Monday, 11 July 2022

The 'Inn of Mercy'

Deuteronomy 30.10-14 The Law is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach

Colossians 1.15-20 All things were created through Christ and for Christ

Luke 10.25-37 The one who showed mercy




Our son, Charles, is currently on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.


I would commend every Christian who can, to go to the Holy Land as a pilgrim.


I realise not everyone can, but it is my hope that in the next couple of years that we could look at a Minster pilgrimage there.


That sounds a long way off, but it is one to ponder and then, sadly, to save up for.


There are many good reasons to go, but one of the things about the Holy Land is that you are taken to places traditionally associated with, or believed to be, the place where certain things in Sacred Scripture happened.


At some of them you can say, ‘yes, this is where it was’ for example the Sea of Galilee this is where Jesus called the fishermen, this is where he stilled the storm.


Other places are less certain.


Is the Church of the Beatitudes really on the site of the Sermon on the Mount? Well, it may be, and if not then it was somewhere very nearby.


But there is one place that is certainly not the location of what is claimed.


I was once on pilgrimage in the Holy Land when we were shown on the Jerusalem to Jericho road a café that is reputedly the site of the inn to which the Good Samaritan took the wounded man.


Now, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho exists, and Charles will be travelling down it today – albeit in an air conditioned coach.


But café on the roadside is set up by an entrepreneur with an eye for the main chance.


The Good Samaritan is a parable and not claiming to be an historic account, so the café there today is not the inn where the wounded man was taken.


The point of a parable is to convey meaning in narrative form, i.e. telling a good story. Parables take us further and open up deeper themes.


And this parable illustrates who is a neighbour and how we are a neighbour, and it takes us deep into who we are and the merciful nature of God.


The participants in our online Lectio Divina group last Tuesday, where we spend extended time pondering in silence the meaning of Sacred Scripture, drew out some wonderful insights into this parable.


Take the young man who prompts the parable. He observes the commandments.


So what is it about him that he wants to justify himself? Do you, do I, seek to justify our spiritual status before God or before other people?


The priest and the scribes. They are meant to be ‘good people’ and clearly fulfil their cultic functions, but they are lacking: what is it in them, or what they see in the wounded man, that makes them walk on by?


The parable invites us to ask: what do I walk by today?


Who are the people, what are the situations that are broken and wounded and need our attention and mercy?


Who is the Christlike figure in the Parable? Orthodox Christians read this parable as prefiguring the Passion of Christ, the one beaten, scourged and ultimately left for dead as he is mocked by passers-by.


Or is Christ to be seen in the Samaritan? The Samaritan shares our humanity but is radically different in nationality; just as Christ shares our humanity but is divine too.


The Parable of the Good Samaritan opens up these questions for us.


Even the shortest of parables endlessly generates questions and insights with the aim of making us grow spiritually.


Remember the Sacred Scriptures are reading you, as much you are reading them. Reading sacred scripture is not like looking at a picture but looking at a mirror in which you see yourself, warts and all, and also what you can become.


In that spirit we can ask: where is the inn that the Samaritan took the wounded, robbed man?


Clearly it is not, and never was, a physical inn, now a café, on the side of the main Jerusalem to Jericho road in the Holy Land.


But the Inn of the Good Samaritan does exist.


The inn of the Good Samaritan is any place where mercy is shown.


The inn is located too in the inner recesses of the human heart.


Is your heart, like the sacred heart of Jesus, a place where mercy is found?


Is your life a place in which mercy is seen?


How do you show mercy to your neighbour?


The parable reveals that the neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers is the one who showed him mercy. And what is Jesus’ conclusion? It’s a challenge and a commission.


‘Go and do likewise’.

Friday, 8 July 2022

Sacrifice, intercession, reconciliation: the priestly life

Preached at Croydon Minster on the 60th anniversary of priesting of the Revd Canon Arthur Quinn and the 25th of the Revd Canon Dr Andrew Bishop.


Isaiah 6.1-4,8 ‘Here I am: send me’

Psalm 23.1-3a, 5-6

John 17:1-2, 9, 14-26 Father the hour has come: glorify your Son




60 years ago, in Fr Arthur’s case, 25 years ago in mine, and one day ago, in this church, for three people: priests have been ordained, in service of Christ and his Church, from the time of the Apostles.


Priesthood in the Church has a deep provenance going back to the time of Abraham and the mystical priest-king Melchizedek, on to Aaron the priest and on to the Temple in Jerusalem.


The essential task of the priest is to offer sacrifice and intercession in pursuit of reconciling human lives to God.


Priesthood - in the Old Testament and New and into the Apostolic Age and therefore in the life of the Church - is all focused on Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest.


Jesus Christ both expands and intensifies all notions of what priesthood is.


In Jesus Christ the priestly task of the offering of sacrifice is no longer about the blood of bulls and goats and lambs; but is found in his offering of himself, once for all, upon the cross: he is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.


Blood and water flowed from the heart of Jesus when the centurion’s lance pierced his side and he gave up his life.


That is the fulfilment of all sacrifice.


Nothing can perfect or improve the self-offering of Christ who is, as the hymn puts it, both priest and victim.


And today, through Christ our great High Priest, we receive the benefits of his sacrifice in the Eucharist, that’s why often it is known as the Sacrifice of the Mass.


The Eucharist is not a blood sacrifice but the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ in which we share, in the way he promised at the Last Supper, saying ‘this is my body, this is my blood’.


The sweet incense that masked the stench of slaughtered animals in the Temple, is now the fragrance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a fragrance that fills lives that will receive him, and accompanies the offering of ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a holy and lively sacrifice to him.


Incense too represents another dimension of priesthood, that of intercession, of prayer rising before the Lord, ‘let my prayer rise before you as incense’, says the psalm, ‘the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice’ (Psalm 144).


Jesus Christ is the exemplar of prayer, that union with the Father. The intimacy of that relationship flowed through our gospel reading:


‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ (John 17.25,26)


This intimacy of prayer and communion of Father and Son, woven in the love of the Holy Spirit, is the fountain of reconciliation.


Drinking from that fountain brings us to life in its abundance and a clearer vision of life means we can be clear sighted about our sin.


That is why the sacrament we call Confession is also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which the penitent repents and the priest declares, at Christ’s word, the forgiveness of sins.


When we know the glory we can attain; we see the sin that impedes it.


Essentially, the Christian priest is to be the mirror of Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest.


At its heart that’s what my ministry is meant to be about, and Arthur’s too: as a song of the 1980s put it: ‘here comes the mirror man’!


A mirror, in itself, hasn’t got anything to show.


All that I, or Arthur, or any priest can bring is our own humanity, and the honest endeavour to reflect the sacrifice, reconciliation and love of Christ to the world.


The priest’s vocation starts with the holiness of God, as Isaiah found in the Temple.


Before being commissioned to be sent by the LORD, Isaiah, in the midst of the sacrifice and incense of the Temple cries out:


‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ (Isaiah 6.5)


The priest is first a human being, a sinner, falling short of God’s glory, yet by God’s grace we can be sent by the Lord. One of the Articles of Religion is entitled ‘of the unworthiness of the ministers, which hinders not the effect of the sacrament’. (Article 26).


Even human unworthiness cannot dim the divine light.


The Church Fathers often speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary – who said ‘how can this be?’ - as the moon reflecting the light of the sun: s-u-n and S-o-n.


That’s one reason why Mary is known as ‘Mother of Priests’.


I have used the phrase ‘mirror men’, but the ancient way of putting it is that, in the Liturgy, the priest is an icon of Christ who acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.


So I trust that we have been ‘mirror men’ in the parishes and chaplaincies in which we have served, reflecting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, interceding and reconciling in his name not our own.


St Augustine of Hippo remarked to the people of his diocese, ‘I am a Christian with you and a Bishop for you’.


A priest is both a Christian with you and a priest for you.


To be a priest in the Church of God is the most overwhelming privilege when we pause to consider it.


No doubt like me, Arthur will be mindful tonight - on this jubilee, this lovely (but ultimately artificial) landmark - of those people who we have baptised, prepared for confirmation, married and buried; those whose vocations we have spotted and nurtured, those whose confessions we have heard and to whom we have pronounced Christ’s forgiveness; those dying in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life and those who lacked that hope; the students, and others who we have endeavoured to guide through the world’s machinations and the valley of the shadow of death; those people to whom we have had to speak firmly, for the sake of truth, and those who have needed a kind or encouraging word; those who have gathered at the altar as we have proclaimed Christ in word and sacrament supremely in the breaking of bread.


No doubt too, Arthur will be mindful, like me, of those priests who in their time were sources of inspiration to us, and thankful to our families, friends and congregations who have made our ministries possible and sustainable.


Ultimately the task of each priest, and each Christian, is to turn to Christ and walk with him the path of life.


With fellow priests, not least in this season of life here, I trust that Arthur and I mirror and show to you the sacrificial love of Christ that reconciles us to the Blessed Trinity.


Please pray for your priests, and all priests, mindful of the words the priest says at the end of a Confession to the person forgiven.


The Lord has put away your sins.

When you pray, please pray for me, a sinner too.