Author Archives: gavinstaug

Easter Day 2018

The Lord is Risen. Alleluia. Alleluia.
He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia. Alleluia.

These are the words that begin our worship on Easter morning.
They are a cry of exultation; a cry of celebration;
a cry of renewed hope; a cry of faith.
We live in a world of doubt, a world committed to reason;
a world that often likes to mock traditional spiritual beliefs,
as if they were mere fairy tales for children.
I prefer to live in a world that that is humble enough to know
that there are still happenings and events beyond our understanding,
and life still has the ability to surprise and delight us.
May this coming Easter renew our faith in the surprise
and the delight that God brings to our world,
and to all hearts that remain open.

We are called to be an Easter people.
Easter is not only about the events
surrounding the latter part of Jesus’ life –
it’s about you and me.
What Jesus achieved for us in his life, death, and resurrection
he now seeks to achieve within us.
We are called not only to believe in the Jesus but follow him;
to not only rejoice in his life as it unfolded in the Gospel story,
but to open ourselves and allow his life, death and resurrection
to unfold in us, and serve and minister through us.
Easter calls us to a fuller, richer, meaningful life;
it calls us to continue on our journey
to become the person God calls us to be.
Are we ready to respond to the Easter call?

…………………………………………….

Happy Easter everyone. Thank you for following our Lenten Blog.
This is the last entry for this year.
I finish with the sermon for Easter Day.

One of the great joys of Easter morning is coming into church
and seeing the wonderful Easter flowers that cry out to us: He is risen!
Not having flowers in church during lent deepens the impact of them today,
and you realise just how much you miss them.

Flowers play such an important role in our lives,
our lives would be far less rich without them.
This time of year in particular when we see them bursting up all around us,
the gloom of winter seems to be lifted from us and our hearts skip with joy.

I love the first blossom to appear on the trees;
I tend to walk the dog early in the morning
and going into Chinbrook meadows, as the sun is rising,
the blossom on the trees has a mystical quality about it –
like creation is coming to life for the very first time.

Flowers, of course, also express so many feelings and emotions for us.
They express our gratitude; our sadness, our joy, our grief, our love, our care.
There is no occasion when flowers are not appropriate,
our lives just would not be the same without them.

Jesus recognised this quality in them. He told us to look at the lilies of the field
and how Solomon in all his splendour was not arrayed like one of these.
The Buddha is said to have given a silent sermon for an hour
just holding a flower before his disciples and leaving them to work it out for themselves.

St Frances of Assisi, despite all his austerity, allowed himself one luxury;
that was to have flowers constantly growing outside the chapel he tended.
He told his followers that their
“Mysterious and gentle language speak to the very depths of the heart.”

Flowers have been described by other saints as: messengers from the heavenly realm;
bringing the fragrance of the Holy Spirit into the material world.
I guess that is why they play such a profound part in our worship
and that you rarely ever see a church or chapel that does not have flowers in them;
at least during the great festivals.

Flowers are a very powerful and appropriate image of Easter.
This feast brings the fragrance of God’s Holy Presence into our earthly realm;
and it’s mysterious and gentle language speaks to the very depths of our hearts.
Our God is alive; paradise is wide open;
and nothing now can separate us from his presence.

We live in a world that holds much pain and sorrow;
We live in a world that is anxious and fearful;
we live in a world where greed and the lust for power threatens to dominate.
But this great feast of Easter tells us they never can.
The doors of God’s kingdom are wide open.
God’s loving presence continually springs up in the midst of it all
like the first flowers of creation, bringing beauty into barrenness;
light into darkness; and new life into the most difficult circumstances.

Mary went to the tomb on Easter morning thinking everything was finished;
but she met the Risen Lord in that first Easter garden and knew that it had just begun.
Today we walk together in that Easter Garden, like Mary we meet the Risen Lord;
And like her we know that life can never be the same again.

That mysterious and gentle language of love speaks to the very depths of our hearts
and we carry within us the seeds of love to share with our world.
May we plant those seeds in the course of our daily lives;
may they flower and blossom
and may the Easter garden flourish at the heart of our lives
and continually grow and spread and flourish in our world.

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Sermon for Holy Saturday

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
and I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields; on an – on
and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
and beauty came like the setting sun;
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
drifted away, O, but everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless;
the singing will never be done.

That is a poem by Siegfried Sassoon that I first came across this Lent,
and the words have kept coming back to me
and seem so appropriate for this evening and the Easter season.

There does seem to be a spontaneous rush of joy in the air.
We have walked with Christ through the painful moments of this week,
we have shared in the heaviness and the struggle of Good Friday,
and now there is that sense of release and outpouring –
a sense of exhilaration as we enter into the Easter celebrations.

The music becomes upbeat and joyful,
following the quiet, reflective, mournful music of yesterday.
The church is filled with beautiful colour and the scent of the flowers;
after the bareness of lent and Holy Week.

The readings, prayers, and liturgy proclaims, in the words of the exsultet,
That Jesus Christ is Risen; Christ has conquered; and Glory fills you.
That grace and holiness has been restored; lost innocence regained;
that mourning is turned to joy; and that heaven is wedded to earth.

These holy days and nights we have travelled through together
are the axis on which our world turns.
May God bless us, transform us, and empower us to share this love with our world.

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
and I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields; on an – on
and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
and beauty came like the setting sun;
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
drifted away, O, but everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless;
the singing will never be done.

 

Holy Saturday 31st March 2017

Here are the parts of the Lenten blog appropriate for this day:

Holy Saturday is the day we remember that Jesus laid in his tomb.
It is a time of quiet reflection
after the emotional liturgies of Good Friday.
We are led into it by the music the choir sings on Good Friday evening.
The day itself is a slow build up to the evening worship:
The church is decorated with flowers, altars are prepared,
all that was stripped from the church at the end of Maundy Thursday
is now put back in place ready for the great Feast of Easter.
In our worship on the evening of Holy Saturday
there is a growing anticipation of the resurrection
that will be celebrated on Easter Sunday.
In the evening we light the Easter fire, process with the Easter candle,
Listen to the beautiful Exsultet, and bless the baptismal water.

Our worship on Holy Saturday evening begins
with the lighting and blessing of the New Easter Fire.
A fire is lit outside the church and from it the new Easter Candle is lit,
it is then processed into a darkened church
and from this candle we all light a candle and follow in behind.
It symbolises Christ rising from the grave on this holy night,
bringing new light and hope to our world.
As we process into church the priest stops 3 times,
raises the candle, and sings:
“Christ our Light” to which all respond: “Thanks be to God.”
It is in contrast to the worship on Good Friday,
when the cross is raised 3 times in procession.
On Good Friday we sat with Christ as he died on the cross,
now we gather to anticipate his resurrection
and the miracle of this glorious night.

The singing of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation,
follows immediately after the procession of light.
For me it is one of the highlights of Easter.
The proclamation calls us to rejoice and sing with the angels,
to sound the trumpet of salvation, for, it tells us,
“Christ has conquered, glory fills you”.
It reminds us that: “This is the night truly blessed,
when heaven is wedded to earth and all creation reconciled.”
In contrast to Maundy Thursday
when we sat in vigil anticipating our Lord’s arrest and suffering,
we now keep vigil anticipating his glorious resurrection;
for as the proclamation tells us:
“The morning star has risen, never again to set.”

The other major part of the Holy Saturday worship
is the renewal of our baptismal promises and holy sprinkling.
This is repeated again on Easter morning.
The Easter Candle is processed to the font
and dipped 3 times into the water
to bless it and infuse it with the Living Christ.
We then renew our commitment to Christ
and are sprinkled and blessed with the waters of life.
At the beginning of our Lenten journey, on Ash Wednesday,
we are anointed with ash, reminding us of our need of God;
now we are sprinkled with life giving water
reminding us of God’s Holy Presence with us.
This season of renewal ends with just that.

The sermon for Holy Saturday will follow later

 

Sermon for Good Friday

There is a poem by R S Thomas, which I have printed in the Lenten blog,
called The Coming.
In the poem God is watching the world through a small globe he holds in his hands,
and the Son is watching with him.
They see humanities despair and suffering,
and people watching a bare tree with crossed boughs,
as if waiting for the coming of something they could not understand.
The Son watches them with compassion and says: “Let me go there”.

That is the last line of the poem and I always find it very emotional to read.
“Let me go there”.
On this day God entered the very depths of human despair, suffering, cruelty and sin,
and embraced it in love.
On this day God entered the darkest part of human nature
in order that it may be healed, redeemed, and made whole;
in order that humanities true beauty, loveliness, and potential may be revealed;
in order that we may discover and begin to grow towards who we are truly meant to be.

That is why I bang on about this day being so important,
and how we cannot simply skip this day and jump straight into Easter.
There would be no Easter resurrection if there had been no Good Friday.
The resurrection on Easter morning is a direct consequence
of the complete and utter outpouring of love on this day.                                                       The miracle is not the resurrection                                                                                               but that outpouring of the purest of love that made it possible

The love that that compelled the Son to say: Let me go there.
The love that stripped the Son of divine privilege to became wholly human.
The love that drove him into the wilderness to confront his temptations and fears.
The love that sought out the poorest and marginalised folk of his time
to bring them hope, and reassurance of their value and worth.

The love that called him to confront and stand before those who condemned him.
The love that said Thy Will Be Done in the midst of his anguish in Gethsemane.
The love that surrendered to the mental, physical and spiritual torture
on his final journey to the cross.
The love that resulted in a lonely, painful, criminal death on Calvary’s hill.

It is this love we remember, honour, surrender to, and commit ourselves to on this day.
It is this unique and wonderful divine love that is at the center of life,  it is the miracle of life, that somehow makes sense of all life,  even in its darkest moments.
It is this love that calls us and the whole of creation
to discover and live from our beautiful, God given, hidden depths.
The Son watched them. Let me go there, he said.

Good Friday 30th March 2018

The following are repeats of the reflections about the worship on Good Friday. The sermon from the Good Friday worship will appear later.

The central worship on Good Friday in our tradition
are the 3 hours between Noon and 3pm when we remember the time
that Jesus was nailed to, hung and died on the cross.
The church is always open from noon
for both silent prayer and the liturgies of the day.
Between each act of worship the church is kept silent.
There are Stations of the Cross at 12.45p
The main Liturgy of the day is at 2pm,
remembering Jesus’ last hour on the cross and his death.
This liturgy includes a silent beginning, a reading of the Passion,
the Solemn Prayers, the veneration of the cross,
and the receiving of Holy Communion consecrated on Maundy Thursday.

At the beginning of the worship at 2pm on Good Friday
the priest lies prostrate in the sanctuary in silence
and then we sing a haunting piece of music:
Ours were the grief’s he bore, ours were the sins he carried,
Ours were the sins he took on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
This beginning to the service is an act of surrender to love.
What Jesus gave to the world by saying “Yes” to God,
and taking that long lonely journey to his death, was pure love.
He met humanities selfishness, cruelty and brutality head on,
confronted it with love, surrendered to it in love,
and took human life to a new level.
What other response can we make but one of complete surrender?

The Good Friday liturgy also includes the Solemn Prayers.
On this Holy Day, when Christ flooded the world with love,
we pray that this beautiful outpouring may flow to all parts of our world
and to all aspects of creation.
We stand at the foot of the cross on behalf of all God’s creation
and pray that such love may be known and experienced by all.
We pray for the world wide church, and people of all faiths;
for all world leaders and governments
and those who work for peace and justice;
for the natural world, the environment and our responsibility towards it;
for all who suffer sickness, are oppressed, deprived, or bereaved;
and for the grace to love a holy life in response to God’s love.
The Solemn Prayers are offered in words, silence and music.

Central to the Good Friday worship is the Veneration of the Cross.
The Cross bearing Jesus is carried slowly up the centre of the church.
Three times the priest stops, raises the cross, and says:
“Behold the wood of the cross on which our saviour dies”.
To which all respond: “Come let us worship.”
After the procession all are invited to come forward
and to offer veneration to the cross and to Christ.
Some simply come forward and bow, others will kiss the feet of Christ,
and others will simply touch the cross
to connect with the love that Jesus perfected in this selfless act.
It is a very moving part of the day that recognises and honours
everything that our Lord has done for us and given to us.
It is also symbolic of our commitment to make known God’s love
in our own lives and ministries as Christians.

Maundy Thursday Sermon

I spoke in my Lenten reflections about the hymn we sing this evening,
The Servant King, by Graham Kendrick.
and that line that says: “Hands that flung stars into pace, to cruel nails surrendered”.
I have to say, I always feel quite emotional whenever I sing that verse,
there is such a stark contrast in the image of hands throwing stars into space
and hands that are nailed to a cross. I find it a very powerful image.

In the chapel at Wychcroft House, the diocesan retreat centre at Bletchingley,
there is an icon on the wall above the altar of Christ the Carpenter.
It is an unusual icon in that it is a very muscular, masculine Jesus,
and the most striking feature about it is the hands. They are large, strong and reassuring.

And, of course, Jesus’s hands were the hands of a carpenter,
they were formed by his trade, which he presumably practiced over many years,
in the workshop of Joseph, his earthly father. Hands that worked daily with wood.

But also, hands that once flung stars into space; hands that blessed;
hands that healed; hands that lifted up children and held them;
hands that wrought miracles; hands that served; hands that broke bread;
hands that washed feet; hands that carried a cross, and were eventually nailed to it.

This evening we focus on the hands that served; that washed feet; that blessed bread.
Tomorrow, on the hands that “to cruel nails surrendered”.
And so it seems appropriate that we begin that journey by focusing on our own hands.
Will we allow our hands to be hands that serve, hands that bless, hands that love?

St Teresa of Avila famously wrote that “Christ now has no hands but our hands”.
This evening will we offer our hands into the service of Christ,
and allow God to serve, to bless and to love through them?
“We are the body of Christ” we say at the sharing of the peace;
“we break this bread to share in the body of Christ” we say later in the Eucharist.
Will we allow our hands to be the hands of Christ?

In a few moments we will be invited to come forward to receive the washing of hands, as the disciples at the last supper were invited to receive the washing of feet.
At this ceremony may we allow Christ to wash, cleanse, and lovingly bless our hands; and as we do so dedicate our hands, our whole bodies, our whole lives
to the service of Christ, to the service of love.

Christ has no hands but ours, says St Teresa, no feet on earth but ours,
Ours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on our world.
Tonight will we say “yes” to that call?

Maundy Thursday 29th March 2018

The following is a repeat of the Lenten reflections that refer to the worship on Maundy Thursday. The sermon for this evenings worship will follow later.

Our Maundy Thursday worship takes us on an emotional roller coaster.
We are taken to the upper room
where Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples;
introducing what has become the Eucharist, in sharing bread and wine.
The meal also included the washing of his disciples’ feet
and his commission that they serve as he had served.
After the Eucharist the altar and the sanctuary area are stripped
in preparation for the prayer vigil that is kept until midnight;
remembering Jesus’s prayer of anguish, and betrayal in Gethsemane.
It ends with Gospel reading of our Lord’s arrest and the disciples fleeing.
Earlier in the day there is a service in the Cathedral
where the Bishops bless the holy oils that are used in parish ministry
and the clergy of the diocese renew their ordination vows.
We reflect more on each of these in the coming days.

One of the most moving devotions in Holy Week for me
is the washing of hands at the Maundy Thursday worship.
We wash hands as a modern day equivalent to the washing of feet,
it is also a practical way of being able to involve everybody in the ritual.
Water is poured over our hands with a prayer of blessing,
it is a symbol of our willingness to serve and to allow others to serve us.
During this ceremony my mind is always taken to those beautiful words
from Graham Kendrick’s hymn, which we sing that evening:
“hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered”.
The hands of Christ which healed, blessed, and served
finally surrendered in love to the cruel nails that awaited him.
This simple ceremony asks us:
Will you surrender your hands to the service of love?

For me one of the most beautiful Eucharist’s that we celebrate together
is the one we celebrate on Maundy Thursday evening.
Yes, there is immense joy in celebrating the Eucharist
at Midnight Mass, on Christmas Morning and on Easter Day,
but on Maundy Thursday we celebrate the Eucharist
remembering the very night our Lord took bread, blessed and broke it,
and took wine, blessed, poured and shared it,
and gave it to each his disciples saying: Do this in remembrance of me.
There is something very poignant and powerful
about the Eucharist we celebrate on this evening.
Although it came at the end of his life it marked a new beginning.
It tells us that the Gospel story is not just an historical event,
it is about you and me today continuing that story in our lives.

At the end of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist
the scene changes dramatically.
We are reminded of the sudden change of mood at the last supper
when Judas leaves to betray him and Jesus takes his closest disciples
to pray with him in the garden of Gethsemane.
After the beautiful symbolism of the Last Supper, washing, and anointing, we enter into the long dark night when Jesus would be arrested, deserted, ridiculed and tortured
as the events of Good Friday began to unfold.
This is all anticipated in the stripping of the altar and sanctuary,
while that haunting Psalm 22 is read out loud
reminding us of what is to unfold in the coming hours.
The sanctuary is stripped of altar cloths, candles, frontals,
and made as bare as possible ready for the devotions of Good Friday.
It marks our own hearts being laid bare before the love of God.

The vigil that follows the Maundy Thursday service invites us
to sit and watch with Christ during his anguished prayer,
and his pivotal decision in Gethsemane to say “yes”
to all that was to unfold in the coming night and day.
This night showed the human emotions of Jesus in turmoil,
and his willingness to completely surrender to love’s call.
We are told that he prayed that “the cup may be taken from him”,
yet, despite his anguish, also praying: “not my will, but thy will be done.”
As we sit with Jesus on this holy night,
we keep silent prayer in the chapel up to Midnight.
The silence is broken only by prayers at 10pm, Compline at 11pm,
and the Gospel reading of his arrest just before midnight.
You can come and leave as you wish during this time.