Ebbsfleet Chrism Mass 2017 Sermon
Posted on the 13th April 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.
Christmas Message 2016
Posted on the 25th December 2016 in the category Announcements
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2016
Yet again, the year that is ending has witnessed only a rise in the horrors of violence and its chaotic consequences. One of our Anglican hymns for Advent cries out to God:
Where is Thy reign of peace
and purity, and love?
When shall all hatred cease,
as in the realms above?
It is a prayer that will be repeated with great fervour this Christmas by refugees and displaced people, by wounded and bereaved people, by oppressed and abused and trafficked people, in cities and camps the world over, among them, unforgettably, Bethlehem itself. The same agony seems to lie behind Pope Benedict’s Christmas prayer of 2011: ‘O mighty God, we love your childlike presence: your powerlessness, your humility. Through you love triumphs. But we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we ask you: show your power, O God. Cause peace also to triumph in our time, in this world of ours.’
The agony that we feel as violence and chaos continue is simply the reverse side of the greatest good news of the season – that God has taken on our human form and raised it to glory. The Immortal Son of God has taken on our mortal flesh, so now the face of Christ has been revealed in all human beings. For the eyes of faith, the consequence of this fact is that no human form or face can hereafter be ignored or abused; and whenever those same eyes do see God’s image attacked and disfigured, they will weep all the more bitterly. Thus the strange fact is that what makes us most passionately glad and grateful at Christmas—the Christ child’s powerlessness and humility—is also what gives us the possibility of grieving as we should for the defacing of God’s image in the world. Let us trust that it also gives the Church the vision, the courage and the strength to go on working and praying for a world where God’s image in mankind—and indeed his presence in the whole created environment—is universally honoured and protected. Our transcendent and glorious Lord has bowed in loving respect to our fallen and failed human nature; as Christians we can do no other than imitate such loving respect.
I offer my warmest good wishes for Christmas, and my prayer that Christ, who renews our
trust and hope in this celebration, will remain close to you throughout the coming year.
+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet
Easter 2016 Easter Message
Posted on the 26th March 2016 in the category Announcements
“Since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Rom 6.8
St Paul tells us that Holy Baptism is the doorway to new life in a new creation – not because he believes that the rite of baptism is a kind of enchantment, but because it is the outward sign of our willingness, throughout our lives, to pass through the narrow door of death for the sake of gaining freedom and reconciliation with God our Father. Unless we are ready to let go of what we imagine makes us strong and secure, unless we are ready to hold on to God in Christ and allow him to give us his strength and security, we will remain anxious, weak and fearful — of God, of one another, of the world, and of the times we live in.
So much of the anxiety in the world is to do with our unwillingness to pass through this door, and our longing to hold on to our imagined security. The terrifying war and violence that are disfiguring so many nations, the reluctance to guarantee justice for the poorest, the desire to protect our own interests first, the irresponsibility with which we treat our environment – all these have roots in that state of being which is afraid to let go of immediate comforts and assurances. And all of them drive us deeper into unreality, into the denial of other people’s suffering and need, and the denial of the urgency of change.
But God promises us life in abundance through Jesus Christ – greater abundance than we could ever secure for ourselves by our own efforts. But wedded as we are to the world of rivalry and anxiety we do not yet know what that means. The journey of each baptised Christian is one in which we are slowly being helped - raised - by God, through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, to understand what true life with God is, and what its gifts and habits are.
As Christians, eastern and western, renew our baptismal promises this year at Easter my prayer is that we shall all be opened to what God has to tell us of this new life in a new creation, and that he may give us (individually and collectively) that special assistance which we call courage to let go of whatever holds us back from the death-to-myself that is the gate to life and truth and unity in Christ.
25 March 2016, Good Friday
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet's 2016 Chrism Homily
Posted on the 25th March 2016 in the category Events
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Chrism Sermon 2016
(Exeter, Bristol, Lichfield Cathedrals)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Why, I wonder, do we celebrate Pentecost in the middle of Holy Week? For that is what this service is about: Pentecost. It’s one of those celebrations that echoes a great feast celebrated at some other time of the year. Holy Cross Day gives us a second look at Good Friday. Corpus Christi revisits Maundy Thursday in the light of Easter. We relive the Transfiguration as part of our Lenten fast. And we’re doing that sort of thing now: this is Pentecost in mid-Holy Week. These celebrations offer us the possibility of going beyond the narrative of an event; they invite us to enter more fully into the mystery of God’s work in us.
Pentecost in mid-Holy Week: how so? Our first clue is in the name of today’s Mass, and our second will be in the gospel reading we’ve just heard.
Χρίσμα is an ancient word meaning ‘anointing’, from which we have our word Χριστός, Christ, ‘the anointed one’. The name Jesus Christ means literally ‘Jesus Anointed One’: he is the Christ (the Anointed) of the Lord God. It is hardly surprising then that already, in the first generations after the apostles, we find that being daubed with oil is becoming the culminating sign of baptism, when, rising from the waters of the font, a person is anointed with the oil, and becomes a Christian, becomes literally ‘another Christ’. And today’s service is, very practically, a preparation of holy anointing oils for baptisms in a few days’ time on Easter Eve and then in the weeks and months that follow it.
But this sign very quickly points us much further. St Irenæus says, ‘When we use the name ‘Christ’, we infer the One who is the anointer, the One who is anointed, and the anointing itself. That is, the Father who anoints; the Son who is anointed; and the Holy Spirit who is himself the anointing.’ (con. Haer., iii.18.3) ‘Jesus Christ’ is Jesus ‘Anointed-with-the-Holy-Spirit’.
Our second (and bigger) clue that this is Pentecost in mid-Holy Week is this morning’s Gospel. Right through the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel, the activityof the Holy Spirit is unavoidable. The Spirit comes upon Mary to bring about the birth of Jesus. The Spirit fills Elizabeth who recognizes Mary mother of the Lord. The Spirit fixes on Jesus at his baptism, drives him into the desert to be tempted, and accompanies him in power as he begins his ministry (Lk 4.14). So it can be no surprise to us that when Jesus arrives in Nazareth and stands up in the synagogue he quotes words from Isaiah, ‘The Lord’s spirit is on me … anointed me … to preach good news to the poor’ (Lk 4.18). A small synagogue, in a nowhere town, tucked away in the folds of the hills above the great trade route toward the sea, but the atmosphere when he began to preach was, we’re told, electric. Jesus was making an amazing claim. At that time Isaiah’s words were considered to be an as yet unfulfilled prophecy of unprecedented blessings in a ‘year of the Lord’s favour’, which an anointed prophet would bring about. ‘Today’, says Jesus in his homily, ‘this scripture has been fulfilled – in your hearing’. I Am He.
This mission of Christ continues over centuries and continents. ‘It is a mission, a movement, that starts with the Father and goes forth, in the power of the Spirit, ‘to bring the good news to the poor’ (Pope Benedict xvi, 11 Oct 2012) The Church—full of baptized and anointed Christians—is the instrument of this work because we are united to him as a body is united to its head. ‘As the Father sent me, even so I send you’ (Jn 20.21), says the Risen Jesus to his disciples, and breathing upon them, adds, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (22). So when we consecrate the Chrism oil—which is our main task this morning—we are preparing the anointing oil which will be the outward sign of that inward Gift: an outward sign that each Christian, anointed with the same Holy Spirit, is ‘another Christ’ for the same task, of bringing the good news to the materially and spiritually poor. Christ gave us this mission; and continues to do so, pouring out his Spirit upon the disciples: the same Spirit who fixed upon him, and remained in him during all his earthly life, giving him the strength ‘to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed’ and ‘to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Lk 4:18-19).’ Chrism is the sign that the same thing happens in us. That’s what makes this celebration a sign of Pentecostal mission in mid-Holy Week, a sign, to adapt Irenaeus’s language, of the Father who gives; the Son who is gifted one; and the Holy Spirit who is himself the gift. Christ’s mission is our mission, his witness our witness, his cost our cost, so that more and more people may be gathered into that Body, and may receive that Gift.
And at this point—picking up on the fact that in recent times this has become the occasion at which priestly promises are renewed to the bishop, and before the people - I want to address a particular word to the clergy who are renewing those promises today. I recently heard a great story: the bishop asks a parish priest, ‘Father, tell me, how big is your church?’ ‘Well bishop, when it’s completely full, it sleeps seven hundred!’ We were not ordained in order that we, or those we serve, should sleep; but live!
Let us think for a moment about the Lord’s words: ‘He has anointed me to tell … to announce.’ The same Chrism used at baptisms is also used at ordinations, and other occasions related to priestly ministry, as a sign that the Holy Spirit is upon us to share Christ’s mission: anointed in other words to preach, to announce, to witness. It is the first task of the priest to be an evangelist, to tell the poor the good news and to gather them to Christ who will make them rich.
Friends, that same incident in Nazareth didn’t end well: Jesus experienced failure almost as soon as he began. They threw his words back in his face. We will experience the same thing. But we must ‘revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul who cried out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel’ (Novo millennio ineunte, 40). Few moments in your ministry are as important as your preaching. That’s why as a small Easter gift I’m giving you all, for your prayer and reflection, a copy of the present pope’s advice (from Evangelii gaudium) about the homily as a central aspect of your anointed task.
The need is great. The good news is for the poor. The poor are waiting, hungry and thirsty for good news. But ‘How can they believe if they have not heard? and how can people preach unless they are sent?’ But you have been sent.
When people have been gathered to the church, their journey to Christ continues. On their journey towards him we have the astonishing responsibility—for which we’re anointed, not just licensed!—to prepare them by our preaching for their union with Christ, first in the eucharist, and then in mission in the world. Jesus says to us, ‘He who hears you, hears me.’ With biblical and spiritual illiteracy at an all-time high we must toil to preach and to teach. The Kingdom of God is spread by word of mouth, and acts of love; when it’s convenient and when it’s not, on our feet, on our knees, in the pulpit, in the confessional, and in the street. I hope we can learn from Pope Francis’s words and read them alongside that great handbook of evangelism, Matthew chapter 10: ‘What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops!’
To meet present needs—both the needs of the people of God, and the needs of those who are far from the Church—we will have to be immersed in the Word of God, immersed in the Church’s tradition and wisdom, immersed in the Spirit, and work hard at preaching and making God known so that more and more people may be anointed with this Chrism as a sign of God’s indwelling Spirit.
That’s the fundamental aspect of this Chrism Eucharist: Pentecost in mid-Holy Week. We consecrate today a sign—a sign for all of us—of our immersion in the Anointed One: being where he is, being who he is, doing what he does, standing in mid-stream of his relationship with the Father, and with the world he so greatly loved, to whom be glory, now and in all eternity.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Ebbsfleet Lay Congress - 5 March 2016 - Coventry Cathedral
Posted on the 26th January 2016 in the category Events
From the Bishop and the Ebbsfleet Lay Council
On 5 March we have a wonderful opportunity to come together in Coventry Cathedral to think and pray together during Lent. It’s a key event for all our churchwardens and PCC members, and all active lay people — young and old and the clergy are very welcome too!
The most pressing challenge for Church of England parishes – our parishes included – is growth, healthy growth as spiritual communities. In an age where many people are searching for faith, the Church needs to learn not only how to flourish in its own faith, but crucially also how to hand it on to others, to evangelize and to serve others. This is no less true for parishes of the Ebbsfleet family than it is for any other parish.
Therefore, the Lay Council has asked Bp Rowan Williams to speak to the 2016 Lay Congress about How Anglican Catholic Christians grow: ‘Growing the Catholic Community’ And because we also need to learn from Evangelical experience of church growth, Archdeacon Morris Rodham (the archdeacon missioner in Coventry diocese) will be in conversation with Bishop Rowan on the theme of 'Healthy Growing Churches’.
Coventry Cathedral is on major transport routes, and is large and accessible enough for a day’s worth of activity. Registration will open at 10.00, and the day will begin at 11.00. There’ll be presentations and discussion, and Bishop Jonathan will celebrate a Mass for the Year of Mercy. Picnic lunches can be eaten in the cathedral.
The day is free, though you will have travel costs. But it will help our preparations enormously if each parish registers as a group those who are intending to come. Please organise your parish group soon, and let Catherine Williamson in the Bishop’s Office know – email@example.com, 0118 948 1038 – by 15 February how many will be coming in your parish group. We will then circulate more information about the day.
We look forward to seeing you on 5 March.