Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter Evensong, And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Lk 24:11

In this evening’s first reading we hear Isaiah prophesying ‘Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.’ There is a hope that this life is not all that there is, that there is something beyond, something greater. It is a basic human desire to believe that this life is not all that there is. And we believe it at an innate level, so powerful is our need so to do.
            And yet, in Christ’s rising from the dead we know that death is not the end, that our hope, our destiny, our final destination is to be with God, to behold the Glory of God for ever, to be surrounded with his Love. Such a gift is free, and offered to all, young or old, rich or poor, through faith and baptism, for such is the grace of God, the reckless generosity that embraces a world with Love, that shows it its hands and side so that they may see what Love looks like. These are the lengths to which God goes to reconcile the world to himself: to heal our wounds, to be our peace and our joy.
            It is strange that much of the world when faced with the story of the Resurrection would reply something along the lines of ‘And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.’ A former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Hollaway has even written that Christ did not actually rise from the dead, but such was the love his disciples had for him that he lived on in their hearts. This is clearly utter rubbish. The disciple go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear, even if others do not.
            We should, I suspect, be a little careful about all the talk of persecution in this country: Christianity is not about what jewellery you wear, but what you believe and how you live your life. What is perhaps far more worrying is that more and more (due to the efforts of a liberal-controlled media) we as Christians are portrayed as odd, as extreme, as obsessed by gender, sex and sexuality, an irrelevance to the modern world. Your religion, they say, is a private matter – please do not bother us with it, we’ll come to church as and when we feel like it, possibly Christmas and Easter if you’re lucky, but as for believing anything, well we’re far too grown up for your fairy-story nonsense.
            This may be something of a caricature, but it is a true one, and one which applies to the majority of the inhabitants of this village, of this county, of this country and indeed the Western world. It saddens me that such a mindset should have become prevalent of late, and that when we, as Christians, try to do something about it, we are told that we are all hypocrites, that we do not practise what we preach. There is some truth in this – we are sinners, but the heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness – no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard – to believe that they too can be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings we can be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.
It’s a tall order, perhaps, but one which God promises us. That is what the reality of the Resurrection is all about, it’s either nothing, in which case we are the most pitiable of deluded fools – idiots who are more to be pitied than blamed, or it is the single most important thing in the world. It should affect all of us, every part of our life, every minute of every day, all that we do, all that we say, all that we are. This may not fit in with a reserved English mentality, we think we’re supposed to be polite and not force our views on others. But this simply will not do. We are, after all, dealing with people’s souls, their eternal salvation, it’s a serious matter. And what we offer people is entirely free, can change their lives for the better, and make life worth living.
So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Homily on the Day of Our Lord's Resurrection - Jn 20:1–10 ‘and he saw and believed’

Early in the morning Mary Magdalene, Peter and John come to the tomb. They have seen their Lord and Saviour betrayed, falsely accused, flogged, and killed. We can scarcely imagine what’s going through their minds: grief, anguish, bitterness, Peter’s regret at having denied Jesus, of not being brave enough to say that he was a follower of Jesus, Mary and John who stood by the Cross, just want to be close to him in death as in life. They can’t take in what has happened: a week ago he was hailed as the Messiah, God’s anointed, the successor of David, now he has been cast aside: all his words of God’s love have fallen on deaf ears, he has been cast aside, ignored, a failure, a madman who wanted to change the world.
          Mary sees the stone rolled away, in the darkness, she doesn’t understand but says to Simon Peter ‘they have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre and we know not where they have laid him’ her concern is for the dead body of Jesus. She does not know, she does not believe. As Mary has run away from the tomb, John and Simon Peter run towards it. John sees the cloths but does not go in. Peter goes in first and sees everything. Then John sees and believes: God has raised Jesus from the dead. It is his love for Our Lord and Saviour which allows him to see with the eyes of faith, to make sense of the impossible, the incomprehensible.
          As Christians we need to be like the Beloved Disciple: to love Our Lord and Saviour above all else, to see and believe like him, and through this to let God work in our lives. For what happened on that hillside nearly two thousand years ago, early in the morning, on the first day of the week is either nothing at all: a delusion of foolish people, a non-event of no consequence or interest, something the world can safely ignore or laugh at, mocking our credulity in the impossible, childish fools that we are, or it is something else: an event of such importance that the world will never be the same again.
          In dying and rising again, Jesus has changed history; he has changed our relationship with God, and with one another. He has broken down the gates of Hell to lead souls to Heaven, restoring humanity to the loving embrace of God, to open the way to heaven for all humanity, where we may share in the outpouring of God’s love, which is the life of the Trinity. His death means that our death is not the end, that we have an eternal destiny, a joy and bliss beyond our experience or understanding: to share in the life and love of God forever – this is what God does for us, for love of us, who nailed him to a tree, and still do with our dismissals or half-hearted grudging acceptance, done for propriety’s sake.
          There can be no luke-warm responses to this; there is no place for a polite smile and blithely to carry on regardless as though nothing much has happened. Otherwise, we can ask ourselves: why are we here? Why do Christians come together on the first day of the week to listen to the Scriptures, to pray to God, to ask forgiveness for our manifold sins, to be fed by Christ, with Christ: his true body and his blood, for Christ: to be his mystical body, the Church in the world?
          We are to be something different, something out of this world, living by different standards and in different ways, living lives of love not selfishness, self-satisfaction and sin. In baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life with him, we are to live this life, and to share it with others: ours is a gift far too precious to be kept to ourselves, it is to be shared with the whole world, every last human soul, that they too may believe, perfecting creation, and bringing all of prodigal humanity into the embrace of a loving Father, filled with His Spirit, conformed to the pattern of His Son. This is our life, our calling, to have the singularity of purpose of those first disciples, who saw and believed, who let God in Christ change their lives and share this great free gift of God’s love.
So let our hearts be filled with joy, having died with Christ and raised to new life with him. Let us take that new life, and live it, in our thoughts, our words, and deeds, and share that life with others that the world may believe, that what happened outside a city two thousand years ago has changed all of human history and is still changing lives today. Christ died and is alive so that we and all the earth may have life and have it to the full, sharing in the life and love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Homily for the Easter Vigil: Mk 16:1–7 ‘There is no need for alarm’

What a week it has been. It began with Our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, as the Messiah, God’s Anointed. As the week goes on the feelings of triumph begin to change. After showing his disciples how God loves them, after feeding them with his body and blood, setting them apart for the service of his people, he goes out to pray. He is taken, falsely accused, tried and condemned to die. The joy and elation has now turned to sorrow, to anguish, and desolation. It looks as though he has failed, he has been rejected and killed. It looks like it’s all over.
          The women go to the tomb to perform the burial rituals which were delayed by the Sabbath, now that it is over they can go, and prepare Our Lord for his burial. They cannot understand what is going on, the stone has been rolled away, the tomb is empty. Their emptiness turns to horror: has someone taken him? They greet the angel’s message with amazement, what’s going on? Can it be true? Is this what he meant when he told us that he would rise again after three days?
          In the silence since Friday afternoon, God has been both passive and active: breaking down the gates of Hell, and leading souls to Heaven. The triumph of the Son of God is after reigning on the tree, restoring humanity to the loving embrace of God, to open the way to heaven for all humanity, where we may share in the outpouring of God’s love, which is the life of the Trinity. His death means that our death is not the end, that we have an eternal destiny, a joy and bliss beyond our experience or understanding. Ours is the greater joy, greater since we know what we are celebrating, that we are the people of God, an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.
          So let our hearts be filled with joy, having died with Christ and raised to new life with him. Let us take that new life, and live it, in our thoughts, our words, and deeds, and share that life with others that the world may believe, that what happened outside a city two thousand years ago has changed all of human history and is still changing lives today. Christ died and is alive so that we and all the earth may have life and have it to the full.
May I wish you all a Happy and Joyous Easter!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Homily for Good Friday

In today's first reading, we have the last of the four servant songs which we have been reading this week. They remind us that our Lord's passion, his suffering and death heart clearly foretold in Scripture. So much of the action of this week has taken place so that Scripture may be fulfilled. What God told the people of Israel through his prophets comes about and the end of his son's life. It shows us in the clearest possible way that what we see in the prophetic descriptions is true.
          If the truth be told, the suffering, the rejection, torture, and death of our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ, is beyond our understanding. It is a mystery, the mystery of God's love: an act of loving service, the power of silent love overcoming a world of political scheming, deception, self-interest and sin. But God's own son should come from heaven and die to save a sinner like you or me is extraordinary. We are shown today in the clearest possible terms how God loves us: that there is no length to which he will not go to save us, to embrace his prodigal children. The chief priests and elders think that they're ridding themselves of an heretic, a potential troublemaker, a fool who claims to be the son of God and King of Israel. When Pilate asks “What is Truth?” he does not understand that the source of all truth, the word of God incarnate is stood in front of him. After scourging him the soldiers put a purple robe around our Lord, crown him with thorns, and give him a reed for a sceptre. They think they’re being funny, they’re having a laugh, but this is God showing the world what true kingship is: it is not pomp, or power, the ability to have one's own way, but the Silent Way of suffering love. It shows us what God's glory is really like: it turns our human values on their head and inaugurates a new age, according to new values, restoring a relationship broken by human sin.
          In being raised upon the cross, our Lord is not dying the death of a common criminal, but rather reigning in glory. His hands and feet and side are pierced, as wounds of love, to pour out God's healing life upon the world. In his obedience to the father’s will, he puts to an end the disobedience of humanity's first parent. Christ is a willing victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Silent lamb led to his slaughter, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep that have gone astray.
          Death and hell, the reward of sin, have no power over us, for in dying, and being laid in a stranger’s tomb, Christ will go down to Hell, to break down its doors, to lead souls to heaven, to alter the nature of the afterlife, once and for all. Just when the devil thinks he's won, then in his weakness and in his silence Christ overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil. The burden of sin which separates humanity from God is carried on the wood of the cross. On the way to Calvary our Lord falls three times such is the way, such as the burden, so we too as Christians, despite being reconciled to God by the cross, will fall on our road too. We will continue to sin, but also to ask God for his love and mercy. But those arms which were opened on the cross will continue to embrace the world with God's love. We don't deserve it, but it is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him, to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot reconcile humanity to his loving and merciful Father. He shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of him who died for love of us.
          We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Homily for Maundy Thursday: The Mass of the Lord's Supper - Jn 13:1–15 ‘He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was’

 WOULD LIKE to begin this evening by sharing something with you from my recent experience: In February I was fortunate to have undertaken a pilgrimage to Rome with other pilgrims from Leicester, Nottingham and the Midlands. As some of you may know, the journeys both to and from the Eternal City were not entirely unproblematic. Due to first snowfall in twenty five years both our arrival and departure were somewhat delayed. After our flight had finally been cancelled on the Saturday afternoon, and we had spent several hours waiting in the airport to try and find out what was going, we eventually got back on a bus and returned to the Hotel where we had been staying.
          As part of our pilgrimage we had celebrated Mass in a variety of local churches – a generous gesture, but one which had been planned long in advance. It was now Sunday, and nothing had been arranged – we had all expected to be back at home, what could we do? We couldn’t just walk into a church, so we went to one of the larger rooms on the first floor and rearranged the furniture. Priests had vestments with them, some wine was bought, and we had some bread and water with us already, a couple of wineglasses and a plate. Forty or so of us squeezed into this upper room, some stood, some reclined on the beds, or sat. We had gathered on the outskirts of the city as the first Christians, to whom the Apostle Paul wrote his letter did, on that the day of the Lord’s Resurrection we had gathered in a way not unlike Our Lord and the Disciples did on this very night. It all felt very real, we were aware that despite the slightly cobbled-together nature of things, God was very close; we were doing just what Christians have done ever since our Lord and Saviour commanded us to do it in memory of him.
          That is why we are here, tonight, to gather as disciples of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be fed by him, with him and for him. He has given us an example that we should copy.  We do things as the Church, not because they’re nice, not because they make us feel good, but because Jesus told us to.
          Jesus begins this evening by removing his clothes, taking water, and washing his disciples’ feet. He, the son of God, who was with His Father before the universe and time began, kneels before his disciples, and serves them. He takes the place of a slave or a servant and shows us as Christians that to follow him is to serve. Never did a cross redeem nature from the curse: never was a lamb set upon the altar that could take away the sins of the world, until God took on him and nature of the servant. We as Christians are to serve one another; we are to wash one another's feet, to help each other to pray for each other, and not to think that any of us is better than the other.
          Despite what the world may think about clergy: that we are weak, ineffectual, and well-meaning, or that we love to lord it over our flock, to stand pontificating 6 foot above criticism, we are in all things to fashion our life and example after Christ. In giving an example of service before the Last Supper, in praying for and setting apart his disciples as the first priests of his church, we who follow in their footsteps are shown in the clearest possible way that to love him, to care for his people is to serve them: we are to imitate the mysteries which we celebrate: offering our lives in his service and the service of his church. It is truly extraordinary that we should have such a responsibility placed on our shoulders. We are all of us, if the truth be told, incapable of such a task if we were acting solely in our own strength and our own abilities. But through the grace of God, and with the help of the prayers of you his people, it is our hope that we may conform ourselves ever more closely to Christ, our great high priest.
          Priests are amongst other things set apart for the service of God and the administration of His sacraments. At this time on this night, Jesus gives us himself, his body and blood to feed us, to nourish us, to strengthen us and to help us become what he is, to share in the outpouring of love which is the very life of God, that we may be given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, that we may experience something of the joy and love and life which awaits us in heaven, forever united with the triune God.
To do this our Lord takes bread and wine, simple ordinary foodstuffs, to transform them, to make something other than they are to view them with new meaning and new life, to strengthen and heal his mystical body of the church with his own true body and blood. It is remarkable and extraordinary, words cannot fully express our awe that we poor wretched sinners, though unworthy are fed by our Lord as both priest and victim. It is not something for us to understand with our minds, but a mystery for us to enter with all our lives.
Jesus, receiving the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying: drink ye all of this, for this is my blood for blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven. This is my blood he says which is to be shed. The blood shed and this blood are not two different things, but one and the same. Tomorrow it shall be shed from my side, tonight you drink it and behold it in the cup.
We here, tonight, have come together as the people of God, to be fed by God to be strengthened by him, to live lives in his service. Both tonight and tomorrow, we will see how God loves us. In his service, in his giving of himself to be taken, beaten, falsely accused, scourged and crucified, God shows us what true love, true glory, and true service are. The world can't understand this, it goes against everything people are told about putting themselves and their lives first, to judge their importance or worth by what they own, rather than how they live their lives. And yet this world is wounded by sin, the image of God is marred. In its selfish searching, what it truly wants and needs is to be healed, to be embraced by a loving God. That is why it tomorrow on the cross our Lord's Arms will be flung wide open to embrace the world with God's love.
Let us then prepare ourselves, let us have our feet washed by Christ, let us be fed by him, with him, strengthened by him, to fashion our lives after his. Let us prepare to go to Calvary with him, laying down our lives in his service, picking up our Cross and following him, to death and beyond, to the new life of Easter. Let us live his risen life, and share our joy with others, that the world may believe and trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now, and forever...