Saturday, 25 April 2020

The Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35

You may listen to this sermon at

Since lockdown Frances and  have been walking, companionably every day, with Rosie and Nina of course, talking about all the things that have happened, or we have heard about or read during the morning when we have been in our separate studies engaged on different things. So the story of the two disciples, Cleopas and another, waling and talking feels more than usually resonant. We walk a lot in any case but these past weeks the distances have increased as we have to start on foot from the rectory. Once the tuggy dogs have settled there is a gentle reflective rhythm that sets in creating space for appreciation for the world outside and space for new thoughts.

I have always liked to think that Jesus came and stepped into this space, falling naturally in step, drawing near. Although we know that Jesus’ followers were frightened these two open up to this unrecognised stranger who has joined them. Heedless of any risk they reveal that they are full disciples, that they had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel. So at the very beginning of this story before any steps had been taken we see the two disciples stopping to let Jesus in. “They stood still, looking sad” and we hear them nonetheless, feeling safe, safe enough to own up to their allegiance in this now manifestly police state.

As I said, walking itself, the rhythm of one foot in front of the other can free the miind., laying down the noise of everyday worries and opening possibilities for fresh ideas. Beethoven knew this, he used to walk regularly in the afternoons saying that freeing his fingers from the keyboard would admit new melody. Jesus sees the sadness of the couple, hears their disappointment and dashed expectations and in a tone of astonishment says “But cannot you see that He (Jesus) is the  Messiah and all these things were necessary?”  It was you see, never part of general Jewish thinking that the Messiah should suffer but that the annointed successor to David would abruptly overturn and defeat the enemies of Israel and rule over a period of peace, prosperity and justice. Against this religious background Jesus’ teaching is groundbreaking. He goes on to point to all the references in scripture from Moses onwards that speak of the true coming of the Son of God.

Notice how at the end of the journey, having let Jesus in, having heard him, even if they as yet do not know who he is, the two disciples do not want to let him go! “They urged him strongly, saying ‘stay with us.’” And so he stays and breaks bread with them in that marvellous showing of himself.

Now on our lockdown walks over the course of a week we visit all of our benefice churches and I am sad for we and everyone are forbidden to go inside. Like Cleopas and his friend, we have lost contact, they with the physical Jesus and we with our sacred space. No longer can we walk convivially with strangers, fall in step with one another and be three o the road. But we can learn, for they stopped and let Jesus in, without seeing him and we can do the same; actually I think we must do the same. And we will wait then for the time when after all this we will gather again and we will break bread and take communion and recognise who we have been with.


Monday, 20 April 2020

Midweek Morning Prayer

¶    Prayer During the Day on Wednesday

O God, make speed to save us.
All   O Lord, make haste to help us.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.
You, Christ, are the King of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you took our flesh to set us free
you humbly chose the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
from Te Deum Laudamus
The Word of God
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

The Psalm will end with:
All   Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Short readings
Week One
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Isaiah 61.1-3a

Week Two
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.
Micah 4.1-4a

Week Three
Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
Matthew 9.35-end

Week Four
Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’
    John 18.33,36-38
Opening with:

O Lord our God,
grant us grace to desire you with our whole heart;
that so desiring, we may seek and find you;
and so finding, may love you;
and so loving, may hate those sins from which you have delivered us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Finishing with The Lord’s Prayer
May God grant to the world justice, truth and peace
All   Amen.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Learning to see : The first Sunday after Easter

One of my companions during lock down has been Simon Schama’s book “Rembrandt’s Eyes” which in common with all Schama’s output is meticulously researched, in this case sumptuously illustrated and very weighty. You need time to settle with one of his tomes, often they come in two volumes for example “Citizens” or “The History of the Jews” but just now time is something we do have so I have tackled the 750 pages. History of art books are a joy to read and one of the things they do is teach you to see. For example in the section on Rubens, Schama discusses a painting “The Trinity adored by the Duke of Mantua and his family.”   At a first glance it does exactly what it says on the tin. In the lower half of the picture are the Duke, his mother and other family members on a balcony looking into the upper half, where the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost are to be seen. Now Schama explains that the rules pertaining in those times stipulated that the Holy Trinity could only be seen by Apostles or Saints - among whose number the Duke of Mantua was not. A careful look at the painting shows that the Trinity are depicted on a tapestry so the Duke and his family are exonerated - there is a perfectly painted edge and since the top of the material is held up by angels it should really have been clear enough.

All three of our readings this  morning are about learning to see, for what should have been clear enough, that is the Resurrection of Jesus seems to need elaboration for us to truly receive it.

The modern lectionary takes us immediately this Sunday to the passage in Acts where Peter is addressing the crowd on Pentecost morning. This is strange for we know that we have to wait another forty days for the coming of the Holy Spirit  but the church decides to mandate this reading now.  [It is true you have no choice : the reading from Acts must be either the first or second reading!] Peter in his speech summarises Jesus’ ministry “a man attested by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs,” relates his death and then proclaims his resurrection. “God raised him up, having freed him from death because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” Peter with his raised voice says “Listen, you Israelites, look at the resurrection and see what it means.” The church has put this reading here chronologically too soon and is saying “ Listen you Christians, look at the resurrection and see what it means.”

Jesus also understood that the act of Resurrection would  not be enough, for when the disciples are hidden away for fear, even so soon after the event Jesus appears to them. He makes them look at the details of the wounds in his hands and side and says “Look you disciples see what I am giving you.”

And then Peter’s letter written sometime in the 60’s AD reminds us of our difficulty, that unlike Peter we have not seen him. And so our faith, without having seen, is more precious than gold. Tested and tried by tribulations and troubles our faith has to be secured against them. We have to love him although we have not seen him, we need to rejoice still in the Resurrection even if it were so long ago. Rubens cannot paint a picture of us adoring the Trinity for we are neither Apostles or Saints but nonetheless we can learn to believe and see Jesus Christ, resurrected at the right hand of the Father.


The sermon refers to a painting by Rubens which if you wish you can find on Wikipedia here:

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Easter Sunday from within the tent

This morning I want to start with Wordsworth, not the daffodils which would be so suitable for the time of year but lines composed on Westminster Bridge:

Earth has not anything to show more fair
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent bare
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did the sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock or hill
Ne’er saw I,never felt, a calm so deep.
The river glideth at his own sweet will
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep
And all that mighty heart is lying still.

It seems so fitting amidst the scenes of silent cities to stand with the poet on the bridge looking over the scene, pondering, absorbing and waiting. Bating our breath with him. From Good Friday afternoon  until Easter Sunday morning the world held its breath, angels were waiting, the people of Jerusalem did not recognise who Jesus was yet they were waiting for a Messiah. We know that our modern world is broken, it is always and usually so, and today it feels even more fractured and so we wait,

This Easter our joy is muffled, no bells ringing out the Easter morn, the news distressing, disturbing and deathly. But wait, the promise of Easter is of new life, of awakening; that promise is still there “all bright and glittering in the smokeless air.” and we can still celebrate the Resurrection for its extraordinary announcement of change and hope. Jesus came to show us the way, there is no looking back from this moment nothing is the same again.

Perhaps we need this Easter even more than before. In Wordsworth’s poem there is, it seems to me, a propulsion forward, a compulsion indeed to look forward. Those words - fair, majesty, beauty, bright, glittering, splendour, calm, sweet are a pregnancy, ready to burst forth when the city houses which seem to sleep will sleep no more. Like Jesus the mighty heart has been lying still, like us the beating of every unaccustomed day stilled. But we wait in hope, in certainty for on this day we celebrate the news, the demonstrated, exhibited astounding recorded, witnessed truth that after death comes LIFE.

May I wish you all a happy Easter.


Saturday, 4 April 2020

Palm Sunday 2020 The crowds in Jerusalem

Jean Francois and I were together, a typically grey overcast day but in the city the excitement was high, the crowds milling around outside the pubs, in the squares people selling programmes shirts and pennants. We had travelled from Paris and now were in Cardiff on the way to  Cardiff Arms Park for a five nations match between France and Wales: naturally the Welsh, passionate about singing and Rugby were in good voice and strong in numbers for this vital game between Gallic rivals: the whole city was alive with the prospect, conversation was about nothing else, the visiting French pursued by a cloud of Gallois smoke roamed through the pedestrian precincts equipped with flasks of Calvados proud and confident in l’equippe Francaise. As kick off time approached the atmosphere got hotter: The authorities became more visible mounted on huge police horses increasing their vigilance for the least of sparks that might ignite trouble.

So it must have been in Jerusalem that day as huge crowds gathered to celebrate the Passover festival, a time when expectations of God’s deliverance always reached fever heat among the pilgrims and when resentment of the Romans was a touch paper for nationalist passion.

And into all this came Jesus, throwing off the secrecy that had shielded his early ministry Jesus came.Notice the trouble that Jesus takes to make his kingship and his identity clear and not just that it is so but also the nature of that kingship. A donkey is an important symbol, it is a lowly animal, a slow creature one that is easy to approach   (not lofty and distant as someone sat on a horse) there are significant biblical precedents of rulers coming on donkeys as a sign of peace but most importantly the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9) is fulfilled in every detail.

Rejoice greatly O daughter Zion
Shout aloud O daughter Jerusalem
Lo your king comes to you
Triumphant and victorious is he
Humble and riding on a donkey
On a colt the foal of a donkey.

Jesus intends his entry to leave no doubt that he is coming as the Messiah who the Jews have been waiting for. During his ministry he had given many signs, healing the blind, the lame, driving out demons and as we heard last week raising Lazarus and now openly and symbolically he came to Jerusalem declaring boldly who he is.

Jesus has stepped out, now he is in the public arena as never before at the centre of the Jewish world, his time has come and he proclaims himself in his arrival at this time of heightened sensitivity, sensation, suspicion and after all hope, as the expected one setting off the adulation of the crowd :

“Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest heaven” they chant, they spread their cloaks before him laying down palm fronds, the very accolade that Roman emperors would give to victors in their games. The excitement mounts, the crowd whispers to one another that he is here, the roars increase and the authorities mounted and vigilant cannot fail to take careful note.

Of course we now know that the crowd have the wrong idea about what will happen next. They expect a sacking of the establishment, the collapse of the oppressive Roman occupiers, the overthrow of this to their eyes modern day Pharaoh and for them to be saved from the deeply felt and hated tyranny of empire. But what happens next is not an assault on the Roman garrison or their seat of power.

Jesus instead will go to the Temple, the seat of the High priests power and once there he will overturn the tables of the traders, drive out the money lenders declaring that “My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations.”  Jesus is the promised  Messiah but not at all as the crowds expected, he has indeed come to save them but not from the Romans but as he demonstrates by going to the very heart of religious observance. He has come to save them and all of us from ourselves.