Monday, 26 April 2021

The Call of the Good Shepherd

Preached at Croydon Minster on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Readings Acts of the Apostles 4.5-12; Psalm 23; John 10.11-18 

‘I am the Good Shepherd’, says the Lord. Alleluia.




At my ordination as a priest I was told, ‘Keep the example of the Good Shepherd always before you’.


The person who spoke those words was the Bishop ordaining me who was himself holding a shepherd’s crook, otherwise known as a crozier or pastoral staff.


That symbol reflects the call to the pastors of the church to be shepherds of God’s people.


The image of the shepherd, and associated pastoral care, is deep at the heart of the church: after all, we are referred to as ‘the flock’.


As St Paul says in the Acts of the Apostles to the bishops of the early church, ‘Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.’ (Acts 20.28)


Shepherds and sheep feature throughout the Old Testament. Moses is watching over his father-in-law’s flock when he encounters God in the intense mystery of the Burning Bush. David is a shepherd and a king. The prophet Ezekiel rebukes the negligent shepherds. The psalms speak of God as our shepherd, most notably Psalm 23.


And shepherds feature from the beginning of the gospels, watching over their flocks by night. Called by angels they come to behold and adore the very Lamb of God, who is also their shepherd (Luke 2.8-20).


Jesus draws on the image of the shepherd in his parables to express the deepest care and attention that the shepherd gives to the sheep so that they are safe, nourished and alive!


I am the Good Shepherd. The English word ‘good’ slightly dilutes the original force of the Greek word καλοσ kalos. ‘Good’ just sounds a bit limp to us now. καλοσ translates better as ‘noble, wholesome, beautiful’. That is a shepherd with purpose a shepherd to protect, guide and nurture.


And the determining characteristic of this Good, noble, wholesome, beautiful shepherd is that he will lay down his life for the sheep. The good shepherd is totally invested in that care. This is in contrast to the ‘hired hand’ the one who turns up for the money but has no commitment to the wellbeing, safety and health of the sheep.


In this sense Jesus is not the only good, noble shepherd. King David was one too. Remember when Goliath, like a ravening wolf, threatened the safety of the flock of Israel David stepped forward to protect his people, highlighting that King Saul was like a ‘hired hand’ who would run away. The shepherd boy David stood and said to the king,


34‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ 37David said, ‘The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.’ So Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the Lord be with you!’ (1 Samuel 17.34-37)


David was no hired hand. He was a good and noble shepherd. So where does that leave us with Jesus claiming to be the Good Shepherd?


Jesus is stretching the image of the shepherd even beyond what is good, noble, wholesome and beautiful.


St John’s gospel reflects this beautifully. The phrase ‘I am’ is used by Jesus a lot in John’s gospel: I am the Bread of Life; I am the True Vine; I am the way, the truth and the life; and so on.


Hearers will make the connection that the little words ‘I am’ - in Greek γώ εμι ego eimi - is how God reveals his name to Moses when he was out shepherding: ‘I am that I am’. That is God’s name: ‘I am’: Being itself, all that is, visible and invisible.


The Name is the Name in whose power the Church brings healing and forgiveness on sins, as we heard in the reading from Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4.7-10).


The Good Shepherd is leading us deep into the heart of God, because Jesus Christ is the deep, loving heart of God.


This Good Shepherd is the knowing shepherd. ‘I know my own’ (John 10.14). As the psalm says ‘O Lord you have searched me out and known me’ (Psalm 139.1). And the knowing shepherd calls us to know him more and more deeply and intimately: ‘my own know me’. This is the call of the Good Shepherd for us to search out and know the ways of God. It is calling us to prayer, to intimacy with God, in Jesus’ words, ‘just as the Father knows me and I know the Father’ (John 10.15).


St John’s told us this before. In the preface to his gospel we read, ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1.18)


The Good Shepherd knows the Father, and knows you, as our Great High Priest. Christ calls you deeply and insistently to know the Father where you find life in all its abundance.


Listen. Hear the call of the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God.



Sunday, 18 April 2021

'Witnesses of these things' - A homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

 Preached at Croydon Minster on the Third Sunday of Easter 2021. Acts of the Apostles 3.12-19; Luke 24.36b-48

‘You are witnesses to these things’




Do you ever wonder what you are being asked to do when, at the end of the Eucharist, the deacon or priest declares, ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ or ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ (to which in Eastertide we add the joyful ‘alleluia’)?


These closing words are profoundly important and they are not just an afterthought to the Eucharist. Just as the tide of the sea washes in and washes out so the Holy Spirit leads us into the church and washes us back out.


We are drawn in to ‘taste and see’, to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, in the life-giving power of the sacraments, to know Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, recognising him in the breaking of bread.


And then we are washed back out into the world in which Christ rose from the dead. And this morning’s gospel points us to the task: ‘you are witnesses to these things’.


In other words, when you go in peace from here you are implicated as a witness to what you have heard, seen and tasted.




A witness is really important in relating the veracity of events. We are all familiar with the witness in a court of law. As the trial of the policeman accused of the killing of George Floyd is showing at the moment witnesses are called for both the prosecution and the defence of the accused.


Some witnesses will say contradictory things; the jury must decide.


Some witnesses will have a genuinely different account of the same event. The important thing is that the witness does not violate the 8th Commandment: ‘thou shalt not bear false witness’.


That demands truthfulness and integrity. After all, the Greek word for witness is μάρτυς, from which comes the word ‘martyr’. A true witness can be costly.


When it comes to their testimony, the witness must be convinced and convincing.




So when we leave the church on a Sunday morning we go out as witnesses to what we have met and encountered here in this holy place, meeting Christ in word and sacrament. And this is some task in a world that is not readily open to the Christian gospel. ‘Twas ever thus: yet the witness to Christ has filled the world!


The first disciples were convinced and convincing witnesses that Jesus Christ had died on the cross and was now alive and risen and eating and drinking. Theirs is an ‘in person’ encounter.


It would not be world changing to testify as witnesses that they had seen a ghost, or that they had seen a disembodied spiritual hologram, or that they were inspired by a memory of a charismatic leader.


What convinced and convinces the world is that God leads us from death to life in Christ. That is the apostolic message. The disciples had met ‘that message’ in person! That living, breathing, risen body they met now – Jesus Christ, crucified and risen - lives on in his church, in the sacraments, in you and me.


We have received that testimony from witnesses who have gone before us: the saints, our parents, godparents, Sunday school teachers, priests. And we see, hear and taste Christ’s body in the Eucharist.


That is what we are witnesses to, real and ‘in person’, in our lives. The challenge, the question to leave hanging for you this week is how will you do that? How will you be a witness?


Here’s a thought as you answer that:


Our world needs now, more than ever: the example of lives flowing with faith, hope and love; pledged to simple and generous living; not caught up in worldly achievement; sustained by the ‘lively life that deathless shall persevere’ drawn from sacramental grace; nourished by a life of prayer; all shaped by Jesus Christ.


That might just be the beginning of the life of the witness.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Walking into the new day: An Easter Homily

 Preached at Croydon Minster on Easter Day. Mark 16.1-8

‘This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.

This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118.24)





The marking of the Sabbath – a day to be kept holy by commandment of God – gives completion to each week.


It evokes the seventh day of creation, the day on which the creative activity of God paused; the creation breathed and took stock. It is a day of silence. 


God had not run out of steam or felt tired that morning, but rather gifted to creation and to us, his creatures, the possibility and imperative of pausing, of rest and, supremely, to give a day a week to the one who gave us life in the first place.


The greatest Sabbath since the creation of the world is the day on which Christ rested in the tomb, known to us as Holy Saturday. It was yesterday. Holy Saturday is the Sabbath in which the stillness and silence of the tomb dominates. From that darkness and silence a new day is born. The sabbath is over; a new dawn has broken.


Our ancestors in the faith, the patristic writers, delighting in all of this, asked a question: the Sabbath was the seventh day of creation so, they asked, ‘when is the eighth day?’


It’s worth noting at this point that the Church Fathers were not biblical literalists, as the new atheists assume we all are. They saw scripture, as we do, divinely inspired  with patterns and pointers and meaning that lead us into deeper relationship with God.


They reasoned that if the Sabbath was the seventh day of creation, if, as St Paul says, Christ is the New Adam and ‘if anyone is in Christ they are a New Creation’ (1 Corinthians 5.17) - then the Day of the Resurrection of Christ is the eighth day of creation.


That’s why St Mark is careful to tell us, ‘when the Sabbath was over…’ (Mark 16.1) The Sabbath completed gives way to a new day, the first day of the Creation renewed in Christ.


‘This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it’


In his gospel, St Mark sets the resurrection of Jesus in the purposes of creation. This is not a disruption in what God is about in the world, but the fulfilment of it. (It’s also why St John can say that Christ, the Word of God, was in the beginning and all things came into being through him).


The Sabbath is never empty, but is filled with God’s creative renewal and possibility.


So it is, after the Sabbath, three women – Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome – ‘very early on the first day of the week, as night was giving way to the new day, and the sun risen, went to the tomb’.


What they encounter is not the dead body of the crucified man they have come to anoint; but the message of life: ‘He has been raised; he is not here’.


It is the new resurrection morning, the eighth day of creation, that drives the mission of God. Those three women embrace that wholeheartedly and give testimony to the disciples, and to Peter, that Christ is risen, and that they will encounter him again in a new and vivid way.


We can over labour the Covid parallels, and I don’t want to diminish the undiluted message of the resurrection of Christ on this Easter Day, but perhaps this past year has also had a Holy Saturday or Sabbath feel. We have been locked in and locked down: much as the tomb had been.


Yet, throughout the lockdown the Church could be a people of hope. Not because we are naïve optimists or the types who say ‘it’ll all be okay’, but rather because our hope is rooted in the Crucified and Risen Lord who endures the trauma, the pain and coldness of death, so that, whilst we will still know them, we might see beyond those things into the coming future of God.


A new day will break for each of us because of the resurrection of Christ.


It is appropriate that it is in the Book of Lamentations, which is so full of expressions of bitter pain, that we also read these stirring words that surely were in the hearts of the myrrh bearing women that first Easter morning when the old sabbath day had died and they came to the tomb at dawn:



The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

   his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

   great is your faithfulness.

‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,

   ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ (Lamentations 3.22-24)


So let us walk together, as an Easter People, into that new day.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Friday, 2 April 2021

The Lamb who Comes

Preached at Croydon Minster on Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17,31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13.1)




The Christian Gospel is a proclamation, that is to be lived out day by day, of liberation from all that enslaves, obscures our vision and restricts our lives.


The purpose of this Gospel is that we are free to gain clarity of sight and to be alive to the ways and purposes of God so that, in Christ, we are delivered into the very heart of God.


That is the golden thread that runs through, and holds together, tonight, Good Friday and Easter.


This is the Passover of the Lord; the Paschal Mystery.


To this day – in fact this week - God’s first-chosen people the Jews, annually celebrate Pesach - the Passover. They celebrate Israel’s long, hard liberation from Egypt, with its false starts and trials, its bitter herbs and laments, as a pattern of all liberation and God’s enduring relationship with them through the observance of Torah.


For Christians we find that the symbols and promise of the Passover is fulfilled and made known in Christ, who now opens to all nations what Israel has already tasted and anticipates.


This we taste and see as we celebrate the Eucharist. This was handed on to St Paul and it is handed on in turn to us.


The Eucharist has echoes of Passover: unleavened bread; wine; remembrance; blood; accounts of God’s liberating love in the scriptures.


The one thing apparently missing is a Passover lamb. In Genesis Isaac asks Abraham, ‘where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’ To which Abraham replies, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, my son’ (Genesis 22.7,8).


God has provided. As John the Baptist declares on seeing Jesus: ‘Behold, look, see: the Lamb of God’ (John 1.29).


In the scriptures the Lamb is the sacrificial offering which makes right Israel’s relationship with God. In the Eucharist, given to us by Christ at the Last Supper – on the night that he was betrayed – he takes the place of the Lamb: he is the victim and he is the priest who makes the offering.


The whole cosmos, the created order, our lives: all is God’s gift, God’s offering. In Christ, God is the offerer and the offering.


This cosmic reality has a divine and human face. It is the face of the kneeling Jesus who looks up from the feet of his disciples into their eyes and says, you can have no part in me, no part in my mission and life, if you do not let me serve you.


What an extraordinary thing! Christ asks no more of the disciples than that they should allow him to serve them, so that they in turn might serve him in one another, and love as he loves us: the New Commandment.


As our gospel reading began:


Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13.1)


‘Love to the end’ is what the liberating Gospel is. Hence the traditional Maundy Thursday anthem at the washing of feet: Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est ‘Where charity and love is found, there is God’.


Christ, in the form of God and form of man, takes the form of a slave, humbles himself and is obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2.6,7,8).


Isaac had taken wood for the sacrifice of a Lamb; the wood of the cross is the place of sacrifice of the Lamb of God. And that sacrifice is presented to us afresh in the immediacy of broken bread and poured out wine: ‘far as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11.26).


This is the foretaste and reality of the banquet of the Lamb, around whose throne all nations gather and to whom salvation belongs. Of this Lamb we read:


the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,

   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7.17)


Tonight from the eyes of Peter and Judas tears of denial and betrayal will flow; tomorrow the tears of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, will flow; on Easter morning the tears of Mary Magdalene will obscure her sight of Christ.


Tears are real. Just as Christ washes and wipes feet, our tears too will be wiped away, our sins will be wiped away.


O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.