Monday, April 13, 2009

Sermon for Easter

Easter Day (2009) Year B RCL Eucharist

An ‘Easter frame of mind’

In some ways it is quite hard to prepare an Easter sermon, particularly when, as is usual with sermons, one is preparing during the week before. This last week was, of course, Holy Week, and this year we have made special effort this year to observe Holy Week, with services that have focussed on healing, on repentance, and telling of the painful events of the Passion of our Lord Jesus, from his arrest to his crucifixion. In this week we have sought to set our minds on the passion and the death of our Lord Jesus and not on his resurrection. Though we know what happened beyond the cross part of our observance of this week just gone is to call to mind all that Jesus went through to bring us life in all its fullness.

So this sermon was started on Maundy Thursday, after the service of the renewal of Ministerial Promises which I (and various Readers, Deacons, Priests, Bishops and even a few normal people) attended in the Cathedral in the morning. And as I wrote I tried to put myself in an Easter frame of mind. It wasn’t too difficult, just a little odd.

This led me to thinking that perhaps it is too easy to fall into the ‘Easter frame of mind’. Perhaps we too easily skip over Holy Week and don’t really take part in the observance that is perhaps the most important part of the Church’s year. We jump on to Easter, Easter is familiar, perhaps even comfortable. We’re used to Easter, we think about it every week – we refer to our risen Lord, and talk of ‘Christ in Glory’. [more]

So, how long have you got?

I could be here for hours talking about the events of this last week, but I will just give a quick overview of things and say

HAPPY EASTER!

I know that Easter Day was yesterday, but we are just starting the Easter Season, so I have another 49 days to wish people a happy Easter! I hope your celebration of the resurrection was a joyful one, and if you didn't celebrate it, I hope you find a reason to!

This past week was one of journey, spirituality, thought, prayer, meditation and reflection. I made a very conscious decision to make something of Holy Week this year, by weaving my experience of Holy Weeks since I started as a Curate way back in 1996 with the usual pattern of observance in these local parishes. So I decided that we should have some kind of service each day of the week, with special effort made on Good Friday to have something in each of the five Parishes in the Five Alive Mission Community, along with an Easter Eve event as well.

So Palm Sunday saw me leading an early traditional Communion service, which was lovely, a short BCP 1662 Holy Communion containing a long 'Passion Narrative' then taking part and helping lead a procession of over a hundred people around our village (with help from Basil the Donkey and a lot of our local Baptist Brothers and Sisters) followed by a service in the Parish Church at which there were nearly 200 people...not bad for a village with about 700 inhabitants!

Monday of Holy Week was a 'service of Penitence and Holy Communion' which I have used since I was a curate, put together (using the format from Common Worship Order 1) by my training Vicar (ie the Clergyman to whom I was apprenticed!). It's a reflective and powerful service, with time for self examination and an opportunity to express our penitence by sprinkling a few grains of incense on hot coals and watching (and smelling) them being burnt up, in the same way that God takes our sin from us when we confess.

Tuesday of Holy Week was a service of Holy Communion with Prayers for Healing, again taking the idea from my Training Parish, but using the order of service provided by the Pastoral Prayer Common Worship. It is a service where we all acknowledge our need for healing and everyone who participates is invited to have hands laid on them and to be anointed with Holy Oil and to be prayed for individually - which everyone there did! I enjoyed this service as my colleague led it very nicely and I was invited to assist with the anointing.

Wednesday had a short service of reflection and prayers around the Passion of Christ. Though i had compiled it, it was led by a Reader colleague from here in the Mission Community. It took place in a lovely, little, brick built Victorian Chapel in the next village and offered lots of space for silence and meditation.

Maundy Thursday saw me trekking up to Exeter Cathedral for what is known as the 'Chrism Mass' and the renewal of Ordination vows, or rather 'Ministerial Promises' as it now - i am pleased to say - is open to all licensed ministers, lay and ordained. It was a 'smells and bells' event, more 'High Anglican' than I have experienced since I was Assistant Priest in St Augustine's, Kensington. A service in a style I have not really missed since leaving there, but a very moving and beautifully led service. The sermon, an exposition on the three readings for the day, was exceptional, and our local Suffragan Bishop, Bishop Bob, preached brilliantly.

In the evening of Maundy Thursday we had a Holy Communion service which contained the symbolic 'washing of feet' of twelve members of the congregation. Again a very good sermon, by my colleague the Curate, and a humbling and moving experience for me to preside at a service which particularly remembered Jesus' service to his disciples and on the night before his death the meal he shared with them and left us to do 'in remembrance of him'.

Good Friday had a morning service which I prepared and led on the theme of 'Cross Purposes'. It was quite lively, yet also (I found) quite profound. The service was very well attended, with a variety of prayers and activities. Two moments were particularly moving for me - one was where we all held up the crosses which we had made for a prayer together, and the other was where a large wooden cross, made by one of the congregation, was carried up through the Church and everyone there stuck a prayer to the cross, which was still there on Easter Sunday as we celebrated together.

Whilst that was happening another of the Lay Readers for the Mission Community was assisting in a joint service with the Baptist Church in another village. Then, instead of the three hour observance which some parishes have, we had three one hour services around different villages, of which I lead two. At noon we had devotions at the cross, with readings and reflections on the passion and a litany of penitence. There was lots of silence at this service as I am a firm believer that there are some things we don't need to keep chattering about! Not sure everyone was comfortable with so much silence, but in a busy world taking space to meditate on God's love is not a bad thing! At 1pm my colleague Ann led a group in prayers and a journey through the 'stations of the cross', whilst I travelled to another village for the 2pm 'last hour' reflections based on the seven last words of Jesus from the cross. Again, I am not sure the silence was appreciated by all, but again I think it is important to take time to do things differently on Good Friday.

Holy Saturday saw me taking Home Communion to one parishioner in the morning, then preparing a sermon for Sunday, then in the evening leading the 'Easter Vigil' which involved readings, canticles and hymns leading from the creation story to the empty tomb. This led into the lighting of the Easter Fire and the Paschal candle and the singing of the Exultet, which was vaguely in tune, though I am not sure that I managed all nine minutes correctly. We then renewed our baptism vows together and went home to wait for Sunday services, with some sleeping involved too!

That was my Holy Week. Overall it was very well attended, and feedback has been good. I will try and blog on Easter day soon, but that's probably enough for now!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Creed in Five

For those of you who want to put yourselves through reading the five different parts of my Creed talks here are the links so you don't have to trawl through the New Kid Deep Stuff archive list...

The final part of the Creed talks!

Five Weeks later and we finally arrived at the last part of the Creed on this last Thursday, here's the opening and a link to the full talk at New Kid Deep Stuff

Lent 2009: The Apostle’s Creed
Session 5

I believe – and all the rest!

Well, it’s been quite a journey over this past five weeks as you’ve heard a lot of me speaking, you’ve had some pretty solid Theology, and you’ve even had the opportunity to talk to each other a bit too! As we embark on the home stretch here today I want to begin by saying thank you for being a part of these sessions, for your contributions, for your feedback and for your time and attention.
I was asked yesterday if we could have a little more discussion this evening. Well, we may have a chance to talk over some things but I just wanted to say that these evenings were something of a ‘one off’ in the sense that I didn’t set them up as discussion groups as we have around our different parishes – the purpose of this series was really to share with you some of the Church’s teaching about the essentials of our faith. Which leads me to say something else – as a society, as a culture, we don’t have much teaching any more – we’re used to information, and chatting and often a sort of pooling of ignorance! I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do believe part of my responsibility as a minister is to teach the faith as revealed (we believe) in Scripture and through the Church. Hence the particular format for these sessions… So apologies if you were expecting otherwise (obviously getting to the last evening might be a bit late to say that) but maybe next year we’ll have a discussion group course, or before then! [more]

Sermon for last Sunday

This was the sermon I gave at our excellent Mission Community service last Sunday, a wonderful event which was extremely well attended and a great reminder of the joy of being together in Christ! As usual, this is just a taster with the full text available on New Kid Deep Stuff.

Lent 5 Passion Sunday (2009) Year B RCL Principal

Living with PASSION

I don’t know what sort of things you are passionate about. When I say passionate I mean that you feel grasped by them, unable to let them go – you want to spend lots of time doing something that excites and inspires you. Perhaps your passion is Music? Movies? TV Soaps is a very popular choice! I am passionate about a number of things, one of them being my wife and children, you may have got the idea that I am passionate about guitar playing (whether or not I am terribly good at it) – but something that has become a passion of mine is motorcycling.
I love riding my motorcycle, I like all the gear that comes with motorcycles – helmets, heavy gloves, leathers, waterproofs, gizmos and gadgets – they all add to the fun of being a ‘biker’. I like looking at motorcycles too, and meeting with other bikers, and enjoying part of something that is fun, and exciting, and passionate. [more]

Always more to do

As you might have guessed, things are going along pretty much at full pelt in the headlong dash that is our Lenten observance towards the Church's greatest Festival of Easter. It's been good, hard work but good. I don't feel overburdened, though I am tired, and the variety of events and activities has been energising rather than draining.

There's a saying in these parts that you aren't part of a village until you've 'wintered and summered yer' - actually some would say there's a belief that you aren't part part of these communities until you've been born, lived and died here, but that's a discussion for another time! In the Church I think there's a feeling that as a new minister you've earned your place when you've 'Christmassed and Eastered' there. I think that's true, until you've celebrated the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ then there's something missing from your part in the Christian community. For those of us in ministry this time of year, even more than Christmas, is a reminder of the pains and joys of our journey of faith, and of the humility and privilege of ministry... but more about Maundy Thursday in a few days.

We have services every day for the next eight days starting tomorrow. I have put a service in each one of these Churches at some time over the coming week or so, and services in every one on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Day. Some might say that I have created a 'rod for my own back' but for me the observance of Holy Week leads more fully into the joy and power of Easter Day, in fact I will publish my monthly magazine reflection on New Kid Deep Stuff which talks on this theme, find it here...

My concern with making sure this next week has services which are inspiring, enlightening and good quality - allowing space for worship and for some encounter with God - has meant that I've had to leave some other things aside for a week or two, just as the time it took to prepare the talks for Thursday evenings means that I haven't done all of the other things I have wanted to. It is one of the frustrations of being in ministry that the work never stops, or, more accurately, never comes to an end - it can lead to feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. Part of dealing with such feelings is looking at what has been achieved and those things which have been valuable and worthwhile, as well as learning from the things which haven't worked so well. There are more formal, structural, ways of setting goals and working to standards and there may be a time to go through that - but on a day to day basis I look at what has happened and reflect on what has been done, asking always the question 'where is God in all this?' in the hope that the work we do has a sense of meaning and achievement.

There is always more to do, but I take heart from the example of Jesus, and from a theology that stems from what some call the 'scandal of particularity' - that Jesus wasn't everywhere at once, nor did he meet everyone in the world, nor did he heal everyone in Israel, or preach to everyone. He also took time out to pray and to be with God. Recognising that God choose in Christ to be in one place and one time, and didn't try to do everything, and focussed his ministry and activity reminds me that we must do the same. God meets us where we are, and meets us as who we are - we should continue to be focussed in the now of what we are called to be, and to do the work we are called to do, not always anxious about what we can't do, be or what we cannot achieve. Sometimes we all need a reminder that the now is the gift God has given us....as one wise cheesemeister once said 'that's why it's called the present'.

I will post last Sunday's sermon and the final part of the Creed sessions later on today, maybe soon if I can get things together.