January – Epiphany

2018 is Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary. Year B is the year of the Gospel of Mark, interrupted and supplemented by the Gospel of John. Although the Church of England introduces its own idiosyncratic variations and so does not always follow the RCL, this is the Lectionary of the Church of England. Here are some notes on themes that arise from the four sets of readings for each month.  I have missed Advent, so I’ll start with January and Epiphany.

Epiphany of the Lord January 6, 2018

Isaiah 60:1-6            Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14   Ephesians 3:1-12    Matthew 2:1-12

When they saw that the star had stopped they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and they knelt down and paid him homage.

Baptism of the Lord  January 7, 2018  First Sunday after the Epiphany

Genesis 1:1-5           Psalm 29      Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11    When Jesus had been baptised he came up from the water. Suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God (and thus the army of the Lord, moving up and down the road) descending like a dove. ‘This is my Son, the beloved’. The first reading is Genesis 1 – the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. (The RCL gives us ‘a wind from God swept over the face of the waters’). The psalm is psalm 29 – ‘The Lord sits enthroned above the flood… The voice of the Lord is upon the waters’. The waters are those forces of creation that sometimes become unruly. When they surge up wildly and threaten us, a word from the Lord subdues them and they become peaceful again. The promise of the Lord is that they will never again threaten creation. Yet the unruliness of man, and hid failure to act as good lieutenant does result in creation becoming violent and chaotic.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany    January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)    Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18     1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51  You will see greater things you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man

Third Sunday after the Epiphany    January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10        Psalm 62:5-12          1 Corinthians 7:29-31              (RCL) Mark 1:14-20)

John 2.1-11    Wedding at Cana

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany   January 28, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20           Psalm 111           1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28  In the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. What have you to so with us, have you come to destroy us? It threw him into convulsions and crying with loud voice, came out of him… Who is this who commands even unclean spirits?

Candlemas – Presentation of the Lord in the Temple   February 2, 2018

Malachi 3:1-4           Psalm 84 or Psalm 24:7-10       Hebrews 2:14-18

Luke 2:22-40   Simeon and Anna


Epiphany means ‘revelation’. The revelation of the Lord goes on through the year. It starts at Advent at the beginning of the Church year, and then when the Lord appears at his nativity, in the manger in the stable. But first Epiphany is the moment when the Wise Men come to do him homage and so reveal his royal identity to us. This child is our King. The Epiphany continues in his presentation in the temple at Candlemas (2 Feb), and again when (in Luke 2) when the twelve year old boy is taken up to the temple for Passover, and is found among the teachers of the law are gathered around while the young Jesus is sitting in the middle.

The Lord is recognised, brought to the front and lifted up with his parents, by those waiting for him in the temple. Every Christian service is a presentation of our work before the Lord and before the world. There the Lord, and everyone else, will see it for what it is. There is a presentation in the temple, and it us who are being presented. Christ presents us to his Father, and the Father receives us from him. And we also lift each other up and present one another to the Lord. This is part of the process of our sanctification, and will be its climax too.

The Revelation – epiphany – of the Lord continues every Sunday when the Gospel is read. The Lord reveals himself, instalment by instalment. From Pentecost the Lord prepares and reveals his Body through the ministry of the Apostles and on through all subsequent generations of the Church, down to us.  The Epiphany continues through the ministry and increasingly through the passion of the Lord which we follow in Lent. It makes itself bright for a moment in the Transfiguration which we read in Lent and again in the summer. All these scenes appear because people cluster round the Lord, so we see the Lord at the centre and all the others, the Marys, the disciples, the sick, the teachers of the law, around him. As they look at him, they frame him for us, so we can identify him. Some of these scenes are displayed in the images in our church windows. We see the Lord at the centre in the last supper and the disciples around him. All these are epiphanies. All these people, though they did not intend to, reveal the identity of the Lord – even Judas and Herod and Pilate, even the two thieves on crosses on either side, and the guards on duty outside the tomb. When the stone is rolled back, and Jesus is gone, yet there are two angels sitting at either end of the tomb, framing the place that could not contain him.

Where we see the Lord, we usually see three figures. We see the Lord and we see a figure on his right and on his left, looking inwards towards him. Their job is to frame the Lord, so we can see who he is. They are there for our benefit. There may be groups of witnesses framing him: the nativity scene fills up with Mary and Joseph, animals, shepherds, angels and kings, all looking in towards the Lord, leading our eyes inwards so that our gaze comes at last to him. They do this for us. And we do this for others. We stand on one side or the other, gazing and adoring, so that our orientation draws other people in to see Jesus and to realise who he is. We are witnesses because we frame the view with our bodies, and draw people toward him with our voices and songs. We do this whenever we worship together in church. But this becomes obvious, when we take that worship out with us into our public spaces, and stand before the Lord, by our bodies drawing the gaze of the world. We draw their gaze away from the grotesque spectacles displayed on screens and in shops, and towards the true spectacle, the true scene, the epiphany of the Lord with his people.

We are the body of Christ, and as Christ’s body, we are the present form of the revelation of the Lord. He shows us to them, in the hope that they will join us and become members of this body, and so become the Lord’s epiphany to the world. We are the body of Christ. We are the first instalment, the dark, still dirty, body but nonetheless the body that will be glorious, and is now being made glorified through all these confrontations and suffering.

The Epiphany we see before us

Anyone who comes into a church should be able to see the cross straightaway. The cross should always be in front of us when we worship the Lord, because it is the basic identifier of which lord it is that we are worshipping. We worship the Lord who was crucified. With this sign we indicate that we worship this Lord because, though he allowed us to do our utmost against him, we have not been able to break his commitment to us. We see the altar or table on which the bread and cup are set at Eucharist, and which have candles on either side of them. We should see may only see the screen on which the words of our worship songs are displayed. But at various times of the year we see a prepared scene. At Christmas we see the nativity scene of the stable, with the figures of the status, working in from the outside, we see, angels, ox and ass, and shepherds and a lamb, Joseph and Mary and at the centre the infant Jesus. But at various points of the year we also take these scenes outside with us so they become visible to our fellow townspeople. We take the nativity scene of stable and manger out into our town centre in the days running up to Christmas, and then take out the Wise men so it becomes the Epiphany scene. In the same way in Holy Week we will follow the stations of the cross, in church or in some public space, and so we follow the steps of the Lord’s passion publicly, so anyone in our town can see and follow too.  At Easter itself we may set up some form of Easter garden, which will frame the cross and the tomb before which the action takes place. This passion and crucifixion are all signs and demonstrations that he is a king, and is our King, and they are demonstrations that we cannot break his power, that he will exercise his power for us, for our salvation, in order to make us his, so that we may be the people of his kingdom.

VIGIL 2016 Prayers 1

O Lord open thou our lips  –   And our mouths shall shew forth thy praise

O God make speed to save us –  O Lord make haste to help us

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end amen

Praise Ye the Lord –  The Lord’s name be praised.

For many centuries, Christians have prayed in this place, for themselves, for their neighbours and for the world, and they have stood here as a witness to this city and to the whole nation. As long as Christians have done this, the country has prospered and been at peace. So we meet here under the eyes of the saints of this cathedral and hope to pass on the whole blessing of the gospel to our nation. As long as we remain faithful, this country will continue to prosper and be at peace.

At this time of year, at Lent, we prepare to follow the passion of our Lord. During this fast we take up the discipline of prayer and penitence. We intercede and we repent. With the words of God we speak to the world, and with the prayers of the world we speak to God. We say whatever should have been said, but has not been, and we repent on behalf of all those so caught in sin that they are not yet able to repent for themselves. We speak for them as well as for ourselves.

We pray in particular for our public servants. We pray that God would give them confidence in their office and in the authority given to them to carry it out. We pray that they would uphold the law, and protect the nation from all attempts to impose other laws and ideologies. We pray that they will uphold the law and perform their office with a respect and affection for the whole people of this country, not despising any, but working truly for the common good.

Continue reading “VIGIL 2016 Prayers 1”

Eucharist – What does taking part in the Eucharist mean to me?

In the Eucharist we come into the presence of the Lord and all his redeemed creatures.

In the Eucharist God comes to us, to mankind. Heaven comes down to earth, and the two are joined. This reveals us that the world is God’s good place for us and that is it is being redeemed, and that it is not a mistake and will not be abandoned.  The limits of our material world now open to reveal the beginning of a creation, in which earth is in permanent relationship with heaven, and always being renewed from it. Our prayers rise up to reach heaven, and the servants of God come down to us, bringing all the good gifts of the Spirit to make us holy.

In Christ’s presence we are free. Our confinement is over and there is no one telling us to be quiet. We can be thankful and joyful and we can sing, and do so with people who share the same joy and who sing with us, ‘with one accord’. We sing ‘Thou only, O Christ, art most high in the glory of God the Father…’ In other words, there is only one Lord. Though there are many masters and authorities, they are all pretenders. In worshipping Christ we reject the claims of all the power-mongers and ‘gods’ of the present. This worship tells the truth, liberates us from falsehood, and this is a huge relief.  Continue reading “Eucharist – What does taking part in the Eucharist mean to me?”

Mission – What is the mission task facing the Church of England?

The task of the Church of England is to proclaim the Gospel, now and always.

Christians are blessed. We have been made happy, and we are glad to share this happiness. It would be strange if we did not do so. We simply pass on what we ourselves have received, from the Lord. We have been searched for, found, rescued and forgiven; now we may also go searching for, and offer forgiveness to, anyone we encounter. The Lord has commanded us to do so.

God loves us. We are loved and empowered to love and to enable one another to flourish in God’s love. The Christian community is the communion of love, sourced and refreshed by God’s love for us. This love enables all our relationships with friends and opponents, and enables our love to endure through all difficulties.  Continue reading “Mission – What is the mission task facing the Church of England?”

Vocation – What is the calling of a priest in the Church of England today?

Let us start with ‘vocation’. Who calls, and who is called? The Lord calls. He calls us. Along with all creation, he calls us into existence, and we have our existence just because God calls us. The Lord calls man, and in calling him, gives him his life. He calls each of us, and calls us to life with him and in communion with all others. The Lord continues to call until, at last, we hear and respond. As we hear and reply, we discover how to live well, and live well together. Not to hear the call of God, to confuse it with the voices of other powers with their political demands, is to live against the grain of creation and so to create difficulties not otherwise there. But we may reply to God’s call, and do so with thankfulness, with curiosity, and with our own demands. Having heard him, we may respond to him and make our requests and the Lord hears our call and receives our prayers and thanksgiving. The Son has heard the call of the Father, and made our reply to him, and so in Christ the conversation between God and man is underway. Continue reading “Vocation – What is the calling of a priest in the Church of England today?”

Intro to The Christian Year – Around the year, through the Lectionary

The Church follows the Lord on a public year-long pilgrimage through the fasts and feasts of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity.

The Church is the body of Christ passing through the world. When people see us processing through our town centres they are able to acknowledge that it is our Christian witness that we are bringing them. Christian worship is a public demonstration that God brings all contraries together, and puts them face-to-face in reconciliation, and side-by-side in fellowship. The world that looks on can see this meeting and, if it wishes, recognise this reconciliation and decide that it wants to become part of it.

In some seasons the church is a large and noisy demonstration passing through a crowded town centre. During the feasts of the Church year we are celebrating and on carnival. The world will part on each side to let us through and some will join us as we go.  We bless the world by greeting everyone as Christ’s future people. We greet them as examples of Christ’s body rejected, lost and forlorn, and we greet them as future members of his body redeemed, restored and made joyful.

At other times, during the fasts, we are on a demonstration of our public repentance and remorse. We are going out into neighbourhood and nation to bring them comfort and to repent for not having brought that comfort to them sooner. In our public processions we sing and bless. We sing psalms and hymns in alternation. We pray and intercede, kneeling together and keeping silence for long moments. So the form of our progress is simultaneously the way of the resurrection and glory, and the way of the cross and shame. As we go, the cross alternates with the glory, so at any one moment we are either repentant or joyful. Continue reading “Intro to The Christian Year – Around the year, through the Lectionary”

Lent & Easter 5. Palm Sunday – Entry to Jerusalem

The sixth Sunday of Lent is Palm Sunday. The Lord rides into Jerusalem. We will read the short version of this entry from Mark, but here is the longer one from Matthew:

When they had come near Jerusalem … Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey

The disciples brought the donkey and its foal… and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 

Matthew points out that the Lord is now doing what Zechariah said he would:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The Lord is at war, riding out to confront the malevolent forces arrayed against mankind. But this king is so confident in his victory that he does not ride a war horse but a much more peaceful animal.

Continue reading “Lent & Easter 5. Palm Sunday – Entry to Jerusalem”

Lent & Easter 4. Lifted Up, Raised – and true Mothering

The Passover was near and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He went into action on our behalf. He rode in to the rescue, to take us back out of the power of those who held us captive. John telescopes the whole incarnation and passion into the Passover and its celebration – The Passover is the event of the resurrection and our celebration of it.

The Gospel for the fourth week of Lent is John 3:

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up… in order that the world might be saved through him

The Son of Man is lifted up. He is picked out from the crowd, selected from the whole assembly of Israel and indeed of the world. Of all these many millions, this one is the One. Having been picked by the selectors, he has been trialled and he has come through all the tests well, the Letter to the Hebrews tell us. He is confirmed and anointed. This is man in all his glory, given by God who intended it for him from the beginning. In this man, God has established the future for all men.

Continue reading “Lent & Easter 4. Lifted Up, Raised – and true Mothering”

Lent & Easter 3. Christ must suffer and be rejected

We are on our way through Lent to Easter, looking at the Sunday readings and learning something about the public contribution of Christian witness. Though we are going through Lent, we already enjoy Easter. For only the power of Easter can take us through the long Lent we have to undergo.

In the first two talks we said that the Gospel brings the reconciliation that allows a national communion to develop. Without Christianity, there is no covenant between rich and poor, or between one tribe and another, and so there is no nation, and no basis for an international community of nations. The law makes us secular: secularity is the achievement of Christianity, not an escape from it.  The Ten Commandments are our call to liberty and to communion. They call out of the savage all-against-all isolation of pagan society, and into civil life together. They give us such confidence that we are able to live with those who we do not know or do not like, so this confidence gives us this civility and this civilisation. Only Christian discipleship enables us to grow up towards the vast definition of humanity set out by the Gospel, towards maturity and holiness, made fit by God for life with him and with each other.  Continue reading “Lent & Easter 3. Christ must suffer and be rejected”

Lent & Easter 2. The Law, the Command and the Freedom

We are under the covenant and so we settled. We are members of a robust and confident society, culture and nation. And we are on the move, following Abraham, who is following Christ. We alternate between being settled, and being nomads. In Lent and Passion week we are on the move, in file behind our Lord, and he is taking us with him through the very darkest places. Noah and Abraham, obedient to God’s call, stood up, left their communities and cultures and walked out into unknown, and so became the founders of a new society,  Israel. We are amongst their heirs; we worship their God.

But why should we worship God? Or rather, why should we worship this God rather than some other? Continue reading “Lent & Easter 2. The Law, the Command and the Freedom”