Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ash Wednesday St Bartholomew, Brighton 14.2.18

Remember, man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.  If Lent’s about deepening the inner life, about life in the Spirit, there’s paradox about the way it starts. The ashing rite is something physical done to our bodies. It's a reminder of bodily frailty and a call to distrust the flesh. In today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer the priest thanks God who by bodily fasting dost overcome vice, dost raise the mind and dost bestow upon us virtue and heavenly reward. 

In these forty days many of us resolve to give up a bodily comfort - sweet things, alcohol or whatever - so our inner life can profit. The Lord who died and rose seeks in this season our own dying and rising, death of self-orientation and rise of Christian service to him and to others. Fasting is a business-like devotion. You know its challenge to self-interest hour by hour All the time it says to us what the Baptist said of the Lord: I must decrease. He must increase.

The increase or prospering of the spiritual life links a lot to what we do with our bodies. As Christians in a rich, materialistic culture we do well to seize opportunities the liturgy provides in Lent, Advent and on Friday’s to assert ourselves over and above material comforts.

By adopting a Lent discipline we further check self-orientation. Recommitment to forms of Christian service is the other side of the coin, a sign of Christ’s resurrection life flowing in and through us. ‘Extras’ we take on in Lent can be transformative of both others and ourselves.

In comments released last month coincident with the World Economic Forum in Davos Bishop Rowan Williams, writing as chair of Christian Aid, said provocatively: ‘We have stopped asking what wealth is for. Lacking a coherent picture of what a good human life looks like, we have filled the gap with quantified measures that tell us little or nothing about how far flesh-and-blood human beings are flourishing in all aspects of their experience. For Christians, in particular, this is a serious failure: we are in danger of not thinking about what is involved in our belief that we are made in God's image, made for creative engagement in the lives of others that will build them up as they build us up. Wealth is instrumental to this, never an end in itself.’

To engage in Christian service with others builds them up as they build us up. God is no man’s debtor as the joy of giving demonstrates. On Ash Wednesday we’re marked with the Cross and that Cross could be seen as ‘I’ crossed out. The outward ashing rite expresses and assists through this Mass the special time ahead deepening inner devotion and challenging self-interest by more prayer and work for others. Through such action we’re to be taken out of our comfort zone to be reshaped more fully into the image of Christ crucified and risen.

Remember, man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return. That downbeat Genesis verse is matched by an upbeat one from Romans: if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 

A joyful, life-giving Lent lies ahead - let’s seize upon it!

Picture: Carracci’s Christ appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way

Saturday, 10 February 2018

St Bartholomew, Brighton Quinquagesima 11.2.18

God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6b)

The radiance of Jesus lightens the mind, warms the heart and energises the will.

Just as dynamite contains within itself potential energy that can be released to give light, heat and a surge of momentum so it is with Jesus Our Lord.

On the cusp of Lent we’re aware of the forward movement in the church calendar, with personal resolutions and the stripping away in the Liturgy present since Septuagesima.

Christianity goes forward by radiant energy as we come again and again before Jesus in word and sacrament and in the hearts of his faithful to see our minds, hearts and wills irradiated.

As Fr. Bull, one of the great Mirfield Fathers put it, the glad tidings of Christianity are in what Jesus Christ did for men and in the abiding energy of that work.

We gather at Mass this morning to be caught up afresh into that energy which shines from today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration when Our Lord’s clothes became dazzling white.

As we prepare to best keep Lent here’s an invitation to seek fresh illumination from the truth that is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21), fresh warming of our hearts by the Sacred Heart and fresh energising for active service from the working of his great power (Ephesians 1:19b).

All of this will flow from the radiance of Jesus, what the Apostle calls the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6b). As dynamite is ignited releasing potential energy into light, heat and momentum so our devotion can ignite a radiance from Jesus to light up our lives and through us light up a world so in need of that irradiation.

I want to suggest this ignition process has three dimensions – intellectual, devotional and practical and to encourage our preparation for Lent to be shaped accordingly.

First we seek irradiation - light - for the mind. We’re all students in church this morning.

I wonder when you last read a book about the Christian Faith.  Or even the Bible itself?

How can you hope to be a better witness unless you know your faith? If someone asked you why you thought Christianity was true would you be able to argue for the truth of the resurrection?

Our religion above all others is based on historical events we should be able to explain and defend. Have you looked at the trustworthiness of the New Testament resurrection accounts, all slightly different in their detail and so adding a ring of truth to things? How can we obtain the mind of Christ unless our minds are irradiated by the word of God?

The radiance of Jesus lightens the mind. It also warms the heart.

To gain the radiance of Jesus you need to be exposed to his radiant love. Christian friends, holy priests all of these help – but nothing can replace our individual business with God.

When did you last sit in church before the Blessed Sacrament? Has anyone ever commended to you the practice of quiet adoration in church of the reserved Sacrament? It’s a sort of extension of the sacred time of Holy Communion. ‘I look at Him and He looks at me’. That light that burns by the Tabernacle signals the radiance of Jesus. As we sit before the Lord present before us in the consecrated Bread there is not just a warming inside but a burning out of evil. I’ve heard it described as ‘spiritual radiotherapy’.

To welcome the radiance of Jesus into our hearts is a life-long struggle because of our fallen nature. We need a regular time of prayer, a discipline of self-examination and confession, a resolve to intercede for others, to give a proportion of our income to God’s work and so on. For all of us as St Bartholomew’s there’s the challenge to pray as best we can concerning the future of our parish.

The radiance of Jesus lightens the mind, warms the heart and then, lastly, it energises the will.

Where would our study and prayer be if it never led us into action, to be part of what Fr. Bull called the abiding energy of the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ?  We are here at Mass to gain that energy.
Just as the potential energy in an explosive is released to give light, heat and a surge of momentum so all Jesus attained through his life, death and resurrection is given to be celebrated and released so as to give power and direction to our lives.

It’s a good question to ask yourself as part of regular self-examination ‘how have I acted to transform my environment to be more as you, Lord, would want it in recent weeks? What have I done in my little way to change the world for good?

If the radiant energy of Jesus is in you, you should find yourself raiding the kingdom of fear with  love, encouraging those who are down, forgiving those who come against you harshly and providing for those in need from your own resources. This energy carries our lives forward to work for the kingdom of this world (to) become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15).

For such energising of will, warming of heart and illumination of mind we lift our hearts to the Father in this Mass. May the Son of God catch us afresh into his radiance as we lift our heart to the Blessed Trinity to whom, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be glory now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Baptism of the Lord (translated) St Bartholomew, Brighton 14.1.18

Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers? Acts 19:2

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a shade neglected in the western compared to the eastern Church. Today’s commemoration in the Eastern Orthodox community is the apex of Christmas known in Greek as Theophany, God’s revelation, with outdoor ceremonies literally chilling the blood, folk diving into pools made in the ice and the like. We’ll not go there - but we will go rather this morning to something or Someone who warms the heart: the Holy Spirit.

Today by the Holy Spirit Jesus was revealed as God’s Son, the Christ, the Anointed One so as to share with us Holy Spirit anointing and there’s nothing more warming to the heart than the Holy Spirit for none can guess its grace, till he become the place wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.

On this Feast of Christ’ Baptism we sing come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine and visit it with thine own ardour glowing! May we, like those disciples in Ephesus who hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit gain ardour (Acts 19:6). May we, like our Lord, anointed by the Spirit, hear God’s voice saying to us individually at this Mass, : ‘You are my Son, my daughter, with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11).

What me? You might ask. How could I be worthy of that? Of God filling my life, of the empowerment in love, joy and peace that Our Lord knew? Well he knew it in his flesh so you could know it! He was anointed so you could be anointed as John the Baptist said in the Gospel: I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.

Today we’re talking not just a one-off Theophany, or manifestation of God, but of the choice of and manifestation of God to you and I represented in our Christian allegiance and our sealing by the Spirit at our baptism, confirmation, and our welcoming Christ Sunday by Sunday in Holy Communion that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.

The Son of God became Son of Man so children of men could be children of God. That’s our good news which though in the providence of God, remains mighty strange!

Both Our Lord’s earthly origins and our own Christian origins thrill with paradox! As the preacher in All Saints, Margaret Street told us the other Sunday Christianity has an ‘extraordinary particularity’. Incidentally I told him afterwards I was helping here and he commented, you’ve got a bigger place to fill than we have! Very true - but the same Catholic religion in London-by-the sea as there at Brighton-in-land!

I’ve distracted you - that phrase ‘extraordinary particularity’ is a good one and is worth examining. Just as the wise men found there own way to Jerusalem but needed special revelation to find Bethlehem so the universal instinct for God needs revelation of where in particular we can find Him.

Christianity’s no man-made religion. It’s nothing made up - its revealed! God so loved the world he revealed - he gave - himself. That revelation unlike that of other faiths is rooted in well evidenced historical events, those we mark at Easter, and in the choice and call the Holy Spirit brings to individuals in every age.

It is as outrageous to logic that you and I welcome the Holy Spirit at this Mass as it is that the Founder of Christianity should appear in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King. That though is the recipe for salvation planned before the foundation of the world.

On this feast we ponder something given to us that goes beyond but not against reason - the privilege Christ shares with us as his sisters and brothers, children of God, who hear again with him those awesome words: ‘You are my Son, with you I am well pleased’.

The Son of God became Son of Man so children of men could be children of God. 

Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers? Yes, you did, but you need to truly believe it! Believe as surely as Our Lord Jesus is the particular Theophany or revelation of God that you in particular are, through the Spirit’s calling, in words spoken of you at your baptism, a child of God and inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

You have that grace - even if like sugar put in tea it needs stirring to sweeten the drink.
God sweeten our lives by stirring up the Spirit he’s put within us. May he bless us as we welcome his coming afresh by his Spirit into our lives in the most holy Sacrament. This is my body given for you.. this is my blood shed for you…  O Christian, recall your nobility! God has chosen you, made you his child and fills you with his Spirit!

Monday, 25 December 2017

Midnight Mass St Mary, Balcombe 2017

Any preacher at Midnight Mass speaks into a maelstrom of emotion.

Christmas is a milestone in lives and families bringing back memories of past joys and not least those we love but see no longer who’ve passed beyond this world.

It’s a feast of family. Even now I look back at the excitement of finding my Christmas stocking to be emptied before Church, the pillowcase of presents before lunch and an ongoing tradition of listening to the Queen at 3pm.

To enter the spiritual joy of Christmas though we have to go behind and beyond such experience however hard that can be.

To gain the forward looking newness of Jesus which is the spiritual force of tonight, our looking back needs to go further. Instead of looking back at our experience of the Feast, we’ve got to look back a lot further, beyond our lifespan and even the lifespan of Christianity to the Old Testament and make its eager longing for the Lord our own. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Those words of Isaiah are fulfilled by God’s speaking to us not just in words but personally through the arrival of his Son onto the earth. Isaiah’s brother prophet Micah, also writing 800 years before Christ, predicts the geography of tonight when he writes in Chapter 5 verse 2: You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.

Micah, Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, Zechariah, David and the Psalm writers, all witness to those summary words of expectation in Isaiah Chapter 9 that the day will come when they’ll say The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined. Israelites held – and Jews still hold by rejecting Jesus - that God will act in the future to redress the darkness in the world by bringing something new – Someone new.

When that newness broke into the world that first Christmas, Easter and Whitsun the writer of our second reading expresses the truth of it in an awesome UIKeyInputDownArrowsentence, Hebrews 1 verse 1: Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  Later on in that epistle the writer speaks of God’s appointment of Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday and today and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8). Something new, Someone new who can never grow old, in whom we too find newness tonight.

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. Those words from tonight’s Gospel put the Christmas message in a sentence repeated in another way by Saint John two chapters later: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Tonight we stand with the eager longing of Isaiah, Micah and the prophets before a revelation of God of immense spiritual force and possessing the capacity to turn our lives round tonight.

The one true and loving God planned and made human beings for eternal life with him.

Knowing that once made we’d need renewing again and again on account of the errors we’d make that dull our spirits God came to embrace us face to face. Love needs a body to express itself and in that way to bring renewal to the one who is loved. As God in the child of Bethlehem first embraced his mother he embraces us tonight through the physical elements of bread and wine we call Christmass.

The prophets cried out to God for 1000 years about the errors of the people but into their cries God spoke a promise that would be fulfilled on a time scheme of his own so that as St Matthew says, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King. (Matthew 2:1)

God who is love spoke through the prophets and then as the second reading says in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

I can point you tonight to the Bible and its witness to God’s speaking to us over 3000 years. I can point you to the Christian revelation of God in Jesus Christ 2000 years back and the building of St Mary’s to homage that truth 1000 years ago.

More powerfully and immediately though, my task as preacher is to point you to Someone outside the pages of history who is here for us right now. Someone new who is waiting to bring something of his unending newness right into your soul tonight in the Blessed Sacrament of his body and blood.

To be a Christian is to be made new, day by day and hour by hour, by welcoming the perpetual newness of God’s love in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6b)

Christmas isn’t ultimately about nostalgia but about newness gained through the unique reaching out of God to us in Jesus Christ.

May we sense with the prophets that gift of renewal which is ours day by day as we engage with the stupendous fact of God made flesh, made flesh to live in our flesh, Jesus, who came and died and rose, whose Spirit is knocking on the door of our heart tonight.

Jesus who came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

Lord Jesus, the same, yesterday, today and for ever, bring your newness to our souls tonight in this sacrament of your body and blood.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for you!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Advent 4 24th December 2017

How does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes by the Holy Spirit.

He comes by the Sacraments.

He comes by the Word of God.

He comes by holy people as they rub off on us.

He comes by circumstances – which links to a second question:

Why does Jesus come into our lives?

He comes to bring us into his life, death and resurrection – and here’s the rub.

Look, as the Church invites us to do so today, at his Mother.  She was first to welcome Jesus into her life – and where did it lead her?  She was led into hardship, led to a shaming pregnancy and a Cross of sorrows before taking the shine of glory.

I want Jesus in my life.  I want the shine of glory – but, if I am honest, I don’t want hardships!  

This is where Jesus sorts us out because it's by endurance of hardship that salvation is forged.

The great Christian writers speak of the need to gratefully accept most of what comes our way, including suffering and hardship.

Sharing life with Jesus means self-sacrifice.  

Mary gives us the clue.  I am the Lord's servant, she says in today’s Gospel, let it be for me according to the Lord's will and not my own.

Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, the sacraments and scripture.

He also gives us hardships but we have to decide whether to endure them or quit.

In that decision we bring Jesus closer or we push him further away.

Over the last four months it’s been a privilege to come alongside St Bart’s as part of the team of priests serving our pastoral vacancy. The lay leadership here is impressive in its fortitude.

As someone privileged to minister to the scores who enter our doors day by day I engage with folk enduring hardships directly or alongside a loved one. In listening to and talking with them I’m many a time left feeling I’m a fair weather Christian!

The means by which we grow in holiness aren’t necessarily sermons or books or forms of prayer, the right sort of retreat or spiritual guide.

The means of our sanctification, of our cleansing from sin, healing from hurt and so on lies in the day to day circumstances of our life as we welcome them as the Lord’s gift.

As we read in Psalm 112:6,7 the righteous will not be overthrown by evil circumstances...he does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that the Lord will take care of him.

The spiritual writer De Caussade in his book Self-abandonment to Divine Providence emphasises how our welcoming of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament Sunday by Sunday focuses the welcoming of the Lord in every circumstance that comes our way.

Jesus is as ready to meet us in the circumstances of our life as he is to meet us in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine.

To be glad deep down in your heart in every situation is a grace given by God, a grace we have to seek - just as Mary sought divine help to brave her expressed fear: How can this be?

If we aren't glad at heart it may be because we’re not fully submitted to God’s will revealed in the circumstances of our life. This leads me into a reminder. By a long standing tradition here at St Bart’s priests make themselves available for confession before the Feast of Christmas. You have a last chance to catch one of us over coffee if you desire to welcome from Our Lord the grace of absolution before Christmas Communion.

Jesus comes into our lives – by the Spirit, Sacrament, Scripture or by circumstances - to bring us into his own life, death and resurrection.

He is ready to help us face discomfort so that his resurrection life may grow in us by the Spirit and our old proud and sinful nature is further humiliated and put down.

As we prepare for Christmas may we have our spiritual ears open to hear God speaking into our lives so that we might decrease in self orientation and gain within us the love of Christ that will never fail.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Christ the King Holy Ascension, Settle 26.11.17

The 22nd verse of the first chapter of the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians: God has put all things under Christ’s feet.

Page 84 of Tom Twisleton’s poems (read from Tom’s poem book) in the Craven dialect:

Come unto Jesus, all ye who are weary,
Heavily laden, down-hearted, distress’d,
If the journey be rough, and the pilgrimage dreary,
Then come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

On Life’s rugged path, toil unaided no longer,
With your sorrows untold, and your sins unconfess’d;
Cast the weight of your burden on One who is stronger,
And come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

He debars not the poor, He excludes not the lowly,
All who earnestly seek, He will gladly receive;
He is loving and merciful, truthful and holy;
And His rest is for all who repent and believe.

Amen - I could sit down!  My first cousin twice removed has preached in rhyme as good a sermon as you could preach on the Feast of Christ the King.

I won’t sit down just yet - but the rest of what I say won’t add anything to those deeply Christian sentiments of local bard Tom Twisleton. The sentiments have stayed somewhat hidden so far over this weekend celebration of his Centenary so it's good to quote them in Settle’s pulpit. They were written for a local pulpit, Zion’s most likely, though Tom was friendly with a Vicar of Giggleswick in his day.

He’d been baptised in Giggleswick Church shortly after his birth in 1845 but his funeral in 1917 was conducted by a Free Church minister from his last home in Burley where he’s buried in God’s Acre cemetery. His life story is a reminder of Christian diversity and spur towards repairing fractures within the body of Christ that hinder our mission.

Tom Twisleton’s poems have been at the centre of this weekend in which the parish Church has partnered Settle Stories, the Museum of North Craven at the Folly, Craven District Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund in a celebration of dialect and poetry at the end of a year in which young people have given the lead. We obtained funding through Settle Stories for a heritage project officer in the person of Hazel Richardson. There’s a Centenary book for Tom about to be published which I commend to you, in which I provide the Foreword and, alongside the young people’s poems my own Ode to Tom which centres on the topical subject of Truth-telling. I read it in Church yesterday at Tom’s Memorial Service and there are take away sheets with it on at the back of Church.

I wouldn’t be in this pulpit speaking on Christ the King, not to mention cousin Tom, without the example and prayers of my father, Greg Twisleton, buried in the Churchyard and my mother, Elsie. Greg was born in 1900 above his parents shop near Car and Kitchen in the marketplace and knew Tom when he was a lad. Elsie was born in Hellifield, influenced by the parish priest Christian scholar Ernest Evans, who baptised me, and dedicated his book A Reason for the Faith to Elsie’s family. Later on both Elsie and I were impacted by Ernest’s friend, Hilary’s predecessor as Vicar, Fr Eric Ashby of blessed memory. Formerly a pillar of this Church Elsie, now 95, moved to Sussex in 2010. She lived first with Anne and I at Horsted Keynes and then, since 2013, at St Anne’s Convent home in Burgess Hill near our own retirement home in Haywards Heath. I have a short greeting from her to play for you recorded two weeks ago for the Twisleton family reunion yesterday at the Royal Oak, and for her friends here at Holy Ascension. It will be uploaded later to the Back in Settle Facebook group which now has 2400 members, almost as big as the population! Here she is to speak to you: (Play clip on iPad Pro)

As the oldest of the local Twisleton clan so to speak it is a great pleasure to be able to speak to you all on this Tom Twisleton Centenary weekend with the aid of modern technology. Being part of this community of Settle and Giggleswick was a very good time in my life. Happily married to Greg for nearly 30 years I know the importance of family celebrations and I’ve always valued Tom Twisleton’s poems. I regret not being with you in person but look forward to keeping in touch. May you all have a safe trip home and share future blessings. Elsie Twisleton.

Now back to St Paul and Christ the King. God has put all things under Christ’s feet.

Jesus is Lord – three words sum up the Christian faith.

Jesus is Lord.  The carpenter born in Nazareth who shows the world the love, truth and power of God – he is Lord. It is his name that brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

Secondly Jesus is Lord.  A human life of 33 years lived at the start of our era continues the same yesterday, today and for ever through the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7v16b).

Thirdly Jesus is Lord which means he is right above all that is or has been or will be.  Jesus is God’s final word to humankind. He is also to be the very last word over all each one of us.
This is what it means to believe in Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father who has put all things under the feet of Christ his Son. In Jesus a human being lives over all things in God.  Nothing gives more hope for the human race this. Here is the place heaven and earth come together.
As Pascal said Jesus Christ is the centre of all, and the goal to which all tends.

Or, moving the challenge of Jesus closer to the soul, Thomas Merton writes: As a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a little burning knot of heat that can set fire to a dry leaf or a piece of paper, so the mystery of Christ in the Gospel concentrates the ray of God's light and fire to a point that sets fire to the spirit of man.

Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1v17-19 is mine and yours on this morning’s Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Universal King: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Tom Twisleton again - his ‘Poetical Finish to a Sermon’, verses written at the request of the Preacher based on Matthew 11:28 ‘Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest’:

Come unto Jesus, all ye who are weary,
Heavily laden, down-hearted, distress’d,
If the journey be rough, and the pilgrimage dreary,
Then come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

On Life’s rugged path, toil unaided no longer,
With your sorrows untold, and your sins unconfess’d;
Cast the weight of your burden on One who is stronger,
And come unto Jesus - He promises rest.

He debars not the poor, He excludes not the lowly,
All who earnestly seek, He will gladly receive;
He is loving and merciful, truthful and holy;
And His rest is for all who repent and believe.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

All Souls Day at St Bartholomew's Brighton 2017

The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)

Our Lord is speaking here and now to us and all disciples. As disciples we open our hearts to his presence in word and sacrament and gain life, life in its fullness. That life comes to us here and now, as his free gift, and it sustains a spiritual resurrection only mortal sin can quench.

Moving on in today’s Gospel from the first to the last verses, from John Chapter 5 verse 25 on to verses 28 and 29:  The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice: and shall come forth, they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life: and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

Our Lord is speaking now of what is to come, of the physical resurrection, where his work as Saviour will be completed by his work as Judge.

Human beings will experience two judgements, first an individual judgement at the moment of death and second the general judgement which completes the first. At this Last Judgement on the day of Christ’s Return our individual destinies will be woven into those of all people and of the cosmos itself.

Hope in the face of that judgement is built on both the first and middle verses of today’s Gospel.

If, in the deadness of your soul, you’ve heard the voice of the Son of God you’ve experienced a coming to life in your soul and you don’t need to fear death and judgement. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Then, reading the middle two verses of the Gospel, as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself: and hath given him authority to execute judgement also, because he is the Son of Man. You might think God would see his Son’s suitability to judge the world in his being his Son, the Son of God but, no, in a phrase quite astonishing we’re told it’s his being Son of Man that fits him for that task. The Son is equipped to preside at the Last Judgement not because of his divinity but on account of his humanity.

You and I won’t be judged by the unthinkable standard of God but by the standard of humanity seen in Jesus Christ. Hence two beautiful verses that leap out from the awesome text of the Dies Irae of Requiem Mass:

Think, kind Jesus, my salvation caused thy wondrous incarnation:
leave me not to reprobation.

Faint and weary thou hast sought me: on the Cross of suffering bought me:
shall such grace be vainly brought me?

On All Souls Day the Dies Irae together with our black vestments sober us to face up to the enormity of death and judgement. The Epistle and Gospel remind us of grace, that death and favourable judgement for Christians have passed already which is the greatest good news. What could be better news than that we celebrate this evening? The only meaningful thing in life is what conquers death, and not what but Who!

Let the saintly Bishop John Austin Baker have the last word: I rest on God, who will assuredly not allow me to find the meaning of life in his love and forgiveness, to be wholly dependent on him for the gift of myself, and then destroy that meaning, revoke that gift. He who holds me in existence now can and will hold me in it still, through and beyond the dissolution of my mortal frame. For this is the essence of love, to affirm the right of the beloved to exist. And what God affirms, nothing and no-one can contradict.