Category: Easter

Go and bear fruit

Holy Trinity Church Hurstpierpoint
Sunday 9 May 2021, Easter 6 and Christian Aid Sunday
Acts 10.44-48 & John 15.9-17

Today is Christian Aid Sunday, the start of Christian Aid Week. Many of you will remember receiving of giving out envelopes as part of the annual fundraising campaign. Christian Aid was founded in 1945 by British and Irish churches to help refugees following the Second World War, and have supported poor communities worldwide ever since, not just by bringing practical relief, but also by campaigning for fairness and justice.

Currently, the main focus of their work is combatting our climate crisis and its consequences, as well as trying to protect the most vulnerable in the world against the devasting effects of the global pandemic. Their work is not party-political, but shows that to be a Christian is to care about those whose plight is greatest.

That brings us straight to our readings this morning. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles, in which we hear of the universality of God’s love; and the passage from John’s Gospel, part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, for me possibly one of the most moving parts of Scripture, so that is where I would like to start. 

The passage follows directly the reading we heard last week, in which Jesus spoke of the vine and its branches. Many scholars agree that these two readings are one unit, in which today’s passage is a commentary on what it means to be the branches of the true and living vine, what it means to abide in God’s love and how we do this. 

Jesus summons us firstly to keep his commandments: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (…) so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” These commandments are not there for God’s sake, but for ours. 

In an increasingly secular world, more and more people are astounded that people are still willing to commit to a religion and follow the laws that come with that. Why would you voluntary submit yourself to an authority who puts restrictions on your life? The answer lies in this passage: these commandments are not limiting our freedom, but they are here to make our joy complete, to set us free; free to bear fruit.

The greatest of these commandments, we hear once more today, is to love one another, as Christ has loved us. These words too challenge a modern, secular perception of religion: that it is all about trying to appease God, that we are here in Church trying to be ‘good’ people, so that God may love us. 

No, it is exactly the other way around: God’s love comes first, and we are asked to respond in love towards one another. There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s love for us, that love has already been given; God’s love is unconditional. All that we do is a response to that unconditional love: that is what it means to abide in Him.

This idea of our response, rather than our initiative resonates throughout today’s passage from John. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” – again, it is God’s initiative, our response. When I was training for ministry, this was the text that accompanied the icon in our Chapel, and as we prepared for our ordained life, we were asked to reflect on what it meant to bear fruit that will last. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

Before asking ourselves that question this morning, what does it mean for us to bear lasting fruit, I would like to come back to the fact that it is Christian Aid Sunday. Therefore, before looking at ourselves, I would like to think about what this question might mean for the women in Burkina Faso, for example, who risk their lives on a daily basis just to get clean water for their families and children? God chose her, as much as he chose you or me, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

Or how would these words be heard by the many children recently orphaned in India? How, amidst the pain, suffering and loss, do they hear God’s call? How will they be able to experience that complete joy of which we hear today?

Those are challenging questions, and I know that I am one of those people who doesn’t ask myself that question often enough. However, the only way in which we ourselves can bear fruit is by helping others to do the same. We cannot claim a life fully lived if we have forgotten those around us. We cannot claim that the global pandemic is over until everyone will be able to receive the vaccines and the treatments that are available to us. We cannot claim that we have solved the climate crisis, as long as others are still at risk of devastating droughts and floods, without access to clean water and food.

As Christians, we believe that each person is made in God’s image. That God’s unconditional love is given to each of us. “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles. “Even on the Gentiles”, those people so unlike those who were associated with a proper and good life; those people so unlike those with whom we share our lives. Even they have received that gift of the Holy Spirit, even they are appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

The risk of saying all these things is that we feel guilty about what we have and what others don’t. That we feel guilty when we receive a vaccine, or when we enjoy a lovely meal or a holiday abroad. Or that we get angry at those who seem to criticise our choices. But that’s going back to the idea that we deserve, or need to earn, what we have. Instead, what we need to realise is that all that we have, has been given to us in the first place. It is our response that matters.

Being able to give, being able to share is the privilege we have, we all have. But it looks different for each of us. The women in Burkina Faso, the children in India, the people of Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint, we have all got something to give, something to share. Our job is to find out what it is we have to give, as individuals, but also acknowledging our common humanity.

Giving is not about just putting some money in an envelope, although it can certainly be part of it. Giving may also be giving of our time and skill; giving something up so that someone else may have it. Sharing our experience and wisdom with the next generations: there are countless examples of how we can give. 

What they all have in common is that in that giving, we give something of ourselves: it makes a difference, not just to the recipient, but also to us. To go back to the image of the vine and its branches: in giving, in sharing, we allow ourselves to be pruned. Not by cutting into the living branches, but by finding out those that need to be cut for us to bear real, lasting fruit. That’s something we often only really find out when we try, when we take that step that comes at a cost. Only then can we be truly free and truly bear fruit and truly be the people God chose and made us to be.

Sheep or Shepherd?

Hurstpierpoint College Evensong
Friday 30 April
The Good Shepherd, John 10.11-16

The language and format of today’s service is a little different than many of the other Friday services we have had this year. It is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, which was finalised in its current form in 1662 and used in churches, chapels and cathedrals throughout England since. Its language can feel a bit archaic and you may find it hard to connect to these words.

But, when you think about it, there is something incredibly powerful about joining in words that have been used daily for over 350 years. Imagine just some of these occasions: the words we say and sing here today were said and sung during the years of the Great Plague in the 17th century; on the eve of the Great Fire in London; they were said and sung in 1918 at the end of the First World War, in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, and so on.

Not only were they used to mark significant moments in history, this service of Evensong has also been an opportunity to make a difference, to challenge the status quo. For example, at one such service money was raised in the 1950s for the Defence in the South African Treason Trials, in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were accused of treason. This service at St Paul’s Cathedral was attended by a crowd of about 4,000 people that evening.

For us, here at Hurst, Chapel is one of the two moments of the week that we come together as a whole Senior School – albeit not physically in one place at the moment, of which we are acutely aware. It is a moment to remind ourselves of each other at the end of a busy week. We are one of the few schools who are still able to do this: to come together as a whole community to pause and to reflect, particularly in a beautiful building as this.

One of the themes that has come through in a lot of conversations over the last few weeks is what do we still have in common? In other words, what does it mean to be diverse, inclusive, but also a community? We so often focus on our uniqueness and our differences, but we can forget how much we have in common. So, for a moment, I would like you to think what you have in common with the people sitting next to you.

The obvious thing, given our seating arrangements, is that you are in the same house. You go to the same school, and you are probably looking forward to the bank holiday weekend, waiting for this service to be over …

But there are other, far less superficial, things you have in common. You sometimes worry about whether you fit in; there are times when you feel that people don’t really like you as you are; you have said or done things that you regret; you sometimes feel really happy and you don’t know why; and you make mistakes. Those are all things that make us human beings; they make us who we are, and as you grow up you discover the difficulties and the happiness that come with that.

Growing up is not necessarily about making fewer mistakes, but about trying not to make the same mistake again and again. Having spent quite a lot of time on the tennis courts in the last few weeks, forgive me for using this as an example. When you keep hitting the ball in the net and you don’t change your stroke, nothing is going to happen and you will never win a game. However, when you do try to get it over by changing your technique, you may find that initially you start hitting it out by miles. But then, with enough practice, you manage to find the perfect serve and beat your opponent.

That still doesn’t mean you will win all your matches though. As you get better, you move up in the leagues, and your opponents get better too. No matter which sport, at which level, there is not a game without human error.

That applies to life too. As you go through life and get better, hopefully, in making good decisions, life starts throwing more difficult situations at you. When you were in the Pre-Prep, no one asked you to sit an exam; no TikTok, no Instagram, no (still illegal) parties. No one asked you to plan your time or to start thinking about decisions about your future. Relationships get more complicated as you grow up too; friendships start to change, and you start having to manage differences of opinions in new ways.

In addition, this year, we have all been thrown by the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, which has made all these things even more complicated. Now we are starting a new phase, in which we can start doing the things we enjoy again, but we need to relearn them. We got out of the habit of living and learning together, and in some ways that is where we have missed out on some time.

That means that now is the time in which we all need to commit to living together once more. To take our individual and collective responsibility in forming happy, healthy and good relationships. In the imagery of our reading today, the story of the Good Shepherd, now is the time to stop thinking of ourselves as lost sheep, but rather to start thinking of ourselves as shepherds. It is time to look out for each other, to give something of ourselves for those around us.

I’d like to finish with a question for you to take away, to think and maybe to talk about. What makes you you, and what makes you a Hurst pupil? What are our values and how are we going to live them out? And, as soon as we know the answer, how will we help each other to be the best possible version of ourselves?


Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves over the next few weeks as we come out of lockdown ­– hopefully for the last time – and resume, but also begin anew, our life together.

Early on the first day of the week

Sermon Easter Day 2021: John 20.1-18

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb … ” So begins the Easter story in John’s Gospel: a story of new beginnings, of universal hope and the victory of light over darkness. Something most of us are desperate to hear after the year we had. And so, we may feel, this Easter also marks a new beginning for us, as we begin to be carefully hopeful that the next few months may see a return to a more normal and freer life.

But of course, the Easter story doesn’t really start at the empty tomb. It starts much earlier: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The story had started even before time began. It is the story of God and of us, of God with us. It is something that is easily forgotten if our focus is too much on what is yet to come: our story is not one of yet to come, but one that already is, rooted in all that has gone before. 

The Easter story too is not one about other people, a fairy tale, a story with a message, to which we can listen, but it is our story; we are caught up in it. The miracle of Jesus’ Resurrection, his victory of life over death, became only fully real on Easter morning, when Mary proclaimed that she had seen the risen Lord. The Easter story gains it full importance through people living in the power of Christ’s risen life.

We all are part of the Easter in the story. By who we are and how we live, like Mary, our lives show that we have seen the Lord. That life doesn’t start when restrictions are lifted, but that life has already begun. 

Some may object that we are not like Mary,  or the disciples, nor would everyone want to be. Yet, I believe that if we live our lives fully, we may be more like them, than we first thought, as Mary’s encounter on the first Easter morning is not a bad template for a life fully lived. 

The first step, bringing us back to the beginning of the story we heard this morning, is to show up: early in the morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. So often, making a start is the hardest part. Whether that’s when you’re going for a run, starting a new term at school, or starting a new phase of life. But when we do, we often realise too that it wasn’t as difficult as we thought.

When we’ve made that first step, the next is that we need to question what we see, more often than not admitting our lack of understanding, and our need to learn. When Mary notices the empty tomb, she is confused and anxious: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

And with that lack of knowledge, we need to accept our vulnerability and our grief, the pain of what we don’t have. With Mary we may find ourselves weeping and finding it hard to see through our tears. It is something many of us have felt more acutely over the past year too, it is so hard when we don’t know and don’t understand what is happening, nor what it will mean for our future.

Despite her grief and tears, Mary still hears the voice of a stranger calling her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” I hope that many of us will recognise ourselves here too. Either reaching out to someone in pain, or remembering that moment when someone reached out to us. Someone familiar, or indeed a stranger, but someone calling our name when we needed it most. 

When we hear and dare to respond to that call, at that moment everything changes. What we thought we had lost, has now been fulfilled. The Easter story is not about returning to life as it was, life as we made it for ourselves. No, it is about realising that what we were promised is already here. Not necessarily the way we expected it to be, not without pain or loss, but never alone and never completely lost.

Mary returns to the disciples and announces: “I have seen the Lord!”. So we too, we cannot and must not keep those moments of profound insight to ourselves. Because this is not just my story, or your story, but our story: we are all caught up in this together. Maybe that is one of the things that we have learned more acutely in the past year: that we depend on one another and our actions are not just our own.

So my hope and my prayer this Easter is that, with Mary, we also can say that we have seen the Lord. Not that we will see Him on the 21st June, or on whichever date we have set our hopes, but that He is here. Risen for us and present with us: from beginning to end. Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Amen. 

The way to freedom

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7.55-60 & John 14.1-14

We have been adjusting to a new and unfamiliar way of life now for almost two months. We have come to realise the things we miss, and our hopes for the future. The news in these past few weeks has focussed almost solely on Covid-19, and I do wonder if we are indeed focussing too much on ourselves, but I will come back to this later.

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The one day on which the news here in the UK was different, was last Friday: VE or Victory in Europe Day. I suspect a particularly poignant day for those of you who remember the first VE Day: Churchill’s memorable speech and street parties throughout the country. The question in how far the Church should be involved in civic celebrations such as VE Day and Remembrance Day has always been a topic of conversation, as there is a wide range of opinions on the relationship between our faith and armed conflict.

Continue reading “The way to freedom”

The familiar voice

Reflection on the story of the Good Shepherd
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 23 & John 1.1-10

Our readings this morning make us reflect on God in the familiar image of the Good Shepherd. Although not many of us still live in a place where shepherding is a common profession, the Biblical stories have become very much part of our Western narrative, even for those who would not call themselves Christians.

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That of course comes with its risks, because the way we imagine a shepherd nowadays, will have been very different from what they may have looked and behaved like two millennia ago. However, I don’t want to dwell on that thought too much, but rather share a story that made me think of the Good Shepherd a few weeks ago. I was out on my daily round of exercise on Granham Hill, just around the corner from where I live. Usually there are sheep roaming around at a distance, and the only interaction between them and me is a curious look at one another.

However, on this particular day, one of the sheep was stuck in some barbed wire. Being reminded of my pastoral profession, I felt a duty to see if there was anything I could do. Slowly I approached the sheep, at the same time not trying to scare it as well as thinking how I would go about freeing it. Whilst I was still at a good distance, the sheep was so shocked by my appearance, that this in itself was enough for it to free itself, and quickly it ran away.

Continue reading “The familiar voice”

Taking bread

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24.13-35

EmmausThe beautiful and intimate story that we hear in Luke’s Gospel this morning brings us back to the first Easter Day. On the same day as the women discovered the empty tomb, two of the disciples are on their way to a village called Emmaus, which is a good two hours walk.

As we can imagine, they are discussing the events of the past days. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, their hope that Jesus would now show himself to be the Saviour he had told them to be. But then, his capture, condemnation and crucifixion; and now the empty tomb. They are trying to make sense of it all, but I suspect without much success.

This intimate setting of just two people walking and discussing together is one with which we may have become familiar in the last few weeks as well. If we are in a household with more than one person, we too may have had similar walks: discussing the current events and how to make sense of them. Or we may have had these conversations on the phone, or two meters apart in the queue to Waitrose or on our daily round of exercise. In whichever setting, I am sure that we too have found ourselves sad, bereft and anxious, just like these two disciples on the road.

Continue reading “Taking bread”

The doors are locked

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31

IMG_1366This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.

We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.

Continue reading “The doors are locked”

It makes all the difference

A reflection for Easter Day
John 20.1-18

It is Easter morning, and the first words on our lips are ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’. We then look at the news, in the hope to find the world a different place; a place in which we had never heard about Covid-19, and we felt safe and secure. Yet, we wake up to the same reality as yesterday: what we had wished to be a dream from which we wake, is the world in which we live.

IMG_0631Yet, today, everything is different, although it may not seem so. To understand, let’s look at the story of Mary, one of the most moving stories in the Bible. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary goes to the tomb where they had laid Jesus a couple of days earlier. She is on her own, and I wonder what she is looking and hoping for? Is she hoping that by visiting the grave, she will wake up from this nightmare, and realise Jesus is still there?

Continue reading “It makes all the difference”

Thy Kingdom Come 2019

Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 2nd June 2019
Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost

tkcThis year is the third year in which Churches throughout the world are joining in an initiative called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. It started in 2016 as an invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to use the eleven days between Ascension Day and Pentecost as a time to renew our commitment to prayer. Since then, the initiative has grown into a worldwide, ecumenical movement with Churches from over 65 different denominations in 114 countries around the world. One can wonder of course if it is a good thing to even have 65 different denominations, but it shows the scale of the movement.

Traditionally, Christians have focussed on the renewal of prayer during the time between Ascension and Pentecost, following the example of the first disciples. As it is written in the first chapter of the book of Acts: [After the Ascension, the disciples] “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” Prayer has been at the heart of the Christian Church since the earliest days.

Continue reading “Thy Kingdom Come 2019”

The Road to Emmaus: Companionship

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them.” A third reflection on the nature of friendship, looking at the importance of sharing our experiences.

One of the first things one learns when undertaking any pastoral training, is never to say “I know what you are feeling”. None of us know what someone else feels, particularly not when they have experienced something we have not. However, I suspect many of us have also been in situations when we did have the sense that the other knew what we felt, and were indeed much comforted by this experience.

Emmaus

In those conversations, our experience mirrors the encounter between Cleopas and the other disciple as they are on their way to the village called Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). It is the day of the Resurrection as they are discussing everything that has happened in the last few days. Presumably still scarred by the reality of the Crucifixion, the two disciples are trying to make sense of the events and seek their significance. Continue reading “The Road to Emmaus: Companionship”