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.
From the moment we come into this world we are on a journey, a journey through time and space.
Last week we said our final goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II as she made her final journey on this Earth. It was a sombre occasion, a sad one, but it was not without joy and hope. Joy came in memories of her life, moments in which she made us smile — from travelling to the Olympics with James Bond to sitting down to share tea and marmalade sandwiches with Paddington Bear. Hope came in the legacy of a life fuelled by her faith, a faith which had one eye on the eternal and another on the blessings of the present.
We have just heard a section of a letter written to Timothy back in the first century, a letter which touched on similar themes of joy and hope in the moment. It began by reminding us that we came into this world with nothing and can take nothing with us when we leave it. It encouraged us to not focus on pursuing that which is ultimately damaging to us, but instead to focus on pursuing the riches that God provides in the present with an eye on the hope of God’s eternal gift.
It isn’t that we are encouraged to abandon seeking that which we need. Nor does the letter deny that we can be rightly worried about our needs being met, whether it be the provision of food, finance, good health or something else. What we are encouraged to do is not to be overwhelmed and distracted by the pursuit. It might be that our focus is on getting something or going somewhere that we have dreamt of for years. It might be that our focus is on simply getting through the day that lies ahead of us. That focus might provide the drive to get something or somewhere, but it can stop us from noticing joy, hope and blessings as we travel.
Jesus didn’t come simply to provide a route to eternal treasures, but to show us the treasures that God has provided for the journey. God desires that our senses are awakened to notice the blessings around us in present, so we can live life to the fullest and enjoy the journey through each day of life we receive.
A few days before she died, Queen Elizabeth oversaw a change in Prime Ministers. The photographer sent to capture this moment for posterity captured another unplanned moment, the Queen standing with her stick and handbag in hand, a roaring fire behind her, and her face beaming out a joyful smile. Right to the last, Queen Elizabeth found joy and blessings in the moment; may we do the same. Amen.
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.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
Luke 24:5 (NIVUK)
The tomb was empty. Jesus’ body was not there. Despair was piled upon despair. And then this: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It is not just something to celebrate and give thanks for, it is something to hold onto in our difficult moments. It is the reminder that love triumphs, that death does not have the final word. It is a reminder that nothing, neither death, evil or misdemeanours can deprive us from or separate us from the love of God now and eternally.
Celebrating that Jesus had defeated death and given new life to us all, is attracting people to worship around the world today. We can celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and the life that Jesus gives us in now and eternally, because we are looking back on the pain of Jesus and those who watched Him die upon the Cross. We can do that because we are not in the midst of grieving like they were. We can do that because we can know that Jesus is alive.
In our Gospel reading we saw that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the disciples could not celebrate Jesus’s resurrection because they did not know about it. When they arrived at the tomb that first Easter morning they were still gripped by the darkness and the numbing grief of Jesus’s death. And though Jesus had tried to teach them, though He had indicated what would happen on and after the Cross, their grief was only compounded by the empty tomb. The absence of His body, and the words spoken to them, didn’t remove their grief; it only confused it.
The realisation, the celebration and the hope came later.
In the midst of grief
Today the same combination of grief and confusion is being felt by people across the world. This week, indeed for the past 7 weeks, for some even longer, we have seen the grief and confusion of Ukrainians as they grapple with the reality of what evil humans can do to each other. They are in the midst of grief compounded by fear. They cannot yet celebrate the lives of the loved ones they have lost. They cannot yet see the hope of victory, whether it be Jesus’s or Ukraine’s. They cannot yet see the blessings that have emerged from the darkness of their night or between the Cross and the resurrection.
This Easter we could be excused for finding ourselves rooted to the heavy anticipation of Maundy Thursday and the fear of not being able to meet our rising bills. We could be forgiven for being gripped by the grief of Good Friday and the death of those known and unknown to us, whether here in the UK, in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Rwanda or elsewhere. And we could be excused for remaining rooted in the numbness, comfortable or not, of Easter Eve — remaining in our grief for who or what we have lost.
Sadly these places and people are not alone, many people, too many people here and elsewhere in the world have witnessed evil and experienced the pain of life and death. This week in the UK, many people have been reminded of the grief they have experienced during the last 2 years of the pandemic. Many of us here have experienced that grief too. When we are in the midst of pain, like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the thought of hope, blessings and celebration can not only seem impossible but make the pain even worse. If you are one of them, please know you are in the prayers of many, including mine.
Being called into blessings
Just as the Angels called the women at the empty tomb out of their shock and grief and into the blessings Jesus had for them, they are calling us into those blessings too.
Jesus calls us into the hope of His resurrected life. The hope that is contained in His defeat of death turns a full-stop into a semi-colon. It is a hope that is contained in our promised future, in our sharing of eternal life with Jesus. But it is also a hope that is contained and available in the now.
You may well know that Jesus’s last supper, one which provides the bedrock of the words we use when we celebrate and receive Holy Communion, took place during the week of celebrations of the first passover (Exodus 11 to 13:16). The first passover came immediately after the final of the ten plagues which secured their freedom from enslavement in Egypt. It is a history which is not easy to handle because of the fear, suffering and death of so many. It was a dark and difficult time for both the Israelites and the Egyptians.
The first Passover, and each annual celebration of it afterwards, was not intended to bring up the pain of the past but to acknowledge it. Acknowledging it helped them to remember or notice the blessings, both past and present — but it also encouraged them to trust that as God blessed them then, God would bless them again in the future. Our reading from Isaiah pointed the Israelites towards the blessings of the future, the future that Jesus came to fulfil, the future that He pointed to during His final celebration of the Passover in our Earthly-realm. Jesus took the hope given in Isaiah, and the hope His disciples and many more had placed on Him, with Him onto the Cross.
The Cross seemingly removed hope from those who approached the tomb on that first Easter morning. Their grief of Jesus’s death hid the seeds of hope that He had sown before His crucifixion. They could not see the hope but that hope was still there. They could not see the light but the light was still there, it had not gone out, it had gone to defeat the darkness, and it had returned to remain forevermore. They could not see the joy to be celebrated, but they would, we would, we will. The hope, blessings and joy that Jesus is in His resurrection is a gift forever available to us, forever waiting for us, and forever with us.
When the angels spoke to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James they were helping them to see what was hidden from their sight. They did it with gentleness and compassion, just as Jesus did when Mary Magdalene met Him later in the garden, and when Thomas examined His wounds.
Light in the darkness
We can do that for each other and ourselves too. We can walk alongside those in grief, those in pain, those who are not yet able to see the hope, blessings and joy. We can say as little as the angels, and be as compassionate as Jesus. We can wait with them until their spirits rise as Jesus did before ascending, before the disciples received the Holy Spirit to fuel and guide them through to the joy. We can be children of hope for them because we are all children of the resurrection.
We are not yet free from suffering in the present, but we are freed from death to be able to live life now and beyond. And with that freedom comes release, release from the blinkers and shackles that prevent us from noticing and loving all that Jesus loves and notices. We can do that, we can see the blessings, hopes and joy when we take time to pause, ponder and pray. We can do that if we take a leaf out of the Jesuits’ book and practice the Examen.
The Examen is simply taking a short period of your day to reflect on it, to notice both the good and the bad, the challenges and the blessings. It doesn’t try to hide the difficulties, it acknowledges them, and it does so in order that they do not keep eating away at us, so that so that they don’t hide the blessings. But it doesn’t dwell on the difficulties. Once the difficulties have been acknowledged it hands them over to God and moves on to seek the blessings of the day, and it is there it dwells so that the blessings of the immediate past become blessings, hope and joy in the present to carry into the future.
The first Easter, Jesus’s resurrection, teaches us that even if we cannot see it, there is light in the darkness. Jesus is in the darkness, He took His light into it, and His light could not be put out by it. He also brought the light out of the darkness, and does so for us too.
In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verse 2, it says “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”. Today we can celebrate that dawning light, our resurrected saviour. Today we hold that light for those struggling to see that light. Today we shine the light of Christ onto the blessings amongst us, to illuminate our path with hope, and to guide us to its joy.
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.
Christmas has a very specific flavour and texture for me, it is that which comes from a Raspberry and Almond Pavlova (the fruit mixed into whipped cream on top of a soft and chewy meringue flavoured by an essence of the nut).
I don’t know who made it first in my family but it came into my life through my Granny. When she was unable to make them for Christmas anymore the mantle was passed onto my Mother. When she could no longer make them I took up the honour.
Today I took one to my mother and brother, then stood outside and wished them a happy Christmas through an open window. She might be imprisoned by an illness but her true self and beauty still called out, as did the love of my brother’s care for her.
The Light of the World didn’t come from the sun in the skies above my head but from the room beyond the window I spoke through. Amidst the darkness of this year, I was glad of that.
Midnight Communion, bridging the gap between Eve & Day, amplified the darkness through the absence of those unable to be present to hear the choir sing of the Light born into it. This morning the choir amplified the light brought by the new day, by this new day, by the birthday of Emmanuel. God was, God is, God will be with us in both the dark & the light. Our darkness might continue but we are not alone within it, we are with a Light it can’t overcome.
There is much wrong with the world right now but I am grateful for the Light illuminating the blessings that would otherwise be missed. Today it helped me notice the blessing of a flavour, of a memory, of people & of finally finding my place & purpose in life.
Amidst the many things to grieve and lament during the pandemic there have been some blessings to celebrate. One of these blessings has been seeing many churches embracing technology to broadcast services. These have enabled those who could not be in a church to be there. Some have been interactive and allowed people to participate fully within the service, some have enabled people to add comments to the service as it happens and afterwards, and some have been presented to be watched and used for worship at a time that suits the watcher. I reflect on this often on my Twitter account, and intend to write a blog post on it in the future.
The pandemic caused the ordinations of Priests and Deacons at Petertide (June/July) to be cancelled. There were rescheduled for Michaelmas (September/October) once ways of conducting them safely had been found. In the meantime those who had been due to start their curacies as Deacons were licensed to start them as Lay Workers until the ordinations could take place.
Both the licensing and ordination services were broadcasted online. It is fitting that they be included on this blog, a blog that has shared the journey from initial wonderings about a calling to ordination to being ordained with the online community.
Standing on the wide open playing fields, amidst the markings of a football pitch, I realise something is amiss. For many such places are a source of joy: the source of cheers and whoops as the ball gets kicked from one goal to another. Yet as I stood there I felt the desolation beyond that which was brought on by the looming thick grey clouds above me. For me the football field is a place of sorrow, a place of hurt, a place of loneliness.
Football was one of the main sports at school. It was also a sport I sort to find my way into a community as I moved from place to place. There were moments of joy: finding myself playing in my favourite position at right midfield, just like my football hero Kenny Daglish, collecting the ball from the defence and then delivering it to the striker near the goalmouth. But overwhelming the joy of football is the sadness associated with it: the memory of being left out in the cold of the sidelines.