Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
18th Apr 2021
Sermon for Easter 2
“My Lord and my God” John 20.28
The post-resurrection appearances of Christ serve not only to drive home the message of the Resurrection but convict the witness in the deepest level of their being. They give us the sense of God’s calling and of Christ as its visible manifestation. Doubting Thomas is shown the wounds of Christ as signs of the meaning of his suffering and death. It is by Christ’s wounds that the ‘secret’ of his Messiahship is communicated. It is through the wounded Christ that the full fruits of his ministry is understood and responded to. It is as if God the Father is saying ‘It is by these means alone that my love for you is shown”. “It is in response to my wounded Son that I call you to serve me”. “To know these things you must go by the way of unknowing”. “To serve me you must cast all care aside”. “I am calling you to believe in this…”
Thomas was not present to hear the first glad news of the Resurrection. Because of his absence he can only accept its truth doubtfully. He wants not only to ‘see’ it but also even to touch it! He wants to experience the resurrection viscerally and even to use a word shared by all who have received the Covid jab, subcutaneously. Only by putting his finger into Christ’s wounds will he recognise Christ as truly alive. The Gospel writer John wishes us to know that the call to serve Christ, to embrace the Christian vocation takes the individual beyond the realm of proof and into the deeper realm of sacrificial and unselfconscious self-giving. Thomas’ doubting is of little importance if it does not draw us into its counterpart – the call which draws you out of yourself and into the life of the other. The wounds are a reminder that this may be costly, but c’est la vie, as the French say, ‘that is life’. Real, true life.
The Camden Abu Dis Friendly Association is led by Dr Nandita Dowson. Camden teachers and other community leaders, under its aegis, have been visiting settlements in Palestine, esp. in Abu Dis. They have met other schoolteachers, parents, and young people who are under sentence of isolation in the Palestinian territories east of Jerusalem. I will never forget when asking the young people of Abu Dis what they wanted to do as a career an unusually large number said ‘doctor’ or ‘nurse’. It was moving to meet the young personalities who have suffered tremendous early dislocation and disharmony. Yet they want to dedicate their futures to mend and enhance and improve their social environment. Somewhere deep inside is the need to express something of their longing for freedom and harmony and to want to help make this possible for others, too. These are vocations which seem to appear out of nowhere, but do in fact emerge out of the fruits of a wounded existence.
I noticed in all the filmography relating to HRH the late Prince Philip that the motto at the foot of his crest simply says: ‘God is my help’. When the lives of a child like Philip and the Palestinian youth emerge out of experiences which have been unsure, and where perhaps there has been great emotional challenge, so too the recourse to express something of what it might be like to live ‘on the other side of hope’? Many remarkably caring persons, coming from difficult backgrounds, have nonetheless ‘put themselves out’ in the service of others, and particularly at the level of bodily care, to make this world a better place. From a background of inherited displacement may come the desire to offer it back as a passionate response to the beauty and possibility of life itself? There is the accompanying idea of the interconnectedness of vocations, particularly ones which bring strength and healing to those they nurture. We may remember personalities in our own lives who have truly believed in us and given us in turn much needed self-belief and self-confidence. They are bringers of resurrection. No doubt Prince Philip owed much to two stunning vocations, one which belonged to his own mother who became a religious and founded an order for nursing the sick, and the other the Jewish emigree Kurt Hahn who, as the prince once said ‘understood adolescents better than they understood themselves’. These bringers of resurrection, having experienced the brunt of suffering in their own lives had nonetheless made possible resurrection in others. God’s great helpers.
In Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, the recourse to God, out of a life of great personal trial, was I think, something of a key. I say all this as our attention is drawn to the means by which Christ shows his wounds to Thomas. This is not just a ‘showing’ but a visceral immersion into the wounded Christ. We may shiver a little when we consider what lies beneath our skin, our bodily packaging; what the medics call ‘sub-cutaneous’. It relates powerfully to what lies at the heart of our human woundedness and vulnerability. The ‘going deeper’ is a figure for the deeper and more profound response which the resurrection of Christ calls out in us all…
Thomas’ doubting is, in fact, of little importance. It serves as a powerful contrast, to draw us to that greater recognition of God which lies deep within our human nature, and which is the catalyst for that greater response to service of which the wounded Christ is the living embodiment. This has emerged not out of personal choice alone, but whose possibility is for the transformation of our lives and other lives. Thomas is finally able to give his assent. His teacher, Jesus of Nazareth is now both human and divine and his resurrection life is now and forever possible for all who come to him. He has seen his salvation.
The Orthodox Churches call ‘Doubting Thomas ‘Believing Thomas’, for his response to that which he has come to see in truth:
“My Lord and my God!”
Christ is Risen!
Rev. Christopher Cawrse
Sermon for Easter Morning 2021
4th Apr 2021
Sermon for Easter Day 2021
Terror and amazement had seized them and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid”
The experience of Jesus’ followers on the first Easter day reminds us of just how human and vulnerable they were. They were for all intents and purposes, ordinary people like you and me. And yet the experience of the risen Christ proved completely life changing. The first witness, Mary Magdalene had come to them and her message was a revelation and the igniting of a new realisation. But this was only to happen gradually. Last night we had great trouble getting a light from the Easter fire to the Easter candle, but in some Christian cultures that sense of gradual and even awkward realisation of the resurrection is quite deliberate. In the great Holy Sepulcre Church in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection, orthodox monks loiter around the site of Jesus’ tomb for a while quite furtively, and priests go in and out of the place of the tomb once or twice or three times, and then suddenly issue forth blazing torches, and the younger more athletic priests rush out of the tomb to proclaim the suddenly realised resurrection. The effect is as startling as it must have been for the early followers.
So much for the effect. Now for the source of the effect. The experience was not for them simply one of shock and awe. They experienced something quite new to human experience, that this Jesus, whom they had honoured and loved, had risen from the dead as God, or as Son of God, a vital part of God. The experience of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not therefore just an experience, it is now a life changing, cataclysmic event in which, because it is God who is Risen, changes their lives for ever. God is now no longer pitched upon a cross or sealed in a tomb, but God in Jesus is now alive and as God will ever remain with them In a way they could never have envisaged. Jesus is to be with them always. They in turn are to become one in God as Jesus is God.
I spent the earlier part of lockdown binge watching episodes from the 20 series of ‘Silent Witness’ about a group of trendy, likeable forensic scientists who could solve difficult and mysterious cases of death and catastrophe through DNA and the minute investigation of body parts. Alongside this I watched Agatha Christie murder mysteries and particularly the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. In thinking about the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, I might imagine the ‘Silent Witness’ team picking over the empty tomb to try and find the vital evidence for this amazing happening, closely examining specks of dust or perhaps a tiny fragment of the white linen cloth left behind. They would present their findings and we might be impressed by their handiwork but it would not carry us to an experience of resurrection. Likewise, Mr Hecule Poirot might with his acute mind summon the forces of logic to provide a plausible reason why this resurrection event had occurred and single out individuals, who in the dead of night had taken the body and hidden it. No resurrection here also.
This morning on the radio, David Suchet, who played the Belgian sleuth Poirot, related his conversion to Christianity in 1986. He had been reading the Bible in a hotel room and was convicted by the words he was reading from Romans Chapter 8.11:
He was struck by the words from Chapter 8 verse 11
If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the spirit which dwells in you.
The experience of reading and digesting this piece of scripture was for David Suchet a conversion to Christ. It spoke too, of the truth that lay at the centre of his and every being –
That God is no dead thing and neither is the word of God. It is alive and active and present. It speaks to us about our lives and their true condition in a way which can never be surpassed – that God in his love sent his Son Jesus Christ to die and to rise again, and that the spirit of God, resident in all our hearts cries out for its own ‘Alleluya’; it’s vital ‘Yes’ to God’s summons. He mentions that the Bible is really about all of us, and particularly the failures. But it is relentlessly hopeful. Its words are always meant not only to be read but to be heard, just as the follows heard those words from Mary Magdalene that he had risen from the dead and that life could never be the same again. Now we are the followers who receive her message, we now are the vital hearing witnesses and Easter calls us to become God’s very own Easter people, always and everywhere declaring Christ to be alive and operative; life giving and life renewing. And we at this time of pandemic proclaim the message of God in Jesus as the re emergence of hope in a way which surpasses mere words.
This is because of Jesus. `This is because Jesus is God. An experience of Resurrection is converting and renewing and joyful. God proves is love and trust in us as the flickering Easter candle nonetheless proclaims his light and his spirit. God can work through the terror and amazement of the followers and establish his love in them despite their partial sight. May this same human and vulnerable Easter be with you, today, on this glorious Easter Feast and for always. Amen. Alleluya!
Sermon for Good Friday 2021
2nd Apr 2021
Good Friday Sermon
When we speak of ‘Good’ Friday perhaps we are very uncertain about what this ‘good’ means. The following verses of a medieval Good Friday carol rejoice in the Cross as showing the world a true and real love, and in this showing, the saving death of Christ and the life of the singer become involved in one another as though they were partners in a dance. The medieval Christian mind could conceive of these things and draw strength and joy in their expression in a way I think we might find quite strange. He sings:
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance;
“Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold,”
The same is he shall lead the dance.
Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear to my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
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 and loneliness as well as those things which bring us that joyful and self-confident exuberance which we find in that medieval Good Friday carol. This morning the Good Friday King’s Cross walk of witness turned out not to be just a mere ritual but one in which the wooden cross wended its way around the district with us following as in a dance, and 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 included others in the dance, too, even those who were not strictly paying it much attention.
Good Friday does something which we do not feel that good about. It 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. The Cross comes to shatter our illusions about a God we enjoy calling the God of love without responding to that love which ‘searches us out and knows us’. And in that searching and knowing is the plain fact of our mortality with the accompanying fact of its beauty and trajedy and with the existence of faith as a kind of longing and the recognition of life as ‘unfinished business’. 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 realisation 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 seeming truth. And her coming into this church and the sense of communion with God had helped to addressed and exacerbated the pain. 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 intractible and insoluable 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. In this church of Holy Cross, the Cross is the same one of which the medieval caroler sang all those hundreds of years ago. It 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 honour and mourn on Good Friday.
Sermon for Palm Sunday 2021
28th Mar 2021
Palm Sunday 2021
Holy Cross Church
The liturgy for Palm Sunday couldn’t be more dramatic as we meet this morning. In more normal circumstances, we would gather in anticipation of a procession around the outside of the church. This year we gather online to have our palm crosses blessed and to make our spiritual entry into Jerusalem. We have recited the Palm Sunday hymn All Glory Laud and Honour, a hymn of praise to Christ’s majesty, and we have held up the newly blessed palm crosses - a reminder of where this Palm Procession is leading us. We are, with the whole Christian Church on earth, entering Jerusalem with Jesus. We are entering his fateful Passion, his trial, his death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the dead. These are the saving events of the Christian Faith and vital for the human understanding of who Jesus is and what makes him Son of God. In these action we begin what the Church simply calls ‘Holy Week’, the most important week of the Christian year.
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 in 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 deep within your soul. You are here this morning readying yourself to encounter the living Lord Jesus as he shows you the way to the Father’s glory. You 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 freshly slaughtered meat, as well as hundreds of shops selling Christian souvenirs and trinkets. Into the same sort of Jerusalem, of intensity and of indifference does Christ enter upon his way.
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 yet 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 to touch the stones of Calvary. 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 died. 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
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.
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 hesitant; but nevertheless in faith, aware of God the Father’s love going before us. God is guiding us and lighting our path and drawing us deeper into the wounded, sacred heart of Jesus. We go in this Holy Week 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 Lent 5 (Passion Sunday)
21st Mar 2021
Sermon for Lent 5: ‘The Holy Sacrifice’
Post Communion Prayer at the Eucharist:
‘Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice’
The word ‘sacrifice’ is a powerful word for us today as it speaks of the utmost selfless love that we human beings are capable. For Christians it speaks of the power and passion of God in Jesus as we are able to perceive and feel His presence in the midst of human brokenness, suffering and pain.
Our Mass is the celebration of the reality of Jesus Christ as today, on this Passion Sunday, we are reminded of the sacrifice he had to make in order to draw all people unto himself. He foretells all this in today’s Gospel. The signal for this foretelling is the arrival in Jerusalem of Greeks and gentiles who wish to see Jesus. Suddenly, John says, the little Christian community is about to open itself to the whole world. Jesus Christ is to become Lord of all. The world’s saviour. At our final Lent group meeting last week we amazed at the strong language of being baptized ‘through the death of Christ’ ‘unto our own death’ with which St Paul empowers his listeners. In such a way the Christian life is to become a recapitulation of the life and death of Christ. It is an invitation to more than surface imitation but a call to imitate the selfless living and actions which are Christ’s example.
We ask, merciful God, that you send, in kindness, your Holy Spirit to settle on this bread and wine and fill them with the fullness of Jesus. Let that same Spirit rest on us, converting us from the patterns of this passing world, until we conform to the shape of him whose food we now share.
The eucharistic sacrifice, this Holy Mass, brings this urging of St Paul into the present. In the sacrament of the bread and wine, it calls us all to become in Christ what we have received in Christ. When St Augustine spoke of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, he said they "are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. ... What is grasped bears spiritual fruit." What is grasped is grasped with passion and purpose.
Jesus identifies the bread with His Body and the cup of wine with His blood, and we know that He is the Lamb of God who is to be slain on that first Good Friday. The sacrifice of the lamb and the sacrifice of the Christ are the wheat grains crushed as it were and pulverised - obliterated so that new life might emerge.
In our Eucharist today that it focuses on the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The prayer at the altar says, “we remember His offering of Himself made once for all upon the Cross… we celebrate with this bread and cup His one perfect sacrifice; and our own spiritual sacrifice: accept through Him our sacrifice of thanks and praise…” so that eating and drinking this sacrament we may be renewed by the Spirit, inspired with God’s love and united in the Body of Christ.
The murder of an Anglican priest took place on a housing estate in Liverpool some years ago. He had been stabbed on the very streets which h were his ‘parish beat’. It occurred at the same time as the Church’s liturgical commission was considering this very word ‘sacrifice’. Nearly every report following his death featured the word ‘sacrifice’ to describe his loving commitment to his parish. People obviously knew what that word meant. it had something to do with love, giving up something in consideration for someone else. This is the Christian call to self-sacrifice : for love for others in the joyful and unselfish and un self-conscious shedding of self.
in the hymn ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’, Isaac Watts sets this out beautifully and succinctly:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present (offering) far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul my all.
We make our sacrifice without hoping to incur favour with Him, but simply out of love for Him, a love which would not be possible for us to have were it not for the Holy Spirit opening our hearts and minds to receive it.
Here is a poem by a parish priest and theologian, Bill Vanstone, which is also a hymn and which speaks of the Divine sacrificial love which we celebrate at the altar today. It appears in his famous work, ‘Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense’:
Love that gives gives ever more,
Gives with zeal, with eager hands,
Spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
Ventures all, its all expends.
Drained is love in making full;
Bound in setting others free;
Poor in making many rich;
Weak in giving power to be.
Therefore He Who Thee reveals
Hangs, O Father, on that Tree
Helpless; and the nails and thorns
Tell of what Thy love must be.
Thou are God; no monarch Thou
Thron’d in easy state to reign;
Thou art God, Whose arms of love
Aching, spent, the world sustain.