Thursday, April 30, 2020

S. Irenaeus on the Eucharist and our resurrection

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

S. Catherine of Siena on living the life of grace

“All the way to Heaven is heaven, 
because He said, ‘I am the Way.’" 

- S. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Today is the heavenly birthday of S. Catherine of Siena. Born in 1347, the 24th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, she was very sensitive to spiritual realities from childhood. From the age of six she could see guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. S. Catherine became a Dominican tertiary when she was sixteen, and continued to have visions of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. She could also discern the presence of demons. Although she had no formal education - being more or less illiterate - she was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, and she sent letters to many major public figures. She also carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI.

In fact, at this very difficult time in the Church’s history, S. Catherine persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377. In 1375 she received the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Catherine’s spiritual director was Raymond of Capua. Her letters, and a treatise called “A Dialogue” are considered among the most brilliant writings of the saints.

S. Catherine died on 29th April, 1380, when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430. Her tomb is under the altar in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome.

'She burned with the love of God and her neighbour. As an ambassador she brought peace and harmony between cities. She fought hard to defend the liberty and rights of the Popes and did much for the renewal of religious life. She also dictated books full of sound doctrine and spiritual inspiration. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared S. Catherine a Doctor of the Church.' (Universalis)

God created us a second time 
in giving us the life of grace

From a Letter of S, Catherine of Siena to Blessed Raymond of Capua

This is the divine truth: we were created for the glory and praise of God’s name, to enable us to participate in God’s eternal beauty and to sanctify us in God. And the proof that this is the truth? The blood of the spotless Lamb. How are we to know this Blood? By self-knowledge.’

I know of no means of savoring the Truth and living with it, without self-knowledge. It is this knowledge which makes us really understand that we are nothing, that our being came from God when we were created in God’s image and likeness; and also that God created us a second time in giving us the life of grace through the blood of the only Son, blood which has shown us the truth of God the Father.

We were the earth where the standard of the cross was planted. We were the vessel that received the blood of the Lamb as it streamed from the cross. Why did we become that earth? Because the earth would not hold the cross upright; it would have refused such a great injustice. The nails could not have held the Lord fixed and nailed had not his love for our salvation held him there. It was love on fire with the glory of his Father and with desire for our salvation which fixed him to the cross. So we are the earth which held the cross upright and the vessel which received the blood.

We who can recognize this and live as the spouse of this Truth will find grace in his blood, and all the richness of the life of grace; our nakedness will be the nuptial garment; we will be invested with the fire of love, because the blood and fire mingle and penetrate one another; it is love which has united the blood with the divinity and poured it out.

We must live in simplicity, with neither pretensions nor mannerisms nor servile fear. We must walk in the light of a living faith that shines in more than mere words—and always so, in adversity as well as in prosperity, in times of persecution as well as in times of consolation. Nothing will be able to change the strength or the radiance of our faith if Christ who is the Truth has given us knowledge of truth not just in desire but in living experience.

S. Catherine's Prayer to the Trinity

Eternal God, eternal Trinity,
you have made the blood of Christ so precious 
through his sharing in your divine nature. 
You are a mystery as deep as the sea; 
the more I search, the more I find, 
and the more I find the more I search for you. 
But I can never be satisfied; 
what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. 
When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, 
and I grow more famished for your light. 
I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery 
and the beauty of your creation 
with the light of my understanding. 
I have clothed myself with your likeness 
and have seen what I shall be. 
Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power 
and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, 
and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. 
You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. 
You have made of me a new creation 
in the blood of your Son, 
and I know that you are moved with love 
at the beauty of your creation,
for you have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, 
you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. 
For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, 
which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. 
Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness,
 illuminates the mind with its light 
and causes me to know your truth. 
By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, 
I recognise that you are the highest good, 
one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. 
And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. 
The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, 
and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, 
for you are sweetness 
and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!

Monday, April 27, 2020

S. Bede on who we are in Christ

S. Bede the Venerable (672-735) was born near Sunderland, and lived his entire life in the north of England, yet some regard him as among the most learned 8th century scholars Europe. At the age of 7, he was sent to the Benedictine Abbey at Wearmouth for his education; at 11, he continued his education at the new monastery at Jarrow, on the Tyne, eventually becoming a monk and remaining there until his death. He lived a routine and outwardly uneventful life of prayer, devotion, study, writing, and teaching, and left his monastery only on occasion in order to preach.

S. Bede's writings depended on the fine libraries which S. Benet Biscop (c. 628–690) had collected, and cover a very wide range of interests, including natural mathematics, poetry, timekeeping, history, orthography, chronology, and biblical translation and exposition. He translated portions of the Bible into Old English. In fact, during his final illness in he was translating the Gospel of John. S. Bede felt that his 25 volumes of Scripture commentary were his most important writings. His best-known book is Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731, and still published today (by Penguin!). This work earned him the popular title "Father of English History", and not just because it was the first attempt to write a history of England. His historical research was thorough and far-reaching. For example, he asked friends travelling to Rome to bring him copies of documents relevant to English history, and he made use of oral traditions when written materials were not available. The book provides much historical information that can be found in no other source.

In the Office of Readings today, we read part of S. Bede's commentary on the First Letter of S. Peter - a key portion of the New Testament for understanding the amazing change that is wrought in us by the miracle of Holy Baptism:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. This praise was given long ago by Moses to the ancient people of God, and now the apostle Peter rightly gives it to the Gentiles, since they have come to believe in Christ who, as the cornerstone, has brought the nations together in the salvation that belonged to Israel. 

Peter calls them a chosen race because of their faith, to distinguish them from those who by refusing to accept the living stone have themselves been rejected. They are a royal priesthood because they are united to the body of Christ, the supreme king and true priest. As sovereign he grants them his kingdom, and as high priest he washes away their sins by the offering of his blood. Peter says they are a royal priesthood; they must always remember to hope for an everlasting kingdom and to offer to God the sacrifice of a blameless life.

They are also called a consecrated nation, a people claimed by God as his own, in accordance with the apostle Paul’s explanation of the prophet’s teaching: My righteous man lives by faith; but if he draws back, I will take no pleasure in him. But we, he says, are not the sort of people who draw back and are lost; ,we are those who remain faithful until we are saved. In the Acts of the Apostles we read: The Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God which he bought with his own blood. Thus, through the blood of our Redeemer, we have become a people claimed by God as his own, as in ancient times the people of Israel were ransomed from Egypt by the blood of a lamb.

In the next verse, Peter also makes a veiled allusion to the ancient story, and explains that this story is to be spiritually fulfilled by the new people of God, so that, he says, they may declare his wonderful deeds. Those who were freed by Moses from slavery in Egypt sang a song of triumph to the Lord after they had crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army had been overwhelmed; in the same way, now that our sins have been washed away in baptism, we too should express fitting gratitude for the gifts of heaven. The Egyptians who oppressed the people of God, and who can also stand for darkness or trials, are an apt symbol of the sins that once oppressed us but have now been destroyed in baptism.

The deliverance of the children of Israel and their journey to the long-promised land correspond with the mystery of our redemption: we are making our way toward the light of our heavenly home with the grace of Christ leading us and showing us the way. The light of his grace was also symbolised by the cloud and the pillar of fire, which protected the Israelites from darkness throughout their journey, and brought them by a wonderful path to their promised homeland.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

"The Fully Christian Life is a Eucharistic Life ..." - Evelyn Underhill

Since my teens the writings of Evelyn Underhill (1875-1942) 
have enriched my understanding of most things, 
and especially worship. 
Underhill was a widely acclaimed Anglican spiritual director 
who more than deserves to be rediscovered. 
The photograph above is of Mass at S. Nicholas' Plumstead, London.

. . . the fully Christian life is a Eucharistic life: that is, a natural life conformed to the pattern of Jesus, given in its wholeness to God, laid on His altar as a sacrifice of love, and consecrated, transformed by His inpouring life, to be used to give life and food to other souls. It will be, according to its measure and special call, adoring, declaratory, intercessory and redemptive: but always a vehicle of the Supernatural. The creative spirit of God is a redemptive and cherishing love; and it is as friends and fellow workers with the Spirit, tools of the Divine redemptive action that Christians are required to live. ‘You are the Body of Christ’, said Saint Augustine to his communicants. 'That is to say, in you and through you the method and work of the Incarnation must go forward. You are meant to incarnate in your lives the theme of your adoration. You are to be taken, consecrated, broken and made means of grace; vehicles of the Eternal Charity.'

Thus every Christian communicant volunteers for translation into the supernatural order, and is self-offered for the supernatural purposes of God. The Liturgy leads us out towards Eternity, by way of the acts in which men express their need of God and relation to God. It commits every worshipper to the adventure of holiness, and has no meaning apart from this. In it the Church shows forth again and again her great objective; the hallowing of the whole created order and the restoration of all things in Christ. The Liturgy recapitulates all the essentials in this life of sanctification — to repent, to pray, to listen, to learn; and then to offer upon the altar of God, to intercede, to be transformed to the purposes of God, to be fed and maintained by the very life of God.

And though it is the voice of the Church, none the less in it is to be recognized the voice of each separate soul, and the care of the Praying Church for each separate soul. ‘Holy Things for the Holy!’, cries the celebrant in the earliest liturgies, as he lifts up the consecrated gifts. Not ‘Good Things for the Good’; but supernatural things for those imperfect creatures who have been baptized into the Supernatural, translated to another order — those looking towards God the Perfect and beginning to conceive of life as a response to God the Perfect; but unable without the ‘rich bread of Christ’ to actualize the state to which they are called.

- Evelyn Underhill, from The Mystery of Sacrifice

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Saint Anselm's Day

Today the Church honours St Anselm, a great Archbishop of Canterbury.

Born in Aosta in Northern Italy in 1033, St Anselm entered the Norman monastery at Bec in 1060. 

After being elected abbot, Anselm became the most celebrated theologian and spiritual guide of his age. His theological and philosophical treatises and letters of spiritual friendship all reflect the motto Fides Quaerens Intellectum - Faith Seeking Understanding.

His desire to show the complementarity of reason and faith bore fruit in his Proslogion, a treatise in which he formulated an ontological argument for the existence of God that continues to fascinate philosophers to this day. His letters, written in a graceful literary style that made them a model for generations of writers, reveal a warm and generous personality.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm was an active pastor and reformer. He defended the Church of England against royal control and oppression, for which he was twice exiled by the king. In 1102 he presided over the first Church council to outlaw the slave trade. During his exiles, St Anselm continued to write, producing Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man), the most famous medieval interpretation of the Incarnation.

We thank God for his holiness of life, the depth of his divine and human learning, his political and social conscience in the service of God and man.

Here is the first chapter of his Proslogion. It is, in fact, a prayer that we might seek God and find him. It is a wonderful prayer, a prayer of great beauty and sensitivity. I have sometimes given it to people who are at the beginning of their faith journey to help them begin a conversation with God. This translation is by Benedicta Ward, from her Penguin book, The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm. (1973)

Come now, little man, turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest awhile in him.

Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, ‘I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.’

0 Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here but absent,  where shall I seek you? But you are everywhere, so you must be here, why then do I not seek you? Surely you dwell in light inaccessible – where is it? and how can I have access to light which is inaccessible? Who will lead me and take me into it so that I may see you there? By what signs, under what forms, shall I seek you? I have never seen you, 0 Lord my God, I have never seen your face.

Most High Lord, what shall an exile do who is as far away from you as this? What shall your servant do, eager for your love, cast off far from your face? He longs to see you, but your countenance is too far away. He wants to have access to you, but your dwelling is inaccessible. He longs to find you, but he does not know where you are. He loves to seek you, but he does not know your face.

Lord, you are my Lord and my God, and I have never seen you. You have created and re-created me, all the good I have comes from you, and still I do not know you. I was created to see you, and I have not yet accomplished that for which I was made. How wretched is the fate of man when he has lost that for which he was created.

How hard and cruel was the Fall. What has man lost, and what has he found? What has he left, and what is left to him? He has lost blessedness for which he was made and he has found wretchedness for which he was not made. He had left that without which there is no happiness, and he has got that which is nothing but misery. Once man did eat angels’ food, and now he hungers for it; now he eats the bread of sorrow, which then he knew nothing of.

Ah, grief common to all men, lamentation of all the sons of Adam. Adam was so full he belched, we are so hungry we sigh; he had abundance, and we go begging. He held what he had in happiness and left it in misery; we are unhappy in our wants and miserable in our desires, and ah, how empty we remain. Why did he not keep for us that which he possessed so easily, and we lack despite such labour? Why did he shut out our light and surround us with darkness? Why did he take away our life and give us the hurt of death ?

From whence have we wretched men been pushed down, to what place are we being pushed on? From what position have we been cast down, where are we being buried? From our homeland into exile, from the vision of God into our own blindness, from the deathless state in which we rejoiced into the bitterness of a death to be shuddered at. Wretched exchange, so great a good for so much evil. A grievous loss, a grievous sorrow,  the whole thing is grievous.

Alas, I am indeed wretched, one of those wretched sons of Eve, separated from God! What have I begun, and what accomplished? Where was I going and where have I got to? To what did I reach out, for what do I long? I sought after goodness, and lo, here is turmoil; I was going towards God, and I was my own impediment. I sought for peace within myself, and in the depths of my heart I found trouble and sorrow. I wanted to laugh for the joy of my heart, and the pain of my heart made me groan. It was gladness I was hoping for, but sighs came thick and fast.

O Lord, how long? How long, Lord, will you turn your face from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself to us again? 

Look upon us, Lord, and hear us, enlighten us and show yourself to us. Give yourself to us again that it may be well with us, for without you it is ill with us. Have mercy on us, as we strive and labour to come to you,  for without you we can do nothing well. You have invited us to cry out, ‘Help us’: I pray you, Lord,  let me not sigh without hope, but hope and breathe again.

Let not my heart become bitter because of its desolation, but sweeten it with your consolation. When I was hungry I began to seek you, Lord; do not let me go hungry away. I came to you famished; do not let me go from you unfed. Poor, I have come to one who is rich, miserable, I have come to one who is merciful; do not let me return empty and despised. If before I eat I sigh,  after my sighs give me to eat.

Lord, I am so bent I can only look downwards, raise me, that I may look upwards. My iniquities have gone over my head, they cover me and weigh me down like a heavy burden. Take this weight, this covering, from me, lest the pit close its mouth over me. Let me discern your light, whether from afar or from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and as I seek you,  show yourself to me,  for I cannot seek you unless you show me how, and I will never find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you by desiring you, and desire you by seeking you; let me find you by loving you, and love you in finding you.

I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving, that you have made me in your image, so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you. But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do that for which it was made, unless you renew and refashion it. Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height, for my understanding is in no way equal to that, but I do desire to understand a little of your truth which my heart already believes and loves. I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand; and what is more, I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
The collect from today's Mass:

O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm
to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom,
grant, we pray,
that our faith in you may so aid our understanding,
that what we believe by your command
may give delight to our hearts.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

"My Lord and my God" . . . water, some fragments of bread, and a chalice of wine are enough to close the gap between two worlds (Evelyn Underhill)

From The School of Charity: Meditations on the Christian Creed (pp. 64-66), by Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)

The Crucifix, which is the perfect symbol of generous sacrifice, is the perfect symbol of victory too: of the love which shirks nothing and so achieves everything, the losing and the finding of life. “He was crucified, dead and buried—rose again and ascended.” With this double statement the Creed, the rule of prayer, reaches its climax, and shows us in a sentence the deepest meaning of our life: declaring in plain language that unlimited self-offering is the only path from man to God.

This means that the Thought of God, penetrating our tangled world and entering into union with our imperfect nature, saves and transforms that nature, raises it to a new level, not by power, but by the complete exercise of courageous love ; the deliberate facing of the world’s worst. And we, following the footsteps of that holy Life which reveals reality, must take the same way. “As dying and behold we live” is a literal fact for the genuine Christian. 

The release of power, the transformation of life which comes from unconditional self-abandonment, is guaranteed to us by the story of Easter and the Forty Days: its continuance in the sacraments and the saints. We too achieve all by risking all. Christianity is a triumphant heroism. The valiant obedience of the Blessed Virgin makes the Incarnation possible: the more complete and awful self-giving of the Cross makes the life-giving life of the Church and the Saints possible. The ancient Easter Sequence sums it up:

“Death and Life strove together in awful combat;
The Lord of Life, who died, living reigns.”

And yet this reign, with its strange triumphant beauty, is not manifested in any of the sensational incidents of which Apocalyptic writers had dreamed; by a sudden coming in the Clouds of Heaven, or by the shattering of our ordinary human world. Still true to the Divine method of hiddenness and humility, it comes back into that world very quietly; brought by love, and only recognized by love. It appears by preference in connection with the simple realities of everyday existence, and exercises its enlightening, pacifying, strengthening influence in and through these homely realities. Personal needs, friendly affections, become the consecrated channels of the immortal Love, which declares its victories by a quiet and tender benediction poured out on ordinary life. 

The glory of the Divine Humanity is not shown in the Temple and the Synagogue. He seeks out His nervous followers within the arena of ordinary life; meets them behind the locked doors of the Upper Room, waits for them in early morning by the lake side, walks with them on the country road, and suddenly discloses Himself in the breaking of bread. The characters of the old life which are carried through into this new and glorified life are just those which express a homely and cherishing love. It is the One who had fed the multitude, pacified the distracted, washed the dusty feet of His followers and given Himself to be their food, who now re-enters their troubled lives ; for their sake, not for His own.

For us, these scenes have an other-worldly beauty. We see them bathed in the supernatural light. But for Peter and Thomas, James and John, they happened under normal conditions of time and place. Frightened, weary and discouraged, worried about the future and remorseful about the past, for them the wonder abode in the quiet return of the Holy and Immortal who was yet the familiar and the human, to the commonplace surroundings in which they had known Him best. 

Silently disregarding their disappointing qualities, their stupidity, cowardice and lack of trust, He came back to them in a pure impetus of charity; came down to their level as one that serveth, making visible the Invisible Love, and gave the guarantees which their petty standards demanded and their narrow souls could apprehend. Thus, by this unblemished courtesy, “binding His majesty to our lowliness,” as the Byzantine liturgy says, He restored their faith, hope and charity; and gave them an example only less searching in its self-oblivious gentleness than the lesson of the washing of the feet.

Even their own fragmentary notes of what happened, or seemed to them to happen, shame and delight us by their witness to the splendour and humility of generous love. “My Lord!” says St. Thomas, seeing, touching, and measuring the Holiness so meekly shown to him in his own crude terms; and then, passing beyond that sacramental revelation to the unseen, untouched, unmeasured, uttering the word every awakened soul longs to utter—” My God! “The very heart of the Christian revelation is disclosed in that scene.

So it is that the real mark of spiritual triumph - the possession of that more lovely, more abundant life which we discern in moments of deep prayer - is not an abstraction from this world, but a return to it; a willing use of its conditions as material for the expression of love. There is nothing high-minded about Christian holiness. It is most at home in the slum, the street, the hospital ward: and the mysteries through which its gifts are distributed are themselves chosen from amongst the most homely realities of life. 

A little water, some fragments of bread, and a chalice of wine are enough to close the gap between two worlds; and give soul and senses a trembling contact with the Eternal Charity. By means of these its creatures, that touch still cleanses, and that hand still feeds. The serene, unhurried, self-imparting which began before Gethsemane continues still. Either secretly or sacramentally, every Christian is a link in the chain of perpetual penitents and perpetual communicants through which the rescuing Love reaches out to the world. Perhaps there is no more certain mark of a mature spirituality than the way in which those who possess it are able to enter a troubled situation and say, “Peace,” or turn from the exercise of heroic love to meet the humblest needs of men.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Bishop Jonathan Baker on the Risen Christ coming to his people

So many people have said how much they have appreciated the meditations given throughout this Holy Week by Bishop Jonathan Baker. This one helps us to understand how powerfully the risen Lord comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament, so that we know him as did the disciples at Emmaus 'in the breaking of the Bread'. Bishop Jonathan ends with Benediction.

Christ is Risen. Alleluia!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Harrowing of Hell : Anastasis

All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane 
Blessing of the Font at the 2003 Easter Vigil, 
featuring the Icon of the Lord’s Resurrection.

I was recently looking through some memorabilia and came across a past issue of the All Saints’ Gazette, from my old parish of All Saints’Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. It contains the following sermon preached at the blessing of our great Anastasis icon which forms a striking backdrop to the font underneath the new organ/choir gallery at the west end of the church. 

The Icon is a memorial to Canon Alexander Livingstone Sharwood (1907-1991) and his wife, Margaret Evelyn Sharwood (1910-1995), given by their family. Their association with All Saints' went back many decades. The icon was was written by well-known artist, iconographer and friend of the Sharwood family, Bishop John Bayton AM. OMLJ, GCSJ. He dedicated the icon at Evensong and Benediction on 3rd November 2002. He was also the preacher. This is his sermon:  

“For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit through whom he went and preached to the souls that were in prison, who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah . . . (when) a few, that is, eight in all were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:18)

In the active ministry of every priest there are “highs” and “lows”, remembrances of celebrations and events that form and transform the soul. Memories of Ordinations, Consecrations and people and places.

Of places I could spend many hours recounting them, particularly Jerusalem. In the heart of the Old City stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it is called in the West. In the East the Orthodox and the Orientals know it as the Church of the Resurrection. It is in fact many Churches within the walls of one ancient and venerable edifice. Custody of the Church is held by Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian and Latin Patriarchies. There are no Roman Catholics in Jerusalem, they are known as Latins because of the incredibly savage way the Crusaders dealt with the local people - Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.

Outside the West door of the Greek Orthodox Katholikon there is a small terra cotta urn about two feet high and about one foot in diameter. It is here, so it is said that God created the Universe. If you put your ear to the opening on top of this little urn you can hear the sounds of creation - if you are pure in heart.

Nearby is a black and white marble pavement with a black and white marble circle marking the spot where Mary Magdalene mistook the Risen Lord for the gardener. Close by to this dynamic place but above it by some five metres is the Altar built over the split rock that once stood in the middle of a great quarry outside the walls of Jerusalem - If you place your hand beneath this Altar you can feel the socket into which the Cross of Jesus was placed. This is the stone once rejected by the builders. Immediately beneath it is a very ancient cave said to be the burial place of our first parents Adam and Eve. It is known as the chapel of Adam.

Ten metres away from this rock called Golgotha, the place of Adam’s skull is a marble slab known as the Stone of the Anointing upon which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid the Lord’s body after his deposition. And another ten metres away from this stone is a small highly decorated little building known as The Edicule. This is the Tomb of Christ.

Immediately above Golgotha by about ten metres is another Chapel, the Chapel Of Abraham. In the floor beneath the altar of this Chapel is a hole covered with a twelve inch silver plate. Through the hole one can see the Altar built over the Rock of the Crucifixion - Calvary.

At 7.00am on June 11th, the Feast of Saint Barnabas and the anniversary of my consecration as a bishop in the Church of God, with the gracious permission of His Beatitude the Greek Patriarch, fully vested in my Episcopal vestments I kissed the Altar and began a solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Above all other places I have been, beyond all other solemn occasions I have celebrated, this day will remain with me for the rest of my life. “And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” It was an awesome occasion, a time of great anamnesis.

And yet every Altar stands above the place of the crucifixion-resurrection of Christ. Every place of sacrifice is as solemn a place as that. Yet there is something beyond the veil of sensibility that permits me to speak of that time and to be so moved by it. All things that belong to this Icon we are about to Dedicate constellate there. Here, as I have written down on this board covered with linen which represents the linen in which His body was wrapped. Here in the pigments of mother earth, and the gold of the kingdom of heaven we find Christ trampling down the Gates of Hades and hauling our first parents out of their sepulchers, about which Saint Peter speaks in the words of our text tonight. Preaching to the souls in prison, those ancient ones who lay in their tomb awaiting the coming of the Second Adam to the fight and to the rescue of fallen humanity.

Behind them stands John the Baptist, King David and King Solomon, the Prophets Elijah and Elisha and Daniel. And the two mountains - on the right Mount Sinai, Horeb, that most awesome of places, where God gave to Moses the Torah and every interpretation of the Law. And on the left Mount Tabor where, in company with the two great desert prophets Moses and Elijah the Lord is transfigured in order that he might set his face towards Jerusalem. This is the place where Peter said, “It is good Lord to be here, let us make three cubby houses, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Cubby House comes from the Aramaic Qu ‘bah - the place where the children meet to tell stories, to sing songs and to dance - that is, the Church - where the Great Story of Redemption is told in the Mass, where the great Liturgy is sung and where the whole Laos of God , bishops, priests, deacons and laity perform the sacred dance that recalls into present time the events of the past that have their fulfillment in the future.

Below the trampled down gates of the underworld we find Satan, the evil one, Lucifer bound in chains until the end of time, surrounded by the instruments of Christ’s Passion.

What is the purpose of the Icon? This Icon is the Memorial to two people who lived out lives of great faith and who I was privileged to know. The Reverend Dr Sharwood was my lecturer in Greek at St. Francis College. Mrs Sharwood was always a gracious host to theological students at St. Columb's Clayfield.

May I depart from my text for a moment to tell you a story about him. It was an afternoon lecture and we all know that afternoon lectures are times for quiet snoozing. He was speaking about the many kinds of theisms found in the Holy Land - Monotheism the worship of one god; polytheism the worship of many gods; henotheism the belief that there are many gods but one worships only One. He said to Douglas Jones, “Mr Jones, what is henotheism?” Douglas who had been in the arms of Morpheus for most of the lecture said, “Beg pardon Father”.“What is henotheism Mr Jones”. Stunned for a moment, Doug replied, “Poultry worship”. Which reply brought the broadest grin to your father’s face.

In general, and in particular this Icon is a most appropriate memorial to Dr and Mr Sharwood. It is an agreed point of encounter. It is the place where we meet with Christ and where Christ meets with us. An Icon is always a revelation, a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional reality. It is a Place not a painting.

An Icon written, translated from an original or prototype and is therefore faithful to the Tradition. It is certainly not a simple representation of a past event however important that past event is in the history of religion. It is the place where Christ continues to “raise the dead”. It is the Image of the eternal self emptying [kenosis] of God Himself who toko upon himself the form of a servant and was found in human form. Who humbled himself even to death on a cross and who, because of his unbelievable holiness, righteousness and obedience the Father was able to rise from the dead to triumph over sin. To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Harrowing of Hell and the Healing of the Memories

What follows is a powerful Eastertide reflection on the Harrowing of Hades by Canon William Beasley, who works in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to help establish new congregations, particularly in the Upper Midwest. He shows what the victory of Jesus means for us here and now. The Anastasis icon above is from the The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Istanbul. 

On Holy Saturday, right after remembering the crucifixion of Good Friday, the Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus’ descent into hell, celebrated in art and literature as the Harrowing of Hell. (From the Old English word hergian, the word harrowing means to despoil: “to steal or violently remove valuable or attractive possessions from; to plunder.”) Jesus beat back the gates of Hades to rescue Hell’s captives - to free God’s people trapped there so that they could ascend with him in the resurrection. This is not the celebration of universalism, which asserts that sin has no effect, but rather, it is the celebration that nothing is beyond the saving power of the Son of God. He even smashes the gates of Hades to deliver all who would follow him. You have not met a person who is beyond the saving power of the victorious Son of God.

The One who has the power to set captives free, he stands in eternity—outside of time and reaches into our present and past. He is present to you now while equally present to you in time past. Jesus has the power to enter your time past to heal memories now. Agnes Sanford, a pioneer in the ministry of healing prayer, coined the phrase healing of memories to describe how you can find forgiveness and healing in the Lord rather than continue under the heavy burden of past sins, either that you have committed, or that have been committed against you. You do not have to be in bondage to the grinding psychological rut of the past; you can know the joy of the Lord's freedom. He can enter in the pain, the hell of your memories, and rescue you. He enters into past memories, not to change the facts, but to change the effects of sin through forgiveness and healing. You then have the choice to use your “holy imagination” to see Jesus with you in those memories. His Presence heals. He has the power to break down the gates of Hades, to forgive, to redeem, to restore—to harrow from Hell. He has the power to make all things new. 

In this season of Resurrection, as the Lord raises up new congregations - new missional communities among us - in a barn in rural areas or in a home, in an urban storefront or in a nursing home, in a suburban living room or in an apartment complex, remember that you are following the One who has the power to break people free from the addictions of sin, and that no one that you meet, and no one’s past, is beyond his saving embrace. 

Matthew 27:51-53:
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (ESV)

1 Peter 3:19-20: 
He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (ESV)

Ephesians 4:8-10: 
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives and he gave gifts to men.” In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (ESV)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Holy Week 2020 at All Saints', Benhilton - Easter Vigil Mass

Don’t you love those war movies that show prisoners in concentration camps planning their escape! The big day comes, and the prisoners go about their duties as they nudge one another and whisper “THIS IS THE NIGHT.” 

You feel their sense of expectancy!

It seems to have been like that for the Israelite slaves as they got ready to escape from Egypt. On Thursday night we read Exodus 12, all about the preparations that had to be made. Do you remember how each family had to kill the Passover Lamb and put its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their house, eat the Lamb together and be ready to leave quickly? 

The saga of this great escape through the waters of the Red Sea, then the long journey through the desert to the Land of Promise, is the backdrop that has ever since defined the Jewish people as well as the “new Israel” the Church, the community gathered around Jesus.

Well, I want to tell you: THIS IS THE NIGHT!

As we stood here in the darkness, at the start of this service, around the paschal candle, holding our own candles with their new flickering flames, an ancient chant from around the year 400 was sung. Did you notice that four times those words were sung: “THIS IS THE NIGHT”? 

THIS IS THE NIGHT when God freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the Red Sea.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when the pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when Christians throughout the world, freed from worldly vices and washed clean of sin are led to grace and grow together in holiness.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when Jesus broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.


The early Church saw the saga of those slaves escaping from Egypt as picture of you and me, slaves of sin, being set free by Jesus, who is the true Passover Lamb - the Lamb without blemish. (See 1 Corinthians 10). In fact, did you notice that the blood on the door posts and lintel of the houses marking out the families that would be rescued was smeared in the sign of the cross? 


The waters of the Red Sea are a sign of OUR journey to freedom when we followed Jesus through the waters of baptism.

So, you see, we are liberated slaves!

And even the big Paschal Candle represents the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the darkness as they made their escape – another sign of Jesus, who, risen from the dead, is our light in the darkness, around whom we gather . . . Jesus, who leads us and guides us as we make his light our own.

THIS IS THE NIGHT! Not  a history lesson, but an actual experience of God’s mighty power.

THIS IS THE NIGHT of our salvation. The stone is rolled away. Jesus is Risen. Sin and death are conquered. 

THIS IS THE NIGHT when many thousands of people around the world are making their escape from slavery to the powers of evil through the baptismal waters.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when we renew our baptismal promises and are sprinkled with water from the font, recalling that wonderful moment when we were plunged with Jesus into that watery grave, buried with him in his death, and then raised with him into the love, power and wonder of his new life.

              NEW BEGINNINGS. 


There is so much war and violence in our world. So much disease and despair. You - the community born and reborn tonight - have a huge role to play as the body of the wounded but risen Jesus in this world, reaching  out with his love and healing. 

As an Anglican missionary in the Middle East wrote a couple of years ago: 

‘Christianity is built on the conviction that out of the most radical and disastrous despair, God turned the tables on the Empire and the Temple that killed his Son, and his resurrection was nothing less than the victory of God. 

‘THE POWER OF LIFE IN THAT RESURRECTION FLOWED OUT INTO A COMMUNITY CALLED OUT BY GOD, THE CHURCH. That community was called to be a sacrament of secret life and an imperfect but real embassy of God’s reign, which, like yeast in dough, spreads and leavens.’
- Abu Daoud  in St Francis Magazine Vol 8, No 2 April 2012

In the resurrection of Jesus a good God is bringing us to victory, the God who has wept with us so that we can laugh with him. The joy he gives us is an undercurrent of new life even in these dark days when there seems so little hope for our culture and civilisation.

Every Sunday proclaims it. Every baptism sees another person plunged into the dying and rising of Jesus. Every Mass takes us to the Bridal Chamber with Jesus, the Church’s risen Bridegroom. In fact, everything in our faith is seen in the light of Jesus’ Resurrection. The whole of the Church Year is based on Easter Day. The Paschal Candle is by far the largest in the church.  

THIS IS THE NIGHT! The Resurrection is huge. It is supernatural, and its power breaks into your life and mine right here in this world. Just ask our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters! Their direct focus on the Resurrection of Jesus is what got them through seventy years of persecution at the hands of totalitarian atheists in the old Soviet Union and its satellite states. 

And in the dark days to come for OUR culture, the power of Jesus’ Resurrection surging through our lives and parish communities will see us through. 

We are heralds of the new creation and we see Jesus, tonight, crowned with glory and honour, risen from the dead, triumphant over sin and death. United in love with him in his dying and rising, we are ‘more than conquerors’ (Romans 8:37), and ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This ‘Mass of the Resurrection’ uses ancient symbols, to take us to the heart of ‘The Paschal Mystery’ - the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. 

1. THE SERVICE OF LIGHT: The church  is in darkness. A fire is lit near the main door symbolising the power of the Holy Spirit to bring new life. The fire is blessed and the big ‘Pascal Candle’ is lit from it.  This Candle represents the Lord risen from the dead. It is carried through the church and raised three times, while ‘The Light of Christ/THANKS BE TO GOD’ is sung. The people’s candles are lit from the Paschal Candle, and then the ancient ‘Easter Proclamation’ is sung.

2. THE WORD OF GOD: As many as 9 Scripture passages are read, telling of the great things God did to deliver his people, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus. The sermon, as usual, follows the Gospel.

3. THE LITURGY OF BAPTISM: We process to the font as the Litany of the Saints is sung. Water is blessed, and there are usually baptisms. Then all the people renew their baptismal promises and are sprinkled with the baptismal water. This part of the service concludes with the intercessions.

4. THE EUCHARIST: Mass continues as usual, and we receive Holy Communion. Eastertide has begun. ALLELUIA!

The Paschal Candle, a sign of Jesus’ resurrection, stays in the sanctuary until Pentecost, the climax  of Eastertide, when it is put by the font - a sign of the relationship between the resurrection and Baptism. It is also put by the coffin at funerals as a sign that Jesus shares his victory over death with all his people.