Chrism Mass Sermon 2019
Posted on the 18th Apr 2019 in the category Resources
Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Chrism Sermon 2019
I thank God for all of you daily! And so it is good to be here again in this wonderful cathedral as the Church in the See of Ebbsfleet—bishop, priests, deacons and people—is gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, and to bless and consecrate the holy oils which will be used at Easter and beyond. We are in the Dean and Chapter’s debt, and yet again offer them our gratitude.
On Good Friday we shall hear these words from the gospel of John: ‘Pilate [afraid because of the crowd] went back into the Praetorium and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?”’ It was a question about Jesus’s deeper origins, his true identity. He wasn’t the first to be uneasy. The puzzle surfaces several times in the gospels. People knew exactly where Jesus was from, and his family background. But they scorned his claims to have a heavenly origin, and a heavenly mission (Jn 6.42, 8.23). Each year in this celebration we hear St Luke’s account of one such incident in the synagogue at Nazareth. As you can see illustrated in the manuscript on the front of your service paper, Jesus had expounded a prophecy of Isaiah’s by relating it to himself, and did so with an authority that went beyond all normal interpretation. The listeners were shocked at his claim to be the one who made sense of the prophecy. Shock led to denial; denial to accusation, and accusation, well, ultimately, back to Pilate’s words on Good Friday. What seems to have provoked the opposition was Jesus’s sheer sense of liberty to make such a claim, with all the risks it entailed. ‘The Spirit of the Lord God has settled on me’, Jesus had said—‘anointing me with power … to announce good news, freedom, sight, healing, God’s favour’. The Spirit enables me to give life; or rather, the Spirit enables me to give away my life so that others may have it. Elsewhere in the Gospel he says: ‘I only do what I see the Father doing … and do it in the same way.’ (Jn 5.19) That is the effect of the Spirit anointing him. We see him giving his entire self in love, without reservation, and apparently without fear. He is prepared to let go of his safety even of his life, so that others may live, and others may experience God as ‘the One who gives his life away’.
Now, the whole of the New Testament is full of the implications of Jesus having reached out to us, and put the same Spirit into our hearts — our rather unfree, ungiving, and pretty risk-averse hearts. But as Christ’s disciples, baptised and anointed, we have received the same Spirit, so that—whether we happen to be young or elderly—we too can grow and mature into people who also freely announce to others good news, freedom, sight, healing, God’s favour; who also do freely what in Christ we see the Father doing; who also freely give our lives away. That is what the gift of the Spirit means. It’s a bit alarming when you wake up to the fact that that (not just simple church-going) is the way of life we have signed up to! what one writer has called ‘humanity overwhelmed by the energy of giving’. But the Spirit is the gift that motivates the Church, and shapes all our efforts to deepen Christ’s mission in our increasingly bored, confused, and idolatrous culture. We ‘all partake of the same Spirit’ (1Cor 12.13; Eph 3.6), the same ‘energy of giving’.
As Jesus approached his death he chose two particular ways in which to embed this attitude as deeply as possible in the fellowship of his disciples, so that it should become the ‘mind’ (the DNA) of his Church (Ph 2.5): what theologians call kenosis. They are the inseparable fruit of Maundy Thursday. The first was the act of worship by which Jesus began his passion, giving himself to his disciples, body and blood; and the second was the ministry of those whose authority would lie in obeying his command to repeat that same act of woship, and base their own lives on its meaning, so that through them the risen Christ would be able for ever to feed ‘all those who would believe through their word’ (Jn 17.20).
All of this lies behind why, for the clergy, there is a tremendous sense of rightness, even home-coming and belonging, in the liturgies of Holy Week, despite all the busyness associated with preparing them. It’s not always obvious that the kind of activities that fill the lives of the parish clergy are very central to what’s outlined in the Ordinal. There’s not much there about school governance, fundraising, organizing pilgrimages, or even stacking chairs! But this week is different; here a ‘still centre’ of priestly ministry is found, something utterly essential. Coming to this Eucharist each year, and to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, a tremendous sense of affirmation crystallizes—especially for the clergy—‘Yes! this is central, this is our life-giving source. These liturgies, especially the liturgy of Maundy Thursday, are about as close as we can get to the fire, the mystery, of Christ giving himself — Christ, never more filled with the energy of giving than on the cross.
For the clergy, these are moments in which we can honestly assess the sincerity of our spirituality, and renew our dedication to being teachers and models as Jesus himself is our teacher and model for humanity. We can seriously ask ourselves before the Lord — Are we letting our actions and God’s actions be so blended together that the energy of God’s self-giving is what defines our ministries as they defined Christ’s? Are God’s Spirit and our spirits winding themselves together (Rm 8.15-16) so that our ministries energise our brothers and sisters to give themselves in worship, witness, and service? Are we as clergy searching together to find ways in which we can resist the persuasions of our culture, and live life in the Spirit as Jesus has given it to us?
The Eucharist is crucial to our hope of ever living such a life, because Christ set the Eucharist right at the centre of ecclesial life—and therefore at the centre of the life of the priest—as the most perfect expression of the his own attitude. ‘No other action of the Church can equal its effectiveness’ (Sacrosanctum concilium, 7).
The Eucharist ‘is often called the sacrament of unity: but it is equally the sacrament of mission.’ (The Sacrament of Unity, 2001) And the way we celebrate the Eucharist can either generate or undermine the mission of the Church. No worshipping congregation (in a cathedral, a parish or elsewhere) should set about assessing the effectiveness of its mission, without assessing first the effectiveness of the liturgy from which that mission flows, and, dear fathers, the ministry that we each offer as presidents of it. The Eucharist is central to our mission because it is where Christ renews the energy of self-giving in every kind of mission. Therefore I want to propose to you all, clergy and laity, that we take steps together—among the clergy, and in each parish—towards a period of talking, praying and renewing the eucharistic worship and practice of our parishes. The quality, seriousness, prayerfulness and beauty of our celebrations have a direct effect on the strength and attractiveness of that mission.
If the responsibility of presidency in the Eucharist is not central in the life of the priest, then his whole ministry suffers and is emptied, and he mission of the Church suffers. Only when the priest celebrates with authentic, personal and renewed faith does the liturgy transform lives, and shape the life of the priest as the president of the community. Don’t forget, fathers, even when you celebrate the most humble Eucharist, perhaps in churches in a remote village, or in the back street of a deprived community, or on an anonymous arterial urban road, if you celebrate with real attention and with seriousness and conviction, you build the Church and extend the self-giving of the ‘Pastor of the pastors’ himself, (1Pt 5.4), Jesus Christ!
As I invite you now to renew your priestly commitment, may the prayers of the saints give you inspiration and courage. Let us pray for each other, and for ourselves, that the lives and gifts he has given us may not be misspent on ourselves, for our own gratification or reputation, but given away for his glory and for the good of his Church.
Ebbsfleet Chrism Mass 2018 Sermon
Posted on the 3rd Apr 2018 in the category Resources
Ebbsfleet Regional Chrism Masses
Bath, Exeter and Lichfield: Holy Week 2018
From the Song of the Three Young Men, v.62: ‘Bless the Lord, you priests of the Lord, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.’
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Each year for the past four I have spoken in this celebration about the oils from which this celebration takes its name: oils that are signs of the Holy Spirit’s action in our journey of faith. This year I want to speak more directly to the priests and deacons who today also recommit themselves in apostolic service.
It is said (and well said) that this Eucharist reveals, it makes visible, the communion of presbyters as co-workers with their bishop. It is an opportunity to renew among us the joy of communion, and to show ourselves ready to deepen it. So in this short homily I want to reflect on the foundations of this communion.
Before embarking, I want to express my immense gratitude for all of you, for the many signs of the communion which already flourishes among us, and for the desire that many of you express for it to become more fruitful. I want also to recollect in this moment all the sick or burdened priests I have visited in the last few months, or who have written to me in advance of today, to express my admiration for the great dignity and the spirit of faith with which they live often difficult trials of health, personal opposition, or suffering. And I also think of the priests who died this year, who in their last months summed up lives fully offered to the Lord, and no doubt purified by trials.
It is easy for us to forget that today’s liturgy — which can seem rather busy with special ceremonies — happens at a precise moment. It serves not only as a preparation for, but also as an orientation to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening, and thus to the whole Paschal Mystery beyond, which is the true basis of our communion as priests.
There are these days many motives, positive and negative, for us to cultivate a deeper fraternity. Positively, we want to show that we are ready and committed to the proclamation of faith, the work of prayer, and service within and beyond the Church. There is an increasing desire among us to strengthen friendships, so as to be able to support each other in offering to Christ a fuller consecration, and to the Church a less divided self. Less positively perhaps, we look to one-another for greater solidarity both in the face of our society’s increasingly cautious or critical attitude to the clergy, and mindful of the scale of its anxieties and divisions. Torn between the sheer variety of activities and expectations, many priests become drained; they take fewer opportunities for the prayerful recollection that would give them new energy and inspiration. Externally stretched and interiorly drained, it is easy to lose the joy of a vocation which feels to be an increasing burden.
But all these reasons, whether positive and negative, are all external reasons to seek solidarity. If we entrust our ministries to them for motivation, we will not take the necessary long-term and lasting action. I want you therefore to reflect with me me now (and pray with me through the coming days) on the true origin of our communion as presbyters and deacons, a communion in the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ, made present in the Eucharist.
It is the Paschal Mystery that is the ultimate root of our communion — and our spirituality — as priests. We are included in it through the baptism which we share with all our brothers and sisters; and then, by the prayer and the laying-on of the bishop’s hands, we are given the grace and authority to preside at its celebration in the Eucharist. The eucharistic gathering is the ‘Church simpliciter’: that is, it the Church in its purest, simplest, most complete act. In the Eucharist, the Church draws on what is deepest in its life, and lives out its identity. In it, in other words, the prayer of Christ becomes our prayer; the word and gospel of Christ becomes our word and gospel; the life and spirit of Christ becomes our life and spirit in the sacramental gifts. Our ministry has its culmination in praising God at the head of this assembly which is one in Jesus, who was consecrated with anointing for the life of the world (as our first and third readings reminded us) and is alive in his Church’s offering (as our second reminded us). That is what gives strength, unity and joy to our ministry. It is by penetrating ever deeper into that mystery by our prayer and service, not by strategizing about our institutional problems, that we shall strengthen our presbyteral communion with one another. And if our communion with one another is strengthened, then our mission is surely strengthened.
It is in relation to this vision of the eucharistic Church as the context of our teaching that the Scriptures find their primacy, in the same sense as when the risen Lord lifted the hearts of the Emmaus disciples, he used what was said about him in the Scriptures to prepare them to recognize him in the breaking of the bread and, then, to announce to his brothers the victory of life over death.
The same is true of the personal and contemplative dimensions of our prayer. Both find not only their highpoint but also fresh resources in the Eucharist. We ought not to trivialize our weaknesses and difficulties in personal prayer (see Rom 8.26): the clergy do not have any special gifts in this area! We all know and experience that prayer is a very hard task, but it is sustained and supported by our eucharistic prayer; and if our personal and contemplative prayer is flagging, it may be at least in part because of a lack of connection to the Eucharist. Priestly spirituality is a eucharistic spirituality. The two realities (both personal prayer and liturgical prayer) must flow into and out of one another, mutually reinforcing.
And so too, all other essential features of the Church. The whole of her vocation to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and our part in it — her proclamation, invitation, catechesis, witness, mission; the various forms of service, closeness to the poor; even issues of discipline and institutional collaboration — all have their centre and goal in the liturgical assembly.
All of this should remind us, then, that the liturgical life of the parish must be cultivated by any means possible in the hearts and habits of parish communities. It is crucial that the parish community’s sense of itself, and the reality of both mutual service and outward-facing service, should flourish above all in the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.
Now, in part I have focused our thoughts in this way so as to be able to underline that we who are trying to shape a collective contribution to the Church of England through The Society (and no doubt others also) have a job on our hands. Many varieties of Christian practice are spreading in the world at present in which eucharistic practice is not obviously central, and eucharistic theology is very slender. There are parts of our own Anglican family and our own church in which the Eucharist appears to have slipped away from its central place. We urgently need to remind ourselves both why and how it is that the Eucharist defines what kind of body the Church is. We need to discover why it is that some forms of Christianity which are very popular do not have the Eucharist as central to their practice in any form, and engage with them. We need to understand and live the Eucharist far deeper ourselves, and to share any wisdom that God has given us.
I hope that these few words have helped to recall again, on the brink of the Paschal Triduum, that the foundation of our communion as co-workers for the Lord is not in the present strategies of our church life, nor in our response to the difficulties we face, not even in our desire to be better equipped for service, but in the eucharistic assembly celebrating the Paschal Mystery. Today we ask God to protect that communion, because its ultimate goal is in the heavenly liturgy, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, towards which we move as pilgrims. Until that moment, and looking to that moment, our communion in faith, in liturgical and personal prayer, in pastoral service, and in fraternal friendship, will be the support and the comfort of all our perseverance.
Ebbsfleet Chrism Mass 2017 Sermon
Posted on the 13th Apr 2017 in the category Resources
Ebbsfleet Regional Chrism Masses, Holy Week 2017
Bristol, Exeter and Lichfield Cathedrals
Normally at this celebration we read from St Luke’s account of Jesus appearing in the synagogue in Nazareth and reading the prophecy we have just heard from Isaiah: ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me’. But this morning we’re scrolling back a little: back to the Jordan just after the baptism, and turning to listen to St John.
St John always seems to have a different story to tell. In the other Gospels the Holy Spirit comes down upon Jesus at his baptism to enable his mighty acts. But St John talks about the Holy Spirit rather differently. He doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’s baptism like the other gospel writers; instead John the Baptist gives us a ‘witness statement’ about it. And in that statement, it is said (uniquely in St John’s gospel) that the Spirit not only descended on Jesus but remained on him (Gk, emeinen: Jn 1.32).
Read the passage carefully and it becomes obvious that this is the central fact of John the Baptist’s evidence. The Spirit did not just visit Jesus but remained with him, and that is precisely how John the Baptist knew that Jesus truly was the one he’d been looking for.
This is how John sets out his evidence:
In John’s Gospel the Spirit does not come upon Jesus for a specific task or a special moment, as with the prophets and other spirit-anointed people of the Old Testament. Jesus becomes the unique dwelling place of the Spirit. The Spirit stayed with him permanently and filled him with all the potential (all the dynamis) of God’s wisdom and action and presence.
And there’s more. A little later in John’s Gospel, in Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, this sense of the Spirit’s permanence is expanded by a sense of the Spirit’s abundance. The Spirit is given to Jesus ‘without measure’ (Gk ek metrou: Jn 3.34). Jesus bears the Holy Spirit in a permanent and inexhaustible way.
All of that is wrapped up in St John’s distinctively different allusion. St Basil the Great says that the Spirit was Jesus’s ‘inseparable companion in everything … every activity of Christ was unfolded in the presence of the Holy Spirit’. Jesus’s ministry simply cannot be explained without the presence and power of the manifold gifts of the Spirit.
All of this is, if you like, ‘poured into’ the Chrism oil from which this Eucharist takes its name, the complex perfumed oil which, in a sacramental way, will be used as a sign of the permanent and inexhaustible presence of the Holy Spirit – who is not only the inseparable companion of Jesus, but who becomes the inseparable companion of all those who are baptised and confirmed into Christ’s risen body – that is, of course, you and me. Another great Christian author, this time a modern Anglican, Austin Farrer, talking about confirmation, says, ‘the unity we have with Christ, both in receiving baptism and afterwards by standing by it, brings down on us the very blessing and the very Spirit he received. In so far as we are in Christ we are filled with Holy Spirit and the Father’s good pleasure rests on us; infinite Love delights in us.’
Christ’s relationship with his Father (Jn 17.10) has been enlarged to include us. The eternal relationships between Father Son and Spirit have become our home, our identity. At all times Christ accompanies us to his Father with our prayer and our praise, our penitence and our pain, whenever we wish, and whenever we need. This is our home, because it’s where Christ and the Spirit dwell, permanently and abundantly. And at this time of the Christian year, as we approach the Paschal three days, it’s especially important to be reminded these things do not change whatever difficulties and turmoil, whatever ‘sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity’ we may be experiencing. Regardless of turmoil or failure or suffering, or even death, the permanent and inexhaustible presence of the Holy Spirit kept Christ faithful to his Father and to us; and he keeps us faithful to too.
We find ourselves, of course, reflecting on these things in the midst of confusions and tensions in our church after Bishop Philip North’s withdrawal as bishop of Sheffield, made more acute by those who seek to sharpen the divisions in our life together. In such a situation—whatever is now being done to minimize damage, to heal hurts, or to strengthen mission—we need to trust the unshakable faithfulness of Christ and the strengthening power of the Spirit.
In one of his sermons St Bernard has something to say about such situations of turmoil, and the doubt and vulnerability that they create. He says, ‘I have sinned a great sin, and my conscience is like mud all stirred up; yet I’m not unsteady (not shaky) because I am mindful of the Lord’s wounds.’ And he goes on to say that the Lord’s wounds are like places he can hide in, like the cleft in the rock for Elijah, a safe place to hide until the storm passes.
Why, I wonder, might St Bernard refer to the Lord’s wounds in this way? I think that the answer lies in another surprisingly different feature of St John’s gospel, concerning the Holy Spirit.
All the way through John’s Gospel there is a mounting sense of expectation. The Spirit, who we’ve been emphatically told remains permanently and abundantly with Jesus, nevertheless can’t be given to the disciples because Jesus had ‘not yet been glorified’. Even at the Last Supper, Jesus had to explain, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Comforter who will never leave you – the Spirit of truth.’ Then, three days later, when the great climactic moment of the Resurrection arrives, and Jesus that same evening bursts through the locked doors where his friends are, he does three things:
There’s no hanging around fifty days for Pentecost with St John.
It’s clear that it’s only when Jesus’s body has been broken and lifted up on the cross—only after, in St John’s words, he’s been ‘glorified’—that the Spirit is free to stream out of his wounds and flood the lives of those around him. Without that failure and darkness, without those open wounds, the Spirit could not be shared. But after that darkness, from those wounds, the Holy Spirit ‘pours out for us to drink’ says St Paul (1 Cor 12.13): from those wounds flows the baptismal flood that brings into our lives the permanent and abundant life of the Spirit.
It’s as if the surface of our achievement, our specialness and attractiveness, has to be wounded before the Spirit can truly create holiness and communion between the followers of Christ. So not for the first time, our faith is revealed in a paradox: we experience the Holy Spirit most deeply not in strength and achievement and being successful Christians; but in moments of loss, times when we suddenly feel vulnerable and out of our depth. Even when those bitter moments of hostility or betrayal arise within the body of the Church, through those wounds, into that need, the Holy Spirit flows. And in that situation, as St Bernard suggests, though our consciences are ‘like mud all stirred up’; yet we are not unsteady because we are mindful of the Lord’s wounds, and the Spirit that flows from them.
‘Deep in thy wounds Lord, hide and shelter me
So shall I never, never part from thee.’
Having drunk of the everlasting, inexhaustible and renewing Spirit of Jesus—in this as in every Eucharist—we shall be able go out and overflow, in our words and our actions, in acts of compassion and service, because our own lives have been broken open and filled by God.
 On the Holy Spirit, xvi.39
 A Triple Victory: Christ's temptations according to St Matthew (London, 1965)
 ‘Peccavi peccatum grande, turbabitur conscientia, sed non perturbabitur, quoniara vulnerum Domini recordabor.’ (Sermon 61.3, On the Song of Songs)
Posted on the 14th Mar 2014 in the category Resources
The Bishop writes:
“Having begun our annual pilgrimage towards the celebration of Our Lord's death and resurrection, I send my love and greetings to you all the clergy and people of the Ebbsfleet episcopal area, and my prayers that this season will bring us closer to the reality of Christ's love and self-giving for us, so that, being drawn closer to his cross, we shall be more open to the Holy Spirit enabling us to share that love in the world.
It is a journey that finds its goal, as always, in the precious celebrations of Holy Week, among them the Chrism Mass when all the clergy – serving and retired – gather to renew their promise to serve Christ and his people, and the holy oils that we shall use in the coming year are blessed. I hope very much that, despite the travel involved, we’ll ‘not neglect to meet together, but gather to encourage one another’ (Hebr 10.25) and celebrate the priestly service of the whole Church.”
Three Chrism Masses are being prepared:
at Bristol Cathedral (by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter)
on Saturday 12 April, at 12.00 noon
at Birmingham Cathedral (by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter)
on Tuesday 15 April, at 11.30 am
at St Peter’s, Plymouth
on Wednesday 16 April, at 7.00 pm
Ebbsfleet Daily Prayer Cycle
Posted on the 31st Dec 2013 in the category Resources
Thankful always in every prayer
New Ebbsfleet 2014 Daily Prayer Cycle
In a book about prayer, one of today’s leading bishops of the Church of Greece (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpatkos) says, “It is necessary that we live in Christ, the Word of God, and become Christ and the Word of God by grace. This is achieved when we live in the Church and participate in its holy mysteries ...”
Living in the Church and participating in its holy mysteries leads us to understand that prayer is the heart of all we do and are; and that we never pray alone. First because it is always Christ who prays in us, second because the ‘great cloud’ of his witnesses – the saints – are praying with us and for us, and third because we always pray in fellowship with all others in whom Christ prays.
As the Ebbsfleet people and priests, aware of our own calling to be saints sharing in this noble task of prayer, by which in union with the Bishop we exercise our love support for each other and our service of the world, may the following words of St Paul, which express the unity which is formed between us as we pray for each other, encourage us to pray for each other daily:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:3—6)
Whether it is used in public worship or in private devotions – or in both! – it is hoped that this cycle of prayer will keep us all, clergy and laity alike, daily aware of each other.
Fr Ross Northing SSC, Stony Stratford
Please on the link below to download your copy.