ST MARY & ST CHAD LONGTON
THE TRIDUUM 1992
If someone asked me what was the real difference about the Christian Faith which separated it from the 20th Century secular mind or Buddhism or Islam, I think I would invite him to attend the services at a Church like St Mary & St Chad on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week.
Not that he would necessarily understand or even like what he would hear and see. But it would answer as clearly as anything else the question "What's the difference?"
For the Liturgy of the Three Days or Triduum proclaims more clearly and distinctly what Christians believe than could be expressed in thousands and thousands of words.
Remember, thousands and thousands of words have been and are still being, written about the central mystery of our faith, so that our understanding of it is constantly changing and growing. But the actions, the things we do, remain very much the same over the years, which suggests that the truth which lies behind the actions does not change.
To help you remember the ideas which each of these days express I have chosen to make them begin with one letter of the alphabet. And to-day, Maundy Thursday, I have decided to call S-Day.
S-Day because is about Sacrifice. Sacrifice is a work almost unknown to modern man; or if he does know it, he connects it with the idea of suffering some irreplaceable loss. "Fireman Jones sacrificed his life to save a child from a blazing house". "Mary Smith sacrificed her career at the Bank in order to care for her young family."
Now, I'm not saying that's altogether a wrong use of the word sacrifice; but it is a misleading one. For to sacrifice is to make something holy by surrendering it to God (there's another S-word). there's no reason to suppose that God will never five it back to us. Just like when we Submit ourselves or our property into the hands of someone who is going to make us or it better (whether it's the Surgeon or the mender of Sewing Machines) we do so in the belief that what will be given back to use will be something far better than we surrendered.
Jesus sacrificed himself, submitting to the power of him who could save him. As part of this submission he took upon himself the form of a servant. He showed forth his love by stripping off his glory and taking a basin and washing the feet of his disciples. "In that", he said "I am giving you an example to follow, a sign of how you should behave towards one another. Let him who would be foremost among you become your servant.
Then he took bread and wine, sharing in sacramental form the manner in
which he was going to sanctify himself for their sakes. And later still, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he submitted himself perfectly to the will of his heavenly Father, and (because that proved indeed to be what his Father's will consisted in) into the hands of his enemies to do with him as they would.
Now I would put it to you that most, if not all, these S-words are very very foreign to modern secular man: Sacrifice, submission, servant, subjection surrender, sanctify, sacrament, sign and symbol all lie right outside most people's thinking.
Modern man is taught on the contrary to think in terms of satisfaction, security, self-fulfilment, stability and success. Not exactly what Jesus Christ had to offer his followers on Maundy Thursday.
The Way of the Cross, which we are trying to follow these three days, appears to offer modern man none of the things he is seeking. it's hardly surprising, then that so few modern men want to look any closer at it than the very superficial view that can be gained at a safe distance. From a safe distance it looks as if being a Christian has something to do with Social concern and Saving the world for future generations.
Well, it does have to do with Saving the World but not in the sense that most people understand the phrase; and it does have to do with Social concern but not as an end in itself.
Christianity is about the way in which God, through Jesus Christ saved and saves individual men and women from their own sinful nature. In the process it saves the world; it also incidentally provides a social framework (the Church) in which that salvation can take place.
But neither the Church nor the World is an end in itself. the people whom Jesus died to save were called Peter, James, John, Philip and Nathaniel; and of course he died for the people of SS Mary & Chad, Longton, Staffordshire.
ST MARY & ST CHAD LONGTON
THE TRIDUUM 1992
Yesterday we were explaining to our 20th Century Secular Staffordshire man the difference between the Christian faith and his so-called beliefs.
We invited him to come to the services on these three days to watch what happens, on the principle that "actions speak louder than words". and as far as possible, I made all the important words I used begin with the letter S. So Maundy Thursday was S-Day.
To-day, Good Friday, I will call "A-Day" And the first thing I think our Secular Staffordshire Man would notice is how bare and naked the church looks, and looking around for something beginning with A we naturally think of the Altar.
And then if you cast your mind back to the very beginning of the Bible, the book of Genesis, you will remember that there was a time when the first man Adam walked about in naked innocence and he was not ashamed of it.
Then Adam sinned and everything went wrong. He became ashamed of his nakedness; he tried to hide away from God.; and he began the process of clothing himself with an Apron of fig-leaves, excuses or Apologies.
I can't say I've ever tried wearing an apron of fig-leaves myself, but I don't imagine they are very effective at covering things up; what I do know is that the sort of excuses or apologies that I make, generally deceive nobody except myself Ä they are made of real see through material.
A for Altar, Adam, Ashamed, Apologies Then we need to speak about Atonement
The liturgy today reminds us how When all was sin and shame] A second Adam to the fight And to the rescue came.
...flesh and blood, Which did in Adam fail should strive afresh against the foe Should strive and should prevail.
That Second Adam is of course our Lord Jesus Christ who Ascended the Altar of the Cross to make Atonement Ä At-one-ment Ä between man and God. God, in Christ, reconciled )or "made at-one, Atoned) the world and himself.
the Greeks had a word for this process which also begins with A. They
called it Ana-kephaliosis. Since that's a bit of a mouthful for our Staffordshire Secular Man let us translate it as "Add-it-All-up-Again"
If you work in Accounts you will know that Reconciliation literally means this. It means taking two columns of figures which should add up to the same amount but which don't, and going through the whole addition process again to see where the mistake is.
Then you have to admit that the mistake has been made, Accept or Acknowledge responsibility for it, and make the necessary Amendment to it in order that the two columns of figures may be At-oned or made-at one with each other. Then and only then can the error or gap between what is and what should be become Absolved or wiped way Ä treated as if it had never been.
But here lies the real snag. supposing that the bad addition, the faulty accountancy has been going on for ages and ages ever since the first Adam in fact. Doesn't that mean that the Company accounts are in one hell of a mess? And doesn't it mean that the Accountants, Adam & Co. (which of course includes you and me) have been quietly fiddling the books over the years in the hope than nobody will notice that things have gone wrong?; and that the Company whose books we have been falsifying (let's call it Almighty God & Co. Unlimited) have been cheated out of millions and millions of pounds?
It means in fact that the whole created world which the Staffordshire Secular man inhabits and which he would like to believe is "doing quite nicely, thank you" is in fact totally bankrupt and insolvent.
There was and there is only one way in which such a debt could be paid off, and that is by God Himself.
..He in flesh, our flesh who made Our sentence bore, our ransom paid"
On the Cross on Good Friday, god himself "paid the price of sin".
On whose dear arms so widely flung The weight of this world's ransom hung The price of humankind to pay And spoil the spoiler of his prey"
"Upon whose arms in balance true He weighed the price for sinners due"
I'm afraid that the Staffordshire Secular man has got to be allowed to do some hard thinking at this point; the world as it is seen in the light of Good Friday is so utterly different from what he supposed it to be that he will need time to take it all in.
But you and I need to do some quite hard thinking also.
Are we prepared to Admit that we got our Adding-up wrong: do we accept that our Apologies are not better than Adam's? Do we realist that the Second Adam Ascended the Altar of the Cross to make Atonement?; that is was only by his going through on our behalf the Add-it-All-up-Again process by his life of perfect accord with the will of the Father that the mistakes of the past could be Absolved or wiped away?
Good Friday then is A-Day It needs to be said with the utmost seriousness that if any one of us is aware of wrongs we have done and never admitted until today, that we should avail ourselves of the sacrament of absolution.
After the liturgy today Fr Lantsbury and I will both be available to hear confessions and to give advice and absolution to anyone who requires it. In case it makes any difference I will tell you that I made my confession on Tuesday just before coming up here..
If Good Friday is to be truly an A-Day for you then let it include the ministry of Absolution.
ST MARY & ST CHAD LONGTON
THE TRIDUUM 1992
As a framework for these addresses I have been using our imaginary Staffordshire Secular Man.
He thought he knew what the Christian Faith was all about ` he supposed it to be a programme for a mild sort of social reform, politically pale pink with green stripes in it, with a bit of other worldly piety thrown in on the side. A form of Recreation if you like: a choice to be make on Sundays between playing golf, going to the seaside or attending Church. Take your pick!
Poor fellow! We invited him to come to the service on these three days at SS Mary and Chad and as a result his preconceptions about the Christian Faith all got turned upside down!
Thursday was S-day; Friday was A-Day; Easter I shall call R-Day.
R stands for Radiance or Radiation. when we lit that fire a few minutes ago each of us was aware of two things which came from it Ä light and heat. If you remember your phyusics at school you will know that the principal way that light and heat are communicated is by Radiation.
Light means being able to see and heat means energy or being able to get things working. So Radiance is a convenient term for the enlightenment and power which come to us from the Resurrection.
It is a grave mistake to suppose that we are helping Staffordshire Secular Man by saying that it doesn't matter if the Resurrection happened or not.
On the contrary, it makes all the difference. What restored the faith of the first apostles was not the conviction that they were meant to be good boys and build a new worked fit for other good boys to live in Ä that sort of idea simply didn't occur to anyone for another 1900 years when it caught on like wildfire with the arrival and spread of the Railways. As it happens, I have a certain respect for British Rail. But I certainly don't imagine that they hold the key to man 's salvation. One man who rose from the dead gives me far more grounds of hope than any number of InterCitys running to schedule.
Because they saw and handled the Risen Christ the Apostles faith was restored. But they had to be taught to recognize him in another form Ä the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. For reasons we can only guess, it was essential that his bodily presence should only be with us until the Ascension.
Why this was necessary seems to have something to do with what is called Reachout. If the Resurrected body of Jesus had kept on appearing here and there in the world as it did during the Forty Days, it would have quickly become a handicap rather than a help to the work
the apostles were called to do. Everyone would have been arguing as to whether it was the Real Jesus or not; and human nature being what it is people would have started claiming that their sighting of Jesus was better than someone else's. I can just imagine people saying that whilst the Staffordshire Sighting lasted for 10 minutes, the Shropshire on only lasted eight; and whilst only a handful of people were privileged to see them, the Sheffield vision was seen by "more than 500 brethren at once"
Do you see why the Reachout could never have happened in this way. It had to take the form of individual personal witness which is symbolised for us by the lighting of candles from the single flame as we did a few minutes ago.
A living flame is the one thing you can share without having any less of it as a result. From one source a whole building can become full of light. And this brings us to our final R-word Recreation.
You remember what our Staffordshire Secular man thinks is meant by the word Recreation? he thinks it only describes what people do with their leisure time: play golf or football; make model aeroplanes or climb mountains.
In fact the word Recreation refers in the first place not to these activities themselves but to the effect they have on those who take part in them. They are Re-created.
Turn back to the first verse of the Bible. "In the beginning God created . . "
In the Second Beginning which started with the Incarnation, God began a new creation. In the old creation he first made the light; in the new creation he became incarnate as the Light of the World.
So the Staffordshire Secular Man is not wholly wrong in seeing the Christian Faith as a form of Recreation. where he is quite wrong is when he supposed that it is no more than something we choose to do with our leisure time.
In the power of the Risen Christ by the Radiance which he bestows upon us, we have been accepted by God as his fellow-workers in the process of the Re-creation of the Universe.
Let me end by reading again the collect which comes after the second reading today for it sums up what the Faith is really all about.
"Almighty and Eternal God, you created all things in wonderful beauty and order. Help us now to perceive how still more wonderful is the new creation by which in the fullness of time you redeemed your people through the sacrifice of our Passover, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
ST MARY & ST CHAD LONGTON
THE TRIDUUM 1992
this week we have been hearing readings from both St John & St Luke's gospel. This morning I want to take an idea from each of them to show how it illuminates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
St John tells us that the accusation set up by Pontius Pilate over the cross of Jesus "This is the King of the Jews was written in three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin
Now there would have been nothing very remarkable about that if Jesus Christ had just been an ordinary person.
After all, plenty of ordinary people have suffered similar fates in the course of history, especially in the Middle East. men and women have been unjustly punished, imprisoned or killed for things of which they were completely innocent. Terry Waite is just one recent example.
But if we believe that Jesus Christ is God himself, taking upon himself our nature in order that he might save mankind and reconcile the world to himself then those little details like the words over the cross may contain important clues about the way in which he has chosen to work his purposes out.
For instance, why did God choose that particular moment a place at which to intervene so decisively in the affairs of man?
Well, it may have been because that was a crossroads of history when three distinct civilisations had, as it were, met together, to provide an opportunity for action which would never happen again.
The Roman, or Latin, community in the form of the Roman Empire, provided a period of peace unknown for may years. Thirty years before the Incarnation there were wars going on everywhere; thirty years after the crucifixion there were wars happening everywhere again, particularly in Palestine and the Middle East. But for a period of just about 100 years at the most there was a quite unprecedented opportunity to travel in safety.
This was helped of course by the Roman programme of road building and the policy of keeping the seas clear of pirates and the mountains of brigands; for the first and last time for many years it was possible to travel almost anywhere in safety. It may not have been very comfortable but it was reasonably quick. And, as St Paul was soon to discover, to hold the passport of Roman citizenship could make all the difference to being lynched or not.
Then there were the Hebrews. It was just about the time of the Incarnation that they had realized not only that there was really only one God and that he was the Creator of heaven and earth; they also began to tumble to the fact that it was at least on the cards that he must have some plan for the salvation of the world and not only for
the Jewish people. Of course that was not an entirely new idea. Prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel had already begun thinking along those lines. But it was only in the time of the Incarnation that the idea had really begun to catch on.
Of course like all new ideas it was too novel to be widely accepted Ä the notion that it was only the Jews who mattered or who could be saved was widely taken for granted still. Nevertheless the latter opinion was beginning to come apart at the seams as men travelled more, talked to their pagan neighbours and began to see that there were good people living outside the Jewish community.
Thirdly there were the Greeks who provided everyone with a universal language. By the time of Jesus more or less everyone could "get by" in Greek; which meant of course that if you had something to communicate there had never been a better time for doing so; two or three hundred years later again it wouldn't have been nearly so easy as the Roman Empire disintegrated, the legions went back home and darkness descended.
So the conditions were, it seems, quite ideal, for God's great and decisive intervention in the world which he had created and now intended to redeem.
The importance of St Luke's Gospel (which we read as the gospel last night) lies in the fact that he tells us not only about Part One of what happened from the time of the Incarnation to the Resurrection; he also (in the Acts of the Apostles which forms Part Two of his writings tells us what happened during the next thirty years. And Luke's declared intention (in the Preface to Part One, the Gospel according to St Luke) is "as one who has gone over the whole course of these events in detail [the earthly life of Jesus] and has decided to write a connected narrative so as to give a more accurate account of what actually happened".
Luke, in other words, is not claiming (as St John does) to be an eye witness to the events of Jesus's life, because he only became involved as a result of his meeting with St Paul some 15 years later.
What he does claim to be, however is a researcher and historian. Luke patiently asked questions of everyone who had been involved with Jesus; he noted down their answers, checked for inconsistencies, and then passed everything he discovered on to St Paul. And from what we know (again via St Luke) the basis of St Paul's preaching was Jesus and the Resurrection.
It is to St Luke alone that we owe the account of the walk to Emmaus, the recognising of Jesus in the breaking of bread, his sudden disappearance; the quick dash back to Jerusalem only to discover that Jesus had already appeared there as well to Simon.; and whilst they were excitedly chattering and exchanging news about it all, suddenly there was Jesus. They thought at first that he was a ghost. then he invited them to touch him and asked to be given something to eat. that detail must surely have come from one whose medical training and discipline had taught him to observe. Little things like that which had become forgotten over the years when the story of Jesus Christ was handed down verbally were patiently rescued and recorded for us by St Luke.
These last three days we have been dealing with our imaginary Staffordshire Secular Man, and I suggested the best way of introducing him to the faith was to invite him to see what went on at SS Mary & Chad during the Triduum.
Well, supposing he stuck the course, I think I would next suggest that the should read the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel According to St Luke (in that order) and then perhaps that he should read the first chapter of St John's Gospel.
My reason for suggesting this has something to do with the letters which we have been using to help us remember the events of Holy Week. We had S for Maundy Thursday, A for Good Friday and R for Holy Saturday.
Today's letter I suggest should be X which as the Greek letter Chi stands for Christ. Joining all these letters together gives us the word SARX which is the Greek word for flesh.
For the events which John and Luke describe for us are not the story of a young man who came to a tragic end 2000 years ago in the Middle East. if that was all it was about it could be paralleled by many other stories, equally if not more tragic in our own day. You only have to pick up a newspaper to see what I mean.
But the events are on the contrary about how God intervened decisively in the course of human history at a particular time and place, perhaps choosing that time and place for the reasons which I suggested.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us is how St John describes it; he was crucified died and was buried; he was raised from the dead and was seen and handled by many (including St John); and thanks to the coming together of the Roman Peace, the Greek Language and Jewish monotheism the news of his resurrection spread like wildfire throughout the known world and was believed by thousands of people of all nations.
At that particular crossroads of history those three civilisations, the Latin, the Hebrew and the Greek all conspired together to produce exactly the right conditions for the faith to grow and flourish.
St Luke and St John didn't suppose it to be a coincidence. Nor for that matter do I!.
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