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Evening Prayer: Lament and Hope – Canon Missioner Maggie McLean

Preacher: Canon Missioner Maggie McLean 

Date: 30/10/22 4pm Evening Prayer 

Title: Lament and Hope 

In our readings today two ideas are held together. Against a background of suffering and loss we hear promises of hope – of resurrection.

The passage from the Book of Lamentations is the bit most people go to as a beacon of hope in the midst of suffering. The rest of this short book of the Jewish Scriptures seems pretty depressing:

‘The roads to Zion mourn,

for no one comes to the festivals;

all her gates are desolate

her priests groan;

her young girls grieve,

and her lot is bitter’

Elsewhere:

‘My eyes are spent with weeping;

my stomach churns’.

In striking the balance between grief and hope, Christians are sometimes accused of skating over the need for lamentation. To rush, as it were, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Day. It seems to me that in our Old Testament we find plenty of examples where the full force of despair and tragedy is given voice. The Psalms are one example where we find emotional honesty about the suffering of God’s people, while at the same time never wholly abandoning hope.

It would seem that we have no shortage of things to lament today. We had hardly emerged from COVID, when war erupted in Ukraine. Now there is the cost of living crisis and the far reaching experiences of climate change, with the inevitable consequences for rising temperatures; rising sea levels; and the prospect of the world’s poorest communities being hit hardest.

If we aren’t lamenting it means that we are avoiding this reality. In a way parodied by the Monty Python team many years ago, the non-lamenting person is like the Black Knight who fights King Arthur. The Knight begins to lose, and when a limb is cut off he replies: ‘Tis but a scratch’ and carries on. Eventually all his limbs are lost. To any viewer, what we see is the Black Knights constant denial of reality.

We could ask, in our second reading, why on earth Jesus is weeping. Surely he knows what he’s going to do – and that Lazarus will be alive again with his sisters? Why is there any need for this demonstration of feeling?

It seems to me that the response of Jesus is very much about the moment. He sees in his encounter with Mary, and with all those who are grieving the loss of Lazarus, the acute pain of human parting. Emotionally Jesus is ‘with the people’. He inhabits their feeling and knows, whatever may happen to Lazarus, that bereavement is part of the cost of what it means to be human.

As the Gospel tells us, Jesus was ‘disturbed in spirit and deeply moved’. He isn’t only lamenting to death of his friend but the sorrow which this has brought to so many people.

Recognising the pain of the world isn’t a luxury or indulgence. Unless we see, name and experience what is happening, we risk becoming the Black Knight – always in denial and, because of that, neither learning nor changing.

But in order to understand what we must lament, we need to know what’s happening in God’s world – the world entrusted to our care. That’s partly why I think it’s so important that Anglican churches around the world are linked and connected. When it comes to anything, whether the climate or the economy, we are all in it together. Actions in one place have consequences in another. Perhaps the starkest evidence of that, and one of the most disturbing, is the recent discovery of micro-plastics in breast milk. How we live never was, and certainly isn’t now, a matter for us alone.

We are accountable to one another; we are called to lament together, to pray together, to act together and, hopefully, to rejoice together.

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The word is very near you – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Sermon for Bible Sunday

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Date: 23/10/22 

Title: The word is very near you

Readings: Isaiah 45:22-end, Romans 15:1-6, Luke 4:16-24

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On this Bible Sunday it might be worth noting that the Bible is right there at the centre of what is left of our parliamentary democracy! ‘Except the Lord build the House, they labour in vain that build it. ‘ Words from Psalm 127 are inscribed in the stone floor of the Central Lobby, at the very heart of Britain’s Parliament. In addition, rather than actually swearing at each other, Members of Parliament generally swear on the bible after a general election, I’ll just leave that there.

The words of the bible can be found running like gold threads through our language, our culture and our traditions. Quotes from the bible are peppered through the work of William Shakespeare and a scriptwriter for EastEnders has said that many of the storylines are inspired by the drama of biblical narratives.

The Bible was written over a period of around fifteen hundred years and started around 4000 years ago. It is in fact a library of 66 individual books of history, poetry, parable, myth and of course eye witness narrative accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, the scriptures are inspired by God and through them the Holy Spirit brings us closer to Jesus so that we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life. It’s much more than just a book for us.

For us, it’s a source of prayer, it’s the book that we gather around as we prepare to share in bread and wine- word and sacrament forever bound.  The bible is shown reverence in our worship: The Gospel book is carried in by the Deacon, “This is the word of the Lord”, we say, and we mark the words of the gospel in our liturgies with light and incense and in procession, they are read in the midst of the people to remind us that the word is very near to us. The community of faith is drawn together through the story of salvation by a God who longs to communicate to the world through the lives of his chosen people.

What do we learn about God’s word in our readings today?

In the Book of the prophet Isaiah we hear of the word of God that shall not return –it is simply given. Isaiah later describes the word of God like the rain that waters the earth making it bud and sprout, providing seed to sow and food to eat.

So is my word that proceeds from my mouth, God says, it will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I purpose, and prosper where I send it. Here is an image of the word bringing life.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is clear that what has been written is there for building up, and for encouragement, so that through the word we might have hope and live in harmony with one another. In the Gospel we hear of Jesus standing up in the temple to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah of the vision which he is now going to embody in word and in deed.

His mission from God is to bring the words of the prophet Isaiah to life; to inhabit them- to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. In Jesus, the scripture is fulfilled and the word is made flesh. God is with us. And that is perhaps the focus of our reflections. The word of God has a purpose, to liberate, to set free, to raise up, to comfort, to challenge, to encourage, to bring new life, like the rain that waters the earth, it is seed for sowing, food to eat.

500 years ago, things were rather different. The bible could only be heard in church, and then only in Latin. Those in power in church and state, denied the people access to the Bible because it would diminish their authority. But there was a certain William Tyndale, a priest, who, in an argument with a clerical colleague said  “If God spares my life, in years to come, I promise that a boy that drives the plough shall know more of the Scripture than you do!”  

Tyndale made it his life’s mission to translate the scriptures into English and let the word of God dwell in the hearts of each and everyone so it could do its’ work, so they could meet Jesus for themselves. Tyndale was burnt at the stake for this ambition.

Tyndale’s earliest translations of the bible were shipped over from Germany, where he was in hiding, and smuggled into England in beer barrels and bags of flour. Small groups of Christians would get hold of copies and read them in secret. The bible was contraband. Illegal.

But the floodgates had been opened. God’s word had got out, it was accomplishing that which was purposed, falling like rain upon the earth. Ordinary people were hearing the word and living out the word and sharing the word with others, all of sudden they had a Gospel to proclaim and for the poor, and the powerless and the weak and the oppressed, the words of Jesus Christ spoken in the bible were very good news indeed. The first time the English bible was read in public, people queued to get into the churches to hear it. The word of God was like food for the hungry who had longed to taste its sweetness.

When the bible is read with eyes to see, and ears to hear it can be life giving and liberating, it can change the world. It contains words of hope and comfort and yes- challenge too. But the trajectory of the scripture always move towards one conclusion: the love of God, made real in Jesus Christ bringing love for the whole of creation, like the rain that waters the earth it is liberating, it builds-up, it encourages. Rather than trying to impose our world view on the scriptures or use them to proof-text our own prejudices, if we let the scriptures speak to us in community and learn from them, they can be completely transformative and we can find within them the God of Love.

The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it, says St Paul.  Listen to God in Christ speaking to us through each and every one of the holy and hard won words of scripture, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, and may these words live within us and among us – and may we continue to proclaim them to a world which is longing for love and still hungry for good news.

 

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A Harvest-Shaped Heart – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Sermon Preached on Sunday 2nd October 2022, Harvest Festival and Thanksgiving for the Life of Francis Jackson

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Readings: Nehemiah 5:1-13, John 9

Title: A Harvest-Shaped Heart

Date: 2/10/22 4pm Evensong 

Do you have a harvest-shaped heart?

Today we’re giving thanks for the bounty of the earth, and the gifts that it affords us. We reminisce about apples, potatoes and carrots, ploughing fields and sowing seeds, we have in our minds eye harvest displays and sheaves of corn – but do we have a harvest-shaped heart?

A harvest-shaped heart will shine a light on many things, just as the harvest moon causes us to look upon the world differently.

In his poem, Harvest Moon, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suggests that in the light of a Harvest Moon- all things are symbols, we see things in a new way. The external shows of nature, he says, have their image in the mind, and I would say, make their mark upon the human heart. To celebrate the harvest is to respond not just with apples or turnips or pumpkins, but with the heart.

Julian of Norwich, the great medieval mystic and theologian, learned to look upon the world in this way. She held a hazelnut in her hand and said: “And in this God showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’  She was seeing the world with a harvest-shaped heart.

Such a heart, takes us beyond a romanticised view of country life, a genuine harvest heart, will help us see the challenging realities of wealth and resource in our own society, it will help us value the earth and all that is in it from acorns to armadillos, and it will shape our own attitude to giving in the service of others.

Some don’t have enough to eat, we are told. Some are having to sell everything they own just to get by, some are having to borrow money at high interest just to survive.

Though this could easily be describing the state of modern Britain after a mini budget which has crashed the pound in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, it in fact summarises the plight of a people whom the prophet Nehemiah is called to serve around 450 years before the birth of Christ. He is appalled by the disparity between the haves and the have nots. Brothers and sisters, (all equal under God) – are divided by wealth, some starve whilst the nobles and officials take interest from their own people.

Nehemiah the prophet attends to what he sees with his harvest-shaped heart.  His conscience cannot let this inequality define his community nor his humanity- ‘this thing you are doing is not good’ he tells those who do well by making others poor. This is not the way of God. God’s love embraces all that is made.

So, he seeks out justice and mercy for everyone -so that everyone can reap the benefits of the fields, and olive orchards and vineyards. These symbols of nature reveal the intentions of the human heart, whether to keep all for oneself and ones’ own prosperity, or whether to give away for the good of all.

Today we give thanks for the grain, the olives, the oil, the fruit, but a harvest festival also sharpens our vision to see that unless the spirit of the harvest flowers in our hearts, there will always be those who reap the benefits of a harvest and those who don’t. The harvest itself becomes a symbol of divine gift and human generosity.

As the harvest moon baths the earth in a new light, so the light of Christ helps us to see the world differently. Through him we are given insight, and we might pray today that our eyes may be truly opened and our hearts stirred to such generosity, that we may learn to give and not count the cost. Perhaps it takes mud and earth and soil, smeared over our eyes to help us see.

Imagine you have an apple tree in your garden, the boughs are heavy laden, there is almost too many apples for you to pick- do you squirrel them away for yourself or do you go to your neighbour and share the harvest?

If you are in receipt of a bounty- a harvest heart will lead you to share it with others whatever that bounty may be. Even if you have a little, a kindness shared is a sign of a harvest-shaped heart.

Whatever you have, there is always something to give. Can we share the fruits which Christ brings to fullness in each one of us? What is the harvest you are called to share with others?

If you have a beautiful voice- do you sing to yourself or sing with and for others and to the glory of God?  Francis Jackson, our beloved organist emeritus had a gift for music, he didn’t hide his gift away, or keep it for himself. The fruits of his gift were shared lovingly and generously with the whole church.

We reap the benefits of his generosity today on what would have been his 105th birthday. We will all shortly sing his music which has long been paired with the words of the hymn: For the Fruit of his Creation which remind us that a harvest thanksgiving- always moves us towards a generous heart.  His namesake, St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is notably tomorrow: said this: ‘Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.

Francis Jackson is remembered here today for what he gave, to glory of the living God. The better part in life, is always about what we give, not what we get: what we share, not what we squander. In Christ, we are known by our fruits: in other words, we are known as his disciples, by what we give and by our harvest shaped hearts.

Thanks be to God.

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Our duty and our joy – Harvest Eucharist Canon Missioner Maggie McLean

Preacher: Canon Missioner Maggie McLean –

Title: Our duty and our joy

Date: 2/10/22 11am Eucharist

 

May I speak in the name of the Holy and Blessed Trinity. One God in three persons. Amen.

 It might feel odd to some people for us to be offering thanksgiving today. So much of our focus in recent days has been on difficult news. The continuing war in Ukraine. Terrible storms in the USA and in other parts of the world. And, at home, a cost of living crisis with new energy prices that began yesterday. It isn’t hard to imagine people asking: “why on earth should we give ‘thanks’”?

Of course, difficulties and suffering are not new. The Bible contains many, many accounts of people facing pain and the horrors of war. And we pick up a little of this in our second reading this morning from Philippians. When Paul In the letter tells this community to ‘stand firm’; to ‘hold fast’; to ‘beware of the dogs’ and the ‘enemies of the cross’. It’s not difficult to infer from this that life was proving very hard for this early church.

Persecution was a real and pressing danger. Into the midst of this suffering Paul seeks to lift up the hearts of the people when he says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”.

When we are mired in difficulty it becomes all the more important to grasp a sense of perspective. An awareness of the bigger story in which our present sufferings are set. This isn’t to diminish the reality of hard times, but to remind us that hard times are not here forever.

It might help to reflect on this through the main prayer of thanksgiving which we use here every Sunday at Holy Communion. I’m talking about the Eucharistic Prayer. The word Eucharist itself simply means ‘thanksgiving’, and it’s at the heart of what we do in this Minster day-by-day, every day of the year. We give thanks.

As we will hear again today this great thanksgiving prayer begins with the statement that offering thanks is ‘our duty and our joy’.

It seems to me that the way in which we give thanks needs to hold those two words together. Duty and joy. Sometimes we give thanks because we are overflowing with joy, and joy leads to thanksgiving and praise. We sense it in the words of St Paul when he combines his encouragement to ‘rejoice’ with a reminder that ‘the Lord is near’.

It can be wonderful when we offer thanks and praise in sheer gratitude and love for the sense that our lives are held in the hand of God. It’s impossible to read Philippians and not catch a sense of this infectious excitement and expectation. But we also know that it isn’t always like that. Sometimes we might find ourselves here before God, not because of joy but because of duty. ‘Duty’ can feel a far less exhilarating sensation. While joy might make us feel elated and unthinkingly thankful, duty comes with a strong sense of obligation.

If we do our duty it is carried out because of commitment – not always because we feel like it at the time. Just as with the promise made by the late Queen, duty can steer a steady course across the years. On many occasions that might also involve joy – but duty underpins us, even when joy seems far distant and unavailable.

As we celebrate Harvest there will be countless people who are rejoicing. People who are thankful for the gifts of creation that sustain our lives.

Thankful for new life born into the world.

Thankful for families, friends and those who love us.

Thankful for the life of Francis Jackson and the legacy of his music which continues to inspire and give joy and sung in this Minster here today.

Thankful simply for the beauty we can see in the world around us.

On this Sunday as on every Sunday, we offer our great thanksgiving holding together the experiences of duty and joy. Out of these experiences we offer God our worship, not blind to the suffering there is in the world, but open to a God who takes what we offer, and transforms us. Transforms us so that we become people who work with God to change the world in which we live.

That’s why, here at the Minster, our harvest thanksgiving is linked to projects that help meet the needs of communities challenged by suffering. Worship reminds us of all that falls short of the love of God, not least ourselves. And worship inspires us with the hope that our world is being changed.

At times we may struggle to see that, and like the church at Philippi we may need encouragement to be steadfast, and to rejoice. To recognise in the Gospel that our God is more than food in the wilderness; and never less than the bread of life.

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Lazarus: ‘The One Whom God Helps’ – Rev’d Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar

Title: Lazarus: ‘The One Whom God Helps’ 

Preacher: Rev’d Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar

Date: Sunday 25 September 11am 

 

Be present with us Jesus Christ the living Word, and speak to us now through your life-giving and life-changing word.

Moral questions around wealth and poverty have persistently challenged the Christian conscience. What better passage to help us reflect on this theme  than the  parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The parable in my opinion offers us some useful frameworks to reflect upon riches and poverty.

So, where do we start? Perhaps the name Lazarus itself – which is commonly understood to mean “the one whom God helps”. And who does God help? The one who is excluded from the tables of prosperity, whose poverty is so tragic that he dies longing not for a place in the rich man’s table but for the crumbs that would fall under it.

The first framework that the parable offers for us to reflect upon wealth and poverty, is the framework of a compassionate God, whose identity is rooted in justice. We find a God who indicts a world order which allows the rich to remain rich and the poor to remain poor, and thinks it can carry on with business as usual unmindful of those who like Lazarus die of poverty, starvation, malnutrition, homelessness and unemployment.

This is also the picture of God that permeates the Christian scriptures. Some of you may be familiar with an experiment that Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, a Christian organisation concerned about social justice, carried out a few years ago – in fact several years ago. Keen to identity what the bible says about God’s concern for the poor, about wealth and social justice Wallis and his friends started cutting out relevant passages from an old bible. They were surprised at what they ended up – a ‘bible full of holes’, which somebody called a HOLE-Y bible. And that is what a Christian gospel that does not pay attention to the poor and questions of social justice can become – a HOLE-Y gospel.

The second framework that the parable of Lazarus and the rich man perhaps opens for us in our reflections on wealth and poverty is the framework of relationships. The primary failure of the rich man in this parable seems to be his failure to see Lazarus as his neighbour. To be more precise he fails to SEE Lazarus at all.

And if we pay careful attention to the text the rich man does not land up in Hades because he did something outrightly wicked to Lazarus. He is there because he did nothing. I find it fascinating that when the rich man is languishing in Hades Abraham tells him that all Lazarus received during his life was evil – almost implying that the rich man’s silence in the face of Lazarus’s suffering was evil.

It is ironic that Lazarus only ever becomes visible to the rich man, when he is seen as someone who can be instrumentalised to serve his needs – his need for a drop or water, or for someone to warn his brothers.

Such objectification of the poor is in some way the sin of the present global system which has successfully sold to us the logic that the most guilt-free way to think of profits and prosperity is to separate it from questions concerning our relationships with other people and the planet.

Therefore, thinking of poverty in the context of relationships is important. However, it is not an easy choice to make, because at the heart of this choice is also the choice to give up one’s  own power and privilege. Therefore, for many the easy way out is, like the rich man, to shield ourselves from the disruption that comes from making space in our lives for the poor. And that is the challenge that comes out of the parable today, a challenge that can only be lived out by God’s enabling grace.

Let me end with a poem written by Eddie Askew, who served many years ago in my part of India with the Leprosy Mission, who captures poignantly the challenge ahead of us.

Lord, what do you want?

Another hour at work?

A bit more in the collection plate?

A smile, a cheque

When the Oxfam man comes around?

I reckon I can manage that,

If it’s clear that’s what you ask.

And in the giving I’ll get a bonus too.

I’ll feel good, having made the effort.

Feel more than good, as I stand

Warming my hands at the fire of self-satisfaction.

 

Can we leave it that way, Lord?

I’ll do my bit and you’ll do yours.

My little world secure, unshaken.

The even progress of my life

Undisturbed by earth tremors of real commitment.

Many do less.

 

But as I’m tempted to relax,

I feel uneasy.

I’m only playing games.

Hiding the face of my selfishness

Behind gestures of goodwill.

Counting to a hundred and hoping I’ll not be found.

 

Your words cut deep.

Slice through the skin of my hypocrisy.

Lay bare the truth inside.

Your loving hands reach down to take,

Not the small things I offer

In the hope they’ll be enough,

But me. No less.

 

My world rocks in the earthquake of your approach,

The impossibility of your demands.

But as I let go, surrender,

I find a new stability,

As I stand, hands empty, in your presence.

Your love seeps through the cracks in my ego, and

Fills the empty spaces with your grace.

 

Today may the just and compassionate God of Lazarus fill those empty spaces in our lives that long for answers to difficult questions with grace. Amen.

 

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Let God be your light – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title: Let God be your light

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Date: Sunday 11th September 4pm

Readings: Psalm 121, Isaiah 60 and John 6:51-69

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:

Nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 

It was just the day before yesterday, when King Charles III, in his first address as King, spoke of his mother as a light.  In our sorrow, he said, let us remember and draw strength from the light of her example.

Our late Queen Elizabeth, was a luminous person, giving out light and warmth, and we have perhaps seen that ever more keenly these last three days as we mourn her loss and reflect upon her life. She was a part of all of our lives, there is no-one here, who has not known her-she was a living light among us, constant, unfading, without shadow or turning.

It often seemed that this light came from within and she let this light shine through her whole being, and through her every action and word. This light was seen as she went about her official duties of state and of church, and it was seen just as clearly, as she took out a marmalade sandwich from her handbag when Paddington came to tea.  What was this light? Where did this lightness come from? How did she shine so?

The whole nation continues to give thanks for the light of her example over ninety six years, and her example as a monarch of unequalled service, for seventy years. A person of light who embodied those words from Matthew’s Gospel, which we hear in the Service of Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer, words which are said just as the table is prepared and the offering made, words I’m sure she knew very well:  ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven’.

Amongst all the good works that the Queen carried out in her life, there is one of her works we must never forget. In some ways it was the foundation of all else and intrinsic to who she was.

She was someone whose life and work pointed to God. She began, she continued and she ended her reign in Christ.  She was always sharing the light of the one who said ‘I am the light of the world’. She was an evangelist, and even in the hardest moments of her life, she turned towards the good news. She was the kind of person who, in the darkest of times, would always look to the light.

She was always honest and unashamed about her faith and why it meant so much to her, she was not afraid to say what gave her hope and strength, and what enabled her to walk in the light of the Lord.

Every Christmas, year after year, she was open hearted about the God whom she loved and wanted to share that love with others. As Queen, she knew herself to be one under authority, and so she knelt before the throne of God’s grace, and woke every morning looking to the sun of righteousness, looking to the light.

When the Queen was Princess Elizabeth, when she was just thirteen years old, she gave her Father a poem. The poem was called God knows, by Minnie Haskins, an English Poet and Academic.

And her Father, King George the Sixth, read out part of that poem on Christmas Day 1939, as this nation began to come to terms with a Second World War.

One can imagine young Elizabeth holding out a piece of paper and saying ‘read this, it might give you hope:

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”

It seems that even as a girl, Queen Elizabeth knew that when God was your light, all would be well and all manner of things would be well.  Putting your hand into the hand of God would be better than light, and safer than a known way.  All fears, all hopes, all longings, all sorrows, could be given to God, and through every change and every chance, God would guide everyone through the unknown and unchartered waters ahead.

In the life of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John that we have heard this evening, we hear that life for his followers was not always easy. Some had already fallen away and turned aside. Jesus asks them plainly ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’

When we face challenge and difficulty, sadness and sorrow, when we face change and vast oceans of unknowns, to whom can we go? Where do we turn? Where can we find the answers?  As we stand in this moment of history, where each day seems to bring change and uncertainty, to whom can we go?

A young girl from the past extends a hand of kindness to us today, and offers us some words, ‘read this, she says, it might give you hope: “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”

What young Elizabeth knew, and what Queen Elizabeth knew, was that it is in God that we find hope. We are sustained by the living bread of Jesus Christ, come down from heaven, who said ‘I am the Bread of life’.

We find our hope in the light of Jesus Christ who said ‘I am the light of the world’,

It seems all we have to do is put our hand in his and take another step.

All we have to do is let Jesus Christ lead the way.

 

Let us pray

Merciful Father and Lord of all life, we praise you that we are made in

your image and reflect your truth and your light.  We thank you for the life of our late Sovereign Lady QUEEN ELIZABETH, for the love she received from you and showed among us.

Above all, we rejoice at your gracious promise to all your servants, living and departed, that we shall rise again at the coming of Christ. And we ask that in due time we may share with your servant Elizabeth that clearer vision promised to us in the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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A Dialogue with Scripture – Canon Peter Collier QC, Cathedral Reader

Preacher:      Canon Peter Collier QC, Cathedral Reader

Date:             21st August 2022    11am

Readings:      Isaiah 58: 9b-14; Hebrews 12: 18-29; Luke 13: 10-17

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

Personally, I get the sabbath stuff

As a young child – no games were allowed in our home on a Sunday, not even kicking a ball about in the garden.

That made it difficult at secondary school – I took up rowing and others in the crew wanted to train occasionally on a Sunday, but I really felt that was something I could not to do. We did reach a compromise – I would go with them occasionally if they came to church with me once.

At university I continued rowing but Sunday was not initially an issue there as the river was closed to college crews on a Sunday. But in my final year our college IV was asked to represent the university at the university championships – but the race was to be on a Sunday – it was not really such a big issue for me by then but I still had some feelings of guilt. I did row and we did win the gold medal.

So not quite Eric Liddle and Chariots of Fire!

But for me, how I should treat Sunday was an ongoing dialogue with the bible for a significant part of my early life.

The leaders of the synagogue had no need of such a dialogue – for them what you could and couldn’t do on the sabbath was clearly laid out in black and white. And their traditional interpretation had been passed down from one generation to the next and left no room for discussion.

But then Jesus turned up.

He regularly attended at synagogues and he was often asked to speak when he did; but he was also out and about, as we would say “in the public square”, where what he said and did often drew the attention of the synagogue leaders.

Luke records several instances where Jesus upset those leaders by breaking with their traditional understanding of what the bible required of the sabbath.

In Chapter 4 – he records Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum casting a demon out of a man on a sabbath day.

In Chapter 6 – after the Pharisees had challenged him about rubbing grains of corn together in the corn field and eating them on the sabbath, he said “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath”; and Luke immediately follows that by telling us that on another sabbath day he went into a synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand, which made the scribes and Pharisees furious.

And when in Chapter 13 he was in another synagogue on another sabbath day he saw this woman who had been bent double for 18 years, and who was quite unable to stand up. So it is no surprise that he immediately told her that she is literally “fully freed” or “released” from her sickness. And then he laid his hands on her and immediately she stood up straight for the first time in 18 years.

The exchange that then followed with the leader of that synagogue is very instructive. The leader said that there were six days on which work should be done and so she should have come on one of those days to get cured but not on the sabbath.

Jesus answered him by referring back to Deuteronomy 5 where Moses repeated the 10 commandments. In Ex 20 Moses had said that the reason for keeping the sabbath holy – was that God had rested on the 7th day and so should we. But in Deuteronomy having said that the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord on which they should do no work, he went on to say that God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and that remembering that was what was they should be thinking about on the sabbath.

Why do I say that Jesus had Deuteronomy rather than Exodus in mind? Well, In Exodus Moses spoke about livestock not doing any work but in Deuteronomy rather than the single word “livestock” he says “your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock”.

And Jesus challenged the synagogue leader by referring to his ox and donkey saying that he would untie them and set them free so they could get water on the sabbath, (a clear reminder of the Deuteronomy passage), so he says why won’t you let this woman be set free from 18 years of being tied up with her condition.

The sabbath was a day for remembering and celebrating the freedom and liberty that God had given them. If they adopted that mindset then it would inevitably challenge their traditional interpretation of the old testament law.

Our first reading from Isaiah 58 captures something of that same celebratory spirit. The issue for Isaiah was not the sabbath but fasting. He said that in God’s mind true fasting is not about following a rigid ritual procedure and then behaving very selfishly, oppressing the workers and fighting with one another. True fasting is about loosing the bonds of injustice, letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry, and bringing the homeless poor into their homes. And Isaiah says that if they live like that, they will be like a watered garden, their ruins will be rebuilt, their streets will be restored, and their sabbaths will be a delight – he paints an inviting picture of the kingdom of God, as a joyful celebratory community where everyone flourishes.

At the beginning of his ministry we read in Lk 4 that Jesus had gone into the synagogue in Nazareth and announced that he had been sent “to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

And throughout his ministry he challenged all traditions and all interpretations of Scripture which tied up rather than set free. That was the core of his teaching about the kingdom of God.

And that gives me a clue as to the direction my dialogue with Scripture should always take me in.

Sunday wasn’t the only thing in the bible I had an issue with as a schoolboy. For me the seven days of creation were seven days of 24 hours. With the aid of booklets from the Evolutionary Protest Movement, I seem to remember it was called, I wrote an article in the 6th form magazine, which in my mind at least established clearly that Darwinian evolution was “fake news”. The headmaster noted on my report that term “his Philistine attitude towards science will be recorded on his UCCA form.”

Since then an understanding of science has also become a part of my dialogue with Scripture, and of course that has changed my schoolboy view about how to understand Genesis 1.

And there have been other issues where I have engaged in dialogue with the Bible as to what it meant for those who initially wrote and read it and now what it means for me today. I am sure it will be lifelong journey.

Last week at this service Canon Michael spoke about some of the contemporary issues that the bishops had been discussing at the Lambeth conference. There were several but the one that caught the headlines was their discussions about the different interpretations of what the Bible says about gender and sexuality. Catriona picked up on the same topic at Evensong last week and spoke of the need to look at our own understandings of the interweaving issues of identity, gender and sexuality.

And here we are again. And I make no apology for that. Because although the sabbath and the bible, and science and the bible have at times in the past been critical issues for me, and there have been others along the way, they are no longer.

And it probably won’t surprise you to know that I have had to engage in a dialogue with scripture on these very contemporary issues and it is a dialogue that continues. And the meeting tomorrow night will help us to begin to look at some of these issues together.

Just as I needed to let science in on my dialogue with Genesis ch 1, so I need to let it in on this dialogue also. But for me perhaps more importantly I need to allow this dialogue to be shaped by the very challenge that Jesus put to the synagogue leader – have you not understood that my kingdom is a place where captives are released, and the oppressed go free. A kingdom where what Isaiah foresaw becomes a reality – a city is rebuilt, it is a safe and happy place to live in and where God’s people celebrating the sabbath together was a delight.

I hope that with me you long for this cathedral and each church represented here today to be just that sort of place and community.

Amen.

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A Need for Comfort – Canon Peter Collier QC, Cathedral Reader

Preacher:      Canon Peter Collier QC, Cathedral Reader

Date:             7th August 2022      Evensong

Readings:      Isaiah 11:10–12:6;  2 Corinthians 1: 1-22

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

I expect most of us recall what our childhood comfort blanket or soft toy was. Some of us still have them. I have a small and very well chewed bear. I think I am the only person who looking at him knows what he once was. Many years on we have probably each developed different ways of finding comfort when we feel overwhelmed and in need of comfort. For some it may be           a stiff drink, for some it is comfort-eating; for some getting stuck into a book or magazine, for others distracting themselves with TV or a movie. None of which are probably as effective as the childhood comfort item.

Even as I talk about comfort you may be thinking about the last time you experienced a need for comfort? It may have been a bereavement, a piece of bad news, a hard time at work or still struggling with after-effects of mental illness, or the long recovery we are all making from Covid. What helped you? Where did you get comfort – in many case is was probably someone who came alongside and had some understanding of what you were in the midst of.

The apostle Paul in his letter of which we read the opening part this evening, speaks of his need for comfort. He had really gone through the mill. We don’t know what it was. But he speaks about affliction, about something that had happened in Asia where he was utterly and unbearably crushed to the extent that he despaired of life itself, he speaks about whatever had happened feeling like a sentence of death and he speaks of being in deadly peril.

We can speculate about what it might have been. Many have done. It might have been physical illness. Whatever it was it had certainly affected his mental health and his general sense of wellbeing. It may have been physical assault and injury. He may have been faced with criminal charges and prosecution, and perhaps experience of imprisonment. We do know that when he was in Ephesus, such was the impact of the gospel on people as they turned from the worship of the local goddess – Diana –the local tradesmen began to suffer, Paul was arrested and in deep trouble. Prof Tom Wright suggests that it may be that Luke downplays what actually happened to him so as to keep the lid on things.

Whatever it was, it was very real and it had a profound effect on Paul in the ways that he describes, particularly he admits that it affected his mental wellbeing.

The Paul who writes this letter to the Corinthian church seems a very different persona from the author of the first letter to that same church. The first letter as you know is full of confidence and clear instructions. That wonderful passage in Chapter 15 where he speaks about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and all that that means for us seems some little distance from Paul’s feelings as he pens this letter.

However, he tells us not only of his great need for comfort or consolation but where and how he found it.

10 times in 5 verses he uses the word for comfort which is translated in different ways in our various translations. The NRSV which was read this afternoon speaks of consolation; the KJV – speaks of comfort but also consolation; the NIV –uses comfort; and the Msge – uses a  quite different phrase – coming  alongside us.

You will know that in some places in the NT the word for comfort implies strength, or strengthening.

But the word Paul uses here has at its root that idea of coming alongside – it is the word from which we get the word paraclete – which you may know is used about the Holy Spirit as the one who comes alongside us, speaks for us and represents us.

But is more than just coming alongside. Tom Wright says “…. there is the sense of making a strong appeal to someone, … The idea is of someone being alongside another person, speaking words which bring about a change in their mood and their situation, giving courage, hope, direction, making a difference, altering the way someone feels about whatever they are facing.”

So that is what has happened for Paul. He has had that kind of comfort, and consolation. He is now in a different place. God has done it. But how?

The answer is found in what he calls the sufferings of Christ.

The ultimate suffering Christ experienced was on the cross. But he suffered much more than that. Paul speaks about the abundance of his sufferings. In another place in the NT we read that Jesus was tempted in every way like us. There is no temptation I now face that Jesus did not face in some shape or form. So we learn here that there is no suffering I suffer which he has not suffered already.

We know from the gospel accounts about his experience of suffering.

 

He was misunderstood

At times he was anxious

He knew loneliness and isolation

He was misunderstood by his family and sensed that he was separated from them at times

He knew also about rejection

Despair

Physical pain and suffering

Emotional pain

The fear of facing death

Death itself, and an agonizing one at that

 

So we have that abundance of Christ’s sufferings. And just as he died for us, so he bore all that suffering in abundance for us.

So now I can come to him as the one who suffered, and know that I am in the presence of one who has suffered like me and more so.

And that gives me comfort and consolation and it can bring change.

We know this – that just as he died for us, he also rose for us. And as he rose for us, he has now ascended into heaven and is at his father’s right hand waiting to welcome us home.

Paul writes to another young church and speaks about knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection and sharing the fellowship of his sufferings – Phil 3 – and we are able now to look at suffering through the lens of the resurrection

Just as all of that is able to change us, so we are able to offer that life changing possibility to others. Contact with changed people brings change.

We are people who have been much affected in the last two and a half years through the covid pandemic. All around us are people who in addition to whatever else they were suffering have almost certainly had that amplified by the pandemic and probably had additional suffering as well.

The Message version says – “he comes alongside us as we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

So there is good news for us this afternoon – whatever we are going through, however we are suffering, if we come close to Jesus in his word, in the sacrament and in prayer we will find the one who has suffered like us and for us and who will be with us sharing our suffering.

And as we come to him as always we find he has come to us

And this will change us.

But the good news for the world this afternoon is that as we move among people – our family, our friends, our neighbours, and colleagues, we can be instruments of change for them too.

 

Amen

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The Reality of things hoped for – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Title of sermon: The Reality of things hoped for

Date/time/service: Sunday 7th August  

Readings: Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40.

 

From the letter to the Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

To use the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘we are all in gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I want to make the case today, that to be a Christian is to be a faithful optimist, even if, in the day to day course of events, you are a bit of an Eeyore, or a Victor Meldrew, or just occasionally despairing about the state of the world which we inhabit. To be a Christian is to be someone who is hopeful about the future.

To be a Christian, to be a faithful optimist, is to live in the reality of this world with an eye to heaven, looking at the stars, one might say. Or as it says in the letter to the Hebrews, ‘desiring a better country’, a heavenly one, looking for a city with eternal foundations.

When God said to the childless Abraham, that he would be the father of a people as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore, that required quite literally a leap of faith on his part- it was an exercise in faithful imagination. Abraham must have questioned: How can I possibly get from here to there?

One of the foremost New Testament scholars of our times, is the American Harold Attridge. He suggests that a better translation of the first verse of Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews is this:  Faith is the reality, of things hoped for, and the proof of things unseen.

This means that this isn’t just a Christian platitude telling us to cheer up and hope for the best- this isn’t blind optimism, but faithful optimism.  This is about God’s reality breaking in to our reality, this is about our faith and what it can do, this is about our faith becoming a living proof of the coming kingdom and a sign of our journey towards it.

We might describe the writer of the letter to the Hebrews as a faithful optimist. Someone who has a view of the world shaped by the resurrection of Christ. Someone who, after the promises made in Christ and through Christ, looks to the future in a way which shapes the present. This is someone who can imagine the cities and kingdoms of God whilst starting the practical work of building them now.

Faith gives us a broader perspective, a greater context in which to situate ourselves, it gives us a narrative to be part of, something beyond us, a fabric to be sown into, a family in which to be grafted, part of a history which is not yet finalised.   And at those times when our vision is limited, when our perspective is diminished, and when the world seems to be closing in upon us, when we want to crawl back under the duvet, faith shows us a better kingdom and a heavenly city which is being prepared for us, and we are called to lay down a stone towards that endeavour.

Think for a moment about how this cathedral was built: the church in which we sit was not completed for hundreds of years, those who began building it, those who laid the foundation stone, would not see its completion, but they nevertheless thought this project was worth beginning and working towards and they committed to making their vision a concrete reality, well, a limestone reality. This is a proof of things unseen.

Think about how our actions today might be affecting the lives of those who come after us, how can we build right now, a better world for tomorrow? What are we building in faith? How can we make our vision of a better world for all people, a reality today, and how can what we do be a living proof of that aspiration? We daily pray for peace and the alleviation of poverty and prejudice as if they were a long way away, what can faith do, to make these things a reality today?

We live in troubling times, and even the joy of England winning a European Championship hasn’t been able to completely overcome our woes in relation to climate change, Brexit, wars and rumours of wars, a looming recession and the appointment of the next prime minister.

Lest anyone should accuse Christians of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use, we might shape our earthbound lives in a way which accords with our ‘faith’ in God’s promises for all people. Faith is the reality of things hoped for, and the proof of things unseen.

Jesus, always one for practical advice, suggests to his disciples that they might live in the world but not of the world. That we might wear our possessions lightly, because where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. That perspective on life can help us be generous and active for the gospel and gospel values here and now.

We are given the vision to see that there is a greater purpose, a deeper meaning, a grander vocation for this bundle of flesh we are called to inhabit.  Instead of looking downcast, the gospel calls us to be dressed for action with our lamps lit, like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet at an unexpected hour.

We live our lives then, as faithful optimists, in the light of the one who overcame even death itself, who rose from the dead and brought new life where there had only been pain, and hatred: the living one who completely transformed the perspective from which we human beings experience the world.

That should give us confidence to begin making our present reality, a reality of things hoped for in Christ- where good news is brought to poor, the humble are raised up, the captives are set free, the blind recover their sight.

In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul writes If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.

Our faith is a reality for us, because we believe that Christ has been raised from the dead and Christ will come again at an unexpected hour.  That hope should surely make anything possible, and give us all cause for faithful optimism in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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God who will not give up on us – Canon Missioner Maggie McLean

Preacher: Canon Missioner Maggie McLean

Title of sermon: God who will not give up on us 

Date/time/service: Sunday 24 July 2022, Choral Evensong, 4pm

What on earth is going on in the book of Genesis?

‘In those days, the Lord said… I must go down and see… I mean to find out’.

So, we might wonder, here is a God who doesn’t know it all. A God who needs to be present and among people in order to ‘find out’. It’s the same God who decides, earlier in Genesis, to ‘walk in the cool of the evening’. I’m quite sure that after last week we can all sympathise with anyone, even God, not wanting to get too hot. But all this might seem rather peculiar if you believe in a God who is omniscient and unchanging. Why would God find the cool of the day any more bearable, or need to ‘get up and go down’ in order to find out?

Perhaps the idea of Genesis is not only that creation begins, but that the human understanding of God also starts a long journey.

In one sense the casting of God as a human character is fully understandable. How else might we talk about God, describe God or relate to God? There is even that hint of kinship from the start of Genesis, that God formed us male and female ‘in his image’.

Like the recent Mystery Plays here in York, God is a character in the story – a dazzling person who commands and argues; condemns and saves.

As Derek Browning, Morningside Parish Church puts it:

‘God is surprising and subversive; God is angry and gentle; God is cool and fiery. God is more than we can ever imagine. In the face of our persistent unfaithfulness, God is persistently faithful. God is no divine doormat, but the relentless, restless Lover who, because of us, despite us, will not give up on us’.

In other words, God isn’t another human being – God is far beyond our imagining and may be experienced and encountered in contrasting ways. However, it is very understandable that in order to talk about our relationship with God we reach for examples of human conduct. After all, as we heard in our Gospel this morning, it’s what Jesus does.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus appears to tell his hearers that it’s never a bad idea to pester God. If you don’t get what you need on first asking, keep asking. Persist. Even, perhaps, become a nuisance. Because, although God might be fed up with you, God might give you your daily bread simply because even God sometimes wants a bit of peace and quiet.

It feels to me that in this teaching Jesus is communicating something absolutely vital to his mission. What we’re not asked for in this parable is sacrifice. The person who petitions brings nothing other than their need in the hope of generosity. This isn’t about burnt offerings to a distant Deity. It’s about honest relationship. Something that becomes possible because, in the text from Colossians, any debt that we had to pay has been cancelled.

Little wonder that this teaching follows the Lord’s Prayer. Not everyone finds it easy to begin an approach to God as ‘Our Father’. Many of us haven’t always had easy times with our parents. However, it seems to me that the key aspect of this prayer is that it begins in the language of close relationship. It is a prayer that places us back in Eden, with a God who walks beside us in the cool of the day. A God we converse with on familiar terms.

The Bible offers us a wealth of stories about how people experienced God. Perhaps like our art installation below the crossing, these are countless reflections and glimpses of light – some that catch our attention and others that seem almost invisible. But together there is a pattern of movement, a direction of travel, and an impetus to which each individual piece of glass contributes.

The people of God, the Church – us together here today – bring our own pieces of reflection, lit by a God we have known at different times and in different places. Sometimes a God who has been near us, and at other times a God more distant. As we focus today on the most familiar prayer of the Christian Church I hope that we are encouraged to hear once again a call to be in relationship with this God: ‘the relentless, restless Lover who, because of us, despite us, will not give up on us’.

Amen.

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Keep Going and Keep Singing! – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title of sermon: Keep Going and Keep Singing!

Date/time/service: Sunday 17 July 2022, Choral Evensong, 4pm

Readings: Psalm 121, Isaiah 52:7-10, Ephesians 5:15-20

From St Augustine’s Sermon number 256:

“So, then, let us sing, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labours. You should sing as travellers do—sing, but continue your journey. Don’t be lazy, but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going. What do I mean by keep going? Asks St Augustine: Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue. If you make progress, you will be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, but keep going.”

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, so it was tempting to just read out the whole of St Augustine’s 256th sermon this afternoon, but I do want to say something of my own on this special occasion.

St Augustine seems to be suggesting that when you sing, you never stand still. You sing as you journey, you sing as you walk onwards. Of course, for our choristers, and choral scholars and Vicars Choral, they have been singing from one particular place for a number of years, in their stall, in this Cathedral Church, in the famous Camera Cantorum. It may appear that they have been standing still, but of course, they have been journeying too.

They have been travellers, singing as they walk on their journey of life. Our choristers have been singing as they have grown and matured, from little acorns of musical potential to the mighty oaks of music we see today, and our Choral Scholars and Vicars Choral have grown daily in virtue, filled neither with wine nor ale, but with the spirit! This community of singers, has sung psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together as they have moved school and navigated a global pandemic, we’re so glad we are today able to properly Read-out those choristers who finished their time in the Choir in the midst of lockdown. This community has continued to sing as their own lives have been changed around them, as the world has changed around them, and they have sung not only to sweeten their own labours, but also to sweeten the toil of others and be a balm for those who have needed it, lifting the saddest hearts through their song.

In his 256th sermon, Augustine also said this: Even here, among the dangers, among the trials and temptations of this life, both by others and by ourselves let alleluia be sung.  Over the past two and a half years, this choir, one body of many members, has sung online, they have sung as a single voice, in groups of three, six, and then spaced two metres apart, they have sung through all these challenges like sentinels lifting up their voices, like the ruins of Jerusalem being rebuilt, they have sung Alleluia, the song of new life even in the face of challenge.

Whatever else today is, it’s a marker not only on your musical journey, but on your life’s journey when we pause and look back and give thanks for all that has been, and say yes to all that lies ahead. There will probably be many other moments like this in your life, sweet farewells and new beginnings, and at those moments let your heart be steady with the rhythm of prayer, let the words you have sung be inscribed on your heart, sing to make your journey enjoyable and remember your friends will walk with you, wherever you go, let what you have learned here be a constant and help keep you going.

You will have learned many things during your time here, you will have learned some of the most awesome music ever written, you will know more music by Sir Edward Bairstow than any chorister in the land, you will know the psalms almost off by heart, you will know how an organ works – which is seriously a life skill, you will have learned the art of discipline and perseverance, teamwork and leadership, you will have learnt how to use your own voice, you will have learned how to perform at the highest level in the presence of a red light, and hopefully you will have learned what a church is and what it does, so wherever you go in the world you will always feel at home in these holy places.

This is the moment when we can all give thanks for your part in the most amazing human endeavour which is to bring heaven to earth, and raise earth to heaven through song.  And while you have been singing, the earth has been turning, and it will continue to turn, so wherever you go whether going out or coming in, we pray the song you have been part of will give you the strength to keep on going.

And then, at the end of all things, when all our labours here are done, we will all sing together again with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven in one triumphant song of praise to the glory of the one and only living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen

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For your tomorrow, we gave our today – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Preacher: Revd Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor 

Title of Sermon: For your tomorrow, we gave our today 

Date/Time: Thursday 7 July 2022/ 11am

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’ Kohima Epitaph

I want to dwell for a moment on the words of the Kohima Epitaph: For your tomorrow, we gave our today.  These seven words might help us understand the connection between past, present and future and the relationship between thanksgiving and remembering, the relationship between war and peace, the relationship between freedom and service, and the relationship between death and life.

For your tomorrow, we gave our today, articulates the voices of the many who gave their own liberty and life in the service of a future that they would never see.  They gave everything in hope of a future which would be better for everyone.

On this 78th Anniversary of the battles of Kohima and Imphal, we remember again the service and the sacrifices made in the pursuit of freedom and peace, by both soldier and citizen in that place.  We are here because we know that the impact of war lasts for lifetimes, we stand here 78 years after the battle of Kohima knowing the impact that war had on the Naga communities and on the Veterans who came home, and their families and communities. We stand here today knowing the cost of war, and the lives lost. We are here to remember.

We are here 78 years after the battle of Kohima, knowing that war rages again across our world: in Europe, cities are flattened, cultures are destroyed, families broken, lives lost. Man’s inhumanity to man, knows no bounds. We are here living in the very future which was fought for 78 years ago, as new threats cast a brooding shadow over our world.  What have we learnt? What might we do today to ensure that the tomorrow of generations to come is peaceful and constructive? How do we continue to remember?

We can be lulled into the idea that remembering, is a passive verb. This is wrong. Remembering is always active and it provokes those who enter into it, into action. To re-member is to rebuild and reconstruct and reform, it is our response to those who gave their today for our tomorrow.

Remembering is more than an exercise of the mind. Remembering has to be made real and physical through our lips and in our lives. Remembering requires something of those who remember. We stand here today to remember, this service being part of that active response, and hopefully the continuation of remembering in our daily lives, the kind of remembering which builds a better tomorrow, from the sacrifices of our today.

In our broken world this ‘remembering’ applies to the sacrifices of our today, which require us even now, to work for peace. The sacrifices of our today might recognise our planet is being shaken by climate change and the effects of that will affect the most vulnerable in our world most severely, including our Naga brothers and sisters.  The sacrifices of today, for us, might mean challenging all that is unjust and merciless in our world, the systems and structures which exclude, blame, vilify and persecute others for who they are or what they believe. The sacrifices of our today might mean working, once again, for peace and mercy, not just here at home but throughout our world and on behalf of all peoples.

Ultimately, remembering, in its truest, and most authentic form, is always as act of love. To remember is to love, and to live out that love in whatever way we can, in everything that we think, or speak or do, today, and tomorrow, and for the tomorrows of those yet to come. If called upon, may we be ready to say, to the children of the future, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.

We can only give of our todays through the power of God’s all giving love, which binds all things together: for neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen.

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