As the BBC were putting out
the first of our two pre-recorded services, Fr Neil’s sermon at the (real!)
Parish Sung Eucharist looked back at what we had been through, and forward
to the message of Advent.
It's highly likely that after this morning's mass on TV from a certain Northern parish, people might comment that it is a little different from the programmes which went out on Advent Sunday and last Sunday at the same time. The parish of Chesham might be known as the parish with the puppet show! They're probably calling us the parish with the pink vestments!
It was a huge undertaking and I couldn't hazard a guess at how many hours of time were given by a large number of people over a long period of time.
And as if the BBC project wasn't enough to keep us going, some who attended the three-hour rehearsal on 27th November had given up that morning to help at the Children's Craft Day; hardly any time had elapsed since the scaffolding was taken down before the cleaners did yet another full day polishing and cleaning the church, the muscle men brought back all the furniture which had been stored in the hall, the flower-arrangers arranged post-BBC flowers, the Sunday School teachers arranged yesterday's party for our two Sunday Schools and a goodly number of people have prepared a marvellous three-course meal for some 70 senior citizens from both congregations today in the Church Hall. A meal funded - it must be said - by the hard work of the Men's Group who raised £600 so that the meal didn't have to come out of Church funds! I think that's pretty good going! It shows what is possible when a Christian family pulls together in the same direction.
There were tensions with the BBC: speak to the flower ladies, Ged, me, in fact anyone involved in it! (Speak to the BBC about us!) But it was great fun and the atmosphere could not have a price put on it. Monday morning felt a little odd. Still a bit unreal. And then later on in the day I heard that some were unhappy with my choice of readers - I should have chosen someone who really was a widow to read the lines of a widow!
I guess I could have asked someone on a life support machine to read the lines of the person close to death. I guess I could have asked all the virgins of the parish to volunteer to read the words of Our Lady! I listened to these one or two moans and groans and I quickly found I had a smile on my face. At last, after many weeks, church life has got back to normal!
Advent prepares us to celebrate the greatest gift God has given to the world: the gift of peace and reconciliation, in Christ Jesus our Lord. There are all sorts of demands on our time: there is a lot going on for many of us - but if we take the Advent message seriously, then before we do anything else, we will first make time to be still, to reflect and to pray.
Last night a small number gathered for a service of prayer and meditation: in a semi-darkened church lights were flickering; a reminder that in the darkness of our own lives and in the darkness of the world, the Light of Christ is present.
For each one of us there will darkness to some extent or another: sins which have not been confessed and not been forgiven, mistakes in our past; failed relationships: the list is endless. Advent must be a time for searching, for honesty. It might be a time to change, for each one of us as we grow day by day need to be challenged and changed as we grow in God's love. Change can be frightening. When Fr. Tim Raphael came to lead the weekend on prayer he told the story of a parish visit he did when he was an Archdeacon. He went to a church where someone had been churchwarden for 35 years. He said to them "I bet you've seen a lot of changes over that time?" "Yes I have" came the reply. "And I have opposed every single one of them!"
Can any one of us be sure how God wants his Church to change? Can any one of us be sure how God wants each one of us to change? How do we examine our own lives and what needs to change in them?
On Saturday evening there will be a service of penance and reconciliation - an opportunity to reflect, to be still, and to ask God for his mercy and forgiveness. At the end of that service there will be the opportunity for those who wish to make a personal confession and to receive absolution. Many who have been to confession have realised the importance of that individual encounter with God and it is encouraging that each year the number of people who do come to confession grows. Pronouncing God's absolution is the primary function of the priest, the Gospel always read at a priestly ordination is the passage about the forgiveness of sins.
We can sit at home, eat bread and drink wine, and remember the Last Supper - we can even watch fantastic liturgy on BBC1 as we speak - that's not the same as physically sharing the Eucharist within the Christian Community.
How many of you, honestly, came to church with sins ready to confess on your mind and heart? If you don't have any - you're in the wrong place. You could have stayed in bed today and watched the TV.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation God speaks words of forgiveness directly to the penitent. The Sacramental Life of the Church is given to us to help us on the path of holiness - to bring us back to our loving Father. Advent is an ideal time to make Confession of sins in preparation for Christmas.
We may deceive ourselves from time to time, we may deceive others; we can never deceive God. He knows us and loves us and wants nothing more than for us to be reconciled to him. The message and challenge of John the Baptist is for us to repent and to change. Let each one of us take that message seriously this Advent.
And as we stand at the beginning of a new calendar year for the church,
let us pledge to walk and work together for the Kingdom of God to be real
in our community
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