Thursday 21 May 2020
Happy Ascension Day!
I know that’s caught at least a few of you off-guard.
But today is a day of celebration, as we mark – quite literally – the crowning moment in God’s work of salvation. Ephesians chapter 4 verse 10 captures it well:
He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.
This is Jesus. He has “ascended higher than all the heavens” – that is, come to occupy the very highest place. He has ‘filled the whole universe’ – that is, come to occupy the very highest position.
When something has been filled, there’s no longer room for anything else. When a vacant position has been filled, there’s no longer room for anyone else.
That’s the sense in which Jesus now fills the whole universe. He occupies the place and position of highest power and authority. And there is no room for any rivals.
Is this good news? Yes. Let me give you just two reasons why…
First, this means this universe is not subject to random impersonal forces or to some merely faceless deity. This universe is secure in the hands of this God who now forever reigns as a truly human being.
Second, this means our lives are not subject to the hidden agenda or suspect ulterior motives of some unknown tyrant. Our lives are secure in the hands of this known God who has irreversibly committed himself to us, who now forever reigns as one of us – representing our very best interests.
So, today: Hang out the bunting and raise a glass – as coronation days don’t come better than this.
Friday 17 April 2020
Christ is risen!
This Easter I am reminded that, consciously or unconsciously, all of us are living out a story. If you are the eccentric type, that story may be deeply unique to you. If you are the “go with the crowd” type, that story will be the one most common in your time and place.
Either way, there’s no escaping it: all of us are living out one story or another.
Now, by ‘story’ I do not mean fiction. Everybody’s story is very real. By ‘story’ I mean the narrative which provides the interpretive framework by which we construct meaning for our lives. It is this narrative which enables each of us to say with confidence “This is who I am!” and serves to justify the way we live.
All of these stories – the secular and the religious ones – all have this in common: No matter how high their aspirations, they all end the same way. They all fail. They all end in ashes. However impressive the improvisation, in every instance the story is met with a resounding “No!”
For every person living out every story that this world has to offer, their epitaph reads: they lived and they died. Full stop.
On Good Friday and on Holy Saturday it seemed that this could also be said of the story that Jesus was living out. It failed him. It ended in ashes.
But then comes Easter Sunday.
It is not now enough to say that Jesus lived and died. We must also say Jesus died and lived.
You see, the story Jesus was living out is altogether different. In contrast to all other stories, this is the story which succeeds. It does not end in ashes. This story alone is met with a resounding “Yes!”
Success versus failure. Or, better, true versus false.
Easter Sunday tells us that, alone among every possible story, Jesus’ story is the true one.
Our own stories are real – but false. Who am I? These stories can never tell me who I truly am.
Uniquely Jesus’ story is both real and true. Who are you? This story alone can tell you who you truly are.
On Easter Sunday it is traditional to greet one another with the acclamation “Christ is risen!” to which the response is “He is risen, indeed”. It is a great way of spreading the good news. But our Queen’s English perhaps lets us down when we say, ‘He is risen, indeed’. The force of the response is “Truly he is risen”. Truly. In truth. This is truth.
So, as we celebrate this Easter, may knowing this help us to change narrative: May we be led out of our false stories and led further into this the one true story. For truly, Christ is risen.
Wednesday 18 March 2020
As the national response to COVID-19 continues to escalate, you may be aware that the Church of England has made the decision to suspend public worship services until further notice. In addition, the latest government advice means that meeting together in ‘Engage Groups’ or smaller gatherings is not possible face-to-face.
This does not mean that the ministry of our church now stops. But ministry will look significantly different.
It is vital that we continue to meet together around God’s word, albeit as a scattered church instead of a gathered one. We are exploring a number of ‘virtual’ ways of doing this. Although we have to practice physical distancing it is important that we remain socially connected – and today’s tech enables us to do that so much better than ever before.
I encourage you to join in with the livestream that will take place on Sunday mornings at 11:30am. This coming Sunday our Rector, Hugh Palmer, will be speaking on ‘What is God saying through the virus?’ This can be accessed via allsouls.org/watch. The intention is to make a variety of content and resources available, once we have found our stride.
It is helpful to remember that what joins us together as Christians is the one Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, who indwells each of us. Although apart in body, we are together in spirit.
The church is no stranger to this kind of situation. Historically, the church has displayed tremendous faith and courage in the face of pandemics. The ability of Christians to not panic whilst in the shadow of death and their willingness to stay in the city and care for the sick became a powerful witness to the pagan world – and it can do so again.
Our Archbishops’ are urging us to become a different sort of church in these coming months: hopeful and rooted in the offering of prayer and praise and overflowing in service to the world. May we have the courage to step forward and take the opportunities which present themselves to us. With that in mind, a day of prayer and action has been called for this coming Sunday – 22nd March. I will be in touch again with ideas on how we can engage with this.
At a time such as this, we can more fully appreciate why the Heidelberg Catechism begins as it does…
Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
We can trust God with our life. We can trust God with our death. Lets be helping others do the same.