Sermon for Baptism of Christ

Today we recall our baptism, whose grace derives from Christ’s own baptism, which we celebrate on this day.  It is part of the Epiphany season which is all to do with Christ’s revealing Himself as Lord and God to both Jews and Gentiles.  That first revealing was to the Gentile wise men, and, by using their initials, this itself is linked by the blessing of chalk so that we can take the Church’s blessing to our homes for the coming year.  As we have a UPVC door, I had to mark the brickwork next to the door; this marking is a way of revealingChrist to the passing world, and thus links to the Epiphany theme.

Today’s readings bring out the meaning of Christ’s baptism.  In the OT lesson, we hear how the Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the waters at creation; this was an essential preliminary to the bringing forth of all life.  That same Lord and Giver of Life moves upon the water of baptism, and brings new life, a new birth, when we are baptised.

The second reading from Acts shows the connection between baptism and confirmation.  We see that from the early days of the Church there was a distinction between the two sacraments of baptism and confirmation, and that at confirmation there was always apostolic ministry.  In this instance Paul the apostle on a visit to the church in Ephesus first has the new believers validly baptised in water, then He lays hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit.  To this day the minister of confirmation is always a bishop, a successor of the apostles.  Many of us were baptised as infants, being claimed for Christ early on and brought up as Christians; later, when we came to believe for ourselves, we were confirmed, publicly affirming our allegiance to Christ, and opening ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life.  This morning we renew all this, and can rejoice in the grace the Lord has given us afresh.

In the Gospel reading, we heard John the Baptist, who baptized in water, foretell the coming of the Messiah who would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  The fire is to empower and to refine us so we can live effectively as Christians and proclaim Him to the world.  Jesus Himself was baptized with water and immediately afterwards the Holy Spirit came down upon Him and remained with Him.  Why did Jesus, our Lord and God, need this?  Because He is also fully human, and did not start His mission or perform any miracles except as a Spirit-filled man.  He asks us to follow Him in carrying on His work, and He has cleansed us and filled us with the Holy Spirit so that we can do so.  He never sends us to do anything for Him without equipping us fully for the task.

The baptism of Christ, which we celebrate today, is a Trinitarian moment, for Christians believe in the three Persons who are one divine Being.  God the Holy Spirit descends on God the Son, and God the Father declares that Jesus is that Son, the Beloved.  Here God is revealed – an Epiphany event – and revealed as Triune.  It is in the name of that Holy Trinity that the Church acts today in all her rites and sacraments.  It is in that name you were baptized and confirmed, the effects of which have this morning been renewed.  It is in that name I invite you to receive the Lord sacramentally from this altar, or, if you are not a communicant, to receive a blessing, as you kneel in humble allegiance to Jesus your Lord and Saviour.  If you are joining in at home via the Internet, words to help you make an act of Spiritual Communion will be displayed on the screen.

Don’t forget to use the Epiphany chalk!  And may God bless you and your homes throughout this year that Christ may be revealed to the world.

I end this sermon with a meditation by a third-century Christian, written in the style of St Hippolytus from the same era.

“That Jesus should come and be baptized by John is surely cause for amazement.  To think of (Him,) the infinite river that gladdens the city of God being bathed in a poor little stream; of the eternal and unfathomable fountainhead that gives life to all men being immersed in the shallow waters of this transient world!

“He who fills all creation, leaving no place devoid of his presence, he who is incomprehensible to the angels and hidden from the sight of man, came to be baptized because it was his will.  And behold, the heavens opened and a voice said: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.

“The beloved Father begets love, and the immaterial Light generates light inaccessible.  This is he who was called the son of Joseph and in his divine nature is my only Son.

“This is my beloved Son.  Though hungry himself, he feeds thousands; though weary, he refreshes those who labour.  He has no place to lay his head yet he holds all creation in his hand.  By his suffering he heals all sufferings; by receiving a blow on the cheek he gives the world its liberty; by being pierced in the side he heals the wound in Adam’s side.

“And now, please pay close attention, for I want to return to that fountain of life and contemplate its healing waters as they gush out.

“The Father of immortality sent his immortal Son and Word into the world, to come to us men and cleanse us with water and the Spirit.  To give us a new birth that would make our bodies and souls immortal, he breathed into us the spirit of life and armed us with incorruptibility.  Now if we become immortal, we shall also be divine; and if we become divine after rebirth in baptism through water and the Holy Spirit, we shall also be heirs along with Christ, after the resurrection of the dead.

“So I cry out, like a herald: Let peoples of every nation come and receive the immortality that flows from baptism. This is the water that is linked to the Spirit, the water that irrigates Paradise, makes the earth fertile, gives growth to plants, and brings forth living creatures.  In short, this is the water by which a man receives new birth and life, the water in which even Christ was baptized, the water into which the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.

“Whoever goes down into these waters of rebirth with faith renounces the devil and pledges himself to Christ.  He repudiates the enemy and confesses that Christ is God, throws off his servitude and becomes an adopted son.  He comes up from baptism resplendent as the sun and radiating purity and, above all, he comes as a son of God and a co-heir with Christ.

“To him be glory and power, to him and his most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, both now and for ever. Amen.”

Midnight Mass of the Nativity


There are many Christmas legends that combine to give it its “magic”.  The best-known is, of course, Fr Christmas, based on St Nicholas, the 4th century Bishop of Myra, a place found in modern Turkey.  He was revered for his generosity towards the poor, including leaving bags of gold as dowries in three young women’s stockings left to dry by the chimney!  And that, incidentally, is the origin of the pawnbroker’s sign, for St Nicholas is their patron – although he won’t support them if they become greedy!  St Nicholas, rather than Fr Christmas, still visits countries north of France on his feast day, 6th December.  In Belgium he’s known as St Nicholas or Sinterklaas, which Americans took hold of and badly pronounced as Santa Claus.

Possibly less familiar to you is the legend of how the robin got its red breast.  On that first Christmas night the fire was burning low in the stable, so the robin brought twigs in its beak to build up the fire and fanned it with its wings.  The robin kept fanning it all night so the Holy Family would not get cold, especially the new-born baby Jesus.  The fire grew so hot that the robin’s breast was burned, and ever afterwards it has been given its red breast by the Lord as a badge of honour.

Meanwhile, the stork noticed the prickly straw in the manger and plucked out its own feathers to make a soft bed and pillow for the infant Saviour.  This is why childbirth is associated with the visit of the stork.

There’s the legend, now in song, of the penniless little drummer boy, who wondered what to give the new-born King.  He found with joy that his drumming made the divine B aby smile, for the Lord accepts what we can give Him, not what we can’t.

We know from our very English anthem, Blake’s poem Jerusalem, the legend of Jesus, as a youth, visiting England with St Joseph of Arimathea, who later lent Christ His tomb.  After Jesus’ resurrection, the legend is that St Joseph cut a staff from the bush from which the crown of thorns was made, and returned to England.  He planted his staff in the spot at Glastonbury he chose for the first Christian Church, dedicated to Jesus’ lowly Mother.  The staff took root and grew into a thorn bush.  To this very day – and this is fact, not legend – the bush flowers at Christmas and a sprig of it is sent to Her Majesty The Queen to recall the King of Kings whose gift of this flower honours her.

English folklore has it that the creatures whose ancestors witnessed the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem kneel to commemorate the event every Christmas Eve at midnight.  Thomas Hardy wrote a poem in 1915 about this called, The Oxen and recalls his childhood faith so challenged by the horror of the First World War; one of Hardy’s relatives was killed at Gallipoli that same year.  It was published in The Times on Christmas Eve, 1915:

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
   “Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
   By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
   They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
   To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
   In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
   “Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
   Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
   Hoping it might be so.

All these legends look at true Christian behaviour: thinking of others; generosity; giving what one has, like the little drummer boy, the robin and the stork.  They point beyond themselves to the source, Jesus Himself. The difference here is that, whilst legends look at principles and ideas, the birth of God the Son as a human being is the reality, for, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  What the Bible tells us is true and reliable. 1Luke 2, AV

The first reading you heard from the prophet Isaiah tells of redemption, of tidings of comfort and joy.  The prophecy is fulfilled when Christ is born, for He brings the good news of salvation and peace.  Think of the naked baby fresh from His mother’s womb when you read the words, “The LORD has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”  The prophecy was a promise: now we have the reality, for Christ is born and we see His bare arm!

The second Bible reading tells us of the two natures of this Baby whose birth we celebrate on this holy night.  It tells us that Jesus is the creator God who sustains all things by His powerful word.  He is the heir of all things, the reflection of the divine glory; this new-born babe has the exact imprint of God’s very being.  And yet the almighty God is now born like us, fully human, come to rescue us, to save us, to purify us from sin and is now enthroned at His Father’s right hand representing our whole race, of which He is part.  As a man He is superior to the angels because He alone among men has lived a perfect life, gone before us in death to save us from sin and risen from the dead to save us from death itself.  This He has earned, which none of us can do: we need Him!  But He is also superior to the angels by nature, because, although 100% human, He is also 100% God, the only such Person.

The third reading, for which we stood, and which we honoured with lights and incense, is one of the holiest, most stunning pieces of writing in existence.  It exults in the reality of the eternal God the Son’s becoming a human being.  It describes Him as the Light shining in the darkness that no evil can grasp.  It describes Him as the Creator: “all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made”.  Most sacred of all, it describes Him as God.  Throughout it refers to Him, not as Jesus, but as “the Word” – the Father’s eternal expression of Himself.  In this strange year, the message of Christ is more important than ever.  It speaks of hope, because however dark the days seem, He can shed His light.  As we cry, “How long will this pandemic be?”, Jesus can give us His peace.

And then we come to the main message of Christmas, for it is about Jesus Christ: “to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God”.  Did you get that?  Tonight the offer God is making to you is that you can be one of His children!  It would surely be honour enough to be one of His servants, but to be His son or daughter!!!!  I for one cannot refuse such an amazing offer!  What do we have to do?  We’ve just heard: receive Him, believe!  The offer is “to all”.  But we have to “receive” the offer, not leave it like an unclaimed Lottery ticket!  We have to believe that the offer is real, that, in Lottery language, “our numbers have come up”.

At this Midnight Mass, when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, God the Holy Spirit transforms these gifts into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  When you come forward to the altar, offer yourself to Him and in exchange receive Him.  You can do this when taking the bread or, if you are not a communicant, bowing your head for a blessing.  As the hymn puts it:

“Where children pure and happy pray to the holy Child;

where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the Mother mild;

where charity stands watching, and faith hold wide the door,

the dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more!”

Will you hold wide the door of faith wide tonight?  If you do, the real Christmas will come once more for you, or maybe for the very first time.  During Communion, you can recall the words of the hymn:

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

cast out our sin, and enter in: be born in us today!

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!”

Amen.

Address at the Funeral of Jason Adam Orwin

As all of us know, this was a day none of us expected to see, because no one imagined that Jason would be taken away from us by violence. That said, what we focus on today is the marking of a life well-lived. Jason was an enthusiastic follower of Jesus. Jesus Himself died a violent death, but He also rose from the dead and, as Jason followed Him through death, he will also follow Him in the new life in His Lord’s unveiled presence and, with all other Christians, will at Christ’s return in glory at the end of history, be given a new body like Christ’s.

I just referred to Jason’s enthusiasm. I recall how he would call out a loud, “Amen!” during my sermons, and, indeed, at other points during Mass. Some years ago I was a long-standing member of an independent charismatic church, so, if other members of the congregation found it startling when Jason vocally agreed, I most certainly didn’t: I welcomed his encouragement. He was a devout Christian with a no-nonsense faith. His love for His Lord was also shown in his love for Katja, for his own family, and for hers. For one cannot truly love another human being without the love of God in one’s heart.

Jason was a regular communicant. In the gospel reading you have just heard, Jesus promises eternal life now to those who believe in Him, and a resurrection body like his on the Last Day. “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Jason knew that Jesus is the Bread of Life. He knew that the Holy Spirit, at the priest’s hands and words, transforms the bread and wine into the risen body and eternal-life-giving blood of God the Son. When we receive Communion we receive Jesus’ life into us: because He lives forever, so shall we if we believe in Him. With an offer this good, no wonder Jason was enthusiastic about his faith!

Knowing this, you will understand why Jason’s funeral service is a Mass. Those of us who have been admitted to Communion, whether in the Church of England or not, by receiving Communion today are declaring our faith in the Communion of Saints, because the Church does not lose a member by death. All Christians are part of Christ’s body, which is made up of every believer in Jesus, whether alive on this earth or with the Lord in heaven or on the way there. Physical death now is not the end of us: our souls return to God, as Jason’s has.

The Faith tells us that, unless we’re alive when Jesus returns, we all have to face physical death, but, if we trust in Jesus, we need have no worries about spiritual death. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) Jason had already passed from death to life some time ago. He now rejoices with us on another shore and in a greater light along with that multitude that no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh and with whom all Christians for evermore are one.

A few minutes ago we heard the sublime words of the 23rd Psalm. This could well be Jason’s testimony. The Good Shepherd led him through this life; fed Him in the Eucharist; anointed him with the Holy Spirit; walked with him through the valley of the shadow of death. May all of us put our trust in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, so that we with Jason can confidently proclaim, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Amen.

Sermon for Battle of Britain Sunday 80th Anniversary

80 years ago this country was at war with Germany. Normal life had changed. There was the blackout. Wherever you went you had to remember to take your gas mask with you. Petrol and many foods were rationed. Military uniforms were seen everywhere. Home air raid shelters were in addition to public shelters. Hitler’s forces had overrun all of Western Europe, with only Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Southern Ireland and Switzerland still free and neutral. France had fallen and the United Kingdom stood alone against a mighty and apparently unbeatable foe. German invasion plans were far advanced. How could this country possibly hold out with the odds stacked heavily against its survival? Yet to the British, defeat was unthinkable: they had seen what the Germans did to defeated enemies.

That summer of 1940, the skies above Kent were the scene of a protracted air battle. A member of our own congregation, Norman Rust, was a boy at the time and stood and watched dog-fights in the sky: fierce combat between opposed fighter aircraft. Afterwards one could see criss-crossed vapour trails: slowly-dispersing evidence of fierce fighting. Hitler knew that a sea-borne invasion was not possible until he had command of the air, and that was something the Royal Air Force was determined he would never have.

We know that that battle was won. Its importance was threefold: it showed that Germany could be defeated; it ensured that Britain could go on fighting; it gave the Allies a country from which they could invade German-occupied Europe in 1944 and go on utterly to defeat Nazi Germany. Had that battle been lost, Hitler would have occupied this country and enslaved it; his evil régime would have sent to death camps every Jew, Gypsy, and everyone else of what the Nazis determined inferior races.

At the height of the Battle of Britain, the RAF had only 749 fighter aircraft available, against 2,550 Luftwaffe aircraft. 2,937 Allied airmen are officially recorded as having fought. 544 Allied airmen were killed during the battle. Airmen had two weeks’ combat training time in August 1940; their average life expectancy was 4 weeks; their average age was 20.

From the Christian perspective, there is such a thing as a just war. It is a last resort and, while terrible, must be the only option. Unavoidably important responsibilities, undesirable outcomes, or preventable atrocities may justify war. Conduct during the war must be strictly morally defensible. When news of the Nazi atrocities came to light as the war ended, the doubts of many that the war was necessary were removed, and that the outcome of that war had to be the complete defeat and unconditional surrender of Germany and its cobelligerents.

The OT’s history section is crammed with battles. In many of these God gave the Israelites the strategy it needed to overcome the enemy. Sometimes it was by weight of numbers. One battle was decided by single combat: one representative of each army; this was the youth David against the giant Goliath. On another occasion, the Lord told them they wouldn’t need to fight at all: simply stand and see the salvation of God, which He achieved by supernatural means. In one case there were plenty of Israelite warriors, but the Lord showed their leader, Gideon, that the battle would be won by 300 using tactic and strategy – so the rest were sent home.

The Judas in the first reading is not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus, but Judas Maccabaeus, an earlier Jewish warrior. When faced with a formidable foe, he said, “It is easy for many to be overpowered by a few, for it makes no difference in God’s sight whether we are saved by few or many. Success in battle depends not on the size of the army but on strength that comes from God. This arrogant and wicked army has come to destroy us, our wives, and our children and to take our belongings. But we will fight for our lives and our laws, and the Lord Himself will crush them as we watch. So don’t be afraid of them.” This could have been said about the Battle of Britain: it was fought and won by The Few against a hugely powerful enemy. It is also interesting that the enemy in both cases was seeking the destruction of the Jews.

The second reading gives a very different perspective: just as war-like, but here the battle is spiritual. St Paul tells us that evil must be fought, but we must see that its origin and motivation is not human, but from demonic powers that are moving the human enemy to act. If we fight it on the spiritual level, this will undermine the outworking on the human level. St Paul urges us to take up the armour necessary for the battle, and, he says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Knowing that their backs were against the wall, that is what the British leaders did. The King and Parliament called for a national day of prayer on Sunday 11th August. The Luftwaffe’s attack that week failed in its objective: they were intercepted by RAF fighters at a rate that couldn’t be explained by radar alone.

A second National Day of Prayer was held on 8th September. The Battle had intensified and was reaching a decisive stage. There were reports of angels being seen in the sky, even of taking part in the battle itself. On 15th September some 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London, but were repelled by just 630 RAF fighters. RAF Fighter Command shot down 56 German aircraft; the British lost 26. Air Chief Marshall Dowding declared: ‘I will say with absolute conviction that I can trace the intervention of God . . . Humanly speaking victory was impossible!’

That was uttered during the week following that National Day of Prayer, and the newspapers were not afraid to print Dowding’s statement. There was also a terrific storm in the Channel in the very place where German seaborne invasion barges had mustered. Had God intervened in answer to the nation’s prayers? It should not surprise us that He did, for the Bible and Christian history are replete with this sort of thing, including angelic activity for, as the writer of the NT letter to the Hebrews also teaches, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14) And, in response to fervent prayer did not an angel personally release St Peter from prison? (Acts 12)

The reading from St Matthew’s gospel refers to “wars and rumours of wars” and promises that “The one who holds out till the end will be saved”. Churchill said of the Royal Air Force’s conduct in the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” A great deliverance indeed was granted to this nation in response to prayer. A far greater war is on: for the souls of men. We face an implacable foe who is more interested in our eternal damnation than in the death of our bodies, as we heard in the second reading. Christ fought a decisive battle against that enemy on the Cross, and He won. It looked as if He had lost, because He was executed: His human body died. Yet He who is 100% human is also 100% God from all eternity, and it could not be that death should hold Him in its grip. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, He defeated human death by rising to life again, changing His body into an indestructible one. Into this victory He calls us and offers to all His followers the salvation of their souls, which He takes to heaven when our bodies die, and, at the end of history, He will give us new bodies like His.

Why is this service a Mass? It is because its centre-piece, the recalling of Jesus’ Last Supper with His twelve closest followers, is a showing forth of His sacrifice for us. Here we offer to God the Father the sacrifice of His Son, pleading His death that we may receive all its benefits, all its saving power. We declare our utter dependence on God for our life now and for the securing of our future in heaven. Every Mass is an opportunity for us to offer ourselves to the Lord, who invites us to feed on the bread and wine which God the Holy Spirit transforms into the body and blood of Christ so that we can take Jesus’ life into us by eating this holy meal.

We also today unite the sacrifice of The Few with that of Christ Himself, who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for His friends.” Those brave young men followed Jesus’ example by laying down their lives for us.

In summary, at every Mass the priest recalls the Last Supper Jesus ate with His 12 closest followers. He asks us to remember Him in this way. But this is not a remembrance of a dead hero, a raising of a glass “to absent friends”, but a making present His entire victory as the bread and wine become His body and blood, a means of taking His eternal life into our own bodies.

In this celebration of Christ’s victory we ask Him to join it with our thanksgiving for the great deliverance 80 years ago of the Battle of Britain. Here we also pray for peace in the world and for the repose of the souls of those who fell in that battle. May we in this country show ourselves worthy both of the sacrifice of those Few brave young men and of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

Church Repairs

Great news: the ceiling inside the church has been repaired! Once government restrictions have been relaxed, we can return to holding services in church. Our thanks to Heidi who has spent a great deal of time and effort to see this project through to its successful conclusion.

Easter Sunday

He is risen!  What does this mean?  For years I thought it meant that Jesus had “died and gone to heaven, like Granny”.  This is partially right, but misses out one essential step: Jesus didn’t stay dead.  From Good Friday until  Easter Sunday His dead body lay in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.  But what happened when He died?  His spirit, His soul, left His body.  In this form He must have visited Paradise, for He promised one of those thieves crucified with Him, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise” 1Luke 23:43.  But St Peter tells us more: His body had died but His spirit had not, “in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison” 21 Peter 3:19.  This is the meaning of that phrase in the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell”.

The Jewish day begins, not at midnight, but during the evening, when the third star is seen in the sky.  At some point that evening or night the spirit and soul of God the Son reentered His dead body, which was instantly transformed into a glorious, dazzling, indestructible body, with new properties: fully physical yet also able to live in heaven.  This body passed through the grave clothes.  The risen Lord was not seen moving back the tombstone, nor do we know when or how He left the tomb; but we are told that at dawn an angel rolled back the stone so that the women who had arrived to carry out the last offices on His dead body could enter and see that He had risen.

Jesus died, certainly; and has indeed gone to heaven, but as a living Man who is our Lord and our God.  The meaning of baptism is that we die to our old lives, are buried with Jesus, and rise from the water as beings marked for resurrection: we shall live for ever in new bodies like His when He raises us from the dead at the end of history!  That is why we can joyfully proclaim, “O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?”  Jesus has destroyed the deadly power of sin, like drawing the sting of a wasp, and deprived the grave of its victory over us.  At this time of being shut in, like Jesus’ body was in the tomb, Christians have before them the blessed hope of His return in glory, when we shall see Him and be like Him, physical and spiritual beings for ever.  May the risen Lord Jesus fill you throughout this glorious season with joy!  Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

At some point during these weeks of Eastertide, take time to pray through the Stations of the Resurrection (there are 19 of them!) and let the Holy Spirit fill you with resurrection hope.  You will find this devotion on the Resources tab. It is in pdf booklet form, so you can print it and share it with a friend who does not have access to the Internet.

The Angelus is replaced, right up to the end of Whitsunday, by the Regina Coeli.  Traditionally this is said or sung at 6 a.m. (or on waking), at 12 noon (or immediately following Mass) and at 6 p.m.  The verse is sung to the tune of “Jesus Christ is risen today”.

Regina Coeli

Joy to thee, O Queen of heaven, alleluia!
He whom thou wast meet to bear, alleluia!
As He promised hath arisen, alleluia!
Pour for us to God thy prayer, alleluia!

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia!
For the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

Let us pray.

O God, who by the resurrection of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ hast brought joy to the whole world: grant that, aided by the prayers of His Mother the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life; through the same Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Holy Saturday

Throughout today, Holy Saturday, Jesus’ dead body lay in a borrowed tomb. Yesterday, on the Cross, He had rescued us from the eternally-fatal consequences of sin, but at the cost of His life. His followers’ hopes and dreams had been laid to rest with His bloodied body: death, after all, is the end, isn’t it? Even after He’d died, the Romans had thrust a lance into His chest, piercing His lungs and heart so that clear serum and the remaining blood in His heart gushed out. There’s no coming back from that. The powers of darkness seemed to have won, for the disciples did not yet understand the scale of Jesus’ redeeming victory: all they understood was the extent of their loss. As we shut ourselves up in our homes at present for protection against an invisible foe, Christ’s followers locked themselves away in fear of reprisals from the religious leaders who would now, no doubt, be keen to mop up the remnant of the threat to their grip on the Jewish people’s loyalty and beliefs.

This evening’s Easter vigil shows how wrong they all were. Tonight light conquers the darkness; death itself is defeated when Jesus overcomes death for Himself and offers eternal life to all of us who believe in Him. I shall be celebrating the First Mass of Easter in the vicarage at 8:30 this evening. I shall light a candle to represent the Paschal Candle and, by its light, sing the victory song called the Exsultet. I shall then go straight on to the First Mass of Easter. This is how you can join me in celebrating the greatest triumph there will ever be, whereby sin and death are both defeated and heaven opened to all Jesus’ followers:

  • Find a candle and a Bible.
  • Put out all the lights, then light the candle.
  • As that single flame pierces the darkness, declare with great joy: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!”
  • Turn on the lights.
  • Read these passages from the Bible:
    • Romans 6:3-11
    • St Matthew 28:1-10
  • Pray your own intercessions, first thanking the Lord for His victory over sin and death, and for your baptism.
  • Make a fresh commitment to follow Him and serve Him all your days.
  • Pray for defeat of Covid-19 and, to that end, guidance for the Government.
  • Make your own prayers.Make an act of Spiritual Communion.

Good Friday

It would be a mistake to think that today’s events, reaching their climax in Our Lord’s death, are a tragedy: the cutting short of a promising young man’s life, the brutal, cruel and prolonged execution of someone who went about doing good. They are, instead, the greatest victory ever won. God the Son became man to save us. “All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”1 Isaiah 53:6. Take time to read that chapter today: He suffered and died for you. It was your sin He took on Himself, the sins of the whole human race. The triune God is perfectly fair: sin deserves punishment and “the wages of sin is death” 2Romans 3:23. But He is also perfectly loving: His love demands that we escape that dread and eternal punishment. How, then, are the Lord’s perfect justice and perfect love both to be satisfied? The Cross! Here Jesus takes our sins’ punishment on Him and thus His love is fulfilled. A glorious victory! Yes, weep for your sins that caused His suffering and death. But rejoice, because He has on the Cross gained forgiveness and opened heaven to you! This is why today is called Good Friday, for good has indeed triumphed over evil. This year He walks closely with those in isolation, in suffering, in mourning, in fear and pain, in compassion for others. Today, locked in our homes, we are alone; but He bore all this for us and will transform us if we let Him.

At 3 p.m. in the vicarage I shall celebrate the Good Friday Liturgy.

  • Find a cross and a Bible.
  • Begin with a time of silence.
  • Read Isaiah 52, beginning at verse 13 and read on to the end of chapter 53. Take time for the Holy Spirit to open up the meaning of Christ’s Passion prophesied hundreds of years before Good Friday.
  • Read Psalm 22. King David also prophesied many details of his own descendant’s saving Passion, even down to where He’d be buried.
  • Read Hebrews 4:14-16 and 5:7-9. What does this reveal?
  • Read John chapters 18 and 19. Pause in silence when you’ve read the announcement of Jesus’ death before reading on to the end.
  • Pray for: the Church; the unity of Christians; the Jewish people; all who don’t know the Lord Jesus, who love Him not, who have turned their backs on Him; the Queen and all in public office; for all who are sick, and especially now for those affected by coronavirus and all who care for them.
  • Take the cross you found earlier; spend time looking at it and all it means; lay all your sins and burdens at the foot of that cross and receive the forgiveness He won for you and the help He offers you to live the Christian life.
  • Make an act of Spiritual Communion and end this time in adoration of Christ crucified, priest and victim, victorious Saviour and your King.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is named after Jesus’ statement on this day, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another” 1St John 13:34.  The Latin for “a new commandment” is “mandatum novum”; today could therefore be called Mandate Thursday. Today we think of His love that drove Him to Calvary, and that, if we ask Him, He will give us this love for one another. Every year of The Queen’s reign, as have all her predecessors going back a thousand years, Her Majesty has distributed Maundy money to the poor at a special service — except this year when we are confined at home for our own safety. Until Stuart times the Sovereign would also wash the feet of the poor; churches reenact it annually this night — except this year.

This evening at the vicarage I shall celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper, beginning at 7:30. Join with me then from your own homes, reading Exodus 12:1-14, for the Last Supper began as a Jewish Passover meal. Continue with Psalm 16, looking for the Eucharistic reference to “the cup of salvation”. Read St Paul’s account of Communion in the early Church: this sacrament was inaugurated this night by Jesus, and is the only Church service commanded by Him. The gospel reading is from St John 13: read as much of the chapter as you wish. Elizabeth’s sermon for tonight is on this website. Take time to pray for the world Jesus came to save. Make your act of Spiritual Communion and then linger in Jesus’ presence, remembering His prayer for you in the Garden of Gethsemane, and His words to St Peter, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” 2St Matthew 26:40.

The Eucharist was first given to us this night. Pray that soon we shall all gather in the church once again to celebrate this Sacrament together. An insight into what happens invisibly at Mass is here: