Introduction: A criticism which one sees in the public arena of politics is that some political leaders appear to lie. Of course, that is not the same as changing one’s mind; one hopes that genuine reflection and listening happens which should, at times, lead to a changing of mind of our political leaders. That shows an integrity. So, it’s a shame that such apparent U-turns are sometimes seen as a lack of integrity; they may not be. However, the anger of the public when lies do appear to have been told is an encouraging sign; for it shows that people still care for the truth and expect leaders to have integrity and the courage to uphold it.
Integrity in following Christ: There is a rather sad comment, by a non-local person, on All Saints’ Facebook page in which she wrote, ‘My Nan used to say that all Christians are hypocrites’. That may, of course, be a statement by someone who believes that they can freely judge others because they are faultless. However, their statement is a challenge to those of us who choose to follow Christ. Do we walk the talk, or at least try to? We all know that we fail to at times, which is why we acknowledge our sins and commit ourselves to being better people.
Today’s Gospel passage is our Lord’s call to integrity in following Christ – to ‘keep his word’. And it’s that integrity which he says in the evidence of loving him. To love him is to love God – they are synonymous, as he is the very incarnation of the Word of God – his words, he explains, are God’s words.
And the first commandment is, as we know, to love God with all our being. It’s by this that Christ’s followers are known. As Jesus is quoted in the Gospel: ‘By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. To love God is to keep Jesus’ word, and he reminded his followers that love is the fulfilling of God’s Law.
So we can conclude that, loving Christ shows its integrity by loving one another. It’s in our actions towards one another and our neighbour that our authenticity is revealed.
Living an authentic Christian life: I do believe that all of us here genuinely want to be authentic in our following of Christ, but it’s not that easy. We know that we fall short just as the religious people of the Old Testament were unable to keep the law and the religious leaders were called, by Christ, hypocrites. So how can we, in fact, live an authentic Christian life if we fail so often to walk the talk?
Our extract from John’s Gospel today comprises comforting words in this respect. Firstly, Jesus assures his followers by saying, in effect, if you keep my words, God will love you and not only that He, and Jesus, will come to you and make their home with you. So, we won’t be alone in the struggle for authenticity. But how can that happen when God the Father and Jesus are in heaven?
Jesus explains: The Father will send his Holy Spirit who, in being received in one’s heart, becomes the means by which God the Father and the Son make their home with us. The Holy Spirit connects us directly to God the Father and the Son in heaven; perhaps a bit like the way we are connected to each other by our mobile phones, wherever we are in the world.
Being led and taught by God: This is the means by which the church is governed and guided by God: not primarily by human reason or deduction, even if that is in using the Scriptures – many have been led astray and acted wickedly using the scriptures to justify their actions. To be authentic as Christians, we need to receive this gift of the Holy Spirit sent by God to enable an authentic Christian life. Even when we read or listen to the Scriptures, we must be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to the church. By this the church continues to be guided and taught. And sometimes, God leads us into new ways of thinking and seeing the world. ‘The Holy Spirit will teach you everything’, Jesus told his disciples, and will remind you of his words. When we receive and keep Jesus’ words in our heart then the Spirit of God brings them to our attention when we need to be reminded of them.
Attentiveness usually comes in prayer, especially corporate prayer. So please don’t forget the crucial role of prayer together in discerning the direction of this church as you move forward into the next season of Christ’s work here.
Receiving God’s peace: One Gospel account has Jesus breathing on his disciples (clearly not in Covid days :) and he says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!’. In this way he imparts his peace; that is, the peace of God which surpasses understanding. He continues, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid!’
Having received the Spirit of God we are to be careful to resist the temptation to be troubled, anxious, or afraid. But rather to trust in God’s unfailing love and faithfulness, to guide and keep us in the nexus of his will.
So, let’s ask the Lord to fill us, individually and corporately, with his divine Spirit that we may be guided, taught and kept in God’s wonderful purposes for us; for he is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine by the work of his Spirit with us, and we will receive Christ’s peace.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
I want to begin this week by saying a bit about the human voice. It’s something hugely significant in scripture – God speaks the world into being, God dictates the ten commandments to Moses, God’s voice splits cedar trees and triggers lightning in the psalms, the Spirit of God speaks through the prophets as we hear in the Creed, and Jesus the Word of God comes to verbalise the announcement of the kingdom of God and eternal life for all who follow him.
We don’t know much about the origins of language itself, but spoken languages with structure and intent do seem to be unique to humans. Most of us use our voices to communicate, and those to whom we speak are equipped with ears and all the right decoding apparatus to hear and understand what we say – at least when we share the same language. And of course, for some that means using a sign language to do the speaking and the ‘hearing’ too.
The other thing I find fascinating about voices is how unique they are – we each have our own voice which grows and develops as we get older. But voices are recognisable throughout our lives. I have a recording of me chatting to my grand-parents when I was aged 14, and I think if I played it (which I’m not going to) you’d find it instantly recognisable as me.
We remember peoples’ voices very clearly. I wonder – can you recall or imagine the voices of a few well-known people? Margaret Thatcher? Nelson Mandela? Judy Dench? Danny Dyer? Brian Blessed? Claudia Winkleman? Ian Hislop?
If you know them at all you’ll recall how their voices sound. We can remember voices we haven’t heard in years – I certainly remember the voices of my parents and grand-parents and many more.
And if we add singing to spoken voices we find we can recall words much more easily – I’m sure we all have our store of song lyrics we can sing along to. It’s much easier to remember words if you sing them – that’s one of the reasons we like to sing together in church, and why it’s important to join in even if you don’t feel you have much of a singing voice. Personally, I often feel a strong sense of the presence of God as I sing – whether that’s plainchant or a choral anthem or a contemporary worship song.
But Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
So how do we hear the voice of Jesus? How do we learn it so it is recognisable?
I think perhaps this is one of the things people worry about most as they begin to be part of a church community. How is my prayer answered? What sort of superpower have these Christians got who can hear Jesus speaking to them?
Well, perhaps some people do literally hear the voice of Jesus, but I don’t think that’s usually what we mean when we say we hear Jesus’ voice – mostly we mean developing our relationship with Jesus. So here are a few ways we do get more familiar with that voice, and with a sense of being close to Jesus and recognising him as friend:
First, the tradition of the church is that we can find God in silence. We are bidden to be still, to listen. Having time in our day to put aside the noise and bustle of daily life and simply be with Jesus in prayer is pretty important.
That’s why it’s so good that Mollie is starting up the new contemplative prayer sessions a couple of times a month. I’m sure that will be a really helpful way in to that stillness if you can make it. Quiet Days and Retreats can also be great for giving yourself this space.
Then second, of course there is the bible itself. As we explore the written word so we come to know the living Word of God – Jesus. You might do this in daily reading, and there are plenty of apps or printed notes that can help with that, or you might take a gospel and read it through in the course of a month.
Or, of course, you’d be welcome to join our All Saints Plus zoom group on Tuesday evenings when we explore the gospel passage for the following Sunday. That’s an informal way in – no experience is necessary, and you’ll find a warm welcome as we simply chat through what might be important about the passage, and what that prompts in us.
Or thirdly, you might combine some of that and spend time praying before the Blessed Sacrament kept in our Lady Chapel for that purpose – praying in a space where Jesus is close really helps us focus.
As we do those things, we start to know Jesus better and better, and so we begin to be able to realise in what ways he is calling us to follow him. So whilst we may not directly hear his voice, little by little on our journey as disciples (followers) we have a closer relationship with Jesus. Hopefully, we are able to share our joys and sorrows more easily, and we are more able to feel, to know in our hearts, his loving assurance in response.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me”
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I confess I don’t find the whole sheep/shepherd image all that helpful – I think all those pictures of white Jesus holding a cuddly lamb rather put me off it in my youth and the reality of middle eastern shepherding is rather different.
But this Sunday is a reminder that we are supposed to be listening out for the voice of Jesus, and then to follow his call.
So to end with, as we pray for a closer relationship with our Saviour, I want to use a well-known traditional hymn lyric as we invite Jesus to be heard in our lives more clearly…
O let me hear thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten, or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou Guardian of my soul.
Derek Lancaster, LLM
Acts 9:1-6, John 21:1-9
Introduction: Shortly we’ll baptise Mikayla Rose into the household of the Christian faith, when she’ll become a baptised member of the worldwide, multicultural, multinational Christian church. Although very diverse in its local manifestation, the church is just one thing: it’s the Body of Christ, that is, a living organism working together in the world, guided and filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, the powerful presence of Jesus. When one is baptised, this gift of the Holy Spirit is not only available to each baptised member of the church but also the essential aspect which makes us one with all other baptised members of the church around the world who have received the Spirit of Christ Jesus. It’s that which makes this amazing and perpetually growing church the Body of Christ – the physical presence of Christ in the world. So, we say ‘We believe in one holy and catholic church’ – ‘catholic’, meaning all embracing and including a wide variety.
The Gift of Faith: This is such a wonderful thing to be a part of. But how does that happen? What leads people to want to get baptised or have their children baptised? It happens because of the gift of Faith; this is not something we are just persuaded about through clever arguments but rather a revelation by God. It is, indeed, a gift. As the Jesus put it, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’
How does it feel to know that Jesus chose you and called you to be his disciple – his witness in the world to make God’s ways known in word and deed?
Faith is an amazing gift which leads us to want to follow Christ and to be part of this thing which Christ founded: his Church, his one, incredibly diverse multicultural body called to transform the world; not in isolation as individuals but as active members of a local community; that is, the local church. Each church acts as a hub for the work to which we’re all called – a community which enables us to grow in love and understanding of our calling – a community which sends us out at the end of each gathering ‘to love and serve the Lord’ – to fulfil the purpose for which we were called.
Faith Changes everything: I remember being strongly influenced by someone called Vic Jacobson: he was a convicted armed robber who, when in prison had a visitation, as he put it, from Jesus, who said, I’m calling you for a new and divine purpose in your life. This experience completely changed his life’s direction and purpose; he became an extremely fruitful Baptist minister whose story continues to impact me, some 50 years after I met him. This gift of faith, which God initiates and gives us, changes us and is the means by which we receive the power and heavenly gifts we need to fulfil our calling.
This is what happened to Saul of Tarsus who, whilst in the actual process of hunting down believers in Jesus to imprison them, encountered the risen Jesus in the most powerful of divine experiences. He became known as Paul – St Paul - and his letters to early and diverse Christian communities in what is now Turkey, Italy and Greece have had, and continue to have, a powerful influence in shaping the church.
Similarly, the disciples’ encounter with the risen Jesus of which we heard in our Gospel reading today, fundamentally changed them. And their witness and writings still change the hearts of those who read their words which are found in the New Testament part of the Bible. Let’s not neglect to read them and allow them to change us all our life.
Conclusion: So, I pray that today, not only will Mikayla’s life have a new and wonderful, divine purpose; but also, that the Faith God has given each of us will be powerfully rekindled, that this church, going forward, will flourish and be fruitful beyond our imagination. Amen.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
Acts 5.27-42; John20.19-31
I wonder if you’ve ever been to see a brilliant film or had an amazing meal at a restaurant or simply been bowled over by a magnificent view. Then you’ve told a friend about it saying, you really must see this or go there? And you’ve been surprised by the less than enthusiastic reception you’ve received; not because they didn’t believe you, but because they weren’t there to experience it for themselves.
Well, this is partly what’s happening in our gospel reading today. The disciples in the house haven’t yet experienced the presence of the risen Jesus among them. Mary Magdalene has come back from the tomb full of her early morning encounter with Jesus. This doesn’t seem to make any difference to the way the rest of them are feeling at that time. They are unable to share her excitement simply because they weren’t there.
Now it’s evening and they are locked in the house ‘for fear of the Jews’. A word about this: the disciples themselves were all Jewish so this can’t possibly be referring to the whole nation. It’s far more likely to be referring to those who were involved in the plot to remove Jesus. The disciples were afraid of being arrested because of their association with Jesus. ‘
Suddenly Jesus is there with them and greeting them with the words ‘peace be with you’, that shalom, that deeper peace which only God can bring. He also breathes on them and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit, with the words ‘if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.’ Many commentators have attempted to interpret these words. I’ve always found them difficult. Sandra Schneiders, a religious sister and an American theologian, points out that in the Greek, the word for ‘sins’ is not repeated in the second half. She offers a different reading. ‘Of whomever you forgive the sins, they (the sins) are forgiven them; whomever you hold fast (in the sense of embrace) they are held fast. So the persons are held fast, not the sins. That seems to make much more sense.
Jesus provides what they need and there is no more talk of fear.
Thomas is not present on this occasion, so when he hears the others have seen Jesus, he like the others earlier, is not convinced. He has not yet had the experience they had had. A week later he is with them. Once again Jesus appears among them and greets them and invites Thomas to put his hand in his side. There is no condemnation, Jesus simply offers him what he needs. And Thomas responds with a statement of faith.
Thinking about the disciples gathered in that house, how might they have been feeling, what might they have been experiencing?
First, perhaps they were immobilised by their fear of being arrested; maybe also they were afraid because most of them had failed Jesus when he needed them most. They were torn apart with grief; they were in despair – he wasn’t the Messiah after all; they had committed themselves wholeheartedly to Jesus and his teaching, given up everything to be with him and he’d let them down. They could see no future ahead of them.
So what changed for them? Certainly not Mary Magdalene bringing news of her encounter with Jesus. No, it was the presence of Jesus.
But what about us today and the situation in the world? If we think about what is happening around us at the moment: so much destruction in Ukraine, so many people grieving, so many stories of families who followed the rules and therefore couldn’t be with their loved ones as they lay dying of covid during the lockdowns; not even able to say their final goodbyes at a funeral service; stories of significant events being postponed because of restrictions; recent increases in the cost of living, with people having to choose between eating and heating. We have heard or read of so many people telling their stories of loss. There is an enormous amount of grief at the moment – just as the disciples were experiencing.
However, we do not live in those times. But we do have the Holy Spirit to bring us that sense of God’s presence and the scriptures to bring us the hope of new life, especially in this easter season. The light of Christ cannot be extinguished.
Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the disciples gathered in that house and commissioned them to go out and tell the world that he had conquered death. Our reading this morning ends with the writer of the gospel, telling the disciples, and us, that his purpose in relating the stories, or signs as he refers to them, was so that all might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing this would bring them life. There are three words for life in Greek whereas we only have one in English – here the word used is ‘zoe’ which means eternal life. He’s talking about something greater than simply living and breathing which is the meaning of the other two words.
Let us pray that we too may be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate priest
Reference: Luke 24:1-12
Introduction: From the earliest days of the church the six weeks leading up to Holy Week and Easter Day were weeks of preparation, through learning from the Scriptures, through abstinence and prayer, - preparation for holy baptism for a new birth into the Christian Faith; for a new start in life with new hope and its associated joy and peace. For those already baptised, it was a season of intentionally drawing back to God once again, for we do so easily drift away; and hence we learn to be God’s people once again.
Today’s great celebration of New Birth: So today, Easter Day, is the great celebration of new birth into our Christian Faith, into becoming members of a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a holy people belonging to God; called and set apart to be witnesses in the world to God’s love and his saving work through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection from the dead. This is your calling and mine and will be that of those being baptised today. We are a holy people with an extraordinary and wonderful purpose in the world. Whatever we are doing at work or at leisure we are called to be a people who make Christ known in both deed and word. As it is true that once one is ordained in the church as a priest, one remains a priest ‘till death, so also it is true that once one is baptised into the Christian Faith, once we have responded to God’s call to follow Christ, we are his forever – a holy people, set apart. Yes, it requires the sacrifice of other purposes in life, but it’s rewards are unfathomable, both in this world and in the next. All the riches of heaven become ours in Christ Jesus.
The joy and fruit of the Resurrection life: So, on this Resurrection morning, we recall our new birth, our death and resurrection into a new life as a Christian – there is no higher purpose on earth. And this new birth is enabled by our turning away from all sin – dying to those aspects of our life that hinder our calling and mar our soul. And then we turn to Christ, to the way that brings life in all its fulness – a life with its struggles, yes; but also a life full of hope and assurance, with its accompanying joy and peace.
It’s a life in which we discover, time and time again, God’s faithfulness and goodness in both good times and bad. We discover the authority given to us in our prayers, for the prayers of a faithful person has great power in their effect. When filled with the divine presence of God’s Holy Spirit, that gift offered to all who believe in Christ, then we do make a significant difference in the world. We become a blessing to our communities, a bringer of hope, a healer of the sick, a supporter of the sufferer, a welcomer to the stranger and a carer of the poor. And more than that, we become signposts to the one who saves us from the power and fruit of our sins; to him who brings hope from despair and ultimately brings life out of death. This holiest of days we celebrate the risen all-powerful Jesus, King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace, who will come again as Judge of the living and the dead, bringing at last, peace and justice to all the earth. In him we place our trust and hope. And we will not be disappointed at the end! Hallelujah!
Conclusion: So, let’s not hesitate to enter again, wholeheartedly, the faith into which we were baptised that we may know again the joy of our salvation. May Easter joy fill your soul today!
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17,31b-35
Do you know what I have done to you, Jesus asked the disciples. Well, the short answer is no; the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had done. That’s clear from Peter’s reaction, and he was probably only saying what the others were thinking.
So Jesus he began to explain to them. We should remember that washing the dusty feet of guests who’d been invited to a meal was usually the task of the servants. It was a dirty job. It was part of the tradition of hospitality. It indicated to those arriving that they were welcome guests. In that sense it was not only necessary, but symbolic. By undertaking the task of a lowly servant, Jesus has turned this action on its head. He has set them an example. He has transformed this necessary action into an act of love and told them to do the same. And then asked them ‘do you get it?’
This wasn’t the only tradition that Jesus turned upside down on that evening. We heard about the first Passover meal in our first reading. The people were told : this day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. Obviously the way it was observed had already changed and developed by Jesus’ time.
Our second reading reminds us of the meal Jesus had shared before he washed the disciples’ feet. He gave the Passover meal a new meaning as he broke the loaf of bread and told them to do it in remembrance of him. Taking the cup of wine he told them remember him whenever they shared the cup, saying ‘ as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.’ This passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church predates the gospel accounts of the Last Supper. These are the words we hear in the Eucharistic prayer and when the priest breaks the bread.
As we re-enact this symbolic action, and later share in bread and wine at the Lord’s table, in what ways might we show Jesus’ love to one another? I wonder what needs turning on its head in our own time if we intend to take seriously Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as he loved them. John tells us something of the extent of Jesus’ love at the beginning of our gospel reading.
Our reading ends with this reiteration of this costly love. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
As we begin this Triduum, these great three days of continuous worship, let us pray that we may enter more deeply into the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and continue to follow his example of unconditional love.
The Revd. Jackie Lock, Associate Priest
John 12:1-8 - Mary Anoints Jesus
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘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.’
Introduction: Since the earliest days of Temple worship in Jerusalem and within church worship olive oil has been used for anointing. It is an outward and visible sign of God’s actual anointing of a person, setting them apart (consecration) for ministry or Christian service. Furthermore, within the Church’s ministry it is used in Baptism, Confirmation, for healing and in preparation for death and burial. In short, it is an outward act signifying an intervention by God at significant moments in the spiritual journey of God’s people.
Gospel: Today’s Gospel extract marks the beginning of the last phase of Jesus’ life and ministry, just 6 days before the Feast of Passover at which Jesus was crucified. Passover, of course, was the annual reminder of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt around 1200BC, under the leadership of Moses. In particular, it focussed on the passing over of the Hebrew dwellings by an angel of death so that they were spared the death of their first-born son. This was to be the last of the 10 plagues of Egypt and became the means by which the Hebrew slaves escaped. Poignantly, in order that the inhabitants of these dwellings were unharmed the blood of an unblemished lamb was to be daubed on the door lintels. Thus began the notion that the blood of an innocent lamb would save people from death. And hence, the words of our liturgy, ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.’
Also, poignantly, today’s Gospel account occurs at the home of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead after 4 days in a cave tomb. It’s the context in which Jesus had said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though they die, will live.”
You can imagine how grateful they were to Jesus for having restored Lazarus back to them from the grave. And Jesus loved this particular family, which is probably why he chose to stay with them for what he knew would be the last days of his life. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet was likely to have been a sign of their own love for Jesus as well as their deep gratitude.
Mary used nard for this foot anointing, which was extremely expensive. It’s the sort of thing a family would have to save for some 30 years to buy, perhaps for an extravagant funeral. So, this was an act of extraordinary devotion and gratitude.
But Judas Iscariot objects as he held the funds for the disciples. “Couldn’t this perfume have been soled and the money given to the poor?” No doubt once he had taken his share.
But Jesus tells Judas to leave her alone as she was, in fact, doing something far more significant than Judas realised. Through his hardness of heart, Judas had become blind to the deeper things of God, and was, therefore, unmoved by Mary’s act of devotion. She was, in fact, anointing Jesus for his death and burial. For this purpose she had bought it. She had been responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, even if she had not grasped the gravity of what she was doing. She was following the divine movement within her, which Jesus immediately recognised.
Attentiveness to God’s activity: One aspect of our Christian calling is to be attentive to God’s activity in our midst. For this, our hearts need to be open to God with a spirit of humility. It is a spiritual act made possible by the divine activity of God’s Holy Spirit within us. It’s a good discipline, having repented of any sin of which we are aware, to ask to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit afresh. In so doing we become equipped to recognise God’s activity amongst us. As we learn the practice of being attentive, so we begin to notice what’s happening in the spirit – the deeper and hidden, though no less real, things.
The Ministry of Anointing with oil: Today, during the administration of Holy Communion, I will, with support of two others be available for anointing with oil; that is, oil which was consecrated by Bishop Steven last Maundy Thursday for the purpose of facilitating God’s healing. During this brief act of anointing, we will be attentive to the moving of God’s Spirit, who may direct our prayers and thoughts. In short it is an opportunity for you to come to God for healing or other spiritual work, the oil being the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual activity of God through this act.
Please, do come and allow God to meet you at your point of need. This ancient ministry, instituted by God, is there for your blessing.
Conclusion: On this Passion Sunday, as we journey with Christ through the last two weeks of his life, through the valley of the shadow of awful suffering and death, we can be assured that his act of sacrificial love, as the Lamb of God, saves us from the bitter pains of eternal death and leads us into the new resurrection life in all its glory and fulness. May God lead you on this journey and bring you to a joyful and renewed Easter morning.
The Revd Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
Exodus 2:1-10 and John 19:25b-27
Anyone who has ever watched Peppa Pig will know that it is mummy pig that holds the Pig family together. She is always smartly dressed, works from home, never loses her temper. Peppa and her brother George, always appear well fed and clean, obviously before the jumping in muddy puddles bit, and the programme makes no secret that it is due to the nature and hard work of Mummy Pig. Daddy Pig, on the other hand, is often seen to be a bit silly, always being shown up by perfect Mummy Pig and held to hostage by Peppa and George who rule the roost with tantrums and demands.
It is quite the world away from the scene where ‘normal’ families were depicted in mainstream television – I am thinking along the lines of 80’s favourites such as Little House on the Prairie which, combined with perfect fashion sense of the day and model good looks, the dad of the family was in charge, and everyone looked happy. And then we have the complete family dysfunction of ‘Keeping up with Kardasians’ and the like – no real need for elaboration there.
It is reasonably obvious that the examples I have mentioned are worlds apart from what real life truly is. Popular culture changes over the years, but what stays the same is the pressure of image – of trying to fit in with the normal, of being a certain way. And that living this way will lead to success, whatever the definition of success may be. Strewn along the wayside are the casualties – those who have struggled to achieve the impossible in an imaginary competition.
We all know that life in general is a wonderful patchwork of bright and dark colours, glowing sections and fading areas and that is reflected in our readings this morning, that makes no secret of the fact that life is not black and white. They include stories of heartache, which is contrasted by moments of tender comfort which have power to heal and enable us to carry on. We hear of how Moses’ mother took a leap of faith which ensured the safety of her baby and his guaranteed protection from a rather unexpected carer. Then in our gospel reading, Jesus, in his dying moments, ensures that his mother and friend will have each other to depend on and care for in his absence. What both these readings remind us of is God’s parenting, which is no false, demanding image that we might see on television or from heavily photoshopped celebrities, but the real thing – the parenting we all need, and crave, and we can sense its importance.
However, we don’t always remember to come to God for his parenting and love. All too often we search for it in the world, from those that look as if they have it ‘all together’, from the media, and find ourselves let down as a result. God’s arms are the ones that embrace all of us, giving us hope by holding us all in those loving arms, and setting us on our feet again.
What I personally find very comforting is that we don’t have to pretend with God that there aren’t any troubles, we all know that the world is far from perfect. We also do not have to pretend that we are always managing or holding it all together. God knows what human life is all about through his son, Jesus. He knows the heartaches and the conflicts. He knows how vulnerable we become when we love, and we care. We have hope through Christ, but we need to know where to look. Look for the colours, look for the light, taking strength from knowing that God is in control. Listen to his guiding voice and look for signs of his love in the beauty of the world around us and in each other. That is the best message that Mothering Sunday can give – a message of hope, love, and care for all.
Robyn Connelly, Children’s and Families Minister
I’m going to start this sermon on the subject of poo. Well, manure really, which is a slightly nicer word as I’m sure we’ll all agree. And it’s also a biblical word, as we just heard, so that’s ok then.
You see, manure can be both a problem and a blessing. If you’re a dairy farmer, you have to deal with around 50kg of manure per cow per day (according to the internet). The UK’s cows produce 38 million tonnes of the stuff every year. So, it’s really quite important to have a manure management plan if you’re a dairy farmer, otherwise the farmhouse would quickly become uninhabitable.
So, the manure is processed and used as fertiliser on fields that grow crops, to help them grow better, because it is full of good nutrients.
So now you know. But as sermons are meant to unfold something about God, rather than agricultural practice on the modern dairy farm, let’s turn to our Gospel passage.
So there’s a man and a gardener discussing the poor performance of their fig tree. The man has kept coming back each year to see if there are any figs on the tree, but with no luck. I gather from the hive mind that is the All Saints Plus group that fig trees are just, well, like that. So the man’s had enough and wants to cut it down, but the gardener urges patience, while he puts some manure on the ground to help the tree bear fruit, and he asks the man to give it another season. Hence the introduction to the subject of manure and fertiliser a moment ago.
But what is this really about? Luke tells us it’s a parable – a story with a meaning. I reckon that the man is God the Father, and the gardener is Jesus. We’ll meet him as a gardener again in a few weeks, remember…
Anyway, they’re having a chat – it’s rather good to think of the Father and the Son having a chat about the garden, I think. But of course, they’re talking about more than that.
See, I think the fig tree represents the broken world – God has tried to get Israel to bear fruit for the world, to share the love of God, but it’s not gone too well.
Now Jesus has come to be the True Vine so we can become fruit-bearing branches. And Jesus is offering to provide the manure for the unsuccessful enterprise – somehow ‘I am the manure of the World’ didn’t make the cut for the published edition of John’s gospel… can’t think why.
But more seriously, what is going on is that Jesus is taking the muck, the waste, of broken humanity and is using it to transform the world. At the cross, Jesus submits himself to painful suffering and death out of love for the world, and by rising again he transforms even death itself and provides a path, a conduit, to eternal and abundant life – on earth as in heaven.
And the promise, the good news, is that we are called to bring all of our mucky, manure-y selves, sinners that we are, and repent – turn to Christ for forgiveness - so that we can share in that risen life.
In the other part of the gospel passage there’s some more explanation – bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own – manure happens, we might say.
When bad things happen to us or people we know, they simply happen. They do not happen because they sinned, or worse, because God just wants to punish them. And of course, Some people actively do bad things, too – they bring the manure upon themselves.
Manure happens. It’s a feature of our broken world – we don’t really know why, but we know there is a solution at least. For God longs for us to turn, to repent – to process our manure – to return to his loving arms. Every human has the choice to do that.
‘Ho, All who are thirsty, come to the water, come and buy without price, come and eat’ – as Isaiah said in the earlier reading. All are invited to that abundance of life which is found in a life well-rooted, grounded, earthed in the love of God.
So, each Sunday, or every time we come to the Eucharist, we bring our sins – for ‘we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us’, as the old Prayer Book puts it.
And we lay down our sins as we turn again to God, and we receive absolution, the forgiveness of God at the prayer of the priest. And then we step forward once more, receiving the fruit of Jesus’ sacrifice in bread and, pray God soon again, in wine. We remember how Jesus’ broken body and outpoured blood was and is offered to save us from ourselves as we’re filled up with fresh grace in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And we’re then called to share that blessing with the world.
Like the cow manure becoming fertiliser, our manure-y sins are problems transformed into blessings for our community. We are doing that in many ways at All Saints, and we see some of the fruit of that as we welcome some folk who are struggling on the edge of our society, and as we pray for, and offer our support for, Ukraine, or as we explore scripture together at All Saints Plus, or come to the Lent book club, or have a chat over craft work, or share our gift of singing, or share worship together in all our diversity and our different generations.
Manure happens, and blessing happens, and abundance of life happens – even in the tough times. And doesn’t our world need more and more of that Good News just now?
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life, we who drink his cup bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world. Amen
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister
Introduction: I recall a poignant moment in 1985 when Jenny and I visited the small chapel on the side of the Mt of Olives named ‘Dominus Flevit’ – which is Latin for ‘The Lord wept’. It is teardrop shaped reflecting the tears of Christ as he wept over Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jerusalem….How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
A sad choice: It's a deep lament, issuing out of Christ’s love for Jerusalem and its people. How he longed for their response to his coming to them, to the ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’! He came for their blessing and to guide them back to the path of peace and fulfilment – back to the purpose for which they were born. As Abraham’s descendants their very existence and land was to be a blessing to all nations, according to the Covenant God made with Abraham; Jerusalem herself was to be the city of peace for the world, from which would ensue the just and gentle rule of God. In their Messiah’s rejection all this would be lost until he comes again. What a tragic choice his own people made in that day in his rejection. The city has not been at peace since, and the Temple, the heart of their worship, was to be destroyed within a generation, never to return until the Messiah comes in power and glory at the conclusion of this age.
Tragic choices: What a tragic choice Vladimir Putin made to dominate the Ukrainian people by force! Russians fighting their own brethren. How Jesus must be weeping over the situation, the awful and unnecessary loss of life and over President Putin’s rejection of the ways of negotiation and peace! Why do people make such tragic and dark choices which cause so much human suffering?
I understand that the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, a close friend of President Putin, is working privately behind the scenes. President Zelensky continues to try and negotiate a just peace or at least for a safe passage out of the country for Ukrainian refugees.
As well as President Macron, Prime Minister Bennett of Israel is trying to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. He met with President Putin last Saturday (5th) at the Kremlin and spoke 3 times on the phone with President Zelensky. Although he believed the chances of success were slim, he stated that Israel had a moral obligation to ‘leave no stone unturned.’ Zelensky thanked Israel for its support. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if his visit did have a positive impact; for the possibility of peace to ensue from Jerusalem? Unlikely, but might an historic event hold sway over Mr Putin, even at this late hour?
The following story is written in a book by Rabbi Reuvan Elbaz; might it be true?
This happened several years ago, in the midst of Hanukkah. In Moscow, a large Hanukkah party was held for the Jewish community, which was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Russia (Rabbi Berl Lazar Shlit"a) and the President of Russia - Mr. Vladimir Putin.
The Chief Rabbi held a speech on Hanukkah eve, after which the President was given the honour to speak in the presence of the large crowd of Jews that had gathered there.
Putin stood up to speak and surprised the crowd: "Please listen, Jews, as I want to tell you a real story that happened here in Russia, I’m familiar with all its details.
"A poor family lived in one of the neighbourhoods - two parents and one small child. The parents worked hard from morning until night to make a living, while their child returned to an empty and lonely home until his parents came back. He sat in the small, dark house, hungry and lonely, joyless, with nothing to do, until his parents came home and gave him some food.
And there, in their neighbourhood, lived a modest and good Jewish family. Every time they saw the little boy waiting alone in the house, they would approach him and ask him if he had anything to eat. In most cases, he would say no, and they immediately did their best to ensure he had warm and delicious food to eat, without ever asking for anything in return. On Shabbats and Jewish holidays, they invited him to their home and served him delicacies and meats, all out of the goodness of their generous hearts, they were compassionate and always looked for ways to make him feel better.
So, for a long time, the non-Jewish boy became a part of the family in their home, he received a large portion of food, same as the rest of the family members. When the Jews saw that the boy's clothes were ripped, they made sure to give him warm and cosy clothes suited for the Russian cold. This kid didn’t know how to thank them, they just saved his life every day.
Dozens of non-Jewish neighbours, who knew about this, didn’t even pay him any attention, and it was only this family that cared for others, and were looking at what was happening around them, who saved his miserable soul."
President Putin ended his speech with a shocking revelation and said, "Dear Jews, do you want me to tell you who that poor, miserable boy was whose life was enlightened by Jews?”
Then he went on to say: “This was me... and I will never be able to forget the sympathy and compassion of the Jews that cared for me. To this day, I can still hear the melody of the meal hand-washing blessing, Hamotzi, and Birkat HaMazon said by the family members whenever I attended their Shabbat and holiday meals.
I don’t forget, dear Jews, the good you’ve done to me, I am the president of the superpower that is Russia, and hence, our relationship is so good, it’s all thanks to how much you care about the others, and the poor!”
Although this, in no way excuses Putin's criminal behaviour. It does highlight the power of good deeds. We never know what long-term effects and results might come from even a single good deed we do today.
Conclusion: Even if the story is just apocryphal, its essence of acts of kindness bearing good fruit remains true for all time.
Let’s, therefore, make kind deeds a deliberate practice this Lent, to accompany our prayers for Ukraine. In due season, they will bear good fruit. Who knows? Our acts of kindness may just change history.
The Rev’d Hugh Ellis