З Новим роком i З Різдвом Христовим! That’s Ukrainian for Happy New Year and Happy Christmas!
Our twelve days of Christmas came to an end on Friday but in Ukraine’s Christmas has just started! There Christmas Day is celebrated on 7th January, although since 2017, Ukraine has had a public holiday on 25th December to celebrate Christmas then too — it reflects the shared culture and faith of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Western European Christianity in Ukraine.
I’ve been reflecting on the sharing of cultures, faith and presents a lot this past week and, perhaps because today is Epiphany, the Magi have been prominent in my thoughts.
Epiphany is the day when we remember and celebrate them arriving in Bethlehem to give their gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to Jesus. Which is why, for some, it is only now that these astronomers from the East are placed in their nativity sets to complete the picture. But arriving as most Christmas decorations are packed away feels, to me at least, somewhat anticlimactic. Their arrival to the party though, brings to mind the sharing of life — not least the long and challenging journey that the Magi share with Ukrainians who traveled to find safety and shelter here in Somerset.
Christmas and Epiphany share the celebration of Emmanuel: God sharing His life and love not just with the Magi but with us in Somerset, Ukraine and beyond. God also shared the experience of tough journeys through time and space with all of us too — Jesus, Mary and Joseph became refugees themselves as they fled from a tyrant bent on their destruction.
Reflecting on that has left me thankful that God shares His love and hope on our journeys through life, whether they are journeys of sorrow or joy. But it also makes me thankful for the sharing of life and love between Somerset and Ukraine too. And it feeds my prayers that we all will be blessed with sharing hope, peace and justice in the year ahead.
We are waiting, still waiting, and not just for England to win the World Cup a second time. You may be waiting for the start of your Christmas holiday. You may be waiting to meet with family and friends that you haven’t seen for a while. You may be waiting for some good news, a chink of hope at a difficult time.
On All Souls Day (2nd November 2022) we remember those who have died, following remembering the Saints the day before on All Hallows Day. There are many people to remember, for me the death of my father on 3rd August 2022 is and was the most prominent memory.
At the annual All Souls Service on Sunday 30th October, I gave the following short homily after a reading from the book of Lamentations. I hope you find it helpful.
I was asked to give a short homily for a service the Chaplaincy of my local hospital produces for hospital and local radio. For various reasons it needed to be short, but also be helpful and meaningful to the hospital patients lives in particular, but also to those who might listen in from further afield. It became my own little act of thanks for Queen Elizabeth II. Here it is.
Like many I have been haunted by the atrocities, the evil and the darkness that has come from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both that which began on 24th February 2022 and that which began in 2014. When we are experiencing moments of pain and darkness it can be difficult to see the blessings, the hope and the joy of Jesus. This Easter I preached the sermon below looking at how Jesus took His light into the darkness but brought it out too. I hope you find it helpful.
On the First Sunday of Lent, 6th March 2022, I preached to both churches within the Benefice in which I serve my curacy. One of the lectionary readings for the day was part of Psalm 91, a psalm which is particularly challenging for Ukrainians and those who hope for peace to reign in Ukraine – that was certainly the case for me, as the son of a Ukrainian refugee. Through lots of prayer I was drawn to a sermon that challenged, even scared, me because it confronted when scripture is seemingly at odds with our situation. Delivering it to the congregations was equally challenging. Their response was humbling.
Afterwards people asked for a copy of the sermon to be sent to them. And so with that in mind I am posting it here on this blog, something I rarely do because are sermons mostly written for specific congregations and churches, and specific times. But I also rarely publish them because there are theologians, writers and preachers far, far better than me who will see flaws or errors within it that I did not – and that’s a scary and vulnerable place to be in too, but as this sermon does talk about finding ourselves in such places I have indeed posted the sermon below.
It is by no means perfect but I hope it is of help, if it isn’t please try to forget you read it!
This is my sermon for Easter Day on Sunday, 4th April 2021 for my curacy churches, both online and in-the-garden. A link to the digital service containing this sermon is at the bottom of the page.
“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Now don’t tell anyone about it. Does that sound strange or familiar to you?
Up until this point in Christ’s story, Jesus had instructed people not to tell anyone of His miracles. They had done the opposite. Finally, at the empty tomb, people are told to tell of a miracle, Jesus resurrected, and they again do the opposite! Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome fled and were silent.
This Easter we could be forgiven for remaining in the shock, silence and isolation of the pandemic. We could be excused for finding ourselves rooted to the pain of Good Friday. We could be excused for remaining in the numbness, comfortable or not, of Easter Eve — remaining in our grief for who and what we have lost. But this year we need the realised hope of Easter, the hope that fills the silence, the hope of our resurrected life that Christ gave and gives us. Hope.
I love music, particularly like finding songs that unintentionally steer me towards God, whether that be through a comforting or provoking title, lyric or tune. And in 2021 I decided to use my love of music to explore Lent as a musical and spiritual devotional exercise.
Each day through Lent to Holy Week and Easter Monday of 2021, I posted on Twitter a link to song on, and using the character limit available to explain why I’ve chosen that song and what its connection is to Lent for me.
I set myself a few ground rules to encourage me to explore and find God in the musical world around me: it has to be music that I have and listen to; to try and avoid including an artist/musician/band more than once; to try not to use Christian worship songs explicitly written about Jesus, Lent, Easter, and so on (it’s not that I don’t like or listen to them, I do!).
The playlist is listed below with links to the songs and with explanations for why I think they are relevant to Lent, but if you want to listen to the whole playlist you can click on the video below to start playing it, or access it on YouTube via this link.