Thursday, 22 November 2012


Midweek Holy Communion at St Giles 22 November 2012

First Reading Revelation 5.1-10

I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no-one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no-one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Gospel Luke 19

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Gospel reading from Luke 19 starts at v41. It’s about Jerusalem and the Temple. Jesus had been teaching through parables. Now went on to Bethany and Mount of Olives. Here Jesus sent 2 disciples to prepare for Passover meal:

30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

Whilst preparations being made, triumphal entry. NIV Jesus arrives as King. Disciples cry “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Pharisees call on Jesus to rebuke them, but he would not.

Then Jesus laments over fate of Jerusalem, prior to entering Temple courts and overturning tables of traders and moneychangers.

Earlier in ministry, Messianic secret. Now in fulfilment of prophecy, Jesus openly declares himself Messiah. But in Luke’s account, only disciples welcome him, not crowds. Luke reports a lukewarm reception at best. Had the throng crowding Jerusalem for Passover acclaimed him, there would be less reason for Jesus to emphasize the fate of Jerusalem, which we know was overthrown and destroyed by Romans in 70AD.

But more than Messiah, more than Christ is Jesus’ divinity. Evident in Revelation. No one else was found worthy to take the scroll and break the seals. Only the Lamb who had been slain.

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

So now, with Jerusalem in ruins, salvation is for every nation and language, purchased by the blood of Christ through his death, which he knew to be his fate when he arrived in Jerusalem. Amen

Sunday, 4 November 2012

All Saints

Cheddington 4th November 2012

Gospel John 11.32-44

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s own people,
called out of darkness into his marvellous light.
All Alleluia.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.


Chapter 11 of John’s gospel begins like this:
Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’

This chapter is usually called The Raising of Lazarus but Lazarus says nothing, and in fact most of the action revolves around Martha. Our reading starts, though, with Martha’s sister Mary. Mary accuses Jesus of delaying his return to Bethany. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she says. For Mary, Jesus is partly to blame.

Why did Jesus deliberately delay answering the sisters’ call for two days? We don’t know. The fact was that an attempt had been made on his life in Bethany, when a crowd tried to stone him. It was natural he would be reluctant to return and expose both himself and his followers to danger. There’s a heavy irony in Thomas’s voice when he says: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

Jesus’ excuse – if that’s the right word – is that he delayed “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” When Jesus eventually arrives at the outskirts of Bethany, Martha rushes out to meet him. Mary remains at home. By then, Lazarus had been dead more than 4 days. When shown the tomb, there follows the shortest verse in the Bible Jesus Wept.

Was that his divine nature, grieving over the suffering of humanity? Or was that Jesus’ humanity, mourning the loss of a dearly loved friend and the grief of his family?

In a sense, the raising from the dead is not the lesson we should take home from this gospel reading. Why? Well, Lazarus was clearly dead, and was brought back to life – but only for a time. The raising of Lazarus proves God’s power over life and death, but we all know and accept that anyway. Lazarus will die again, like all of us. No – I think the real message comes from the lips of Martha. Rather than The raising of Lazarus maybe the passage should be called The confession of Martha.

Martha and Mary are contrasts. In John 12 we either associate with the one sister or the other. One sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words. The other beavers away in the kitchen. You could add that one acts like a woman in her day would be expected to act. The other doesn’t.

Here too, there are contrasts. Mary sighs and says “If only.” How often do we say the same, when it’s too late. Martha engages Jesus at a much deeper level. Famously, Jesus asks Martha to have faith. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha replies: ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’

Out of bleak tragedy and darkness of the worst kind comes one of the greatest confessions and admissions in the whole of the New Testament. IT’s Martha’s ultimate statement of faith – made not by one of the male disciples but by a woman.

Like All Souls – the commemoration of the faithful departed – All Saints is meant to help us live our Christian lives by providing us with examples of faith we might learn from or even emulate. Martha of course is one such person. But so is Mary.

Ironically, the raising of Lazarus was a tipping point in Jesus’ ministry. As a result of what he accomplished, the Pharisees started plotting Jesus’ death for real. When Jesus returns to Bethany (which is just outside Jerusalem) 6 days before Passover, Lazarus threw a party in Jesus’ honour, at which Martha served and Mary anointed his feet with oil of pure nard. The sheer extravagance turned Judas into a plotter, along with the religious leaders.

All these characters are fallible, ordinary folk like ourselves. The saints – just a word for all Christians from the early church – are not necessarily special martyrs (although many are) but they offer us something special to follow, to copy and learn from. So do all souls – those people who have taught us the faith, those whom we have loved and see no more, those who have and continue to be important to us in very particular ways. That’s the value of this weekend – All Souls and All Saints. What did Martha do? She just believed.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” said Jesus. So they rolled away the stone. Amen