Shiny happy people – sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Readings  

Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

2 Peter 1:16-19

Luke 9:28-36

 

You know what it’s like when someone looks different

They’re beaming

Perhaps they have had good news

Perhaps they are pregnant

Perhaps they are in love

Perhaps both

You see them differently – they are changed – transformed

The outward appearance reveals an inner, hidden secret

That is what is going on here

The secret of Jesus being the Messiah cannot be hidden any longer

Peter has already guessed it: earlier in this chapter we read:

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘the anointed one’, [in Greek, the Christ; in Hebrew, the Messiah] of God.’ (Lk 9:18-20)

But having been revealed as the Messiah, Jesus has a warning for them:

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  (Lk  9:23-26)

We had a foretaste of the Son of man coming in Glory at the end of time in our reading from the prophet Daniel

As I watched, thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One[d] took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;

I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.

 

So now when we see Jesus transformed, with his face shining like the sun (says Matthew) and clothes dazzling white (whiter than bleach could make them says Mark) the disciples should be thinking perhaps of the prophesy of Daniel

Instead Peter is thinking of Moses in the desert in Exodus on a mountain receiving the 10 commandments from God and having his face shine having seen God

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29).

Peter sees Moses and Elijah and so starts thinking in OT terms about building tents for them

But this is not a return of Moses and tabernacles and the old laws

We are in the world of the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah

We are in the book of Daniel not Exodus

This is made clear when we hear that a cloud appears – the clouds of heaven.

If we were in any doubt then we have a voice from heaven to tell us – this is my beloved son – listen to him.

The disciples are terrified

In Matthew’s account:

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Mt 17:6-7)

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Mt 17:6-7)

How do they react to this dramatic encounter – do they go and tell the world that the Messiah has arrived?

When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Disappointing

 

Well what are we to make of this?

Where are we in the story?

Surely we are the disciples?  As in 2 Peter – the “eyewitnesses”

Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty in recognising Jesus as our saviour

Perhaps, like them, we have difficulty telling people about our experience of God in Jesus Christ – though I know we all have those experiences

The good news from the Gospels is that this secret cannot be hidden

The truth as revealed by Jesus that God is love – the ultimate creating, renewing, restoring power in the universe, cannot be kept a secret

We will shortly meet with one another and with Christ in our holy Communion

We will meet with Jesus, face to face

Is it a co-incidence that the communion wafer is a gleaming, shining white circle like a face?

And as we receive Christ into ourselves should we not let that shining become a part of us?

Let ourselves be transformed by the knowledge of the love of God?

So that it shines out into the world through our faces and through our lives

So that people will look at us and say:

“you look different, what has changed?”   Amen

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock for the Feast of the Transfiguration at St Martin’s Epsom and St. Stephen-on-the-Downs, Langley Vale (6th August, 2017)

A word to the Wise: Teach the hearts of thy faithful people

Readings for Morning Prayer Pentecost, Year A

Genesis 11:1-9

Acts 10:34-48

Today is Pentecost or in old language ‘Whitsun’

So called because the coming of the holy spirit was associated with baptism and this was a great day for baptism – when of course those to be baptised wore white.

Indeed, we have had a baptism here this morning

‘But why then’, you may say, ‘is the liturgical colour red?’

The colour of fire but also the colour of blood – the colour associated with a saint who dies a martyr’s death.

And there is an alternative etymology for Whitsun

That the word comes not from white but rather from ‘wit’

Meaning wisdom –vision –skill

For the feast of Pentecost is when wisdom and vision and skill came to the Apostles.

The disciples were gathered together to celebrate the Festival of Weeks or Shavuot – when the Jews celebrated the first fruits of the harvest but also the giving of the law to the Jews on Mt Sinai.   This day fell 50 days after Passover so penteconta (Greek for 50) became our Pentecost.

This was the day when the Apostles went from being a bunch of talentless and despised no hopers – fishermen, tax collectors and tentmakers to be Saints Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew and Paul

Lives which would, by tradition, at least all end in a violent death.  Preaching the Gospel of peace handed to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, has always been hazardous undertaking.

 

Earlier this morning we had a geography lesson and looked at how the Jews from all over the eastern Mediterranean were gathered in Jerusalem and could understand the Gospel message as spoken by Peter (Acts 2)

It was the very opposite of Babel

Instead of a loss of knowledge and communication – there was an explanation for the meaning of the history of Israel from the time of Moses and the giving of the first law through to the Joel and the prophets

There was the ability to communicate that meaning to all

It seems to me that we are at a point where we have a decision to make: whether to put up our walls and to stop talking to people of other nations, or else to listen to them and try to understand them

We see today the issues which arise when people see the world in a different way

It was no different when it was the IRA, the Red Brigades, the Baader -Meinhof Gang – people who saw the world in a different way

How do we remove such communication issues?

We must surely talk, not close ourselves off

We must inter-act

We must not allow a return to Babel

But rather proclaim a new Pentecost when people hear anew the message of peace and equality of all before God which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ

This is a universal truth outside of all doctrine, all ritual – outside of issues of infant versus adult baptism, outside of different versions of baptismal vows, outside of all ritual liturgy and liturgical colours.  As we learned in our reading from Acts:

the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’

We who have received that baptism should be mindful that the spirit is available to all

So let’s be inclusive – open to all – looking for the spirit in all whom we meet

For those of us who are baptised, let us use the water in the font today to remember our own baptism

Remember those whom we have brought to baptism – children, god-children

Remember too the lessons of the complex imagery of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

  • We might need a bit of new fire – of kindling the flame, breathing on the embers of our hearts
  • A new wind to give us a new direction- breathing of new life into our lungs and our lives
  • Water to wash away our transgressions and refresh our lips to sing new praise
  • A new light to show us the way in the dark recesses of our lives
  • A fire to melt our hard hearts and forge them into one in strength and solidarity removing the dross of our lives so that we might live in the spirit with good ‘wit’ and right judgement

As our Collect has it:

O God, who on this day
didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people
by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit:
Grant us by the same Spirit
to have a right judgment in all things,
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the same Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

(BCP Collect for Whitsun)

Sermon delivered by Chris Hancock at St. Martin’s Epsom,
Choral Mattins on the Feast of Pentecost, 4th June, 2017

The Stony Path – seeing God with Stephen

Image result for cornerstone

Readings for Easter 5, Year C

What a fantastic set of readings we have this morning

Of course, I feel a particular empathy with Stephen

He too was a Deacon

Like him I have dared to preach the Gospel in the presence of a tough and unforgiving congregation

Like him I have been executed by the people of Epsom – albeit in a play

I am even considering a mission to Langley Vale – where of course St Stephen’s Church stands and going and asking people there about their faith.

The Vicar has warned me that I might get thumped – if not stoned – on the doorstep

Well – I have got a stone here to defend myself and also as a visual aid

Have you spotted the link in our bible readings this morning?

The Stoning of Stephen from Acts as he looked up to heaven seeing the glory of God and the ascended Christ, standing at the right hand of God (presaging the Ascension later this month)

In our Psalm, we heard the petition to ‘be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold’

Then in the first letter of Peter we read that Jesus was

a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and [we] like living stones, [should] let ourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Finally, in our reading from John we hear more about the dwelling place that is built with Christ as the cornerstone, his father’s house in which there are many dwelling places.  Where ‘dwelling place’ draws on a word play with the ‘dwelling’ of the Father in the Son and so, ultimately, the dwelling of he in us and us in him which we will celebrate a little later this morning

This text – ‘in my father’s house there are many mansions’ as we know it in the more familiar King James translation – is of course one of the standard texts for funerals

In John’s account, the impending death of Jesus gave rise to a lengthy discussion with the disciples about who and what Jesus was and what the meaning of his life might be.  His death and resurrection would force them to think afresh about the meaning of his life and indeed the meaning of their own lives.

Such is the way with funerals.  I am sure we have all had the experience of attending a funeral and it forcing us to think about the finite fragility of human life against the infinity of the divine.

When we attend a funeral we are forced to look into the face of the almighty whether we like to or not.  This is no less true of the minster taking the service.

I have now taken seven funerals and one moment has come to have greater and greater significance for me

Towards the end of the service it is traditional to stand at the foot of the coffin and say these words of commendation

Go forth upon your journey from this world, O Christian soul;
in the name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered death for you;
in the name of the Holy Spirit, who strengthens you; …
May your portion this day be in peace and
your dwelling place the heavenly Jerusalem

As I have come to know these words by heart I have raised my eyes to look across the coffin into what lies beyond and I have come to realise that, at that moment, I am looking across the body of the deceased, into the face of God.  From whom all things have surely come and all things will surely return.

So what might it be to see God as Jesus did, to see Jesus as the disciples did, to see God and Jesus as Stephen did

John’s Gospel makes it clear that to see Jesus is to see the way

‘How can we know the way’  asks Thomas

Because you have seen me says Jesus and ‘I am the way the truth and the life’ .

So as we think about what our Gospel might be, what our mission as a church might be, we can find the answer in these great chapters of John’ s Gospel – the ‘final discourses’ that we have been working through this Eastertide.

Fundamentally, our mission is to do service in Christ’s name  – forgiving , healing, loving – ‘as the Father sent me so I am sending you’ (Jn 20:21)

Indeed, we should do ‘greater works’ than Jesus as we remain on earth and he has left it (Jn 12:12)

Above all else, the way to live our lives is in love and peace with one another and so to build up the body of Christ here on earth as ‘living stones’ in the building of the Father’s house

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15:12)

We might use the prayer time of the Novena between Ascension and Pentecost to think what we might do to love one another better,

  • what it may mean to love one another in these communities of Epsom and Langley Vale
  • to think again about who are neighbour might be – do we even know them?

Have we invited them to church, have we shared our faith, have we asked them if they need anything

It might be costly – as it was for Stephen – but we should be like Stephen and always keep our eyes on God and look into the face of Christ and he will show us the way

If we can do that – continually looking and turning to Christ – then, and perhaps only then, we can be worthy of Peter’s call to be a royal priesthood, to be living stones – not dead pagan idols selfishly serving ourselves but ‘living stones’ built into a spiritual house so that God can remain in us as He remained in Christ.

In our Eucharist we receive Christ into ourselves so that we, the many dwelling places, may be where Christ resides.  We receive Christ into ourselves so that we may use the power of his love to love in his name.

And so we pray:

Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear son Jesus Christ
and to drink his blood,
that we may evermore dwell in him
and he in us. Amen.

 

 

Sermon delivered by Revd Christopher Hancock at St. Martin’s Epsom, 14th May 2017

 

 

 

 

Come and See – the Glory of God in John

Psalm 86

Jeremiah 31:27-37

John 12:20-33

Those who know the Gospel of John will be familiar with its frequent references to light and dark, to seeing and being blind, to people asking to see Jesus.

These Greeks brought to Jesus by Andrew in Christ’s last days on earth mirror the very first meeting between Jesus and Andrew, who was then a disciple of John the Baptist.

‘Behold the lamb of God’ said the Baptist predicting Christ’s sacrificial death.

‘Come and see’ said Jesus in reply

Now these Greeks say they want to see Jesus

I have been inviting people to come and see, come and see the Epsom Churches together Passion play and I have been getting a variety of reactions

In a world used to special effects does the sight of a slightly portly Anglo-Saxon walking past Macdonald’s and being strapped – not nailed I am assured –  to a piece of wood outside Marks and Spencer become just faintly ridiculous?

Is that not just a bit amusing, a bit silly – what insight can that offer into the divine narrative

Well I have been doing my best to get into the part

I have taken Lent seriously and lost almost a stone.

I have grown a beard – to a variety of views …

Still my family tell me it will be embarrassing

Embarrassing like the decline in numbers in the church – it just doesn’t cut it anymore, doesn’t speak to people the way it perhaps once did

I already have some experience of this – I have carried a cross in a Good Friday walk of witness on Headley Heath

People walking their dogs look at you as if on the loose from a psychiatric institution.  (As if taking an animal for a walk were not also actually a rather bizarre thing to do?)

So why do we do this?

Why do we witness to Christ’s passion in public?

Well certainly we are not at the time that Jeremiah spoke of when ‘no longer will a man need to teach his neighbour to know the Lord’

I think people are a bit uncomfortable about the whole Idea of religion, especially Christian religion.

Which brings people face to face with suffering and shows them that they are responsible for it

This is clearly one of the Gospel messages of the passion – that there is suffering in the world

And that through the incarnation God is in it with us

The ultimate in kenosis is for the immortal to die

Not only that,  but we participate in the killing – ‘Then “Crucify!” is all our breath’ …

It is disturbing – not easy

There are elements of Greek Tragedy

We suffer in watching – are we cleansed by it – does Aristotelian catharsis work in us?

There is something deeply uncomfortable in watching someone be deliberately killed.

It is not and was never meant to be an easy ride to take up your cross and follow me

And how far is this from the glory of God of which Jesus spoken so often?

Now is the son of man glorified and God is glorified in him (Jn 13:31)

This Glory which is a theme through John’s gospel being mentioned over 20 times.

This was also the glory of which Jesus had spoken on the death of Lazarus, the story in the Eucharistic lectionary for today

The story of Lazarus which sets up the story of Calvary, helping us understand it

This sickness will not end in death – no it is for God’s glory – so that Gods son may be glorified through it  (Jn  11:4)

But the first mention of Glory comes earlier, with the first miracle:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (jn 2:11)

And was set out as John’s purpose at the very beginning of the Gospel

The word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory – the glory as the only begotten of the father (Jn 1)

God’s glory was a theme of the old testament – we had it in our Psalm

All the nations you have made shall come
    and bow down before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.

So what are we to make of this glory and how to reconcile it to the ridiculousness of the cross which Paul acknowledged:

 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1 22-25)

The message of John is that bad things happen so that God can show his glory, that glory can only come after dishonour

Sometimes you have to go down in order to come up

We had a graphic depiction of this at the St Martin’s school end of term service here on Friday

It began with five candles alight on the altar – each representing one of the key events of Holy Week.

Five candles for Palm Sunday with its hope of triumph

Then one was extinguished leaving four candles – I resisted the temptation to make any Ronnie Barker jokes – this was a representation of  the four cups of the Seder meal which begins Passover

Then three candles – for the prayers in Gethsemane – the three central characters – Jesus with Peter and Judas – the best friends who let him down

Two candles for the trial before Pilate – a chance to plead innocence and escape – a chance not taken

The final candle – a red one for crucifixion on Calvary

And we then we relit them all – for Easter Sunday – five candles – a light divided but undimmed[i]

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Jn 12:24)

A dramatic and challenging idea – but an idea that we have no problem telling in literature

In the story of Aslan in Narnia

In the sacrifice of Harry Potter’s parents

As Obi Wan says in Star Wars:  ‘You can’t win, Vader. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.’

Even in Game of Thrones we hear that ‘what is dead can never die’ – that death is a prerequisite for immortality

That is what we believe in as Christians – in God’s incarnation as a human being and its corollary that he suffers with us

In an immortality – in a glory – that comes through suffering, through self-sacrifice even to the point of death

That is why we should invite people to come and see the Epsom Passion Play

Since a part of the glory of God is in his suffering with us

When I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself (Jn 12:32)

We behold his glory on the cross – here above us

A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

And so we who have beheld his glory say to others – ‘Come and see!’

 

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Martin’s Epsom on Sunday 2nd April, 2017.

[i] From the Exsultet

Finding God with Paul

I confess to being a Romantic and this year I have fallen in love with Epiphany

I love the central idea of the Manifestation – the exploration of the many ways that we see God, that we find Him and He finds us – in particular, the idea that God found us in Jesus Christ and that we can find God in Him

I love the Magi – the wise men the astrologers who were what we might now call ‘seekers’

I love the star which is the light of Christ – the beacon for us to follow and the torch by which we might show the way to others

I love the hymns with their return to the minor key – I have never really grown out of being a melancholic, moody adolescent  – like We three kings of orient are with my favourite verse:

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

I love the link to Isaiah’s chapter 60 which is a kind of second subject in the Epiphany symphony – ‘Arise and Shine for your light has come and the glory of the lord has risen upon you.’

One distinguishing thing about being Ordained is the commitment to say the daily offices, ideally both morning and evening prayer

In the last week we have been saying these verses of Isaiah 60 each morning

And each evening we have been singing the hymn ‘Worship the lord in the beauty of holiness’ (If Fr Adrian is present then he actually makes us sing it)

And so truly: mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness!

This hymn is of course based in part on our psalm for this evening – Psalm 96

Did I mention that I have also fallen in love with the Psalms? – though that was some time ago.

I had been looking for a book on the Psalms to go a little deeper into them and I asked Adrian to recommend one – he suggested The Psalms – Translated Interpreted in the Light of Hebrew Life and Worship by Elmer Leslie which he feared may have written before I was born.  I checked and he was right – in fact it was written in 1949 only shortly after my Father’s birth – but it is very good!

From this book I learned that 96 is a very appropriate Epiphany psalm as it is believed to have been written for annual festival of the enthronement of the Lord – when Yahweh was worshipped as king of Israel

Moreover, it begins with another of our Epiphany themes – making things new

‘O sing unto the Lord a new song’

Part of the effect of saying the Office is to slow us down during a busy day and to pay attention.  Another is to introduce pieces of scripture in juxtaposition to one another.  When we do this we see resonances and connections – we notice things we have not seen before – we make things new and, with God’s help, we can sing a new song

One of the things one immediately notices is the profound interrelatedness of the Old and New testaments – in particular, in the Psalms and the Prophets.

Modern translators in their wisdom can obfuscate some of these resonances

So in our reading from Ezekiel in the gender neutral language of the NRSV we have just heard:

He said to me, mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me

Nothing special about that – but then if we use the verbatim KJV translation we get:

He said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me

‘Son of man’ making a link with the language Jesus uses to describe himself in the Gospels

Sometimes, however, the modern translation is helpful.  The King James renders Ezekiel thus:

And he said unto me, son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee.  Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.

I am thinking Swiss roll or fig roll?

But no!  Of course it is a rolled up papyrus scroll – that he is talking about.

And when one thinks of that image, of eating a scroll of words, is it fanciful to connect those words with the ‘Word’ in the first Chapter of John’s Gospel?  The Word which was made flesh and which we consume in the Eucharist?  But I am getting ahead of myself…

In the opening chapter of his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes ‘God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace’ thereby making a reference back to the 49th chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah which we heard at our Eucharist this morning:

Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.

And so when we have Paul recalling the revelation of God to himself – a manifestation of God – he is comparing himself to the prophet Isaiah

Did I mention that I have come to love St Paul?

 

I have had a series of Pauline epiphanies in the course of my training

The first came when I read those great words later in the book of Galatians

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28-29)

I loved the rhetoric of the language and the theology – and indeed the ethics.

The greatest epiphany though came when I read the passage in 1 Corinthians 11

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’

You are doubtless familiar with the words

But what did this mean – for I received from the lord?  Did he not get this information from Peter and James – the apostles who were there?

But then he says in the letter to the Galatians as we have just heard:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Moreover:

When God, … was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

What is this?  Did he not get instruction about Christ from the apostles?

Certainly, we struggle to find details of Christ’s life or teaching in the letters of Paul.

Did this also make sense of the mysterious omission of Eucharistic language in John’s account of the last supper?

A further dimension to the mystery became apparent to me when visiting a synagogue in Kingston as part of my training – the service was a bit like this one – singing of songs including the psalms, a reading from the Torah and preaching on it

Then as we left the prayer hall for tea and coffee we were offered a piece of bread and a small glass of wine

And they do that every week as a celebration not of a death but of life – of the gifts of God.  A celebration – a eucharist?

So what are we to make of this?  Is it possible that the celebration of the Eucharist is not the handing down of a tradition of the actual last supper by the Apostles but rather a re-interpretation of a well-established Jewish ritual into a Christian context by Paul?

Personally, I think that is too much.  But it does seem that Paul was at the very least one of the first to see the significance of these events as we understand them and to see them in the light of the theology of Passover- Paul’s divinely inspired interpretation of Jesus death as the sacrificial victim – the ultimate firstborn – the consecration of a new covenant.

Whatever the hermeneutics of these ideas, what surely matters most is his recognition that this meal symbolised the end of fear of death and the celebration of a spiritual communion of all people in Jesus Christ.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain.

Assuredly there is the ‘beauty of holiness’ in this

 

We have been challenging ourselves in this season of Epiphany to say where we find God

For me God is to be found in the connectedness of all things.  And so the interconnectedness of scripture is in itself a Manifestation of the divine

For me Christ appears each week in bread and wine in a moment of sublime connectedness – where the present meets the omnipresent, the immanent the transcendent, where everything which has happened meets everything which shall be, where the Passover meal meets the Messiah, where history meets story and faith finds hope.

And wherever we find God, our response should surely be that of Paul – to tell our story of where we find Him and to proclaim it to others ‘so that they too might come to believe’

If we are looking for a New Song for 2017 then perhaps we can make it this.  Amen

Sermon preached by Christopher Hancock at St Martin of Tours, Epsom on 15th January, 2017

Psalm 96

Ezekiel 2:1-3:4

Galatians 1:11-end

Rise and Shine – I have had an Epiphany!

So it’s over.

I was in London on Friday and the streets were littered with the sad sight of horizontal browning Christmas trees cast out into the street

Retailers everywhere had religiously taken their decorations down in order to avoid a year of bad luck – there was even a toppled pine on the manicured gravel outside Buckingham Palace

Epiphany marks the end of Christmas and having Epiphany at the end of the holiday gives the impression that the wise men arrive late at the party

Having got lost following the star – they overruled the sat nav and went to Jerusalem – surely the king must be born in a palace in Jerusalem, not in little Bethlehem?

We have the sense that the shepherds and the angels have left, all the champagne and canapés have gone and they catch the holy family as they are packing their bags about to head off to Egypt

.Like a church visitor in the offertory hymn, apologetically they fumble in their wallets and pull out some gifts

Who are these not so wise men?

Matthew calls them Magi – Persian astrologers – and they provide an important role in his gospel

They come from the east from the land of the birthplace of Abraham, Abraham who was introduced as the ancestor of Jesus in the genealogy with which Matthew began his gospel (Mt 1:1)

They come from the East – from the land of Balaam, the famous diviner in the book of Numbers (Numbers 22-24).

They struggle with the interpretation of the signs of the times and as such remind us of those other stories of divination – the interpretation of dreams by Moses – Moses who was rescued from a jealous tyrant and would rescue his people – Moses who is the prototype for the messianic saviour Jesus

Their gifts of Gold and Frankincense recall the prophesies of Israel which we have just heard in Isaiah 60 and in Psalm 72.  The songs and prophesies which themselves recall the visit to Solomon of the Queen of Sheba who ‘came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold’ (1 Kings 10:2);

The visit of the Magi is:

  •  a proof of kingship
  • a fulfilment of prophesy, and
  • perhaps most importantly for us, it is a prediction of the important role of the Gentiles – that the future of Christianity which began as a message to the Jews is to be taken up by the rest of the world.

The worship of the foreigners in chapter 2 of Matthew is to culminate in chapter 28 of the Gospel – when the disciples saw him and worshipped him just as the Magi had done – and he sent them to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.

But I am getting ahead of myself – for this is not Easter but the Feast of the Epiphany

What is Epiphany?  It means not arrival but appearance

This whole season of Christmas and Epiphany is called the ‘Manifestation’

When God makes himself known to man in the person of Jesus Christ

We will be studying Matthew’s account this year, but remember in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus first appears at the Jordan ready to be baptised by John for today is also the feast of the Baptism of Christ

We have further choices of ‘epiphany’ in the other Gospels

–        In Luke it is the birth of a poor child in a manger worshipped by lowly shepherds

–        While the high Christology of John sees Jesus as being one with God from the beginning of creation (John 1:1)

And so we can reasonably ask ourselves – where do we see Christ?

Personally – I had an epiphany standing here in the run up to Christmas

It makes me sound like Bill Nighy in ‘Love Actually’ – you know the bit at the end of the film when he turns up at his ‘chubby’ manager’s house because he realises that actually, that is the person whom he loves.

When I arrived here I struggled with this building – struggled to make it fit – struggled to find God in it

Then one day at a school’s service, I found myself saying the Aaronic blessing here at the crossing:

The lord bless you and keep you – the lord make his face to shine upon you (Nm 6:24-26)

I realised I could see the faces of Christ shining upon me in all directions

–        Mark’s miracle worker Christ healing the woman with haemorrhages in the window above the west door

–        Luke’s vulnerable infant in the Mother’s Union banner

–        Matthew’s Christ as king – risen, ascended glorified in the east window above the altar

–        And John’s Christ in the midst of creation in the Benedicite window

This brought it home to me that Christ was right here in this place all the time

Like Bill Nighy’s ephipany – love was right here, in front of us

‘It’s a terrible mistake but you turn out to be the love of my life’

Might that be our epiphany too – that actually it is here in this place that we are most ourselves, most at home, most loved?

And that set me wondering about these wise men – these gentiles, who ‘rejoiced with exceeding great joy’

Were these not us – the people here today

The mass of the shepherds and the angels – the thousand plus people who were here at Christmas – they have gone

And we – the wise or not so wise men – are left

And so what should we do – we who are left at the end of the Christmas party?

What is our response?  What gifts do we bring?

Surely we can learn from the Magi who reached inside their treasure chests to see what they could offer:

–        Gold – Gold is our stewardship – the gifts of money that we make to keep this church functioning – let’s give more and make it flourish!

–        Frankincense – is the basis of incense and represents our worship – let us worship like the wisemen – ‘rejoicing with exceeding great joy’

–        And Myrrh – myrrh is the gift which was not imagined in the old testament – it is both the ointment of healing and the bitter perfume of funeral preparations.

It calls to mind the healing of Christ’s ministry and his ultimate offering of himself

– it is our calling to heal the world, it is a reminder that it is only when we give ourselves up to Christ that we truly follow him

If we do all of these three things then we can go beyond being not so wise men and embody the star itself – being a light to bring others to Christ

And so I call upon you, the Magi of St Martin’s to ‘Arise and shine’ like the star in this year of 2017, arise and shine to the people of Epsom, arise and shine and witness to the Epiphany of Christ in this church of St Martin of Tours.  Amen

Sermon given by Revd Christopher Hancock at St Martin of Tours, Epsom
on the Feast of the Epiphany, 2017

Sermon for U2charist on New Year’s Day

2017-01-01-ch-photo

 

Sermon

 

May I speak In the name of the living and loving God whom we know as + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

Well, what a pleasure it is to be here on New Year’s Day – which is also the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ

As we have just heard in our Gospel passage

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”.

It seems appropriate that we celebrate this feast on New Year’s day.

For nothing is more new than things which don’t even have names yet.

Have you ever given a name to something new – a pet, a house, a baby

When you name something you in some way shape its future, determine how people will interrelate to it – even give it a destiny.

Joseph and Mary called him Jesus – in Hebrew Jeshua or Joshua – which means: God saves

What a destiny!

This is the same name as the Joshua who was a hero in the Old Testament

A great warrior – a warrior who held a spear

In fact, a certain desert plant – the Yucca Brevifolia – which looks like a man holding a spear – is commonly called the Joshua Tree – and gave its name to an album recorded by a certain Christian rock group, after seeing these trees on a tour of the USA.

A moment’s digression on U2.

Why their music?  How do they reflect a Christian message?

First, and importantly, they have licensed for free their music for liturgical use.

In fact, they began as a Christian group – our Vicar, Nick Parish, saw them at the Greenbelt Festival in 1979 where they were a supporting act for Cliff Richard (O tempora, o mores!)

Their lyrics include a strong theme of relationship – they have a longing for relationship at their heart

‘I have climbed the highest mountains I have run through fields Only to be with you’ |
(I
still haven’t found what I’m looking for)

‘I want to be with you night and day ‘ (New year’s day).

We’re one, but we’re not the same We get to Carry each other Carry each other’
(One)

Personally, I believe that there is a fundamental relationality between all things

When we recognise that and give it a name – that name is love.

But it’s something that needs to be worked on

As Bono put it:
‘One love, we get to share it., Leaves you baby, if you don’t care for it.’ (One)

 U2 literally take ‘Pride in the name of love.’

Not only in their lyrics but also in their lives – Bono has fronted charity efforts from Live Aid to the UN but beyond this U2 are a band which has been together since 1976 – that’s a 40 year relationship more than all but the longest marriages.

So back to Jesus – or Joshua – whose name means saviour

We may ask ourselves: What does it mean for us to call Jesus saviour?

Jesus seems a far cry from a man holding a spear

Through our nativity services and in our crib scene we have seen Christ as the vulnerable baby born into poverty, the infant lying in a humble manger

Today’s Feast of the Circumcision may even be seen to prefigure the crucifixion (we see Christ hanging on the cross above me here) the vulnerable child who was cut and bled as an 8 year old Jewish boy would ultimately be cut and bleed on a cross – executed as a criminal.

What is saving about that?

What is saving about God’s incarnate weakness?

Well Christianity is all about the story and the story does not end there

Each Massacre of the Holy Innocents by a violent and jealous king is followed by the visit of the wise men from the east (see me here next week to hear more about that)

Each Good Friday crucifixion is followed by an Easter Sunday resurrection

The love of self-sacrifice defeats the spear which was thrust into Jesus side.

The Christian story is that Jesus saves because love wins.

This seems very apt for our other celebration today in the world of New Year celebrations

For this is 2017

I have just returned from America where they are preparing to inaugurate President Trump

What does that portend?  For America, for the world?

New things – scary things!

For some the New year – the future itself is scary

Brexit

Retirement

Getting a job?  Keeping a job?

Fighting an illness

The future can be frightening

But the Christian message is not to be afraid – ‘be not afraid’ of things which are strange and new – but rather to embrace them

As the shepherds did rejoicing in the news

As Mary did – pondering these things in her heart

Because the New Year offers the opportunity for new starts.

‘Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old’ (Isaiah 42:18)

‘Behold I am making all things new’ (Rev 21:5)

As in our New Year’s resolutions…

At the beginning of each year we recognise we have a new start -all is brand new – like new shoes, new carpets, a new car – spotless

If only things would remain so

But they don’t

Shoes get scuffed, carpets get stained, cars get scratched (my car recently hit an invisible wall)

Gym memberships taken out in January get forgotten in February.

And so it will probably be with many of our new year’s resolutions

We fail in them – we give up – we fall back.

We may find ourselves holding again the stone which we have just let go.

But the loving message of Jesus our saviour is that does not matter

What matters is what we do next – do we give up or do we live in hope and try again.

In the words of the Baptism service – the candidates are asked ‘Do you turn to Christ?’

The response ‘I turn to Christ’ is not a one off but said in the present continuous –

I turn to Christ

I turn again

I start again

I keep on turning

Because such is the creative, renewing power of God, just as the sun rises at the end of every night, so we can start again each morning – whatever we have done the previous day

The loving God gives new life – light in the darkness

God saves us from ourselves

So I pray that whatever you have dropped into the ‘dustbin of sin’ tonight you remember that should you find yourself holding it again – Jesus says let it go again

Should you find yourself standing in the darkness – then look East to the resurrection and find the light of hope.

Should you find yourself standing alone – then know that whatever you are suffering – Jesus has suffered and is suffering with you.

And perhaps most importantly – if you find yourself wondering how to live your life – wondering what to do, what direction to take.  Remember to lo,ok to your relationships – to share your troubles and your joys with those whom you love and in particular those with whom we shall share this feast, this Eucharist of our Lord tonight.

‘One love, we get to share it., Leaves you baby, if you don’t care for it.’

Amen

Sermon given by Revd Christopher Hancock at St Martin of Tours, Epsom, on the Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ, 1st January, 2017

Preparing for Advent: It’s going to be a Journey

Vicar Nick Parish has suggested a theme of “Journey” for the preparatory period of Advent and the congregation of St Stephen’s asked me to reflect on what that might mean in my address to them on the Feast of Christ the King.

– A Journey begins with a desire to move, a desire for a change

– A Journey necessitates some  change even it not the desired change

-> what would we like to change about ourselves / our church / our lives this Advent?   What would we like to be different before the coming of the Lord at Christmas?

– A Journey requires an objective, a route, waypoints, some planning and preparation 

-> What is our objective? What are our waypoints, our intermediate goals?

– A journey may involve a degree of danger, risk, of getting lost

-> what are we afraid of? 

-> how can we find ourselves if we get lost?

– A journey involves a change of scenery, of different landscape, different travelling companions 

– As in Strictly come dancing (where contestants commonly say ‘It’s been a journey’) we learn as we go

-> what should we learn? 

– it is an opportunity to slow down, to be relieved of the normal and mundane, the everyday distractions,  to ‘mindfully’ enjoy the journey of life

Once started why should we ever stop?

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” (Robert Louis Stevenson) 
What would arrival mean?  What do we hope for in Advent? 

On this the festival of Christ the King, arrival (our ultimate Advent wish) might be for all the world to know Christ as King.  

For if Christ is known as King then we are all understood to be united, unified and reconciled as his subjects 

As we heard in Colossians (1:15-20):

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Why do we remember? The Fallen at St Martin’s Epsom

The first time I entered St Martin’s, in March of this year, to meet its Vicar, Nick Parish[1], he was showing a group of schoolchildren around the church.  I remember he told them that it was ‘a treasury full of stories’.

I have been here for a few months now and I have come to see that he was absolutely right.  This building is full of things to help us remember the lives of those who have gone before us.

At the far end above the altar are the saints and angels – the founders of our Church.

Included among these are our patron, St Martin – bishop of Tours who died in the year 397 and whose feast falls this weekend.

Appropriately enough for Remembrance-tide, he was a soldier before he became a monk and a bishop.  He was famous for using his soldier’s sword to cut his cape in two and share it with a beggar.  And if you go and look after the service you will see that depicted here on the top right hand corner of the reredos above the high altar.[2]

Back here in nave we have fewer saints and more sinners – we have on the walls memorials to ordinary people whose lives people wanted to remember

It has been said that a person only truly dies when their name is said for the last time.

And in a way they have been immortalised because we remember them still

We refer to those monuments by the names of those whom the commemorate – the Evelyn Monument, the Northey Chapel – we can still read them – see their names – remember them

Historically such memorials were reserved only for the rich whose families could afford them.

But such was the public mood after the First World War, after the sacrifice that had been made with a million British and Commonwealth lives lost, that it was felt that every single person who died should be commemorated, treated like a rich person, like a saint.  And so we have our memorial here to the dead of the first and then the second world wars.

This morning I want to pick out a few of those ordinary people who have been remembered in this extraordinary way and to bring them back to life a little.  For this I am indebted to the contributors to the http://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk website  – where you will find all of the information which I will cover here, and much else besides.

The names on the memorial tablets are set out in date order – the date that they died.  Five of these names are dated 1st July 1916.

The first of the five is Walter Cooke who joined the East Surrey Regiment on 25 November 1915, Measuring 5 feet 2½ inches in height he was not a tall man.  He was just 18 but like many soldiers he lied about his age saying that he was 19 as that was the earliest age permitted for front-line combat.

Walter worked as a grocer and lived with his Aunt, Frances at Woodcote Cottages, Woodcote Road, Epsom; – by the BP garage on the road leading up to the RAC club at Woodcote Park.

The next name is that of Bernard Johnson who was a little older being 21 and had joined the East Surreys couple of months earlier.  They were neighbours as Bernard also lived on Woodcote Road – his father had a grocer’s business next to the Ladas pub – it is even possible that Walter worked for him.  Bernard Johnson was a celebrated local footballer.

Both men had joined the East Surrey regiment – who recruited a lot locally as their headquarters were in Kingston. They were drafted to the 8thBattalion a group of men who were to go down in history as perhaps the extraordinary on that fateful day.

For the first of July 1916 saw the start of the battle of the Somme, dubbed ‘The Big Push’, which was intended to break the stalemate which had been reached on the western front with a long line of opposing trenches stretching [from the Ardennes] to the North Sea coast.  The deep trenches had so far proved impenetrable, defended by dense rolls of barbed wire and dug-in machine gun positions – weapons which delivered a murderous 600 rounds per minute cross fire and an with an effective range of 800 yards.   To leave one’s trench in daylight meant near certain death from machine gun or sniper.

The plan for the breakthrough was to use a week-long artillery barrage to destroy the German trenches, disable the machine guns and cut the wire.

Despite delivering the longest and heaviest artillery bombardment in history with millions of shells fired, as we now know, the plan failed – the wire remained largely intact and the German machine gunners were safe in their deep dug outs ready to return to the surface as soon as the artillery stopped firing.

It was the southern end of this death-trap that the East Surreys were scheduled to attack – towards the small village of Montauban.

One of the officers attached to the 8th East Surreys was Captain Wilfred Percy Nevill.  Former Head boy of Dover College and a keen sportsman, Nevill new that the young men of the battalion who had never before been in combat would be under great stress about what might happen to them.  He also knew from patrols that the opposition they would face would be far tougher than the senior command had imagined – to cross no-man’s land at an even walk as they had been ordered would be to march to their deaths.

So to help take their minds off the dangers ahead and to encourage speed he bought four footballs, one for each of his platoons. The idea was that they would dribble the balls across No Man’s land, and he would give a prize for the first platoon to reach the German lines.  We can imagine that our footballer Bernard was excited by this prospect.

An observer from the artillery, who was based at a forward post at the time, witnessed Nevill’s attack.

The observer saw a man who he thought was an officer get out of the trench and give the ball a good kick towards the German lines.  That appeared to be the signal for the advance, with the other men kicking the ball as they went.

It is a nice thought that one of these footballers was Epsom local Bernard Johnson.

Nevill’s distinctly British public schoolboy idea turned out to be a good one and uniquely on the battlefield, the East Surreys achieved all of their objectives and took the village of Montauban – a distance of over a mile from the original front line.

The cost however was dear – out of around 1,000 men in the 8th Battalion, the East Surrey’s lost 446 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner that day – almost half their number.

In line with the statistics for the men, two of the footballs were lost but two were recovered having made it to the German trenches.[3]

The prize, however would never be claimed for Captain Nevill had been killed – receiving a bullet through the heart as soon as he reached the German wire.

Among the fallen were Walter Cooke and Bernard Johnson.  How exactly they died and where is not known since their bodies were never found.

 

Elsewhere the carnage was the same though the results were less impressive.

Nowhere was this more true than in the north of the battlefield where our other three Epsom parishioners were waiting with the London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers to make their attack.

In September 1914 Albert Beams – a Grocer’s porter of 19 Aldephi Road, Epsom (where the Rifleman Pub is) walked into the headquarters of the 2nd London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), at Tufton Street, near Westminster Abbey and volunteered his services.  Just a bit further along the queue were two more local men, Thomas Burfitt, of East Street Epsom, and John Donhue of 9, Hook Road, Epsom.

Thomas Burfitt had been baptised here at St Martins church in 1897 –his parents had also been married here.  A keen church  goer, he was a member of the Epsom Brotherhood – a prototype church men’s group.  He was just 17.

It appears that quite a few Epsom men enlisted into the London Regiment at Westminster.  Perhaps they were like me – commuters travelling up to work around Victoria.  Moreover the 2nd London Regiment trained at Tattenham Corner on Epsom Downs which must have been attractive for keeping up with family and sweethearts. [4]

There is much talk about the Pals battalions of the north but these Kitchener regiments of the South East were also formed of close friends and neighbours.  All three of these Epsom men lived within a mile of each other in NE Surrey, they enlisted on the same day and all three were to die on the same day, within a mile of one another in NE France.

At the northernmost extent of the Somme battlefield the German trenches formed a salient into British lines around Gommecourt Park.  The attack on the Gommecourt salient was not considered part of the main thrust, it was supposed to act as a diversion, drawing off German resources that might otherwise have been used further south.

The ruse failed.  Not a single German reinforcement was required – instead, as soon as the bombardment finished, the defenders climbed out of their bunkers, put their machine guns in position and cut down wave upon wave of attackers.

Two companies of the London Regiment Royal Fusiliers had been held in reserve until two in the afternoon, when, despite what had happened in the morning, they too were sent over the top as reinforcements.  They met pretty much the same fate as their predecessors from the morning – either cut down by long range machine gun fire or blown to pieces by the German artillery who knew what to expect and were now vigorously shelling no man’s land.  We can reasonably assume that Albert Beams and John Donhue died here.

Some valiant souls, however, made it on to the German trenches where few in number, without officers to lead them and with little idea of where they were going, they retreated and then had to run the gauntlet once again of the German artillery which chased them back.

This appears to have been the fate of Thomas Burfitt

Thomas’ parents received a telegram from the War Office around 23 July 1916, notifying them that he had been wounded on 1 July.  His parents had tried to get information on what had happened to him through the Red Cross.

Our thoughts turn to those who were left behind to worry – what thoughts must have been going through his parents’ minds?

They received two letters.

In the first, Rifleman Southey, from Sutton, who recovering from a bullet wound to his leg, wrote from hospital in Clapton:

I am writing to you regarding your dear son Tom, with whom I, as a member of Tommy’s section, was intimately acquainted. I was with Tommy since we left England in 1914 and I am quite sure that one couldn’t wish for a better chum, and he was well liked by all of us who knew him. It was with great regret that I saw that he was missing and I have been anxiously waiting news of him also.

He was leading us when we made the assault on 1 July on the German line, which we took, however I was wounded during this and came back across No Man’s Land to our lines so I can’t say how he fared after that, but he was alright when I left him. I can only say that he may have been taken prisoner of war, but it is impossible to say for certain. It is one comfort to know that if your dear son has been killed he died leading his Section as a hero.

 

What comfort this may have been to Tommy’s parents is unclear.  In August, they received a second letter saying that a Corporal J Fawcett had last seen Tommy when he was apparently back within the British trenches trying to make his way to the relative safety of the village looking for a dressing station to get treatment for a gunshot wound to his arm. However, the trenches were suffering a very heavy bombardment…

Like the other four Epsom casualties of the 1st day of the Somme, Tommy’s body was never found and he is commemorated with them and all those who have no grave on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme Battlefield in France and indeed, in this church.

In total the cost of 1st July was 57,470 casualties (including 19,240 men killed), just under half the total engaged.  It was, and still is, the bloodiest day in British Army history. The attacks would continue for four-and-a-half months, another 600,000 lives would be lost advancing 6 miles at the cost of one life for every 2 centimetres.

So what are we to make of all of this?

This extraordinary bravery in the face of very likely death.

How do we feel?  Humble, sad, proud, angry?

Perhaps all of the above.

Despite the complexities of the emotions which we feel, it is a fact that Remembrance appears to have a firm and growing hold over the national consciousness.

We do remember them.

Here and up and down the land – the two minutes’ silence at Armistice Day is kept corporately in a way which it was not when I was younger. [5]

There are concerns that this is a form of nationalism – that there is a closet fascism about remembrance.  But there is much more to this phenomenon than the recent arguments about football shirts might suggest.

In the 1920s a few thousand people a year visited the graves in the battlefields of France and Belgium.  This year it will be over 300,000.

Meanwhile, Remembrance-tide has become a kind of national passion play.  In which we annually replay the stories and plumb our emotions.  It makes us think about who we are and how we live.

A nation which does not often attend church, religiously keeps this festival which has its roots in the the passion narrative of Jesus Christ.

A man whom we also remember in this place.

We know that before the battle many men, in fact most men, went to church and said their prayers like Jesus going to the garden of Gethsemane.

A man who like them was frightened on the eve of certain death.  Who prayed as they prayed and then went bravely to meet his fate.

A man who’s death leaves us mixed emotions – of gratitude while wondering what exactly was the point of the sacrifice.

Like all passion narratives, Remembrance reminds us of the fundamental fragility, even futility of an individual human life.

It reminds us that the meaning of life is in our relationships

That if life is to have meaning then it is necessary to live and sometimes to die for others – that is where life and hope and love are found.

Jesus wanted us to remember that.

That is why we have him here hanging on the cross at the point of death as the very focus of this building.  To help us to remember him

So in the two minutes silence which approaches, what will we remember?

– Remember the valour of the soldiers and the folly of the generals

– Remember the ordinary lives of ordinary people involved in extraordinarily events

– Remember those who came back but bore internal wounds

– Those who were bereaved, the parents, wives and sweethearts, the brothers and sisters left behind

–        Will we remember our own mortality and commit to live our lives more sacrificially?

–        Will we remember that we are never more human than at the point of death.  Never more like Christ than when giving that life for others?

Greater love has no man than this; that a man lay done his life for his friends

This is not Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon, not one of our great poets of the great war but Jesus Christ in chapter 15, verse 13 of the Gospel of John.

That is how we remember him and why we remember him.

That is how we remember them, and that is why we remember them.  Amen

Sermon delivered by Rev’d Christopher Hancock at St Martin’s, Epsom, Remembrance Sunday, 13th November, 2016

 

 

 

[1] Nick Parish was formally collated and installed as Vicar on 13th November, 2016

[2] When he died his ‘cape’ was put in a special building ‘a house of the cloak’ – in Latin this is domus capellae the origin of our word chapel – so all chapels are named after St Martin’s cloak

[3]One of these is kept by the Princess of Wales Regiment at Dover Castle.  The other used to be kept in the East Surrey’s regimental museum at Clandon House until it was sadly and rather ironically destroyed by fire in 2015. (http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/new_museum/20th_century_room/Case5/The_Football.shtml)

[4] From Tattenham Corner the 2nd London Regiment moved around quite a bit, being sent to Malta, then to Egypt, on to Gallipoli, back to Egypt, and then to Marseilles, France at the end of April 1916. They were then trundled by train, the length of France to Rouen, which provided a large base area for the British, with training grounds, hospitals, stores depots and the like. Whilst at Rouen the military authorities decided that the Battalion should be disbanded, and the men used to bolster three existing units of the 56th Division. One draft was sent to 1/16 London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles), a second draft was sent to 1/12 London Regiment (The Rangers), and a third draft to 1/2 London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers).  Albert went with the third draft and thereby split from his chum George Whiskerd, who he had signed up with. They were however, destined to take part in the same attack and to die on the same day.

[5] I do remember at work in London one Armistice day getting an internal phone call from an American Managing Director just as the silence began – Larry, I said, it’s the two minutes’ silence – “it’s OK”, he replied, “we can observe at another time”.  Somehow that isn’t the point – it’s about doing it together.

‘Write this: for these words are true and faithful’: Reflection for Bible Sunday

Image result for bible images

 

Readings:

Jeremiah 36:9-26

Romans 10:5-17

Reflection

These readings seem to sum up a lot of what we love about scripture

Challenging names – telling of ancient far away stories of ancient far away people

Stories which though they seem old and strange, tell nevertheless of our own stories and our own times.

The events told in our Old Testament lesson this morning are rather foreboding not least since they remind of us of what the German poet Heinrich Heine wrote prophetically in 1821

“Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen”

(For where they have burned books they have ended burning people)

Words which we were see come true in the 20th century.

Those of us who have been reading the lectionary for morning prayer have been reading the story of Judith – the brave Jewess who dared to stand up to the power of the Babylonians who reminds us of latter day heroes – perhaps Aung San Suu Kyi or Malala Yousafzai.

In the evenings we have also been reading the story of Tobit – a love story no different from any heart warming tale that we night read in one of our more sentimental newspapers today.

So despite its age and apparent remoteness we can have still have a relationship, a conversation with the Bible.  Moreover I believe we need to see the Bible which was written over many centuries as a text in conversation with itself.

The story we have just heard about the iniquities of Jehoikim surely contrasts deliberately with the story of his father Josiah who had led a period of reform after the rediscovery and public reading of the book of Deuteronomy.

As such this is part of the cycle of good and bad, of sin and repentance and forgiveness which is a feature of the old testament

This cycle can seem fruitless and indeed there is much in and out of the bible to make one question what is the point of life when falling short of the law is as inevitable as the death which lies at the end of life.

A cycle which Paul feels the need to address in his remarkable letter to the Romans – a cycle which he wants us to see as being over as having been ended by the salvation that comes through knowing God through Jesus Christ

For the book of Romans is full of hope – hope founded on the ancient promises of God that God brings renewal and new life.

– Who will multiply descendants as sand on the sea shore

– Who will forgive the sins of all those who turn to him

– Whose burden is not heavy and whose yoke is light

Such that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’

 

What does saved mean?  Saved from what?

Two contrasting stories of real lives this week:

–        One of a bereaved person who had seen her life as worthless and meaningless – had rejected any concept of the divine and was considering suicide as a result– she could not believe that her life was important.

–         Another a young man, an alcoholic, who had found that by reading the Bible and seeing himself in relation to God who had come to see that he was valued and important – had replaced the deception of alcohol with the truth of God’s love and has been 9 months sober.

The Bible is a metaphor  for our relationship with God – just as it is a text in conversation with itself – defined by and given meaning by the other words in the book – so we are a people defined by our relationships with one another and in particular with the universal ‘other’ that is God.

That is our faith – that we are all in relationship with one-another through our common relationship with God

 And our hope is that that all things will ultimately be reconciled to one another

A promise which is set out in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.

When “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write this: for these words are true and faithful.”  (Revelation 21)

So do not imagine that this book is not important – that it is a dusty relic, a curiosity – not at all.  Be sure that its words are ‘true and faithful’ that they hold the very keys to life and death.

And so it is of paramount importance that we obey the words of today’s Collect, that we 

‘hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ what is written in this book.

 that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,

we may embrace and for ever hold fast

      the hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ’

Amen

Delivered by Rev Christopher Hancock at Choral Mattins, St Martin’s, Epsom on Bible Sunday
(23rd October, 2016)