Easter Message 2019
Posted on the 20th April 2019 in the category Announcements
When, in 1 Corinthians 15, St Paul describes his calling to be a witness of the resurrection, he insists that he deserves to be known as ‘the least of all the apostles’, since he once persecuted the Church. This is a powerful reminder that the Good News of Christ’s resurrection is, among many other things, the proclamation of the possibility both of repentance and of change. Christ raised from the dead is free to come to his enemy, to sinners wherever they are, and show himself, inviting them to sorrow and to faith.
Or to re-phrase the refrain of the famous Easter carol:
Since Christ, who once was slain,
has burst his three-day prison,
our faith is not in vain –
for now we are forgiven,
for now we are forgiven!
But Paul’s case tells us there is more. Saul the persecutor, seeing the glorified Christ on the Damascus road, in that same moment also sees his own victims in a new way: as those in whom Christ is present and suffering. So his turning to Christ is also a turning in love towards those he caused to suffer. At first blinded by this revelation, which convicts him of his spiritual blindness, his sight is restored in baptism.
The world—ourselves included—so very urgently needs to hear the Good News that repentance and change are possible. All around us we see human aggressions and conflicts, in which people are imprisoned by their past resentments and their future fears. They turn to division and violence in order to settle scores, or to make others afraid, or to secure themselves against future threats, repeating the enslaving patterns of the past and guaranteeing more violence in the future. They cease to be able to see the wounded and dying Christ in those whom they themselves have made to suffer, whether among their enemies, or simply those who are increasingly caught up the margins of war and terror, perhaps especially the innocent and children.
St Paul says elsewhere (Gal 5.1) that we who believe in the Lord’s Resurrection must be aware of falling back into this imprisonment and slavery, when in truth Christ by his cross and resurrection has set the world free. And we can show to the world the power of that truth when we become ministers of reconciliation (2Cor 5.18-20): first, when we proclaim that God forgives and desires to be reconciled with us, and then when we forgive and seek to be reconciled with each other.
May God save us from our failure to believe that the Risen Christ has power to change us and every person; and may he give us the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins and the true freedom of the Risen Life, so that, we may proclaim the Good News with joy.
Chrism Mass Sermon 2019
Posted on the 18th April 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.
Chrism Masses 2019
Posted on the 11th March 2019 in the category Events
During this season of Lent, I want to send you all - all priests and deacons affiliated to The Society and others in our parishes - my prayers that this season will once more be a blessing, a real springtime in our priestly discipleship. During it let us all pray for one another, and for our witness in the Church of England, for a new intensity, focus, and dedication.
We shall next meet in large numbers during Holy Week, and I hope that you look forward to the Chrism Masses as much as I do. It is my hope that both clergy and laity will gather in greater numbers this year.
1 Venues for 2019
As has become our settled pattern, we will celebrate regionally.
I trust that attending the Chrism Mass is a personal ministerial priority, and encourage all other priests and deacons associated with your parish or community to do so too.
It is, of course, customary for priests to concelebrate the Chrism Mass with the Bishop, and therefore - to help all concerned with preparations - a form is included on this web page. Please fill it out and return to my office - as soon as possible, but by Monday 1 April at the latest.
Please would you discuss arrangements with all other clergy in the parish, and ensure that names are either on one or on separate forms, or they write direct to me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This will help us here in the office, and the local priests liaising with cathedral staff, to ensure that enough vestments, service papers, sets of oils etc are provided.
Two further points:
a) if, for some strong pastoral reason, please write to me personally and say so; and
b) if any of you knows of a sick or elderly priest who cannot be present, please would you let me know.
I also hope we can all extend a particular encouragement to the laity to join us too - your encouragement will be crucial.. It helps of course to know approximate numbers of laity - again by Monday 1 April please to email@example.com.
Readers are welcome to robe, and we shall reserve places for them at the front of the congregational seating – but we need to know their names too.
4 On the day
Clergy should only need to bring an alb and (as belt and braces) a white stole.
In all three venues all oils will be provided in plastic bottles at the end of the Mass, but you are free to bring your own containers should you wish.
At Bristol Cathedral (Monday 15 April) you will need to be in the Chapter House, off the cloister, robed and ready by 11.30 am.
At Exeter Cathedral (Tuesday 16 April), you will need to be in the Lady Chapel (at the far east of the church), robed and ready by 11.00 am.
In each venue, 2 litres of each oil are blessed.
Last year – again - some parishes took more than one set, so that not all could take a set away. On the day one set of oils per church should be collected by you or a lay member of your congregation. Further supplies can easily be obtained at any time from my office where remaining stocks are kept.
Posted on the 24th January 2019 in the category Announcements
We have a number of vacancies within the Ebbsfleet area. Please go to our vacancies page for further details.
Christmas Message 2018
Posted on the 24th December 2018 in the category Announcements
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The feast of the Lord’s birth, celebrated universally by Christians, is nearly upon us. And with only few short weeks of my sabbatical remaining, I offer you my greetings for a holy and blessed Christmas, and the assurance of my prayers.
“When the time had fully come,” says St Paul (Gal 4.4), “God sent his Son.” The world God’s Son entered was not a world of peace and harmony, where everything and everyone was ready for the peaceful spread of new ideas, justice and reconciliation. He had first to appear in an age and in a place of discord, of force and violence, to share our slavery, and to make himself one with those who are powerless and poor, so that at every moment in history it will be the powerless and poor who first recognise that he is among them.
Thus it is that he also speaks to the slavery and poverty in the heart of each of us. When the time of testing and loneliness comes upon us, when our needs are most naked before him, when we are powerless and poor, then we can recognise him with us, among us, declaring in the very midst of our struggle and pain both divine power and human dignity.
At the end of a year that has exposed many signs of the vulnerability and fragility of even the securest societies, as well as in countless individual lives, we are reminded that ours is a time when we may expect to see Christ raising up the powerless and poor, and reaffirming their freedom and their worth. Let us therefore not be afraid of going to the places of slavery, of poverty, and of desolation—in the world, in our neighbourhoods, and in our own hearts—ready to meet Christ there, ready to echo him in words and deeds not only of forgiveness and release, but also of new life and transformation.
In the name of the Lord:
+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet