Friday, 29 March 2013

Signs of love - reflection from Holy Thursday

"Love one another as I have loved you" - there we have it, a new commandment. Fairly simple to preach about, you would think - just do what Jesus says!

But there are dangers here. If the first thing we take away from this evening's gospel reading is that we should do things then we are likely to become absolute menaces. If what we hear is "get up, go and love, do loving things, and do them now..." we will become some kind of frenetic do-gooder, ever in earnest search for the next opportunity to love, unshaken in our self-confidence and sense of rightness, convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone else loved, just like we do. At best, we would be a pain in the neck. At worst we would be deluded - in Christian terms, we would be the kind of heretic who believes that we can save ourselves. Either way, in spite of our initial intention, we would certainly end up being profoundly unloving in practice. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of the ministrations of the kind of person I have described will know what I mean.

 The reason for this is a peculiar feature of love. I cannot give love until I have received love.

Look at what happens to people when they are systematically denied love. They turn in on themselves, putting up defences against a fundamentally hostile world. Other people become viewed simply as threats, and fear of this sort prevents the kind of giving-of-self which we call 'love'. Love is a way of living in the world, a way of being towards another person which sees their freedom as a gift to me, rather than a threat. I cannot live this way unless someone has loved me first, for the simple reason that if I am only ever seen as a threat by others, I will never get the opportunity to develop my own loves. I too, will always have to be on my guard. I need to be given space to love; which is to say, I need to have been loved before I can love.

It is like this with our ordinary, day-by-day loves. It is like this too with our loving relationships with God - the kind of relationship that the Bible calls 'covenants'. Unless God loves me first, I cannot love God. I can be in awe at God, for sure; I can fear God, or plead with him. But what I cannot do, without God's gift of love (what Christians call 'grace'), is love God. Jesus washes his disciples feet and then, only then, when they have received the serving love of the Lord, are they told to wash one another's feet. If we want to love the world with the same love that Christ did - and that is the way of life to which we are called by our covenant relationship with God - then we have to allow ourselves to be loved by Christ. "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me".

We need to open ourselves up to love. Otherwise we will not be able to serve.

We are reminded of this by the foot washing at this evening's Mass. The celebrant, representing Christ, washes the feet of members of the congregation. They don't do anything. They just sit there, having their feet washed - receiving, rather than giving. In our frantic world, this can be a difficult thing to do.

And yet it is what we do, at a indescribably deeper level, at every Mass. At every Mass the convenant of love between God and human beings is signed and sealed. God draws us, his People, into the offering of his Son on the altar, and gives us his Body and Blood of food. Here we have the supreme sign, and reality, of God's love for us. And it is given to us as a gift.

The gift of God's life in the Eucharist is, quite literally, ours for the taking. If we open ourselves up to it we will be transformed, and become the kind of people who can love extravagantly, because we have been loved extravagantly ourselves. Love is the beginning and end of Christian living. Love is the beginning and end of the Mass. Love is the reason we were created, and it is in love that we will find ultimate fulfilment, a fulfilment we look forward to, and receive as an already present gift, every time we do what the Lord said this night - "do this in remembrance of me".

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Message from our bishop at the Chrism Mass

Bishop Richard sending us on our way with his blessings

"We are being given a little more time to develop a transforming confidence not in ourselves but in the love of God; to deepen a healing compassion and to bear fruit in the creativity with which we use our gifts for the common good."

Fr John showing off his new Prebendary wear in a local coffee house

Clergy gather on the steps if St Paul's to be blessed by our Bishop

Father John, Tony and Simon, Reader Angharad all renewed their vows and commitment to their ministry and vocation at the Chrism Mass 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


On the weekdays of Holy Week we are having a sermon at Mass reflecting on 
characters from the gospel accounts of Jesus' Passion.
Today we focused on Judas Iscariot.

I always felt a bit sorry for Judas. When I was a child, my parents explained to me that Simnel Cakes traditionally had eleven eggs on top because these symbolised the Apostles, leaving out Judas. At the time I remember feeling that leaving someone out was a bit mean, no matter what they had done. 
But, of course, the maligning of Judas goes far beyond Easter customs. His name has become a by-word for betrayal. "Judas", someone famously shouted at Bob Dylan when he produced an electric guitar on stage. Judas' name has been used in anger in relationships scarred by betrayal, in communities during strikes, in nations torn apart by war, the list goes on. And whenever Judas' name is used it carries a power, a sense of accusation.

And not without good reason. Betrayal cuts at the heart of what it is to be human. We are, by our nature, social creatures. The biblical account which has God saying that it is not good for Adam, the symbolic human being, to be alone confirms what ordinary life teaches us. We thrive in community. We depend on others for our food, our security, and for fellowship. There is something fundamentally lacking in a human life which does not involve mature and open relationships to others. It is no surprise then that the Christian account of salvation is a social one: the reality the Bible calls the 'Kingdom of God' is, by its very nature, collective. It is not about me being saved through my personal relationship with God. It is about us, a people, being saved together. The Church, anticipating the Kingdom, is a reminder of the communal nature of our human destiny.

Betrayal attacks all of this. Through undermining the trust which is essential to significant social bonds, it attacks those bonds themselves. It is for this reason that Dante thought betrayal the worst of all sins, and placed traitors - notable amongst them Judas - in the lowest pit of Hell in his Divine Comedy.

Yet we are all traitors. All of us turn away from Christ and from others to a greater or lesser extent. All of us deny him when it suits us. All of us reject what we know to be the things that loyalty to Christ and to humanity demands. We are all traitors.

The gospel reading for today's Mass describes two traitors. Not only Judas, but also Peter, will betray Christ. There is one difference. Peter, after Jesus' Resurrection, is reconciled with Jesus, professing love three times and so 'undoing' the three times he denied Jesus. Peter is  forgiven, and sent out to 'feed my sheep'. Judas does not seek reconciliation - in other accounts he is described as hanging himself. We are all traitors - nevertheless the Christ who is the ultimate object of all our betrayals, big and small, welcomes us back and promises to restore us to flourishing relationships with himself and with others. He invites us, we need to accept that invitation.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Fig Monday

The next three days of Holy Week have traditional names, taken from incidents in the gospel accounts of Jesus' last week. Tuesday is known as Temple Tuesday, Wednesday as Spy Wednesday.

My favourite name, however, is tomorrow's. Holy Monday is also Fig Monday. The name comes from the account of Jesus cursing the fig tree. In Mark's account, the cursing of the fig tree 'frames' the story of Jesus' protest action in the Temple. Jesus attacks not the Temple as such - the sorry history of Christian anti-Semitism has sometimes led this point to be overlooked - nor even commercial transactions. Rather, this story needs to be read against the background of the Temple's role in the domination of Palestine under Roman occupation. Jesus' action (the context of which is unfolded brilliantly in Borg and Crossan's very readable The Last Week) is a statement against misusing the things of God to get power over other human beings. It is a statement that still needs to be heard today.

And figs? The sour figs are a symbol of an instituion (the Temple) which has become bitter, unfit for purpose. The cursing, and subsequent withering, of the fig tree are a warning to all of us trying to be the Church in the 21st century.

Now, why not have some figs for your pudding tomorrow? See here for a recipe.

Palm Sunday

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes Hosanna cry;
Thy Humble beast pursues its road
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die!
O Christ! Thy triumph now begin
Over captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
The wingèd squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father, on His sapphire throne,
Expects His own anointed Son.

Ride on, ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy power, and reign.

The third and fourth verses of this hymn we sang today speak elegantly of what we will be celebrating in the coming week. Christ is truly our sacrifice. He enters Jerusalem to offer himself for us and for the whole world.

But we misunderstand sacrifice if we think it is all about destruction, death, and violence. Far too often the Cross is presented as the appeasing of a wrathful God by the violent death of an innocent victim. No, what matters is not how Jesus dies, but who it is who lives and dies. Jesus is the Father's 'own anointed Son'. Our Christ, our anointed one, is both God and a human being. As a human being, living and dying as one of us, he invites us into the offering of love that is at the heart of the life of God. This offering, lived out in a human life, was summed up on the Cross.

It is an offering we are invited to participate in, this week and every week.

Monday, 18 March 2013

St Joseph

Our observance of the feast of St Joseph begins at Evening Prayer today. Mass will be celebrated at St Matthias at 10am tomorrow.

God our Father,
who from the family of your servant David
raised up Joseph the carpenter
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son
and husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
give us grace to follow him
in faithful obedience to your commands;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever

Reflection for Lent 5 (Passion Sunday)

John's account of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus' feet presents us with a profound contrast. On the one hand we have Mary - lavish, extravagent, out of control for the sake of love. On the other we have Judas who, whatever his motivations (on which the evangelist has a particular spin), is the voice of restrained, sensible, pragmatism - think of the consequences, we can imagine him saying, the resources used to anoint Jesus could have been put to better use, for lasting effect. The Judas whose voice we hear in this gospel reading is a familiar figure in our society, in our churches, and in our selves - he is present whenever love, which by its very nature always wants to exceed itself, is held back in a supposedly higher cause.

Mary, says Jesus chillingly, has anointed him for his burial.Today's gospel looks forward to the Cross, the point at which love comes into ultimate opposition with its opponents, what the evangelist calls 'the World'. The outcome of the ensuing struggle is made clear on Easter morning. As we participate sacramentally in Jesus' passion and resurrection in the next fortnight a question is addressed to us: which side are you on?

The demand of the gospel is clear. We have to side with love.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Pray with Archbishop Justin

Bishop Richard has sent a message to our diocese about a visit from our new archbishop:

As part of the preparation for his enthronement on 21st March, the Archbishop will be visiting five cities and six cathedrals in the Southern Province to meet with their bishops and to pray with all who wish to join him in their Cathedrals.

You will find the complete itinerary for this on the Archbishop's Journey in Prayer page. 

On Saturday 16th March the Archbishop will continue his journey through London and I very much hope that some of you will join him for as little or as much of the day as you are able. There will be various aids to prayer set up in both St Paul's and Southwark Cathedral.
  • 10.30am - Gather by the blue plaque marking the birthplace of St Thomas À Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury 1161-1170) on the corner of 90 Cheapside and Ironmonger Lane.
  • Journey to St. Paul's Cathedral.
  • 10:45 to 12:15 - Prayer in the Cathedral. Please enter by the door in the North Transept of the Cathedral which takes you straight into the chapel of St Erkenwald and St Ethelburga with Holman Hunt's painting of the Light of the World.
  • 12.30pm - Gather by the south end of the Millennium Bridge.
  • Journey along the South Bank and through Borough Market to Southwark Cathedral.
  • 13:15 to 17:30 - Prayer in Southwark Cathedral concluding with a short liturgy.
Whether you are able to share with him on this day or not, Archbishop Justin will be very grateful for our continuing prayers. His responsibilities are onerous and it is only by God's grace and supported by the prayers of all the faithful that he will be able fulfil his calling.

God our Father, Lord of all the world,
through your Son you have called us into the fellowship
of your universal Church:
hear our prayer for your faithful people
that in their vocation and ministry
each may be an instrument of your love,
and give to your servant Justin
the needful gifts of grace;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

As we are part of God's universal Church, so on this eve of the Conclave to elect a new pope let us continue to pray also for our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters as they invoke the guidance of God's Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Lent 4 - Mothering Sunday

Today is also known as Mothering Sunday or refreshment Sunday, a brief respite from the rigours of lent are afforded us and so I hope many of you will be spoilt a little today, and indeed at the end of our service all of us will be given some flowers by the church as a reminder in the days ahead of the task that lies before us in our daily Christian living – to receive and give to those around us the love of Christ.

It may seem strange that on this day our gospel reading is not about Mothers and Children, but Fathers and sons! The parable that we have just heard read as our gospel reading is only found in Luke’s gospel but is one whose faint echo can still be heard, whose picture language is still cherished by a world that seems to have forgotten so much of the Christian scriptures.

But what do we call this parable – the parable of the lost son or the forgiving father?

I wonder which title finds greater resonance with you this morning?
Which of these two, in fact its three, characters do you emphasise with most – the Father or the Sons?

The parable of the lost son.
The youngest, foolish and selfish son who wishes his father dead so as to inherit his share of the family fortune.
The child, to be inclusive for a moment, who is given what they ask for, what they dream of, what they strive for only then to loose it through reckless and self centred living.
Is this the story of a man who has crashed to lowest point in life, not just their life, but LIFE, without a single person around them who notices them for anything other than slave, a pitiful individual doing a pitiful job – a job for which there are sadly too many others just as qualified.
A son who comes to his senses and seeks forgiveness, who dares to return, to turn again, to admit that they got is so terribly wrong, to put aside self pity and recrimination and simply ask for forgiveness. Except of course it is rarely simple and it is always costly.

Or is it a story of the Forgiving Father -  of a long suffering father who demonstrates the cost of that love which welled up in his chest as his son drew his first breath and yelled to the world that he had arrived. A forgiving parent, to be inclusive for a moment, who takes on the insults of their child who out of love makes the mistake of indulging that child, yes maybe spoiling the youngest to compensate for perceived strictness with the first born. A Parent, a Father, who nevertheless is prepared to watch, not just wait, but to actively wait and watch, who is prepared to reject the sound advice of fellow dads who say good riddance to their offspring when they become too much to handle, a Father who actively runs out, under the full and mocking gaze of the world to meet the dirty and disgraced figure who no one but HE can recognise as his son.

I guess the answer is probably tied up with what is preoccupying you and me on this particular day –this Mothering Sunday– what it is we need most in our lives right now so that we can go forward rather then remain in the rut that has become the familiar and frustrating in equal measure.
Our decision will probably be shaped by what it is that we seek most right now in our lives:

Is this a story about Repentance or Absolution?
Is it a story about the cost of admitting our need to repent/ change our lives and seek to restore/heal/reconcile all that is broken?

What ever your answer, and it can be either or and both! This parable is a story about costly living – the cost of asking for forgiveness and the cost of forgiving, of reaching out to the one who has hurt us like no other can and forgiving/loving in spite or and because of what they have done and who they are.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Fr Prebendary John Hawkins

A very big thank you for all the well wishers and members of St John and St Matthias who came to see my installation at St Paul's yesterday. I hope to add more pictures as they arrive. Thanks to my colleagues for my new hat - we shall start to make a collection of coloured pom poms between us all.

St Joseph - a saint for March

This is the editorial for the March edition of our parish magazines
If you would like to subscribe to one of these, please get in touch!

At this time of year our thoughts in church are inevitably focused on the end of Lent and our preparations for the Triduum – the great three days when we celebrate Jesus’ passing over from death to life. But tucked away in the Church’s calendar at the end of March is another significant celebration.

I feel sorry for poor old St Joseph. His feast day on the 19th March always falls in Lent, and often falls in or near Holy Week. Because of this, we tend to forget him. We’re busy enough already at this time of the year, we’re not going to do anything special to mark his day! This reflects a tendency to ignore the role of Joseph in the story of Jesus’ life more generally. But there are important things we can learn from Joseph.

In the life of St Joseph we see God working in unexpected ways, upsetting Joseph’s view of his relationship with Mary, and bringing about a family situation which was far from ordinary. Yet through the unusual, through the scandalous, God’s Son lived a human life. Do we recognise in our day that God defies convention and refuses to be tied to the expected and respectable?

3rd Sunday in Lent

The prophets of the Old Testament responded to disasters in the life of God's people by issuing stern warnings: the people had turned away from a proper relationship with God and with one another, the relationship sealed in the Covenant with Moses, and had chosen instead the ways of death and injustice. Again and again the prophets called people to repentance.

In today's gospel reading, Luke places Jesus squarely in this prophetic tradition. Jesus talks about some "Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifice". The description of this event is unique to Luke's gospel, but we know that Pilate was a violent ruler. Death was always near - something that is brought home by the fact that Jesus utters these words on the way to Jerusalem, where he will himself be killed. In response to this proximity of death, Jesus calls people to repentance in stark words - "if you do not repent, you will all perish in the same way".

Those are stark words indeed, but they are followed up by words of mercy. The parable of the fig tree stresses that there is still time for repentance. This message echoes our Old Testament reading, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near." Those are words we should apply to ourselves this Lent. What do we as individuals and as the Church need to repent of? In which areas of our lives do we need to seek the Lord anew?