A SERMON FOR EASTER EVE – Dead or Alive: He is not here, He is risen! Luke 24.1-12

This the night! This is the night that never fails to send a shiver down my spine.

This is the night when God first saved our ancestors, freeing Israel from her slavery.
This is the night when Jesus Christ vanquised hell and rose triumphant from the grave.
This is the night when all who believe in him are freed from sin.
This is the night that gacve us back what we had lost, beyond our deepest dreams.

And this is the night when our human resources are exhausted, and yes clergy I am thinking especially of you, and I speak from experience, but not only of you of course, and out of the darkness God’s light breaks forth. Continue reading

A SERMON FOR GOOD FRIDAY – Behold the man: Behold your King! John 19.1-37

We’re on holy ground. I hardly want to distract you from the Christ, from the power of the Passion itself and the affective impact of its setting.

See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such Love and Sorrow meet?
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown? Continue reading

A SERMON FOR MAUNDY THURSDAY – A new commandment: will you share a towel? John 13.1-17, 31b-35

We’re back to the beginning of John’s account of the Last Supper. It’s beforethe festival of the Passover. There’s a difference here between John and the other Gospels that scholars still debate. I was taught at school that the other Gospels should always be preferred on matters of chronology. John was good at theology, but go to them for history. Later when I studied at Cambridge with John Robinson (who was actually a substantial and sometimes quite conservative scholar), I came to understand that it wasn’t as simple as that. St John in fact preserves some very early and very accurate memories of both dates and places – and this may well be one of them. Continue reading

A SERMON FOR WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK – It was night: one of you will betray me John 13.21-32

Leonardo has a lot to answer for. It’s his painting of the Last Supper; you know, the famous one with Jesus in the middle and all the disciples lined up along the table on each side. It’s just so wrong in so many ways. All the characters of course look as if they would be more at home in Italy than Israel, but that was standard. What you might notice next, remembering the arrangements at the supper at Bethany and Mary and the feet, is that all the party are sitting at table, despite the text once again making it clear that they were reclining. And at a formal reclining dinner like this the tables were always in a special U-shape (rooms were specially designed to accommodate them), not one long line, and the host usually sat towards the end of one of the sides, not right in the middle. Continue reading

A SERMON FOR TUESDAY OF Holy Week – Death and Glory: some said it thundered John 12.20-36

I left you at the end of yesterday’s homily with the fragrance of Mary’s perfume and even more the fragrance of God’s love in the air, a gift to be shared in that same spirit of love with all the world. A fragrance all the sweeter because it was not the overpowering olfactory cocktail of a High Street perfumery but a single note, contrasting with and dispelling the stench of death, like the first shafts of dawn dispelling the dark.

What is at stake here is not just the prolongation of life and temporary denial of an inevitable death – Lazarus’s lot was not a completely enviable one – but a life that will break through and break the power of death definitively, once for all. Continue reading

A SERMON FOR MONDAY OF HOLY WEEK – Lazarus lives: a fragrance for all the world John 2.1-11

Tonight, we go back to the beginning of John’s Passion narrative. The Sabbath, a week before the Passover which will also fall on a Sabbath that year has just ended at sundown, so it is what we would call a Saturday night, and a dinner has been arranged in Jesus’ honour. The next day will be what we now mark as Palm Sunday, and the high drama will begin.

But in fact, the drama is already under way. The dinner is being thrown at Bethany by the friends Jesus is staying with, just outside Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself would have been packed with pilgrims and about a quarter of a million sheep for the Passover sacrifice, if Josephus the Jewish historian is to be believed, so a village outside town offered quieter quarters. But the friends were Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, and just a few weeks before Jesus had raised Lazarus from death. That is what John sees as the trigger, rather than the provocation of Palm Sunday, and we get the sense that Jesus knew it, because the emotions run high. Continue reading

A SERMON FOR PALM SUNDAY – Amazing Grace: abiding in the Vine John 15.1-17

It’s so good to be with you for this Holy Week. It’s such a special time, a real opportunity to prepare properly for the greatest of all our Feasts. I’ve had the privilege of sharing Holy Week with folk I think of as fellow-pilgrims many times, and I do hope you’ll be able to be part of the fellowship this year, and do catch up on-line if you can’t always come in person. 

I’m going to be walking with you in the steps of St John, as he himself follows Jesus to the Cross and beyond. I have to say that after being a Mark man in my youth – Mark’s Gospel is all action and believe it or not I was once like that too – I’ve become more and more fascinated as my dotage approaches by the gentler, more relective pace of the Gospel of John. Continue reading