanksgiving. And we pray that as we journey on, so we may be sustained and maintained in hope by the One who made us and loves us as Christian souls. He is The One who came to show us the way through death and into life eternal, even Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.



Sermon for the 125th Anniversary of Holy Cross Church and the Centenary of the Ministry of Fr Alfred Hope Patten. (The Rev'd Canon Brendan Clover, former Parish Priest).

2nd Nov 2013


Sermon for the 125th Anniversary of the Consecration of Holy Cross Cromer Street WC1

 

I have so many reasons to be pleased and proud to have this opportunity to speak to you today: for I love this church and this is like a homecoming...

 

And yet how can it be that what is so captivating could be so simple: a rectangle, nave and choir, and two porches. Yes two porches: because in the early days the fact that the Blessed Sacrament was reserved here for the veneration of the faithful and the communion of the sick had to be hidden from prying episcopal eyes.  And so it was reserved in what was thought to be a porch.  The Bishop would not think of looking in there!  But the faithful knew better! And how wonderful to honour that porch - now the Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham – today!  The sacrament may have moved to where it belongs, as the visual and devotional climax of this church, but its departure frees us up to remember a precious moment in the past of this parish.

 

For it was there, during the incumbency of Fr Baverstock, one of two priest brothers, that Alfred Hope Patten discovered the devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham.  Colin Stephenson in Walsingham Way tells us that

 

‘one morning at breakfast in the clergy house Fr Baverstock showed him a small carved image of Our Lady of Walsingham and told him it was being sent to Walsingham in Norfolk…  He aleady knew of Hope’s special devotion to Our Lady, which is why he showed him this figure and remarked on its appropriate destination.’


In that moment a dream was born and Hope Paten’s destiny was announced.  You could say that without Holy Cross Cromer Street there would have been no restoration of the shrine at Walsingham and that the torrent of hope and holiness which has flowed from it would have been lost to our Church.  Go to the Parish Church there and see the small image of Our Lady given by the folk of this parish when the statue was translated in 1931 and gasp at the modesty of the gift.  That modesty in this Catholic parish, which has always punched above its weight, still continues.  And so we should be modest when confronted with the mystery of God.

And around Fr Baverstock were the likes of Fr Stanton, curate of St Albans Holborn, who gave the crucifix by the confessional. These were the great leaders of our movement.  You can almost sense their presence:

 

‘No desertion: no surrender’


is ringing in my ears, the catch word of that great priest Fr Maconockie which deserves to be taken up and proclaimed again.

 

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre –

To be redeemed from fire by fire.[1]

 

Is there anywhere else in Christendom which expresses the rediscovery of the Catholic Faith in the Church of England more eloquently than this? And as some of you know the rites used in this church for decades were those of the Western rite.  It was Archbishop Fisher  who reminded the Church of England that she had ‘no doctrine of her own, only the doctrine of the Catholic Church.’  The use of the Rite of the Western Church in Church of England churches was a way of expressing that deep yearning for our reconciliation with the Church from which we were hewn.

 

There’s a story I was told by Fr Paul Lewis who was curate here that at Vespers and Benediction during the octave of the Feast of St Peter the parish priest would demand his curates made the Yearly Dedication of England to St Peter, Prince of the Apostles.  Here it is in this book I really should now return!!!

 

We renew our loyalty to the Pontiff, thy successor, who now fills the Apostolic See.

 

Fr Paul refused to do it...  And was shown the door! Now that might have been something of an overreaction in an Anglican setting, but how gloriously eccentric…

and as you might think looking in the direction of this pulpit ‘a little eccentricity goes a very long way!’ But the point is that in the end we are called to obedience.  We will question the teachings of the Church, but our duty is to be loyal to them.  We engaged in what has been called ‘faith seeking understanding.’  I have to tell you I am still learning about obedience and when I told Mrs Clover I was going to talk about it this afternoon she raised an eyebrow and said, ‘Really, did you have to look it up!’

 

So what of us?  Are we sipping the brandy of the damned?  Has the glory departed for ever? Possibly…  But then, through the lens of the scriptures, absolutely not!  For here and now we stand on the edge of glory.  That white shroud that surrounded our bodies in baptism will become the garment we wear in heaven when as John tells us

Round the throne… are twenty four elders siting, dressed in white robes with crowns on their heads.[2] And this means that our ultimate hope and destiny - the reason God created us – is to worship him in heaven in company with one another and the whole communion of saints, with Mozart as the music maker!  And here, in this humble back street Anglo Catholic shrine parish church we know it is true.  Because here and now, in this thin place, we catch of glimpse of God’s glory and find ourselves

 

Changed from glory into glory

till in heaven we take our place.

till we cast our crowns before thee,

lost in wonder, love and praise.[3]

 

‘This church is poorer than our love will let it look’[4] for one reason only: it is that it offers a glimpse of who and what God wants us to become.

And it starts

 

NOW.



[1] T.S Eliot Little Gidding

[2] Revelation 4.4

[3] Charles Wesley: Love divine, all loves excelling

[4] Sign by the Church Door



 

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