Sermon for the Feast of St Cyprian preached on September 13th 2020 by Reverend Clare Dowding, Rector of St Paul's, Rossmore Road and Area Dean
‘Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and even sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them.’ What does it look like to have faith in the time of coronavirus? Of all the many things we can learn from the life of St Cyprian, one that we may not have foreseen a year ago is his wisdom and teaching about faith in the time of pandemic. In 250 AD a devastating epidemic spread from Ethiopia, across northern Africa to the Western Empire of the Roman world. It lasted over 15 years and at the height of the outbreak 5000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome. By the year 251 AD the plague swept into Carthage, where Cyprian served as Bishop, and he - as shepherd of the persecuted Christian community - faced the challenge of guiding their response to Christ’s call. Ferngren, a church historian writes, ‘the dead lay in the streets, where they had been abandoned by their families. The pagans, trying to find a cause, pointed to the Christians and a severe persecution erupted. The Roman Emperor Decius ordered all Christians to sacrifice to the gods on pain of death. Cyprian enjoined the city’s Christians to give aid to their persecutors and to care for the sick. He urged the rich to donate funds and the poor to volunteer their service for relief efforts, making no distinction between believers and pagans. Under Cyprian’s direction, Christians buried the dead left in the streets and cared for the sick and the dying. For five years Cyprian stood in the breach, organising relief efforts until he was forced into exile.’ Ferngren, ‘A New Era in Roman Healthcare’ (abbreviated) The impact of the care of the Christian community in Carthage and Cyprian’s writings on the illness, mortality and Christian service, were so significant that the plague is often named, ‘The Plague of Cyprian’. I wonder what inspires you most in Cyprian’s response: • giving aid to persecutors • donating funds • volunteering service for relief efforts • making no distinction between believers and pagans • burying the dead • caring for the sick and dying... Not to mention the ongoing life of prayer, fasting and presence that the Christian community continued throughout a time of plague and persecution. Cyprian, following in the footsteps of our Lord, sought to live out the call and example of compassion of Jesus given in our Gospel text today: ‘Jesus went about all the cities and villages ... proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and even sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them.’ Perhaps we see overlaps with our own experience, with our desire to hold onto and live out our faith in the time of coronavirus.
On April 8th, 2020 at the height of the pandemic in the UK, 1072 people died. The Archbishops wrote to clergy just before this date saying that ‘being a member of the Church of England is going to look very different in the days ahead. Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.” (Archbishops’ letter to Anglican Clergy, 17.3.20) And our life as Christians changed dramatically, overnight - in every sphere of life - work, school, family, church. Although in many ways we’re still living through this time, it is possible to look back and see some of the ways in which the church responded to that call to compassion and faith: • Nationally, we saw an increase and a renewal in the life of prayer - whether online, on zoom (as you’ve seen here in your own community and life of prayer together), through personal prayer, joining in prayer on radio & TV - the desire to pray, to draw near to God, increased. In many of the conversations I shared with people during lockdown this desire to pray, to turn to God was shared in ways I’d not experienced before. • There was also a sense of grappling with the big questions of suffering, death, grief - and seeking to find God’s presence in the midst of it all - bigger questions about life, our purpose, how we respond to suffering, what happens in death, where do we find hope - maybe you found yourself pondering some of those deeper questions during the long months of lockdown; • There was the creativity of the church in responding with compassion, kindness, active presence - the astonishing display of voluntary service by believers and non-believers, people of all
faiths and none, giving time in phone-calls, shopping, generosity; there was the incredible witness of our chaplains on hospital wards throughout the country, their sacrificial service and dedication in unprecedented circumstances; • and there was a renewed recognition of the life of the church and of individual Christians in society - the trusted relationships and the threads of connection became vital in supporting communities - people ready and willing to respond to their neighbour in need, a desire to serve, as one writer wrote: ‘a thousand tiny graces’ in acts of compassion and love. Cyprian inspired a model of Christian service and mercy that profoundly shaped the life of the church and that model, we might argue, is seen in the way we responded today. Cyprian’s conviction that compassion and mercy were to be shown not only among Christian brethren but also among ‘persecutors’ and ‘pagans’ marked a new chapter in Christian medical charity. His call to active Christian service - in burying the dead, caring for and cleansing the sick, offering alms and food to the hungry changed the course of history and can be seen as part of the long history of Christian hospitality and care - in the founding of hospitals and places of charitable love. Cyprian’s call to service meant that towns where Christian communities were actively present saw fewer deaths than other regions. His church-based diaconal ministry, of loving service in the model of Christ’s servanthood, was provided by unskilled, ordinary people with no medical training. Church leaders encouraged all Christians to pray for the sick, to visit and help the poor, and congregations established ministries of mercy - collecting alms each week to be distributed by deacons and deaconesses.
Perhaps, most significantly, the life of prayer, the teachings of Christ, the witness of Christians, the faithful presence in time of persecution and plague, precipitated a great wave of conversions and a rise in Christian faith throughout the region. And this is our hope and prayer today, that the Church through her witness to the compassion of Christ, Christ the great physician and healer, Christus Medicus (as Augustine loved to call our Lord), will see a rise in faith, hope and love and in a turning of lives to Christ. Cyprian heard that great calling from our Lord, in a time of plague, in a time of persecution, to compassion and Christian charity: He wrote: “Beloved brethren, what a great thing is it, how pertinent, how necessary, that a pestilence and plague which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the righteousness of each one, and examines the minds of the human race, to see whether they who are in health tend the sick...; whether relations affectionately love their kindred; whether physicians do not forsake the beseeching patients...; whether, when their dear ones perish, the rich, even then bestow anything, and give, when they are to die without heirs. Even though this mortality conferred nothing else, it has granted this benefit to Christians and to God’s servants, that we begin gladly to desire martyrdom as we learn not to fear death. These are trainings for us, not deaths, they give the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown.” For Cyprian, all of this was preparation for and the revealing of Christ’s kingdom - all of this was ‘trainings’ for the mind ‘the glory of fortitude’ and ‘preparation for the crown’.
All of this is part of our longing to live through those times of ‘fiery ordeal’, as 1 Peter writes, as opportunity to ‘rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.’ But Christian compassion, care and social action are not just a means to an end - not just that longing for the crown, they are also breaking into the present of how things really are; they are a breaking in of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. During the early months of the pandemic Pope Francis wrote: ‘I am thinking of the saints who live next door - the doctors, volunteers, religious sisters, priests, shop-workers - all performing their duty so society can continue. What we are living in is a time of metanoia (conversion) and we have the chance to begin’. We can learn much from St Cyprian’s faith in the time of plague, from the call to compassion and Christian service, from this time of metanoia and turning to Christ. Let us pray that our lives, our witness, our faith, our service, our longing for the ‘glory of fortitude’ and ‘preparation for the crown’ will be for us a time of metanoia, of turning to Christ - and will be for our nation and world a time of God’s kingdom breaking through, revealed in the compassionate love of Christ. Amen.
Sermon for Trinity 11 Fr Simon Cuff
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Words from our epistle, St Paul’s letter to the Romans. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes we hear a Bible reading in Church or we come across a passage of Scripture at home, and it’s very hard to see how this could have any practical application to the Christian life today. Bits of the Old Testament about sacrificial offerings and particular agricultural policies of the Ancient Near East, some of the wilder speculations of the Book of Revelation for example.
At other times, like our readings this morning, the pages of Scripture glisten with practical wisdom about how to live our lives. ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.’
You’d think this would make the preacher’s task an easy one. Simply repeat the list of practical golden nuggets, perhaps amplifying them with a few examples of good things to do and bad things to avoid.
And yet, when faced with these pages that seem so clearly applicable to our lives, we need to be careful. All too quickly we can gloss over them, thinking that we know what they say.
‘Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’
Love thy neighbour. Be nice to each other. Lovely lovely Christian loveliness. It’s a start. It’s not bad as ways to live go - and if everyone did love their neighbour and was basically nice to each other, the world would certainly be a better place. But this is only the start of the Christian life. Being Christian isn’t simply about being nice, in fact it might involve a certain amount of non-niceness as we follow Christ’s call.
Our Gospel reading reminds us where following Christ can lead us - to the pain and indignity of crucifixion. Not nice.
Our epistle reading suggests that we are not lovely to our enemies for their sake, but the opposite, to upend their unlovely lives: ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Not nice. Don’t throw burning coals at those who are persecuting you, if you want to end the cycle of violence, you can only do that by refusing to perpetuate hate.
Martin Luther King puts this idea best: ‘The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’. ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’
Being nice isn’t enough to up end cycles of hate. All too often being nice to people who perpetuate hate, let’s the cycle of hate continue on undisturbed. Where would we be if we were simply nice to racists or misogynists or homophobes or people who ridicule those with disabilities or any other form of difference.
What’s needed is not hatred of those people which perpetuates differences and reinforces them in their cycle of hate.What’s needed isn’t niceness. What’s needed is love.
Our readings this morning reminds us that, you need to love those who perpetuate hate to break them out of the cycle of hatred. And sometimes loving your enemy isn’t very nice. It can lead you to the cross. Sometimes niceness isn’t enough to really love. Being nice doesn’t fulfil the demands of justice.
Martin Luther King again: ‘I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice’.
All too often we translate Scripture’s radical call to justice to the equivalent of King’s ‘negative peace which is the absence of tension’ - being nice. Avoiding a scene. Living a quiet life.
Our readings this morning give us clear guidance on how to live, but we need ever to hear them in their freshness, the radical and demanding call not simply to be nice but to love, and to be prepared for the consequences of that love in trying to play our part in bringing about a better world. A world in which instead of reading again and again of young black people being victims of police brutality, we play our part in having the courage to build a world in which love begets love.
Sermon for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary - August 16 2020 - Fr Simon Cuff
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Words from St Luke’s Gospel, the first chapter, the 46th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So often in the history of the Church we find a sort of unhappy paradox. At times when we need to be ever more united, we find ourselves ever more divided. The very things that are meant to unite us closely to God and each other, become the very cause of our sad divisions.
No more so is this the case than in how we have approached the Eucharist - the sacrament of unity, given to us the very night that Christ prayed that his Church might be mystically one as he and the Father and One. Far from being a point of unity, centuries of Christian history point to how we understand the Eucharist itself became a point of division.
Symbol, sacrifice or memorial meal - our ways of speaking about the presence of Christ in the eucharist became disputed and all too often a scandal, a stumbling block to each other. Recent decades have seen Christian get ever closer to a shared understanding of Christ’s presence with us when we celebrate the Eucharist - even if exactly how we describe the mystery of that presence remains a source for dispute.
Mary, however, remains troublesome. Christians who have concerns about paying too much attention to Mary in the Christian life baulk at the devotion of those who seem to elevate Mary so close to Christ that she is in danger of appearing to be worshipped herself. Both of these attitudes are well intentioned but misguided. Mary has a particular place in the history of salvation. The Almighty has done great things for her. All generations rightly call her blessed - as Scripture teachers. If we find no place for Mary in our worship and theology, we reduce Christ to an abstraction. And as the former Pope, Pope Benedict reminds us, ‘an abstraction does not need mother’.
On the other, when asked where the light comes from at night, the former preacher to the Pope, Fr Cantalamessa points out: ‘the idiot points at the moon’. Just as the source of moon light is not the moon but the reflection of the light of the Sun, so the grace that fills Mary is not something about her but her reflection of the light of Christ, her reflection of the grace of God in her life. Our Lady reminds that it’s not so much that there’s something about Mary, rather there’s something about the One to whom she always points, the light which she always reflects.
Mary is a gift to us as Christians. The disputes around her are a sad distraction from the Christian life which shines through her. A life lived consistently in God’s yes. A life grounded consistently in her ‘let it be unto me according to thy word’. A life that shows that the calling to follow Christ includes downs as well as ups - shame and heartache - as well as the joy of family, parties like those at Cana, and ultimately the eternal joy of the heavenly banquet to which God called Mary home.
Mary’s Christian life is expressed wonderfully in the famous hymn by the 17th Century Bishop, Thomas Ken. A life which begins with a recognition of God as a witness to Christ ends in a call to her heavenly homeland. ‘Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born… Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced’. Most of us will have to wait to the end of time to enjoy our heavenly home, which Mary enjoys. ‘near to his throne her Son his Mother placed’. In the meantime those of here below, Ken reminds us, ‘now she's of heaven possessed… are to call her blessed’.
Not only, have we come to believe that we have a duty to call her ‘blessed’, but that like all the Saints, her work for us is not yet done. Mary, like all of the Saints, stand as fellow members of the body of Christ - and just as we ask each other to pray, so too we can ask Mary and all of the Saints for their prayers. Prayers that we too, like Mary, may say yes to God’s call on our lives - discover our particular vocation - and remain faithful to our ‘let it be to me according to thy word’ whatever challenges and joys our particular vocation may bring.
May Mary and all of the Saints pray for us as we seek to remain faithful to the call of God’s Word.
Trinity 9 Fr Michael Fuller
‘Peter answered Jesus, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.’
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus has left his disciples so that he can find time to pray and meditate. He tells them to go on ahead of him and he will catch up.
Then in Matthew’s narrative we find Jesus’ disciples terrified on the Sea of Galilee. It’s certainly not the first time.
The disciples are no strangers to this lake. Actually, they’re out on it all the time. Even before Jesus called them to fish for people, they fished here for fish, no doubt risking life and limb for a good catch.
A quick look back at chapter eight reminds us of a traumatic previous experience they had not so very long ago.
You may recall the story: A storm arises, so strong that the boat is swamped, and it begins to sink. Scared to death, the disciples yell to Jesus, who is fast asleep in the back, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jesus responds calmly, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he gets up, rebukes the wind, calms the sea, and the disciples are amazed.
Today, however, it’s not the weather that frightens the disciples. By now, they can handle being tossed about by strong winds and waves. Been there, done that.
No, today they are frightened by something else—an eerie figure walking toward them on the surface of the sea. “It’s a ghost!” they cry, but Jesus reassures them. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Alas, these comforting words do not quite satisfy Peter, (let alone the ability to defy gravity) Peter seeks further proof of Jesus’ identity. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus agrees, “Come.”
Peter does. But after just a few steps, the wind startles him and he begins to sink, crying, “Lord, save me!” Of course, Jesus does save him, but he also asks him this sobering question: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Jesus’ question is a different version of the same one he asked back in chapter eight. It’s déjà vu—right here in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.
Make no mistake my friends, these questions are just as much for us as they were for those early disciples.
So, why do we doubt? Jesus calmed a storm with his voice, fed five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread, and walked on water. In light of all this, why would we ever lack faith?
Well, one answer is fear. Like the disciples, sometimes storms pop up in our lives and scare us half to death. That’s what storms do.
But it’s not just wind and rainstorms that scare us; so do the metaphorical storms of our lives. Things like global pandemics, horrific explosions caused by government corruption, economic downturns, and relational discord can shake us to the core.
In the midst of difficult setbacks like these, it’s not uncommon for anyone to doubt their faith in God. That’s exactly what happened to Peter in today’s gospel, and it’s exactly what the disciples did in chapter eight.
All Jesus does is ask why. Like any good teacher, he already knows the answer to the question, but he wants us to know it, too.
It’s at this point I want to encourage you to concentrate on Peter and see how he might link with us here in 2020 in this time of pandemic, with the threat of a second wave hanging over us.
If you are Peter, a seasoned fisherman, and a great wind picks up while you are in the middle of a sea, you know that this is not safe. You need to get close to shore.
When you see a figure out on the water, I don’t think your first thought is that all will be well. It would, I suggest, be like a grim foreboding.
But if you were to feel that it might be the presence of God what do you do?
When that figure calls out to you, “Come!” What would you do?
Well this is the situation in which many Christians have found themselves down through the centuries. Not necessarily literally, but certainly figuratively as Jesus has continued to call and invite and lead us.
Jesus has consistently called people to step out of their boat or their comfort zone and follow his lead.
Jesus’ question, ‘why did you doubt?’ prompts us to realise that faith is always within our reach. In other words, even in the stormiest times of life, when we most doubt our ability to make it, we can remain faithful to God.
Staying faithful to God doesn’t simply mean going through the motions. It doesn’t mean reciting the creed while thinking about a shopping list, or repeating Bible verses from memory. It means for us, just like Peter, refocusing on our commitment to faith.
We will not always be perfectly faithful. Doubts will creep in, but the important thing is to recover from those doubts and return to a place of faith.
Our faith is strengthened and sustained by our relationship with God and nurtured by participating in our life in Christ through things such as the sacraments, reading the scripture, praying, and attending worship.
Christ continues to invite us closer to examine God’s gift of love and grace. In this time of a pandemic, are we prepared to get out of the boat and come closer?
Trinity 6 Church Service Fr Michael Fuller
Saint Paul writes “For in hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope. But if we hope for what we do not see we wait for it with patience.” I believe that as we come out of lockdown it is time to ask ourselves an important question: What’s the point of Christianity? Because in the big scheme of things, is the purpose of having a Christian faith primarily for gaining political power, or creating and enforcing laws, or hoarding wealth, or living as comfortable a life as possible? Or is it ultimately about bettering — and saving — humanity? These past months has seen Christian theologians, celebrities, institutions, and communities publicly declare many things — all under the banner of “Christianity” — about what God might be thinking during the pandemic; what is politically right and wrong and who is good or bad. To my mind this forces believers to prioritise the role Jesus plays in their lives. Because the reality is that the Good News of the gospel cannot be heard and accepted unless we imitate Jesus. The Bible shows us that Jesus is the best example of who to follow, so why aren’t we Christians doing so? What’s the point of Christianity if people who worship the Prince of Peace also vigorously allow governments around the world to support policies that allow tens of thousands of people to die each year through poverty, starvation or simply through not having something as simple as fresh water? What’s the point of Christianity if people who pray to the King of Kings also seek wealth and privilege at the expense of the oppressed through corrupt systems that maintain and promote systemic financial corruption as well as educational and racial injustice? What’s the point of Christianity if Christians — who celebrate a man who was crucified on a cross by an authoritarian regime, refuse to stand up and defend the rights of those facing persecution because of their skin colour, ethnic background, gender orientation, or political beliefs? What’s the point of Christianity if we celebrate God as the creator of the world while subsequently destroying the environment and participating in wasteful consumer-centric practices? God is not glorified by turning a blind eye to corruption and God is not glorified if God’s Church holds views that are misogynist, sexist or racist As a Christian, helping humanity — specifically those who are exploited, destitute, and struggling to survive — isn’t contingent upon whether it’s safe, fiscally beneficial, comfortable, or even by what society might consider to be in its “best interest.” In fact, the interests of Jesus are usually the exact opposite of mainstream culture. A Jesus-centred Christianity is illogical in that it requires inordinate amounts of self-sacrificial love — to the point of being absurd: absurdly gracious, hospitable, kind, patient, peaceful, self-controlled, and giving. And doing all of this — following Jesus — is hard. Humbly serving others, defending the powerless, fighting for the oppressed, and radically loving the world around you isn’t for the faint of heart, and it rarely results in the prizes our society so ardently adores — fame, fortune, influence, and power — which might also explain why so many Christians choose to trust, and follow, and put their hope in so many other things other than Jesus. So when we’re confronted with national questions regarding racism, national security, the economy, and social justice issues, we must remind ourselves of that corny old adage: “What Would Jesus Do?” because we already know what he did, and it’s our responsibility to do the exact same thing. God help us.
Trinity 6 Zoom Service Fr Michael Fuller
Some words from the 28th Chapter of Genesis today's Old Testament reading. “He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set.” Jacob is a man on the run. His very birth foreshadows events to come. Most of us, I suspect, know what it is like to live life on the run in some senses. Some of us are running from our past, trying to escape guilt, regret, failures, disappointments. Some are trying to get away from the pain, losses, and brokenness of life. Other times we are running toward the future. For some, life on the run is a search for something or someone new; a job, a relationship. Maybe it is the search for answers. Who am I? What is this life all about? What’s my purpose? Most of us know what it is like to live life on the run due to schedules, chaos, and the busyness of life. Life is measured by accomplishments and to do lists. I suspect we could each tell a story of life on the run. It may be specific to us, but it is really just another version of Jacob’s story - running. Jacob will soon learn he can run but he cannot hide. Life on the run eventually takes us to that certain place somewhere between Beer-Sheba and Haran. This is not so much a geographical location as it is a spiritual orientation. This is the place where we are most vulnerable and open to seeing and hearing God in new ways. That certain place is a night-time place where the sun has set. It is a place of darkness illumined by the unknown. Enlightenment is not about what you know but who you know, trust, and follow. It happens not in the mind but deep in the heart. This is a hard place, full of stones. Yet it is a place of grace. When the sun has set and darkness takes over, you can longer go on. You can only stop and lie down. It is a point of surrender but not a place of giving up. We stop running from life, ourselves, and more importantly from God. Jacob’s ladder reveals the connection between heaven and earth, divinity and humanity, the uncreated and the created. It appears at every moment in our life, even life on the run. The ladder Jacob saw was not in a physical location. It was within him. It was not a vision but a dream. Through Jacob, God reveals that the ladder of his love, his life, and his connection to us is found deep within ourselves, a place so deep that it is seen in the gift of a dream. We call it Jacob’s ladder, but it is not possessed by Jacob. It is God’s ladder placed in each one of us. The miracle is not that God shows up and breaks into our lives. That is always happening. The miracle is that we recognize it within ourselves. The ladder is revealed in places we never would have expected. “Surely the Lord in this place – and I did not know it.” What parts of our life are lived on the run? What are we searching for? What are we running from? Stop running. Trust that certain place between Beer-Sheba and Haran. Let the sun set and do not be afraid. God’s ladder is, and always has been, within you. No matter who you are, where you go, or where you run to, the ladder of connection goes with you. It is a part of you. Wake up and see that the dream has come true. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I now know it.”
Trinity 3 by Fr Simon Cuff
He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’
Words from our first reading; the book of genesis, the 22nd chapter, beginning to read at the 9th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I want this morning to reflect on three themes as we turn to re-open St Cyprian’s for public worship and think about the future of our church in light of the return to the church and the need for us to ask deep questions about who we are and what our mission and ministry should look like in the months and years ahead - building on what we have learned together during lockdown and what we need to do to ready ourselves in anticipation of a new season of ministry. These are: presence, responsiveness, and perspective.
In ordinary circumstances we would be in the middle of ordination season. Bishops and ordinands, families and friends would be gathering in sweltering cathedrals. Bishops up and down the country would be preparing to lay their hands on candidates who had many months ago put themselves forward for discernment.
It’s almost guaranteed that the same congregations will have to sing Dan Schutte’s modern hymn: ‘I the Lord of Sea and Sky’ with its refrainHere I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night I will go, Lord, if you lead me I will hold your people in my heart’. The hymn is sung because it’s refrain of ‘here I am’ echoes the ‘here I am’ each of those candidates who would about to be ordained.
Like our own John, each ordinand has responded to God’s call with a ‘here I am’ putting themselves forward for selection, enduring the formation of theological college, and finally presenting themselves before the Bishop. As we know, these are not ordinary circumstances. John says goodbye to us today to be licensed as a lay worker until his ordination can take place safely in the autumn when he can continue his ‘here I am’ before the bishop as he is ordained to the ministry of deacon.
The ‘here I am’ of our first reading, seems, at first, rather different to the ‘here I am’ of an ordination service or Dan Schutte’s hymn. In fact, this episode in Genesis is framed by three ‘here I ams’.
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’
Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’
Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’
Abraham’s tender ‘here I am’ to his son, even when he knows the task he has seemingly been set, is sandwiched between his two ‘here I ams’ in faithful response to God. Abraham is not only ‘responsive’ as the ‘here I am’ of Dan Schutte’s him, he is present - present and response to his Son; present and responsive to God. ‘Here I am’.
Part of this episode I think is meant to signal to us just how far we are called to go in our presence and response not only to God but to each other. That it seems ludicrous to us that God might ask this of us is, I think - part of the point. The apparent tenderness of Abraham’s ‘here I am, my son’ only heightens this impression. It’s part of how this text functions as Scripture - generating a response in us.
The idea that God might require a such thing of us is abhorrent - but what are we willing to give up in response to his call?
The idea that God might require a such thing of us is abhorrent - only to focus our attention all the more on what God has done for us in Christ - the death of his only Son to give life to all his children.
Indeed, it’s not unusual for Christians to read this passage as a type of Christ - pointing forward to the crucifixion. Indeed, we know this story as the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac. Though, of course, it is anything but. God provides an alternative sacrifice - the ram caught in the thicket. We might more accurately describe this episode as Abraham’s sacrifice - or the sacrifice of the ram caught in the thicket. Jewish readers of this text know this episode not as the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac, but ‘the binding’. Whereas we Christians know it by a name which highlights the potential death of Issac, Jewish readers emphasise that the sacrifice did not happen. Isaac was merely bound. This was almost certainly for apologetic reasons as Christian and Jewish communities disputed the interpretation of shared texts. As Christians, we refer to the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac to underline that Jesus really did die on the cross and rise again. He wasn’t merely bound or taken away.
What does of all this have to do with anything you might ask? Even the very name we give this episode as Jewish or Christian readers of the text underlines the importance of perspective. Our perspective on even one story in the Old Testament is guided by who we are.
Perspective has been one thing gifted to us during lockdown. Not only have we been given the gift of insight to see who and what really matters in life - what we really do need and those often overlooked and underpaid people on whom we rely to provide healthcare in our hospitals, food on our shelves, deliveries to our door - we have also been given a renewed perspective on each other. We have become a community. We have learned a little of each others stories. We have not simply talked to our same old friends and faces.
As we return to Church and begin a new phase in the life of St Cyprians we are asked this morning ‘of whose perspective do we need to be aware that we might otherwise overlook?’, ‘who are the little ones in our community that God is calling us to recognise?’, and what is our part in the St Cyprians we want to build together as the body of Christ: to whom are we called to present? How are we called to respond?
Trinity 2 2020 by Fr Michael Fuller
Jesus said, “Nothing is covered that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.”
When I was at Theological College 27 years ago, the then progressive wing of the C of E introduced what they call ‘The Kingdom Season’. This confused me, not being very bright, because I thought every season was the Kingdom season.
From this grew such concepts as the Kingdom life and Kingdom living, whatever that meant.
Today in the Gospel reading, in a conversation with us, his disciples, Jesus encourages us to stand up for, what the church would call kingdom living; a life lived in such a way that it might even mean being in conflict with the mainstream of society. You will be maligned, says Jesus, for witnessing to this mission and ministry of mine.
In the Bible, such witnessing always means taking some kind of action on behalf of those who are otherwise disenfranchised, no matter how much doing so might fly in the face of tradition or is simply inconvenient.
We are to be fearless in our witness to the new kingdom life Jesus comes to proclaim and live. We can be fearless because there is much about God and kingdom life that is yet to be revealed.
That which is covered or hidden will be revealed. Revelation continues. It does not end with tradition or Scripture. God's revelation is not limited to a handful of Biblical writers and editors who gave us our Scriptures. God, says Jesus, is not limited at all except by the limits of our own perceptions of God and God's intended kingdom.
There are those who live among us, fortunately, who every day seek to help us see that which is covered and hidden about God. In our tradition we call these people mystics because they are able to recognize some of the mysteries of God's hidden-ness in the midst of our everyday surroundings and encounters with one another.
One such person we remembered this past week in our Calendar of Holy people was Evelyn Underhill who died on June 15, 1941. Evelyn, lived and wrote in my previous Parish of Holland Park, was a layperson, and someone with little formal religious training. Yet, her ability to recognize the hidden dimensions of God's presence in our life and to write about these mysteries of God makes her one of the most significant witnesses to Christ in our century. That few Christians have ever heard of Evelyn Underhill speaks to the hidden nature of God's ongoing revelation itself. Just listen to this prayer of Evelyn Underhill: Lord! Give me courage and love to open the door and constrain You to enter, whatever the disguise You come in, even before I fully recognize my guest. Come in! Enter my small life! Lay Your sacred hands on all the common things and small interests of that life and bless and change them. Transfigure my small resources, make them sacred. And in them give me your very self. Amen
Consider this together with that verse from Revelation 3: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" This is depicted in western art throughout the ages as Jesus standing at the door, lantern in hand, knocking on the door.
This is the inner truth about God in Christ: he is in fact always standing at the door and knocking, waiting for us to open our door.
What is a not so hidden truth about us, even those of us who are disciples of the One we call Lord: we tend to keep our doors closed. And we tend not to hear the knocking. Why?
Because we are too busy doing so many, many important things that we just do not hear Jesus knocking on our door. If we are not busy with work or family, we are so busy with church busy-ness that we cannot hear Jesus knocking at the door.
That, I believe, is Jesus' constant complaint about organised religion and tradition: it keeps us too busy to hear or participate in God's ongoing revelation. And so whatever new thing God is presently calling into being through this pandemic may well remain hidden to us.
Then when we do hear the knocking, we tend to look out the spy hole to see who it is. Oh, no! We say. It's Jesus! I know what he's all about, and he's going to want me to do something for someone.
So we run and get our ‘iPhones to check our diaries, run back to the door, and without opening it shout through the keyhole and say, "Look, Jesus, I am awfully busy today! I am a week late with this task or that job, I have a stack of phone messages to respond to, but look, I have an opening a week from Thursday at 2:00pm. Could you come back then, or perhaps Zoom would be easier?"
Lord! we pray, Give us the courage and love to constrain Jesus to enter. To constrain means to force, to urge, to compel.
What Evelyn Underhill knows is that in all depictions of Revelation 3:20 in Western art, there is never a doorknob or handle on Jesus' side of the door.
We need to open our doors ourselves to let God in. Or else God remains hidden from us and we remain hidden from God.
God who, says Jesus, urgently wants to count the hairs of our head. That's a way of expressing just how close God wants to be with us, and will be with us, if we would only open our doors more often.
This God we are to constrain to enter our lives comes, evidently, in many disguises. That is, we will not always immediately recognize God in Christ when he does enter.
Which is not so odd.
Our Lord now lives in his resurrected glory. The disciples did not recognize the risen Lord by his appearance, but rather in what he did. And what he did was break bread, eat fish, and show them his wounds.
Yet, they do not recognize him when he is hungry, thirsty, in prison, a stranger, or naked. We do not recognize Jesus when he is homeless, or lost, or standing on the street with an outstretched hand.
It is a scary thing to open the door. It is a scarier thing to walk out the door and into the world to walk with Christ in his many disguises.
Yet, Revelation 3 goes on to say that whenever we open that door, we are going to eat and drink and have a truly wonderful time because God will be in our midst. Emmanuel, God with us.
Underhill puts it this way: Come in! Enter my small life! Lay Your sacred hands on all the common things and small interests of that life and bless and change them. Transfigure my small resources, make them sacred. And in them give me your very self.
This is a wonderful promise, whether in the words of St John the Divine or Evelyn Underhill. Everything about us can be made new, blessed, and sacred.
Most of all, Christ can be present in all that we have and all that we are, all of the time!
Pray with Evelyn Underhill every day. Listen for that knocking on the door. With courage and love, open that door and welcome the Risen Lord even before we recognize our guest. The Kingdom of God is at hand for those who have eyes to see it and the time to let it into our midst.
There is nothing that is hidden that cannot be made known if only we will open our doors and let Jesus come in!
Corpus Christi 2020 Fr Simon Cuff
‘Grant that all we, who are partakers of this holy communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction; through Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father almighty, world without end’ words from the eucharistic prayer of the Book of Common Prayer. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.
These prayers are said by the priest either quietly during the offertory hymn or aloud during a low Mass. They remind us of the intimate connection between human labour and divine gift in every Eucharist.
In our modern age where bread and wine have become sheer commodities, we are far removed from the realties of production of most of the bread we consume and the, um, considerable amounts of wine we drink. Even those of us who have spent lockdown baking have probably not grown the wheat and milled the flour. We probably don’t know the farmer’s name or the miller who ground the flour on our behalf.
Earlier generations knew this connection between their everyday life and work, and the gifts they offered up at the altar. When the priest offered up the bread and wine on their behalf there was an intimate connection between the everyday labour of the community worshipping and the community’s worship. At least of the bread. The wine was received only by the priest in the medieval church and communities in Britain tended not to have a climate conducive to much wine-growing, not even Wendover. The consecration of the bread was a consecration of the fruits of the labour of the local community. The fruits of those labour were not only offered up to God, they became the means by which God himself became present among them in bread and wine. God entered not only into their lives through bread and wine. God’s entry into their life through the Sacrament was intimately bound up with their daily life.
Our relationship to the eucharist which we celebrate today can all too easily be divorced from the reality of our daily lives. It becomes transactional. We go to Church to receive God in bread and wine, or to witness the liturgy, or to listen to the music. And we go home. The reality of the God we’ve received in bread is confined to the wafer or the building. Our everyday lives remain relatively untouched by our communion.
This time of lockdown has changed all of our lives. We can no longer go to church to receive communion, and probably won’t be able to freely for quite some time. What does it mean to celebrate our celebration of the Eucharist as we do today? We can still celebrate our communion with God and with each other. In circumstances which prevent us from receiving Holy Communion, Spiritual communion is no less a communion with God.
Today is a reminder that our communion with God shouldn’t be the weekly transaction that it can all too easily become. Even our weekly Zoom can become the same sort of transaction we can fall into ordinary times. We log on, we catch up, we say our prayer of communion. As we ‘leave meeting’ or meeting is ‘ended by host’, we can get back to our baking or our next Zoom meeting or the next chapter of our book or the next episode of whatever it is we’re watching or our next walk around Regent’s Park and our daily life remains relatively unchanged by our divine encounter. We all too easily forget God all over again.
Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants, having in remembrance the precious death and passion of thy dear Son, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; At the heart of every eucharist is remembrance. We remember the events of Jesus’s death and passion. We are once again in the upper room at the first last supper. We remember the reality of his resurrection and ascension. As we remember we offer God bread and wine and he is present to us through them. As we remember we not only offer bread and wine, but the fruits of our lives, the whole of ourselves and the whole of our daily lives.
Our remembrance each week is a reminder to remember. Our communion helps us to remember God a little more each time we leave church or click ‘leave meeting’. This is why we celebrate communion.
To paraphrase Rowan Williams, we don’t celebrate communion because that’s one of those things that we do at church. We celebrate communion to form us into the church. As we celebrate communion, God’s presence with us helps us in our remembrance of the saving events of Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s presence helps us to remember him a little more in our daily lives. We see God’s presence in bread and wine and we can become more alive to God’s presence in the rest of our lives. This is what we celebrate today. God’s gift of himself to us in bread and wine - our communion with him. We remember together here so that we might become better at remembering him in our daily lives. We offer him the fruit of our daily lives to invite him to the intimacy of our daily lives, so that we learn to recognise his already intimate presence in our daily lives. So that when we leave church or click ‘leave meeting’ we learn to realise once again that he never leave us and is constantly giving himself to us not only in our life in church but in the whole of life, gifted to us by him.
Trinity Sunday 2020 Fr Michael Fuller
I have a confession to make. Not a terribly serious one, but I think I should tell you anyhow. It is nine years since I last preached on Trinity Sunday.
The reason for this is that I think there are always more important things for us to concern ourselves with, rather than trying to define the nature of God.
One of these being trying to put into practice our faith, before attempting to be precise about what is meant when referring to God as the Holy Trinity.
With that in mind the question that keeps coming back to me was, can anything else arise which is wrong during this pandemic? As if a global pandemic was not sufficient.
Now we have an ineffective and confused government, who seem unable to think logically or in a joined-up way and treat the electorate as gullible.
An American President who uses the Word of God to cover up his own racist views and those of his supporters, then threatens to use the military against his own people.
A Chinese government that has an appalling human rights record looking to further restrict the freedoms of the peoples of Hong Kong.
Then there is the Church??
Today it is encouraging us to grasp the essence of the nature of God as Trinity as if it is urgent and important.
How could an abstract-sounding church doctrine matter now in a world of chaos?
The thing is that is that if we put our mind to it, we can discover in scripture and the teaching of the Church that the nature of God is simply an essential connectedness.
This ‘communion’ within God gives us a glimpse into the very nature of God – and, knowing that, a deep connectedness describes consummately the universe in which we live and speaks to the longings in our own hearts as we are separated from others. Before God created anything, there was a communion of three separate persons of the Godhead who created us out of love, for love.
This is why we were created: to be in a healthy, loving relationship with God and all creation. And out of this web of relationships comes both our salvation and the redemption of all creation.
The word Trinity never actually appears in the Bible. Yet, in passages like our Gospel reading today, we are expected to baptise new followers of Jesus in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We can see that the first Christians were less concerned about doctrinal formulation than in following the way of Jesus. They patterned their daily lives in prayer and fasting, in service to others, and gathering for worship.
Into that community, they baptised new followers using that same Trinitarian formula. In time, they came to think through what it meant to speak of a God who is both one and three.
Throughout the Bible, there was both the idea of one God and the description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Sadly, the analogies that are constantly used to describe the Trinity, and are almost certainly heretical, just don’t add up. God is more than we can get our minds around and that is how it is.
Yet the Trinity is not a mystery in the sense of a puzzle that we can’t solve; the Trinity is a mystery inasmuch as we see the truth of it, but we just don’t get the breadth of it.
Using the word mystery, in this case, is closer to describing as mystery the love we share as human beings.
We think we know so much about those we love, and yet there always more to discover in the relationship with our partner, spouse or offspring.
We can and do know about the nature of God from God, by the revelation of scripture, from the way God is revealed in nature, and through that most perfect revelation of God, Jesus the Christ.
And yet, there is more than we already know – a mystery that is deeper than our minds can fathom.
Early Christians looked to God as revealed in scripture and, with a nudge or two from that undivided Triune God, forged the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Then, moving back from that concept, they looked anew at the scripture and discovered how well it all fitted.
Reading the Bible with new eyes, they saw that God was in communion with God’s own self before creation.
God is a relationship among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then God creates all that is - for relationship.
If we humans preferred to be alone and came together only rarely to procreate and then separate as some animals do, the theory would fall short at this point. But we humans love to be together.
This is a lesson learned so well during the lockdown, following instructions that have come with the pandemic, however chaotically, confusing they have been.
We are, in fact, the beings in communion we were created to be. Being separated by the coronavirus has not broken that sense of communion.
Across the Church, people are finding ways to stay connected, imperfect as they are, though thanks to Kyle we are getting better, our new ways of Zooming come from a deep longing which is in the very heart of Holy Trinity.
Jesus would put it this way: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.
This is what we were created for: love upward toward God and outward toward humankind.
That web of relationships is very interconnected. When we come to love God more, we grow a heart for other people as God has, and so love of God draws us to other people.
Loving other people fully means seeing them as God sees them, and so loving people can also draw us to God. It is the communion for which we were created.
Also, if we are being candid about the interconnectedness of creation, we must acknowledge that woven within the tapestry are not just people and animals, but bacteria and viruses.
Rather than accidents, they are part of the created order which gives rise not just to pain and suffering, but also a world where generosity, kindness, and self-sacrificial love are possible.
In this time of physical distancing to limit the spread of the virus, we are discovering more about how deep our human longing is for community.
We are connected deeply to all creation. That is the essential reality the Trinity helps us to understand.
Early Christians put the practices of faith ahead of trying to be precise about what they meant when referring to God as Trinity.
We can and ought to prioritise practices of faith and let our understanding catch up later.
The important thing is that when we are in a connectedness with God - the Holy Spirit will work through our imperfect words and actions to connect us to others and more fully to our Trinitarian God.
Praise God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Pentecost Sermon Fr Simon Cuff
‘When you were baptised it’s as though you were mixed into dough. When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, it’s as though you were baked’. Words from Augustine’s 272nd sermon. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate the gift of the Spirit to the Church, first at Pentecost, sacramentally when we are Confirmed and at every moment as the Spirit breathes and moves through the Church and world - God holding his Church and creation in being. When St Augustine is seeking a metaphor to describe the role of the Spirit in our Christian lives he uses the image of baking. ‘When you were baptised’ he says you were mixed into the dough of the body of Christ. You became a member of the Church, but when you received the Spirit you came to share in the fullness of life - as though were baked. Like dough rising in a furnace, so you come to share in the fulness of the risen life through the work of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Spirit is what turns us from raw dough to baked good. It completes our preparation for the Christian life.
Many of us have become rather more use to baking than we were at the beginning of this year. I can now include in my repertoire: Sourdough, soda, white, wholemeal, pastry, shortcrust, puff (a bit of an effort), vegan souffles made with leftover bean-water - a triumph once and more like delicious accidental soups, or ‘soup-les’, in subsequent attempts that stubbornly refuse to do anything like rise. There is more to the image of the Christian life as being like baked bread than meets the eye. Just as we don’t make bread for the sake of it, the Christian life isn’t finished when we’ve received the fire of the Spirit in Confirmation. We don’t make bread rolls for no good reason or just to look pretty - we make bread to feed us. So too, we’re not called to be Christians and given a share in the Spirit for no good reason or to just to make the world a prettier place for all the lovely Church buildings we’ve produced, we are the body of Christ, called to feed and serve the world.
The Spirit isn’t just given to us for its own sake, as we read in the first letter to the Corinthians. ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’ The Spirit is given to us for a purpose, for the common good. We are the body of Christ - equipped with a variety of tools and skills - for the common good. Like bread, we exist to nourish and feed the world. We are given the Spirit; we exist as Christians not for ourselves but for others. To be Christian is to live for others. To be drawn into the body of Christ through baptism, to share in the Spirit through confirmation, to live all of our lives oriented toward God and for those around us. However, there are limits to St Augustine’s baking analogy. As we all know, to bake you need a lot of stuff. Flour, yeast, a sourdough starter that you may or may not have killed by trying to reactivate it, any number of trays, brushes, tins, and accoutrement.
The Christian life isn’t like this at all. We don’t need to go searching for the last bag of this or the last sachet of that on a supermarket shelf. God has given us everything we need to be the Christians he has calling us to be. He has given us the gifts to equip us for our part in the common good. He has given us the means to use them even when we are still locked at home. Like the disciples in our Gospel, ‘doors locked’ through fear of what might happen if they encountered those out to harm them, Christ meets us even here and continues to give us that share in his Spirit which enables us to play our part, to be the bread that gives life the world in the way he is calling us to share in the bread of life which gives life to others. Even during lockdown Christ has been with us, giving us a share in his Spirit, greeting us with those words with which he often greets his disciples: ‘Peace be with you’, and preparing us for when we can move freely, like those first disciples, preparing us to be sent out to share the good news of Jesus to a hungry and expectant world. We may struggle to see how it is that God is calling us to be that bread, what he is given us to serve the common good, we may find it difficult to believe that we are up to the task. But we are. Because we know we have been called by God through baptism, we have been equipped with our share in the Spirit to serve the common good. If nothing else we can pray that ancient hymn - sung at ordinations and consecrations - invoking the Spirit and asking God to show us the answers to these questions, asking for the gift of insight - asking to see how it is he is calling each of us, you, me to serve the common good - even from behind our lock doors and especially in the days and weeks to come as like those first disciples we step out once more into the world: Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire and lighten with celestial fire; thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blessed unction from above is comfort, life, and fire of love; enable with perpetual light the dullness of our mortal sight.
Teach us to know the Father, Son, and thee, of both, to be but one; that through the ages all along this may be our endless song:
Praise to thine eternal merit, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Easter 7 sermon by Fr Michael Fuller
Jesus said, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
2020 has given us all our very own “separation sadness” moments, too many to count. COVID-19 has forced us all to maintain physical distance, cancelling our services, keeping us apart, away from our churches and away from the Eucharist.
What, then, does Jesus’ prayer for us all to be one mean here, for us, in our times? How can we “be one” when we have to settle for online services, phone calls, and Zoom meetings rather than the hugs, sacraments, and in-person love to which we are so accustomed?
The church throughout history has had its share of separation sadness. The 1918 flu pandemic most recently forced churches closed in many of the same ways that we have had to close in 2020.
The HIV-AIDS pandemic gave people a healthy fear of disease and of one another, too, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.
Long before that, plagues would occasionally rip through the population, forcing separations and leaving sickness and death in their wake.
In turbulent times, it is helpful to remember that we are not the first to walk the road before us. We are not the first church people to experience the “separation sadness” caused by disease. In this Gospel passage, Jesus is preparing to die. He has spent a long time talking to the disciples and attempting to prepare them, as he shared dinner with them and laid aside his robe like a servant, the night before he would lay down his life for his friends. Now, it seems, Jesus is preparing both himself and his disciples for his death, as he prays for them.
Some of us will understand what it is like to be with a person as they prepare to die. We know that truths are spoken then. We may know how to say goodbye. The farewell discourse is more relatable in its Holy Week context than it perhaps is here, in the Easter lectionary, after the Ascension.
Perhaps one thing this pandemic has done for us is to point out that we don’t often know how to be separate but still united.
Now, as we read this passage in light of the Ascension, we realize that that is exactly what Jesus is preparing them for — to remain united with him, and with each other, even when he is not physically present.
Later in this chapter of John, Jesus will say, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Crisis teaches us truths.
This is true of the disciples at the time of Jesus’ death, and it is true of us here in 2020. In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself is the Word made flesh, the truth made flesh. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the disciples learn that the worst thing is never the last thing, but that in Christ, all things are made new.
In our own time, perhaps, we are learning similar things.
When Christ ascended, the disciples looked around at each other, and the sky, such that the angels standing by asked them, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It is okay not to know what to do next. It is okay to be still. It is okay to put one foot in front of the other and muddle through.
And it is okay to be taken aback by physical separation from those we love and whose presence comforts us and lifts us up. Though even in our separation sadness and frustration we must continue to protect others and ourselves.
We are learning, or have learned, to be with one another, united in Christ, even when we are not physically present. During our time of “separation sadness,” we have united around the Word and our mutual love for Christ and for one another.
We have done nothing perfectly, but we have allowed the crisis to teach us. We have been sanctified by the truth and held together in love by Christ.
This might also serve to teach us other things, such as how we are united in Christ with people we have never met: St Cyprian’s people are beginning to speak with strangers who we are welcoming.
Christians around the world continue to gather, and Christ’s prayer is that we be one with them. Christ is holding us together with people all around the world. Even though we cannot be physically present with Christians in other nations, we can be united with them in Christ, just as we have been united even in our own separations within our congregations. We are also united with the saints throughout history:
Christian heroes from all walks of life and throughout the ages are united with us, too, though we have never been able to be physically present with them. Let our separation during the pandemic always remind us that physical separation is no obstacle to Christ, who holds us all together in love.
Perhaps, then, this pandemic can teach us more than how to better wash our hands.
Perhaps it can do more than be a moment of separation sadness for all of us.
Perhaps it can truly teach us to be one in Christ with people with whom we may never be physically present in this life.
Perhaps it can serve as a reminder that regardless, we are all one in Christ, and Christ is with us, now and always. In Christ, neither death, nor life, nor pandemics, nor wars can ever separate us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Ascension Day Fr Simon Cuff ‘When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight’ words from the Acts of the Apostles, the 1st chapter, the ninth verse. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Human beings are perverse. We try to put ourselves at the centre of everything. We constantly make little gods of our own devising. We fashion idols that take the place of God in our lives. We elevate little bits of our selves or our ways of being that become objects of worship in our daily lives. When it comes to what matters, we get completely the wrong end of the stick. We fail to give God his due.
Sometimes, I look around at the actions of our fellow human beings, at my own actions, and wonder what exactly God sees in us that he goes to such extraordinary lengths to save us, to snap us out of our idolatry and muddle-headedness, and to call us to himself in Christ. We human beings even try to make our selves the centre of everything when it comes to our faith. We misread this or that bit of the Christian story so that instead of giving God his due and placing him at the centre, this or that article of faith becomes a story about us.
When it comes to the feast of the Ascension our perversion runs deeper still. Our capacity to misplace our focus shows no limits. Our ability to look for value and find meaning in the wrong place is front and centre stage.
‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?’
Why are you looking in the wrong place?
We perverse human beings who are always ready to make ourselves the centre of the story, suddenly decide that, when it comes to the Ascension that Christ is the centre.
We tell ourselves that the Ascension is about Jesus finally going home to heaven. We make ourselves images of his feet dangling out of the sky as he travels upward. We write ourselves out of the story.
And yet, and this is where things get really perverse, the Ascension of Christ is actually about us. It is about us. We are front and centre, and yet with uncharacteristic modesty we write ourselves out of it. We focus on the heavenly rocket man returning home instead. The Ascension is about humanity. It is, for once, about us. Or rather it’s about what God has done for us in Christ and what that means for our humanity. This is not about a journey through the skies, but God’s action in Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI remarked, in words worth quoting at length: ‘The Ascension is not described as a journey to on high but rather as an action of the power of God who introduces Jesus into the space of closeness to the Divine… In Christ ascended into Heaven, the human being has entered into intimacy with God in a new and unheard-of way; humanity henceforth finds room in God for ever. “Heaven”: this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and for ever, the One in whom God and humankind are inseparably united for ever. Humankind’s being in God, this is Heaven.’
The Ascension teaches us something profound about what God has done to us and for us in Christ. “Humanity finds room in God for ever.”
In Christ, God has entered into and transformed the perversion and muddle-headedness of our humanity. He’s not just patched us up and left us looking up to the sky. He’s not some kind of heavenly superman who’s flown in, saved the day, and flown out. He has became one of us, he has died for all of us. He transformed us, and has taken us to himself in the Ascension, into the very centre of the divine life.
‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?’
Why are you looking the wrong place?
The Ascension isn’t about where Jesus has gone. We know from the end of Matthew’s Gospel that he is with us always. We know that in the Mass too he is with us in bread and wine. He is with us as we make our Communion spiritually in a few moments.
The Ascension is not about where Jesus has gone, but about what God has done and is doing for us in Christ. It’s about the transformation of our human nature. It’s a story that reminds us that we are not the centre of every story, by reminding us that God has taken us to himself, to the very centre of the divine life.
Why then our uncharacteristic modesty? Why do we unusually
struggle to see ourselves at the centre of this particular story? Why? Because to do so would be to see ourselves as God sees us, and that idea terrifies us a little. To think that we might be able to live lives so completely directed toward God that we might cease to be the centre of attention.
If we see ourselves as God sees us, if we see the Ascension as revealing to us the closeness of God to us at each and every hour, if we come to see our true being: our world is turned upside down, our priorities upended, our lives transformed.
In this Mass, as in every Mass, the bread and the wine are transformed, but more astonishingly, so are we. We hard-hearted and slow to believed are transformed. We are transformed to transform others and the world around us.
We leave this encounter transformed and mindful of what the Ascension teaches us about human nature, the intimate closeness we enjoy with God. And our eyes are set once more firmly on our heavenly home revealed to us in the Ascension: “Humankind’s being in God, this is Heaven”.
Sixth Week of Easter 17th May 2020, MrJohn Blackburne. Ordinand God is not far from each one of us: ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ Acts: Chapter 17 verse 28. During the week I work for the Ministry of Justice. After six weeks at home because our office had closed in the face of a global pandemic I was ordered back to work. Not just me, I had to tell my whole team, half an office of administrative workers they must return too. I didn’t like that made me feel really bad. I had spent the weeks before ensuring as many as my team as I could arrange for could had been provided with laptops so they could work from home. But that was not good enough. Now they had to return to work to open the office for business. At that stage the Government’s message was you must stay at home, stay isolated, save the NHS – I had a letter from the prime Minister telling me to do so! I had felt secure, safe, if a little stressed. None of the staff who work in our office are highly paid. Almost all rely on public transport for travel, mainly London Underground, the oldest metro system in the world, with the signalling to match! I asked what had changed since we went into the lockdown? Materially I could see nothing that meant we could rush back to the office. I suggested that before we return the Department might need to complete a risk assessment, to reassure our teams, and ensure best practice. This unleashed upon me a cascade of emails from my line manager, and other senior managers, demanding to know why? At that moment as a Christian in the workplace I suddenly had sympathy for St Paul facing an alien culture and attempting to be true to his faith and witness to God.
The queries came thick and fast, who was asking, can I identify them, who in my team had a problem could they be spoken to? Didn’t they understand that they are key workers delivering justice? This was before, of course, the leaks to the press to say we would be repaid by having our salaries frozen for the next two years to pay for the lockdown. I declined the kind offer of naming staff afraid to use the Tube to get to work and then spend a day working with other staff who had also used the Tube to get to work without knowing whether they had encountered the great enemy which is Covid-19? That great Satan of the underground prowling around’ like a mugger seeking whom he may devour! Finally, I went back to them and said actually it isn’t me. And it is not my colleagues either – it is the law? Health and safety legislation and employment rights law! I had to tell the ministry of justice who run the courts, prisons, and the tribunals, that they must follow the law that we force on everyone else! I have not heard a word back from them since. Twenty years ago the church had concluded a decade of evangelism and produced a report – the Church had been fired up by the missional call to preach afresh the Gospel to every generation – which is the vocation of each one of us who calls ourselves a disciple of our Lord. The report said that the crucial task in the coming years is to discover new ways of ‘being church in a new age’. The difficulty it said is that we are in a ‘post’ age – post-evangelical, post-ideological, post-structural, post-industrial, post-secular, post-colonial, post-modern? And most of all post-Christian, and from my point of view working in the Civil service post-justice and post kindness? If we were on the margins then look at us now? We are lock-in but locked out! Whatever advantages ‘establishment’ once brought us we are at the margins like never before – outside looking in! So that brings us back to the first reading in the Acts of the Apostles and St Paul in Athens. Paul is on his second missionary journey he has crossed the north of the Mediterranean coast across to Macedonia and then down to Thessalonica and Athens. By now he has established a pattern; he goes to the Synagogue and preaches to the Jewish community, he is given short shrift and goes on to the market place where his message is sufficiently well received that he is invited to present his new teaching about Jesus and his resurrection to the Greek philosophers. In order to appeal to them Paul has to speak to them in terms they understand so he begins by speaking of ‘God in creation’. In doing so he sets out for us today, how we must engage with the world - putting our understanding of God and our relationship to Him in terms of creation and new creation. At this time in our nation’s life people are looking for something to believe in, to hold on to, to give them some perspective when everything else is uncertain; Home, work and family relationships are all on hold , and the messages are confused, where can we put our trust? Not in politicians - we cannot trust their words; Not in economics – economics has failed; What do we have to fall back on but community and relationships, even newly forged communities and relationships like that we have developed here, this must be a new model for our Church in a new age? So St Paul says: ‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you: The God who made the world and everything in it, he is Lord of heaven and earth; He himself gives all mortals life and breath and all things’. Without our grounding in God we have no reference point; without my grounding in God I cannot stand up to injustice at work; With my grounding in God I cannot preach a gospel and witness to Christ’s resurrection - I cannot be light to the world;
Paul is persecuted he is ridiculed but he preaches the gospel just the same because at the end of the day although sometimes we feel we have to search for God/ even grope to find him, he is not far from each one of us: For we cannot stand against an unjust and uncaring world unless we have faith and trust in Him: ‘For in him, we live and move, and have our being’. Amen.
Easter 5 by Fr Simon Cuff
Once you were not a people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Words from the 1st letter of Peter the 2nd chapter, the 10th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit. Amen.
How has lockdown changed you?
How has lockdown changed us?
As we see the first signs that the government might be testing what the reversal of lockdown might look like it feels like a time to begin to reflect on what has happened to us as individuals and as a worshipping community over the last two months.
All of us will have had different experiences of being in lockdown. Some of us have lost friends and loved ones. Some of us have friends and loved ones who have fallen ill and will remain ill for many months as they slowly recover. Some of us will have enjoyed the time to be alone, to discover new things about ourselves and what we the real necessities of life are. Some of us will have hated it. Many of us will have watched the clock eagerly each evening as it approached 6pm - either to join us in evening prayer or to go in search of the tonic.
Whatever our experience of lockdown, it will have had an impact on us. On us. We have been reminded through being alone that we are never alone. Our lives are interconnected and this shared experience has underlined that we are always an ‘us’, however individualised our world our society might seem or however much others try to divide us and set us against each other. To be human is to be part of an ‘us’ which is bigger than ourselves. God isn’t just with you or with me. God is with us, as we read at the beginning of St Matthew’s Gospel, and we are learning what it means to take this ‘us’ seriously.
Those of use who are meeting each week to worship are part not just of the ‘us’ of humanity, but the ‘us’ of those who are Christian. That ‘us’ which has called to himself for the sake of the entire human ‘us’.
We’re still in the midst of Eastertide. Celebrating Holy Week in lockdown had a special poignancy as the emotions of uncertainty and a situation of testing and trial spoke to us in ways that we sometimes missed in Holy Weeks past. Celebrating Easter in lockdown has had challenges as we still feel like we are in living through the provisionality of Holy Saturday, ‘the longest of days’ as the scholar George Steiner once described it, the ‘long day’s journey of the Saturday’, the ‘immensity of waiting’ which is what it means to be human.
Yet the Christian faith reminds us that we are not a Holy Saturday people but an Easter people.
We celebrate the Resurrection in Eastertide and every Sunday because we believe we share in the risen life of Easter even now. And this is true even in lockdown, even though it might feel more like Holy Saturday than Easter Day. Even in lockdown we are taking our share in the Risen Life of Easter, we are playing our part in the Resurrection to which we are called.
’Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’
Our second reading echoes the words of the prophet Hosea in reflecting on what it is that God has done in Christ - that living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight - through whom we have been called out of darkness into his marvellous light.
’Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’
One of the ways I think lockdown has changed us, as the community gathering together as St Cyprian’s is that it has formed us together as a people. Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people. We have related to each other from inside our homes, we have got to know some people we didn’t know before, we feel closer to those faces we see in church from week to week, we’ve shared a little of each other’s lives in ways we sometimes do not always get to share - the weather in Vancouver, the price of flour in Wendover, the strange absence of gin in any of the shops in or around Fr Michael’s flat.
We have been living the new life of Easter. We have been formed as a people out of a people who were once were not a people.
We have come to share something of the joy of Easter even as we have been isolated in our own homes and dwelling places.
Whatever life looks like as lockdown begins to end, we should build on this encounter with the Risen Christ. We should become more of a people not less. We should ask ourselves what these new relationships and depth of relationship mean for those of us tasked with serving the community in which we live as the church of St Cyprian’s under a new incumbent and in the months and years ahead.
As we leave our homes, we need to continue to ask ourselves what have we learned about how we might make the community of St Cyprians which has been a home for us during our forced exile and isolation, a home for those in and around Marylebone currently unaware of our existence.
The miracle of all this - our new found sense of relationship, the community that’s been built virtually, the glimpses of the Risen life we’ve been able to see even in the midst of isolation - is that all of this has come as we have been confined to our homes. Most of us are lucky to have homes in which we feel safe, but even those of us who are happy in our homes know that these homes are temporary, or perhaps better, are illusory. Our real life, our real home is hid with Christ in God.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.’
These are the dwelling place, the homes, to which God is calling us, these are the homes which God is calling us to use our earthly home to point towards through our charity and neighbourliness, these are the homes that God is calling us to fashion an image of in the home that St Cyprians has become for us and will, we pray, come to be for others in the week and months and years ahead.
Easter 4 by Fr Michael Fuller When I was 15, I moved to North Devon to undertake my basic training in preparation to becoming an engineer.
I was lodged on a farm that had nearly 800 sheep. If anyone here thinks sheep are stupid, think again!
If you have seen sheep mingling together and several flocks can mix together, when the flocks’ true shepherd speaks, they separate and follow him.
If you should happen to get caught in the midst of a flock of sheep and you are not the true shepherd, beware!!
This fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday and the 23rd Psalm sums up the concept of Jesus being the Good Shepherd.
Some of you will recall the Sunday-school posters of this favourite psalm superimposed on beautiful painted pictures of Jesus on a grassy hillside, with a lamb over his shoulders, rescuing it from danger.
In 1742 Charles Wesley wrote that somewhat nauseating hymn:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon a little child; Pity my simplicity, Suffer me to come to Thee.
The saving grace of the hymn is in the final verse: I shall then show forth Thy praise, Serve Thee all my happy days; Then the world shall always see Christ, the holy Child, in me.
What an aspiration!
Many people still get great comfort from the image of the kind and gentle Jesus who cares for all God’s creatures.
This is the Jesus who stays with us, through nights of weeping, and loneliness, and worry, and despair, through the horror of Covid-19..
And in times of danger and grief, many of us will turn to the Twenty-Third Psalm for comfort.
At memorial services, it evokes the kind and loving presence of the God who promises an eternal dwelling place.
But then, there are the times such as now, when events in our lives or in our world throw our peace, our hopefulness and our comfort into doubt.
Times when the Jesus we remember from our childhood, smiling on that grassy hillside seems almost irrelevant to the darkness of the world.
How do we begin to understand a world where we are in perpetual lockdown?
In today’s Gospel Jesus was in the Portico of Solomon and perhaps the people crowding around Jesus were asking similar questions?
At the Feast of the Dedication, the feast we now know as Hanukkah, the people remembered how the nation rededicated the temple after a great leader, Judas Maccabeus, defeated the Greek conquerors in 164 BC.
The festival remembered the suffering of the Jewish people under the Greek Empire, and rejoiced at their great victory.
Against this background, with Roman soldiers hovering and memories of thousands of crucified would-be rebels and other unjust suffering fresh in their minds, people asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?”
Would Jesus be the new hero who would drive out the Roman invader? Would the nation be free and independent once more?
The people crowding around Jesus want a clear and decisive answer. Instead, Jesus is cryptic and evasive. The people want him to speak with authority about weapons and strategies; instead, he talks about sheep.
To their demand that he assume the leadership for which they have been hoping, he answers with a claim of leadership so astounding that many of them pick up stones to kill him on the spot: he claims to be one with God the Father.
This is no gentle, meek and mild Jesus on a green, rolling hillside.
This is a fierce, uncompromising Jesus, a Jesus who refuses to meet any earthly expectations.
A Jesus whose frame of reference is so far removed from that of the people around him that it is a wonder he escapes with his life.
Indeed, John tells us that the next time Jesus dares to show his face in Jerusalem, the chief priests hatch a scheme to have him crucified.
How do we reconcile the gentle, kind shepherd Jesus, the one who would go anywhere and risk anything to save even the smallest lamb, with the Jesus who provoked his enemies to violence?
How does this Jesus have anything at all to do with the worries and dangers of our lives?
How can our faith in Jesus help us through a human tragedy like the one brought about by the Coronavirus?
What can the gentle shepherd do to help?
The wonderful thing about Psalm 23 is just how realistic it is about the darkness of life.
Perhaps the picture we get of the Good Shepherd from art and music and childhood memories is an image of pure light and pure sweetness.
But the psalm itself knows darkness and fear. Like the writer of the psalm, many of us Christians have travelled through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
We too have known the threat of the unknown. And yet many have also known the comfort of God’s presence, walking alongside them through that dark valley.
Many have experienced transcendent holiness and light in the darkest of times.
People who spend much time with those who are ill or bereaved begin to know what kind of help brings true comfort.
Comfort does not come from assurances that everything will be all right or from platitudes that try to explain why everything that happens is God’s will.
Comfort comes from the simple presence of companions who are willing to sit alongside us in our darkest hours, to walk through the darkness with us.
To help us make the darkness holy, and to rejoice with us when small glimmers of light finally begin to shine.
And at the heart of it, that is what our Christian faith can tell us. It tells us that the Easter Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, the great hero who liberates us, is not the God of light alone.
Jesus is sovereign over the darkness too, because he too has been enfolded by darkness.
Like us, he has grieved over the senseless waste and tragedy of life.
Like us, he has agonized over those who suffer. As all of us will eventually, he has entered into the darkness of death.
With all of us, he promises to walk that road so that we do not have to walk it alone. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
The ultimate truth of our Christian faith, the truth we remember this Easter season and every Sunday as we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection, is that our Shepherd leads us out of death into life.
The Lord who was crucified and who rose again is the same Lord who promises to redeem the world, to relieve it’s suffering, to restore it to wholeness.
The risen Lord is the sign of the life that God promises to all of us.
Life transformed, life redeemed, life restored, life abundant, life joyous and eternal and blessed.
God prepares a table for all of us: a table full with overflowing cups and overabundant blessings.
Then when we fully understand that Jesus the Good Shepherd is the gate, Jesus is the entry point into all change, depth, struggle, and love—it’s simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. As the saying goes, “God loves us exactly as we are, and God loves us far too much to leave us that way.”
Whatever is your answer, be persuaded that Jesus, our Great Shepherd, invites us to come and share with him at the table of blessing.
Will we today respond to that invitation?
Easter 3 by Fr Simon Cuff ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a curate I was taught two golden rules of preaching.1) Always preach to your self; and 2) Never preach about your self, and certainly never preach about something that you happened to do in the preceding week…
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a Bible study led by former Archbishop Rowan Williams. As ever with Bishop Rowan, we were all transfixed, albeit at our computer screens, as he unpacked the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John for us. To be frank, he could have been selling us a second-hand anything given his gifts of communication and ability to hold our attention. As he spoke, suddenly words and phrases of which had washed over me in the daily office and at Masses since Easter Day came alive.
As he preached the Gospel, focusing on how Mary Magdalen and Peter moved from casually noticing things about the resurrection site to really seeing, staring at, being transfixed on Jesus, seeing and then really seeing, I realised that my heart was burning within me. John 20 was suddenly as fresh as if it was the first time I’d ever read it, and the Resurrection glistened, suddenly seeming more real and Jesus seeming more alive in our midst.
‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
Our Gospel reading this morning is an account of a resurrection appearance given to us by St Luke. We all know the story. Two disciples are walking to Emmaus, talking about all that had gone on in the previous days. Someone appears who they don’t recognise - we’re not even told whether they noticed somebody walking with them straight away. This stranger unpacks the Scriptures for them but they still don’t recognise him.
There was something about him which made them not want him to leave when he looks like he’s about to continue on his way. It’s only as they break bread together, that they recognise him. And just as they do, he vanishes from their sight. The disciples see him, but the fail to really see him, to recognise who he is.
This passage often leads to reflection on the importance of the sacraments in the Christian life. It’s not in talking about the events in Jerusalem or on meditating on the Scriptures that they recognise Jesus, it’s as they break bread with him that they recognise his presence with them.
Tempting as it is to preach such a sermon today - reminding ourselves that Jesus is present with us in the Eucharist, there is no better way to see Jesus that to receive the Eucharist, there is no closer to heaven we get on earth than sharing in eucharistic fellowship, this is not a sermon for today.
What does the encounter on the road to Emmaus say to us today? What does Luke’s account of this resurrection appearance mean for those of us who are not able to receive the Eucharist, who might be unable to see Jesus as we break bread together?
‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
The disciples are slow to recognise Jesus, slow to see him for who he really is.
It’s not when the disciples break bread that Jesus comes to be with them. Jesus is with them all along the way, even when they fail to realise who it is who is speaking with them. Despite their slowness to recognise him, he’s with them. He’s with them as they meditate on the Scriptures. He’s with them as they reflect on the events that have just taken place. He’s with them as they break bread. Throughout, Jesus is with them.
It’s not breaking bread that brings Jesus to be with them. It’s the breaking of bread that enables them to realise that Jesus is with them. They come to realise what is always the case through sharing in the breaking of the bread. The breaking of the bread is a ‘quickening ordinance’ enlivening their insight, enabling them to see what is really the case.
What does this mean for us who find ourselves unable to physically partake of the Sacrament? Jesus is with us even if we might not be able to recognise him or see him very clearly at all.
Jesus is with us as we reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves. Jesus is with us as we meditate on Scriptures together. Jesus is with us as we make our spiritual communion and we reminds ourselves of his presence with us. Jesus is with us as we worry. Jesus is with us as with mourn. Jesus is with us. Jesus is ‘with us always, even to the end of the age.’
Instead of seeing this time as merely a time of deprivation - a time in which we are unable to receive Jesus sacramentally, let us instead receive this time as a gift of remembering what is always the case - that Jesus is with us - and to recognise Christ’s presence with us in ways we are slow to recognise or aren’t always able to see.
Let’s commit ourselves not to take for granted our reception of Jesus in that particularly profound way that we celebrate in the eucharist.
Let’s never again allow our celebration to become matter of fact or run of the mill.
Let us remind ourselves that the Eucharist isn’t the only way in which Jesus is present to us, he is with us always. When we celebrate the Eucharist together, we are celebrating what is always the case - that Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age.
We can put this more technically the body of Christ isn’t confined to the Sacrament alone. St Augustine, as is so often the case, puts this best. When we receive the Eucharist, he writes
‘it is the sacrament of yourselves that is placed on the Lord’s table, and it is the sacrament of yourselves that you are receiving. You reply ‘Amen’ to what you are, and thereby agree that such you are. You heard the words ‘The body of Christ’ and you reply ‘Amen’. Be, then, a member of Christ’s body, so that your ‘Amen’ may accord with the truth. Yes, but why all this in bread? Here let us not advance any ideas of our own, but listen again to what the Apostle says when speaking of this sacrament: ‘Because there is one loaf, we, though we are many, form one body’. Let your mind assimilate that statement and be glad, for there you will find unity, truth, devotion and love. Bear in mind that bread is not made of a single grain, but of many. Be, then, what you see, and receive what you are’.
As we await the day we can once again share the bread of the eucharist together, as we await the day on which we can be the body of Christ together sacramentally, in the mean time, be what you are, celebrate what is always the case. You are the body of Christ. Christ is with you always, even to the end of the age, even if we are slow to perceive and we struggle to see him, he is with us wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Let us find him in our midst and may our hearts burn within us at the joy of discovering him afresh.
Holy Week & Easter 2020 services led by Fr Simon Cuff
PALM SUNDAY 'Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do’ This week the sermons at Mass, beginning today and continuing each evening with Mass on Monday to Wednesday and the liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, are on the theme of ‘the Seven Last words of Christ on the Cross. We begin this morning reflecting on those famous words: ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do’ These last words of Jesus from the cross refer to his executioners and remind us of our destination this week, but they might equally refer to the crowds whose greeting we’ve re-enacted this morning. The crowds greet Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem with shouts of ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!’. The story is so familiar to us that we miss just how strange this is. Crowds line up to meet a man riding into town on a donkey. They shout ‘hosanna’! The word ‘hosanna’ trips off our tongues, so much so that we don’t stop to think how strange it is that a crowd of people should greet a man on a donkey this way. ‘Hosanna!’, they shout, which means ‘Save us, please!’. ‘Forgive them, Father, they know what they do.’ The crowds fail to realise how true their words are. They link their shouts of ‘save us, please!’ immediately to the kingdom of their father David. For nearly two centuries Israel, which had once been ruled by David and his line, had had another family on the throne. Their cries of ‘Save us!’ are political. House of David, take back control! They expect their salvation to be earthly, to be a restoration of something lost, to be a recovery of a glorious past. And yet this week their expectations will be confounded. This man is to be for the falling and rising of many in Israel. Their expectations will be turned upside down. Their cries of ‘save us!’ will turn out to be true, but they know not what they say. As we enter into Holy Week, as we begin our journey toward the events of Good Friday, we’re invited to join with the crowds in their shouts of ‘Save us, please!’. ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ These last words of Jesus from the cross, might refer equally to us. How many times in our lives have we’ve failed, flailed around from one mistake to another, not knowing what it is we should do? How much of life have we given over to the Lord? With how much of our past are we at peace, with how many of our past regrets are we reconciled? This week is a week to join in with the crowd's shouts of ‘save us!’. To believe not in a political or earthly Saviour, but to start to live our life as if we are really in need of salvation. To believe that the cries of ‘save us!’ teach us as much about ourselves, as they do about Christ. We can affirm in our hearts that Christ is our Saviour, but do we really live as if we are in need of salvation? Do we really believe we can amend those bits of our lives that have kept us sinking for so longing? Those bits of us that embarrass us, that we struggle to admit even to ourselves. This week is a week to step out of the stormy seas of our lives. To seek for Christ in the midst of the strange and fearful circumstances in which we find ourselves. To cry to God in Christ, ‘save us!’. To cling to him - and to give him the very depths of ourselves - those fears and failings and faults and regrets and worries and anxieties and troubles that we’ve carried with us for too long. This week we lay them at his feet. This week we welcome him into the very depths of ourselves with shouts of ‘Hosanna!’. This week we cry out to Christ, ’Save us, please!’. MONDAY IN HOLY WEEK One of the thieves crucified with Jesus said: 'This man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’. These words have long puzzled scholars. On the face of it Jesus seems to be telling the penitent thief that they will both soon be in paradise. All well and good. They both die. They both go to heaven. Except this isn’t what the Church teaches about the end of life. The pictures we have in our head of heavenly bliss, fluffy white clouds, halos and cream cheese are fairly recent ones. ‘I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’. We all too easily rattle this off each week as we say the creed. These words give us the contours of our belief in life after death. The Church teaches bodily resurrection at some future point before the eternity of risen life. As Christ was risen, so will we be. Until then, we all wait. The dead as much as the living - the Church expectant as much as the Church militant. So what are we to make of the exchange between Jesus and the penitent thief? If what we believe about life after death is true, we would expect Jesus to say something like: ‘Truly I tell you, after what will seem like some time, you will rise to eternal life’. But he doesn’t. ‘Today you will be with be in paradise’. We have some options here. We might say: ‘Very good Jesus but your theology’s a bit off’. He didn’t have very many qualifications after all. Or we might say: ‘Well, maybe, the Resurrection doesn’t matter so much all things considered’. Except, if Jesus went to the trouble of rising again, and the weight of Christian history suggests that we too shall one die rise with him, it’s probably a good idea to think the Resurrection is quite important. Or, better, we might think Jesus knows exactly what he’s saying, and he’s using it to teach us something. Whenever we think Jesus might be trying to tell us something it’s usually a fair bet that he’ll be upending the instinctive notions to which we cling so dearly, those tribal notions of what it is to be human and how we are to live our lives which the whole of Jesus’ life turn upside down . In this case, we should hold our instinctive notions of what heaven might be like quite closely, because it looks like it’s these are the target in Jesus’ view. ’Today, you will be with me in paradise’. We’ll soon hear the haunting words, ‘Very early on the first day of the week’, as the women go to the tomb and become the first witnesses of the Resurrection. We’ll be reminded that the Resurrection is the first day of the new creation, that Resurrection is an act of new creation. Just as at the beginning of the Bible, human life is first created in a garden, so at the end of the Gospel new life is created in a garden from which Christ is Risen, as we’ll joyfully proclaim. Creation began in paradise, in the garden of Eden. New Creation likewise begins in a garden, in which Christ is Risen from the tomb. New Creation. New Paradise. ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise’. The confession of the penitent thief will place him in paradise that day, but that paradise isn’t Eden, or a place of fluffy white clouds, but Golgotha - the place where Jesus will rise again. As Jesus rises, so does the penitent thief and so do we, and all who find themselves in Christ. Jesus isn’t promising the thief instant entry to heaven, but reassuring him that he will be remembered when he comes into his kingdom. When he rises again, the penitent thief will rise with him - and so shall we. Paradise isn’t waiting for us in heaven. Paradise is the resurrection. And we, like the thief, can share in that resurrection today. If we, like the thief, cling to Christ; if we too ask him to remember us when he comes into his kingdom, we will have taken our share in the new life of Easter. If we share our whole selves with him, we’ll find our whole selves taken up, resurrected in him. And this life starts today. Mary and Martha knew this. They knew that there was no use waiting for the tomb - Christ’s Risen life meant that anointing him could take place here and now, no need to anoint him for death because he was destined to be laid in that tomb for new and eternal life. The Resurrection. In our Gospel, Jesus rebukes Judas for suggesting that they are wasting costly ointment: ’Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me’ We might not always have Jesus, but he will always have us. If we cling to him, here and now: ‘Today we can be with him paradise’.
TUESDAY IN HOLY WEEK 'Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. If you get ordained, you quickly learn that human beings have an awful lot in common. We all make things much more difficult for ourselves than they need be. We all want to be loved. We all sin. And if you spend any time at all hearing confessions, you quickly learn that even the most exciting sin is boring. Sin is dull, mundane, and, mostly, unimaginative. The sinner who thinks she or he is the worst person in the world is always mistaken. Likewise, the person who’s afraid of coming to confession because they think they’re beyond repentance or God doesn’t love them because of what they’ve done or if anyone found out about how awful they really are then they’d have no friends and their family would disown them are all mistaken. Sin is the same the world over. The Devil has very few new ideas. Whereas we make things difficult for ourselves, God tries to make things easy. Think of the commands of Christ in Scripture. ‘Don’t heap up empty phrases like the Gentiles do, but when you pray, pray this way’. ‘Love God. Love your neighbour’. Where the Church gets itself in a mess arguing this or that about everything from what happens in the Eucharist to the role of the Virgin Mary, Christ tries to make it easy: ‘Do this in memory of me’. 'Woman, here is your son; here is your mother’. God knows what we’re like. Not only did he become one of us, he created all of us. He created you. ‘The Lord called you before you were born, while you were in your mother’s womb he named you, and he said to you, you are my servant’. This verse from our first reading is a summary of the whole Christian life. Believe in the God who created you, find out the name he gave you, do what he has called you. Simple. Simple, except, God created you, he knows what you’re like, and he knows how difficult you can make things for yourself. He wants to make it easy for you. In our gospel, Jesus predicts two betrayals. Judas hands Jesus over to death. Peter denies he knows who Jesus is. The history of the Church has condemned the first and absolved the second. Both Judas and Peter deny Jesus, both in their own way betray him. We have much in common with Judas and Peter. God created them, just as he created us. He knows them, just as he knows us. He called them both and gave them both a name. And he knows how difficult they made things for themselves. We think we know what Judas’ mistake is. He betrayed Christ - he chose money and sin over faithfulness to Christ. This isn’t Judas’ mistake. Judas’ mistake is our mistake. He made things difficult for himself. His mistake wasn’t alerting the authorities to Christ - somebody needed to. Without Judas’ betrayal, his ‘handing over’, Jesus wouldn’t have been put to death for our salvation. Humanity wouldn’t have rejected the love that came to save it and show it how to love, to break the boring cycle of sin, and human beings making things difficult for themselves. Jesus even tells him to ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Judas’ mistake isn’t what he did in handing over Christ, but his rejection of the life God had in store for him. Judas sinned, he betrayed Christ. He did what we all do - each and every day. Judas sinned, he chose money and the lure of sin - he did what we all do. Judas’ mistake wasn’t turning his back on Christ. Judas’ mistake was not turning back to Christ having sinned. Judas’ mistake was his refusal to be reconciled with Christ. He made the mistake of thinking he was beyond repentance. He made the mistake of thinking his sin put him outside the sphere of God’s love. He made the mistake we all do. Peter sinned. He denied Christ. He betrayed him. But after the Resurrection he is reconciled with him. He goes on to live out the calling God has placed on his life. He lived the life which God had created for him since before he was in mother’s womb. He turns back to Christ after his denial and betrayal. He never stops believing that God has called him to something greater, that he might be forgiven, that God still loves him and knows how difficult he has made things for himself. God wants us to be like Peter. Tonight we can. We can to turn to him seeking forgiveness. We can admit where we have failed, where we’ve made things difficult for ourselves, where we’ve betrayed Christ and others, where we’ve chosen money and sin. We can believe that God has called us to something greater, that we are not beyond repentance, that he loves us and will always love us. Since before we were born God has loved us with a mother’s love, creating us and caring for us, giving us life and nourishing us. On the cross, he gives us in the beloved disciple an eternal reminder of that love, by giving to us Mary, the Mother of God. ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ When we confess, when we reconcile ourselves to the Lord, we admit we’ve failed, we believe we’re capable of repentance, and we remind ourselves of the eternal fact of God’s love. But what we’re really doing is nothing other than saying simply, ‘God, here I am, warts and all’. And he always responds, ‘Daughter/son. Here, I am’. Whenever we turn back to God, whenever we say ‘here, I am’. He responds with those same words. ‘Here, I am. I've been here all along’.
SPY WEDNESDAY 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are in the middle of Holy Week. The shouts and cheers of Palm Sunday are about to be a distant memory. The series of events that lead to the shouts and jeers of Good Friday is about to be set in train. Traditionally today is the day on which Judas agreed to betray Christ to those who will put him to death. Last night we ended by saying that whenever we turn back to God, when ever we say ‘here, I am’. He responds in the same way, ‘Here, I am’. We need to be careful here. It’s bad theology to make God’s presence or activity conditional on our doing the legwork. It's bad theology to say, “If we say yes to God, we’ll be showered with blessings.” “If we believe in Jesus, he’ll put an end to our misery.” “If we trust him, he’ll entrust us with money and happiness”. Our ‘here, I am’ isn’t a magic spell which summons God. God’s ‘here, I am’ isn’t a result of his being summoned like a genie in a bottle. God’s ‘here, I am’ is a reminder of what is always the case. God is always with us, God is always going before us, drawing us to himself. He doesn’t believe in us, because we believe in him. We believe in him, because he has given us belief, he has called us into being. He is more present to us that we can ever be to ourselves. Yet, sometimes, even when we whisper, ‘Here, I am’. God can seem very far away indeed. In the deepest darkest loneliest moments of our lives, we can cry out to God, and instead of hearing the small still voice of calm, God’s gentle and reassuring ‘here, I am’, we hear… nothing. Not a word. We reach out to God, we cling to Christ. And nothing. God seems entirely absent from us. As if he doesn’t exist, as if he hasn’t called us into being. Or worse. Having called us into the misery of life, he’s abandoned us. In our reading from Isaiah, the servant of God is faithful. He refuses to rebel or turn his back on what it is God calls him to do. His reward? Suffering and pain. ‘I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.’ Is this where following God leads us? ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus’ cry of anguish on the cross is shocking. It stops us in our tracks, and calls us to account. Where is God in this? Where is God when following him leads us to suffering and rebuke? Where is God when we cry out to him and hear nothing? When is God where we can’t hear his reassuring ‘here, I am’ and we hear is silence? Disputes about Christ’s presence are nothing compared to those times we’ve felt God’s absence. Where is God in this? ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ ‘Here, I am’. Where is God in this? Before us is the paradox at the heart of the Christian faith. Where is God in Christ’s cries of abandonment? Where is God in our abandonment? Where is God in the midst of the crisis we are living? Where is God in the face of pandemic and disease? Where is God when we cry out and are met only with silence? God is here. Crying out. God hangs on the cross, crying with us, screaming, ‘My God, my God’. If we can’t hear his response it’s because his words are our cries - he is crying with us. His ‘here, I am’, is our cry of pain. In Christ, he cries with us. In Christ he speaks his ultimate, ‘Here, I am with you always’. As that series of events which leads to what happens on Friday has been put in train, we’re about to see what God’s ultimate ‘here, I am’ means. What it meant when God said to us, ‘here, I am’, uniquely and ultimately in Christ. And how we took God’s ‘here, I am’ and put him to death. And how, even in the midst of our abandonment of him, he refuses to abandon us. He refuses to stop saying to us, ‘here, I am’. Even unto death. This is the paradox of faith; God is born as one of us. On the cross, God dies for all of us. On the cross, God cries out with all of us, even when our cries join with his so that all we can hear is silence and all we can feel is pain. God is with us. St Augustine puts the mystery of the Incarnation, God's life as one of us, the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith, better than any of us might: ‘Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun. Disposer of all ages in the bosom of the Father, He consecrates this day in the womb of His mother; in Him He remains, from her He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, He was born on earth under heaven. Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless; filling the world, He lies in a manger; Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant, but so that His greatness is not diminished by His smallness, nor His smallness overwhelmed by his greatness. For He did not desert His divine works when He took to Himself human members. Nor did he cease to reach from end to end mightily, and to order all things sweetly, when, having put on the infirmity of the flesh, He was received into the Virgin’s womb, not confined therein. Thus the food of wisdom was not taken away from the angels, and we were to taste how sweet is the Lord.’* Let us taste how sweet is the Lord, as we make our communion with him, as he gives himself for us that we might always remember his eternal ‘here, I am’ to us in Christ. MAUNDY THURSDAY ‘I thirst’ May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Grief is a strange thing. It creeps up on you unawares. It strikes when you least expect it. It plays havoc with your emotions. In a second, a memory of loved one can have you laughing out loud or in floods of tears. And one emotion can quickly give way to another. Weeping is turned to laughing, and laughing to weeping, sometimes in an instant. Tonight we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, we give thanks to God that at the Last Supper he promised himself to us in bread and wine, whenever we meet together to say Mass, to celebrate the Eucharist. Our celebration is especially poignant this year as we look forward to the day we can meet together once again and share physically and sacramentally in communion, not just the spiritual communion we make together this evening. Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, the Church remembers the passing of a loved one. ‘We call to mind his death on the cross’. There is an element of grief at the heart of every Eucharist. And this grief is no different. Normally, it quickly turns to joy, as soon as we have remembered his death, we ‘rejoice in his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension’. And our joy at feasting on God in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood quickly overcomes any sadness at his death. Tonight, we are reminded once again that grief is a strange thing. Tonight, our normal pattern of emotions is suddenly turned upside down. We begin with great joy celebrating, truly celebrating Christ’s gift of himself to us each time we hear Mass. Our vestments are gold - a sign of our joy - and our celebration of the Eucharist is exactly that - a celebration. We sing once again of his glory - Glory to God in the Highest! We give thanks to God for this great gift, the gift of himself in bread and in wine. Then, all of a sudden, in an instant. Grief strikes. At the end of Mass, our joy is turned to bitterness. The lightness of our celebration vanishes, and darkness descends. The party’s over. Jesus is arrested. We find ourselves in the turmoil and disarray of the Garden of Gethsemane. Ordinarily we’d strip the Church and wait a while at the altar of repose. This evening you are invited to join with us as we watch the Sacrament until 10pm in silent prayer. Still reeling from this sudden shift of gear, from this abrupt interruption of sorrow, we’re invited to stay a while. To spend as long as you are able with Christ this evening, to choose to prolong our grief at what we know is about to happen to him, to remember our sorrow at the death which we usually pass over all too quickly, to confront that sadness which usually gives way to joy whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. There is sadness in the heart of us all. We all have friends and family we love but see no longer. Loved ones we think about almost every day, those whom we dearly miss. We long to be reminded of their love. We long to be loved. We feel the pain of our separation from loved ones, especially in these days and weeks of isolation. We feel the pain of our separation from God. Tonight, we celebrate. We celebrate that God has overcome that separation in Christ. Christ entered into the pain and sadness and separation, that cuts right to the heart of what it means to be human. He agonises in the garden, he thirsts on the cross. He knows the hunger, and the thirst at the heart of us all. He knows our desire to be loved. Tonight, he invites us to spend some time with him. To enter into his agony, so he might transform ours. As we watch quietly with him in the Sacrament, we unite our grief, our agony, with his. He is with us. As we are present with him in his grief tonight, we come to realise in the midst of all our agony, all our grief, all our longings, and hungers, and thirsts, he is always present. He is always present and turning our world upside down. He enters into and transforms our grief, all grief. He empties himself so that we might be filled, our deepest longings satisfied, our thirst for him quenched. And he asks us to do likewise. He does something very strange to show us this. He gets up from the table, takes off his outer robes, ties a towel around himself and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. In this act, he reminds us of everything he has done for us, and everything he is about to do. He gets down from the table and descends to the dirtiest and lowest parts of our lives. Our sin, our pain, our hurt, our grief, our longing, our hunger, our thirst. He stoops down, and he cleanses, he transforms even that part of ourselves we’re afraid to admit is there. And he asks us to do likewise, to support others in their grief, to walk with others in their pain, to let no-one bear the pain of separation alone, to let no-one be overcome by sadness or the despair of whatever situation they find themselves in, and to make our love of them costly for ourselves, to get ourselves dirty in the process, to put our wealth at the service of the needs of others, to use what little we have to help our brother and sister need. To enter into and transform their agony, as he has entered into and transformed ours. ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ Don’t waste these three days. Spend some time with the Lord this evening. Be at the foot of the Cross as his work is finished tomorrow. Meet the women running from the tomb on Saturday. Let the Risen Christ meet you on the way now and always. Offer him that deepest, darkest, dirtiest part of you that you’ve kept quiet or hidden for so long, share your agony with his, realise he is already present to you even in that agony and be transformed. And be ready to transform others. GOOD FRIDAY ‘It is finished’ May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is finished. What would our lives look like if we took Jesus’ words at face value? If we really believed that Christ had accomplished all he set out to do. It is finished. There is nothing left to achieve. It is finished. As Christians, there’s always the temptation to think we have to do something in order to win God’s favour. We’ll pray this prayer or we’ll go to Church on that day or pray in this way and God will be on our side. There’s something primal here - don’t make the gods angry. We can tie ourselves in knots, and exhaust ourselves in trying to do something for God, so much so that we end up forgetting the mystery at the heart of our faith. The good news that: ’It is finished’. ‘The strife is o’er the battle done’, as we’ll sing during Easter. Or in the words of Mother Mary Clare to the then-future Archbishop Rowan Williams: ‘You don't have to suffer for the sins of the world, darling. It's been done.’ It’s been done. It is finished. What would our lives look like if we took Jesus’ words at face value? If we really believed that today Christ has saved us. Not someone else. But us. Not another more holy person. But us. Not only if we do this or that to earn his gift of eternal life. He has saved us. We don’t have to suffer for the sins of the world. Today we celebrate, it’s been done. We’re not saved because we do what God wants us to do. We do what God wants us to do because we’re saved. We’re not loved by God because we love God. We love God because we are loved by him. We love because he loves. Today he shows us what love means, where love takes us. Christ on the cross stands before us as the ultimate expression of love - God’s ultimate revelation of himself. Not hearts and roses, flowers and cards, but real love. An essential part of loving is dying to yourself - losing yourself so completely that you somehow become more truly yourself than you ever knew could be possible. To love your neighbour, to lose yourself to them, to pour yourself out in love of God and neighbour. This doesn’t mean we have to do more. In fact, if we lived lives that really believed ‘it is finished’ on the Cross, that this ultimate expression of love means there is nothing more to do. We would end up living lives in which we did rather less, not more. We don’t need to exhaust ourselves doing holy things or taking the suffering of the world on shoulders. We do need to refocus our priorities, reshaping our lives, basing them not on what the world tells us is important, or our vain ambitions and selfish desires, but on love. On what Christ has done for us, which means it really is finished. We would live less to ourselves, and more to God. We would be focusing on ‘doing’ less and loving more. Such lives are exhausting, not because love needs to be exhausting. Not because we need to suffer again or suffer more or do something just because it’s holy and sacrificial and causes us to suffer and therefore makes us feel good about how holy we are. Loving is exhausting because of how the world reacts to this love. Loving is exhausting because living in this way is as much rejected now as it was in Christ. Catholic theologian Herbert McCabe writes of what Jesus shows us today: 'If you love enough you will be killed. Humankind inevitably rejects the only solution to its problem, the solution of love. Human history rejects its own meaning. Humankind is doomed.’ Humankind is doomed. It’s finished. But humankind is not finished. Because it is finished. It’s been done. God’s love toward us is complete on the cross, humankind’s depravity is at its worse - putting to death the very one destined to bring it life. But because it is finished, because there is no end to the lengths God will go to pursue us in his love, not even death will get in his way. Today’s ‘it is finished’ puts an end to death, because God will not be contained by any of the limits we place on him or on ourselves. Today’s ‘it is finished’ means our lives with God have barely even begun. Today’s ‘it is finished’, means today is not the end of the story. ‘It is finished’ is just the beginning of what it means to live with God, to be loved and to love. HOLY SATURDAY 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Tonight, the God who created us, recreates us in Christ. Tonight, the God who promised Abraham his descendants would be many, delivers on his promises. Tonight, the God who brought the people of Israel to freedom, frees us from the slavery of death. Tonight, the God who promised Ezekiel he would remove our hearts of stone, pours himself into our hearts, transforms our flesh. Tonight, the God who was crucified in Christ, has killed death. He has died with us, so we might live with him. Tonight, death received a body and encountered that God. Tonight, life defeats death. Tonight, Jesus Christ breaks open all that holds us back, smashes open all our cycles of despair. Tonight, he is going ahead of you; there you will see him. Jesus Christ is going ahead of us; there you will see him. We say we’re followers of Christ, but we don’t often think through what this means. To follow Christ, is to always be playing catch-up. The Christian life is a life of constant catch-up. Catching up to where Christ is already ahead of us, joining in with where Christ has already lead the way. Realising that where we’ve come to, Christ has been all along. Jesus Christ is going ahead of us; there you will see him. Jesus leads us into being. He leads us into new life. He leads us through Good Friday to Easter, from death to life. We can’t escape death. We all have to die. But tonight means that death is never the final word of what it means to be alive. Tonight, we remember where following Christ will lead us. Through death, to life. Death is defeated. Christ has gone ahead of us. And how do we respond? All too often we drag our feet. We’re slow to react. We get distracted, or lazy. We lose sight of where Christ is leading us, where he’s asking us to go. We find ourselves sinking, sliding back into the nothingness out of which Christ calls us. We find ourselves in despair. We don’t live as if life, our true life, is in Christ. We don’t live as if tonight is as the very centre of our lives. Christ’s call gets drowned out by all the other voices in our life, by all the many and important things we have do, all our tasks and obligations, all the ways we fill our time, until we find it hard to hear Christ’s call at all. Tonight, we turn down the volume on all those other voices. Tonight, we hear more clearly the voice of the one calling us by name. And we commit ourselves to follow him - we join in with Christ’s call, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’. Tonight we commit ourselves anew to Christ. We renew our desire to follow him where he is leading us, we commend ourselves to him wherever he is going ahead of us. But, however hard we pray, however sincerely we commend ourselves to him, we’ll soon fail as we try to follow him. We’ll sin, slip up, and stumble on our way. Yet tonight means even here Christ does not abandon us. Tonight, means he smashes open all of our cycles of despair. Tonight, means that even at our lowest, even in the very depths of our despair, Christ meets us. He meets us, and asks us to commit ourselves to him afresh, to be caught up in his risen life, the new life of Easter, and be led to where he wills us to go. With him, one day resurrected to eternal life, and until that day joining in his work, finding our place in his Church which he is always calling to new life. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Alleluia! He is going ahead of us! Alleluia! Today, let us pray for the grace to follow him, to find our place in his Church, and to share even now in the new life of Easter. As we with all the Church and throughout the ages sing with joy our Easter Praise. Alleluia! Christ is Risen. Alleluia! EASTER DAY
'When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory' words from our second reading, the letter to the Colossians, the 3rd chapter, the 4th verse. What’s the most important thing in your life? What’s really the most important thing in your life? How do you spend your time, your energy, your money? Do you put your “money” where your mouth is? This morning we celebrate the victory of life over death. Christ is Risen. We will be risen. This morning we celebrate that death is not the end. One day we will rise with him. What’s the most important thing in our lives? ‘When Christ who is our life is revealed, then we also will be revealed with him’. What’s the most important thing in our life? Christ. Our life in him, which begins today. Our new life in him, which we join in baptism, feed in the Mass, and which will be ours for eternity in his resurrection - that life, begins today. Are we letting Christ be our life? Or are we letting life, its pressures and fears and anxieties and temptations get in the way? No matter who we are, Christ is our life. ‘God shows no partiality’. Male or female, slave or free, Jewish or Greek, living or dead. Christ is the life of us all. And today, Christ offers us this new life. Today, we celebrate life. The gift of new life offered to us in Christ. Today isn’t about Easter eggs. We don’t get new life because we get chocolate eggs. We get chocolate eggs because we get new life! But even Easter eggs can get in the way, all the pressures of life can get in the way. The new life of Easter means that Christ should be the heart of our celebration today and all we do. Except life so often gets in the way - work, or school, or our family, or money, or bills, or, or, or… The challenge for us is to let Christ be the centre of our celebration and of our entire life. For our minds to be raised above the demands and pressures and day-to-day of just getting by, and to focus on the things which really matter. To take up Christ’s invitation of new life here and now. To ‘set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth… for our life is hidden with Christ in God’. This isn’t easy. When we try to focus on the things that are above, the things that are all around us quickly bring us crashing back to real life. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The smallest effort on our part, the smallest ways we might nudge Christ into the centre of lives, is taken up by God and magnified. And if we think we’re beyond help, if we think we’re stuck in the busyness of everyday life, that all that will ever matter to us is surviving today, let alone thriving… we fail to realise just what God has done, just what we celebrate today. ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep’ ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.’ The God who created us, who holds us in being, creates us anew in Christ. He delivers us from darkness and offers us new life. He breaks open old orders and divisions, and sends out Mary Magdalene as apostle to apostles, founding the church, this community new life. And if we struggle to take up this new life, if we struggle to lift our minds from the day to day, from all the worries of life - from getting food on the table, paying the bills, bringing up our kids, worrying about our family - we remember that God created all that is, today he defeated even death, he can break us out of whatever struggles we face. All these struggles are temporary. Christ is our life. He wants us to enjoy this new life today. He wants us to enjoy the new life of Easter even now. He gives us himself in this and every Eucharist. He wants us to focus on the important things of life. Our life in him. Our life given to us in this and every Mass. His life in our hands and on our lips. These last days we’ve celebrated Jesus laying down his life, so that we might take up ours with him. Let’s devote this year to making living with Christ the most important thing we do in the whole of our lives. Let’s make him the most important thing in our life. Let’s make coming to Mass, feeding on him the most important thing in our week. Today, Christ rose from the dead. Let’s live that new life to which he rose and to which he calls each and every one of us, today.
Spy Wednesday. St Cyprian’s Clarence Gate Lent 2020 by Fr Jack Noble
The Introit set for Spy Wednesday’s Eucharist (the Wednesday of Holy Week upon which we are reflecting this evening), is a note of triumph ‘at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend of those in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, for the Lord became obedient to death, death on a cross: therefore Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’.
This triumphal song from St Paul’s epistle to the Philippians seems completely inappropriate. Crass even. It jars incongruously with the murky night of shadows which is our subject tonight.
Spy Wednesday is so called because it is the night when Judas slips away to the religious authorities and betrays the Lord. This murky, shadowy night of betrayal, and greed, and power-hungry fear is well named Spy Wednesday.
But the contrast of the events with the triumphant introit given for the Mass of the day, is actually quite right. This sad betrayal will reveal God’s glory. This pathetic death will be a victory. Today reminds us (as we approach the Lord’s passion) of the paradoxes that lie at the heart of our faith, and that we must always hold these strands of truth (death/life, humiliation/glory) in tension. But for all the promise of glory, tonight is a night of shadows. But what of Judas himself?
Some cast him as a ‘Fagin’ figure. Selfish and greedy. Others have suggested that Judas was probably a Zealot, or member of a similar group: radical, political Jewish guerrillas fighting Roman occupation. Judas joined Jesus because the Messiah was due to overthrow Roman rule. As Jesus failed to live up to the Zealots’ vision of an armed liberator, Judas’ resentment blossomed into betrayal. Is that what happened? Some have focussed on the emotional reality for Judas. Despite his friendship with the Mercy and Love Himself, Judas was trapped by resentment or fear.
Greedy slime bag? Disillusioned freedom-fighter? Emotionally stunted and trapped? All have their merits. The trouble with all of these theories is that they let us off the hook. They allow us to diagnose and distance Judas. Put him ‘over there’ away from you and me, good Christian folk over here.
Instead, the power of Spy Wednesday is that it is you and me that are sloping off into the night to orchestrate the Lord’s betrayal. That part of me that I do not let God in to. That part of our world and my life that I would like to keep control of thank you very much, because I know Jesus would have it differently. That part of my life where I seek security in my own wealth, or ability, or identity because I feel safer that way, than giving it whole-heartedly to God.
In lots of different ways, big and small, we operate as little Judases. That is the call of Spy Wednesday. To come out of the shadows and with trust and love give in to the only thing we can really trust in, the only thing that will last forever.
Tonight, we come to Jesus, as Judas did not, and open our hearts (not keep them closed). There is no better place in all the world to do this, than before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The humility and love and patience we find in Him here is beyond our ability to conceive. No more shadows. Only light.
I’ll finish with this Communion prayer from the Orthodox tradition, on behalf of us all.
I believe, O Lord and confess, that You are truly the Christ, Son of the living God, Who came into this world to save sinners of whom I am the first. O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant of Your Mystical Supper, for I will not speak of this Mystery to Your enemies, nor like Judas will I give You a kiss, but like the penitent thief I confess to You: O Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. O Master, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. O Holy One, remember me when you come into Your kingdom. Let the partaking of Your Holy Mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of my soul and my body. O Lord, I also believe and confess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly Your most precious Body and truly Your life-giving Blood which, I pray, I may worthily receive for the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me. O Lord, forgive me, for my sins are many. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon preached by Mr John Blackburne (Ordinand & Churchwarden) Enough Trouble for today Sunday Next Before Lent 16th February 2020. Genesis: 1.1-2.3, Romans 8.18-25; Matthew 6:25-34.
‘So do not trouble about tomorrow, tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’
At the end of January we said goodbye to Father Gerald our pastor for some years; So we find ourselves as a gathered community without a parish priest. In view of Fr Gerald’s impending departure I have been involved as Churchwarden in a number of discussions about the future of this parish. At the first meeting I attended I thought I might be asked about our vision for the future, our plans for mission and possibly the current state of the fabric and the finances? Not a bit of it. The only question I was asked was: What is your USP? ‘USP’ for the uninitiated is a marketing term which means “unique selling point” – “unique selling point” It’s the type of question you might be asked if we were about to embark upon a multi-million pound advertising campaign! As some of you know I have spent the last three years studying Theology at St Augustine’s theological college: We have covered the Old Testament, the New Testament, mission, pastoral theology, parish ministry, doctrine, liturgy, ethics, including a theology of work: So my heart sank as we spent the next hour on this one question about marketing! Don’t get me wrong, I have studied business administration, it is important. And I can see that any organisation needs to consider the deployment of it resources to meet future needs – I get it it’s strategic! And the Diocese has just published it’s 2030 vision – do take a look at it if you have the opportunity – it is important. It’s just that contextually it doesn’t fit into the reflective theological cycle of discernment that have been taught to use at college!
The suggestions about what our unique selling point might be then came thick and fast: The Sherlock Holmes museum, the favourite, Marylebone Station – is that part of our parish? The London Business School – rather more appropriate.
But then what is our unique selling point? It’s not the Church building – splendid though the Comper is, it is not unique? It is not the liturgy - there are other places in London who use a similar rite? It’s not the music - marvellous though that is? So what might it be?
It’s very important that any of us - if challenged – can answer the question what makes St Cyprian’s so special? How are we unique? The modern American theologian Stanley Hauerwas says the first duty of the Church is to be - Church? The first duty of this church, of us as a gathered community, is to be church in this place. What does that mean?
Over the past few months I have been present with you at two baptisms of children with a connection to this place. We have taken part in a sacrament which has cosmic and ontological dimension; In baptism the church teaches that our souls are marked so that we are changed - transformed. And as Saint Paul says that transformation is so radical that we have a new life, we die with Jesus Christ and are raised with him to be part of what he calls the ‘mystical body of Jesus Christ’. You - we are that mystical body in this place we are the unique church in this place; The unique mystical body in this place at this point at this time. It means that those we baptised join us in a history and a narrative - a story in history. And that history begins with our Old Testament reading of today – the story of creation. Our witness is first to the unique promise of God in creation. God created the world and it was good. God’s creation, and the story of the relationship between the people of Israel and God: The faith of Abraham and the covenant and that journey of the people of Israel point towards Jesus as Messiah; And his unique role, not just as our saviour, But as saviour of the world.
St Paul in his letters is very clear that salvation comes alone by faith in Jesus Christ - it is no longer about the rules of the covenant or about any law. But it doesn’t mean that without those rules or law we can do just do just what we like; Paul’s theology comes with a set of values, ethics which point us towards the character of Christ. And that character is now ours by our baptism; Paul says we are the first fruits with Christ of the promise that God has for us. Paul goes even further - we have died with Christ so that those first fruits are a new kind of humanity – resurrected humanity in Christ. We are adopted as children of God and inheritors with him of that vision of the future which is the ultimate intention of God. In the Gospel reading today Jesus turns to the disciples and encourages in them a detachment from material things and earthly pursuits. To explain this Jesus shows how God adorns creation look how he clothes all living creatures. God knows we need to meet our material needs. So try not to be anxious about them – focus on God; And his kingdom and doing your part to bring forward that kingdom and Gods righteousness. We are so well thought of by God that he has our good in his mind and so wants the best for us; So much so that at the end of time we, and the whole of creation will be renewed – brought forward in a new heaven and a new earth. That’s what we mean by eschatology – it’s Gods eye view of creation from beginning to end – and why we need not be anxious about tomorrow. It’s God’s promise for us – to be with Jesus at the end of time in a transformed world where we are to live for ever. Creation, the clothing of creation, to the renewal of creation and our part in that process as Church, at this time and in this place. So if anyone does ask you what is the point of St Cyprians? You are the point, we are the point, a gathered community, dedicated to being church, singing God’s praises in this wonderful space, living as the mystical body of Christ – And then being sent out from here in the power of the Holy Spirit to be the Good News to the world. That’s our USP! Therefore: ‘do not trouble about tomorrow, tomorrow brings worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’
Sermon for Epiphany 2020 - Fr Michael Fuller Well, that was soon over, wasn’t it? Christmas been and done and gone. I see that Easter eggs are already on sale. But in church Christmas is far from over. In the church year the celebration of the nativity of Jesus marks the start of forty days of festivity, the season of Christmas and Epiphany, the birth of Jesus followed by his presence and person being made public – to shepherds and angels, to wise travellers from the east, by John the Baptist, by the miracle at the wedding in Cana as Jesus turned water into wine so the party could go on. Let’s not rush ahead, let’s savour the delight and the wonder of God with us. Think back, for instance, to the presents you have been given or have watched others receive. Just like the gift-wrapped goodies, Christmas itself comes covered over, not by paper, but by years of tradition and local custom, and sometimes you have to peel away the layers to find what’s inside.
Take the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, for example. The Epiphany hymn we just sang says of them: Sacred gifts of mystic meaning: ‘Incense doth their God disclose, Gold the King of kings proclaimeth, Myrrh His sepulchre foreshows’. One interpretation is that gold shows that Jesus is a king, incense that he is God, worthy of worship, and myrrh, an embalming ointment, foreshadows his death. I don’t reject those ideas, it’s just that they have become so familiar that they might prevent us looking any further, like wrapping paper they might cover up other meanings. Back in the Middle Ages, one of my spiritual heroes, St Bernard of Clairvaux suggested that the gifts were far more practical. Jesus was born in a stable, home to animals which were not house-trained: what could be more useful to counteract the acrid stench of pee, poo and noxious-ness than the fragrance of sweet frankincense? His manger bed was made of straw, sharp, prickly and crawling with bugs. Myrrh would have been the perfect balm to sooth his delicate skin, fresh from the womb. Jesus was born in poverty: Mary and Joseph would have had far more use for gold than some king who already had more than he would ever be able to spend. Straight after the visit of the Magi, the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt to escape from the ruthless tyrant King Herod. Refugees, then as now, find border guards more amenable if they are offered a cash incentive. Traffickers don’t come cheap.
Take the wrapping and glitter from Christmas and you find a Jesus who is born in poverty, dirt and discomfort, a Jesus who is rescued from human violence by refugee parents.
Discard the wrapping so we can see this Jesus, then we can begin to see him also in each of the 12.3 million suffering people in the Yemen today, or the Kurds persecuted by the Syrians and the Turks; you can see Him in the face of people who are poor, marginalised and excluded, in the face of those who suffer. Epiphany reminds us of our hope of a star that leads us. A star which reminded us that our journey had a goal and we must press on towards it through thick and thin.
We glimpse the star and maybe we lose sight of it, perhaps for years, or the star is not much consolation when it is in the heavens and we are down here, where the ways are deep and the weather sharp.
The wondrous thing is that faith tells us that the star is there, and is leading us to somewhere really lovely, to Christ himself, who makes sense of it all and makes it all infinitely worthwhile.
We gather here Sunday by Sunday to worship the Christ-Child, the Saviour of the world; worship that could give us a periodic glimpse of the star, and indeed a foretaste of where it is leading us.
Whilst we try to make our liturgy as meaningful as possible, so that all who share in it may be lifted for a moment up from having our heads buried in our service booklets, from above the camel men cursing and grumbling, and the night-fires always going out on us, the lack of shelters and the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly.
Our liturgy is given to us to keep the star shining in the midst of our pain and bewilderment. Come very close to God once again in this liturgy, for it will sustain us and gladden us on our journey, all the days of our life, until at last, the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
Then before we leave this place this morning face the question, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Where is the Son of God, who comes to save us: Where is that Bread of Life for whom our spirits faint?
Faith bids us find him, as it were, in a stable.
Faith bids us find the Word of God in human words; faith bids us taste the very life of God in bread and wine; faith bids us see the Son of God in one another - in the least of these his brothers and sisters to see and to declare his glory shining there.
Our human inclination is ever to lust for the spectacular, the novel, the entertaining, the beguiling. We look for something new and different, some "gimmick", some new recipe that promises what we call success.
But faith forever calls us back, to work out our salvation in the common, everyday life of the Christian fellowship, the disciplined routines of Christian worship, prayer and study, and works of Christian charity.
Christian life is not fundamentally the fevers and chills of emotional excitement: it is the thoughtful learning of the Word of God, day by day, year by year; the nutriment of the Christian sacraments, and the deeds of love and mercy which flow from Christian charity. In the normal, everyday things of the Church's life - the words of Scripture, prayers and sermons, the outward signs of sacraments - the world sees only human words, only poor and common things: halting human speech, a drop of water, fragments of bread and wine, and so on.
But faith has eyes to see in all these things the shining forth, the "Epiphany" of the Son of God, the miracle of God with us, Emmanuel.
And faith has gifts to offer Him; not much, perhaps, in worldly terms, but by His own grace we have that one best gift; acknowledging his divinity, his kingship, and his sacrifice, the gift he treasures most - the gift of adoration, the gift of the humble obedience of mind and heart.
No wise person can offer more, and surely faith cannot offer less than adoration; for to the eyes of faith, the everlasting glory of the Father shines forth in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
"And we beheld his glory", day by day, we behold his glory, "the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
Midnight Mass 2019 - Fr Michael Fuller If you look around this Church at the icons and images you will see Jesus and all the patriarchs, prophets and saints portrayed as blond haired, blue eyed and white skinned. The notable biblical scholar James Charlesworth in his book, ‘The Historical Jesus’ reminds us that Jesus was “most likely dark brown and sun-tanned”. While shades of brown are debated, it is clear that Jesus was not white. The earliest depictions of an adult Jesus showed him with a brown complexion. But by the sixth century, Byzantine artists started portraying Jesus with white skin, a beard and light hair parted down the middle. In the colonial period, we in Europe exported an image of a white Christ worldwide, and a white Jesus often shaped the way Christians understood Jesus’ ministry and mission. Our dominant, white Christian culture has white-washed Jesus. Instead of expanding our understanding of those who are different from us, including many who in fact look more like Jesus than we do, we have replaced them and their stories with a light haired, blue-eyed lie. We didn’t stop at white washing, though. Not only was Jesus not white, he was also, as a Jew, part of a religious and ethnic minority in the Roman Empire. Jews were marginalised by many in the imperial cities. Still today, in our country, we have confused anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and so still persecute Jews As an infant, Jesus was the target of Herod’s authorised violence and his family fled to Egypt as refugees. Joseph and Mary fled because of the gender of their firstborn. The lives of Jewish boys under age two were threatened by the empire. Jesus was a dark-skinned, religious-minority refugee whose family fled persecution because of his gender. Jesus in the popular imagery of our white religious culture – the light-haired, blue-eyed, untainted, popular evangelist – bears almost no resemblance to the stories about Jesus in the Bible. What we find in our sacred stories is a dark-skinned, dark-eyed, dark-haired Middle Eastern child born amid sexual scandal; ostracised for his family’s religion; persecuted because of his gender; friend to tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and other outcasts; who grew up in Nazareth, a town little known for nothing. How would we react if we Christians saw a manger scene in every church with dark-skinned refugees? If, as we sang “Silent Night,” we remembered that Jesus with his parents fled from the Middle East to Africa in order to escape persecution for Jesus’ gender? Could we really say hate-filled words about, and advance unfair and cruel treatment of persons different from ourselves? Whether by virtue of social status or economic standing? Would racism continue, would discrimination against LGBT people thrive if those who hate people for no reason knew we follow a coloured Jesus? “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” Matthew and Luke tell us. What if the sins Jesus saves us from don’t have anything to do with gender identity, sexual preferences, race or class? Or, more accurately, what if they have everything to do with those distinctions? What if Jesus embodies the groups that are so often marginalised and oppressed? What if Jesus embodies refugee, religious minority, dark skin, poverty, sexual scandal and persecution for gender identity? What if Jesus saves us from our sins of racism, classism anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia? What if the saving grace of Jesus is meant to deliver us from the hell we create with our hate?
Well, my friends the Good News is that we have a God who loves us in spite of who we are, of what prejudices we embrace and of what discriminatory views we hold. Jesus is the messenger of peace, the one who comes to show us God’s love. That Jesus, who was born in a manger, later died on a cross, not save us from those sins, but to show us that there is no limit to love, Jesus came to die for love that we might know that love, live that love, be that love. Tonight, Jesus comes to share that love as a baby and brings with Him a great choir of angels, who proclaim in that beautiful song, the message of love: “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to all people on the earth” Would you like that deep peace in your heart? Yes? Then the only response necessary is, ‘O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for you’.
Sermon re Brexit preached on 22 September by Fr Michael Fuller
If I were to ask you what is most tedious in our news today, it must surely be Brexit. Well the sad news is that what I wish to speak about today. I will preface this by saying I do not really know what the solution is, but then neither does our government. I would also like to paraphrase something once said by Archbishop William Temple; ‘You may not agree with me nor I with you, but that does not make you or me wrong.’ You will I’m sure all have your own views, I’ll happy learn from them after the service, unless you have a burning desire to stand up and shout out, which seems to be the way debates are held these days. I'm saying that we now need urgently to speak up for Christian values before it is too late. That's a matter that goes well beyond Brexit. But my belief is that Brexit is more than just Brexit, it is itself a symptom of disintegration, the loss of belief in values that once held us together, the falling apart of an association of peoples who were all the stronger because they pooled their sovereignty and pledged to work together for the common good. I find this intellectual and spiritual collapse, which is what I largely think it is, extraordinarily sad. It is understandable that our churches have not wanted to take sides in the Brexit debate. Like Parliament, the churches are as divided as the nation is. The other established church in these islands, the Church of Scotland, has been a conspicuous exception in long championing EU membership. It's always made it clear however that its members personally hold a variety of views and no one is asked to endorse its public position. But I don't think I'm alone in having become dissatisfied with the studied impartiality, which our own Church of England has observed at an official level. There comes a time when it is Laodicean not to make a choice - even if we must also underline strongly that Anglicans don't all see things the same way. Diversity of view on this as on many other issues is affirmed in a broad church like ours and can be healthy. Also remainers ought to remind themselves that there have been some very bad things that have happened as a consequence of our joining the EU. In the same way Brexiteers must be aware of the good things that have resulted in our membership. The problem is that whilst we might listen to opposing views we don’t actually here them. So what ought we to be doing as Christian communities? To my mind, our churches should be drawing on our rich theological and spiritual resources of prophecy and wisdom to put the Brexit controversy into a larger context than nationhood alone. We should offer interpretation that begins not with the "Britain first" mentality but by asking: what might be good for our world? What might support its poorest and most vulnerable people, including our own? How might we fight crime and uphold justice? What might make for reconciliation and peace making in our world and for the conservation and care of our environment? What might Britain with its wealth of experience bring to the family of nations? And even: what might God's perspective be on all these questions? What will the starting point be? It's clear enough in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. When it comes to human life, the Bible summons us to love our neighbours as ourselves. We need to re-read out OT reading from the prophet Amos this morning, for there's no ambiguity about this. So that it can mean that the flourishing of other people should be as prominent in our concerns as our own, and by extension, the welfare of communities, not just individuals. Here's the insight that should challenge these years of self-interested rhetoric about promoting our own wealth by "taking back control". I've always believed that "better together" expresses an ideal of society at its most wholesome. That oft misquoted remark by a previous prime minister that there is ‘no such thing as society,’ not that she actually said that, is not true and all over our country we see acts of generosity, kindness and compassion played out in the name of society. But we have allowed politicians of all hues to persuade us that we needed ‘austerity’ to redress our economic system. We in the City of Westminster want a low council tax, so that we can all be better off, to the detriment of many essential support structures that serve our society. Collaboration, partnership, common purpose is achieved not by coercion but by consent - no nation can survive without them, no church and no community of any kind. That's why our consent to align ourselves with the European Union and play a leading part in its life has served all our nations well in our lifetimes. But now we face the threat of fragmentation wherever we look, not least due to extremist politics that are openly contemptuous of the civilised values most of our post-war generation have grown up with in Europe. If our churches are not one hundred per cent clear about the importance of loving our neighbour, who else is going to be? These things were important to those who launched the European project in the aftermath of war. I would like to if I may, remind you of a statement made in 2017 concerning the Treaty of Rome: “Europe is not a market it is the will to live together. Leaving Europe is not leaving a market it is leaving shared dreams. We can have a common market, but if we do not have common dreams, we have nothing.” Esteban González Pons a Spanish politician, on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome penned those words. The founders were not all people of explicit faith, but they were deeply influenced by Catholic social teaching about how human beings flourish when they invest in healthy relationships, strong communities and a just, inclusive and equitable society. It took courage to think in that way and perseverance to put its ideals in practice. It was immensely far-sighted. I think it could be argued that it came to fruition - however slowly and fitfully - because of an understanding of humanity based not on economic or political expediency (though that comes into it) but on humane theological values of justice, peace, truth and charity, which in turn derive from the wisdom and goodness of the Creator. Who is speaking nowadays about this founding vision? Some faith leaders aren't afraid to do this as individual men and women. They deserve our gratitude and encouragement because it is often controversial and sometimes costly. But what about our churches as public institutions? Where's the voice of urgency, the spirited engagement in what will affect the future of us all? That's where I'm left feeling despondent. Even-handedness can be a good thing, not least when you can see different sides of a complex question. But now is a time when choices must be made. That's when voices need to be heard that are prophetic, hopeful and wise. So much hangs on decisions made in the coming days and weeks that will irrevocably affect our lives and those of our children and grandchildren for decades to come. I believe that we as Christians ought to be on our knees praying and then rise up to espouse the Christian vision of loving our neighbours.
Sermon for Trinity Sunday from Fr Simon Cuff
Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us words from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, the 5th chapter, the 5th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s often said that preachers try to do their best to avoid preaching on Trinity Sunday. Any attempt to try to describe the Trinity is doom to fail, and sermons on the Trinity often end up a hotchpotch of heretical images for the doctrine of God which is at the heart of our faith.
Not one to duck a challenge, of course, Fr Michael let me know in good time that he was unable to preach this Sunday. He mentioned on Friday something about washing his hair…
The Trinity is the foundation of all that we are and and all that we do. We meet in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit each and every time we come together to celebrate the Eucharist.
The Trinity is the foundation of all that we are and all that we do, because God is Trinity and God is the foundation of all that we are and all that we do. God is our foundation because God is our creator. God’s act of creation is constant, at every moment, he is creating us, holding us in being, preventing us from slipping back into the nothingness from which all creation comes to be.
This is the first thing that the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us. God is not like us. We are creature. He is creator. We know of nothing that can be simultaneously completely one and completely three. Indeed, in earthly terms it is impossible.
The Trinity reminds us that God is not another thing like us in the created universe. He is not the thing of things, the best thing there is. He is simply God, not an impossible three-in-one, but the ground of all possibility, of all there is.
This isn’t easy to understand. Nor should it be. If our notion of God was simple to understand it simply wouldn’t be God. Images of gods that are easy to understand are all too often idols. Little images of gods we make in our own image.
The Trinity reminds us that whatever God is, however we talk about him, even the best ways we’ve found of talking about him are as nothing compared to the majesty of his glory we’ll experience when we see him face to face.
The Trinity reminds us that God exceeds even our best attempts to think and write and speak and sing about him. Now we think and write and speak and see and sing through a glass darkly.
God is not another thing. God is not like us. God is more glorious than our best thoughts and experiences of him. The Trinity teaches us a lot about what God is not, but what does it teach us about who God is?
The most difficult thing for us to face when we reflect on the doctrine of the Trinity is that it teaches us that God doesn’t need us. Sometimes you hear that God was lonely so God created us and all that is. The Trinity reminds us this is not the case.
God doesn’t create a creature to relate to, like some kind of heavenly Frankenstein.
The Trinity reminds us that God isn’t lonely. Rather he is perfect relationship. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God doesn’t need us. We are created as gift. Sheer and abundant gift. Grace poured out. God’s creation of us, and his love for us, is scandalously unnecessary. Sheer gift.
The Trinity reminds us of what we are called to base our lives on, this gift. It reminds us that our life is sheer gift, and we are called to share that gift, and all our gifts, with others.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God. Each person poured out completely toward the other. Each person offered as sheer gift.
We are not three persons in one God. We, each of us, are each confused and fumbling human beings.
Yet the Trinity reminds us how we are to live. To receive the gift of life given to us. To receive God himself poured out for us on the Cross and today in this Sacrament on the altar. To model our lives on that complete and free pouring out of each person of the Trinity toward the other in love.
If the Trinity confuses us, the life which this God of Trinity calls us to is remarkably simple. To live life as he is life. To pour ourselves out in love for those around us. To share all that we have been freely given. To find ourselves caught up in the very love of God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent from Fr Michael Fuller
Realistic. Practical. Sensible. Those are words we all like to use to describe ourselves and our churches.
We are Christians who believe in an amazing story of death and resurrection, but in the end we have to come back down to earth and live in the real world.
Someone has to make sure the budget balances.
This is exactly the attitude of Judas in our gospel story today, the attitude Jesus condemns.
We don’t normally think of ourselves in the same category with Judas. And a great deal of the time, those practical considerations do need to guide our behaviour as individuals and communities.
Jesus profoundly values Mary and her gesture in this gospel. He finds her pouring of fragrant oil over his feet and wiping them with her hair deeply meaningful, and he will not allow this beautiful, intimate moment to be ruined by the mean-spirited practicality of Judas.
What makes Judas even more blameworthy – and even more of a warning to us – is that he overlays his criticism of Mary with a virtuous moral justification. “We could have used that money to serve the poor!” He laments with outward heartfelt piety and inward smug self-righteousness.
Have you ever seen this happen at church? Someone takes the moral high ground, not out of love but because it places them in a position to score points on someone else. “I’m more Christian than you are,” is a game that has no winners.
Jesus saw this and Jesus cuts right through Judas’ posturing. In this moment, Mary and her gesture mean more than Judas and his proposed action.
That’s hard for us action-oriented Brits to take! All the beautiful gestures in the world won’t get the fund raising campaign launched or the church cleaned.
Or will they? Why does Jesus value Mary’s extravagant and loving but essentially useless gesture so much?
Because the things that inspire us to greatness are often exactly that: useless gestures.
I read a great example of that phenomenon this week.
It was the story set in June of 1941, of Dmitri Shostakovich the composer and the head of the Leningrad Conservatory’s piano department. He and millions of others were suddenly uprooted by the surprise bombardment of Leningrad by German forces, breaking the non-aggression pact Hitler had signed with Russia and beginning a siege that would last almost two and a half years.
Although Shostakovich was evacuated, his heart remained with his besieged city, and he began writing what would become the defining work of his career.
His massive Seventh Symphony began to take shape, music that told the story of war and sacrifice and heroism, inspired by and dedicated to Leningrad.
The story is too long to relate now but I suggest you look it up; it’s a harrowing tale.
Shostakovich finished the symphony, and it premiered to worldwide acclaim in Moscow, London, and New York. But Shostakovich knew that the true premiere had not happened yet. The Leningrad Symphony, to truly come to life, had to be played in Leningrad.
Eventually on August 9, 1942, the cobbled together starving orchestra in Leningrad performed the entire Symphony Number 7 for their audience of emaciated but defiant fellow citizens in an epic triumph of the human spirit.
This was the exact date Hitler had boasted he would have a victory dinner in the Hotel Astoria to celebrate conquering Leningrad.
The symphony played by the starving orchestra – is essentially a useless gesture. It did not shorten the siege or provide any food or help defeat the Nazi forces. In fact, three musicians in the orchestra died during the rehearsal period, their lives undoubtedly shortened by having exerted themselves physically to play.
But this useless gesture helped a city beaten down almost to death hold on long enough to be liberated.
And we have to wonder if Mary’s useless gesture in our gospel story today functioned in the same way.
This was Jesus’ farewell dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. He knew he was going to his death, and he knew it would not be an easy death.
Mary would soon face the grief of losing her beloved teacher and friend to an unjust, violent execution.
They both had ordeals before them that were on par with or even exceeded what the besieged citizens of Leningrad underwent.
All of us, while perhaps not driven to the extremes that Jesus, Mary, and the Leningraders were, have faced times in our lives where our bodies, minds, and spirits are pushed far beyond what we think we can endure.
These moments when comfort and reason and relief seem like bizarre and foreign concepts happen to all of us.
And what gets us through those moments? Is it the moral pontification of Judas, the building up of our virtuous self-image through studiously practical good works?
No. What helps us survive is the useless gesture, the impractical moment, the unfiltered communication of love and joy and hope that we remember with photographic clarity – the first time our baby smiled at us, the look on our spouse’s face when we exchanged our vows, the warm arms of a parent or grandparent around us as a child.
These small moments of devotion between people who love each other – these useless gestures – they are what sustain our courage when all seems futile, and that is what we see between Jesus and Mary in the gospel.
Because even the great inspiring moments of life, like the Leningrad performance of the 7th Symphony, are made up of a thousand small actions.
The moment that inspired a city to triumph over fascism was in reality built by individuals that rose above what others thought possible.
These are gestures made of love. They are the hearts and spirits of musicians giving the feeble strength of their bodies for their city. And as they gave themselves to create the music, in their minds they didn’t see a vast metropolis. They saw the faces of their children, their parents, their wives and husbands.
When Jesus surrendered himself to the authorities, he did not see the broad sweep of the cosmos he was about to die to save. He saw your face, He saw my face.
So ask yourself: have you made an impractical gesture of love today? Have you done something useless that has no other value than to give of yourself to another?
Search for that chance to make that useless gesture of love, because somewhere down the road, it may save someone’s
A sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff on the Feast of the Epiphany. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. S. Matthew’s Gospel, the second chapter, beginning to read at the 11th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Readings: Isa 60.1-6; Eph 3.1-12; Matt 2.1-12
“Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory. All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.”
These words make up the conclusion of T. S. Eliot’s masterful ‘Journey of the Magi’, no stranger to us here. The genius of Eliot’s poem is to make the visit of the Magi at the birth of Christ a reflection on the meaning of his death for all our deaths.
'Were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.’
This isn’t poetic license on Eliot’s part. The Scriptural account of the visit of the Magi also combines birth with death. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold for kingship, incense as indicator of divine presence and worship; myrrh for the anointing of the dead. These three gifts, when given to the Christ-child sum up the entirety of Christian doctrine. God, born as one of us, reigns on earth as in heaven, and death itself will be defeated by this child.
When we look at our first reading, from Isaiah, prophesying the coming of the gentiles with gifts of gold and frankincense, we see that Eliot takes his lead from St Matthew. The inclusion of myrrh highlights the importance of the death this baby will undergo.
Earlier in the poem, Eliot has one of the magi recounting their journey toward Bethlehem.
‘Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley, Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation; With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness, And three trees on the low sky, And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow. Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel, Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver, And feet kicking the empty wine-skins’.
The imagery is rich. This child’s death hangs over the poem. ‘Three trees on the low sky’ and ‘pieces of silver’ prefigure the betrayal and crucifixion. The 'temperate valley, smelling of vegetation’ the ‘vine leaves over the lintel’ hark back to the beginning of creation itself, and the lush garden of Eden in which we fell. The ‘running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness’ look forward to baptism, our path toward light out of the darkness of this world.
The magi journey toward Bethlehem through a strange land, of empty wine-skins. A land just as moribund as the kingdoms to which they return: these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.’
They come to realise the futility of earthly power, that their kingdoms and worldly positions belong to an age now past, the old dispensation. They look forward to the consummation of all things, ‘another death’. They look forward to the death of the Christ-child they have just paid homage to.
They return home and their world is turned upside down. They glimpse a little of the what Christ comes to accomplish.
Each week in this place, we make a similar journey to the magi. We come here from wherever we live, passing through streets which ring empty with their promise of easy happiness through buying this or consuming that.
We come to the Sacrament, journeying to the altar, to receive what appears to us simply bread and wine only to find something (you may say) satisfactory. We encounter something more, something which satisfies our deepest longings in a way we don’t quite understand.
We come away, back to our places, back to coffee after Mass, back home; each week slightly altered like the Magi.
Everything seems the same, but each week we get the tiniest glimpse of something different. Another way of living, another set of possibilities, another presence in our lives beyond that which the world around us recognises; that world full of people clutching to their gods of this product or that experience.
We return to our places, our homes and our kingdoms, slightly more ill at ease with the world around us, slightly more aware of the Christ-child in our lives. And we ask ourselves, what did we give the Christ-child when we encountered him in that place?
A sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff on Sunday 29 December 2018 (Christmas 1) After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Words from St Luke’s gospel, the second chapter, the 46th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Readings: 1 Samuel 2.18-20,26; Colossians 3.12-17; Luke 2.41-52
They grow up so fast these days. It seemed only on Tuesday that he was newly born, and now he’s twelve and teaching in the Temple. Where do the years ago?
Did you have far too much sherry at Christmas in 2018, and wake up twelve years later? [Ask Fr Michael what happened with the Brexit agreement. You’ll never believe what they did at the last minute…]
We hear about the adolescent Jesus in our Gospel reading, as the lectionary struggles to squeeze Jesus’ lifetime into a year. In a few weeks time, we’ll move to thinking about his baptism as an adult, the temptation, and the start of his public ministry.
In this episode, the twelve-year old Jesus goes missing. Every parents' nightmare. They think he is travelling with them only to find he didn’t set out on the journey with them. The first century equivalent on Home Alone 2.
They rush back to Jerusalem, only to find him in the Temple. When I try to recall this passage from memory, I almost always get the detail wrong.
In my mind’s eye, the youthful Jesus is in the Temple, teaching the religious elders of the day. Telling them what’s what. Sorting right from wrong.
But when we look at the text of St Luke’s Gospel, we see this isn’t exactly what’s going on: ‘they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.’
Even in his youth Jesus teaches not by declaration, but by challenge and enquiry; just as he will throughout his adult ministry:
‘Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Whose image is this and whose title? Do you believe this? Who are my mothers and brothers? Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
St Luke’s account of this episode ends by telling us Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour. St Luke wants us to remember the account of Samuel’s growth in stature we read in our first reading.
Samuel is a child given entirely to the Lord by his mother Hannah. Our Lady’s song, the Magnificat, echoes Hannah’s song earlier in the first book of Samuel. Whereas Hannah’s song is a song which describes what God always does, Mary’s is a hymn of triumph about what God has done in Christ: ‘cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty’.
This child isn’t just a child given by his parents to the Lord.
This child isn’t just a child given by the Lord to his parents.
This child isn’t just a child, but is the Lord himself.
In Christ, God has taken us to himself. In Christ, God has revealed himself to us. In Christ, we learn what true wisdom is.
‘They found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’.
Wisdom takes nothing for granted. Wisdom searches, challenges, questions received “wisdom”, and the way we do things around here. Wisdom is always open to God's challenge to reform our ways of thinking and being to be more closely aligned with God’s will.
Jesus not only teaches us the path to wisdom by the questions he asks in his day. He not only teaches us that true wisdom comes from careful discernment and diligent questioning of what we’ve come to believe.
Jesus is himself God’s question to us. A challenge to all the ways of thinking and being that we human beings have set up for our selves. He comes to us as one of us, he is rejected by all of us, he dies for all of us, and he rises again to invite us to new ways of thinking and being, to new ways of living the Risen life with him. Being born into poverty, becoming a refugee, dying as a political criminal. Jesus’ entire life is a constant question to worldly ‘wisdom’ and respectable points of view. Jesus ever asks us to question whether our ways of doing things are the way he call us to.
‘They found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’.
What is Jesus asking us today?
What is Jesus asking of us today?
How are we being called to follow the Wisdom of God in this place? Sermon preached by Fr Michael Fuller at Midnight Mass December 24
I suppose one of the significant changes in the way we see Christmas in this country has been brought about by the Christmas television ads. They start very early in December, if not before, and there seems to be a great competitive spirit about them.
I find after a while their repetition becomes not just a distraction but creates a determination not to shop in that particular Store.
What influence do they really have? Do they inspire us to think more closely about the real significance of Christmas?
I think the one I liked most was the Waitrose ad. The Waitrose ad suggests that there are some things that are too good to wait for but then I realised that not everyone would have seen this because Waitrose is not available nationally.
One ad that the Waitrose ad was based on was the John Lewis one featuring Elton John.
In one of my previous parishes there was an absolute plethora of Class A celebrities. One of these was the amazing Elton John and John Lewis this year has chosen him as their celebrity to promote the Christmas offerings.
Just like the Christmas story itself, this one has divided opinion. We watch time roll backwards down the years, taking some of us down memory lane as we watch Elton John grow younger and younger, until finally we see him as a small boy rushing into a 1950s sitting room where his wrapped gift awaits.
It’s a piano, and he strikes the notes that will launch him on his extraordinary career. And as we see Elton again as he now is, the words say, ‘some gifts are more than a gift.”
Some gifts are indeed more than a gift, and the gift that God sent to the world at Christmas was the gift of a child in a manger. It didn’t look like an event of universal significance – just another child, born on another day in a troubled and uncertain world. But on that day, something began that would be change the world for ever.
Mary, Joseph, shepherds and then kings began to realise that they were at the beginning of something extraordinary: a gift that is more than a gift.
And God’s gift is certainly more than a gift because it is the gift of love.
Because God who made us loved us so much, and God is hurt when we we’re hurting and when we hurt each other, because God suffers when we are in pain.
And God wanted to bring that love to us directly.
It meant that God came to know from the inside what it means to be human.
And what God wanted us to know, personally, was that God loves us. It was like God couldn’t tell us enough. God knew we often don’t listen. God had to prove it.
And this was God’s way.
By tradition, we think of this baby being born in the night. Actually, we don’t know what time of day it was. But in God-speak, the baby was born in the darkness, and the baby brought light into the darkness, and the baby was light, THE light.
And that darkness is all our darkness’s rolled into one: the darkness of pain, the darkness of despair, the darkness of mental anguish, the darkness that all that bad news brings with it.
And the light kindled by that baby born in Bethlehem made a difference. The darkness thinned out like it does when a new day is dawning.
There was hope, there was joy, there was faith and there was love. All these are signs of the light.
This was truly a gift that was more than a gift! I wish you a happy, holy, light filled Christmas, for you and your loved ones.
Sermon preached by Fr Simon Cuff November 4 2018
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” words from the book of Deuteronomy, the 6th chapter, beginning to read at the 4th verse. May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Readings: Deuteronomy 6.1-9; Hebrews 9.11-14; Mark 12.28-34
As a good Catholic, I love ritual. Liturgy and ritual breathes order into the chaos and turmoil of life.
So committed am I to ritual, so devoted to genuflecting, that I’ve found myself on one knee in the aisle of a cinema more than once, surprised that I’m facing Tom Cruise or Judi Dench, and not our Lord on his altar.
Ritual doesn’t just feature in our life at Church. We all have things we do each and every day, at the same time, or on the same day each week. Growing up, one such ritual was coming home from school. Daily arguing with my brother about what we’d watch on television… before settling down to watch my brother’s choice… which was almost always Pokemon. If you’ve not been lucky enough to watch an episode, or play the related game, Pokemon are a whole series of creatures, some cute, some terrifying that the have to be caught and used in battle. To be victorious you ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ - as the series catchphrase went.
Pokemon experienced a resurgence in popularity last year with the release of Pokemon Go! A game for smartphones that let you catch Pokemon all around you. Last week, the Catholic Church released ‘Follow JC go’, inspired by this Pokemon game. Instead of mythical creatures, you’re invited to ‘catch’ the Saints of God, learning about them as you do. ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’. Both games are over when you’ve got caught them all - whether Saints or imaginary creatures. Catch them all, and the game is over.
Our reading’s this morning remind us that the Christian life is nothing like Pokemon Go! Or even the Vatican’s ‘Follow JC Go’. Unlike these games, which finish when you’ve caught them all. The Christian life only really gets going when we’ve given God our all, when God has grabbed us for his purposes.
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’. Our first reading reminds us what God demands of us. Nothing less than the whole of our selves. All our heart, all our soul, all our might, all our effort, all our skill. All our time. All our money. All our lives.
So total is the demand and so important that the Israelites are commanded to keep these words at the forefront of their minds at all time, literally. They are to bind them on their head, fix them on their hands, write them on their doorposts.
Why? Because it is so easy to forget and to give to God only a little of our heart, only a little of our soul, only a little of our effort, or time, or money, or skill… Often we don’t give to God from the best of what he’s given us, but from the scraps left over. The loose change in our pockets, or the least time we can get away with per week.
But God doesn’t reject the morsel we give. He takes our poor offering and he magnifies it. He makes the most out of the little we give. As our second reading reminds us, he purifies our dead works, and transforms them into the worship of the living God.
We can’t earn our salvation. Life in Christ is free and total gift. We don’t earn our place in heaven because we give more, or work harder for God. This is the message of our Gospel. No amount of ‘burnt offering or sacrifice’ will put us in God’s good books.
God doesn’t love us, because we love him. He doesn’t reward us with stuff, because we give him stuff. It’s the other way round. We love him, because he loved us first. He called us into being. He calls us to this place. He calls us to love him with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds, with all our strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
We love him, because he loves us. He shows his love for us by creating us, by dying for us, by giving himself to us even now in this Mass. And he calls us to do the same. To give us ourselves to him, as he has given himself to us. And to make this gift the foundation of the whole of our live.
To be transformed by the love with which he loves us, to be founded on the gift of Christ himself, and to give back to him from the gifts with which he has given us.
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”.
What are you holding back from God?
How is God calling you to respond to his love, poured out for us even now in this place and in this Mass?
What is God asking of you today as you love him with every ounce of your being? Fr Simon Cuff
A Sermon preached on Trinity 9 by Fr Michael on the feeding of the five thousand in John's Gospel.
The Gospel reading for today is probably one of the best known Bible Stories
That story is as a parable to me, revealing a truth that is very real to sincere practitioners of the faith. That a tiny morsel of bread and a sip of wine from a cup can enable us to go home wonderfully full-filled from just a sip from a cup and morsel from a piece of bread.
It is as if we have feasted at a lavish smorgasbord.
That is the sort of thing Jesus does. It is one of his specialities. With a blessing from his hands the little becomes large, the weak become strong, the blind begin to see, the poor become rich, the losers become winners, and the no-bodies become the first citizens in the realm of God.
If we offer to Christ whatever small gifts we have, it will surprise us what he can do with them. It is as simple, yet as profound, as that.
If we are to really experience the truth which threads through this story in John’s Gospel, we must first be open to it. We must allow Christ to become hands on.
We must, like that boy long ago, put our resources into the hands of Christ. There is no way around it.
There are thousands of wistful, religious folk, who have never experienced the beneficence of Jesus.
Because they have never thrust all hesitation aside and committed all they have and are at the disposal of the Lord Jesus. All, I say, nothing held back.
The cautious folk might protest: “But only those who fully believe can commit.” That is not as true as it sounds.
What is truer is this: “Only those who will commit will fully believe.” Repeat: “Only those who commit will fully believe.”
There was an advert on television recently that featured the tourist attractions of the north of Scotland. It sought to induce us to visit that rugged, wild slab of our country, which was, and in many ways still is, largely unspoilt.
This ad insisted: “You’ll never, never know, if you never, never go.”
That, my friends, is spot on. You will never, never know if you never, never go. One cannot experience the expanses, of this great area unless we visit. Films and books will only take us to the edges. You have to be there.
You have to be there.
You will never, never know if you never, never go.
But how much more true is it for the realm of God? That beauty and richness which Jesus taps and releases among us, is amazing.
It is the brave new territory of God to be explored. But you will never, never know if you never, never go to Christ and place your hunger and poverty, together with your few gifts in his strong yet gentle hands.
In industrial relations we hear of “productivity agreements.” Well, my friends, there is no productivity agreement to equal that of a life blessed by Christ Jesus. The saving grace and the enrichment grace of Our Lord can always do “abundantly above all that we can think or ask.”
With Jesus depositing unstintingly, the full time results are much more than wages. Producing high returns for your small investment is not contingent on your input but on God’s infinite resources
What blunt and clumsy tools are human words in this context!
As a Priest, given a privileged position to share the good news, I often become frustrated by the dismal inadequacy of my words.
How can one find words to describe to interested yet hesitant souls the change that Christ can make? How can one explain the mind-boggling, soul-stretching trip on which we find ourselves in His company?
O the wonders of the new territory that opens up for our exploration! The sense of wonder that is evoked in common situations and the glory that is glimpsed in special moments!
That spiritual halo of Divine purpose that surrounds mundane events! The “twelve baskets” that are left over from what you thought was going to be a barren situation!
O God! If only I could find adequate words!
I sometimes wonder whether Jesus felt a similar frustration with words?
Maybe that is why he used his special intellect, his unique genius, to shape those incomparable parables that he told to the people.
His parables are like art works, like the paintings of the masters. In our Lord’s case, his parable-paintings are supreme masterpieces!
Once we really contemplate these masterpieces, they will haunt us all the days of our life, teasing and guiding, confronting and enlightening, healing and ennobling us.
Yet even with Jesus, his brilliant parables were of no avail unless his hearers were ready give the God of Jesus a fair trial.
Unless they were willing to stop prevaricating, then step up and be blessed by the Christ. Only then did they discover that even a smidgen could become a smorgasbord in God’s realm of grace, mercy, peace and joy.
By the grace of God, what was true still is true. The equivalent of a lad’s five barely rolls and two fishes feeding a large crowd, still happens.
Time after time it takes place in the experience of those who are prepared to deposit all that they have and are with Jesus, the only authentic Son of God.
If you are one of those who does not believe any of what I’m saying perhaps you’ll never, never know, if you never, never go.
If you are one of those who looks around the Church and sees nothing but flaws, failings and weaknesses, it’s because you are hungry to be fed with the Living Bread. You don’t realise it because the devil has jaded your soul, you’ll never, never know, if you never, never go.
Please, if you are one of the hesitant ones, take the plunge. Dare to trust Christ, and then it will be party time. With the Lord, life becomes a celebration.
We can dare to laugh, even in hardship. We can dare to celebrate, even in the valley of the shadow of death.
We can become more than we ever were, and grow personally in ways we would not have planned for ourselves.
Delight replaces duty, big steps supplant intentions, and a stumble and a fall are no longer the cause for despair. It is party time!
Time to taste and see that the Lord is good.
But you will “never, never know if you never, never go” to the man from Nazareth and say. “Here I am Lord. Count me in. This is a journey I am not going to miss.”
A sermon preached Sermon preached on the Feast of John the Baptist June 24th 2018 by Fr Michael Fuller
Behind the story of the birth of John the Baptist in St Luke's Gospel there are two stories of silence.
The first story of silence is that of the people of God.
This week to our shame we have seen a collective silence from the people of God. Our world has seen a real-time human rights emergency generated by the elected officials of the United States: many professing to be pro-life and claiming faith in a olive-skinned refugee, Jesus, whilst allowing migrant families to be ripped apart and children to be housed in cages, quoting the Bible while they do it.
If there was ever a time when the Church should have been visible and vocal it should have been now. If there was ever a moment moral leaders were made for it, surely this was one.
In what is considered to be one of the seedbeds of human rights and freedom is where we our spiritual leaders should have stood bravely and speak the hardest of truths and complaints this surely must have been one. It did not happen?
Did our Archbishop condemn the behaviour? Did Pope France’s speak out? Did Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general, Muslim Council of Britain raise an objection? Was the Chief Rabbi on holiday?
Many of these would-be prophets have been silent. Why? Was it out of cowardice, self-preservation, or worse still, agreement with the sins of that administration?
It is not the churches task to distract us for an hour or so and sidestep the urgency within the world, whether it be in the United States, Syria, or amongst the Rohingya refugees.But there was silence, silence!
In our Gospel story there was the normal noise of the world going on, the markets were bustling, the birds were singing, but there was a difference for them. There was a voice missing from their world. The voice of God had fallen silent for four hundred years. God was not speaking to God’s people.
They reread the promises of Isaiah and the prophets. Rather like we hear from the Old Testament, week after week, of God speaking to God’s people and comforting them, but they were memories, not living experiences.
The second story of silence is that of Zechariah. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were old and childless. There was no way they could have a baby.
Then an angel comes and tells Zechariah that he is to have a son. But he doubts, so he is made deaf and dumb. His silence is total.
He cannot hear the birds singing or speak any words. I reckon that inside, his thoughts were racing, and if he were anything like me he would have been turning over the words of the angel, the words of God, in his mind again and again. The echoes of the voice of God bouncing round his skull in the silence.
Both of these stories of silence meet and are shattered by the cry of newborn baby. For eight days he is nameless. Then the day of circumcision arrives, the day on which this boy is marked as one of the people of God.
He needs a name, his father is silent and so they ask his mother. She surprises them with her choice, “John”. A name meaning God has given, God is gracious, God has shown favour.
But that can’t be right, there is no one in the family called that.
Maybe we’re so overwhelmed by the miracle of this child that we’ve forgotten the proper traditions they think. We’d better check with his Dad. And his dad speaks.
The voice of God that has been echoing round his skull in the silence bursts out of his mouth. “His name is John”. God is gracious. God has given; God has shown favour. God is speaking to God’s people again.
The people are awe struck. The mix of odd events, of an old couple finally having a baby, of Zechariah’s silence, and of this new name fills them with wonder. “What then is this child going to be?”
We know that he was to be the one who spoke to God’s people, calling them to turn back to God. He was the one who pointed to Jesus as God’s ultimate word to God’s people.
John’s birth broke the silence of God and Zechariah, and his life was spent speaking God’s voice into the noise of the world.
I wonder what our story of silence is? What odd combination of events has bought us to this point? What is God saying to us today, where is God’s voice speaking?
What then am I going to be? What then is St Cyprian’s going to be?
Are we going to be those that follow John’s example? Are we willing to be those that bring God’s words to the people? Are we going to break the silence? Are we going to speak out? Are we going to be those that point to Jesus?
With John will we insist that it is not about us, it is always about Jesus?
Will we be the ones that call the people to follow our example and to repent, to turn away from the way that they are living and turn towards God?
That is what I believe that I have been called to; it’s what I believe that all God’s people are called to. To speak out against injustice and speak of Jesus.