Tuesday, 29 November 2016

An Advent Kiss


In these days of instant communications and social media, its noticeable how even messages from the most casual of acquaintances end with a kiss or two, or ‘xx’ to be precise! It doesn’t seem to matter how well you do or don’t know the person concerned, but the whole range of traditional ways of signing off, from ‘yours faithfully’, as far as ‘I remain, sir, your obedient servant’, seems to be disappearing. ‘X’ of course used to be the sign of the illiterate, but before then was actually akin to the sign of the cross in a medieval document, more ‘+’ than ‘x’, and kissing the sign on the parchment or paper was the equivalent to taking an oath. A simple gesture that bound the one who made it.

 

Politicians and media gurus expound KISS as ‘keep it simple, stupid’, and perhaps there is something of value there. The story that will unfold for us during Advent and Christmass is, at it’s simplest, a story of wonder and amazement, of God’s decisive involvement in human lives. Yet behind the wonder and the divine kiss of the Stable at Bethlehem, is the profound truth of God our Creator, who took our human flesh to redeem us on the Cross, and who remains with us still. A Holy Mystery that will never exhaust the telling.

 

Psalm 85 is often used to help us enter the Christmass mystery, especially verse 10,

 

            Mercy and truth are net together,

            Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

 

In the mystery and graciousness of the Word made flesh, Jesus, the Son of God, God’s righteousness, God’s goodness, touches, kisses, the whole of creation. We are invited into the Divine embrace, invited to share all that God wishes for his Creation, visible, even touchable, in the Christ-Child of the Stable.

 

I hope you will have a good, and a holy Advent, and enjoy the caroling and the good cheer, the cards and the tinsel, if that is what you choose to do. Yet let us not lose sight of the astonishing, life-changing truth that we explore in this Holy Season, the God who took flesh in Bethlehem, shares our life still, and will come again in glory.

 

Pax et Bonum – Peace and all Good to you! 

 

Father David

 
The Advent Collect 

 

Traditionally, many Christians would have known a version of this prayer by heart, and used it every day. Make it your Advent Prayer!

 

Almighty God,

give us grace to cast away the works of darkness

and to put on the armour of light,

now in the time of this mortal life,

in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;

that on the last day,

when he shall come again in his glorious majesty

to judge the living and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal;

through him who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen

 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Called to be Saints

People in a crowd crushed by a lorry in Nice, the brutal murder of a priest in Normandy, the heartrending killing of disabled people in Japan, bombings and loss of life in Mogadishu and Kabul, random stabbings in a square in central London, continuing atrocities in Aleppo and deliberate targeting of Christians in Iraq. These brutal and barbaric acts of violence leave us struggling with feelings of anger, sorrow and fear. But how should faith respond?

 

Tragic and violent death takes us straight to the very heart of Christian faith, to the Cross on which Jesus also suffered. Whenever we gather as God’s people around the altar, we remember that we share in the death of Christ that we may also share in his Resurrection. We proclaim Hope; Hope is different from optimism. Optimism is merely passive, expecting good to come, starting from somewhere else. Hope is active, working for good to come, starting with ourselves. Learning to live this is the calling of every Christian.

 

Last year the murdered priest Fr Jacques Hamel, wrote in his parish newsletter, “Do not think holiness is not for us. Holiness does not mean doing extraordinary things. We are sons and daughters of God. It is by living this relationship, day by day, that we become saints.” Priesthood is a ministry of hope, because whenever Christians celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, they proclaim Christ’s death, not in fear but in hope.

 

Now is the time for us to stop believing that we can’t be saints, to stop focusing on what we think of as our lack of holiness, to stop offering ourselves excuses. Instead, now is the time to offer the world our simple hope, to witness that the world is not left hopeless, despairing and lost, because God is as he is in Jesus, and therefore there is hope.  We may be unlikely to experience directly the violence that many people are facing all over the world. But there are other ways in which we need to witness to hope when it is given us to do so, in the face of prejudice, hatred, cynicism and despair. They are the easy answers of people without hope.

 

Hope means not giving in to fear of those who follow a different faith, to prejudice about immigrants, or to despair for the future. Whenever we hear or feel such ideas inside ourselves (because we are guilty too), we let them go and ask God to put them where they belong. If we all try to become more inclusive people, respectful, open and humble towards all, then that is how we will reject the fear, hatred and division that the terrorists want to inspire.

 

This month of November is the Month of the Holy Saints, and of the Holy Dead in Christ. In our worship we share already in the glorious Kingdom to which the saints bear witness, as we pray for God’s will to be done in the departed, and in those of us who are still on our earthly pilgrimage. In the Mass, we know that our prayers are united with the whole Company of Heaven.  

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Confronting Religous Violence



The former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has written a fascinating book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. * Dr Sacks remains a widely respected figure, and is a man of some wisdom, to whom we would do well to listen. He challenges first of all the contemporary myth that Religion causes violence, a sentiment expressed, for instance, in John Lennon’s Imagine, and that therefore, religion ought to be, somehow, abolished. Some very serious research has shown that both in ancient and more recent history, only about 10% of wars have been religious in some way or another. The overwhelming causes of violence are rather to be found in disputes, big or small, over territory, power, nationality, money, or even sex. (you never hear anyone suggesting that therefore we should abolish money or sex!)  While religious affiliation may well aggravate a situation, religion has, from earliest times, proved to be the most effective way of cementing different peoples together, in learning how to live alongside one another, and to value and understand different approaches and cultures. Above all, to be a religious person, whatever one’s faith, is, for Dr Sacks, to commit oneself to want the best for the other person.

 

Meeting and sharing with people of different faiths has, for me, been a very valuable thing. The true search for God will always take us away from violence, and towards the heart of love. While other world faiths may therefore show me something of God, I do however believe that ultimately God is to be known most fully as he is in Christ, crucified and risen, and that view can be held with absolute integrity alongside wanting to know more of other world faiths. In no faith other than classic, biblical, catholic and orthodox Christianity, has God really, totally and truly revealed what he is like. To say that all faiths are equal, is to deny the death and resurrection of Jesus. That doesn’t mean that I am right, and everyone else isn’t, rather it means God is right! 

 

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus sets out our clear Christian duty to love our neighbour. It is the Samaritan, the despised foreigner, who is closest to God. We are not just to be a good neighbour to those who are different, those who challenge us, those indeed, who, in our heart of hearts we do not like, but we are to be prepared to be helped, and loved by them.

 

Lord God,

Thank you for the human family,

For people of all faiths and none,

Especially those who are our neighbours.

May we learn to promote tolerance and understanding,

And also never be afraid to witness to our faith in Jesus. Amen.

                                                                                                                                                 

 

 *Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.  Published by Hodder & Stoughton                                                                                                                                                               

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Do This in Remembrance of Me


Do this in remembrance of me.

 

From the earliest times of her history, the Church has obeyed our Lord’s command, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Come to Mass, be present, listen, sing, pray, offer Christ to the Father with the priest, receive Holy Communion, all offered to God’s praise and glory, that we may be sent out to live outside the Church walls what we have done within them.

 

In times of persecution, the only Altar available has been the hands of the priest. In times of peace, the Church has lingered over the wonder and mystery of the Mass, and embellished the celebration with beautiful surroundings, wonderful words and praiseworthy music.

 

In the wonder and gift of the Holy Eucharist, Christ makes himself known. Son of God and Son of Mary, present to our senses simply as bread and wine, but really, truly and sacramentally present in his body and blood. When we are offered the bread of life, as the Priest says, ‘The Body of Christ’, we respond ‘Amen’, meaning yes Lord, I believe that you are truly present.  All that we have to bring here is a hunger for this food, this manna from heaven, this life giving bread. If we are so full of ourselves and our own self-importance, we will hard it hard to make room, but if we know our need of God, then he may enter in, heal us, and save us. 

 

We never just ‘go to Church.’ We are entering a space set apart for worship of God, an earthly shadow of the heavenly Jerusalem. Christ is always here in the Blessed Sacrament reserved for Adoration, and for those in need, in the Tabernacle, the Aumbry. Christ is here in the living words of Scripture, and in each other, for you and I are made in the image of God.

 

‘Behold, I stand at the Door and Knock,’ says Jesus. Let us make the most of his gracious invitation, for in doing so, we will discover how to make the most of life itself.

 

  May the Heart of Jesus, in the most blessed sacrament, be praised, adored and loved with grateful

  affection, at every moment, in all the Churches of the world, even to the end of time. Amen.

 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Thy Kingdom Come: May in Elland


May is Mary’s month, and a month full of Festivals and Celebrations, as we continue to celebrate Easter, and to live out God’s call to mercy in our lives. We begin with All Saints Art Exhibition, before turning to the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday 5th May. There will be a said Mass in All Saints at 12.15pm, and then the principle celebration for both of our Churches, in St Mary’s at 7.30pm, followed by Festive Refreshments.

 

Our Archbishops have asked us to mark the Novena, the 9 days of Prayer between Ascension Day, 5th May, and Pentecost as a particular time of Prayer, under the banner of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. They write

 

‘In the week leading up to Pentecost (May 8th - 15th, 2016) we long to see a great wave of prayer across our land, throughout the Church of England and many other Churches.

Our hope is

  1. for all Christians to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ
  2. for all of us to have confidence to share the Gospel
  3. for all to respond to the call of Jesus Christ to follow Him as disciples, to live out the Gospel and to seek God’s Kingdom from day to day
     
    At the heart of our prayers will be the words that Jesus Christ himself taught us - ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying and yet dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas. It is famous enough to be spoken each day by billions in hundreds of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us ever closer into friendship with Jesus Christ. It is simple enough to be memorised by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole lifetime of prayer. When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.’
     
    We will be keeping our Prayers focussed on this Theme throughout this period, together with 2 particular events to which all are welcome: Bishop Tony will be with us on Sunday 8th May, at 6pm in All Saints, to celebrate an Evening Liturgy, ’The Stations of Mercy’. There will also be a Holy Hour of Prayer, from 9.30am-10.30am, on Saturday 14th May, in All Saints. The Feast of Pentecost, 50 days on from Easter Day, follows on Sunday 15th May.
     
    The same day, Overgate Hospice are celebrating 35 years with a Garden Party in the Hospice Grounds, from 12noon to 4pm. Lynn Lord, our Reader, will be re-Licensed together with Readers from across the Dioceses of Leeds, in Bradford Cathedral on Monday 9th May. Please do pray for Lynn, as we give thanks for all she gives to our life in Elland.
     
    Christian Aid Week runs from 15th to 21st May, while the Parishes’ Walsingham Pilgrimage is from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd May. Please do let me know of any Prayers you would like offered there. It was an absolute joy last year, to have so many candles to light there, on behalf of you all!
     
    The Festival of Corpus Christi, the Day of Thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist, is celebrated in All Saints on Thursday 26th May at 7.30pm, while the final celebration of the Month is the Visitation of Our Lady to Elizabeth, a festival of Holy Joy, on Tuesday 31st May.
     
    Finally, my thanks to all who hold Office as our Church Wardens and Church Council members, and thise with particular tasks and ministries, following our Parish Annual Meetings.
     
    May the Risen Christ Grant Us His Peace, Alleluia, Amen.
     
    Fr David

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Dying you destroyed our Death


 
Palm Sunday, and Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem open the door through which we enter Holy Week, the most momentous week in the Church’s year and indeed humanity’s history.

 

It is hard for us to conceive of a greater contrast than that between the beginning and the end of Jesus' final week. The gospel we hear on Palm Sunday speaks about the crowd’s enthusiastic welcome of Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem.

 

However, we know this is a week that swings from one extreme to the other and the shouts of hosanna will become cries of hatred. From palm branches to passion, from hosannas to heckling, from majesty to mockery, from friend to foe, we are reminded that crowds are fickle and of the depth to which unredeemed humanity can sink.

 

The core of this Holy Week is the Easter Triduum, which begins on Thursday evening at All Saints, with the celebration of the Last Supper and the washing of feet. On Good Friday in our Churches we will hear St. John's account of Christ's Passion and we will venerate the Cross. Our Triduum concludes with the Dawn Easter Vigil Mass at All Saints as Easter Day dawns, and we proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus. This short period is the most sacred time in the Church’s year. A time when we celebrate 'the work of our redemption'. Easter Day moves on to the joyful celebrations of Easter Morning in both of our Churches.

 

On Palm Sunday we will hear the story of Jesus' Passion and death according to St Luke. As we begin this holy week we are given a preview of where this week is heading. We approach this week with reverence because we know that the last journey of Jesus was one that he travelled for all of us.

 

As we travel along this path with Jesus and encounter all the people he meets, we re-live the events and have an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ, during his last days on earth. The people involved in his death are so like us that we can identify with them. There is no role in the unfolding drama that we are not capable of playing.

 

The story of the Passion of Christ lays bare the forces of evil and the wickedness of sin. At the same time, however, it reveals the love and the goodness of God - for what appears as the triumph of the powers of darkness will in fact turn out to be the greatest moment of God's saving plan.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Walking in the Way of Mercy



Jesus said "Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

 

I’ve been struggling with our Church Doors recently. They are awkward and heavy things to open and close in the rain. Wet hands struggle with cold keys, the wood expands and swells. The sheer amount of rainfall we’ve had has made the apparently straightforward task of unlocking or locking a door a bit of a trial at times.

 

In this Year of Mercy, take a look again at our Church Doors, and all they represent. We go through them to enter Church, the House of God, bringing our joys and sorrows, our sins and failings, and our thanksgivings. We are sent through them as worship ends, back to our daily lives, to live and work to God’s praise and glory.

 

A door is opened by a key. The Christian tradition has identified Christ himself as the Key, the one who, in a mystical sense, locks and unlocks the entrance of the Church. "O Key of David," we sing in Advent, "you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open." True faith, then, is a divine gift, and no intruder can pilfer the supernatural goods of our holy religion.

 

Christ refers to Himself as a door, the Door of a sheepfold. "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he shall be safe" (John 10:9). How kind and encouraging his invitation sounds, ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9).

 

Our Church Doors are indeed Doors of Mercy. If we walk through them in humility, ready to admit our need of God’s Mercy, then this forthcoming Holy Season of Lent will speak to us of the God who waits and longs to draw near to us.

 

As you walk through the doors of the Church, remember your life is a pilgrimage in God’s mercy.

 

As you walk through the doors of the Church, remember God’s call to open your heart to his mercy found in serving others.

 

May God bless us in the keeping of a Holy Lent,