Monday, 29 March 2010

Palm Sunday 28th March 2010

I hear – I forget. I see – I remember. I do – I understand.

The remembering and understanding of God’s love has come to Christians all through the centuries through what they have seen and done in Holy Week.

The Christian faith handed down from generation to generation is more caught than taught. It’s caught from holy lives and it is caught from holy actions – the actions we are, for example, about to go through in Holy Week.

The Church knows people hear and then forget so she puts the love of God before us in action this week. Just as God’s love came to us practically in Jesus, so this week we do something practical.

We go to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to Gethsemane, to Calvary and to the Tomb.

Actions speak louder than words in the Christian religion. Actions teach God’s love.

The aim of Holy Week is that we may own more fully what the Lord has done for us in his great love and catch more of what He has in store for us as individuals and as churches.

The outward rites of the Faith are mighty to teach, but they need backing up by a time of quiet reflection this Week.

My advice, if asked how to make the most of Holy Week, is come to the Liturgy, especially on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Come to the Liturgy, but also go to the Lord yourself in silence. With a Bible maybe. But in silence.

Listen. Listen and let the Lord speak to you personally of his great love for you and for all.

In reflecting on today’s liturgy I was drawn to the prophecy in the ninth chapter of Zechariah which it fulfils: Lo your King comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is the prophecy Christ fulfilled which we’re about to re-enact with palms and donkeys.

My eyes moved back a chapter in Zechariah from chapter 9 verse 9 to chapter 8 verse 23. There we read a prophecy that people would one day in the future come up to believers and say ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard it said that God is with you’.

My hope for Holy Week in Horsted Keynes is that the people of our parish may get more and more intrigued by God’s people here so they get drawn along, just as we hope a few will get drawn in to our procession this morning.

‘Let us go with you, for we have heard it said that God is with you’.May that prophecy come true among us as we live and express an ever more joyful faith in Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Lent 5 Worship 21st March 2010

What is worship and how can we better worship?

The other week I went on retreat to Mirfield for the inside of a week.I’d the courage to leave my iPhone behind. Like Samantha Cameron my wife, Anne complains that her husband is always fiddling with his gadget.

These gadgets help you do stuff but they get a grip on you. It’s hardly appropriate to go away on a retreat at such cost and yet to stay in the world of electronic demands, texts, e mails and voice mail all of which help with church organisation.

Retreat’s a time for forgetting the work of the Lord to recall the Lord of the work. I did my best to be Mary and not Martha.

This morning’s Gospel has this writ large. Martha served, we’re told, whilst 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. Whilst Martha was concerned for the practical dining arrangements Mary was concerned for Jesus with an instinct that time was running out for her to attend to him, to worship him in fact. The anointing indicated, as Our Lord confirms at the end of the passage, the forthcoming day of his burial. This incident Saint John sets six days before the Passover which is why we read it in the week before Holy Week.

To worship is to give worth and the most worthy is God.

When we give space to one another, give our friends our ear, we’re honouring them. When we give this hour to Jesus on a Sunday we’re doing like Mary sister of Martha, we’re anointing Our Lord with the perfume of word, song, sacrament, sacrifice.

To worship is to give God his due and because God is invisible this can seem mighty strange in a materialistic world. It was strange to the materialistic Judas Iscariot who questioned the woman’s worship of her Lord saying ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ ... 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.’

The worship of God is what we call gratuitous. As the dictionary defines this means given, done, bestowed, or obtained without charge or payment; free; voluntary or being without apparent reason, cause, or justification.
When we worship we adore God for his sake and not our own. Adoration has two senses, from the Greek word, prostrating ourselves before him, from the Latin, a kiss – ad oratio – from the mouth - of love.

Christian worship is the creature’s adoration of its Creator with, in and through Jesus Christ.

Martha’s sister Mary lavished costly ointment on Jesus before his death. On the Cross Our Lord offered that anointed body as perfect praise to his Father in the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the letter to the Hebrews says, is become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life.

The events we are poised to commemorate in Holy Week climax in the establishing of Christian worship as a human being is made a priest by the power of an indestructible life in the Lord’s resurrection.

There was worship in heaven before God came to earth and his Son, Our Lord Jesus, came to earth to bring us into that worship.

The first letter of Peter writes of our being a royal priesthood and our worship as a priestly people, gathering round the ordained priest at the eucharist, is one with the worship Jesus addresses to his Father with the communion of saints which brings heavenly worship to earth.

As we say in the liturgy or form of worship therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we proclaim your great and glorious name ever more praising you and singing holy, holy, holy. In that part of the eucharist the chant used by the priest here in St Giles goes back beyond 2000 years to Jewish temple worship. When we worship in Church our forms, even our melodies are faithful to what is given through Christian history so that we reach upwards like dwarfs standing on giants’ shoulders.

Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord.

Worship is uplift with, in and through Jesus Christ into whose self offering we’re drawn.

True worship like true adoration and contemplation, like true love, actually seeks no outcome save the honouring of the One loved, contemplated and worshipped. That oil Mary used could have been used to buy an outcome for the poor. No, Jesus, said, that would not suit. Mary’s extravagance, her wastefulness, was commended.

When I went on retreat I sat down to contemplate, as I do most days, and there was a struggle. I had no iPhone but I was still geared up to expect an outcome. The times I sit down to do something I expect useful consequences, don’t we all. I felt frustration that God was slow to speak until a monk reminded me that God is there from the start of my prayer and after my prayer. What matters is being there for him with love.

What is true of the contemplation of an individual is true of corporate worship. There was worship in heaven before we started this service and it will continue after we leave St Giles. The stones of this church seem to know this in fact.
When we give God time in contemplation, when we join in the hour of Jesus on a Sunday, our worship isn’t for us, it’s part of a whole enterprise beyond this world.

To worship is actually wasteful in human terms, today’s Gospel makes clear. Worship is part of the Sabbath wasting of time with God - and how human beings need the Sabbath. Also we need our daily Sabbaths, the time given, however short, to attending to God.

Holy Week can also be a kind of Sabbath if we make it so by entering as best we can the annual commemoration of the Lord’s suffering , death and resurrection from next Sunday.

Let’s rest in the image of worship that the story of Christ’s anointing sets before us as we prepare to offer the eucharist.