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 – firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
Happy New Year – and the Year Ahead
Posted on the 6th January 2016 in the category Announcements
Christmas is completely fixed in our minds and our diaries on 25 December. But in any one year, depending on the date of Easter, many of the most important feasts of the Church’s year move. This year ‘pascha’ (a word that comes from the Hebrew word ‘pesakh’, or Passover – Easter) is on 27 March.
In ancient times before calendars and diaries (or even smartphones) were common, many people did not know very long in advance the dates of even the most important holy days of the new year – the days and celebrations that they would want to be part of, that were central to their faith in Jesus and to their communion with other Christians.
Thus in the western Christian tradition it became customary at Epiphany to announce publicly—normally by singing! —the new year’s holy dates after the reading of the Gospel.
In the age of the internet, this seems, then, a better way than most of wishing any visitors to this website fresh experiences of God’s grace, mercy and peace in 2016:
6 January 2016
The Gospel reading for the Epiphany (6 January)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Thanks be to God.
The Epiphany Proclamation:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Dear Friends:
We rejoice at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ; the Lord’s glory has shone upon us and shall always be visible among us, until the day of his return. So by leave of God's mercy we announce to you also the celebration of his Resurrection, who is our Saviour. From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.
The beginning of the holy fast of Lent, Ash Wednesday, will be 10 February.
We shall commemorate the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ – his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial and his rising – between the evening of the 24 March and the evening of 26 March, celebrating Easter Day with paschal joy on the 27 March.
On 5 May will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On 15 May, the feast of Pentecost.
On 26 May, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
On 27 November, the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As pilgrims in this world, we celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord in the feasts of the Mother of God, the apostles, and the martyrs and saints of earlier times.
And with full hearts we bless him for the victory of his grace, his mercy and his peace in the hearts of the new martyrs of our own age across the world, and especially in the lands of his earthly life and of the most ancient churches.
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of history and eternity, be endless praise, for ever and ever. Amen.
Christmas Message 2015
Posted on the 23rd December 2015 in the category Announcements
Yet again, the year that is ending has witnessed violence and tragedy around the world – in oppression, terrorism and war, and in actions of local prejudice and bigotry. Who can forget the images from Paris, or the tragic sight of the young child washed up on a Mediterranean beach? 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, the world over, especially in Paris, across Syria and Iraq, and, unforgettably, in Bethlehem.
But this agony that we feel—as violence, and the threat of more, and its consequences continue—is simply the reverse side of the great good news of this 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, and 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 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 is also what gives us the possibility of grieving as we should for the disfiguring of God’s image in the world. Let us trust that it also gives us the vision, the courage and the strength to go on working and praying for a world in which God’s image in mankind—but not only mankind, in the created environment also—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. As the carol has it, ‘O that Mary’s gentle child might lead us up to glory!’
May Christ, who renews our hope in this celebration, be with you throughout the whole of the coming year.
THE BISHOP OF EBBSFLEET’S LENT APPEAL
Posted on the 20th February 2015 in the category Announcements
For the needs of suffering and persecuted Christians of the Middle East
"Always”, says St Peter, “be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you" (1Pet 3.15). True glory and joy are found in an eternal life prepared for all who live in, and for, love and peace.
As I settle down to write to you (16 Feb), an email from a brother bishop gives confirmation of yet more brutal murders of Christians, this time young Coptic Christians in Libya at the hands of Daesh (IS). Theirs are the most recent deaths in a mounting and clear atmosphere in diverse places around the world where suffering and persecution are inflicted on those who follow Christ, who have heard and obeyed Christ’s command to live in, and for, love and peace. Then suddenly another email arrives, from elsewhere in the same region: “We are so alarmed about what is happening around us with barbarism reaching the point of no return!” Reaching no return. And, of course, as Christians we cannot be mindful of the wounds being inflicted on the body of Christ without also knowing the closeness of the Church, a very precious closeness, to all the aid workers, journalists, medical staff, and others whose lives and deaths are also being made the focus of brutal pain and dehumanizing terror. Nor can we forget Jesus’s command, ‘Pray for people who persecute you!’ (Matt 5.44)
For Christians, the suffering and persecution of our fellow Christians is something that we cannot help but recall every single time we celebrate and receive the Body of the Lord. ‘When one member suffers, all suffer with it.’ (1Cor 12.26) At every Eucharist we hear their cry, we touch their wounds, we feel their plight and experience their loss. This is the reality of the Risen Body we share: our body. Our own General Synod heard testimony of this reality when it welcomed Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil (northern Iraq) just last week.
And how shall we respond? with prayer, daily prayer, and with solidarity and with support. And that is why I have chosen this year to focus the Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Lent Appeal on the pressing and mounting needs of the persecuted Church, especially in the Middle East. There are relatively few Anglicans in that particular region: but what popes and others have called ‘the ecumenism of martyrdom’ has given the Christians new depths of mutual solidarity and communion in faith. They are in this defining adversity together.
I want to appeal to you, as individuals and as parishes, to take this cause seriously to heart, in your prayers, in your imaginations, and in your practical support and giving. If possible, even at this late stage in preparation for Lent (which begins on Wednesday), make this appeal the Focus of your parish and your personal Lenten almsgiving. Long experience of the work of Aid to the Church in Need (www.acnuk.org) , a Catholic aid agency, who in the Middle East work direct with the larger local churches like Archbishop Warda’s Chaldean Catholic Church, has led me to highlight their work, and channel any funds we gather through them. The collections from all this year’s Chrism Masses will go into our response too.
The Ebbsfleet parishes are used to feeling a real solidarity with one another; let us extend that gift to our brothers and sisters, displaced and threatened, in the Middle East.
With every blessing:
+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet
Hill House, Caversham
You can give, individually, or as a parish at the end of Lent, via the Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Mission Fund: The Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Mission Fund Hill House, Tree Tops, The Mount, Caversham, Reading, RG4 7RE BACS to: The Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Mission Fund, Barclays Bank Account No: 30312991 — Sort Code: 20-01-09 Please give ‘Lent Appeal’ as the reference.