Finding the lost Ark

ark of the covenat

Whenever I hear a bible passage that mentions the Ark of the Covenant, I think about the film that launched Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark

The film tells of the battle to find and control the object which we heard described in our first reading – the Ark of the Covenant – the precious object which was lost when Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

What is this important relic?

Well an Ark – Latin arca – is a chest – something used safely to carry important things – think of Noah’s ark which carried the people protected from the flood.

This Ark of the Covenant was used to carry the tablets of stone on which are written the 10 commandments – The summary of the law – the eternal promises – to honour God and not to steal, not to kill, not to commit adultery – the things which are the basis of our relationship with God and one another to this day –

The promises which are so easy to say but turn out to be so hard to keep – at least for a lifetime.

In the Old Testament, the tablets were a physical representation of this covenant between God and man.

And from the Ark emanated the Glory of the Lord – in the form of a cloud of smoke by day and of fire by night

This acted as a beacon for the Israelites to follow as they wandered through the desert.

Metaphorically and literally, they followed God by following the law – written on the tablets – carried in the Ark.

In one of the Film’s opening scenes, Professor Jones says that all the mythical power of these ancient objects is “mumbo jumbo”

In the film’s final scene, the Ark is opened and the Glory of God erupts killing everything in sight!

If you haven’t seen it – you should.  It’s a classic.



So what do you think?

Is this all mumbo jumbo?

Do you hear bible passages like this – about the Ark of the Covenant and think: “what a load of nonsense? What could this possibly mean to me?”

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

For the people who wrote the bible – there was no science – there was no understanding of the world of things. Our current understanding of the material world – everything we learn in physics, chemistry and biology – is little more than a few hundred years old.

Before modern science, the only way that people had to explain and describe things was through stories and the bible is full of them – stories of creation, of Adam and Eve, the tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark .

These stories work on more than one level

On the one hand, they are explanations of natural phenomena – like rainbows

But then rainbows are also symbols of hope, it is impossible to see one without feeling a lift in your spirit

For on another level these stories are explorations of the human condition – what it means to be alive.

Thirdly, they help us understand how we have got to where we are today – the origins of our rituals and sacred objects

The passage we have just heard explains some of the things we see here in Chapel today.

We have here a sanctuary which replicates the tabernacle of the Israelites – it represents the idea that there are some places – thin spaces – be it a tent or a chapel – a mountain – or indeed a pulpit – where we feel closer to God

Then we have lampstands – on the altar we have candle sticks

Because, though we are a long time out of the caves of our ancestors, keeping a flame alight is still a very important thing to us – have you ever found yourself mesmerised looking into a fire?  It’s because human beings have spent half a million years longer worrying about the camp fire going out

Finally, and most importantly, these stories are part of a metanarrative – Greek meta- meaning beyond – a story which is bigger than any individual story – the overarching framework of the universe in which we live.

The Bible begins with the first piece of this metanarative – the story of creation

Science explains this in terms of the big bang – OK – but it cannot begin to explain the why.

The big story in Genesis is that creation is a deliberate act of an agent – that we are not here by chance

Moreover, that each of us is made in the image of God.  That in each of us a divine spark has been placed – the spark that we call life.

If you know anyone who has struggled to have a child you know that this spark of life is not trivial – it is a gift.

It is the real magic in the universe

In this season of spring, the natural world bears witness to such new beginnings – new life

I have been abroad on business for a week and when I left the trees were brown

I have returned and there is verdure everywhere – the trees are full of leaf and blossom.  I am shocked by this every year

The remarkable, underlying creative power in the world is made manifest in all its glory

It seems obvious to me that there is something very powerful at work here – the nonsense is the idea that this power could be kept in a box


A Christian writer, Irenaeus, wrote in the second century – “the Glory of God is a man alive” – a living human being.

So, ladies and gentlemen, while we increasingly understand the science, let us not lose sight of the story – that each of us has been given a piece of that divine spark to dwell within us

And as you develop the story of your life, your place in the metanarrative of the universe, think on this:

What if you are indeed a manifestation of the Glory of God?

Would it not then be important to nurture the divine spark that lies within you?

Might it then be your vocation to help guide others through the wilderness?  A column of smoke by day and of fire by night

Now that would be really frightening – that might change how you view your life

But that, I believe, is no mumbo jumbo,

That, I believe, is God’s covenant with you,

Because – brothers and sisters in Christ – I believe that you have found it.

The Ark of the Covenant is you!


Sermon given by Rev Christopher Hancock at Epsom College, 28th April, 2018

Time to be brave (like Andrew)

walk of witness


Reading:  John 12. 20 – 33

My heart always leaps when I see the name Andrew in the Gospel passage – there are not many but they are all important:

  • Introducing Simon Peter to Jesus
  • Finding the boy with the five loaves and two fish; and here
  • Introducing the Greeks (the gentiles)

His role is as intermediary – bringing people to see Jesus

The fact that it is Greeks is significant because the Greeks represent the whole world which was not Jewish – these were the uncircumcised, the uninitiated – in the language of our time, the ‘unchurched’

So the role of Andrew in bring people to see Jesus is a very significant one for us as so many are now unchurched

A role which we all have as Christian disciples

So what does it mean To “see” him  – to see Jesus?

First it can mean to literally see – to catch sight of – I saw the Queen – I saw the rubgy (sadly).  This is a statement of fact but not in itself a life changing encounter

Secondly, it can mean to interact, to have a conversation – I went to see the doctor, the headmaster, my parents.  This is starting to be more meaningful – something has changed here, there has been an interaction.

Thirdly, if we ‘see’ things we understand – I see what you mean – my understanding, my view of the world has changed

And it is surely this last sense in which we most want people to ‘see Jesus’

It we use another mode of perception then I think we can explore this further.

For example hearing – what if we want to introduce someone to the work of a composer?

I would like to introduce you to Bach

I would like you to hear Bach so you can understand why I love him

So how do we help people to hear the music, to hear Bach?

First, we might invite them to come and listen to the music – that would be a bit like inviting someone to church

You would want to be confident that the performance was going to be good, that it was going to be representative of what Bach was about – perhaps go for the famous Toccata and Fugue in D mInor .

If that went well, and the person was interested, then you might open up the repertoire of Bach – say the St John Passion or the B Minor Mass

Better still read copy of the musical score and start to understand how it works musically, structurally, how the harmony and the counterpoint combine to create the music.

That would be like encouraging someone to start reading the Bible to find the story of Jesus – the narrative of the Gospels, the interpretation of the Epistles and the backstory of the Old Testament

But best of all we would participate in the music and invite others to do the same – to create new music, to live through it

If you loved Bach you would do that wouldn’t you?

So why wouldn’t you do that for the person who through his life and death and resurrection changed the world forever?

It involves taking a risk doesn’t it

We heard today

Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains only one
But if it dies then it bears much fruit

It is not for nothing that the name Andrew, the great introducer, means brave in Greek.

I encourage you to be brave and take a risk

We are going to take some risks this Easter

On Palm Sunday with our Palm Sunday procession

On Good Friday with our Walk of Witness across the heath

People might laugh at us

But if we believe that the life and death and resurrection of this man truly changed the world then what is the risk?

The risk is that people live and die in ignorance of that

The risk is that we are the generation that was too chicken to get our children to come to church and to speak to our neighbours about what Jesus means to us – to help them see

We are looking to reverse these trends and to grow our church

You will be hearing a lot more about that in the following weeks and months following our Parish’s attendance at a LYCIG (Leading Your Church into Growth) event arranged recently by the Diocese of Guildford.

What does growth mean?

Growth can be in three dimensions

  • Numbers/wealth/resources
  • Spirituality / discipleship
  • Mission and outreach

We need to be brave to do that and we are going to ask for God’s help in prayer.

We start by acknowledging that  God alone brings growth to the church

Growth comes from the energy that comes from God being allowed to work in the relationships which we all have

We pray that God will Send your Holy Spirit

 We tap into the energy of the Holy Spirit and we do that through prayer – so let us pray now the LYCIG prayer:

God of Mission Who alone brings growth to your Church,
Send your Holy Spirit to give Vision to our planning,
Wisdom to our actions,
And power to our witness.
Help our church to grow in numbers,
In spiritual commitment to you,
And in service to our local community,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 18th March, 2018

Looking back and looking forward with the Blind Man in John

Siloa Pool


Jeremiah 16.10-17.4

John 9.1-17



It is a pleasure to be here in Charterhouse school

Last time I was here I was being ordained Deacon

I am not sure which is the more frightening – The Bishop of Guildford and the Holy Spirit or Dr John Verity and the Prayer Book Society.

The last time I saw John he was wielding a scalpel over me to perform a ‘minor operation’ – it seemed that ‘minor operation’ was code for ‘without anesthetic’.

I wonder whether there might be some significance in being called here to Charterhouse School today

As you may know I have been trying to get a Guildford Branch heat of the Cranmer Awards going but it has come to nothing to date and as I stand here I wonder whether perhaps we should hold it here…

Thomas Cranmer is one of my great Heroes.

At University in Oxford, the martyr’s memorial made a great impression on me – walking daily past the spot on Broad Street where Cranmer was burned at the stake, thrusting his offending hand into the fire and repeating the words of Stephen, the first martyr: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit”.

Powerful stuff for an impressionable young man

Another lasting impression of Oxford was the discovery of Choral Evensong and the slightly arcane words which surrounded it.

As a classicist I loved the archaisms – we are “Dearly beloved brethren” and “miserable offenders” speaking of “the lowliness of His handmaiden”  and using a different version of the Lord’s prayer to catch out the uninitiated and make one feel superior in saying with extra emphasis “as we forgive them that trespass against us”.

And so when I came to be ordained I already knew and loved the Book of Common Prayer.

This copy [red BCP book] was given to me by the Prayer Book Society at the beginning of my training – Your money is not wasted!

Not only that but it is used for a term by those studying on the Local Ministry Programme course in Guildford – I can not speak for Ridley Hall, Cuddesdon and other such places but here in Guildford it is honoured if not quite universally loved and I think that far from dying out we are starting to see a resurgence of interest in the Prayer Book – not least among the young who, brought up on a diet of Harry Potter are not frightened of strange words full of mystery and hidden power.  We look forward with hope.

Looking back and looking forward

At this point we are half way through Lent – we look forward and we look back – we can look back to all of our broken promises – the rules we made for ourselves but have not kept: the books unread, the gym membership unused (I speak for myself you understand) and look forward to the new hope, the fresh start of Easter.

Our two readings mirror this

We look back in the Old testament to the prophesy of Jeremiah which itself looks back to the law of Moses which the Israelites have broken and so stand to be punished

They have worshipped other gods and so broken the law which was written on tablets of stone by the finger of God

And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you (Dt 9:10)

Jeremiah references these ‘tables of stone’ in our passage

The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars;

And the law is clear that the punishment for transgressions which will be meted out on future generations

for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, (Ex 20:4-5)

So it is with this back story that Jesus meets the blind man.


The healing of the blind man is one of those rare stories which appears in all four testaments[1] and indeed twice in the Gospel of Mark – once in the The healing of Bartmaeus (Mk 10:46-52), and then in the story of the Blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26) which is most similar to John’s.

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.

And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”

The synoptic stories all make play of the irony of the blind man who can see what the scribes and the Pharisees, for all their learning, cannot.

But John, as so often, takes the story to another level.

First John asks us to look back – this man was blind from birth – so who sinned?  Remember the OT.  Jeremiah asks

Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?

Bad things must have causes.  Who sinned?  It reminds us of the companions of Job.  What did you do to bring God’s anger upon you?

Jesus heals him using the spit of Mark’s story and the mud from the ground

In the previous chapter Jesus had drawn in the ground with his finger as they asked him to condemn the woman taken in adultery

The finger of God which wrote on the tables of stone is now redrawing the law in the dust of human existence

For the mud is dust – it is the dust of Adam – so is it Adam’s sin?

All of us who are born of Adam and of the flesh are flawed – or at least in need of perfecting.

If so who can undo that?  Who can perfect us?

Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.  I must work the works of Him who sent Me

Jesus says that the reason for pain is to make visible the glory of God. The perfection which is available through the relationship with God and one another through the example of Christ

The whole reason for life is to struggle for healing against the chaos of the world – establishing healing out of chaos is to build the glory of God.

Our response to human suffering is not to look for the sin from which it originates – to blame someone – but rather to glorify God – in Mary’s words to ‘magnify the Lord’ – in healing it

This was the work which Jesus did

I must work the works of him that sent me

And it is the work which he has left us to do

As my father has sent me, even so I am sending you (Jn 20:21)


Hidden depths

Jesus is asked to judge the blind man (They ask, “whose sin is this?”) – but instead he heals him and he heals him in a particular way which I think we can all recognise

Jesus heals physically through touch – he anoints him (epichrisen) – he makes him one of the anointed – a messiah – a Christ – in short, he Christens him!

He heals him psychologically through a remodelling of his clay self – not as originally sinful but as originally of God, which Jesus remodells and perfects –  and so he makes him new

Finally, he heals him Symbolically through water

Water which is so important in John’s Gospel

Washing feet – turning water into wine –  meeting a woman at the well

Here it is ‘Siloa’s brook’ which Milton noted ‘flow’d Fast by the Oracle of God’[2] – the spring used for the rites of purification in the Festival of Tabernacles – the water we know as the water of baptism

And as a final touch, we are told that Siloa means “sent” – in Latin we might say missa est.  I’m not sure what Thomas Cranmer would make of that, but it seems significant as ‘sending’ is such an important concept in John’s Gospel.

It seems, therefore, that John is recording here the story of baptism

For we are all born blind – literally of course as new-borns we cannot see

Metaphorically, we are all catechumens who need to learn to see the light

We are then all sent to perform ‘the works of him who sent us’.



The Old law was written with a diamond tipped chisel

The new law is in spit and mud, in flesh and blood, in bread and wine

It is grounded, human, accessible

It is an incarnational message from one who “knows whereof we are made – that we are but dust” (Ps 103)

It is also a model of what we should do in nurturing disciples

  • Getting close to people
  • Blessing them and teaching them that they are the people of God
  • Leading them to the rituals of the Christian church
  • And sending them out into the world to do the same for others.

and that is the message looking into the future – for our children and our children’s children.


Sermon preached for the Guildford Branch of the Prayer Book Society, Charterhouse School, 10th March, 2018


Words from Psalm 103

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.[a]
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children

[1] See also Mt 20:29-34 and Lk 18:35-43

[2] Milton: Paradise Lost Book 1:11

Are you properly attired for the marriage feast of the Lamb? (Proper 23, Year A)

File 17-10-2017, Jeff_s Chasuble crop

Isaiah 25:1-9
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

May I speak in the name of the living and loving God. Amen

Today’s reading always makes me think of the RAC club.

It is outwardly very hospitable – all are welcome

The facilities are wonderful – it’s a great place to have a wedding reception – I had my wedding reception there

They welcome new members – especially young ones

And they encourage existing members to invite new ones to join

But once you start the process of becoming a member you discover that it is not quite so easy.

There is a long waiting list, a substantial joining fee and then is the ‘familiarisation with the rules’ of the Clubhouses – not least of which the dress code:

Let me give you a taste of this- these are the rules for the Pall MAll Clubhouse in London:

 Dress Code

The dress code allows for more formal attire during the week and less formal attire at the weekends.

Weekdays are considered 11:00am Monday through to 5:00pm Friday. Weekends are considered 5:00pm Friday through to 11:00am Monday.

On weekdays, the dress code identifies three levels of formality which apply in different areas of the clubhouse as shown in Map 1 below.

At the weekend, the dress code identifies three levels of formality which apply in different areas of the clubhouse as shown in Map 2 below.

Definitions of each level of formality – smart, smart casual, and casual – and a short list of prohibited items of clothing are to be found at the end of this document.



Men should dress in a jacket (suit, blazer or sports jacket), tie and fully button fronted collared shirt tucked in with tailored trousers, corduroys, chinos or moleskins.

Smart Casual

Men should dress as above, however, a tie is not required.


Men should dress as above, however, neither jacket nor tie is required. Sweaters over a shirt and short sleeve button-fronted shirts are permitted.

So far so good …

It is in the area of ‘banned items’ that this really starts to resemble Leviticus.

Banned Items

  • Jeans or denim wear, including trousers, dresses, skirts, jackets, and shirts – any colour.
  • – Flip-flops, double band footbeds such as Birkenstocks, [what are they?] leisure shoes including plimsolls, trainers, canvas shoes, sneakers and walking shoes, casual boots, hiking shoes and boots and ‘Ugg’ – like boots. [ugh indeed!]
  • Leisure-wear, such as shorts (applies to men only), polo shirts, T-shirts, items with large logos and leggings, even leather [!!] (except under dresses).
  • Strapless, flimsy, transparent and very low-cut tops/shirts/blouses, except for formal evening wear (!)

And so it goes on … you can read it all here


I am wearing a non-standard chasuble – or at least not a St Martin’s Epsom one – in memory of my Godfather – John Jefferies Stratton, priest, whose funeral was on Friday.

At which I preached

On one of these texts – Isa 25 – the Isaiah apocalypse which looks forward to a final heavenly banquet

The more time I spend in ministry – the more all of the areas of my life seem to link up so that there is an almost visible underlying skein

Father Jeff was 61 years married – and served 60 years as a priest

In his time, Jeff was an innovator perhaps you have a sense of that from the colour – the colour of spring – and the stained glass effect on the orphrey


The key to innovation is knowing what to change and what is fundamental

So chasubles should be worn as distinctive marks of the president of the Eucharist

In ordinary time they are green representing the season of new life and renewal.  But they need not be dull

Keeping a relationship with the past is important if we are to have meaning in our lives

This topic of tradition versus innovation is a live debate in the church of England

Its Liturgy – its hymnody – its vestments – even the Parish system

And above all its Ethics – all are subject to debate

Relationship is at the heart of religion

Which is literally the ‘binding together’ of people of common faith

So determining what are and what are not ‘the ties which bind’ is absolutely crucial.


Loyalty, tradition and innovation are at the heart of today’s Gospel reading

On one level it is about the offering and receipt of hospitality

Have you ever been invited to a dinner party and initially said yes

Happy to go – A chance to see friends – A night out

As the date draws nearer you begin to see reasons not to go

Not feeling so good- a tough week – the cooking is never very good

And so refused.

It seems to me that this kind of behaviour is now quite common place

People say one thing and do another.  Let people down

At its most profound level this is a breach of promise, breach of covenant

To the millennial generation. all arrangements appear now to be provisional

What does that mean for society

We are increasingly utilitarian rather than covenantal

What’s in it for me not the fidelity to an underlying law


But if we refuse hospitality then relationship is weakened or broken

It is a form of rejection

How many çhances will we get?

We take a risk  – assuming the relationship will survive

Similarly if we fail to offer hospitality then potential relationships are never made


In this parable Jesus tells us that God’s hospitality is extreme

The king has invited guests to a sumptuous feast – oxen and fatted calves have been slaughtered – all is ready when he sends his slaves out and summons the invited guests to the wedding banquet

But they ‘made light of this’ – they did not value it

Instead they did other things – one went to his field (perhaps to do the gardening or watch his son play rugby) another went to his business – in fact the Greek says ’emporium’ – that’s right, he went shopping!

So instead – the King had those who were invited killed (ouch!) and  invites instead all of the hitherto uninvited

‘the good and the bad’ to the feast – he innovates!


The allegory is clear – God has offered the chance to all of Israel to join in the new relationship, the new covenant with God

They refuse out of vested interest, selfishness and complacency and instead treat very badly those who Bring the news of this new relationship (ie Jesus and his disciples)

And so the offer has been extended to those who would not otherwise have been invited – that is we the gentiles.

So we are all welcome, in the language of the book of Revelation, ‘to the wedding feast of the lamb’

But the story does not end there – at least not in the Gospel according to Matthew

Where Luke’s account stops and has a happy ending, Matthew’s has a sting in the tail

For even those who are new to the relationship – late invitations to the wedding banquet – are expected to know the form and come properly dressed or be bound and tossed into the abyss

Does this seem harsh?


Apparently the conditions were easily met – the required garment was just something white (not like following the RAC dress code )

There might be a link with Baptism in this – since the traditional garment for a baptism candidate is white

In the good old days then a Christian  catechumen would be expected to learn a lot of doctrine and liturgy before being admitted (like joining the RAC)

What this parable might then be saying is that it is all very well to be invited to the wedding feast of the lamb but if you do not take it seriously then it would be better that you had never come.

It’s not enough to just turn up – you have to learn the rules, obey them, join the club, get into relationship with your fellow members

There are many lessons then for us in this

We should be like our outrageously hospitable God and develop a culture of hospitality – how many people did you invite here today?

Have we invited people before but they said “no”?

Did we go back com again as God does – again and again to repeat the offer?

We should be outrageously hospitable like God

We should keep our promises – hold on to tradition and learning

We should not forget our baptism – I am wearing white as a remembrance of mine

Nor the promises made at baptism

When we pass the font, remember your promise to bring up your children and Godchildren as followers of Christ

Nor our marriage and the promises made there – to be bound to one another until death us do part

Nor our confirmation and the promises made there to keep learning and keep turning to Christ

In summary we should keep learning and keep turning to God.

And keep inviting others to do the same.



Sermon delivered by Revd Christopher Hancock 10:00am Eucharist at St. Martin’s Epsom, 15th October, 2017

Images of Mary – Sermon for the Patronal Festival of St Mary’s, Ewell

How do you feel about Mary?

I confess to having struggled somewhat with the Catholic traditions and spirituality surrounding Mary.

I feel myself to be a high church Anglican but somehow worship involving Mary always seemed to me to be Popish and frankly not very British.

However, the Parish in which I live and from which I was called to ministry is St Mary’s Headley and we are here today in St Mary’s Ewell – there are a great many St Mary’s churches in England and so it is clear that Mary must have been a very important figure for devotion and inspiration for our predecessors in these islands.  As such she has to be worth attention.

When I was on placement here in Ewell I thought I would encounter a lot of Marian devotion perhaps even processions like this.


This could be the scene on the Ewell by-pass!

But I didn’t see much sign of this and this suggested that perhaps I was not the only one who felt a little uncomfortable with Mary

One of the issues that I had was the Catholic imagery with which I associated with Mary

As Queen of Heaven, complete with fairy lights:

fairy lights

Or with a huge crown

queen of heaven

Let alone the alabaster statues of as the Madonna of the sacred heart.

sacre coeur

I recently flew back from Athens and got into conversation with an Orthodox priest and his wife who was an iconographer – a writer of icons

I said that I was interested in images of the Blessed Virgin and she interrupted me and said we do not call her Blessed Virgin, we call her Theotokos.

The orthodox emphasis is not on Mary as queen, nor her virginity, not even her femininity, the emphasis is on Mary as the person who gave birth to Christ – the person who brought God into the world – the instrument of the incarnation.

As such the Orthodox icons of the Son of God with His Mother are powerful testimonies to the reality of God’s incarnation as the human being Jesus as well as being an exemplar for the relationship that we can have with Jesus and so in turn provide the example for our relationship with others.

Mary is revered as a Saint and Saints achieve Holiness by modelling Christ – they are exemplars

Mary does this primarily in terms of her acceptance of the will of God – Mary’s Annunciation prefigures Christ’s Gethsemane

Mary gives up her life and then all that she has (her status as an unmarried and childless woman – i.e. a virgin) to the will of God.  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)

In this respect she shows us the way of faith through obedience to the will of God.

A small but very important group of saints not only model Christ but do so by their treatment of Christ himself.

My own name saint is a good example of this, St Christopher.

According to the legend, St Christopher carried the boy Christ and thereby mirrored the actions of Christ who would bear the sins of the world.  Bearing the weight of the one who bears the sins of the world turned out to be harder than the Saint expected!

Image result for image of st christopher

The patron of my current church of St Martin is another example – St Martin famously cut up his cloak to give to a beggar whom he only later realised was in fact Jesus Christ.

In the Gospels, Mary is seen interacting with Christ and modelling Christian behaviour

She intercedes on behalf of the embarrassed wedding guests at Cana and asks for more wine

She weeps at the crucifixion as a model for our sacrifice and compassion

Above all of course she bears Christ in her womb and brings him into the world – as it is our task to bring the gospel to the world

Not only that, but Mary is present through all of Christ’s life – she is there from the conception to the crucifixion and beyond – our last sight of her is with the apostles – constant in prayer in the first chapter of the book of Acts .

She thereby models Christ as being present for the alpha and the omega of Christ’s life who was himself the first born of all creation and the first born of the dead (Colossians 1).

Following the tradition of Mary as the Theotokos we can see more examples of Mary as an exemplar in various forms of Orthodox ikon (I am indebted for these insights to Rowan William’s excellent introduction to the Ikons of Mary – ‘Ponder These Things’.

First, Mary’s role as leading the way and showing us the way is captured in the icons of Mary Hodegetria – literally she who points the way.

Notice how she looks at Jesus and points to him – he carries a scroll as a sign of his fulfillment of the prophesies of the Old Testament – the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.  (Words from the Magnificat – what could be more Anglican than that?)

A second type of ikon is the Eleousa (= merciful) in which Mary’s face nuzzles against that of Christ in a gesture of great intimacy and love.   Jesus even has his arms wrapped around Mary’s neck – this is the very incarnation of love – it reminds us that the place where the human and divine meet is love.

Our reading from John’s gospel tells how Jesus showed his compassion and handed on the responsibility of looking after his mother – “behold your mother, behold your son.”  In a manner which prefigures his passing on his mission to his disciples in the next chapter – ‘as the father sent me so I sending you’ (Jn 20:21) – just as Jesus once looked after the poor and hungry, the lame and the widow he is now passing that on to us.

The third major type of Icon of Mary is Mary Panagia (meaning all holy) also known as the Virgin of the Signs – with Mary praying (Latin = Orans)

Mary orans

She is shown praying with outstretched arms inviting us in, her eyes open to see our needs, in her stomach – her womb – is a circle that contains Christ and reminds us of a communion wafer.

Jesus is shown here blessing us in response to his mother’s request.

This is a reminder that it is in prayer through Mary not prayer to Mary that we reach Jesus.  Moreover, we pray to God as Mary taught us – like the apostles who were constant in prayer.

This remarkable Panagia image captures all of the words which are used when we chant the decades of the rosary.

I used to think this was bizarre practice but since getting under the skin of Mary through the orthodox ikons I have found it a powerful exercise in contemplation and meditation

Hail Mary, full of grace (this is Mary eleousa), the Lord is with thee (as in all of these ikons Mary is seen with Christ) blessed art though amongst women (because she shows us the way – the hodegetria) and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus (Panagia)

Holy Mary, mother of God (the theotokos) pray for us (orans) sinners now and at the hour of our death (from the beginning to the end of life).

This idea of Mary at the beginning and the end of the human story is seen in depictions of Mary as the new Eve

An idea which lies behind the famous picture by Cranach (Virgin and Child under an Apple Tree, 1530)


Eve’s Disobedience is overcome by Mary’s obedience

The curse of Eve in Genesis is replaced with the blessedness of Mary

Eve who was there at the beginning, who took and ate (the apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil)

Mary who is there at the end saying ‘take, eat, this is my son’s body which is given for you for the forgiveness of sins’

So we celebrate on this day the birth of her who gave birth to God – who was there at the beginning and who is there at the end – through the resurrection and into the present.

We pray that we may follow Mary Hodegetria who shows us the way, Mary Eleousa who has compassion for the world, Mary Orans who is constant in prayer and above all Mary Theotokos – as we take and eat the body of Christ in our Eucharist and he dwells in our bodies so we take him out with us into the world, to show others the way, to pray for the world and above all to love it.   Amen

Sermon Preach by Fr Christopher Hancock
On the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St Mary, Ewell, 3rd September, 2017


Meditation on the Rosay

I take up my battered rosary from where it has lain unloved.
It does not reproach me for its neglect but welcomes my touch.
The wood is warm and instantly alive in my hands.

Each bead is a world: the earth, a planet which was created,
Small but significant in the order of the universe
Like God, holding it all in the palm of his hand – precious.

Each bead is an atom, an elementary particle, an electron, a quark,
So small it seems enormous, because of the extent of the nothing that surrounds it,
The unimaginable complexity within.
It is the thing which is not nothing, the shaper of the void.

Each bead is a rock, an isle, a moon, a sun, a galaxy,
A star in the night sky, a grain of sand on the sea shore.

The rope is the connection between all things.
The bond between atoms,
The genes which connect me to my parents, my ancestors,
Ancient species long extinct and to my children.
The relationships between us.
My love for my fellow man, my wife, my children.
The chain that links me to my enemy and my friend,
The man who is my neighbour – the next bead.

The wood of the Cross – it is soft but enduring;
I can mark it with the nail of a finger.
It becomes the true wood of the true cross,
A relic which is more than a symbol,
Because Jesus was here, living on earth, physically real.
And he suffered, bled and was killed here, dying on earth.

The prayer is ancient, foreign, half unknown
I say it with the reverence of a guest in a stranger’s house.

I see the holy family: God, Jesus, Mary

Mary is my representative,
The Lord is with her – she is full of His Grace,
As she is blessed so I count my blessings

Jesus is the fruit of her womb.
Her real, physical womb,
Because Jesus was a real, physical man.

Mary is special,
She is holy because she has said “yes” to God,
Becoming the mother of God,
Bringing God into the world

We ask her to pray for us, as others ask us to pray for them.
We are all sinners – now and at the hour of our death.

Each bead becomes a sin,
A weakness, a fault,
A selfish act
A missed opportunity,
A jealous thought,
An angry word,
A crime
A trespass
A lie.
And at the end of all the sins is the cross
It is the very end of sin,
The symbol of self-sacrifice and redemption,
The means of grace and the hope of glory.  

Building on the Rock – Christopher Hancock Sermon on Matthew 16:13-20

Image result for peter you are the rock

Readings for Proper 16A

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

As you probably know, the lectionary is on a three-year cycle and after six years of regular preaching, I am getting to the point where I have preached on most weeks of the lectionary.  That means that I can look back on previous sermons and see what I have written.

What always surprises me is how what I wrote in the past seems largely irrelevant to what I would want to say now.  (If what I said in the past is now not relevant even to me, I am not sure what that says about how relevant what I am saying now may be to you!)

However, when I last preached on this text my concerns were about identity – about how Peter revealed Jesus as the Christ – the anointed one prophesied by Isaiah, the Messiah.  And how in turn Jesus helped Simon become Peter, about how Jesus called him from one identity to another.  And I suppose that was because three years ago I was in the process of training and of being transformed myself from a member of the laity to being a priest.

Now when I read this, as a Priest, I am struck by the way that Peter is my ancestor – the first leader of the Church, probably the first Pope in Rome.

All current priests in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches trace their priesthood from succession from Peter and ultimately from this passage of Scripture.

Recalling Abram and Jacob whose names were changed to Abraham and Israel in Genesis, Jesus changed Simon into Peter – in Greek Petros – the rock, the rock on which I shall build my church.  Just as in the language of Isaiah, Abraham was the quarry from which Peter was hewn, Peter would be blessed and would be the basis for the church of a great multitude –  like the sand upon the seashore.

‘The Rock’, seems an ironic name for the impulsive, often erroneous and sometimes frankly disappointing Peter who would deny Jesus three times.  But calling and transformation are not immediate processes.  It took at least 6 years (and perhaps 49 years!) for me to get to this point of becoming a priest.

In an inadvertent imitation of Peter’s change of name, two years ago when ordained Deacon I asked that people call me Christopher – not Chris. Christopher which means bearer of Christ.  This seemed an important name in the context of what I was about to do.  To be the bearer of Christ to people – to bring them the Gospel of the Messiah.

And now I have been made a priest and have been given the power handed down from Peter to forgive sins – to help people know that they are forgiven by God and can start the process of transforming their lives – ‘by the renewing of their minds’, as soon as they are ready to do so.

But I do not presume that people will come to know God through me – ‘not through flesh and blood’ but rather through the knowledge of God through his son Jesus Christ.   As Peter did we all need to find our own way, and also to discern our own skills, our own calling.

As we read in that great passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.

This is important as we look to build the church in Langley Vale upon the rock laid down by Peter.  We each need to do our part using such gifts as we have been given.  The rewards are great …

In Jerusalem, the temple stood on the rock – at the centre of the world.  Below it lay Sheol, the underworld of the dead.  Above it lay the heavenly realm

Jesus promised those in his church, built upon his rock, freedom from the fear of Hell – those in his church would be protected from whatever might lie behind the Gates of Hades should they be opened.  But rather He offered the key to the gates of heaven.

As Isaiah said:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, [in the Language of St Paul] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, [as in our post-communion prayer] holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The way that we discern the will of God and allow for the renewing of our minds is of course through prayer.

So I am delighted that we have begun a new prayer group here at St Stephen’s, meeting every Wednesday evening to pray for the wisdom to discern our talents and the courage to use them for the building up of the kingdom of heaven upon the rock of St Peter, here in Langley Vale.

In case you can not make it on Wednesday., let us use this time now for silent prayer to listen for what God’s will for us in this place might be.

Lord, in your mercy – hear our prayer.

Sermon given by Christopher Hancock at St Stephen-on-the-Downs, Langley Vale
on 27th August, 2017.

Shiny happy people – sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration


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.



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