Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension (Easter 7)
13th May 2018
Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven
“The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God”.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
After the six Sundays of Easter, in which we have encountered the risen Lord with the disciples in so many ways, our observance of this Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord takes us in another direction. Actually, it takes us to another dimension – heavenward. And for The Church this heavenly dimension is a quite natural way of regarding the life of God the Creator in relation to us his creatures. This dimension is expressed most fully in John’s Gospel where Jesus’ life is the one which has come from God and goes back to God. And again for the Church, to speak of Christ is to speak of the holiness and the glory of that freedom of movement he has brought about between the heavenly and the earthly places. We have, over past weeks witnessed the trial, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. In the weeks following Easter we have witnessed the Christ who comes to the disciples to reassure them and point their lives and their faltering faith every forward. He provides hope in the present and the promise of glory for the future. He promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. And now he goes back to the Father as he ascends into heaven. One of the Psalms express this poetically and joyfully – (Psalm 19.1-4):
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun…
In this meeting and mixing of the heavenly and the earthly there is the hope that is held out for us in Christ. Why is a belief in heaven so much a part of Christian Faith? How are we to believe in heaven in a way that is not as has been said cynically “pie in the sky when you die”? To speak of the Ascension of Jesus is to speak of the glory which emerges out of his own self offering, which is one of humility and self-giving, even unto death. It is best expressed in the 1662 Prayer Book’s Eucharistic Rite:
O God our Heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world, and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again…
We are reminded in Ephesians 4.6 that Jesus “ascended on high and led captivity captive”. And we, who are on this earth as captives, are also as Christians those who follow where Jesus Christ has gone before. And we are promised that what emerges out of the pattern of his and our own struggle and in his life is the glory which is the hope of heaven to come. Like him we come from God and go back to God. Christianity is above all else a hopeful and heaven directed faith. Our living out of this life in the pattern and likeness of Christ is a kind of suffering unto self, but again, after the pattern of Christ’s own being, the promise made to us is to the glory which is yet to be revealed to us:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey was one who constantly proclaimed the Christian glory in terms of the life of Man to its fullest potential. He wishes that these words, from Irenaeus, a Second Century Theologian and Saint be placed on his gravestone:
The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God.
Some time ago I was in Salisbury Cathedral. It is perhaps the finest example of a complete Medieval Gothic Cathedral that we have, with its spire rising to over 400’ the tallest spire in England, and the inside the vaulting which carries you mind and heart heavenward. Heavenward not just because the vaults are high and beautiful but because they speak to the heart and the souI. The architecture is spiritual architecture. I attended Evensong at which Psalm 18 was sung “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” and I began to see the cathedral around me in a new light and even a new dimension. It was no longer just a glorious great church building but a piece of living sculpture, full of space and light, and arches and shapes which took the eye in this or that direction. And then, too, the music and the choir themselves declared further this glory of which the psalmist wrote and of the many ways in which the Glory of God may be expressed in the lives of us all. The glory of God lies all around us and the Christian is the one who has open eyes to express this same glory in all we are and in all we do for God’s sake…
And this is where we come down from heaven and into this earth. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, his coming to birth as both Man and Son of God is one complete action. It is one which gifts the glory of God to each one of us in our own lives. It is the promise of his presence and of the potential in our own existences in the promise of glory gifted to us by the One Lord Jesus Christ who has ascended to that place where God is. This is the place where we are headed, too, and there is glory in that, too.
As we give our lives more fully to God, and as we dedicate ourselves in the service of Christ, let us then declare not only in our lips but with our hearts:
“The glory of God is the living Man; the life of Man is the Vision of God”.
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
6th May 2018
6th Sunday of Easter Year B Sermon
As we come to the end of the Easter Season our readings draw us to the final outcome of the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead. It was for the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim their risen Lord not just as a phenomenon but in an understanding of what constituted ‘human being’. And for the Church this was straightforward. God, the God of the Old Testament, the God of history, the ‘abba’; the Father of Jesus was love. The outworking of human love was the defining characteristic of the Christian Church as it emerged like a butterfly out of its chrysalis. But this was to be a love that was expressive and timeless.
This teaching on love, though, was not just ‘pie in the sky’. It was forged in the life of the Gospel writer John in relation to the early history of the Church from 90-110 AD. It was at this time that the Christian Church had begun to identify itself quite distinctly from its Jewish inheritance. This identity emerged out of the wisdom on the part of the great Apostles Peter and Paul that Baptism be offered to those known as gentiles - the general population; the great mass of people ‘out there’, ‘the great unwashed’. This radical decision was acted upon out of a sense of Christ and of the radical demands of the love of Christ. There was to be no partiality shown. The Christian community was no longer a slave to religious convention, but now a community of love whose members held a relationship in common. Jesus had called them ‘friends’ and this embrace of friendship cut across and undermined the old religions and the claim to many so many little exclusivenesses. It cut across the cultural norms and the weight of rank and privilege set against the Christian claim to an interrelated society with a common and shared destiny. It gained ground and lasted because its vision was realistic and expansive. It spoke about what was real, and what is real in us. Jesus had come not to proclaim a religiosity for its own sake but to speak for the truth of our human condition at its very heart. John reminds us of Jesus’ words ‘This is my commandment, ‘love one another as I have loved you’. Another John, John Lennon was to say, nineteen hundred and sixty years later,
Love is the answer, and you know that for sure; Love is a flower, you've got to let it grow.
You're just left with yourself all the time, whatever you do anyway. You've got to get down to your own God in your own temple. It's all down to you, mate.
John Lennon is all very well… but he was mistaken. The Church was and does never speak of ‘your own God in your own temple’. Lennon’s idea of love was a love without God. That’s not what we know to be true. Our three readings this morning tell us differently. They assume before anything else that the sole referent for the showing of human love is the existence of God, who has loved us before time began and who sent his Son to show us that love. Through our Baptism we have been provided with the patterning for that love. John is sure as he waits upon God that God is saying ’You did not choose me, I chose you’. This expression is written into an icon at my old theological college, Westcott House in Cambridge.
Rowan Williams, in his book, "The Dwelling of Light: Praying with Icons of Christ" (Canterbury Press, 2003) bases his chapter on the Westcott icon, writing, "the icon of the Christ Pantocrator in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge, was and is for me and many others a profoundly significant image." Of its meaning he writes,
"The point is simple: face to face with Jesus, there and only there, do we find who we are. We have been created to mirror his life, the eternal life of the one turned always toward the overflowing love of the Father; but our human existence constantly turns away. When we look at Jesus, we see in some measure what he sees, and are drawn to where his eyes lead us... we look at him looking at us, and try to understand that as he looks at us he looks at the Father. In other words, when he looks at us, he sees the love that is his own source and life, despite all we have done to obscure it in ourselves. When we look at him looking at us, we see both what we were made to be, bearers of the divine image and likeness, and what we have made of ourselves."
If love is to be anything at all it must speak for our human condition as it is found. This Eastertide stands for the proclamation of that love not just for its own sake but for the life of the world and the fulfilment of human destiny. Anything else is fake. It is in this sense, and only in this sense that St Augustine’s order has been understood:
Love, and do what you will…
End of Year Report by Fr Christopher for AGM
22nd Apr 2018
HOLY CROSS CHURCH CROMER STREET LONDON WC1H 8JU.
PARISH PRIEST’S REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2017-2018
Our Annual General Meeting always takes place within the season of Easter, and as we look back on the past year, we do so in the light of the Resurrection, which grants profound affirmation of our life in Christ, and of the promise of its continual refreshment and of the ‘green shoots’ of new life for the future. There is plenty of this at Holy Cross and we pray that God will bless our Mission.
REACHING OUT TO ARGYLE SCHOOL Fr Christopher regular visits the school and takes assemblies and is now increasingly involved working with individual classes. There are school visits to Holy cross Church at intervals during the year, with teaching on the Seasons of Advent, Christmas and Lent and Easter as well as classes on the symbolism of the Cross and the Holy Eucharist, as well as introductions to the church’s building and history. Each month, the school maintains discussion and class work around human values, and Fr Christopher is able to aid discussion and responses from the Christian point of view. Meditation classes take place for the final year six classes and there are informal sessions which prepare the final year children for moving on to ‘big’ school.
REACHING OUT TO THE HOMELESS We have once more sent groups of volunteers to support the Camden Cold Weather Night Shelter to cook breakfasts during the cold Winter months at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury. This year we undertook a sponsored walk around the churches of the South Camden Deanery ad raise £775 for the Camden Night Shelter (C4WS).
REACHING OUT TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITY Fr Christopher is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the King’s Cross Brunswick Neighbourhood Association (KCB). The group advises and supports the organisation in its vital and committed work among local children and young people and also alongside our elderly residents. There is a multiplicity of activities and the Church is being seen to be taking on an influential lead in these matters, especially as KCBNA takes a lead in tackling conflict issues and knife crime and drug issues among our challenged young people. At Holy Cross, we run our own lunch club on the first Saturday of each month, and this brings together both church and local community members around the one table.
ECUMENICAL INVOLVEMENT Holy Cross Church forms part of a network of Christian churches representing all the denominations, with each community offering a distinctive ministry to this part of King’s Cross. We come together for The Good Friday Walk of Witness. We have regular ecumenical minister’s meetings and share our good news and maintain close links and friendships. This April saw the
THE HOLY CROSS CENTRE TRUST This year is the final year of Holy Cross Centre Trust as we at Holy Cross market the crypt premises. Their drop in and other groups have all found new homes and this marks the end of a 35 year relationship. We are now marketing the crypt premises and hope to achieve a balance around the commercial and charitable use for its future use. HCCT had been given responsibility of management of the Peace Garden (owned by Camden Council) at the east end of the church and we have contacted Camden, and, through the service of Camden Green Gym and their team of local volunteers, have held two gardening days, the next of which takes place on Thursday 3rd May. It is already looking heaps better!
INTERFAITH INVOLVEMENT Fr Christopher attends the meetings of The Camden Interfaith Communities Partnership throughout the year. This provides an invaluable means of maintaining a strong solidarity among the religious groups and their leaders Camden-wide. This year we were able to go to Sandfield Mosque in Cromer Street to join our Muslim friends for prayers.
ON THE HOME FRONT We celebrated the Confirmation of Richard Nicholl, Carl Wratten, Thomas Olowade and Jonathon Kitson on our Patronal Feast Day, Sunday 17th September, in the presence of the Bishop of Edmonton. We continue to witness the often very significant number of visitors who come to Sunday Mass from their travels around the world. We rejoiced in the award to our own Margaret Holness of the Canterbury Cross for her services to the Church of England as ‘The Church Times’ education correspondent.
AND FOR FUTURE PLANS….The Louis Lewis Bequest has beern granted for the provision of Holy Cross. Our claim with Ecclesiastical Insurance is now in the hands of the Archdeacon of Hampstead, and, with our churchwardens, our structural surveyor, Ken Amblin, and our architect Jonathan Louth we are continuing to press on. We have carried out a ‘Spring Clean’ of old and worn items from the church and have put the gift of tables and chairs from the Royal Physiological Society to good use. We are currently marketing the crypt premises and have welcomed the Huaxia Chinese Church to use our church premises each Sunday afternoon. We hope now to find a new tenant for the crypt premises and to ‘take back’ roughly a third of the crypt – the current TV an Parish rooms for our own use and will in due course erect a stud wall and occupy this space for our own social and missional use. We are hoping for a church ’turned inside out’ and turned toward the community it is called to serve and begin to fulfil our Mission prmises which we have put together on our Mission and Vision Days.
The Resurrection is for the Christian community and for our world a sign of hope and of future glory and we at Holy Cross live and work for the promise it offers to us in our own amazing community here in King's Cross, London.
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
15th Apr 2018
EASTER 3 YEAR B
“They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate it in their presence” Luke 24.40
We are still in the season of Easter, and will remain so for some weeks. This is The Church’s deliberate intention. We experience and re-experience the Resurrection and its aftermath so that we may come to realise its profound meaning for ourselves. The Resurrection is never to be seen as the simple end-point of the life of the Jesus. It exists dynamically in time. It is for the Christian Church its own past, present and future life. It exists for the changing and the maturing of lives. It is deeply relational. The apostles had already shown the emotional freedom and courage to set aside their existing attachments and follow Jesus, and they now had to grasp the far more unsettling message that their lives, and the life of the whole world, would now be utterly changed.
We can’t avoid the fact that the gospel writers found the resurrection of Jesus quite puzzling. Except, that is, in one point: in different ways, all the gospels labour the point that Jesus was no ghostly apparition. He appeared to them after his own resurrection from the dead. The tomb was empty; but Jesus had gone on ahead and had appeared to Mary Magdalen and spoken to her. The risen Christ ate, broke bread, spoke, and even allowed Thomas and others to put their fingers in his wounds. He was very much an embodied presence. Jesus was actual and present to the disciples. On the road to Emmaus we are told that Jesus’ friends walked along in conversation with him for several miles without recognising him. He appeared to them and he entered locked rooms, and then suddenly disappeared from their sight – all things which sound much more like the ways we think of disembodied ghosts. But it is not Jesus as ghost but Jesus as physically present that is emphasized. And his presence is one which challenges the disciples and their perception of him, and who challenges them to ‘move on’ from this.
The focus is on the reality of Jesus. His being very present. Why, at this moment of resurrection vision, do we come to the frankly mundane sounding sentence: ‘They gave him a piece of broiled fish’?
One of the real dangers for people of faith is that we fail to recognise the importance of the physical, tangible world of which we are part – that we make our faith ‘other worldly’. This has always been a danger – right back in the early centuries of the church when Gnostics denied that God had made the physical world, believed that it was evil, and taught that we had to be saved out of it. But Christians have always believed that the physical world of everything is in fact and deed, God’s creation, and that it is to be loved. We, like him, are both of the body and of the spirit; the resurrection tells us that the true life is one which does not oppose the physical, but reaches beyond it. With our whole hearts and minds and bodies, we are called to behold and proclaim God’s glory in the very real present, in the very cold light of day, and to proclaim ourselves as a church which is for human flourishing:
The grave clothes of winter
are still here, but the sepulchre
is empty. A messenger
from the tomb tells us
how a stone has been rolled
from the mind, and a tree lightens
the darkness with its blossom.
There are travellers upon the road
who have heard music blown
from a bare bough, and a child
tells us how the accident
of last year, a machine stranded
beside the way for lack
of petrol, is crowned with flowers.
R S Thomas
The Resurrection brings the Church into new birth as the wellspring of its life. It is not isolated in history but an ever-present fact for the Church and its present and forward momentum. We can’t ‘do’ the resurrection on Easter day and then get on with the rest of life: The Church is called to stay in the resurrection so as to be able to live as Jesus lived. The French word for ‘resurrection’ is resussité, resuscitation, which powerfully asserts the grace of life giving refreshment renewal in the Christian life.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
The Resurrection stands in contrast to life that is fossilised and atomised and turned in on itself. It is the perpetual declaration if new life in the immediate present. It is also RS Thomas’ “…stone being rolled from the mind”.
A Resurrection church is one which, like ours, has understood our Diocesan command to become one more caring, creative and compassionate, and it is most recently that we as a church must make decisions, following the departure of the Holy Cross Centre Trust. We are pledged to continue as a church offering broad and warm welcome and care to those in need at the local level and at the point of need. We must set the need to maintain a building (which costs money) alongside the overriding need to be most fully a Church. The Church which emerged out of the Resurrection was a people resuscitated, given new life from its source. A Church which continued to be oxygenated by the Holy Spirit and whose influence powerfully and prayerfully informed the church’s every move. A church too, not only understood through sound bites and mission statements but actually found in the authentic lives of men Christian men women and children who have dedicated their lives to Christ.
Pope Francis’ March Encyclical ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’:
I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”.
Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, spreading abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity”.
When the resurrected Jesus ‘eats the bread in their presence’ he is calling us all to make him and to make his Church more real as we embrace more fully and activate more passionately His call holiness.
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
8th Apr 2018
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter Year B
Then (Jesus) said to him “Do not doubt but believe”.
Thomas answered him “My Lord and my God!” John 20.27b,28.
In the painting ‘The Incredulity of Thomas’ by Caravaggio, Thomas is a gnarled old peasant, who, with furrowed brow and inquisitive and amazed eyes, has placed his bloodied index finger into a wound in Christ’s side. Two other disciples look down at the implanted finger as though medical students at an examination in a teaching hospital. But they are not young medical students but rough old peasants with dirty finger nails. In a fascinating detail, Jesus guides Thomas’ finger into the wound. The scene is spine tingling. You are a witness to a startling scene, and you feel its effect viscerally, with your nerve endings, and it makes you want to shudder!
The painting takes the dialogue between Jesus and Thomas and involves us to the extent that it is WE who are made to feel the finger going into the Christ’s wound ourselves. The spiritual reality of the resurrection is to be experienced in the flesh. The Resurrection of Jesus presents for the mind of the sceptic a difficult or even impossible level of understanding. In this context Thomas becomes the hero of the piece, for he echoes that all too human incredulity which befalls the one for whom faith and wonder exist on the unreachable or neglected side of the human imagination. But Jesus is there as the abiding reality, for Caravaggio he is bathed in light. He is the one who with guiding hand, allows us to see that the spiritual and the physical, the past and the present, have become one in him. As the hymn says ‘Only believe and thou shalt see, that Christ is all in all to thee’. But belief is not a simple business. Thomas makes it look very easy.
But for Thomas the disciple, this was not always the case. Several chapters earlier in John’s Gospel, when the news reaches the ears of Christ that Lazarus is dead, Jesus speaks at first of Lazarus as being asleep, and that he must go and wake him. The apostles are concerned that Jesus will be stoned if he returns to Judæa. What follows tells us more about Thomas, and surprises us:
‘Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go with him, that we may die with him.' John 11.16.
Here Thomas is far from doubting, he is the one who is willing to follow Jesus unto death and to risk the consequences. It is the believing Thomas who cries ‘Let us go with him!” John 11.6. No wonder then, that in the eastern orthodox churches, Thomas is known not as a doubter but as ‘Thomas the Believer’. If we are honest, we might say that Christian Faith finds its centre of gravity somewhere between a kind of certainty and a kind of doubting. Many of our well-known hymns express this kind of faith, in which God is seen in hiddenness and inaccessibility. ‘Immortal Invisible God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes’, we sing. And in the hymn ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ comes a ringing endorsement of the existence of heaven with the admission that ‘I know not, O I know not, what solid joys lie there…’ Thomas sets before us the existence of faith and doubt as part of the one offering to God. This is echoed in the poetry of R S Thomas as he describes the idea of faith as both presence and absence, and as the confounding of that desire as TS Eliot put it, to ‘verify, instruct yourself, inform curiosity, or carry report…’:
Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Via Negativa R.S. Thomas (1913–2000)
The Resurrection of Jesus was only slowly realised by the disciples. The Gospel of Mark, which we have been following this year, is full of their misunderstandings. The disciples are not learned men. They struggle with their own partial understanding. But the Gospel writer is able in this way to make a larger point about the nature of human perception itself. The point is that faith in Christ is never the finished article or a final statement. It grows and develops and may grow deeper and more mature. More vision and trust may be granted. The fact of the resurrection is not just a romantic adjunct to the life and death of Jesus. It is the arrival at an understanding of the identity of Jesus in all its fullness. After all, the new relationship which the Resurrection has founded is the one in which Jesus of Nazareth, the rabbi and teacher, the healer, the worker of miracles, the one who died that shameful death on the cross is now risen from the dead! He has become for Thomas and for Christians for all time, “Lord and God!”
In the final analysis, an understanding of the Christian faith does not rest on belief and doubt in a theory. It is not about supposition but about reality. It is about us and what we are and why we are alive and what we are doing with our lives and whether we are becoming what we were made to be and whether we acknowledge that we are chosen and cherished by a loving Maker, who has sent his son to live among us, to die for us and to raise us to new life. This is the belief that the Christian risks. The risk as I say to myself, ‘Let me go with him, that I might die with him”. Let us go, anyway. There is nothing to fear. God has already taken the initiative. He has made his choice and we are now to make ours. But with the caveat that we are not to doubt but only believe.
“Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God's loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love.” .