SERMONS ON THE SACRAMENTS
A series of sermons delivered at St Faith’s by our own and visiting preachers on the sacraments of the Church.
Fr Michael Raynor
Just a few weeks ago, I went to
Looking back over twenty five years, as I guess many people did during that service, one of the most significant changes that has affected the Church has been the re-writing of our liturgy. In most cases, the language has been completely modernised, yet the theology behind them is much more deeply rooted in the early Church than that of the Prayer Book.
Over the next twelve months or so, a whole raft of new services will be introduced under the title of Common Worship. It would be easy to dismiss them out of hand, yet I believe they will bring a new richness to enhance the worshipping life of the Church. For example, the Ordination Service I attended largely followed the form of the ASB, but the Bishop had given consent to use an alternative act of preparation, which may well be adopted into the new Service for the Ordering of Deacons when it is finally published. So the service began at the font, with the bishop reminding us that God‘s grace has been poured into all of our lives at baptism, and that each of us receive different gifts to use to God’s greater glory. And despite our individuality, we are also one in Christ by virtue of baptism. The fact that it took place around the font, and was visible for all to see, made the point much more memorable that if the words had been spoken as part of a long pre-amble from the front of the Church. Despite our apparent sophistication, there is real value in seeing it as well as hearing it. That is the principle behind modern communication theory: the more senses we touch, the more memorable and better understood the message will be.
We have been looking at the new rite for baptism with a view to introducing it at St Andrew’s at Advent. There are many opportunities to complement the words with practical and visual signs which I hope will help those taking part to gain a better understanding of baptism. There are several signs I’d particularly like to pick out, though there are many more opportunities waiting to be developed in the future.
An innovation, as far as I can see, is the point at which
the person who has just been baptized can be clothed. It arises from practical
necessity in the early Church, when the newly baptized emerge from under the
water. The old self has died, and the imperfections of the past have been
washed away. Dry clothes were the order of the moment, but they also represent
the new start that begins at baptism. At baptism, we literally ‘put on Christ’
- like a garment - to protect, to guide and to strengthen. In
Much more common, though, is anointing. Those who are old
enough to remember the last coronation may just remember that Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth was anointed by the Archbishop. Dating back to the anointing of Saul,
the first king of
An essential element of baptism is water. Any baptism performed with water in the name of the Trinity is accepted as a valid baptism which would not be repeated, though the person so baptized could and should be welcomed into the fellowship of the Church when a suitable moment arises. Water is a symbol of life, as I was reminded when we returned home from holiday this year to find a number of plants that hadn’t been watered well and truly dead. Water from the font may be used at various points in our lives, and it is traditional to sprinkle a coffin during the commendation as a reminder of the promise of eternal life that is ours through baptism and belonging to Christ. At a time when words flow past us without making any impression, sprinkling the coffin can be a helpful and memorable reminder of God’s faithfulness.
The new baptism service favours giving a lighted candle to those who have been baptized at the end of the service as the family are about to leave. Symbolically, they are taking Christ out into the world: something to which all Christians are called. When Archbishop Maclagen came to St Faith’s almost a hundred years ago to consecrate this building, his message was almost the same. Looking at the history books, he chose a passage from Ephesians (4.12) as his text, which describes God’s gifts to his people to equip them ‘or work in his service, to the building up of the Body of Christ’. When you look back, God has indeed richly blessed this church and congregation. As we sing the hymn ‘In our day of thanksgiving’, past members of St Faith’s will come to my mind, as they will yours. People whose lives have been devoted to God, and to the service of his people. People like George Goodwin, who faithfully served at these altars, and took his faith out into his workplace and to his work among the Scouting fraternity. Or Mark Luft, or Emily Conalty, whose teaching careers were underpinned and motivated by their deep love of God and a desire to pass on that faith to those in their care. Or Elsie Bell, who cared for neighbours and members of her house group faithfully over many years, and whose prayers supported so many aspects of parish life. These, and many more like them over the years, have been the backbone of this community of faith and an inspiration to us all who have dedicated our lives to God‘s service. Living examples of the power of God at work in our lives.
In his consecration address, Archbishop Maclagen reminded
the congregation that they were all called to be saints: words which originally
As baptised members of the Body of Christ, we are called to dedicate our lives to the glory of God, both individually and as a worshipping congregation. Pray for one another, that you may live up to your calling as saints, whose lives are dedicated to the greater glory of God.
On the south coast of
Over the years, as Christian parents increasingly brought their children to baptism, immersion in water was no longer practicable and so the full symbolism of spiritual re-birth became weakened. A long period of preparation was no longer necessary and children could therefore be baptised throughout the year. I suppose you could say that the start of the Christian pilgrimage became more accessible, but very much less momentous. And so the ceremony evolved into a two-fold process, splitting the rite of re-birth from the ceremony of commissioning and dedication. Today we are used to seeing Christians baptised as babies and then witnessing them making their Christian vows and promises later on when, as the Prayer Book puts it, they have reached the ‘years of discretion’. But we should always remember that these are two parts of the same process. Nowadays, and we should thank God for this, people are often called to be Christians as adolescents and adults and for them the two ceremonies are performed together, at the same service.
The two ceremonies are one. In baptism the emphasis is on what God in Christ does for us. By his Holy Spirit working through the Church and our families and friends we are given new life in Christ, chosen and set apart to do God’s work, given light for the journey ahead, and welcomed into the fellowship of the Church. At our Confirmation we personally endorse the promises made on our behalf at Baptism. We make a public act of repentance, turning to Christ and confirming our allegiance to Him. After declaring our Christian faith, we then receive at the hands of the Bishop the gifts of the Holy Spirit who enables us to become true followers and servants of Christ.
God’s activity, our response. A great mystery which lies at the heart of the Christian life. A mystery because we cannot see clearly where God’s activity ends and our response begins: both are united together by the fire and warmth of the Holy Spirit. But I suppose you might be forgiven for asking what has happened to the ‘response’ bit. Not so very long ago, for a Confirmation at St. Faith’s, we might have expected a dozen or more candidates: now we are down to a mere handful. Nationally the figures are well down also.
Of course fewer people are being baptised: today less than 300 per 1000 births compared with 660 per 1000 a century ago. But Confirmations as a proportion of baptisms are also falling fast, from about 1 in 5 in 1970 to 1 in 8 in 1997. Only one in eight people baptized in our Church of England come to Confirmation, and many who are confirmed will not become regular worshippers. The statistics reflect the dwindling number of young people who go to church regularly.Half of our churches have no teenagers at all attending services, and the same proportion of churches seem to have given up trying to work with 15-18 year olds altogether. Should we be worried? Should we care? Or do we accept these depressing statistics as a sign of the times,
an irreversible trend in society which is pointless to try to remedy?
Of course, we have a dilemma. Confirmation is a serious business. It involves making a positive statement about the sort of life we want to live, and the choices we make, choices which to a large extent cut across the grain of society’s values. At our Confirmation we promise to follow Christ in love and in self-giving for the rest of our lives. A lump comes into my throat at Confirmation, as it does at weddings and ordinations: Christian commitment is literally scary. And yet if Confirmation is not to be too high a hoop to jump through, how do we make this part of Christian initiation accessible to young people? How do we help our present generation to see clearly the tremendous attractiveness of Christian commitment? How do we communicate the excitement, the challenge, and the warmth and fire of the Christian life, as well as the solemnity and the cost?
The falling numbers of confirmation candidates tell us something about the secular world and how it perceives Christian belief and Christian life-style. But could they also be saying something to us, something about our attractiveness or otherwise as ambassadors of Christ? You see, Christian commitment is not just about believing the right things, or even doing the right things. Above all commitment is about a journey,
about journeying on a pilgrimage and enjoying the company of fellow pilgrims. It is about sharing some of those gifts of the Spirit which we receive at Confirmation: love, joy peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. St. Faith’s still has something to offer, perhaps much to offer, from the gifts which are given to us. But how do we make all this real, how can we bring alive the excitement of the Christian life for young people, in our worship, in our Sunday School, in our Confirmation classes, among our choir and servers, and in everything that we do? Please think and pray about these critically important questions in the weeks ahead, as we continue with our plans to develop our ministry to children and teenagers.
Christian commitment needs confirming and affirming. There is much we can do at St. Faith’s to nourish new Christians. Let us pray that the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit will show us the way forward.
Fr Vivian Enever
If heterosexual marriage is ‘a great mystery’: a description that is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph. ), then let us pause for a while and reflect on that mystery. Not only giving thanks for our own marriages (and for the invisible activity of God’s Go-Between spirit who draws, and still draws, couples together) but also for all the people who have been married in this church over the last 100 years; for those who’ve had their civil marriage blessed here for the enrichment that marriage can bring ... and, lest we be exclusive, let us remember before God those other patterns of relationships - same-sex (gay and lesbian), the re-marriage of divorced people, single parents and single people who also reveal God’s love... for one thing is certain in this discussion about the sacrament of marriage; I would not want to be dogmatic or pass judgement on the quality of other human relationships which are often loving and caring; and if they’re not - then let us listen with compassion to the stories of separation and heart break and neglect. Let us be there at the place of brokenness, living Eucharistically, bread broken, wine out-poured so that others might live.
I want to begin this reflection on marriage by reading out to you a poem. It is often said that poems are the language of the human soul and if there is something distinctive about Christian marriage, then my suggestion today, is that it has to do with ‘soul-making’. By soul I mean that which gives depth and colour and intensity and passion to our personal lives and yet also that which connects with others to create genuine community and communion. When I am in touch with my soul or living soulfully then I am in touch with the depths of who I am and through the use of imagination (one of the preferred pathways of the soul) then I am able to sympathise and put myself in other people’s shoes.
The poem is entitled ‘Prothalamion’ written by Luci Shaw (now I didn‘t know what Prothalamion meant before today but it means the ‘first nuptial song’). It goes like this:-
For Jim and Sue
How like an arch your marriage! Framed
in living stone, its gothic arrow aimed
at heaven, with Christ (its Capstone and
its Arrowhead) locking your coupled
weakness into one, the leaning
of two lives into a strength.
Thus he defines your joining’s length
and width, its archetypal shape. Its meaning
is another thing: a letting in of light,
an opening to a varied landscape, planned
but yet to be explored. A paradox, for you
who doubly frame his arch may now step through
its entrance into his promised land!
So marriage is
to do with soul-making, discovering the invisible partners who lie dormant
within each man and woman. Marriage is one path to wholeness, to that holy
mystery to which
But let us go right back to that phenomenon, romantic love - that falling in love between two people. And what a powerful heady brew it can be - the love portion that is romantic love can be the cause of much ecstasy and well-being but it is not the foundation of Christian marriage (although many people still think it is and are in search of its intoxication)
What happens in romantic love is this - I project on to someone-else that which lies within me, within my own psyche. Depth psychology has shown that we made up of both conscious and unconscious elements and that within the unconscious there are masculine and feminine qualities. For many men, they are largely unconscious of their feminine qualities and vice-versa for a woman.
So what happens in romantic love or when we fall in love is that we suddenly see our inner masculine (if we are a woman) in some man. Indeed our language gives us away - when we are in love, our beloved takes on god-like qualities. We speak of ‘worshipping’ and ‘adoring’ someone. In this state, we desire to be close to the other in order to achieve that union or wholeness which is our soul’s deepest desire.
But when we begin to live with each other, we usually discover that the other person is quite different from the ideal person we have projected onto him or her. When we come to the realization that our beloved is different from what we thought we usually do one of three things:
First, we could call off the relationship; and if we’ve been married, we can get a divorce. People in multiple marriages and relationships fail to realize the difference between the inner image (from our own psyche) which they project on to other people) and who the other person really is.
The second option- is a kind of emotional stalemate or marital deadlock where the inner life goes sour and can wreak havoc in the couple and their children. There may well be surface smiles at the church door or in the office but inside there is resentment and anger.
The third alternative is to get on with the business of knowing the reality about ourselves and the other person and beginning the process of learning to truly love each other. In the words of the House of the Bishops’ teaching document on Marriage: ‘people marry not only because they love, but to be helped to love’ (pg7). It is a Christian belief that the life-long commitment to another person offers the basis for that search precisely because there is no escape - the boundaries of marriage (faithfulness to another person) and the freedom that that offers, encourages us to grow and to change and discover who we really are in the presence of another. A marriage only works if one opens himself to exactly that which he would never ask for otherwise. Only through rubbing oneself sore and losing oneself is one able to learn about oneself, God and the world.’
If marriage then is a pathway to wholeness and not just my personal well-being or happiness then it will quite properly include difficult and even hellish times, as well as being a source of great joy and blessing and satisfaction. And the Christian story has something to say about those journeys into hell as the precursor to resurrection, to living more joyfully and more abundantly.
The image of a happy marriage is surely an illusion; for you and I will know that marriages include immense satisfaction and creativity as well as hard work, pain and sacrifice. And if marriage is one path to wholeness, then the Christian story (with its pictures and stories and people) help me to understand what it may be like and to give it shape.
Marriage then is like a container - one place where we can begin to work through those projections which are manifestations of our soul. And when I learn to withdraw those projections inside myself then I begin to learn the other person for their sake (and not for my own).
And you know what happens when we withdraw those projections from other people: that energy is then properly directed towards the other person for whom I’m made. which is of course the living God.
Without some explicit spiritual belief or awareness of the transcendent - without worship of God in our lives - we usually place too high a burden of on our partner. We cannot fulfill that which is of God (and for God) in our human lives it must be God directed. And regular attendance at corporate worship is the place where I can learn forgiveness, of saying I‘m sorry and of beginning again - for how can I receive communion if I am at loggerheads with the one I love?
I commend to you then Christian marriage, as one path to wholeness, for the search, the meaning and connectivity with other people. Yes, marriage can be a source of stability in community life, how often we are told that: but I wouldn’t want to say here that it’s normative or the best way or the only way. Far too much guilt and hurt has been piled on people from that claim.
I’d like to close on a personal note; to read out another poem. It’s one of William Shakespeare’s sonnets. Olivia, my wife, and I chose it for our own wedding celebrations two years ago in October in London ... and I would like to say publicly thank you to my wife, Olivia, my soul-partner, for her generous love and care of me, for putting up with my foibles and the long hours of church life, and for the blessings and happiness and tempests we shared.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out ev’n to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
What do you want? What do you really, really want? I’d like to tell you about three people who were asked that question: an old man, a young man, and a young boy.
The old man was sitting in a pub, contemplating his pint, as old men do! As often happens in pubs, he was joined by a fairy godmother, who said ‘What do you really want?’ and offered him three wishes. Staring into his pint, he said, ‘What I’ve always wanted is a pint of Guinness that, every time I drank it down, would instantly fill up to the brim’ ‘No problem,’ replied the fairy godmother, and he had before him a pint, which he swiftly drained. As promised, the pint was instantly refilled, and he rapidly became merry: so merry, that he forgot his other two wishes. The fairy godmother whispered to him, ‘What else do you want?’ He looked thoughtfully into his pint, and said, ‘I’ll have two more of those please.’
And so to the young man. The young man died and went to the pearly gates and St Peter said, ‘What do you really, really want?’ The man replied, ‘I’d like to be in the Kop at Anfield, when they’d increased the capacity to five million. I’d pick up the ball in the half-way line, all singing my name’ St Peter said, ‘I think we can fix that up for you’ ‘So the man found himself at Anfield in an enormous Kop, and before he knew it, he’d rounded a couple of defenders, slipped the ball past the keeper and tucked it in the net, and turned to face the adulation of the fans; whereupon he was back in the centre circle, doing the same again … two nil. By the time forty five minutes was gone, it was fifty nil and he’d broken all known records. He looked over to St Peter in the dug-out and said ‘It must be nearly half-time’ ‘No half-time here,’ said St Peter, ‘this is eternity.’ ‘You mean,’ said the man, ‘I’m going to spend eternity simply rounding defenders and slipping the ball past the keeper?’ ‘Yup,’ said St Peter. ‘Sounds more like hell than heaven to me,, said the man. ‘It’s what you wanted’ said St Peter.
And what of the young boy? His story is a more familiar one. The young boy, hungry and friendless in the workhouse, for his name was Oliver Twist, finished his gruel and then held up his empty bowl and said, ‘Please sir, may I have some more? Please sir, may I have some more? Please sir, may I have some more?’ In doing so, he voiced the cry of the oppressed throughout the world, as they speak to the rich West: ‘Please, we want some more.’ Was he wrong to want more? Was he greedy? Of course not! The first two men were greedy, because they wanted more but couldn’t be bothered to think of interesting and worthwhile things to want. But it’s not wrong to want more, because there is so much more, and because God longs so deeply to give us so much more. Do you want more? Do you want more life, more wonder, more depth, more joy, more love, more awe? This is what Jesus is longing to give you - this is what his Kingdom brings.
If you do want these things, you’re in good
company. Because the world is yearning for these things. And if the deep
yearning of your heart comes face to face with the deep hunger of the world,
then this is a special moment. If you are longing for more, and the world
desperately wants more, and God is yearning to give you more, then this is a
moment which we call vocation. And when you receive a vocation, you are asked a
very simple question. Do you want to be part of the problem, or do you want to
be part of the solution? Do you want to be part of the problem, or do you want
to be part of the solution? So wha’‘s the problem? The problem is that there is
so much distrust in the world, so much violence and hatred and cruelty and,
most of all, so much fear. That’s the problem. And what’s the solution? The
solution is that what the world needs more than anything else is communities of
trust and support and love that show what kind of life if possible when we
believe that God is sovereign, when we place our trust and security in Him. And
don’t fear that we have to invent these communities, because God has already
done that. He invented them when he called Abraham and Jacob to be his people
And because we fall out with one another, he has given us the Peace, that we realize the necessity of reconciliation. And because we so often get it wrong, and are selfish and short-sighted and faithless and cruel, he has given us Confession that we may come before him on our knees and we’re offered the chance to start again. And because we want to rest on our own strength, he has given us Baptism in which we, often as tiny babies, die to our own security and live only in his. And because we forget what God is like, he has given us the scriptures that we may see his characters, and be daily reminded that he is faithful despite our unfaith. He has given us so much, but we need one thing more - and that is where the Sacrament of Holy Orders comes in. We need leaders. We need people who will believe in these gifts and remind us why we practise them. We need people who will inspire us and encourage us and teach us, and will clean up afterwards. We need priests.
And so I want to leave you with a question. In a few moments you will come to the altar rail and hold up your hands for the bread of life. You’ve all done it before, but you’ve come back to do it again, because you want some more. When you hold your hands up to receive God’s gift, will you be saying, ‘Please God, I want some more’?
Do you want more? Do you really, really want more? Do you want more wonder, more faith, more love? Do you want more life, more depth, more joy? Do you want to be part of the solution? Do you want to be a priest?
One spring evening, a young man sat down with his friends
to share a meal. He knew that his time with them was limited, because he had
made many enemies, and thoughts of impending death were probably uppermost in
his mind. Yet he wanted to leave his friends with something to remember him by,
and so he did something very simple and said something very profound. We find
the first description of what he did and said in
The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread and after giving thanks to God, broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’‘
This command has been obeyed in every conceivable circumstance over the years since then, and today, we carry on the tradition. What follows is an attempt to explain what happens in the Eucharist, and why we do the things we do.
We come here to meet our saviour and receive him into our lives. So as we enter this holy place it is only right that we should prepare ourselves and the short time of silence before the service allows us to do this. But we are not here on our own, we have come together as a worshipping community. And so we say together the collect for purity. This helps us to acknowledge that we come before God knowing that we can’t hide anything from him, that he knows us ‘warts and all’. The prayer helps to create in us a right attitude towards what follows. We then make our confession, bringing before God all that we have done and left undone, knowing that only when we forgive others, are we ourselves forgiven.
Assured of God’s forgiveness, we go on to sing the Gloria,
in which we praise God for who and what he is, and for what he has done for us.
This great hymn of joy and thanksgiving opens with the words sung by the angels
The liturgy divides into two parts, both of which are complementary. As the consecrated bread and wine will be elevated at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, so too the Bible is carried aloft when the procession enters church to show its centrality. For this is the mighty word of God, and it contains the words of Christ who is the living word. The importance of the Gospel itself is demonstrated in several ways: by the solemnity of the Gospel procession with its accompanying Alleluias: by the kissing of the Bible: by the candles which signify that here is the light of Christ coming out to his people.
It’s good that from November, we will use the new
lectionary and will hear the three readings, because then we‘ll start to become
more used to hearing the Old Testament. Jesus and his disciples were rooted and
grounded in the Old Testament writings, and these are often quoted in the
Gospels. We can only really begin to understand much that Jesus said and did,
by knowing his background.
The Ministry of the Word then continues with the sermon. Here, the preacher tries draw out the meaning of the readings, bringing out their message from the past, and making it relevant to today. When we have listened to God’s word in Bible and sermon, and quietly let it sink in, then we rise to our feet to recite the creed. And so, in this ministry of the word, God meets us in three-fold form: there is the living word, Jesus Christ himself: there is the written word, the Bible, which witnesses to the living word, and finally there is the proclaimed word which is the living word of the church in its preaching and teaching.
Having heard God’s word, we move on to the Ministry of the
Sacrament where we meet the word made flesh. It is only right that our
preparation for this act of oneness with our Lord, should commence with the
peace which expresses our oneness with each other. The peace reminds us of
Mathew’s exhortation (5.23f) that before approaching the altar, we need to be
reconciled with each other. This reconciliation is to be sought in every aspect
of our life in this community. It should show in tolerance for those who do not
pray as I do, those who do not behave as I do, those who do not like the music
I do, those who annoy me by their matiness or their stand-offishness. There are
New Testament precedents for the peace.
Having made our peace we are ready to make our Eucharist. And so the gifts of bread and wine are brought up by the people and offered to God. The first thing Jesus did was to take bread, and so the gifts are taken by the priest and replaced on the altar, signifying that these are the gifts over which thanks is to be given. This taking and thanking is a survival of a Jewish custom. When the Passover was celebrated, the head of the family would take the bread and wine and hold them above the table before giving thanks over them.
Firstly, Jesus took the bread. The second thing he did was to offer thanks to God and so the priest moves into the words of the Eucharistic prayer. We may wonder why there are so many different forms of this, but this isn’t just St. Faith’s doing her own thing, it was the norm both for the early church and for today’s Roman Catholic church. Whichever words are used, however, the pattern remains the same We are told that on the night that he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and wine, gave thanks, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples. The Eucharist is a four-fold action.
In this prayer, God is thanked for all he has done for us in Jesus Christ, and we praise him in the words of the Sanctus. Soon, we hear the words of Jesus which have been heard by countless Christians over the centuries, and we do this, as they did, in remembrance of him. This ‘we’ doesn’t just mean whoever is celebrating, and those of us in church at that moment. The ‘we’ who remember includes the whole church, the church on earth and the church in heaven. We make our Eucharist with them, with the disciples in the upper room, with our Lord himself, present here to us as he was to them. At the end of the prayer, the elements are lifted high as a focus of Christ’s presence, and a bell is rung. Christ is here upon the altar, ready to give himself to us.
"When he had given thanks over it he broke it." The bread broken by the priest symbolises Christ’s body given for all of us that we might become one body, his body, here on earth. The bread is broken then the body and blood are given. .It is given to each of us as individuals, but it is given to us also as the worshipping community. It is not something private, just between us and God. The last supper was a communal meal. We come as the body of Christ, priest and people, deacons and Eucharistic ministers, each of us equal in God’s eyes. That which is given to us is holy and precious, whether it is given to us by priest or lay-person, male or female, robed or unrobed.
We therefore come to kneel or stand, to receive in faith, the body and blood of our Lord. Here, most of us kneel, but in the early church the posture for communion was standing. One of the reasons given for this was that it was a sign the people were God‘s children and not his slaves. As we receive the host, we may wish to follow the instructions given centuries ago by Cyril of Jerusalem, who said: ‘When you approach, make your left-hand a throne for your right, since it is to receive a king.’
For centuries, arguments have raged about what actually happens to the bread and the wine during the Eucharistic prayer. Does it physically become the body and blood or is it symbolic, a means of conveying Christ’s risen presence to us, and incorporating us with him? Or is it the manner in which we receive it which effects the transformation? Learned theologians have given their opinions; countless books have been written, but perhaps it is sufficient to accept in faith that which is simply a holy mystery. As for me, I just know that through this act, Christ gives himself to me. That is sufficient. The how and the why do not matter.
In 1981 there was a Eucharistic Conference at
‘The Eucharistic church, in making itself open to God’s gift, forms a people who are brothers and sisters, members of one another and in solidarity with the whole human race. It is not enough for us to be united among ourselves. Christ requires that we give tangible form around us to what he has given in the Eucharist. The bread which is shared makes us into a sharing people. In this way the Eucharistic community becomes a force for change in the world. It is not possible to be united with Christians and keep our distance from the hungry and thirsty, the strangers, the imprisoned, the sick. It is in the actual and concrete involvement of day to day life that the Eucharistic practice is borne out.’
These are words written by S John of the Cross, whose Feast we celebrate in the Church on December 14th.
We are all drawn, in some way, to people whose words, views, political or religious outlook is the same as our own. I am very drawn to those words of S. John of the Cross, not because it fits in with a nice understanding concerning the end of life, but because it challenges us to get our priorities right.
The words of S Paul of the Cross remind us that ultimately wealth, status, power, authority, most of the things we long for and hope for – these earthly achievements have no place in God’s great scheme of things. In God’s eyes the real question is not ‘how important am I’ or ‘what have I achieved’ or what position of power do I hold’ but ‘how much do I love?’ Love - not just by what we say with our mouths – but what is in our heart. How much is our Love for God shown in the way we treat others.
Each year when we celebrate the season of Advent it 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.
Recently a good number of people gathered for a service of prayer and meditation: the darkened Church the were lights 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. Reality can be frightening. We can often kid ourselves that we are more perfect than we really are, or that we are more caring than we really are. What matters most is not looking at our imperfections and weakness, dwelling on what is wrong; most importantly in God’s eyes is a desire to do better – a heart that is open to change and renewal. A fresh start.
On Saturday evening there will be a service of penance and reconciliation – an opportunity to reflect, to be still, to ask God for his mercy and forgiveness. At the end of the 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. We can sit at home, eat bread and drink wine, and remember the Last Supper – that’s not the same as sharing the Eucharist within the Christian Community. So too 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 a ideal time to make Confession of sins in preparation for Christmas.
We are often quick to judge others: I know I’ve told a little white lie, and I’ve done ‘x’ or ‘y’, but Mrs so-and-so down the road – now she really is a sinner!! It’s much easier to look at the faults of those around us and conveniently forget that in God’s eyes we are all sinners. He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone. We might think that we wouldn’t dream of throwing stones – but if we are honest they are sometimes there in our pockets, or within eye-sight, just in case we need to pick them up!
At the end of life we will be judged by life alone.
Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery – Jesus did not condemn (nor condone!) but rather want that occasion to be an opportunity for he to move on. She went away with God’s love. Confessing our sins to God helps us to do just the same – to move forward.
Some of you may recall the familiar words from the BCP “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us: but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
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. John the Baptist challenges us to repent and to change. Do we want to walk with God, or stand still?
THE SACRAMENT OF EXTREME UNCTION (the ‘last rites’)
Fr. Neil Kelley
In the middle of packing boxes, preparing
for my move from Kirkby to
The lady who called was terribly apologetic and sorry to have taken up my time! I explained that’s what we are there for – priests that is – and it was no trouble.
In the Ordinal (rite for Ordination) of the Alternative Service book, the duties of a priest are described thus:
“A priest is called by God to work with the bishop and with his fellow-priests, as servant and shepherd among the people to whom he is sent. He is to proclaim the word of the Lord, to call his hearers to repentance, and in Christ's name to absolve, and to declare the forgiveness of sins. He is to baptize, and prepare the baptized for Confirmation. He is to preside at the celebration of the Holy Communion. He is to lead his people in prayer and worship, to intercede for them, to bless them in the name of the Lord, and to teach and encourage by word and example. He is to minister to the sick, and prepare the dying for their death.”
Being with the dying is a privilege: commending them to the mercy of God is always moving. The purple stole worn by the priest (if there is one available) is a sign of our prayer for pardon and penitence. None of us leaves this world sinless – many of us far from it! We need to pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness for whatever sins we have committed through our human frailty. The colour purple signifies that need for penitence.
The dying person may wish to make a confession of specific sins and thus be assured of God’s healing and forgiveness. The priest has to handle this with sensitivity and tact.
Holy Oils have been used in the church for many centuries as a sign of the richness of God’s love and as a symbol of healing. In most dioceses one of the bishops blesses the oils on Maundy Thursday. Following traditional practice three oils are normally blessed – the oil for the anointing the sick, the oil for anointing at baptism and the oil of chrism, which may be used at Confirmation.
If the priest is to bless the oil himself this prayer may be used:
O Lord, Holy Father, giver of health and salvation,
Send your Holy Spirit to sanctify + this oil;
That, as your holy apostles anointed many that were sick and healed them,
So may those who in faith and repentance receive this holy unction be made whole;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There are many lovely prayer written for the time of death, one of them reads:
Go forth upon your journey from this world, O Christian soul,
In the name of God the Father almighty who created you;
In the name of Jesus Christ who suffered for you;
In the name of the Holy Spirit, who strengthens you;
In communion with Blessed Mary and all the saints,
And aided by angels and archangels, and all the armies of the heavenly host.
May your portion this day be in peace,
dwelling the heavenly
When so much of a priest’s time is taken up with administration and other tasks (which are not mentioned in the ordinal!) it is always a privilege to share in this special ministry and celebrate the ‘last rites’ of the Church as someone passes from this earthly life to God’s nearer presence.