The Easter Vigil 2014
The trembling day has begun!
For us, along with countless thousands throughout the world assembled in darkness around a new fire and the lifting up of the newly blessed Paschal or Easter candle and the great declaration ‘Christ is risen!’ The trembling day has begun.
I call it that because as the folk spiritual song sings of the trembling before the crucified Jesus, so the trembling now becomes the dancing of a people set free. Trembling of a completely new order, for now we tremble with joy!
Over and over again the question has been asked: ‘Were you there?’ and with increasing sorrow we have had to acknowledge that every one of us was there, taking our part, sharing the responsibility of crucifying the world’s Saviour. As Brother Ramon has said: ‘It was our sin that nailed him to the cross-but it was his love that kept him there’.
Trembling and fear and dread fell upon the soldiers guarding the tomb. But when the angel proclaimed the amazing words that the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive, the women were filled with trembling fear and great joy- a wonderful mingling of awe and glory.
All the pain and sorrow of our Lenten darkness is over. The Son of Righteousness has risen with healing and joy, and now his risen light breaks into the world’s darkness for those who believe.
The wonderful thing about this motif of trembling is that it not only evokes adoration, but it promotes humility. We are the Easter People and Jesus is our song, but we are not triumphalist in an arrogant or exclusive way. We must continue as God’s trembling people, remaining open and loving for all those who cannot yet believe.
Jesus is alive, and we tremble before him. Jesus is in our midst and the trembling power of the Holy Spirit spreads itself among us. Jesus is risen today in our lives, in our church, in our community, in our world, and we tremble in celebration.
So let us sing and let the implications of the last refrain reverberate with joy in our hearts.
Oh, sometimes it causes me tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when he rose up from the tomb?
Holy (Maundy) Thursday 2014
“This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home, this little piggy ate all the roast beef and this little piggy had none and this little piggy went, wee, wee, wee, all the way home.” I used to love doing this with our children when they were small and now of course again, with our grandchildren. You had just finished bathing them and they smelt of talcum powder and then they would giggle and squirm as their toes were tweaked in turn, until finally they would be that wonderful shriek of with laughter as you tickled them. Small children are fascinated by their feet, often you can see babies chewing them. They must seem to them like extra hands, at first too far away to see, not so easy to suck, but magically there on the very end of their body.
It is only as we get older that we begin to be embarrassed by our feet. They get rough and knobbly and smelly. We develop corns and bunions and discoloured toenails. Most of us prefer to keep our feet covered up, and getting out summer sandals means a whole lot of trimming, moisturising and buffing to make our feet respectable. We are glad they’re there, and we know we need them, we’d just prefer to ignore them.
The feet of Jesus’ disciples are not fit to be seen or touched. They have been travelling for a long time. They have walked many miles over dry desert tracks, through muddy wadis, and along dirty streets where animals have been. They have slept rough, and washing has not been a regular experience. They have not, on the whole, dined in places where the courtesies have been observed.
Now they have come near the end of their journey with Jesus. They have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as their ancestors have done since time immemorial. There they will keep the Passover, celebrating the time when God rescued their ancestors from slavery. As they gather to eat, cleanliness is not high on their agenda. Their minds are on other, darker things. Jesus has been talking about betrayal. He has already provoked the authorities by entering Jerusalem in the manner of a king. There is an air of foreboding, and they are quiet round the supper table. At Passover they should be celebrating liberation and new life; instead, their thoughts are all of death.
Jesus rouses them out of their silence by getting up from his seat at the table, getting water and a towel, and beginning to wash their feet. It is the action of a servant. It is embarrassing, overwhelming. As Jesus gently cleans and dries their feet, he explains his actions to them. He is showing them how to live together, willing to serve one another even in the most menial and humiliating of ways.
After supper, where will their feet, their washed feet, take them? Out of the city, down the hill, across the Kidron valley, and up the hill a little way, to an olive grove called Gethsemane, where there will be rest for feet as their owners fall unwillingly asleep. Then their feet will take them hurriedly back across the valley, into the city again, to the places of trial, where they will stand on hot pavements, forgotten in the horror of what is happening. Along the stony streets and out through the gate to the place of execution. And then their feet will run, run away, to hide in a secret room, hoping no one will find them. Later still, some will walk along a road and find a stranger walking with them. Some will run to a tomb and find it empty. Some will walk along the shore and find breakfast waiting. And some will dance for joy. There will be new journeys into the unknown, into a new faith and a new way of life, of love and service.
We are God’s pilgrim people, travelling with God out of slavery to sin and death and into the life of freedom God has prepared for us. Today we read of that first miraculous rescue, when God led his people from slavery to give them a life of freedom in his service. We remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, when he gave us our own Passover meal, bread and wine to remember our salvation. And we read of the model Jesus gives to his followers, a new way of living in which all have infinite value, and all are called to service.
We go out after our celebrations into the darkness where Jesus will struggle with his destiny and be betrayed and executed. As we go, our embarrassing feet bear his gentle touch, and remind us that we find God not only in the highest heaven, but kneeling at our feet, asking us to bend down and help him serve our brothers and sisters. Will you be prepared to risk your dignity, to take hold of the feet of others and to gently caress them and bring them to that new life of Christ? Will you look beyond the bunions and the dirt and cherish the person, wearied by life, or blinded by their selfishness and still, without wanting reward bend down and undo the thong of their sandal? Are you prepared for this work to which Jesus calls you – or will you turn on your heel and allow your feet to run?
Annual Parochial Church Meeting 2014
The Rectors Charge
WE are very used to the parables of Jesus, parables have been described as a pithy story with a spiritual meaning – they challenged those who heard them because they cut to the very heart of the matter – and Jesus would often say, let those with ears hear and those with eyes see -
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life saving station grew.
Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decoration and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked of the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where the victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the clubs lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called ‘a lifesaving station’. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives of all kinds of various people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most people drown!
I was privileged to be allowed to attend last years APCM and spoke very briefly about how strategic the parish of Holy Cross is and about how I hope that it will become a jewel in the crown of the diocese. But for us to do that I think we need to return to basics. We need to think about what is our purpose, why do we gather on a Sunday and at other times during thee week, what lies behind our social life together and where do our energies need to be directed. The Church has often been referred to as the ark of Salvation. That doesn’t mean that we simply float about in the rough seas of our world with the hatches battened down preserving what we have. What that means is that we are the God given place of welcome and warmth to all who come to our doors, but more than that, we are the ones who have been called by God to get the message that the rains are coming across to others. It means that every single individual member of the church must take responsibility for the Good News. Our mission is to the whole of Uckfield. To the young and to the not so young, to those fortunate enough to have jobs and the unemployed and unemployable. We are called to engage with our community at every level, we should be at the forefront of all that is good and going on in our town. I know that a lot of people at church are indeed engaged voluntarily in different activities within the community, and of course some now are receivers of the benefits of those activities rather than the providers. But for each and every member, however young or old and everything in-between, wherever we find ourselves in life we are engaging with people, we are starting, strengthening and deepening relationships and where we are the gospel should be too.
I want you to ask yourself a very basic question – to which I must hasten there is no right or wrong answer – quite simply - why do you come to Church? Initially I was sent by my parents aged 3ish to Sunday School; aged 12 I went because I quiet fancied a girl who went; aged 15 I went because I wanted to learn more about the God I had come to know him. Through all these years God wasn’t so much interested in why I went but he will always use that as an opportunity – I hope that I go now because I want to rejoice with sisters and brothers in the great hope that we have received and to receive from God, in word and sacrament, his love for me. I go that I may be supported in what God has called me to in his Son. I go because I hope that in some small way I may be able to inspire in others that faith that I cherish, and that in some small way I may be able to support them as they go about their daily lives to share the hope that is ours in Jesus – in his passion, death and resurrection. Part of the task of the priest is to help us find a strength and security in our faith and worship that we will be better equipped to share our faith with others and be confident enough to invite them to share our desire to worship the one true God.
So this evening, and the PCC will be doing a bit more of this in the coming months, I want us to begin to think, to begin to dream of what kind of Life Saving Station do you want, and make no mistake we are in the business of life saving – do you want a place which is comfortable, where we can relax and enjoy each others company – I certainly hope this can be part of who we are as God’s community – but I wouldn’t ever want to see that become an exclusive club which means that people who are drowning never felt able to grab a lifebelt. What I dream about is a Church whose worship is filled with holiness, a church where the Gospel is not only taught but lived; a church where everyone feels valued and wanted regardless of their social standing or their bank balance, I want to see a church in which its members are engaging in their social and working lives fully so that the Gospel can permeate every corner of society, where Christians will have the courage of their conviction to stand up and be counted where it is required. I want to see a church where its members have ‘no thought for themselves but go out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost so that many lives may be saved’.
I want to finish with a quote that I was introduced to a few years ago – it comes from a source I thought I would probably never want to quote….one of the pastors from a very large American evangelical congregational church – however he said.
There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right – its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, and the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalised of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness. The potential of the local church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organisation on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close. Nothing comes close ….if the church is working right. But that’s a big if.
Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willowcreek Community Church.
Will you join me in seeking to make sure that that is not an ‘if’ but a reality for Holy Cross Uckfield?
The Rev’d Canon Martin Onions Rector of Holy Cross 2014