Mary and Jesus and Good Disagreement

I preach this sermon today after hearing the scriptures afresh this morning and so beautifully read, caught up again by the imagery in Isaiah of the Bridegroom and his Bride. I can not help but explore John's Gospel and that Wedding at Cana, in the light of what God is saying to us after a week of conversation on such topics in the Anglican Communion.

If you were with us a few weeks ago, you'll remember Jesus in his childhood, as a twelve year old, staying behind in the temple and missing to his parents for three days. We heard of Mary's anxiety.

Here now, eighteen years later, and at a wedding with anxiety over missing wine, there is much to learn from conversation, where two people: Mary and Jesus seem again at odds with one another.

When Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, he had been unapologetic to his mother. Here, as a man, in response again to his mother's fears, he uses words we find quite puzzling.

If Jesus had been more the middle-class Anglican – in response to Mary's, “Son, why have you done this? Your father and I have sought you anxiously,” he might have responded: “Oh I do apologise, I became so distracted at the temple I lost all track of time. I'm so terribly sorry.”

And to the situation in Cana and his mother's whisper about the lack of wine, he might have responded, “Good grief, how appalling, thank you so much for bringing this to my attention, let me see what I can do.”

But Jesus doesn't respond like this on either occasion. When wine runs out, he responds with “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

In the temple, when 12, his response had been, 'Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house.' 

The truth can not be compromised by the desire for politeness. 

Mary would not have known what we know by the phrase 'My hour has not yet come.' We know it points to the hour of his glorification on the cross but she would have thought he was declining her invitation to immediately sort the wine.

What she does in response, though, is to trust that Jesus will act. She instructs the waiters at the wedding to do whatever Jesus tells them; made confident by her faith in him (though she knows not quite what he will do) she tells waiters to, “Do whatever he tells you.” These, her last recorded words in the gospel of John.

What are we to learn from these passages this weekend of all weekends, when the news has explored decisions made by the Anglican Communion in the recent meeting of the Primates of the Provinces? One decision reached was that the Episcopal church, who last year, without consultation, changed their doctrine of marriage, will become unable to take part in communion decision-making for three years, as a consequence.

The love between Mary and her Son was, of course, without question and yet in the two conversations we have explored briefly this morning, opinion was not harmonious. Jesus travelled back in silence from the temple but we're told lived in obedience to his parents.

Jesus told his mother his hour would come later and yet made the wine flow in response to the faith she placed in him.

There's lots of give and take when we're living in relationship.

Perhaps what Jesus and Mary model for us then is that as Mother of God and Son of God there can, for a while, be good disagreement and yet unimpaired love and certainly holy communion; that we trust that both Jesus and Mary acted for the good of God's people. 

After them, people everywhere are to seek together, as best they can, the will of the Father. 

Jesus chooses his Father's House over his mother's home as he stays in the temple; is obedient to the Father though it pains his mother; and in this points to the hour that will come when he does similar, and she stands at a cross to witness his surrender.

Mary asks waiters at a wedding and Christians today and everywhere: 'Do whatever he tells you.' The problem will be that this 'doing' is interpreted differently, that we can not, just like Mary, for-see, always, what Jesus will do. We must trust, though, that in his actions, he reveals the glory of the Father, not always in ways we'll understand or are necessarily easy, his greatest glory being revealed on a lonely hill and on a cross at Calvary.

On both occasions Jesus acts. 

In the first story, becoming lost to a Mother temporarily, but right at home in his heavenly Father, in asking questions at the temple, Jesus grows in wisdom and the Holy Spirit, surrenders other priorities to the authority of his Father.

And here at that wedding with wine fast becoming lost down the throats of gathered guests, Jesus will make more again and grow the faith of his disciples, who begin that day to know him better from this first demonstration of his authority.

Perhaps ultimately from this story, then, this morning, we are to be those who here ask questions of our faith together, so we might grow in wisdom and in the Holy Spirit and trust in God's authority.

Where we come to different conclusions, (and we're bound to do so temporarily) despite this we're to continue loving one another and learning from our diversity, as we travel in communion to catch glimpses of his glory. Amen.


Out of Sorts Interview with Sarah Bessey

Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist, has released her latest book, Out of Sorts. I had the great privilege of putting some questions to her. Please find the interview below. Order her book: poignant and timely, a very real wrestle with questions of life and faith.

Sarah Bessey is author of OUT OF SORTS. Her book has been published by Howard Books. Quotations from Sarah's book are in italics.

QUESTION: 'At some point, we all have to let people live their lives, even if that means they want to live them far away from us.You use these words to describe the choice that your uncle made to live in independence from family. This approach towards people's personal choices perhaps has helped you to enter deeply into the lives of other people whilst at the same time differentiating yourself from them, their stuff is their stuff and yours is yours – can you say some more about this?

ANSWER: I see it more as respecting each other’s choices and narratives. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, of course, but in the end, I’ve found peace in releasing expectations and even demanding certain outcomes. In our particular story, I continue to hope for reconciliation but even if that doesn’t happen, I have to be willing to release people precisely because I love them and to trust that God is at work with or without my involvement. Sometimes it’s an act of love to let people walk away, but I will say that it’s important to keep the door to return always open.

QUESTION 'I wonder if we’ve forgotten that the Church isn’t simply an institution. It’s us. We’re it. We are all standing in our own homes, looking at all the boxes and the junk and the treasures of our inheritance, and we are thinking to ourselves, “God, what a mess. Someday I really need to do something about all this.”' Your synopsis of the thinking of Phyllis Trickle helps the church to understand the cyclical nature of change and struggle, you speak of this tendency to pattern in your own family, 'we're all just corkscrewing around the same issues.' You describe your own return to the same truths as a corkscrewing – it would seem that there are healthy returnings and less healthy returnings to familiar patterns – can you say somehting more about this? In what ways do you think the church can benefit from becoming more aware of the corkscrewing?

ANSWER: I think it’s quite precious how I thought that I was so unique and original in my struggles and awakenings! Bless. It’s like a university student who goes away from home for the first time and comes home after one course of philosophy with all the answers and all the ways everyone else is doing it wrong, you know? There really is nothing new under the sun. It’s a necessary part of our formation, absolutely, but it’s also part of the story that we need to live into the rest of the story. Even in our spiritual formation, we find some amazing new thing or idea but then we discover that the new thing is actually an ancient thing and there are a lot of people waiting for us on the other side of our shifts and changes. For me, if I had tried to write this book ten years ago it would be an entirely different book because I hadn’t lived into my formation enough yet - it’s likely that is still the case and I’ll look back on this as a snapshot of one moment in my development as opposed to the definitive work. But regardless, I suppose I’ve just grown more comfortable with the tethering roots of our stories and our legacies. We like to think we can cut ties and be autonomous but the very thing that formed us then continue to form us now - we can either recognize and work within it with agency and thoughtfulness or we can be victims of it.

QUESTION: You describe the conversion of your family to faith and are unapologetic for it saying 'Maybe I’m tired of finding other ways to say it, to make it more palatable and reasonable and logical. What is this life in Christ like if not a bit of disorderly resurrection?' Do you think it requires a particular kind of vulnerability to tell our testimonies?

ANSWER: Absolutely. I think that’s why it’s such holy ground, so precious to me. Even now at our church’s baptism services, they make space for each person to share their testimony with the community and it never fails to make me cry. I think there is something so powerful and inarguable about a story of how we encountered Jesus. And to speak our deepest truths - I was lost and then I was found, I was lonely and then I found family and friends, I was blind but now I see, I was broken but now I am whole - those are points of connection and their healing ripples out into the lives of those privileged to hear it or witness it.

QUESTION'Church became a social club at times, then it became a burden to bear. I’ll write more about Church later in the book, but for now, I’ll just say this: I lost Jesus in there. It seemed one could be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus.' You describe the domestication of your faith as you moved into mainstream church? Were there any redeeming features to those churches that you experienced?

ANSWER: Absolutely and I hope I gave equal billing to that very thing in the book. At the time that I was walking through this season, I was quite prideful and purposefully isolated myself. I know I was also hurt and burned out and other legitimate things as well as having actual worthwhile questions and push back. Now years later I look back with tremendous gratitude for each church and community that was a part of my development.

QUESTION: You describe reading the gospels in your return to faith and how 'Jesus was not what I expected. Not what I remembered. I had expected a comfortable wise man, someone saying nice things about being nice and kind to people. I think I expected a version of Jesus I had tricked out of my memory: comfortable, safe. Clearly I’d blurred the Jesus of my childhood with the real one of the Gospels ...'
What was it that you found most shocking about Jesus?

ANSWER: I had this idea of a comfortable and safe and nice Jesus. Instead I found Jesus was a bit wild and challenging and cleansing and healing all at once. Instead of a placating moral guide, he was curing everything that was sick in us and healing everything that was broken and bringing the dead in us to life. It’s bracing and reorienting. And I think I used to think of Jesus as just another character in the Bible and then I was reoriented to the truth that Jesus is the point of the Scriptures, the axis, and so I needed to reunderstand the rest of Scripture through his teaching. As an example, when Jesus tells us that we used to be servants but now we’re his friends, that is wild to me and completely changes how we read so much of the Bible.

QUESTION: You describe your own wresting with the Scriptures. 'And let’s be honest: being a Christian is sometimes almost at odds with what we read in some parts of Scripture. We can be entirely “biblical” and yet be far from being a disciple of Jesus Christ.' Can you expand on this? In what ways have you encountered this?

ANSWER: We can pick and choose Bible verses and so we are technically “Biblical” but we aren’t being true to the teachings of Jesus. For instance, we can quote things from the Levitical laws such as “an eye for an eye” but then Jesus teaches us to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek and to love and pray for our enemies as we would for our brothers. So if we throw away the teachings of Jesus in favour of something else we find in the Bible, then we might be “biblical” but we aren’t a disciple of Jesus.

QUESTION: 'It started with those clobber verses—anyone who has been on the receiving end, you know the ones—2 Timothy, Titus 2, Ephesians 5, and so on. I did my research long before the day came to write, but as a refresher, I dug out the commentaries and books again. Responsible author, I wanted to make sure I had my hermeneutical ducks in a row. But as I worked my way through the passages of Scripture that I used to hate, I began to see Paul more clearly, to understand Scripture even better. I began to see his wisdom, his subversion, his heart.'

I have a similar journey to you and finding the plain reading so provocative here I then applied a close reading which began a close reading of the rest of scripture which cemented for me both call and discipleship: ordained ministry would be my shape for living out discipleship – to grow churches where people are not afraid to ask questions. How do you conceive of your call?

ANSWER: I think I’m still living into my calling. By vocation, I know that I’m a writer. That’s my sweet spot, for sure, but I’ve been surprised at how following Jesus has lead me into writing about the things I write about in particular. And so much of my calling has actually been articulated and affirmed first by the ones I trust and by my community. For instance, I didn’t think that preaching or speaking would ever be a part of my life but my husband and my family and my church community identified that gift in me and gave me opportunities to learn and practice and empowered me to step out into that gift. I probably wouldn’t have ever done that without their affirmation and empowerment. Now I believe a big part of my calling is perhaps a bit outside of the gates - I’m not ordained, I’m not formally theologically trained etc. - and to shepherd people who are there, too. At the core of everything I write and everything I preach is one thing: you are loved. That’s it. If I had one last breath in my body, it would be spent speaking of the overwhelming welcome and love of God towards us.

QUESTION: 'He even gave me the extra measure: his blessing to explore my struggles and ideas and weaknesses in a public forum through blogging about it or talking about it. He was not threatened by my honesty. We each let the other be wrong for a long time.' 

I had this time too, blogging at Revising Reform – because I was literally 'revising' swotting up on what this organisation in the Church of England thought regarding the cross, mainly and women's roles in the church. I could only blog about it because friends at school and nursery pick-up didn't 'get it' or had already too quickly made up their minds. How important do you think it is to find safe places, places where you can be heard and engage and listen? How do you think church might facilitate such places?

ANSWER: I think it’s deeply important! A safe space is deeply important to our spiritual formation. I think that’s part of the reason why people are connecting with the book - they feel less alone and less scared, a little less isolated in their questions or changes. And even though the research shows that these seasons of our lives are entirely normal and healthy, we don’t usually shepherd people well in that season. If anything a lot of our churches are structured around a very literal and early stage of our spiritual formation, they function best if we don’t question and don’t push back or begin to embrace curiosity and complexity. It’s important to be accessible for people in the early stages of their journey, absolutely, but it’s also important to create the space and conversation and companions and guides for all the stages of our faith journeys.

QUESTION: 'My experiences in church ranged widely over the years. But when my husband left ministry and we were both limping home to Canada—burned out, burned up, exhausted—one thing was sure: the reality was pretty far from the ideal. So even though Brian still refused to give up on the Church as an ideal, in reality I opted to stop going to church. For six years.'

You write with great candidness about being 'burned out, burned up, exhausted' and leaving ministry with your husband. What advice would you have for leaders of churches?

ANSWER: My advice would be to walk closely with Jesus, to lean into his rhythms of ministry and life because in Matthew 11:28, he promises that it is a rhythm of grace, it isn’t a burden. So much of ministry can feel like striving and making things happen instead. I’d also recommend that pastors get ahold of everything written by Eugene Peterson on pastoring and start reading there.

QUESTION: 'I think the Church is one of the weirdest ideas and one of the best ideas. If church were just a sanctified social club, I’d be out. If it were just about singing songs or listening to a great sermon, I could do that at home—thanks to the new worship movement albums on iTunes and free podcasts. If it were just about staying busy, I’ve already got that handled rather nicely. So I’ve done my best to figure out the essence of the Church.'

Can you describe the essence of the church is a sentence?

ANSWER: It’s a God-centered and Spirit-breathed community sent to continue the life and ministry of Jesus.

QUESTION: 'We have these moments of transcendence, like the veil between heaven and earth is fluttering. We can’t breathe for the loveliness of the world and each other, and just like that, we remember something. Our skin is made of dust, so we often catch the perfumed scent of the Garden in the cool of the evening, and we know, somewhere inside, that we’re supposed to be walking with God, unashamed still. I wonder if that’s really what happens when we meet Jesus. It’s not that we meet Him or that we believe in Him or that we “invite Him into our hearts” or that we mentally assent tosome nonnegotiable truths that will govern our best life now. No, I think it’s that we recognize Him. I think that part of our souls, our spirits, our bodies, our minds, locks into focus. It wasn’t a dream, no, that is what’s real. When we cross the threshold of faith, we enter into an awareness that the Kingdom of God has already come.'

Your writing is very beautiful and vulnerable and yet uncompromising, who inspires you to write this way?

ANSWER: I’m not sure, really, this is just my voice, I suppose, my way of wrestling and telling stories and talking. I think I can probably credit influence to a few places though - a deep and abiding love of Scripture and my reading habits lean more towards poetry, literature, or spiritual writers whose work makes me weep with the beauty like Madeleine L’Engle or Barbara Brown Taylor.

Thank you, Sarah Bessey!  


Hope beyond hope or 'figs when the figs have gone'

Rachel Royster artist

I am struggling lately to walk two dogs quickly enough through the allotments for the school run because figs have fallen from overhanging trees there and puppies think pudding is being served and will not walk on.

One of the ancient signs of hope is the fruitfulness of fig trees. Fig tree leaves provide cover for Adam and Eve on the discovery of their nakedness, perhaps a fig tree shelters Jonah as he sulks at God in Ninevah. The Old Testament prophets speak of their hope in terms of the plenty, the abundance, of grape vines and fig trees. Fig trees can live hundreds of years and seem to provide for us in all sorts of ways.

The idea of waiting for something to bear fruit is one we are all familiar with, literal and metaphorical. At Advent we are encouraged more especially to develop a propensity for waiting, to cultivate holy patience, a vision for a God who has all the time in the world and yet at any minute might return as Christ the King just as he once appeared as a refugee baby, taking that same world by surprise.

Jesus speaks of fig trees several times in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 13, he tells us of a man wanting to cut down his fig tree because it's not produced fruit in three years. The man decides to wait a year longer, tend the plant and its soil and if it still proves unfruitful he will then cut it down. We are always encouraged to push beyond our natural ability to hope, to be patient, to press on into a kind of hope that is almost supernatural. It is by the Holy Spirit, we can cultivate a truly Christian hope. It can be as many as five years before a fig tree begins to bear any decent kind of fruit.

In today's parable, Jesus uses the fig tree to teach us to be patient for the things of God. Those things for which we long, do not come quickly. We are to be watchful, tend the soil, trust the promise, watch for signs, God is still at work, bringing forth the fruit.

Jesus says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Jesus helps us to cultivate hope where others would give up. 

There will be times when “people faint with fear for what is coming upon the world.” But as Jesus-people we are told that when “these things take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” How opposite this is to the posture that's so usual to assume, to take cover, look for shelter, choose the fig leaves and not the fruit. Just like Adam and Eve and Jonah, the first couple obsessed by shame and resorting to blame and the latter Jonah, cross with God who hasn't wiped out his enemies, we too can hide and cower rather than sharing our vulnerability and trusting that something good can come from the biggest, most difficult messes; that the brownest sludge of soil and dung can grow the healthiest tree. 

When others faint with fear, we lift our heads and it is from a posture such as this, that we better see the coming Kingdom.

Jesus helps us to cultivate hope when others would give up.

As Resurrection people we are told “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” We are not to cultivate anxiety or anaethetise with wine. Again a common panacea for the stresses and strains of life can be the tiny fixes that become sedation, self-medication, distraction and compulsion, those things which dull the senses to the signs that God is near.

It is Advent, time to be vigilant then, wide awake, don't miss the light as it bursts into the darkness, be dressed in readiness, Be like those waiting for their master. 

Come out from under fig leaves, look up higher and see the fruit coming!

We will light our first candle this morning, and over three more weeks other small flames will join it.

Where we see a little light we are to tend to it and nourish it. 
Where we see a little soil we are to pray that it's receptive.
Where we see the good beginnings of something somewhere it is God who will cause the growth of it.

Let Christ cultivate in you his patience by the power of His Spirit. 

God's got all the time in the world you know for his is the world and everything in it.

He sometimes even serves up good stuff when the figs have fallen from the trees and there's not a leaf left for shelter, when we feel a bit impoverished.

It took puppy dogs to remind me that next time I'm in a rush again, it might just be I miss the good stuff being served up all around me. 

The future can not be predicted – no one knows the hour, not even the Son of man but in the meantime we are to look about us, left and right and up and down again and point out to one another the good things God is doing.

Let him stop you in your walk with him. 
Slow down for him this Advent ...
....on the school run, the work run, the moments when tubes are leaving, there's bound to be another one. 
Pause a while and count your blessings. 
Feel his hand of healing on your head again...don't miss the good stuff on the way.

Let advent be a journey which makes Christmas more than a destination, let this be the preparation for the coming of God's Kingdom. 

I challenge you to let God turn sticky moments into something very good for him. 

Look up and see the fruit and that perhaps the path before you, littered as it seems to be with all sorts of inconveniences, might just be good things on the road as you travel this Advent season with him.




We read in The Observer that there are likely to be divisions over the value system behind a radical programme to make the Church of England “fit for purpose.”

Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, is one of the loudest critics of the Reform and Renewal Program. Fulcrum heard Bishop Pete Broadbent describe the Reform and Renewal program this April at one of its Pivot^Point evenings.

London clergy are hearing about the values that underpin such thinking in the diocese's Riverside Leadership Program hosted by St Milletus college, Kensington which was opened by Richard Chartres and his challenge to be 'Vision Ied and not problem obsessed.' There is a need to 'look at the clutter and simplify.' We need a 'clear direction of travel and improvisations are important.'

We are hearing the clarion call for change and are being encouraged to do something before it is too late and the church faces a very real crisis. Money is to be redistributed, clergy are to be better trained for vocations that require them to engage with the world as it is - health and safety, safeguarding, lone-working agreements, human resourcing, employing and equipping, we are registrars, we are managers, we are balancers of budgets and communicators of financial forecasts, we are also counsellors of sorts and teachers of the scriptures. We hear that 40% of the church’s clergy will retire in the next decade and MBA-style management courses will train the newly appointed to take on wider briefs and meet various targets. A particular kind of pragmatism is to be taught if it can't be caught.

Percy's concerns are over “the uncritical use of business principles, which are mostly untested...' In the Riverside Leadership program we learn that we are to be unapologetic about our explorations and training for 'leadership.' All agendas are value-laden and we can critically engage with secular management theories and discern consonance there with the values of the faith and so claim for God what might in business be building the markets.

I am not concerned by visions for simplification and a necessary pragmatism. I am in favour of flattening dualisms and capturing what we can for God. Reading D'Costa in College taught me to watch for the work of the Spirit in those places and people, books and theories that do not proclaim faith in God, that if it's all God's initiative anyway, then I can look anywhere for signs of the Kingdom, it is discernment we are to pray for as we spot what can be used for Him.

I trust that we will not be throwing babies out with the water that might seem to be filling the 'sinking ship.'

As Parish priests we grapple with Church Representation Rules, Churchwardens Measures, Ecclesiastical Law,  Annual Parochial Church meetings and how to recruit paid and voluntary people under Diocesan Safer Recruitment processes etc. We also develop our study and practice of prayer, liturgy, Anglican Communion history and exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to the scriptures, preaching and spiritual disciplines. We disciple and are discipled, we are formed and chipped away at. We become rightly accountable, learn prophetic edge and make mistakes, we are challenged to combine theological rigour with the simplification process being championed because hopefully these things will complement and informs each other.

The church will be challenged to hold tight to its development of ‘character’ together with its approach to the accumulation of technique and approach which can be taught and nurtured. Alister McGrath believes that ‘the promotion of the well-being of an institution, and compliance with its culture seem to take priority over the gospel.’

From what I have seen of the church’s structures to this point in my ministry, I am convinced that this is not so: there is being modelled to me that vital engagement with the gospel that is surely our mission here on earth.  It will be interesting to see how plans for the Reform and Renewal of the Church of England are hatched over the next five years as Synod is launched next week. 


Embodied souls

Jesus came to "unbind" us, like he does Lazarus, in that Jesus came to release us into believing by faith the Christian promise that life really does come from death. Life comes from death - we remember today those who have gone before us, this All Saints Day: those exemplary and remembered by many. Life comes from death – we remember tomorrow All Souls Day, those more ordinary and remembered by perhaps just you and I.

All Saints and All Souls - we are never to be in denial that death is the only certainty of life but we are also to know that Christ has made possible our triumph over death. Jesus came to lead us into God's culture, a culture based on life.

Halloween seems to be an unhealthy, maybe harmless, preoccupation of contemporary culture. We have had that this weekend too. The world over, there are many customs and traditions which help people to explore death. Halloween was originally, of course, that hallowed eve before the remembering of the lives of those who have died. This once Christian festival has been captured sometimes in macabre and dark ways about which we shouldn't be naïve but mostly by young children intent on collecting as many sweets as they can, quite unaware of its deeper themes.

It would seem that this All Saints, All Souls, this hallowed weekend, we are to learn from Jesus how we are to do both life and death.

We have two interesting scriptures for this hallowed day – one from Revelation that “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away,” and the other from John's Gospel to show us that when death comes, there is a right response: the weeping that we see is Christ's at the loss of his dear friend and another right response that is Christ's – a supreme confidence that death is not the end. A Christian confidence is a confidence in eternal life. This is hope indeed.

In the days of Jesus' culture in first century Palestine, there would have been a ceremonial wailing in public displays of grief that we see today in news broadcasts as people take to the streets and wail and beat their chests mourning their loss. There are cultural expectations that accompany death – the world over - but the word for ritual wailing (klaio) is not the one used in John's Gospel for Jesus as he weeps. This word is dakryo, the only occurrence in the NT- a word for weeping quietly, for crying in silence. Jesus' compassion is genuine, between him and God and the sisters of Lazarus: Martha and Mary.

Jesus responds with authenticity in his grief but he faces death too with that ultimate confidence in God's power of life. And so models in this a right response to death. His being greatly disturbed in his Spirit is better rendered angry because death, for the Christian never has the final word. A reply comes with a another word and that word is life. In the raising of Lazarus Jesus makes visible Christian reality of life triumphing always over death – Lazarus is bodily raised and really brought back to bodily life and will of course die again but never really again because his is eternal life. Death is forever undone through the work of Christ.

It is people's ever doubting this that also causes Jesus' anger. Freedom in life comes more easily when we do not live afraid of death.

The Christian story only makes sense if we trust Jesus that life doesn't end with death for those who are in Christ. Before our reading from John today the story was already beginning to be told: Jesus tells Martha as he arrives at the scene, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.' Jesus has Lazarus be a literal object-lesson of this teaching. In our creed every Sunday we say: “We look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.” We can be confident as we say these words because of this reality proclaimed today – that as we meet to concentrate on souls and saints – souls are secure in Christ for those who believe in Him and the saints whom we mourn the loss of, whether well-known or not, share company with us with the Father – Paul's letter to the Ephesians teaches us that all Christians are saints waiting for the final victory promised in Revelation that one day this very place where we stand and sit even right now will be a place that knows no death or mourning or pain for the old order of things will have passed away and Christ will have finally and completely made all things new. This is our hope that we celebrate today so that as we commit this day to those who have died we can be assured and filled with peace.

The Saints today are those of Christian history, Spencer Perceval of passionate evangelical faith and those dear to us who have died in the reality of Christ. They know a life already to which we are all headed. Those souls which we will remember this afternoon are at rest but if we believe the doctrines of the church, they will one day be raised, given resurrection bodies and the New Jerusalem will come. This is the faith of the church that we profess. So let's today revisit this faith – for it is a faith based on life after life after death (read Tom Wright if you want to know more about that) – yes there is heaven – a place of rest with Christ but there is also one day that which we profess in our creed – the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come – this is that world described in the book of Revelation – God sets the bounds for eternal life – and we read of his plans here – in this Holy Book – fifteen copies of which we will soon have in our church!

Let's be confident as Christians in the Christian Hope of eternal life. With the Saints gone before us, we will one day be reunited – yes. As Richard Baxter wrote, that Puritan divine:

Before thy throne we daily meet
As joint-petitioners to thee;
In spirit each the other greet,
And shall again each other see.

There are a few I long to meet – St Paul, my favourite apostle and Spencer Perceval, my relatives again, my friends. And so today with you I am reminded of the core truth of my faith – as Lazarus leaves the tomb, the people must unbind him, there's an unwrapping, a revealing, an uncovering to come, to reveal the life within and the people must join in.

My prayer for us all is that this weekend so hallowed, when we celebrate the lives of those gone before us and in seven days will do so again on Remembrance Sunday is that between now and then we appropriate again and with more fervency our belief in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Our Christian Hope for all saints, all souls, all bodies. Amen.


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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.