Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

“What are they among so many?”

This morning’s Gospel complements our Lenten Programme, ‘Thinking Sacramentally’. Taken from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, sometimes known as ‘the Bread of Life discourse’, it is profoundly sacramental. The whole chapter is about the idea of the sacramental, the idea of the invisible being made known through the visible. And perhaps nowhere in the Scriptures is the harmony of sign and the thing signified made more apparent than in that chapter as a whole.

This Gospel has exercised a strong hold on the liturgical and sacramental imaginary of the Church. It is read today in the midst of the journey of Lent as a signal and significant feature of the pageant of justifying grace. From Advent to Trinity Sunday in the eucharistic lectionary we are essentially journeying with Christ in his work of the redemption of our humanity. Something of the nature of that journey is wonderfully concentrated here for us. We live, it seems, and live abundantly from the crumbs that are gathered up from the picnic feast with Jesus in the wilderness. There is an echo here to the Gospel reading for The Second Sunday in Lent about ourselves as like “the little dogs who eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table”.

This Gospel has also been read for many centuries on the last Sunday of the Trinity Season, on what we have later come to call The Sunday Next Before Advent. There it is read as a signal and significant feature of the pageant of sanctifying grace, as a kind of gathering up of the fragments of grace in the course of our spiritual journey from Trinity Sunday through to Advent Sunday which is all about sanctification. What Christ has done for us is to be lived in us. Such is sanctifying grace.

The two are interrelated. Sanctifying grace always recalls us to the justifying grace of Christ just as justifying grace always requires our taking a hold of it in our lives in sanctification. The interrelation of these two forms is our incorporation in Christ, the meaning of our life in Christ. It is profoundly and necessarily sacramental. It has everything to do with the relationship between God and man in Jesus Christ and the ways in which we participate in his divinity and his humanity through the grand pageants of creation and redemption and the great pageants of justification and sanctification. They are concentrated for us in this Gospel reading.

“O God, who didst wonderfully create and yet more wondrously restore the dignity of our human nature, Mercifully grant that by the mystery of this water and this wine we may be made partakers of his divinity who didst humble himself to share our humanity”. It is a prayer that you may have heard me say quietly and privately at the time of the preparation of the elements at the altar. It captures the nature of sacramental thinking, the idea of our being with God through God’s being with us, through the interplay of creation and redemption, and the union of the divine and the human in Jesus Christ. Today’s readings teach us is that our life in Christ happens through the harmony of Word and Sacrament, through the things of the world being made the instruments of grace and salvation.

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Week at a Glance, 1 – 7 April

Tuesday, April 2nd
6:00pm ‘Prayers & Praises’ – Haliburton Place
7:00pm Holy Communion & Lenten Programme: Thinking Sacramentally IV

Thursday, April 4th
2:00pm Ministerial Service – The Elms
6:30-7:30pm Sparks – Parish Hall

Friday, April 5th
6:00-9:00pm Pathfinders & Rangers – Parish Hall

Sunday, April 7th, Passion Sunday / Fifth Sunday in Lent
8:00am Holy Communion (followed by Men’s Club Breakfast)
10:30am Holy Communion
4:00pm Evening Prayer – Christ Church

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Juan de Flandes, Multiplication of the Loaves and FishesThe collect for today, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Epistle: Galatians 4:26-5:1
The Gospel: St. John 6:5-14

Artwork: Juan de Flandes, The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, c. 1496-1504. Oil on canvas, Royal Palace of Madrid.

John Keble, Scholar and Poet

The collect for today, the commemoration of John Keble (1792-1866), Priest, Tractarian, Poet (source):

Father of the eternal Word,
in whose encompassing love
all things in peace and order move:
grant that, as thy servant John Keble
adored thee in all creation,
so we may have a humble heart of love
for the mysteries of thy Church
and know thy love to be new every morning,
in Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Epistle: Romans 12:9-21
The Gospel: St Matthew 5:1-12

John KebleJohn Keble’s Assize Sermon entitled “National Apostasy“, delivered at Oxford on 14 July 1833, is regarded as the beginning of the renewal movement known as the Oxford Movement or Tractarian Movement. In that sermon, preached at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Rev. Keble condemned the growth of liberalism in the Church of England and took the nation to task for turning away from God and ignoring the prophetic calling of the church. The sermon caused a sensation across Britain.

Between 1833 and 1841, Rev. Keble, John Henry Newman, Edward Bouverie Pusey, and others issued a series of 90 pamphlets called Tracts For The Times (hence Tractarian Movement), in which they presented their views on ecclesiology and theology. Tractarianism emphasised the importance of the ministry and the sacraments as God-given ordinances and ultimately developed into Anglo-Catholicism, which has been highly influential in the Anglican Communion as well as other Christian traditions.

Keble College, Oxford, was founded in his memory in 1870. The College was designed by William Butterfield, a leading exponent of Victorian Gothic who had been raised in a Nonconformist family but later became a convinced High-Church Anglican. He and other architects influenced by the Oxford Movement looked to medieval cathedrals for inspiration and designed churches full of colour as a celebration of God’s creation. The walls of Keble College Chapel are lined with brilliant mosaics showing scenes from the Old Testament and the life of Christ, and patristic and medieval saints. Some see Keble College and Chapel as the high point of Butterfield’s architectural achievements.

John Keble’s page at Hymnary.org lists dozens of hymns. Some of Rev. Keble’s writings, including “National Apostasy” and seven Tracts For The Times, are posted here. All of the tracts are posted here.

KES Chapel Reflection, Week of 27 March

Be it unto me

Chapel and classes resumed after the March break on Monday, March 25th, an auspicious occasion in the Christian calendar and yet one with a considerable resonance with other religions and philosophies. One can’t help but observe that it is exactly nine months to Christmas! At once ‘hooray’, and ‘oh, no’, I suppose! It marks the Feast of the Annunciation, the annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she is to be the mother of God, the mother of Jesus, a story which we ordinarily hear in Advent and at Christmas. Yet the feast of the Annunciation marks the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary, not by way of biological and sexual intercourse, but intellectually and spiritually and in ways that redeem and sanctify the physical and the natural; hence the significance of the symbolism of nine months to Christmas, to the birth of Christ. “Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it” as Medieval wisdom puts it. Mary plays a significant role in the Christian understanding of Christ and who Christ is for us. As such she is a central figure in the question which all the great religions and philosophies wrestle with, the question about what it means to be human.

Many of you have just returned from various adventures and travels, journeys to far off places and climes, journeys to Africa and Europe and elsewhere, journeys that are global; others of you have travelled in other ways, through books and thoughts, through dreams and the power of imagination. Yet the one important and interesting thing about all the journeys of our lives is that while we talk about getting away from things, the one thing we cannot get away from and the one thing that we always take with us wherever we go and however we go, is ourselves. You. And so there is the critical necessity of thinking about what it means to be a ‘you’, a self. Mary plays a crucial and critical role in that kind of thinking.

We cannot think of Mary without looking back into such figures as Hannah and Miriam in the Old Testament as well as host of other figures and images such as Deborah “who arose as a mother in Israel” and Jael, “most blessed among women”, whom the Song of Deborah in the Book of Judges celebrates, a book which we will be exploring over the next little while. Mary, too, as the mother of Jesus, is present in the Qur’an; she is actually mentioned there more times than in the Christian New Testament. But far from being merely a role model for women, Mary is the great exemplar of what it truly means to be human. She is part of our current quest to think about what it means to be a ‘self’ or whether that is simply an illusion. Perhaps, there is no ‘you’; perhaps, as Yuval Noah Harari suggests, you are merely an “organic algorithm”, and, whatever that means, it means that there is no ‘you’. Your March break journey was, perhaps, merely a fantasy!

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