Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday 2021

A letter to our parish family marking the start of Holy Week 2021

I must admit to having been a bit worried right up until this morning about the effect on our Palm Sunday Mass of having to scale it down. All parishes have had to do it as part of adapting the Church’s traditional Holy Week ceremonies to the present Covid rules and precautions. (I also thought that changing to daylight saving time today would have a negative impact on our attendance. But that was NOT the case at All Saints' Benhilton. Neither did anyone arrive an hour late!)

In the end, what a great Mass we had. I was glad to see so many in church together, especially the small children. Thanks to Linda and the singers who recommenced their vital role in our worship today, and also to Harry and Aiden who were crucifer and thurifer. 


So, today we began the holiest week of the Church’s year.  And although we couldn’t have the Procession of Palms, we did hear the Passion Reading from S. Mark’s Gospel - the account of the hours leading up to the death of Jesus.  

The procession, of course, is one of the ways that the Church helps us to insert ourselves into the story of Jesus. As Holy Week unfolds, there are other special ceremonies that do the same thing. They nurture our union with Jesus and help us respond to his love. Some of these, such as the Maundy Thursday foot washing, the Good Friday kissing of the Crucifix, and the Easter Vigil passing of candlelight one to another are not able to happen this year. 

But we still trudge the Calvary road with Jesus, supported by our meditation on Holy Scripture and our companionship with one another as brothers and sisters in him. We are with him as he is stripped of his garments, beaten, flogged, and nailed to the cross. We gather as a little community of faith and love with Mother Mary, the other women and the apostle John at the foot of the cross, allowing its reconciling and healing love to flow upon us and make us whole. At Easter we emerge with the original disciples in the power and newness of our Lord’s victory over sin and death.

This happened in real history. Father Marcus Donovan, Vicar of All Saints’ Benhilton from 1945 to 1961, wrote a book while he was here called Faith and Practice. I quote his summary of what Jesus embraced for you and for me:

There are only two names beside that of our Lord mentioned in the Creed. One is ‘the Virgin Mary’, the other is ‘Pontius Pilate.’

This marks the Crucifixion as an event in history, at a particular date when a man named Pilate was governor of Judaea. The events which took place are known as ‘the Passion’’. They began with the Agony in the garden. The garden was called Gethsemane. After the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday night, our Lord went out with the Apostles (all but Judas, who had left the Upper Room and gone to guide the people who came to make the arrest). In the garden Jesus knelt down some way from the Apostles and endured his agony. “Agony” means a struggle: it was the conflict between his natural shrinking and his determination to do his Father’s will. He was perfectly obedient and went on to the fate awaiting him.

Other features in the Passion were the scourging and the crowning with thorns. The scourging was at the High Priest’s house (Mt. 26. 67), the crowning with thorns was at the Praetorium, i.e. the fortified residence of Pilate: perhaps the soldiers found some thorn-bushes in the courtyard and from them made a garland such as the winners in public games used to wear. The carrying of the Cross and the Crucifixion are the remaining features of the Passion. There were many other insults, e.g. spitting and bowing down before him in mockery.

Our Lord hung for three hours on the Cross and then ‘gave up the ghost’. His body was taken down and laid in the tomb and his soul went down to Hades.

We must remind ourselves about the Passion, by which we mean the sufferings of our Lord which ended in his death. There is one special time when we do this . . .  Holy Week. There are several services which help us to see the events. Every Friday is a reminder of Good Friday. 

It is specially important to remember that our Lord is still offering the sacrifice of himself to the Father in heaven and we are still gaining its benefit. What is that benefit? It is that we are ‘reconciled to God’. We were separated from God by sin, but the Cross has taken away the barrier and we are made friends of God. (pp. 51-52)



Last week I wrote about the amazing love God has for us, and the transformation that begins within us as we surrender to that love. Of course, such a surrender has its difficult moments and involves real struggle, especially if we have stubborn wills, or have lacked any real experience of unconditional love in our upbringing and relationships. 

Indeed, it is surprisingly  common for us to push God away, when we ought to be following the best of our primordial instincts and open our hearts to his goodness and love. If we manage to do that, we prove in our own experience the reality of  Jesus’ saying, ‘... if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8:36).

God’s commitment to us has no limit. That’s the real message of Holy Week. 

Our redemption cost Jesus - God in human flesh - everything. You and I know that, because whenever we come into All Saints’ Church we find ourselves confronted by the large medieval-style carved crucifix on the rood screen.

A stunningly beautiful work of art, dating back to 1911, it is also terrifying in its realism: Jesus himself, towering over us, with Mary and John by the cross, the arms of Jesus painfully fixed to the wood with chunky nails, but also outstretched in a kind of cosmic embrace, drawing you and me more deeply into his love. The first time I saw that crucifix the beginning of the familiar hymn by John Bowring (1792-1872) came to mind:

‘In the Cross of Christ I glory,

Towering o’er the wrecks of time . . .’


We walk with Jesus, step by step to the Cross this Holy Week. He merges his story with ours, and ours with his. This merging of our stories is how he gives our lives meaning and purpose. In the process of doing so he promises us his gifts of grace for when we suffer and for our pain. Sometimes we miss this aspect of Holy Week because we don’t spend enough time musing on chapters thirteen to seventeen of S. John’s Gospel. These chapters deal not just with the Last Supper, but also with the teaching and encouragement Jesus gives about the resources he provides for his people seeking to live for him in this world.

Each of the Gospel writers wants to show us that, his inner struggle notwithstanding, Jesus is calm in the midst of the storm gathering around him, unlike the disciples. He is laying his life down, he knows that!  He understands he will be betrayed and will suffer. He’s praying in the Garden so as to draw strength from his Father’s love. At the same time, he’s trying to help the disciples cope with it all. And he says to them:

‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I go away, and I will come to you” . . .  I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.’ (John 14:27-29)  

This peace - the same peace that S. Paul says ‘passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) is a gift from the Lord on which  you and I can draw in our own lives if we stay close to him. It is a Holy Week gift. It is not the result of circumstances being favourable to us; nor is it the result of any courage or ‘positive thinking’ on our part. It is - to use another of S. Paul’s phrases - a ‘fruit of the Holy Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22). And it is certainly something on which we should be actively drawing right now as we begin the rebuilding of our lives, families, workplaces and church community in the wake of Covid-19.  


The secret police are on their way to get Jesus. There he stands on the hill, most likely silhouetted against the Passover full moon. A lone figure . . . perhaps even a pathetic one. Certainly no match for his persecutors. Yet while his disciples are fearful and worried he is able to say to them: 

‘The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.‘ (John 16:32-33)

Following on from this, I think it is significant that when he rises from the dead and appears to his disciples, Jesus’ first greeting to them is ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19). That’s how serious he is about our being able to draw on his gift of supernatural peace for our own times of turmoil and fear. 

May we have the good sense to do just that, and to trust him more in our everyday lives.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Praying for the Dead - Bishop Jonathan Baker explains . . .

The Covid-19 pandemic has, tragically and often cruelly, thrown the issue of grieving for the dead into sharp focus for too many in our society. While in no way detracting from that grief, the Christian faith has always offered a message of hope; a hope which finds its source in Our Lord’s Resurrection. Our belief as Christians is that death is not the end and that, by praying for the dead, we not only aid the souls of the deceased in their journey to the next world, but we also gain spiritual benefits for ourselves. For we too shall make that journey one day.

In this short film on praying for the dead, The Rt Rev'd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham, gives a powerful reflection on this challenging topic, accompanied by music and a scriptural reading on the same theme. The Bishop rightly reminds us that Christians have always prayed for the dead and that it is at the heart of our Christian faith that we should continue to do so. It was wonderful to witness the country coming together to clap its carers last year. We now urge people to unite spiritually in praying for the dead at this time of crisis.

For more information, and for more resources on praying for the dead, then please visit

The film is a joint initiative between The Society and The Church Union and was made in accordance with the Government guidelines in place during the pandemic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

S.Patrick - The Deer's Cry

You worship the sun that rises and sets;
I preach to you, Christ, the sun that never sets.
(S. Patrick)

Many legends surround the life and ministry of the great missionary, S. Patrick, who is honoured by the Church today.  One of them tells of Patrick lighting a fire on the hill of Slane one Holy Saturday, which was a challenge to the High-King Laeghaire who was about to light a ritual fire on the hill of Tara to proclaim his authority over all. Outraged at the Christian challenge to his claim, the High-King summoned Patrick. Apprehensively, Patrick began his journey, chanting this prayer, this affirmation of faith, calling on the power of God to protect him against his enemies. In the legend, Laeghaire tried to ambush Patrick, but all he saw when he looked Patrick’s way was a group of deer and a fawn following them. For this reason, the prayer is also known as The Deer’s Cry. The hymn based on it is generally known as 'S. Patrick’s Breatplate.' 

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of Creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with his Baptism,
through the strength of his Crucifixion with his Burial
through the strength of his Resurrection with his Ascension,
through the strength of his descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels,
in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs,
in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles,
in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins,
in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun,
brilliance of Moon,
splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning,
swiftness of Wind,
depth of Sea,
stability of Earth,
firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God’’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who shall
wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics,
against craft of idolatry,
against spells of women [any witch] and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.

Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness
towards the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.

May thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Holy Week 2021 at All Saints' Benhilton, Sutton, Surrey SM1 3DA

Although the Holy Week liturgies are simplified this year according to the rules relating to Covid-19 precautions, a full schedule of services is provided to enable our people (and visitors) to share in the Lord's way of the cross, and in his glorious triumph over sin and death. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

S. David of Wales

Saint David (or Dewi, as he is known in the Welsh language) was an evangelist and monk, who became Archbishop of Wales. He was one of many early saints who travelled around preaching the Gospel, teaching the Faith, and establishing church communities among the Celtic tribes of western Britain. 

David lived a frugal life, eating mainly bread and herbs. He was born near Capel Non (Non's chapel) on the South-West Wales coast near the present city of St David's. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the small river Alun. He was buried in the grounds of this monastery, where the Cathedral of St David now stands, and he was was formally recognised as a saint by Pope Callistus II in 1120. 

During his 2010 visit to Great Britain, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about St David in Westminster Cathedral:
'Saint David was one of the greatest saints of the 6th century, that golden age of saints and missionaries in these isles, and he was thus a founder of the Christian culture which lies at the root of modern Europe. David's preaching was simple yet profound: his dying words to his monks were, "Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things". It is the little things that reveal out love for the one who loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and that bind people into a community of faith, love and service. May Saint David's message, in all its simplicity and richness, continue to resound in Wales today, drawing the hearts of its people to renewed love for Christ and his Church.'

And here is the second reading in today's Office of Readings, from a Life of St David by Rhygyferch, an eleventh century Bishop of St David's, whose name in Latin was Ricemarchus: 
'The holy Father David prescribed an austere system of monastic observance, requiring every monk to toil daily at manual labour and to lead a common life. So with unflagging zeal they work with hand and foot, they put the yoke to their own shoulders, and in their own holy hands, they bear the tools for labour in the fields. So by their own strength they procure every necessity for the community, while refusing possessions and detesting riches. They make no use of oxen for ploughing. Everyone is rich to himself and to the brethren, every man is his own ox.

'When the field work is done they return to the enclosure of the monastery, to pass their time till evening at reading, writing, or in prayer. Then when the signal is heard for evening prayer everyone leaves what he is at and in silence, without any idle conversation, they make their way to church. When, with heart and voice attuned, they have completed the psalmody, they remain on their knees until stars appearing in the heaven bring day to its close; yet when all have gone, the father remains there alone making his own private prayer for the well-being of the church.

'Shedding daily abundance of tears, offering daily his sweet-scented sacrifice of praise, aglow with an intensity of love, he consecrated with pure hands the fitting oblation of the Lord’s body, and so, at the conclusion of the morning offices, attaining alone to the converse of angels. Then the whole day was spent undaunted and untired, in teaching, praying, on his knees, caring for the brethren, and for orphans and children, and widows, and everyone in need, for the weak and the sick, for travellers and in feeding many. The rest of this stern way of life would be profitable to imitate, but the shortness of this account forbids our entering upon it, but in every way his life was ordered in imitation of the monks of Egypt.'

St David's Cathedral, Wales