Bishop Martin has asked clergy from across the diocese to contribute a Sunday sermon. In this sermon, for Whitsun, the Revd Archie Coates looks at how the power and the coming of the Holy Spirit can help us to have an impact so that we might be truly effective in our Christian lives.
There are two Gospels today. We start our service with with Mark 11.1-11. As I have said before, Mark keeps the action short and to the point. Jesus briefly visits the Temple but, as it’s late, he doesn’t turn the tables over - he goes back to his base at Bethany. We get the message time and time again in Mark’s Gospel - Jesus is a man in a hurry. Time is short.
The main reading today will be a large section of Mark’s version of the Passion of our Lord, his trial, crucifixion and death. We start with Jesus led away from the Garden of Gethsemane to be tried by night in front of a kangaroo court (Mark 14.53-15.39). The chief priests use Jesus’ words to condemn him, as their chosen witnesses cannot agree. While this is going on Peter fulfils Jesus’ prophesy and denies him three times.
Jesus is then tried by the Roman governor, who is amazed at Jesus’ silence in the face of the accusations from his own people and tries to release him. The will of the mob prevails. Jesus is condemned to death by crucifixion. He is once again mocked, scourged and then carries his cross until it becomes too heavy for him. Simon of Cyrene helps him carry it. When they reach the Place of the Skull, Golgotha, he is crucified. Once again he is rejected and mocked by all around him. There is an earthquake and Jesus cries out in desolation. A Roman soldier proclaims him as God’s Son.
This helps us set the scene for the coming week, what we call Holy Week. On Thursday we shall recall the events of Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet. We will have a service in Sutton at 10. On Good Friday, if the weather allows us, we shall meet in the churchyard at Burton at 10 for a said Good Friday service, when we shall read the John Passion, which gives us yet more insights into the death of our Lord. IF we are at Burton, IF the weather allows, please wrap up warmly and bring a picnic chair, just as we used to do last summer. If the weather is unsuitable we shall meet at Bignor inside. I will send round an email in good time.
True and humble King,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.
Please note: there will also be a live service at Bignor (inside) at 10am and 1130 at Barlavington
One of the frustrations of John’s Gospel is it starts gripping stories, makes a point and then leaves us dangling! Did they see Jesus? We have to assume they did; why else is John telling us about it?
We would love to know what they talked about. Presumably they are Greek converts or Greek-speaking Jews. Otherwise Jesus is breaking the law by speaking to them at all. Or is this the point of what John is telling us? Jesus speaks to everyone, Jew or Greek. This is what Paul says in several of his letters. Jesus speaks to everyone; Jesus died for everyone; Jesus rose again for everyone - to give everyone promise of eternal life.
Jesus explains to those around him that his coming death and resurrection are a source of glory. God’s name is glorified by his Passion. This is one theme for this Sunday, Passion Sunday.
To emphasise the point a voice comes from heaven, showing that Jesus and his Father are one. Through his suffering and death, his “being lifted up”, the world will see the working of Almighty God and give him the glory. John is quite clear that his death on the cross is to the glory of God.
Where does this leave us? “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” The only way we can help people to see Jesus is by being like Jesus. The point of this incident is to show that it is through suffering that God’s name is glorified, and that Jesus is for everyone. It is through us that this message is spread abroad in the world. If people want to see Jesus it is through us and the way we are with them that they will see him. It is a great responsibility, especially in a time of pandemic and lockdown. How can we show people Jesus? It is in our hands.
John’s Gospel chapter 12 vv20-33
Please note: there will also be a live service at Sutton church (inside) at 10am
The Church in its wisdom has given us a choice of Gospels for Mothering Sunday, one from Luke at the start of Jesus’ life and the other from the crucifixion in John. I have recorded both for the online worship. This is for those who decide not to go to church on Sunday morning.
Luke’s scene is part of the longer story that we had at the end of January for the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. Today’s Gospel focuses on Simeon’s words over the infant Jesus - “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” In other words Simeon sees Jesus as a figure of world significance, who will cause many to fall and many to be raised up, revealing the innermost thoughts of many. There will be opposition. His life will not be easy, but it will be the life of a great person. Simeon finishes with words of warning for Mary - “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” I wonder what Mary made of these words. Did she put them to the back of her mind? Did she brood over them? What effect did they have on the way she brought up her son, knowing what she did about the miracle of his birth?
John’s scene gives us a sort of answer. Jesus is dying on the cross. At the foot of the cross are standing Mary, her sister, Mary Magdalene and the disciple Jesus loved. In all the pain and the heat, the difficulty of breathing and the sense of dereliction, Jesus entrusts his mother to his disciple and his disciple to his mother. Even in death, Jesus’ love goes out to others. He thinks for others and makes provision for them. The disciple takes Mary into his own home, from that moment. A new family is formed. Out of the horror of the cross grows something beautiful. The disciple cared for her until her death some time later, as holy tradition has it. At the centre of our faith are families like this. People are important in Christianity. Our faith builds up, taking those who have fallen and raising them up, in Simeon’s words.
In our pandemic times these are Gospels for us. They speak to those of us who have lost loved ones. Jesus knows our suffering and entrusts us to the care of others. There is also a message of hope, even though swords pierce our hearts. Suffering flows from the cross, but so does healing and hope. Beyond Good Friday lies Easter Day. That never changes. You can trust that.
Reflection for LENT 3 on John 2.13-22
This Sunday we have a reading that we might be expecting on Palm Sunday. John, who never wastes a word or a scene, is playing with the chronology of Jesus’ ministry. The ‘Cleansing of the Temple’, as it is called, takes place at the beginning of John’s Gospel, rather than just before Our Lord’s arrest and trial, his death on the cross and his rising from the tomb, as we have in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. What is John up to?
I think John wants his Jesus to make a bold statement as he sets out on his ministry. He is challenging the status quo and those who enforce it. He is making a statement to the Temple authorities. This is quite a challenge. It is the high-priests, the Sadducees and Herodians that Jesus is taking on. His disciples sum it all up be quoting scripture: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This is some measure of the effect Jesus’ violence is having on them. It is awe-inspiring. Who is this man?
This is the only time we see Jesus using force to make a point. Matthew and Luke have him overturning the tables of the money-changers, but John describes Jesus making a whip of cords and driving everyone from the temple area. (Mark has him going quietly home to bed! Perhaps Mark is uncomfortable with the violence, as many Christians still are.) When is it valid to resort to violence in a just cause? Many Christians are known as peace-lovers. Yet their Lord, at the beginning of his ministry causes a real turmoil in the House of God, the Temple at Jerusalem. Is being zealous justification enough?
When we are faced by a situation we loathe, how do we react? Do we let others know how deeply we dislike what we are seeing? Are we zealous for the Lord’s work? Does that zeal consume us? We are British after all. It is clearly an individual choice how we respond to the situations we encounter in life. Jesus calls us to face each new situation with the same courage and fearlessness he shows in this Gospel today. The choice is ours.
give us insight
to discern your will for us,
to give up what harms us,
and to seek the perfection we are promised
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In this Gospel Jesus is asking his followers to do something that seems to be outrageous, demanding and unreasonable - deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. What are we being called to deny? What is the cross we are being asked to take up? Is it the cross he will eventually be nailed to for our sins?
Jesus and his disciples were surrounded by evidence of Roman occupation. One thing they all saw was the summary execution by crucifixion. In Hollywood films Jesus always carries (or sometimes drags) a full cross. Not very practical, it takes too much time. Most executes carried the cross-bar, which was heavy enough, but it could be fitted on posts already in the ground. To carry this is hard enough. This is what Jesus is trying to show his disciples - it is not easy following Our Lord, carrying whatever he asks us to, following him wherever he leads and denying ourselves.
This is a Lent call. What we are being asked to do is to deny our worldly desires and pleasures, and to be engaged in the service of others. Service means being humble, putting the interests of others before ours, but not in a timorous, self-deprecating way. We are called to be witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ boldly. We are to put God and other people first. Those are the two great commandments. “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” In this lockdown Lent we are socially distanced but we do not have to be socially unconcerned.
Peter cannot see this. How can Jesus fulfil Peter’s expectations of him if he is going to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and be killed? This is a lesson he will only really learn when the cock crows and he finds he has failed Jesus. When Jesus looks back at him at his trial, he sees Jesus’ love even in the face of death. He bursts into tears, as he realises what Jesus meant by telling them to be ready to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. He sees what that means for him and for all of us. Love of God and others conquers all and is the theme for this Lent.
To sustain us through Lent as we carry his cross, through prayer and fasting, we are called to look into Jesus’ eyes again and again, until we reach Easter Day.
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Mark, the writer of the Gospel we are using this year, is a man in a hurry. We know from Luke and Matthew a lot more detail of what went on in the wilderness between Jesus and Satan. Mark doesn’t have time for such details. He gives us the bare facts. Mark’s Gospel is a no-nonsense telling of Jesus’ ministry and death. It’s ideal for a Lent read, perhaps.
Today’s reading from Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism by John and is told entirely from Jesus’ point of view. Jesus sees the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit appears to him in the form of a dove. He also hears God’s voice, acknowledging him as God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased.
The second scene of this mini-drama takes place in the wilderness. Jesus is driven there by the Spirit. He is to spend 40 days there, with wild animals and attended by angels. The final scene has Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee, calling people to repentance and to believe the good news he is bringing.
The time in the desert reminds us of the Exodus. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness preparing to enter the Promised Land; Jesus spend 40 days in the wilderness preparing his ministry. This past year has felt very much like a ‘desert experience’ for most of us. There have been times when it has felt endless and with little to refresh us and give us hope of an end - and it has not ended yet, not by a long way. The wilderness is a powerful symbol if challenging times. Our only consolation at times is that Our Lord went through a similar experience and came out the other side, just as we will.
We are not told what the temptations were that Satan offered Jesus, but we can imagine what they were. To start with at least, Jesus was alone in the desert. The desert is dry and sun-baked. Jesus has just been given the call as God’s Son. How is he to carry out a ministry to the world as God’s Son? We can imagine that the wild beasts (lions, jackals, wolves?) were a challenge and a temptation to give up. Our wilderness time has been fraught with difficulties and temptations. We cannot give up, however.
Jesus was waited on by angels. So have we been and are continuing to be. In our ‘support bubbles’ and our ‘household bubbles’ we have been helped to go on. We owe a great debt of gratitude to all those who have brought us shopping or our repeat prescriptions from the surgery, or baked us cakes, or done a thousand things to make us feel that we are not alone, that God does know and care and love us. All these things are the work of angels - messengers of God - and we thank God for them all.
Through the whole of the testing time, Jesus clearly kept his relationship with his Father strong. As soon as the testing time was over he began to preach, proclaiming the good news of God’s love. Our lives instantly bear witness to our commitment to God and our knowledge of God’s love working in our lives, however long our ‘wilderness time’ lasts. We have each other to support us. We stay positive and continue to believe the good news.
Your Son battled with the powers of darkness,
and grew closer to you in the desert:
help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer
that we may witness to your saving love
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lent is originally said to have followed Epiphany, just as Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness followed immediately on his baptism, but soon it became firmly attached to Easter, as the principal occasion for baptism and for the reconciliation of those who had been excluded from the Church’s fellowship for apostasy or serious faults. This history explains the characteristic notes of Lent - self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter, to which almsgiving has traditionally been added.
Now is the healing time decreed
for sins of heart and word and deed,
when we in humble fear record
the wrong that we have done the Lord.
(Latin, before 12th century)
As the candidates for baptism were instructed in Christian faith, and as penitents prepared themselves, through fasting and penance, to be readmitted to communion (I think we should all use this Lent as a preparation for when we are able to take communion again in our churches, very much in the spirit of the early church), the whole Christian community was invited to join them in the process of study and repentance, the extension of which over forty days would remind them of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, being tested by Satan.
Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence; from the Middle Ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross. The calculation of the forty days has varied considerably in Christian history. It is now usual in the West to count them continuously to the end of Holy Week (not including the Sundays), so beginning Lent on the sixth Wednesday before Easter, Ash Wednesday.
Liturgical dress is the simplest possible. Churches are kept bare of flowers and decoration. The Gloria is not sung (Oh, to sing the Gloria again!). The fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare or Refreshment Sunday, Mothering Sunday, as we call it) was allowed as a day of relief from the rigour of Lent, and the Feast of the Annunciation almost always falls in Lent; these breaks from austerity are the background to the modern observance of Mothering Sunday on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
As Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season darkens; the readings begin to anticipate the story of Christ’s suffering and death, and the reading of the Passion Narrative (this year from Mark’s Gospel) gave the Fifth Sunday the name of Passion Sunday. There are many devotional exercises which may be used in Lent and Holy Week outside the set liturgy. The Stations of the Cross, made popular in the West by the Franciscans after they were granted custody of the Christian sites in the Holy Land, are the best known.
Let us draw the most that we can from our challenging Lent this year, and let us pray that we are able to meet in our churches for Easter at long last.
This Sunday’s gospel reading has Mark’s version of what we call the Transfiguration, the mountain-top experience Jesus and his inner circle had when they saw Jesus’ appearance ‘transfigured’ - his face shone like the sun and his clothes were so brilliant white that the Gospel writers remark on it - ‘whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them’.
This is strange enough, but there is more. Moses, the great figure from the Jews’ history, and Elijah, the great prophet of the Kingdom Period, are seen talking to Jesus. They represent the Law and Prophesy. Jesus refers to himself as a prophet; his cousin John was a famous prophet; prophesy was an important feature of Jewish history and self-understanding - the prophets gave the people the words of God. The prophets helped the people and the kings to understand the will of God.
Moses is the one who led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt through the wilderness for forty years to the Promised Land. He didn’t enter the Promised Land; Joshua took over that task. Moses, like Elijah, was taken up to heaven. Neither had a grave. Moses, of course, was the great Law-giver. The first five books of the Bible are attributed to him. Jesus was often referred to as a second Moses, just as Francis of Assisi was called a second Christ.
The atmosphere on the mountain-top is full of awe. Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah. Peter, never really at a loss for words, suggests making booths for the three of them. He doesn’t have a better suggestion! On top of all this the mountain is covered by a cloud and they hear a voice: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ Suddenly it is all over, and they are alone with Jesus, who binds them to silence over what they have seen and heard. What does it say to us?
This passage is full of mystery. It seems that the curtain that divides us from the world of the spirit is pulled aside and we are allowed to look beyond this physical world. We see Jesus as he really is. He is transformed before our eyes. Not only do we see, but we also hear the voice of God, and it terrifies us. Who is this itinerant preacher we have been going around with? He has healed people and we have heard his teaching. This is of a quite different magnitude. We have to try and take this in.
And just as suddenly it is over! Moses and Elijah have vanished. The curtain has been closed again. The voice has echoed away. Jesus is alone in his everyday clothes. What are we to make of this? We hear him telling us to keep this to ourselves - and we agree. What else are we to do? He is God’s Son, and God has ordered us to listen to him.
Two thousand years on we have the same dilemma. How do we react to this event? I suggest we bow down in awe and wonder. My Lord and my God!