Easter III [Acts 3:12-19; 1John 3:1-7] Luke 24:36b-48

This morning’s Gospel account of the post-Resurrection is quite a surprising one. Disciples have just come straight from Emmaus, where they recognised Jesus in the breaking of the Bread, which is confirmed by the disciples, who said that the Lord has appeared to Simon Peter. And then, all of sudden, Jesus is there among them, and says, ‘Peace be with you’. They are startled and afraid — they cannot believe it. He was dead. They saw Him die on the Cross. People don’t rise from the dead. And there He is in front of them. It is immediate, and abrupt, and startling. It is no wonder that they think that they are seeing a ghost, a spirit. They need reassurance, they cannot yet believe. Jesus invites them to inspect His hands and feet, to see the mark of the nails, to gaze in wonder at the wounds of love, to see that God loves them. He’s not a ghost, but a living being — flesh and blood. They’re happy, but they still cannot believe, so Jesus says, ‘Have you got anything to eat?’ They give Him a piece of grilled fish, and He eats it in front of them. He’s not a ghost, He’s alive, living, breathing, and eating. God takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and lives among us, dies, and is raised to new life, to show us what God has in store. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which we celebrate at Easter, which we keep celebrating for weeks, truly is Good News. it takes a while for this to sink in to His disciples, they cannot take it in. It is extraordinary, but it is TRUE.

Jesus then reminds the disciples that before His death, he had told them that everything in the Jewish Scriptures about Him must be fulfilled. He has to suffer and die, for our sins. He does this willingly, out of love, because He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. It takes them time to understand that He has risen from the dead, and likewise they’re not going to understand the entirety of salvation history immediately. It takes time, even just reading the readings at the Easter Vigil takes time, and this is just a snapshot of what the Old Testament contains in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings. Most of the writings of the Early Church do just what Jesus did, they go through Scripture to see how it points to Jesus, how it finds its fullest meaning in and through Him, the Word made Flesh. I could stand here for hours, days weeks even, and only scratch the surface. Obviously I’ll spare you that, but in the rest of the time that I have to live on earth, I know that I can only begin to tell people about Jesus, and explore how the Bible points to Him. But I need to do it, to explain to people who and what Jesus is, and does, and to say to the world around us the words of St Peter from our first reading this morning, ‘Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,’ [Acts 3:19 NRSV]. The call to follow Jesus and to believe in Him requires a change of heart and mind, a change in how we live our lives, something we have to keep on doing all our lives, a constant commitment to turn from the ways of the world, the ways of sin, to turn to Christ, and follow Him.

Christ explains how His Suffering and Death are foretold in Scripture, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in His name to all the world. So all of Scripture points to Him, even the awkward, and hard to understand bits, the bits which we would prefer not to read. And we need to tell people about Jesus, who he is, what He does, and why it matters.

He came to offer people an alternative to the ways of the world. You can find temporary happiness in many things, but shopping isn’t going to save your soul. Only Jesus can do that. Amazon, or the High St can do many things, but they’re not going to save you, forgive you your sins, or give you eternal life. Stuff doesn’t save, Jesus does. Our materialistic culture tries its best to hide from this fact. We fill our time with business and distraction. We do all sorts of things which we enjoy, which provide transitory pleasure. But lasting happiness can be found in Christ, and in Christ alone.

I’m as bad as anyone else at this. I admit it. I don’t deserve to be standing here saying this to you. I’m no better than you, probably I’m worse. I certainly don’t feel worthy to be called a shepherd of Christ’s flock. And that’s the point: I’m not, and it’s alright, none of us is, or ever has been, or ever will be. It’s not about us, but about what God can do through us, if we let Him. This is the reality of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. He does what we cannot do, so that we can live in Him.

We don’t need to worry because we find our JOY in Him, in Jesus, our Risen Lord. We are witness, just like those first disciples in Jerusalem, charged to tell people the same Good News, that Jesus died, has risen, and offers NEW LIFE to all, regardless of who they are, and what they’ve done. This is he demonstration of God’s love for the World, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ [John 3:16-17 RSVCE] God’s grace does not abolish our human nature, but perfects it, through faith, through the sacraments, outward and visible signs of inward spiritual grace, so that through Baptism and the Eucharist in the Church, people come to know Jesus, the Word made flesh, and share His Risen life, and are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, prepared by a loving Father.

People may not wish to come. They may be too busy. It may not mean anything to them, they can write it off as religious claptrap, an irrelevance in the Modern World. But it is still offered to them, and to everybody. To come to know Jesus, to trust Him, to love Him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, to have new life, and the forgiveness of sin through Him, and Him alone. For as St Peter says, ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ [Acts 4:12 RSVCE], so my brothers and sisters in the joy of Easter let us share this so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever.

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Duccio, Maesta, Altarpiece, Siena Cathedral

An Easter Homily ascribed to John Chrysostom [PG 59:721-4]

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Εἴ τις εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλόθεος, ἀπολαυέτω τῆς καλῆς ταύτης πανηγύρεως· εἴ τις δοῦλος εὐγνώμων, εἰσελθέτω χαίρων εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις ἔκαμενηστεύων, ἀπολαβέτω νῦν τὸ δηνάριον· εἴ τις ἀπὸ πρώτης ὥρας εἰργάσατο, δεχέσθω σήμερον τὸ δίκαιον ὄφλημα· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἦλθεν, εὐχαριστῶν ἑορτάσῃ· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν ἕκτην ἔφθασε, μηδὲν ἀμφιβαλλέτω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν ζημιοῦται· εἴ τις ὑστέρησεν εἰς τὴν ἐννάτην, προσελθέτω μηδὲν ἐνδοιάζων· εἴ τις εἰς μόνην ἔφθασε τὴν ἑνδεκάτην, μὴ φοβηθῇ τὴν βραδυτῆτα. Φιλότιμος γὰρ ὢν ὁ Δεσπότης δέχεται τὸν ἔσχατον, καθάπερ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον· ἀναπαύει τὸν τῆς ἑνδεκάτης,ὡς τὸν ἐργασάμενον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης· καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἐλεεῖ, καὶ τὸν πρῶτον θεραπεύει· κἀκείνῳ δίδωσι, καὶ τούτῳ χαρίζεται. Καὶ τὴν πρᾶξιν τιμᾷ, καὶ τὴν πρόθεσιν ἐπαινεῖ. Οὐκοῦν εἰσέλθητε πάντες εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, καὶ πρῶτοι καὶ δεύτεροι τὸν μισθὸν ἀπολάβετε, πλούσιοι καὶ πένητες μετὰ ἀλλήλων χορεύσατε, ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ ῥᾴθυμοι τὴν ἡμέραν τιμήσατε, νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον. Ἡ τράπεζα γέμει, τρυφήσατε πάντες· ὁ μόσχος πολὺς, μηδεὶς ἐξέλθοι πεινῶν. Πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστότητος. Μηδεὶς θρηνείτω πενίαν· ἐφάνη γὰρ ἡ κοινὴ βασιλεία· μηδεὶς ὀδυρέσθω τὰ πταίσματα· συγγνώμη γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ τάφου ἀνέτειλε· μηδεὶς φοβείσθω τὸν θάνατον· ἠλευθέρωσε γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὁ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θάνατος· ἔσβεσεν αὐτὸν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ κατεχόμενος· ἐκόλασε τὸν ᾅδην κατελθὼν εἰς τὸν ᾅδην· ἐπίκρανεν αὐτὸν γευσάμενον τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Καὶ τοῦτο προλαβὼν Ἡσαΐας ἐβόησεν· Ὁ ᾅδης, φησὶν, ἐπικράνθη. Συναντήσας σοι κάτω ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ καθῃρέθη· ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐνεπαίχθη. Ἔλαβε σῶμα, καὶ Θεῷ περιέτυχεν· ἔλαβε γῆν, καὶ συνήντησεν οὐρανῷ· ἔλαβεν ὅπερ ἔβλεπε, καὶ πέπτωκεν ὅθεν οὐκ ἔβλεπε. Ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; ποῦ σου, ᾅδη, τὸ νῖκος; Ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ σὺ καταβέβλησαι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ πεπτώκασι δαίμονες· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ χαίρουσιν ἄγγελοι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ νεκρὸς οὐδεὶς ἐπὶ μνήματος. Χριστὸς γὰρ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἐγένετο· αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.  
If anyone is a devout lover of God, let them rejoice in this beautiful radiant feast. If anyone is a faithful servant, let them gladly enter into the joy of their Lord. If any are wearied with fasting, let them now reap their reward. If any have laboured since the first hour, let them receive today their just reward. If any have come after the third hour, let them celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt, for they will sustain no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived at the eleventh hour, let them not fear their lateness. For the Master is gracious and welcomes the last no less than the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour just as kindly as those who have laboured since the first hour. The first he fills to overflowing: on the last he has compassion. To the one he grants his favour, to the other pardon. He does not look only at the work: he looks into the intention of the heart. Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master. First and Last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The fatted calf is served: let no-one go away hungry. Come all of you, share in the banquet of faith: draw on the wealth of his mercy. Let no-one lament their poverty; for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no-one weep for their sins; for the light of the forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no-one fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing hell. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. Hell was filled with bitterness when it tasted his flesh, as Isaiah foretold: ‘Hell was filled with bitterness when it met you face-to-face below’ – filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was destroyed; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. It received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. It received what it saw, and was overpowered by what it did not see. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead. For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who sleep. To him be glory and dominion to the ages of ages. Amen.

A thought from Henri Nouwen

All of this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? Why do we children of the light so easily become conspirators with the darkness? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self , is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependant upon the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions. ‘Compulsive’ is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation. Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised. Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by the world. If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failure and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money, more friends.

These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. They are the inner side of the secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies. What else is anger other than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived? When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated. Thus greed and anger are the brother and sister of a false self fabricated by the social compulsions of the unredeemed world.

Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who making them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.

It is not so strange that Anthony and his fellow monks considered it a spiritual disaster to accept passively the tenets and values of their society. They had come to appreciate how hard it is not only for the individual Christian but also for the church itself to escape the seductive compulsions of the world. What was their response? They escaped from the sinking ship and swam for their lives. And the place of salvation is called desert, the place of solitude.

Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, London: DLT, 1990: 14-16

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Augustine on the works of mercy

Two works of mercy set a man free: forgive and you will be forgiven, and give and you will receive.

When you pray we are all beggars before God: we stand before the great householder bowed down and weeping, hoping to be given something, and that something is God himself.

What does a poor man beg of you? Bread. What do you beg from God? – Christ, who said, ‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven’.

Do you you really want to be forgiven? Then forgive. Do you want to receive something? Then give to another. And if you want your prayer to fly up to God, give it two wings, fasting and almsgiving.

But look carefully at what you do: don’t think it is enough to fast if  it is only  a penance for sin, and does not benefit someone else. You deprive yourself of something, but to whom do you give what you do without?

Fast in such a way that you rejoice to see that dinner is eaten by another; not grumbling and looking gloomy, giving rather because the beggar wearies you than because you are feeding the hungry.

If you are sad when you give alms, you lose both bread and merit, because ‘God loves a cheerful giver’.

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St Augustine on imitating Christ

Pride is the great sin, the head and cause of all sins, and its beginning lies in turning away from God. Beloved, do not make light of this vice, for the proud man who disdains the yoke of Christ is constrained by the harsher yoke of sin: he may not wish to serve, but he has to, because if he will not be love’s servant, he will inevitably be sin’s slave.

From pride arises apostasy: the soul goes into darkness, and misusing its free will falls into other sins, wasting its substance with harlots, and he who was created a fellow of the angels becomes a keeper of swine.

Because of this great sin of pride, God humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, bearing insults and hanging on a cross. To heal us, he became humble; shall we not be ashamed to be proud?

You have heard the Lord say that if you forgive those who have injured you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But those who speak the world’s language say. ‘What! you won’t revenge yourself, but let him boast of what he did to you? Surely you will let him see that he is not dealing with a weakling?’ Did the Lord revenge himself on those who struck him? Dying of his own free will, he uttered no threats: and will you, who do not know when you will die, get in a rage and threaten?

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St Augustine on Ps. 19:9

The Pharisee

Shall a Christian go and live apart from the world, so that he may not be tried by false brethren? Shall he who has progressed in a righteous life separate himself so that he need not suffer from anyone? Perhaps people have suffered from before he was converted. Has no one anything to put up with from you? It would surprise me – but if it is so, then you are stronger and thus able to endure other people’s failings.

Do you propose to shut out bad men from good men’s company? if that is what you say, see if you can shut out all evil thoughts from your own heart. Every day we fight with out own heart.

You say you will go apart with a few good men and admit no wicked brother to your society. How do you recognise the man you wish to exclude? Do all come to you with their hearts bare? Those who wish to come do not know themselves, they cannot be proved unless they are tried.

Nowhere in this life are we secure, except in God’s promise – only when we have attained to it, when the gates of Jerusalem are shut behind us, shall we be perfectly safe.

Beloved, mark the apostle’s words: ‘Support one another in charity.’ You forsake the world of men and separate yourself from it. Whom will you profit? Would you have got so far if no one had profited you?

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‘I am the Bread of Life’ Trinity X (19th of Year B)


I was somewhat troubled when I first read this morning’s Gospel. I find it all too easy to moan about all sorts of things, it is a very human failing, one to which we all, from time to time, succumb. But it’s something which Our Lord tells us not to do, and so I pray that through God’s grace I may live a life which more closely imitates Jesus, and follows His commands. It reminds me of a passage in the sermons of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Church: ‘“You all say, ‘The times are troubled, the times are hard, the times are wretched.’ Live good lives and you will change the times. By living good lives you will change the times and have nothing to grumble about.”’ (Sermo 311.8) It reminds us that the work of the Gospel is at one level up to us, the Body of Christ, His Church. We have to live our faith out in our lives (as fine words butter no parsnips) and we have to live the change we want to see in the world. Christianity is a way of life, a way mocked and scorned by the world around us, written off as irrelevant, and yet close to the God who loves us and saves us.

       In the Old Testament reading this morning we see the prophet Elijah being fed, we see God providing food which gives strength, strength for the journey. It prefigures the Eucharist, it looks forward to the reason why we are here today: to be fed by God. We can have the strength for our journey of faith, and the hope of eternal life.
       In the letter to the Ephesians we see that as children of God, loved by God, we are to imitate him, after the pattern of Christ, who offered himself, who was a sacrifice who has restored our relationship with God. It is this sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary, which has restored our relationship with God, which will be re-presented, made present here today, that you can touch and taste, that you can know how much God loves you; that you can be strengthened and given the hope of eternal life in Christ – that God’s grace can transform your human nature so that you come to share in the Divine Nature forever. Paul’s hope for the church in Ephesus should be ours to. This is how are supposed to live together as a Christian community, living in love, fed with love itself, here in the Eucharist, where we thank God for His love of us.
       In this morning’s Gospel we see Jews complaining, ‘how can he be from Heaven, from God, we know his Mum and Dad’. It is a difficult thing to understand, especially before Jesus suffers and dies, and rises again. It can be hard to understand who and what Jesus is. The Jews can see him only in purely human terms, they cannot see beyond this, the Messiah whom they long for is in their midst and they fail to recognise him. The notion of consuming human flesh and blood is so abhorrent to Jews that it would represent something sinful and polluting. Jesus’ answer is simple and challenging: stop complaining. We are to accept, we are not to moan, to complain, but instead to trust him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
       Jesus is the Bread of Life, the true nourishment of our souls. It is through him that we can have life as Christians. He came down from heaven and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He was born as a human being, and in him our human flesh has been raised to eternal life, to glory with God. Jesus speaks of the Eucharist, the sacrament of his body and blood as providing us with eternal life, of opening the way to heaven. So we come to be fed by God, to be fed with God, to have a pledge and foretaste of the joy of heaven, of eternal life with God, to experience true love in the source of love – the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
       We can have such a hope because Jesus gives himself, to suffer and die, and rose again, for love of us. It is this life of love and sacrifice which we are to imitate. Jesus gives himself to us for the life of the world – it is through being fed by him that the world can truly live. It is in experiencing God’s self-giving love that the world can find true meaning. Life in Christ is what true life means. Fed by him, strengthened by him, to imitate him and live out lives of self-giving love, to draw others closer to Christ so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Sermon for Evensong of the First Sunday after Easter

An old man said, ‘Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and placed it in a clean garment within a new tomb, which signifies a new humanity. Therefore let each one strive attentively not to sin so that they do not mistreat the God who dwells within themselves and drive him away from their soul.’
It is a good thing that we have time at Easter to take in and make sense of what we have commemorated: Our Lord’s Passion, Death, & Resurrection. They are linked and form part of a larger whole of the history which stretches back through the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh for our sake, to the Creation of the World.
 In the 8th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we see the meeting of Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch, who is reading the very passage which we have just heard  as our first lesson this evening– the Suffering Servant. Philip asks him if he can understand what he is reading. He replies that he cannot, unless someone shows him the way. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35 ESV). Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified.
We read scripture so that we can understand it, and see in its words how it discloses the truth of the Word made flesh, who suffered and died for our sake. Isaiah prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death, it, like the rest of Scripture points to Christ and finds its true meaning in Him, and thus it makes sense, it can be understood, and the more we come to understand, the more we come to know just how much God loves us.
Thus for Paul in the Letter to the Romanshe needs to show them how Abraham, the father of our faith is rewarded by God not through his observance of the Law, as the Pharisees would argue,  but rather by the obedience of his faith in God which can lead to his righteousness.
As Christians we believe that we are saved by grace through faith – by grace, by the unmerited free gift of God who gives his own Son to be born, to suffer and die and to rise again for us, so that we might have life in Him, through our faith, through believing in the God who does this.  We can put our trust in a God who loves us, who dies this for us, to heal us and restore us, and thus we can have new life and eternal life in Him. It is unmerited: we do not deserve it, but it is a free gift rather than a reward, something earned.
In Christ the promise made to Abraham comes true in that through the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world Abraham can become the father of many nations, the word for the non-Jewish peoples of the world – he becomes a spiritual parent to Christians because of Abraham’s faith in God, he trusts God, even to the point of being ready to sacrifice his only son, which itself points to Christ, who as the Lamb of God who takes  away the sins  of the world is a type of the lamb caught in the thicket at Bethel. Abraham trusts in God, puts his faith in Him, and is rewarded for that faith. We put our faith in Him, and are fed by Him, fed with Him, so that we may share in his Divine life, strengthened and nourished by God, so that his grace may perfect our nature.
Thus we are to follow Abraham’s example and put our faith in the God who loves us and saves us by His Son, who suffered and died and rose again for our sake. It’s all about faith: faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us, who was delivered up for our sins and raised for our justification, this is what we believe, we have to be like Philip and share it with others, so that they too may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom ….

            

A Thought for Holy Saturday

Τῷ ἁγίῳ καὶ μεγάλῳ Σαββάτῳ.
Τί τοῦτο; σήμερον σιγὴ πολλὴ ἐν τῇ γῇ· σιγὴ πολλὴ καὶ ἠρεμία λοιπόν· σιγὴ πολλὴ, ὅτι ὁ Βασιλεὺς ὑπνοῖ· γῆ ἐφοβήθη καὶ ἡσύχασεν, ὅτι ὁ Θεὸς σαρκὶ ὕπνωσε, καὶ τοὺς ἀπ’ αἰῶνος ὑπνοῦντας ἀνέστησεν. Ὁ Θεὸς ἐν σαρκὶ τέθνηκε, καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἐτρόμαξεν. Ὁ Θεὸς πρὸς βραχὺ ὕπνωσε, καὶ τοὺς ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ ἐξήγειρε.
The Lord’s descent into the underworld
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
  

A thought for the day from St Athanasius

Like many people I have found the images in CharlieHebdo which mock religion, and in particular Christianity, somewhat difficult and troubling. The following words of St Athanasius are, however, both a help and a comfort:

Come now, blessed one and true lover of Christ, let us, with the faith of our religion relate things concerning the Incarnation of the Word and expound his divine manifestation to us which the Jews slander and the Greeks mock, but which we ourselves venerate, so that all the more from his apparent degradation, you may have even greater and fuller piety towards him, for the more he is mocked by unbelievers by so much he provides a greater witness of his divinity, because what human beings cannot understand as impossible, these he shows to be possible (cf. Mt 19:26), and what human beings mock as unseemly, these he renders fitting by his own goodnessand what human beings through sophistry laugh at as merely humanthese by his power he shows to be divine, overturning the illusion of idols by his own apparent degradation through the crossinvisibly persuading those who mock and disbelieve to recognise his divinity and his power.

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tr. J. Behr (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press : 2011)

The Multiplication of the Loaves

Picture the scene: Jesus has just been told that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been put in prison and killed, he himself has just been to Nazareth, where he was rejected, by the very people who should have accepted him. The atmosphere is tense, is he safe, will he too be arrested and killed? It is not for nothing that this morning’s Gospel passage begins with Jesus withdrawing to the desert – to be alone, to pray, to be close to God.

          When the people hear where he has gone they follow him, they walk out from the towns into the desert, they can’t just cross the lake, they want to see him, and to hear him teach them. When he gets out of the boat he sees a great mass of people and he has compassion on them, he is moved by the sight of them, and their need. He heals the sick to show that the Kingdom of God is a place of healing, where humanity can be restored through an encounter with the divine. His actions as well as his words proclaim the power of God to heal and restore humanity. Despite the danger, his concern is for others.
          It is getting late, the sun is fast moving towards the West, and the disciples tell him to send the crowds away so that they can buy food, instead Jesus says that they do not need to go away, and tells the disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples obey him, but cannot see how five loaves and two fish can possibly feed the thousands of people who are out there to be close to Jesus.
          The five loaves are the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Books of the Law, the Torah, which show Israel how to live, and how to love God. The two fish are the Law and the Prophets, so that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The law and the Prophets point to Jesus, the Word made flesh: they find their fulfilment and true meaning in Him. The hopes of Israel, for the future, for a Messiah, are fulfilled in Him. Just like Israel after crossing the Red Sea here the People of God are fed by God in the desert. There is so much food left over at the end that there is enough to fill twelve baskets, one for each of the disciples. What in human terms – five loaves and two fish – isn’t enough, is more than sufficient in divine terms, just like at the Wedding feast in Cana, here we see that the Kingdom of God is a place of joy and abundance, of generosity, which isn’t concerned with scrimping or with the ‘good enough’, it is a place of lavish excess. This is what the church is supposed to be like – this is meant to be the model for our lives as Christians.
          The multiplication of the loaves is then not some conjuring trick, meant to amaze us, or to show us how powerful God is, but a sign of God’s generous love for humanity – it is what God does for us, so that we can respond to it in a profound and radical way and thereby change the world. Jesus has been rejected by the people of Nazareth and he responds by feeding people until they are satisfied, they’ve had enough, and there’s still loads left over. Likewise God’s love and mercy are inexhaustible, and are shown to the world, and poured out upon the world in Jesus Christ and in his death upon the Cross for our salvation. 
κα καθς Μωϋσς ψωσεν τν φιν ν τ ρήμ, οτως ψωθναι δε τν υἱὸν το νθρώπου, να πς πιστεύων ν ατ χ ζων αώνιον.
Οτως γρ γάπησεν θες τν κόσμον στε τν υἱὸν τν μονογεν δωκεν, να πς πιστεύων ες ατν μ πόληται λλ χ ζων αώνιον. ο γρ πέστειλεν θες τν υἱὸν ες τν κόσμον να κρίν τν κόσμον, λλ’ να σωθ κόσμος δι’ ατο.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jn 3:14-17
It is this self same sacrifice which Jesus, on the night before he died told his disciples to carry on doing in remembrance of him, so that the Church could continue to be fed by him and fed with him, as a sign of his love for us, so that we might have life and forgiveness in him. This then is our soul’s true food, our foretaste of heaven, our pledge of future glory, given to us so that we might have life in Him and have it to the full.
          Let us come to be fed with the living bread, the bread which came down from heaven, so that it may feed our souls, so that we can be healed and restored by him. Let us be moved by the lavish generosity of God, and encouraged to live it out in our lives, in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, so that all that we are, all that we say or think or do, will proclaim the truth of God’s saving love to the world, so that it too may enter into the joy of the Lord and come to the banquet of the Kingdom, where all are welcomed, and healed.
          The invitation is there, and as the baptised, those who are in Christ, we are to welcome others. God takes us, like the bread and the fish, and blesses us, so that we can can fulfil his will in our lives. Filled with his grace, we encourage others to share in it, so that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day from S. Isaac of Nineveh

The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the Cross. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for its sake’ (Jn 3:16). This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes, if he had had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should draw near him freely, by our own mind’s love.

On Reading Scripture – Some Thoughts


I would like to start by considering some words from Origen’s Peri Archôn, On First Principles:
1. All who believe and are assured that grace and truth were obtained through JesusChrist, and who know Christ to be the truth, agreeably to His own declaration, “I am the truth,”  derive the knowledge which incites men to a good and happy life from no other source than from the very words and teaching of Christ. And by the words of Christ we do not mean those only which He spake when He became man and tabernacled in the flesh; for before that time, Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets. For without the Word of God, how could they have been able to prophesy of Christ? And were it not our purpose to confine the present treatise within the limits of all attainable brevity, it would not be difficult to show, in proof of this statement, out of the Holy Scriptures, how Moses or the prophets both spake and performed all they did through being filled with the Spirit of Christ. And therefore I think it sufficient to quote this one testimony of Paul from the Epistle to the Hebrews,  in which he says: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of the Egyptians.”  Moreover, that after His ascension into heaven He spake in His apostles, is shown by Paul in these words: “Or do you seek a proof of Christ who speaketh in me?”

If Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and if Jesus is the word of God, then the word of God is truth. It must be the sole criterion for truth and wisdom. The Lord is our light and our salvation, his word is a lantern unto our feet and a light unto our path. To begin to understand the fathers on their own terms, we have to begin from this starting point and given that the Bible is our sole source of wisdom we are not trying to peer behind the text, but see how the whole of Scripture makes sense in and of itself, there is no such thing as contradiction only is a deeper and richer understanding.
Most modern biblical scholarship does not adopt this approach because in a post-enlightenment way it adopts a theory of referential meaning: the Bible is significant because it refers. The Bible has an x, subject matter, and good interpretation helps readers to shift attention from the signs or words to the x that is the real meaning of the signs and words. This is the reason for source criticism and the unpacking of the deep, layered texts. Theologians go wrong when they treated the Bible simply as a body of evidence for what happened, as a series of facts which refer to historical events somehow outside the text, or as evidence of theological propositions, separating Scripture and Christian doctrine in a way which would be unthinkable to the fathers of the church. This is why they can appear to modern readers to be disorganised ineffective or contradictory. Instead, we would do well to meditate upon the words of St Irenaeus (adv. Haer. 2.28.2) ‘the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit’.

A thought for the day from S. Ignatius of Antioch

Constantly pray for others; for there is still hope that they may repent so as to attain God. And so, allow them to learn from you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger show meekness; to their boasting, be humble; to their blasphemies, offer up prayers; to their wandering in error, be firmly rooted in faith; to their savage behaviour, act civilised. Do not be eager to imitate their example. Through gentleness we should be their brothers. And we should be seen to be eager to imitate the Lord. Who was mistreated more than he? Or defrauded? Or rejected? Do this so that no weed planted by the Devil may be found in you and you may abide in Jesus Christ both in the flesh and in the spirit, with all holiness and self-control.

To the Ephesians 10

Fulton Sheen on Mary

Let those who think that the Church pays too much attention to Mary give heed to the fact that Our Blessed Lord Himself gave ten times as much of His life to her as He gave to the Apostles

The World’s First Love, 1956: 88
… she is what God wanted us all to be, she speaks of herself as the Eternal blueprint in the Mind of God, the one whom God loved before she was a creature. She is even pictured as being with Him not only at creation but before creation. She existed in the Divine Mind as an Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of mothers she is the world’s first love.
The World’s First Love, 1956: 11

Sermon for Evensong of the First Sunday after Easter: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Luke 23:13–35


Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread
The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus are astounded when the man to whom they are talking does not know what has been going on: ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ He asks them so that they may tell him. They ‘hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’, they have been told of the Empty Tomb, but do not yet believe. They need Jesus to explain the Scriptures to them in order to show them that what happened had been foretold in the Law and the Prophets.
        In this evening’s first lesson from the Prophet Isaiah we have the greatest of the prophesies of Our Lord’s Passion and Death. It is read on Good Friday because it shows us how what happened was clearly foretold. In Acts 8, when the apostle Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch, he is reading this passage. When he is asked if he understands what he is reading he replies ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ Philip shows him how verses 7 & 8 of Isaiah 53 point to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
The Ethiopian needs Philip, the disciples need Jesus, and we need the Church to show us how scripture is to be read: it’s meaning is not necessarily plain and while anyone could read Scripture in any way in which they chose, the Church has never said that all interpretations are ok, or that any one is as good as another. Instead, the proper interpretation of Scripture is rightly the teaching office of the Church, through the Apostolic Tradition: to unfold the mystery of Christ, to proclaim Him, and to save souls.
The Church reads the Old Testament christologically, because it points to Christ, it finds its fulfillment and its fullest and truest meaning in him, who is the Way and the Truth. As Our Lord says, ‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ In other words through Our Lord’s suffering, and death, and resurrection we behold God’s glory, the glory of the divine life of love, poured out on the world to heal it and to save it. We see both what God is and how he loves us, to the extent of giving his only Son to die for us, to heal the wound of sin, to restore our humanity, and so that we may share eternal life with him.
As a foretaste of this heavenly joy he takes bread and blesses it and gives it to them. Christ, who as both priest and victim offered himself upon the altar of the Cross, as a willing, spotless pure and sinless victim, now feeds his people with himself so that they may share his risen life – so that they may be given a foretaste of the heavenly glory and the divine life of love. That is why we day by day and week by week we too come to be fed by him, so that we too may share, having first heard the Scriptures explained to us.
We see here in this evening’s second lesson how and why the Church looks and feels like it does, why it understands Scripture in the way that it does, how errors may come about, and how the Church guards against these by deciding what is authentic in terms of Scripture and Tradition. Almost two thousand years after these events took place there is something fresh and current about what we have heard read to us this evening, it doesn’t feel odd, or strange, or backward or outdated, but simply part of how the Church is. It is good that after two thousand years the message has not changed; it shows us that it is authentic: that it is of God, and not of the world.
So let us be like the disciples at Emmaus with warmed hearts, fed by our Lord with word and sacrament, sharing his Easter Joy and his victory over sin and the world and sharing his peace and joy with the world, so that it may believe and give praise to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Catechetical Easter Homily ascribed to John Chrysostom [PG 59:721-4]

Εἴ τις εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλόθεος, ἀπολαυέτω τῆς καλῆς ταύτης πανηγύρεως· εἴ τις δοῦλος εὐγνώμων, εἰσελθέτω χαίρων εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις ἔκαμενηστεύων, ἀπολαβέτω νῦν τὸ δηνάριον· εἴ τις ἀπὸ πρώτης ὥρας εἰργάσατο, δεχέσθω σήμερον τὸ δίκαιον ὄφλημα· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἦλθεν, εὐχαριστῶν ἑορτάσῃ· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν ἕκτην ἔφθασε, μηδὲν ἀμφιβαλλέτω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν ζημιοῦται· εἴ τις ὑστέρησεν εἰς τὴν ἐννάτην, προσελθέτω μηδὲν ἐνδοιάζων· εἴ τις εἰς μόνην ἔφθασε τὴν ἑνδεκάτην, μὴ φοβηθῇ τὴν βραδυτῆτα. Φιλότιμος γὰρ ὢν ὁ Δεσπότης δέχεται τὸν ἔσχατον, καθάπερ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον· ἀναπαύει τὸν τῆς ἑνδεκάτης,ὡς τὸν ἐργασάμενον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης· καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἐλεεῖ, καὶ τὸν πρῶτον θεραπεύει· κἀκείνῳ δίδωσι, καὶ τούτῳ χαρίζεται. Καὶ τὴν πρᾶξιν τιμᾷ, καὶ τὴν πρόθεσιν ἐπαινεῖ. Οὐκοῦν εἰσέλθητε πάντες εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, καὶ πρῶτοι καὶ δεύτεροι τὸν μισθὸν ἀπολάβετε, πλούσιοι καὶ πένητες μετὰ ἀλλήλων χορεύσατε, ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ ῥᾴθυμοι τὴν ἡμέραν τιμήσατε, νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον. Ἡ τράπεζα γέμει, τρυφήσατε πάντες· ὁ μόσχος πολὺς, μηδεὶς ἐξέλθοι πεινῶν. Πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστότητος. Μηδεὶς θρηνείτω πενίαν· ἐφάνη γὰρ ἡ κοινὴ βασιλεία· μηδεὶς ὀδυρέσθω τὰ πταίσματα· συγγνώμη γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ τάφου ἀνέτειλε· μηδεὶς φοβείσθω τὸν θάνατον· ἠλευθέρωσε γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὁ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θάνατος· ἔσβεσεν αὐτὸν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ κατεχόμενος· ἐκόλασε τὸν ᾅδην κατελθὼν εἰς τὸν ᾅδην· ἐπίκρανεν αὐτὸν γευσάμενον τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Καὶ τοῦτο προλαβὼν Ἡσαΐας ἐβόησεν· Ὁ ᾅδης, φησὶν, ἐπικράνθη. Συναντήσας σοι κάτω ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ καθῃρέθη· ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐνεπαίχθη. Ἔλαβε σῶμα, καὶ Θεῷ περιέτυχεν· ἔλαβε γῆν, καὶ συνήντησεν οὐρανῷ· ἔλαβεν ὅπερ ἔβλεπε, καὶ πέπτωκεν ὅθεν οὐκ ἔβλεπε. Ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; ποῦ σου, ᾅδη, τὸ νῖκος; Ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ σὺ καταβέβλησαι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ πεπτώκασι δαίμονες· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ χαίρουσιν ἄγγελοι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ νεκρὸς οὐδεὶς ἐπὶ μνήματος. Χριστὸς γὰρ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἐγένετο· αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.  
If anyone is a devout lover of God, let them rejoice in this beautiful radiant feast. If anyone is a faithful servant, let them gladly enter into the joy of their Lord. If any are wearied with fasting, let them now reap their reward. If any have laboured since the first hour, let them receive today their just reward. If any have come after the third hour, let them celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt, for they will sustain no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived at the eleventh hour, let them not fear their lateness. For the Master is gracious and welcomes the last no less than the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour just as kindly as those who have laboured since the first hour. The first he fills to overflowing: on the last he has compassion. To the one he grants his favour, to the other pardon. He does not look only at the work: he looks into the intention of the heart. Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master. First and Last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The fatted calf is served: let no-one go away hungry. Come all of you, share in the banquet of faith: draw on the wealth of his mercy. Let no-one lament their poverty; for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no-one weep for their sins; for the light of the forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no-one fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing hell. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. Hell was filled with bitterness when it tasted his flesh, as Isaiah foretold: ‘Hell was filled with bitterness when it met you face-to-face below’ – filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was destroyed; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. It received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. It received what it saw, and was overpowered by what it did not see. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead. For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who sleep. To him be glory and dominion to the ages of ages. Amen.

Slapping Heretics

The world and the church have a picture of St Nicholas, it is a safe picture, he is a kindly man, a Bishop with a big white beard, who gives presents to children and does lots of lovely things. That’s all well and good, and there is much that can be said about the gentleness and generosity of the man, and how that points us to Christ. But recently I have found myself pondering another aspect of this great Saint. At the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea in ad325, Nicholas, Bishop of Myra slaps Arius for denying the coeternal and consubstantial nature of the second person of the Trinity, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Nicholas got angry and his fellow bishops and the Emperor Constantine didn’t exactly approve of the pugilist prelate. 

If it were to happen today I could imagine the media outcry, Twitter would be flooded with #bishopgate and #TeamArius posts. No doubt some eminent theologian would state that it’s perfectly alright to say that ‘there was a time when he was not’ and that Adoptionist or Subordinationist positions are all equally valid points of view and that one Christology is as good as another, that this was Arius’ truth and it needs to be affirmed, that we need to feel his pain and resist the patriarchal oppression of an authority figure like Nicholas and so on.

Nicholas slaps Arius because orthodoxy really matters, what we believe about God and the Church really matters. The Word of God, who was with his Father in eternity, before all time, and matter, and space, becomes incarnate in the womb of the virgin, for the salvation and redemption of all humanity: true God and true man, consubstantial and coeternal. It may be easier to deny this, it may make more sense, or be consistent with a philosophical position, but it will not do. As St Ambrose put it: non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum (it was not the will of God to save his people through dialectic) [De Fide 1:5, §42]. The Incarnation is a scandal and a mystery which defies human understanding and intellect, reason and philosophy it is something to be experienced, to be tasted and felt. 
This is what we await in Advent, the coming of Our Lord as a baby in Bethlehem and his second coming as Our Judge, bearing in his glorious body the wounds of love, borne for us and our salvation. So let us live lives which proclaim his saving love and truth to a world hungry for meaning and love and thereby honour God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.