The UK television series ‘Little Britain’ is not everyone’s cup of tea. You may not even know it. In a series of comedy sketches, ranging from the tasteless through to bad taste (!), there is one recurring sketch with Andy and Lou. Andy is in a wheelchair, Lou is his carer. Whenever Lou goes off to speak to someone Andy is up and running about, or playing football or something energetic, but by the time Lou returns Andy is always back in his wheelchair. In one episode Lou turns away to chat to someone for a few moments – when he looks back to the wheelchair Andy is nowhere to be seen. The camera than pans upwards to discover Andy sitting on a branch way up in a tree. ‘How did you get up there?’ Lou asks naively. ‘I fell’ replies Andy. Watching it you will either find it hilariously funny, or hate it, but you will be left with one question in your mind. How can you fall upwards?
On a rather deeper level this question can be reoriented towards questions that challenge everything we assume as normal and invariable. Science has helped us in our fixed thinking about this. From the perspective of humanity everything on earth must move downwards – gravity dictates this, and gravity equally dictates our spiritual view. All the cosmos also has to be dragged downwards by the gravity created by the human perspective. All comes down to our level, nothing can be raised to God’s level. Man makes God in human image.
Immediately you will see the dilemma here. Philippians 2 rightly reminds us that God gave up everything of himself and entered into human life – kenosis – we call it, self emptying. This kenotic action of God results in a Jesus who lived, preached, performed miracles, suffered, and died on a cross.
St. John tells us that this is the Divine Word, the Logos, that has come among us and has become flesh. This divine action has been shared with us already in a vision of Daniel (Daniel 7), ‘As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven’. It’s a well known passage in Daniel – well known enough for Jesus himself to quote it, much to the shock of the religious authorities.
It ended – all this human playing field – with a death, a crucifixion. As the human race reflected on this we were drawn to think of what this man did for us by dying in such a way. He took away our sin, some say; he paid a price to pay for our purchase, some say; he was sacrificed to appease the anger that God had against us some say; and so the ideas go on in an endless hypothesis with no real conclusion that is finite, because what we all know is that this man’s death on the cross is a mystery, a mystery that touches each and every one of us deeply as we journey, little step by little step, into that mystery. He was on our level, you see, so we can think of what he has done but on our own human terms. We have all fallen – thanks to that Adam and Eve stuff – and of course, we have all fallen ‘downwards.’
Sermon preached by Fr Leonard Dooland at the Zoom Liturgy
You may never have visited St. Paul’s Athens, and I know that we have some participants in our Zoom service from other parts of the region or as Nicholas Parsons says when he introduces ‘Just a Minute’ on Radio 4 , ‘and throughout the world’.
Since the middle of March even stalwart regulars at St. Paul’s have not been able to attend the building so maybe the memory is not serving so well. Let me remind you of the four windows at the east end above the altar.
There are four saints in stained glass. One is St. Paul of course, responsible for many of the letters in the New Testament, and along with St. Peter whose missionary journeys are narrated by St. Luke in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. Paul was martyred in Rome.
The second is Andrew, one of those called by Jesus to be a disciple turned missionary after the great event of Pentecost. Andrew of course is closely linked to Greece, as a patron saint, and whose remains are in the Metropolis at Patra. There is a tradition that in ancient days a monk stole a fragment from one of the bones and sailed to what we now know as Scotland, establishing a shrine there in a place now called St. Andrews,
where there was once the largest ecclesiastical building in Scotland before the Reformation. There is, of course, still the finest University in the world there, founded in 1413. Andrew received his crown of glory in the first generation of believers.
In the lower level we then have two deacons of the church. Like Paul and Andrew, both of these deacons were martyred for their faith. The first is Lawrence. He was a deacon in the church at Rome and received his crown of martyrdom in the year AD298. Usually Lawrence is shown holding a grid-iron, the assumed instrument of his death.
On Sunday in our Anglican tradition the theme for the 4th Sunday of Easter focuses on the powerful and well known theme of the Shepherd. This theme is always linked to one of the Sundays in Easter, and sometimes it spreads over two Sundays – it depends which year we are in because our Sunday readings are on a three year cycle. It is a great image of the Christ who is our chief pastor.
The metaphor runs through a lot of normal church language. We speak of pastors, the Latin word for a shepherd. Even the word congregation comes from the Latin greges meaning a sheep. When priests are ordained that same image is used of a shepherd/sheep relationship as we are exhorted to place the image of the Good Shepherd before us – the Bonus Pastor.
It is a beautiful teaching from Christ – I am the Good Shepherd.
In the Orthodox tradition the same Sunday has a different focus. The second Sunday after Pascha is the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearers των Μυρόφερων. This is also a very beautiful theme, and one that isn’t given enough attention in the Anglican tradition. It tells of those women who came to Joseph of Arimathea’s garden to tend the body of Christ in the tomb. This couldn’t be done on the day of the burial, because it was both Sabbath and Passover.
Each of the gospels supplies different details about these faithful women. In total there are 8 that the Orthodox tradition names – Mary of Magdala, Mary (the Theotokos), Joanna, Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, and Martha of Bethany. All women who had been close to Christ, who had ministered to him in life, or who had received from him a ministry of compassion. One of them had of course brought expensive perfumed gum to anoint Christ’s feet at Bethany, a sign that was used to foretell death, and which resonates with one of the gifts brought by the Magi to the crib of Christ.
Sermon preached by the Revd James Harris to the Anglican Church in Greece (by Zoom!)
Today, we hear the story of a walk. In the UK at the moment, we’re getting pretty used to walks. It’s more or less all we’re allowed to do that gets us out of the house. Maybe it’s the same in Greece.
Yes, today we hear the story of a walk – but not just a walk in the park; not a permitted daily exercise walk, nor an essential journey to the corner shop to buy wine… I mean, milk and bread. No, a life-changing, re-orienting, kind of a walk – a pilgrimage, in other words, where the experience of the walk itself is as important as the destination, indeed becomes part of the fruit, the prize of the destination.
This morning, I want to invite you on a little pilgrimage, a spiritual walk, as we explore our own experience of journeying through life, in the light of St Luke’s account of that Resurrection walk to Emmaus.
There are four stages to the journey I have in mind – not necessarily always consecutive or linear – and it will be interesting to note where each of us feels we are today. But, as we prepare to set out, let’s remind ourselves that we are in the company of pilgrims throughout the ages, who have embarked on a journey of seeking God, including those heading for Canterbury perhaps…:
When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage…
(Chaucer – from the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales)
So, on this April morning, as Zephyr is perhaps ‘quickening’ the plants on your balcony, let’s set out on our walk with Christ.