For those unable to make the Zoom service, here is the video.
On the Second Sunday after Trinity in 2020, which was also Father’s Day, 24 households across the Benefice Zoomed or Phoned in to the service, bringing 34 people together to worship ‘face to face’. Our Ordinand Simon Aley led the service and ran the technology.
You can view the service at your leisure here on YouTube. Simon’s sermon and visual aids are posted below the YouTube video.
SERMON – St Vitalis, Sbettia, Tunisia, North Africa. Have a look at this picture. What do you think it is?
OK, so it is a byzantine font or baptistry from a church in North Africa dating back to the 5th or 6th century The basilica has largely been destroyed over time but this font/baptistry survived with steps to go down and steps to rise up.
What does its shape remind you of?
Haggia, Sophia, Istanbul – Or what about this second font/baptistry also byzantine, this time from Turkey and only recently excavated when they changed the church to a mosque. Only one set of steps here and perhaps the shape is clearer?
The answer is they are coffin shaped and probably this was quite deliberate. This talk probably needs filing under not for use at a child’s christening service even though it is highly relevant. As the lockdown continues, sacraments like baptism and communion seem distant memories. So, this is an opportunity to reflect on our baptisms and the importance of the sacrament shortly after Easter and Pentecost with which they are so closely linked.
Until now Paul has been writing to the Christians in Rome about the need to turn to Christ and be saved. Now Paul turns his attention to those who have been saved and what this means for each Christian and he demonstrates this with baptism. When you were baptised your old self died Hence these fonts are coffin shaped to vividly demonstrate this metamorphosis. So, what is the significance of baptism?
We are saved not because of anything we did but because of what Christ did for us and that necessitated his death on a cross. This is necessary because as Paul is about to say the wages of sin is death so by spiritually dying with Christ we are united in his saving death and rising out of the water we leave the old sinful self behind and rise out as Christ rose from the dead. Note how Paul describes sin and its wages. For Paul, sin is real, almost a being, a king or a slave-owner demanding wages, its pound of flesh. But sin has once and for all time been deposed and put in its place and we too can shed that burden.
Yesterday morning as we said morning prayer, something I commend to any of you who can or are prepared to rise for 8.30 in the morning and can be accessed most mornings on the same meeting id you used to access this service. Yesterday morning we read from Luke chapter 12 where Jesus says “I have a baptism to be baptised and what stress I am under until it is completed.” Jesus is using the symbol of baptism, because it is a symbol, a sacrament, an outward sign of an inward spiritual grace. He uses that symbol to point towards his death and resurrection that his baptism in the River Jordan was leading up to –the baptism to be baptised. On Pentecost Sunday those of you with us; we looked at Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch baptised into union with Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit right near the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles showing that baptism has been the initiation practice from the very start.
But wait a minute, Simon, these baptisms seem very different from our baptisms and our fonts look more like this:-
This of course is the font at Tixover with the first aid box prominent in the corner in case anything should go wrong, God forbid! Because no one is going to be buried in there or climb out! True, but our liturgy reflects Paul’s imagery of baptism. This is what the Pastoral Introduction to our denomination’s liturgy of baptism says:
“The service paints many vivid pictures of what happens on the Christian way. There is the sign of the cross, the badge of faith in the Christian journey, which reminds us of Christ’s death for us. Our ‘drowning’ in the water of baptism, where we believe we die to sin and are raised to new life, unites us to Christ’s dying and rising, a picture that can be brought home vividly by the way the baptism is administered. Water is also a sign of new life, as we are born again by water and the Spirit. And as a sign of that new life, there may be a lighted candle, a picture of the light of Christ conquering the darkness of evil. Everyone who is baptised walks in that light for the rest of their lives.”
Being baptised does not stop you ever sinning again. Wouldn’t that be great if it did! But baptism does enable us to cast off that old sinful self and rise with Christ with whom we are united as a new creation, no longer in condemnation for our sinful lives to enable us to journey on with God and it does not change whether you are baptised at 16 weeks, 16 years or 16 half-decades
Nor does baptism stop after you are baptised or even after you have confirmed that baptism it is a journey we walk for the rest of our lives, united to Christ. Of course, that walk will not be sin-free but should be sin-less, reduced sin because our lives are united to Christ. We should not take for granted the grace that God has given us and act indifferently. Otherwise we have not left that old sinful life behind. It is by grace that we have been saved and it is by faith in Christ that we walk a new life united with him no longer in condemnation but wanting to live a better life.
Let us pray. This prayer is from the Common Worship Order of baptism.
we thank you for your servant Moses,
who led your people through the waters of the Red Sea
to freedom in the Promised Land.
We thank you for your Son Jesus,
who has passed through the deep waters of death
and opened for all the way of salvation.
Send your Spirit,
that those who are washed in the water of baptism
may die with Christ and rise with him,
to find true freedom as your children,
alive in Christ for ever. AMEN
An increasing number of people around the Benefice are joining Zoom church on a Sunday morning AND phoning in from landlines.
Christopher’s Sermon for Sunday 14 June may be read below, and if you’d like to see and hear the service ‘as live’ just click on the Youtube link below. Please note a technical hitch that muted Simon’s microphone while the hymn was played means there’s a silent period, but hang in there: the hymn does come later!
SERMON – Rublev’s Icon
Icons from the Orthodox Tradition do invite us in. Like the computer icon, they take us into a different world, into the more intimate company of Almighty God. This 14th century icon illustrates our reading today when 3 figures visit Abraham and announce the surprising birth of a baby to his wife, Sarah, aged 90. You will know that it was ‘written’ by a Russian monk, Andrei Rublev and is called ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’. It moves the conversation closer to the nature of God. Rublev has Christianised the Genesis story by identifying Abraham’s 3 visitors as the 3 persons of God. Rowan Williams calls it, “God’s Selfie!”
Rublev depicts the 3 visitors as angels: they have wings. Blue is the colour which connects all three, suggesting a heavenly home. The figure on the right is the Holy Spirit, his blue garment covered in green, the colour of life, for we talk in The Creed about The Holy Spirit, the giver of Life. The angel in the middle represents The Son with a dark red covering suggesting the colour of earth, the colour of blood, reminding us of the incarnation and crucifixion. The figure on the left is the Father, his blue cloak covered with a translucent robe symbolizing divine glory.
What then are the messages we can read from this icon about God?
Firstly, the figures sit in a circle around the communion table suggesting unity. They even look alike!
Secondly, they have regard for one another, their heads inclined to the other but with one eye also on that which is the focus of their attention, the chalice.
Thirdly, there is someone missing: Abraham! He needs to be there to receive the news about a miraculous birth. But the gap is meant for us too. We are drawn into that holy company.
I know that some of you will be quite familiar with this icon and how it works but I am taking the liberty of sharing it with you again because an icon stands at the threshold of a new world and we are on the threshold of re-opening our churches.
This pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, both great and small, temporary and permanent. It has also highlighted the value of our churches as sacred places in our communities. It’s when you lose something that you realize its value!
The Genesis story records a critical and unique moment in the Bible story – when Abraham’s offspring is predicted which leads us to Jesus. A birth is announced, names are changed, a new order begins and Abraham is taken into the intimate decisions of Yahweh. Here is a moment to record: by story and by icon.
So as we gradually re-open our churches, this icon reminds us of that threshold moment when the holy becomes tangible, as it does so often in our churches. It is there that we meet with God. That sacred space beckons us. But things will be different.
The lessons drawn from the icon remind us firstly of our unity, which no virus can destroy. We are all distinct, unique yet each has a part to play. What will be that part for you in the new reality? Zoom worship during the lockdown has flattened the church hierarchy. Others have emerged to take on leadership roles. This will be a growing feature of church life beyond the lockdown.
Secondly, Abraham’s visitors have a care for one another. They look out for the other. Whom do we need to look out for as the lockdown eases? Neighbourliness has always been a mark of village life but it has increased during lockdown. But we will each know those whom we do our best to avoid. However life is too short to continue that charade. Is it time to do something about it?
Finally, our inclusion in this mystery. It is so easy to assume some superiority in our church-going. All are invited; all are hard-wired for faith. Perhaps this is a new moment given to us to assume not that others are excluded but that others would like to be there too. Issue that invitation, however coded! The future of our churches cannot be guaranteed after this fierce pandemic. It requires the work of us all to mark the ongoing importance of that sacred space in the centre of our village communities.
We are about to enter a different world. With the angelic guests of Abraham, let us be quiet for a moment and contemplate the possibilities in front of us. Amen.
The Benefice is now holding Sunday Service ONLINE each week and ANYONE can join in, including people who don’t have the internet (who are getting a leaflet about this).
This is what our new Sunday Service looks like – just click on the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtNRfGWw17U&feature=youtu.be
You can join in ‘face to face’ via a PC, Mac, iPad or a Smartphone. Let Simon Aley have your email address and he will invite you, sending you a link to click on each week. Contact him at email@example.com
If you don’t want to do that, or don’t have the technology, you can PHONE IN FROM A LANDLINE, by calling 0203 695 0088 or 0203 966 3809 and when prompted, use your keypad to enter this number and the hash symbol: 4761164739#
If you join by phone only, your face won’t be seen, but you’ll be with us in real time.
Join each week a few minutes ahead of 10am, so that any tech issues can be resolved with Simon’s help.
Simon Aley, currently preparing for ordination, has recorded this week’s sermon, which can be watched here on YouTube.
If you have any problem doing this the sermon is also copied underneath.
Today’s Gospel reading is John 14:1-12 and Simon has used the New International Version but you can follow in any Bible.
“Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us”
So how are you managing in lockdown? How are you contacting friends, family, business contacts? By telephone? Skype? Teams? Facetime? Or Zoom. And what does it look like? A few weeks ago, the Church Times, created a montage of people on these various platforms in lockdown. Various images – some with a full face, others just the top of their head, some dog collars, one even robed! Different ages, different settings And don’t you all look round, take a nosy peek? Or is that just me?!! As you can imagine while our Priest in Charge reads the erudite articles in the Church Times, I tend to go for the cartoon they publish each week and in that same edition the cartoon also focussed on the online screen view classifying us accordingly, the artistic or the scholarly or the realistic! I will leave you to decide which group you fall into or other people you have had these Zoom or similar sessions with and taken a nosey peak! Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us. Give us a nosy peek at God if you like.
I get Jesus’ disappointment at Philip saying this. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” Philip was one of the earliest of the disciples to follow Jesus, a friend of Andrew and his family, Philip really had better opportunity than most to know Jesus and who he was and yet says “show us the Father and that will be enough.” Clearly therefore being a disciple of Jesus, all that time had not been enough. He needed something more. Jesus has just declared “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” Philip had assumed perhaps that Jesus was offering to introduce the disciples to the Father, and, in a sense, he does but what Philip fails to appreciate is that in seeing Jesus he is with the Father. Jesus and the Father are one. Philip should know that no-one has seen God and to do so is certain death. So, a strange demand for Philip to make.
What are you hoping to get from the Prime Minister’s announcement this evening 10th May? Depending on when you listen to this you may already know! What restrictions do you want to see lifted? One I have heard many times in the last week is around when we can get back into our churches and worship together. On one level I share that longing but on another I have really valued this time of worship in lockdown, actually seeing our garden grow daily through spring that I have not done in over 20 years living here in Manton and meeting with the people of God locally and around the world through daily acts of worship on Zoom – to pray for one another daily and see God’s hand at work. And as an aside I have probably invited more people every day to these Zoom services because that is how you join than I had to any other church services prior to lockdown and perhaps I need to learn from that. God was not locked into our churches when we had to close the doors. He was and is and will be omnipresent – everywhere. Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us. We may be in lockdown, but God is with us every moment. The famous German Pastor and writer of the last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a poem while locked in prison on New Year’s Day 1945 a few weeks before he was executed by the Nazis, not long before VE day. This is a free translation I did of one of the stanzas:
From all His powers so wonderfully bestowed
Whatever happens we can surely know
That God is with us evening until morning
Already knowing what each new day brings.
Jesus gave a wonderful assurance to his disciples and to all of us. It is one of the 7 I am sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel ego eimi is the Greek for I am and is a very intense way of saying this, deep, personal and reassuring and Jesus is not a way to God, he is the only way. Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Jesus is truth. In the Old Testament the law is the truth but Christ fulfils the law and so embodies truth; the truth about who I am, how I am counted as righteous and my destiny in God are all wrapped into this assurance. And thirdly the life. Jesus is about to die. Our Gospel reading today has flipped us back to just before Holy Week and Jesus will die in a few days and the disciples have been warned and yet this condemned, or at least doomed man is claiming he is the life. This claim is only possible because Jesus, as he reminded Philip is in the Father and the Father is in him. He knew that but his faith was not strong enough. My faith is not strong enough. Relying on faith alone, I falter. If I had faith the size of a mustard seed, I could move mountains and yet there has been no tectonic activity as a result of my small faith and I suspect I am in good company. The nearest the patron saint of Wales got was for a small hill to rise up from the ground from which he could preach! My faith is not enough even for that. Being allowed back into our churches to worship again would not be enough and being shown the Father, I suspect, would not be enough. I need, we all need Christ in our lives and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. To know that Christ is in us, the hope of glory – the way, the truth and the life is enough for now in lockdown, in normal times and for all eternity.
Let us pray.
Thank you Lord that you are the way, the truth and the life, that you are in the Father and the Father is in you and in the Spirit’s you are with us and when our faith is weak you uplift us. Help us see however hard the situation is that you are enough for us. We may not see you, but we can love you and worship you right where are
And now to Him who is able to keep us from falling and to make us stand without blemish in the presence of His glory, to the only God our saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord be all glory, power and authority for all time and for now and forever. Amen
Christopher has managed to video his sermon this week! You can watch it on Google Drive: just click on the link here and then on the ‘play’ arrow in the image:
But in case you’re unable to access it that way, here it is in full:
Contagious Christianity? Sunday 3 May 2020. Easter IV.
The Resurrection Season.
We are now 6 weeks into the lockdown and three weeks away from Easter Day. The set readings for Sunday are already wandering away from the resurrection appearances but before we forget them for another year I want to take an overview to find some relevance for us today in this situation of isolation when we crave the assurance of hope, of company, of health and of Christ.
It all begins with the empty tomb on that first Easter Day. That is enough to raise the suspicions of both friends and foes of Jesus. No trace of a body: just an alibi about body-snatchers spread by the Jewish guards. The empty tomb doesn’t offer evidence, just questions.
The Resurrection Appearances
Those questions soon get answers of a sort as the Risen Lord starts to appear. He appears first of all as a stranger to Mary at the tomb; then to the apostles in the upper room, to the disciples on the lakeside and to the travellers to Emmaus. Is it Jesus? No one is sure until he begins to interact with a name (John 20.16), the blessing of bread (Luke.24.30), his wounded hands (Luke 24.39) or some fishing advice (John 21.6). Caravaggio’s painting of the Supper at Emmaus shows just how amazed the disciples were when the stranger reveals himself as Jesus. One chap can’t wait to get away from his chair!
This strangeness suggests that Christ’s appearance has changed in some way. He passes through locked doors (John 20.19) and yet is able to cook breakfast (John21.12), eat fish and honey (Luke 24. 42). But there is another element to this strangeness: Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of understanding (Mark 16.14; John 20.23) but also gives them instructions as to how they should conduct their future lives (John 20.17; Mark 16.15). So those who knew Jesus before the crucifixion have to learn to live with this friend who is also a stranger in a different way after the Resurrection. We all know people who are difficult to predict. They are often the most exciting but also infuriating friends to have! So the Risen Lord must have appeared to those first disciples but also to us who need both companionship and divine direction which cannot be presumed.
The appearances of The Risen Lord are not confined to any particular geographical area. Jerusalem and Galilee are the favoured places and they are 100 miles part. Damascus is much further north. There is no obvious connection between these appearances. They don’t appear to be induced by hysteria, hallucination or a desire for consolation. The most surprising of all is the appearance to Saul, the aristocratic Jew fervently opposed to Christ and his friends. His conversion is well documented in scripture (Acts 9; 2 Corinthians 12) because for him and for The Church it was a seismic change.
The Risen Christ also comes among his friends who are ill at ease. He changes them. Mary is grieving for her compassionate Christ; the apostles are afraid of the Jews; Peter is riddled with guilt; the fishermen are glum and most of them are disbelieving. None of them are in a good place yet this challenge by The Risen Lord changes them. They boldly gossip the gospel (Acts 4.13); they exercise healing gifts (Acts 3.6); they worship in public (Acts 2.42) and they courageously challenge authority (Acts 5.29ff).
So here is a mystery. What drives such a change – and how is it sustained? People of faith have put the answer down to The Risen Lord: the Lord who came to those first Christians as a stranger, in a variety of locations, with boldness, with compassion but also with a message. The fruits of that mystery – that string of appearances from The Risen Lord – is to be seen in The Church today. These are the groups that began to form in the first pages of the Acts of the Apostles – that most exciting of biblical books which accelerates through church development like a whirlwind! It is around these encounters with the Risen Lord that the church gathers and develops, then and now.
Does this sound like an infection? Richard Dawkins in a clever book from 1976 suggested that God acted like a virus, a selfish gene which looks after its own. He wasn’t the first sceptic to use such an analogy. During the Roman occupation of the Mediterranean, Christians were hunted down and if they didn’t recant, then they were killed. Pliny – a Roman magistrate – was sent to Bithynia to sort out the province. He had to put many Christians to death. In a letter to his boss, The Emperor Trajan, he refers to Christianity as a “contagion.”
Apart from the implied negativity – especially in these desperate times of the current pandemic – that is difficult to accept. The appearances of The Risen Lord are scattered. Sometimes they do run among friends but in other occasions the most surprising people become Christians. There are no physical symptoms which connect us and there is no evidence that the faith manifests itself in a weakness.
And Christianity has lasted a long time: two millennia. Whilst countries in Europe still wait for signs that the coronavirus has peaked, there is no sign of Christianity abating world-wide, though in Europe it is struggling. Whilst we wait behind locked doors, there are signs that our faith is developing. One firm reports that its sales of bibles are up 25% in March this year. Other sacred texts show similar increases. And our behaviour has changed. In spite of the curfew, care for neighbour and community has increased, especially in our villages.
St. Paul, writing soon after the physical resurrection appearances had ceased, reminds us in a passage often used in our funeral services (1 Cor. 15.3,4) that Christ died, was buried and was raised. This third action – ‘was raised’ – is in a different tense, suggesting that the raising has happened but is still in force. Christ is alive now! And this is so obviously true, even in our own experience. People find Christ entering their lives often in the most difficult situations.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
Simon Aley has prepared this week’s sermon. And as the Welland Fosse group of churches comes to terms with lockdown, Simon has bravely videoed/recorded himself on YouTube, if you would rather watch/listen than read/scroll.
OR read ….. RESURRECTION LOCKDOWN!!!!
Well, here we are in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown, at the heart of the Christian year and the Gospel story is another lockdown! All the disciples – well almost all of them – were in Jerusalem and, knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead – were they elated? Were they out spreading the good news? No, they were dead scared and were together in a room and following current Government advice that the best protection from the current threat is your front door – they responded by shutting and locking it from the inside locking it tight for fear – of a virus?
No, for fear of the Jews, which is a strange fear to have in one sense because the disciples were all Jews themselves! Probably this refers to Jewish authorities, or local mobs although our present lockdown leads many of us to fear ourselves too. If we go out and anyone sneezes or coughs, they are glared at shunned for fear they may have the virus. Here in Manton our walking is restricted as the Rutland Water paths are closed for fear of spreading disease.
Fear was as real then as it is now but for different reasons. The disciples had seen what happened to Jesus and were afraid that the Jews, as John puts it, would come after them next and a similar fate would befall them and we know they were right to be afraid – a similar fate did befall other disciples. People are right to take precautions now for fear of catching or spreading this deadly virus and sadly the daily statistics show the importance of staying at home to save lives. And in the midst of all this fear, the risen Jesus appears, and the clear implication is that he didn’t knock, and the door was not unlocked. So, did this appearance reassure the disciples? I would be surprised if it did at first? ‘How did you get here?’ and ‘What, who are you?’ might all be questions the frightened disciples would ask and we get a clue that these were their concerns as Jesus has to reassure them he is who they think he is – they need evidence. After saying “Peace be with you” he shows them his hands and his side where the nails went through to address their doubts. And note from verse 20 there is no criticism of their doubt: there will be criticism but that comes later, but for now as Jesus enters this locked room he faces and answers their doubts and shows the evidence they need.
And Jesus gives the disciples authority to forgive sins in the power of the Holy Spirit which the disciples receive there and then. Now some people question this. Surely the Holy Spirit came 50 days later – Pentecost – that’s what it means – this must be wrong? No, the Holy Spirit has always been here as part of the Godhead. The Hebrew Bible’s name for the Holy Spirit is Ruach which means breath or wind. The Day of Pentecost recounts a dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit which had always been around but now came with power.
So, the disciples who have seen and touched the evidence of Christ’s resurrection are keen to share this with Thomas who was not there and did not see what happened. So, when they meet, they tell him. And this is the difference. This is why Thomas is chided, albeit gently when he meets Jesus, after being told by the other disciples what they had seen, what they had touched and Thomas’ fault lies in the shortest word in his response, at least in our language. The word “I”. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Regardless of the testimony evidence of what he is told by his fellow disciples; unless he sees, he touches, he feels he has no evidence he cannot believe.
And when they meet, Jesus lets Thomas see and touch and feel and Thomas stops doubting and believes and worships “My Lord and my God!” and Thomas is chided and told “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Thomas had all the evidence he should need – eyewitness accounts from his fellow disciples whom he should have trusted. This is important because in John’s Gospel, nothing is there by accident. At the end of this chapter we are told that what is written is there that we might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’. John chooses three resurrection appearances for specific reasons and this one is to address fear and doubt that we might believe.
We have our doubts too and we demand evidence. Evidence for doubts as to whether or not this pandemic will ever end and when and the consequences of it all. Will life ever be the same again? Where is God in all this and what are and where are those faith handles, we cling to at such a time? If God is active now why is this person or that person not being protected?
I want to suggest that this lockdown is a great opportunity for all of us to get to grips with some of those questions, to face some of those doubts head on and pray, study and listen to God for ways through these doubts and questions so that we can grow and be stronger in our faith with our roots as Paul said “being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17). It is at times like this that we need our faith handles to encourage us and sustain us. Books like the Gospel of John written just for this purpose. The problem it seems is there are so many areas of doubt in the Christian faith!!, so many questions and demands for evidence. Even the resurrection itself.
I am often reminded reading this passage of a great book written by the English writer and advertising legal practitioner, Frank Morrison 90 years ago in 1930 and remains print, which I commend to you. He set out to write a book discrediting the resurrection of Jesus to find out as the title of his book suggests “Who Moved the Stone?” But as he researched and read his mind changed and he found faith. In an embarrassing call to his publishers Faber and Faber he warned them that this book he had promised would not be as they had expected because he now firmly believed in the resurrection. The, by now relieved publisher responded – that’s great Frank, what will be the title of your book now? Oh no said Frank, the title remains the same! Frank Morrison worked through his doubts and looked at the evidence and found a faith handle. The disciples’ faith handle was to see and touch his nail scarred hands and speared side. What will be the faith handle for each of us?
Finally, armed with those faith handles, what will we do about it? Jesus is very clear to those disciples in lockdown “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (v.20) According tradition, Thomas got that and travelled to India, preached the Gospel, founded a church and was martyred in Chennai, formerly Madras.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” – what does that mean for us in lockdown and beyond? The answer is found in what it meant for Jesus Christ.
- He came into the world as a poor Person
- He came as a Servant
- He emptied Himself
- He delighted to do the Father’s will
- He identified Himself with humanity
- He went about doing good
- He did everything by the power of the Holy Spirit
- His goal was the cross
And now He said to the disciples and he says to us in lockdown, “I also send you.”
So, I guess we had better get ourselves ready. AMEN
With all our churches closed I was exercised about celebrating Holy Communion on Easter Day this year. Nervous of ‘private masses’ – as was Archbishop Cranmer – I nevertheless decided that Easter Day, being the most important day of the church’s year, would be an appropriate – indeed expected – day for a celebration of communion in the Benefice.
The Communion Service does not depend upon numbers for its validity. High Mass in the Vatican is just as valid as a celebration in The Rectory kitchen because both recognize and participate in the one unrepeatable sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Just two of us were present physically but with the prayers of the Benefice, the wider church and the world on our hearts, we were also surrounded by the great company of heaven: angels, martyrs and all those who had gone before us in the faith. We were in good company. Given our current situation, I have to tell you that it was one of the most emotional and draining celebrations of my life.
The following photographs chart the progress of the Easter Eucharist in the Benefice. (Click on each thumbnail for a closer look.) I offer them to you for your prayers and thanksgivings in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis.
Our churches remain closed but there will be a celebration of Holy Communion in the Benefice around the kitchen table at The Rectory. My lack of technical expertise means that you will not be able to see or hear it, however it will begin at 11am if you would like to join in prayer or use the readings detailed here.
The Collect for Easter Day:
God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell: fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new day has dawned and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Epistle: Colossians 3. 1 – 7. The Gospel: St. John 20. 1- 10.
Christopher’s Address is titled: In-Between
One of the many things I will miss about this Easter Day is the Dawn Eucharist: sitting in a darkened church, listening to various readings from the Old Testament which chart the course of our salvation history and meditating upon them in the silence. As we do this, the dawn gathers, almost mysteriously, without us knowing. Then suddenly, we are aware of the change. ‘Is it dark or is it light’? ‘Is it night or is it morning’? Then the time of hesitation passes and we know that the day has dawned with the shafts of daylight piling into the church, suffusing every corner of darkness.
The practice of getting up before dawn to celebrate The Eucharist reaches back to that first appearance of The Risen Lord to Mary Magdalene. So critical was the event to the Early Church that it was recorded in all four gospels and our gospel for today – John – is uncommonly precise: “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.” (John 20.1). Mary does not see the resurrection – no one does – but she returns later to see the effects – the empty tomb – together with two disbelieving (male) disciples. She lingers and then meets the Risen Lord whom she mistakes for the gardener.
The half-light. This in-between state is very common in our lives: ‘Is the egg properly cooked or not’? ‘Is our boy old enough to drink beer’? ‘Are those really the first sign of my bean shoots’? Such transitions also extend to our emotional life and moral choices too: ‘Am I really in love’? ‘Could I get away with a tax fiddle’? Truth comes at us in different forms, as any lawyer will know. As Emily Dickenson says, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
This in-between state allows us extra choice, as our epistle today identifies when St Paul writes, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above.”(Colossians 3.1) He is suggesting that experiencing the resurrection, believing in Christ, gives us a wider choice in life between the flesh and the spirit (a distinction which he goes at great lengths to explore).
So Mary’s visit to the tomb in the light of dawn has an encounter with The Risen Lord. Is it the gardener? She only recognizes Jesus when He speaks to her.
This pandemic has turned life as we know it upside down. For many, no dawn can be seen. All is pitch black: for those who have been laid off; the direction of our personal and national finances; the intense pressures upon families living in cramped premises – and many, many deaths.
For all of us, life is different. We have new priorities, either forced upon us or self-generated. We have become more aware of our neighbours, the value of food, the sacrificial work of our front line, back-office and supply services. Never before have we clapped on a Thursday night for those whose work we have taken for granted! All these are positive signs but it is too early to identify silver linings, green shoots. My hope however is that life will be different when the new ‘now’ arrives. There are glimpses, straws in the wind. People have time for each other; more are exercising; the ozone layer is healing. Many have been taken aback by unsolicited acts of kindness. Will these survive the lock-down or make it into the new reality? Time will tell. As with Mary, life has changed; it has not been taken away.
I used to work in the North-East when the steel works at Consett closed down. It devastated the region but now, you would not know a vast steel industry had been there at all, such is the multiplicity of new industry and different landscapes.
So our universal outlook is grim – and so it was for Mary Magdalene on that first Easter Day. The gloom may have continued for her and the other disciples had she not met the Risen Lord in the half-light of dawn. From that moment, life changed. It was alarming but it was enriched with hope, potential. And it got better for her and the others as the Risen Lord made himself known to more and more, corporately and individually.
Easter in Ordinary
Mary’s gloom was lifted in the half-light. It is when it is darkest that we see the stars so clearly. And so it is, I hope, with the Glory of God, which is why the darkened church on Easter Day is so important. It throws into perspective the new day, the company, the freedom to celebrate as well as the bacon butties and champagne which are an integral part of any Dawn Eucharist! So often I look for the glory of God in some Damascus Road moment: blinding flash and much drama. Well, it does happen occasionally – and I have experienced a few – but most of the time God comes to us in the normal. The new day, the delight of children, the skill of the operating theatre staff, the compassion of the consultant’s phone call, the warmth of a neighbour. In Bach’s St. John Passion, the evangelist announces the death of Jesus by moving from a minor to a major key, so critical is that moment for us all. One recent archbishop said that the glory of God is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
There is much foot-washing going on at the present time up and down our country. By the sacrificial staff on the front line, yes, but also along our streets and in our homes. Perhaps this lock-down has given us time to recognize it there. It’s a happy coincidence that the Jewish Passover coincides with our Easter festival this year. For the Jews (and Jesus was a Jew) this most important of feasts takes place in the home as they give thanks for their escape from captivity. We too can take a leaf out of their book. We cannot go to church but we can give thanks for the presence of the Risen Lord among us; in the provision of lunch, the imaginative games on the internet, a good night’s sleep and the hope which the eruption of the Resurrection brings of a better tomorrow. Amen.
Christopher Armstrong, Priest-in-Charge writes:
‘Now there was a garden’ (Jn. 19.41)
Jesus is dead, locked down in a garden, in a borrowed tomb. Most of us are locked down too: not yet dead but having the opportunity of a garden which so many in our wider society do not have. Isolation for them must be very challenging.
St. Matthew’s account of the burial (27.62 – 66) is even closer to our own situation today. The Jewish authorities were fearful that the disciples might come by night and steal the body of Jesus and then claim that he has been raised from the dead. So they sealed the tomb and placed a sentry at the entrance. Official lockdown.
St. John makes much of the death and burial. For him it is the end of a life of total obedience and love for The Father and for all humankind. No one knew what might happen next, if anything. Only God knew. His will was pregnant with power and potential, just like this laid hedge on the road to Seaton. It is not quite dead but we can see the power of nature just beginning to break out. It was not nature which changed everything – divided time, gave hope, dissolved enmity – but the power of God. It is for that which we wait, sometimes patiently, sometimes wisely, often irritably. But because of tomorrow, we have hope that God will act. Today we must wait.