Form our hands for service AND prayer

SERMON, preached at the Easter Vigil 2023 at St Thomas, Kensal Town

Gospel: S Matthew 28:1-10

Brothers and Sisters – Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Easter is like what it will be entering eternity when you suddenly, peacefully, clearly recognise all your mistakes as well as all that you did well: everything falls into place. In Nomine +

I was a bit of a church geek (and if the Vicar says anything, I’ll throw salt in his post-Mass bubbly!) growing up in my native Sweden, and the Church of Sweden had one single authorised hymnal from the time I turned 3 until the time I moved to the UK in 2013, so most frequent church goers would the hymns and their words, be it in central Stockholm or in the rural north, and my absolute favourite hymn (number 154 in the Swedish Ecumenical Hymnal, if anyone wants to know!) was one of the Easter hymns, which (somewhat roughly translated) begins like this:

Your hands are full of flowers,
to whom did you intend to give them?
Our flowers were intended for the grave of Christ,
but he’s not there, and his grave is empty!

and I think this hymn rather gloriously tell of the confusion that the two Marys must have felt coming to the tomb. They were going to lament the loss of the Messiah, to put flowers at the grave of their dead Master, and then – BOOM! Not only the surprise of seeing an angel, but an actual earthquake! It was enough to make the guards swoon, and from what history (and Monty Python’s Life of Brian) tell us, Roman Centurions didn’t swoon easily. The angel sits on the stone that was sealed shut by the chief priests and Phariesees , and the grave is empty! Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of the fishermen) had seen Joseph of Arimathea putting Jesus in the tomb themselves, and yet now, he was not there.

Christ had – much like Fr Sam just sang in the Exsultet – broken the prison-bars of death and risen victorious from the underworld, AAAAAAAAND left. The angel then tasked Mary and Mary Magdalene with that message of unbelievable joy, to go and tell Christ’s disciples that He has been raised from the dead. They have been tasked to proclaim the Good News – the Evangelium – or, as we say in English – the Gospel. These two women became, one might say, the first post-resurrection evangelists.

‌On their way to proclaim the Good News to the disciples, Jesus himself meets them, and greets them, and then again tells them not to be afraid, and then to go and tell the people where they can see Him again. Let us re-visit that again – the final verse of today’s Gospel – “Then Jesus said to them ‘Do not be afraid’”.

This is NOT Christ telling his disciples that nothing will ever go wrong for them – I’m sure Paul would have one or two things to say about that – but rather the assurance that, whatever may happen to us, whatever a day may hold, God has the power to strengthen us and uphold us; that whatever we must face, we do not face it alone; that nothing we encounter is stronger than God’s love; that ultimately God gets the last word; that in the end—and sometimes even before the end—God’s love is triumphant. Only God can offer such assurance, and that is why, in the end, only God, be it as Father, Son or Holy Spirit, can say, “Do not be afraid,” and say it with authority.

‌In a way, this is also what we as a church (and I am not just talking about those of us gathered together here in St Thomas and those who join us online, but the worldwide Church, have at the very core of our being – that quotation from St John’s Gospel (or as we called it in Sweden – the Little Bible) – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’.

You might well have heard a preacher, thinking he was being clever (in fact, it might even have been yours truly not too long ago), saying that every Sunday is Easter Sunday, and in a way this remains true. Every Sunday we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection through the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, but tonight is the celebration par excellence of this most Holy Mystery.

‌Tonight is, in a way, the ultimate celebration of the Christian faith. We have the renewal of baptismal vows – how through the waters of baptism we let the old man die and then we rise again as members of the Church. We have Christ, through a miracle, being raised from the dead, and meeting the two women. We are, as it were, at the pinnacle of Christian faith – the penitence and death of Lent and the Triduum culminates in the absolute Easter Joy

‌I know that one of the Vicar’s candidates for immediate sainthood is the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who summarises the Easter Joy – OUR Easter Joy – rather well in these words: Easter is like what it will be entering eternity when you suddenly, peacefully, clearly recognise all your mistakes as well as all that you did well: everything falls into place.

‌And so let us then, together, with that very joy that Mary and Mary Magdalene showed and the recognition that, for once, our lives have fallen into place, albeit shortly, go out and proclaim these glad Easter tidings – the very same Evangelium that the two Marys were tasked with – with our words as much as with our lives, just as the final verse of the Swedish hymn I mentioned earlier says (equally roughly translated):

Jesus, risen you stand amongst us,
alive and suffering on Earth today.
Our eyes are made to see you,
form our hands for service AND prayer.

Which is, why we, together with our brother and sister Christians across the world join in the triumphant cry: Alleluia – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

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Alphabetically Me: Obambulate

Photo by Marianna on

Merriam Webster defines OBAMBULATE as “to walk about or wander”

Alphabetically me was a series I started during lockdown when I couldn’t really leave the house. While lockdown is now over (for the time being – there seem to be people who want to reintroduce the curfews again!) I set the various words to write about in this series during lockdown, when just wandering was one of the things I desired the most. During the three-quarters of a year I spent in London before we were forbidden to visit parks and churches, one of my favourite hobbies was going on long walks. (My favourite example was my walk from Westbourne Park to Canary Wharf in the summer of 2019!)

For some reason, post-lockdown, I seem to have lost this hobby. I am not sure if this comes from becoming lazy after having been cooped up in my bedroom for more or less two years, or if it is because the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made everything so expensive one can’t even afford to go out and have a ‘spoons lunch when out and about.

At the moment, I live more or less right between Kensington Gardens and Holland Park, with both of them being less than 10 minutes away – so I should really get my act together, shouldn’t I?

I wonder what it will take me to resume my favourite hobby again?

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2022 – A Year in Review

I normally write one of these posts every year, but apparently I forgot to do so in 2021, so that year will remain undocumented on my blog. However, here’s my 2022 in review.

January 2022 – I started the year celebrating New Year’s Eve with my family in Northern Sweden, followed by – hopefully my last – quarantine until I got a negative PCR test. This was quickly followed by a catch-up with an old friend near the Battersea Power Station (from which the photo above is), as well as lots of LLM course work alongside catching up with other friends, and, of course, doing my day job.

February 2022 – Yet another month of lots of work, as well as the start of the Queen’s anniversary celebration with Accession Day. I saw quite a few friends (including the trip to the London Transport Museum from which the above photo is), tried to help my Vicar host the Shrove Tuesday pancake party and was admitted as a full member of the Church of England Guild of Vergers.

March 2022 – The Lenten highlight of March was the sponsored walk (see above for a photo BEFORE we set out on the 10K walk!) I did with some friends and colleagues from work raising money for Glass Door, our local homelessness charity here in the Royal Borough. I was very humbled to manage to raise the money I aimed for, so if you donated – many thanks! They can always do with more money, so find their donation page here. As always, lots of work, including behind the scenes tours of both the London Metropolitan Archive and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Quite a lot of socialising was also on the agenda, wie immer.

April 2022 – Was, as almost always, Easter Month (the photo above is the Altar of Repose from church on Maundy Thursday evening). Not much happened socially before Holy Week, and then during Holy Week I was in church for every single service, and preached for Easter Day, followed by a lovely lunch at the club! (For those interested, all my sermons I’m happy to share can be found on this blog, looking at the “Preaching” category.) Lots of work as always, including picking up the virge again a few times, as well as dinners with friends.

May 2022 – The main highlight of May was the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead, but all the photos I took of the art I saw were crap. Being at a really big event for the first time after the pandemic restrictions were (finally!) 100% lifted was a bit overwhelming for someone who hates crowds to begin with, but it was great seeing some really good art. The only sadness was the fact that I don’t have my own flat, so I couldn’t really buy anything. Towards the end of the month, I flew home (photos from the tarmac at LGW) to start my spring holiday with a few days with the folks in Northern Sweden, and then continued down to Stockholm for a lovely 23-hour cruise on the very new Viking Glory with my friend Monika. I used to love the Baltic Sea cruises, and it was my first since I moved to Oxford in 2017, so it was great fun to be on one again, and I fear I overindulged myself on the smorgasbord

June 2022 – After the cruise, I had a few days with my sister and her bf, and then one of my best friends from my time in Oxford joined me in Stockholm for a the best part of a week (the photo above is from one of the alleys in Stockholm’s Old Town – or Gamla Stan). It was the first time I was back in the city that was my home for over 10 years since lockdown, and it was absolutely glorious. We did all the touristy things – a list of my Stockholm recommendations can be found here. We visited more or less all the museums listed, and it was great to pop the guide badge on again and take a friend around the city. Occasionally (especially now with COL having gone up so much in London), I sometimes still want to move back to Stockholm… Once I got back to London, things were full on, including the priestly ordination and First Mass of a good friend and some club dinners with friends – at their clubs, not mine, for once! Towards the end of the month I also finished the first of two two-year halves of my Reader training through the Diocese of London.

July 2022 – Another busy month at work, but the first event in the diary outside of work was the Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden (altar party photo above), at which I was the Sub-Deacon at Mass (where Fr Matthew from St Anselm, Hayes, preached an almighty Word!) and then thurifer for Benediction. The Vicar at St Mary’s is an old friend of mine (part of the Twitter friends I met online before I moved to London and am ever so grateful for now that I live here!), so it was a great honour to be asked to come and help! Again, some socialising was squeezed in, and I remain very happy to be a member of my club!

August 2022 – Another busy month, including the Notting Hill Carnival (we kept the Church open throughout Carnival and welcomed over 400 people in, and the start of the trip (together with the aforementioned friend from Oxford) to my beloved Walsingham (the photo above is from the Blessed Sacrament Shrine in the Shrine Church). We stayed at the Priory of which I am an associate, as ever, and managed to squeeze in a museum railway trip to Wells as well as exploring Little Walsingham backwards and forwards.

September 2022 – We started the month at Church with a service to commemorate past, current and future, celebrated by the Archdeacon – so my first time being liturgical Deacon for an Archdeacon! (Dealing with him both through work and church, all of us in the Archdeaconry of Middlesex are very lucky to have Archdeacon Richard, who is the celebrant in the photo above!). September also had the wedding of two close friends, and the catch-ups with numerous more. We also started the final half of my LLM/Reader training with the Diocese, and the month of course also had the sad passing of Her Late Majesty the Queen, may she rest in peace.

October 2022 – Found me walking past this massive erection at one point (The Monument to the Great Fire of London). The same day brought me to our Diocesan Cathedral for Evensong. There’s something special about cathedral evensongs that I miss from my time as a verger in Oxford! We also had a really great away day with my Church (as opposed to work…) PCC, trying to articulate our mission in W10. I am a very lucky man, looking forward to be licensed to minister with the saints of Kensal Town!

November 2022 – Held, among other things, a friend’s birthday party, where I showed up, pretending to be Dr Pusey. The two things that weren’t my own were the tabs and the Canterbury cap! I also managed a lot of catching up with friends, a work Christmas Fair (for which I was responsible for all tills and card machines!) It also had the liturgical New Year – Advent.

December 2022 – The month of the first snow since I moved to Kensington, alongside my birthday party, seeing friends, leading a Carol Service, preaching twice, and being very grateful to close friends ensuring I am spending Christmas Day AND Boxing Day in the bosoms of London families of dear friends. Soon, I’ll be off home to finish the year with my Swedish family, so I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New 2023!!

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There were no computers in Bethlehem

Photo by Soumil Kumar on


Preached at Midnight Mass 2022, St Thomas, Kensal Town

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace among those whom he favors! In Nomine +

Let me start by stating the obvious. Something everyone knows. But sometimes, one has to state the obvious. There were no computers in the stable in Bethlehem. There were no computers in the stable in Bethlehem. There were no plugs, no cables, and no speakers or antennae. No screens, no broadband no Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat. . To make a long story short: in the stable in Bethlehem, there were none of the things we use to mark someone’s existence. None of those things we need to show that we exist or to let people know that something has happened. In the stable in Bethlehem, there were no computers, none of the things we used to prove that we exist.

And still, over 2000 years later, with another language and culture, and many miles, kings, wars, popes, events and events that changed the world, we watch our crib. Year after year, Christmas after Christmas, we see the crib here, Joseph, Mary, the Christchild, angels, donkey, sheep, the Magi, the stars and the shepherds. All those characters from Luke’s account of the First Christmas. And now that we see them all there just like last year, and the year before, and the year before, one starts to ponder what it would have been like to be there AT THE TIME, and how they found it.

What did they think? What did they feel? Would they have felt differently if they’d known that we, thousands of years later, would still look at them, and ponder this specific event? What was it like, one asks, and one feels the tide of history. And then I watch the kneeling shepherds. The shepherds. These men with a laborious and dangerous jobs. Those whose jobs meant that they were at the bottom rung of the social ladder. They belonged to those who lived their lives without appreciation or even attention.

They would probably never be noted in societal conversation and discourse. Shepherds were simply not noticed. And then, this night, as they lie by their fire to keep the darkness, the cold, and the danger away. Suddenly they meet a sight that they’ve never seen before, and, while their initial reaction is fear, they are eventually captured by what they see and hear. The sight, the song and the message they most likely never thought they’d find, all of a sudden steps right into their lives.

‌Just like the universe, just for a second, has opened the curtain and revealed its mystery. And they are very moved by what they see. The sight touches them and gives them a memory for the rest of their lives. And once the singing is over, the angels are gone, the glowing sky dark, and the night is silent again. Then they say, we must go to see this with our own eyes. They don’t stay there, staring into space to relive the experience they just had, they don’t try to savour the emotion, nor do they stay to talk, discuss and analyse what just happened. Nor do they try to find out if they hadn’t lost their marbles, or if they had hallucinated.

‌No, they simply go to see with their own eyes! And finally, they come to the place of this Miracle, and they meet… A stable. An ass, an ox, a lonely young family, a wrinkly baby, a young mother who has just given birth, with all that mess of blood, sweat and tears. There they come, the men who had gone to see the Messiah, and THIS is what they meet. Personally, I think that I would have been disappointed and started to wonder if I’d heard angles on high just a moment ago. Or if I’d misheard or hallucinated. It wouldn’t even remotely have met my expectations. Perhaps, I would simply have gone home!

‌But not the shepherds. They nod, hum, and say that everything was as they had been told. The shepherds don’t hesitate. Immediately, they recognise the divine in the mundane. They don’t struggle to see God, disguised in this lowly, dirty, forgotten appearance. For most of us, it can sometimes be difficult to see God. The divine doesn’t always have tangible contact with my daily life. And my days still go by. Summer, autumn and spring come and go. I go to work and return home. I eat, sleep, some days it rains and other days the sun shines. Some days life is good, other days a struggle. Life goes on, following the laws of nature, but one doesn’t always feel the divine intervention.

‌But sometimes, I start to wonder. Do I exist out of a pure coincidence? Where does everyone go when they leave this world? Is there a purpose to my life at all? We ask ourselves, time and time again if we’ve done the right or wrong things in the past. And sometimes it strikes me. How could something come from nothing? How could there come a homo sapiens from the big bang? Many people wonder about the purpose of life, if there is a God, some people have made up their minds that he doesn’t exist, some don’t care, and some spend their life looking.

‌He is an intangible entity, something that our minds can’t grasp, and a longing that we can’t put into words. And man stands there, almost as if he was made to be a question mark. With the question of the origin of man and his Creator just barely visible in the corner of your eye. Then, tonight happens. Jesus is born, God made flesh, he who is beyond our vocabulary comes and stands on the human stage. The intangible leaves His silence. As a stage and audience, he has chosen a carpenter named Joseph, a teenage girl to be a mother, a collection of shepherds, some animals, a star and a manger. His own body is an infant. God comes without computers and websites, without Twitter and Facebook. Without microphones or megaphones. Without shouting loudly, without trying to win fame and reputation. God comes slightly under the radar to mankind, the saviour of humankind sneaking in through the back door. And we can see a pattern starting to develop, a body in the shadows.

‌God doesn’t force Himself on a human by absolute concrete facts and doesn’t force anyone to worship him. Doesn’t try to win anyone over with indisputable facts. God gives man a chance to approach Him freely. God shows us His existence by a sign. The angels said to them “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth”. God shows Himself by signs. We are given signs, traces and ideas. And perhaps, tonight the shepherds are role models for those of us looking for God. Maybe we, too, will dare to follow the signs without having all the facts. Maybe we dare to hold a faith that only occasionally flames up to be an absolute certainty, but just as frequently just shows itself as a quivering sense that yes, something might be there. Perhaps we, like the shepherds, can see the divine in the utterly mundane. Perhaps, this Christmas Night we, like the shepherds, will dare to open our hearts to that still small voice of calm that says that the God who lives beyond time and space has come to mankind for no other reason than that he wants to live with every one of us?

‌Merry Christmas!

Glory to God in the highest heaven,and on earth peace among those whom he favors! In Nomine +

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Joseph as a role model

Sermon, preached on the 4th Sunday of Advent 2022 at St Thomas, Kensal Town

Readings: Isaiah 7.10-16; Psalm 80.1-18, 18-20; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-end

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”

In Nomine +

Joseph and Mary were, for lack of a more accurate word, engaged. Most scholars believe that Mary herself was around 15 years at the time. They didn’t even live together, and yet, all of a sudden, Mary finds herself pregnant. The story about that – the Angelus – we will sing together at the end of Mass. Much has been said about Mary and her faithfulness and bravery in saying those words – “Be it unto me according to Thy word”, but we hear precious little about Joseph, and so today we are given an opportunity to consider this carpenter.

‌We know that he was a carpenter – indeed, one of the attributes he frequently is pictured with – just like at our own shrine at the back of church – is a carpenters’ square. Some people claim that he was among those learned in Jewish scripture, but the one thing this Gospel passage tells us is that he was “a righteous man”.

He is celebrated as the patron saint of, amongst other things fathers, workers, especially carpenters, expecting mothers, unborn children, attorneys and barristers, emigrants, travellers and house hunters.

I wonder if we could actually put ourselves in St Joseph’s footsteps – He’s about to marry this woman, and all of a sudden she finds out that she’s pregnant. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit – who’d ever heard about such a thing?!? Soon she’ll claim that the dog ate her homework as well!

‌This would have been a massive scandal, and utterly, utterly humiliating for Joseph – to have your young bride-to-be pregnant by someone else. However, he didn’t take Mary to court for full divorce proceedings and confiscate her dowry – we are told that he was righteous, and rather planned to file a quiet note of divorce in front of just a couple of witnesses, thereby not scandalising Mary in the way that he himself thought he was scandalised.

‌Scandal at Christmas – don’t we all remember a lot of comedies on this specific theme – many of them involving a lot of running around on the stage and slamming doors! In this case, though, rather than having a door slammed shut, we see a door opened!

‌Just as the angel Gabriel appeared to his fiancee, a nameless angel here appears to Joseph, and explains to him that Mary has not been unfaithful to him, that the child is from the holy spirit, and that this son is to be the new Emmanuel – God is with us.

‌And then – as the Gospel tells us – “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife”.

‌It is incredulous to us today! This ‘righteous man’ Joseph, however, risked all to do what he felt led to do – regardless of the consequences. And the result, we believe, is that Jesus of Nazareth grew up nurtured in a family, with brothers and sisters, in the synagogue, protected and loved by an adoring mother and stepfather – to fulfill his destiny on earth: to be in the truest sense the Son of God and the Perfect Man.

‌The Bible generally does not give us a very good picture of fathers. Look at Herod, who slaughtered all the newborn male children out of fear; or Herod Antipas, who promised his daughter Salome anything, including the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. Joseph could have become one of those fathers. He had every right to be upset, after all, Mary was carrying another man’s child. But he didn’t; even though Joseph was a ‘righteous man’, he chose another path.

‌Joseph believed in what the angel told him, so that what the prophets had said would happen would be foretold.

‌He ignored Jewish religious and cultural rules to do what was right, no matter what the consequences.

‌He maintained his integrity under what could have been severe public ridicule. He became a model to young Jesus, of a living, protective father and was the best stepfather he could be, showing unconditional, patient love.

‌Joseph helped raise Jesus to fulfill his destiny on earth. He showed him the kind of love that Jesus and God show us. He risked common opinion to do what was right, no matter what the consequences. And he had NO idea of what was going to happen to his little boy. Joseph was not the earthly father of Jesus, but showed to us what I believe to be a sense of complete trust in the Lord that I believe we are all called to.

‌And so, brothers and sisters, as we begin to look towards the great feast of the Nativity, still in the very last minutes of the Advent fast, maybe it is now incumbent on us, as we light the last purple candle in our Advent wreath to examine our hearts, to see if we are ready to abandon ourselves fully to God, to trust in him, to trust in that great gift that we are about to receive – Emmanuel. God Is WIth Us.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”

‌In Nomine +

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Tempus Fugit

Context: I live in an Anglican boarding house near to work, with most (if not all) of my housemates being in their 20s.

The other day cooked for the house – chicken Stroganoff using MotherDearest’s recipe. During our dinner, some of my housemates (who are all young, but very accomplished) said when I complained about aches and tribulations “you’re not that old!”, and yes, they may well be right. I’m no more than 15 years older than most of them, but when we started discussing the things I can remember but they can’t, the room went silent. I can remember…

  • Actual 3.5″ (not floppy) floppy disks
  • CD-ROMs
  • Mixtapes
  • Film cameras
  • iPods
  • A London where one could barely use cards
  • Being able to listen to an LP at the local library while reading paper books
  • Public transport tickets and carnets (back home in Sweden) that were validated by a conductor with a stamp
  • Rotary dial phones
  • Windows 3.1
  • Portable CD players
  • Filing your tax returns on paper forms (that took ages to fill out, even for a trained accountant)
  • Dial-up internet connections (those of us who remember the sound, will sigh nostalgically)
  • Working in MS-DOS
  • No security control when flying
  • Swedish passports where the photos were physically glued to the page
  • Mobile phones with pull-out antennaes and T9 dictionaries when texting
  • Pagers
  • Only having access to 2 channels on Swedish state television
  • My first ever computer had a respectable 1 GB hard drive, these days my phone has 128 GB…
  • Sending your dad a fax for Father’s Day
  • Paying bills by cheque or giro envelope
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Remembrance Sunday 2022

Sermon, Preached on the 2nd Sunday before Advent – Remembrance Sunday, at St Thomas, Kensal Town

Readings: Malachi 4.1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thess 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

In Nomine +

I don’t know if the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary had that in mind, but it is certainly a happy coincidence that we have a gospel that is so much focused on self-sacrifice on a day like Remembrance Sunday, where we remember all those who have fallen, fighting for freedom.

On Remembrance Sunday, the two parts of my heritage, one being from neutral Sweden (a country that hasn’t seen war since 1812) and the other from Norway that was occupied by the Nazis during the second world war, always compete between slight reprehension and heartfelt understanding.

We come together today, not to romanticise war, but to worship almighty God and to give thanks for all of those who have fallen, fighting for the freedom of this country and of many other countries.

Just as we remember Christ’s death every Sunday (and indeed in every Mass) “in broken bread and wine outpoured” – we hear, twice in the Eucharistic prayer, “Do this in remembrance of me”. As such, remembrance is at the heart of our life as Christians, and today, as we have on the second Sunday of November every year since 1946, we gather to remember more specifically those who fell in the two world wars.

Christ himself knew from the recitation of the Passover narrative each year that telling the story can keep a memory alive and present.

In his institution of the Eucharist, he taught us to remember, time after time, his sharing in OUR earthly suffering, his own personal sacrifice, but also the joyful message of Resurrection which follows the pain.

Elsewhere he taught us, as he went on to demonstrate, that “Greater love has no man, than that he lay down his life for another.”

So, too, today, we re-tell the story of those who, as we have just heard, “laid down their lives in the service of our country and in the cause of peace.”

We remember them, and by remembering them, we keep their memories and stories alive.

But in remembering, we also reflect year after year on the lessons which must be learnt from the cost of past conflict, that we are called by Christ to be peacemakers first and foremost, and to reach out to one another with love, compassion and understanding.

We must recognise within ourselves the lack of love and tolerance which can lead to discord, and seek to replace this with the desire to build bridges and to share the peace of Christ.

Those who have experienced the devastation and anguish of conflict can teach younger generations to strive for a better tomorrow.

We pray today for those who continue to bear arms on behalf of our nation, that they may have both courage and compassion.

We give thanks for all who strive for peace and who fight for justice, in all nations of the world.

This remembrance, this thanksgiving, comes shortly after two other major commemorations in the liturgical year, those of All Saints – where we honour all those holy men and women who have gone before us, living the life of the Gospel, and All Souls, where we remember and give thanks for those loved ones who are no longer with us.

It is perhaps apt that all these days of remembrance and thanksgiving, come so close to the start of the new church year, where we are told so much about the hope of the coming of Christ, and even more so that the liturgical year then takes to the joy of His nativity, and, eventually, to that glorious hope of His Resurrection.

This means that our remembrance does not necessarily have to be one of just sorrow and grief, but one in which we know that there is hope, hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and also the hope that we will, at one point, meet again.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

In Nomine +

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Spring holiday – the touristy part 2 of 2

So – the final part of my Stockholm travelogue…this is delayed far more than normal, even for me!

Yet another two days of splendid weather, where we delighted in temperatures around 23 degrees – most unusual for Stockholm in early June! We managed to squeeze in quite a lot in those two days, actually. Quite a lot was about religion – we went to see two of the churches in the Old Town, including the Lutheran cathedral – Storkyrkan.

Statue of St George and the Dragon, Stockholm Lutheran Cathedral

There was a little bit of non-Christian related culture too, among it a walk in the Old Town, a visit to the Jewish Museum and a visit to the Royal Palace (where the King and Queen work, it’s not their residence!).

A traditional Stockholm Old Town Alley

We also managed to visit the Östermalmshallen, on e of Stockholm’s oldest market halls. After that, we were meant to go to a vigil mass in English at the Annunciation RC Church nearby, but we arrived when everyone left, and it turned out that yours truly got the timings wrong and we were an hour late.

Walking past all the runners in the Stockholm Marathon, we finally made it to an old haunt of mine for dinner, and then back to the hotel for our final night’s sleep.

Our final day was Whitsunday, which was celebrated appropriately with Eucharist at the Anglican Church of St Peter and St Sigfrid, where I think we counted at least 5 different languages (none of them were Greek or Latin!) being used in the service. Evening Prayer was said at Arlanda, using the BCP and proper, Cranmerian, English. The queues at the airport weren’t too bad, but as 50% of the restaurants at the one terminal that was open were Covid-casualties, we ended up dining on some rather sad, and expensive, sandwiches, as opposed to the usual excellent restaurant fare I’ve been used to at ARN.

Traditional Anglican hassock at the Church of St Peter & St Sigfrid, Stockholm

And so a very lovely holiday came to an end.

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Two cripples, but only one was healed

Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath, James Tissot, 1886-1896

Sermon, preached on the 10th Sunday after Trinity 2022 at St Thomas, Kensal Town

Isaiah 58.9b-end, Hebrews 12.18-end, S Luke 13.10-17

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

There was one specific of my Norwegian great-aunts that I never saw completely upright, all my life I’ve known her looking somewhat like a carpenter’s square. Somehow, in my mind, when reading the passage from St Luke’s gospel we just heard, I imagine the woman looking a bit like my great-aunt. My great aunt was a lovely woman who only rarely complained about her condition – in fact, she liked to make light of it and say that having your eyes constantly down to the ground was very handy for the autumn raids to pick blueberries and cloudberries in the forrests surrounding her house.

You can tell from the rather detailed description of this woman’s ailments that the text is written by a medic, as indeed St Luke was believed to be – she was, to use an old-fashioned and somewhat politically incorrect word – a cripple. And we then see Our Lord (as very much was his wont) heal her. She didn’t come to be healed, she came to hear Christ teach – but as he saw her. he called her over with those words that must have been like manna for her ears “Woman, you are set free from your ailment!”

This is fine and well, and not very surprising – it’s neither the first nor the last healing miracle that Jesus performs. The woman once again stands ramrod straight and sings God’s praises. She is delighted, and who blames her?

While this incident probably was the most important event in this woman’s life, I want to say that there was an even more significant healing taking place that very day. After this healing – and we’re not really told where the woman disappears – Our Lord gets accosted by the Ruler of the Synagogue.

The Ruler of the Synagogue was a very important man – in larger synagogues he was third in command after the High Priest and the Chief of the Priests, but in provincial synagogues (which I believe this must have been), he was very much In Charge. He was certified to be competent by the Sanhedrim – the Great Council of the Jews – and elected by his fellow members of the synagogue. Among one of his more interesting duties was to announce the sabbath by blowing the shofar – or ram’s horn.

We hear that the Ruler rather cowardly didn’t dare address Jesus directly – but rather made a proclamation to all those present on that day – maybe Our Lord’s reputation of being able to match wits with the most highly trained theological minds in the country had preceded him there?

The ruler proclaims what it is said in the Fourth Commandment – to rest on the sabbath day – and rebukes the woman who comes and gets healed on the sabbath day – when she’s had the affliction for 18 years – couldn’t she have waited just a little bit longer?

The fourth commandment lists just one Sabbath caveat: no work. But over time the devout in Israel took that one injunction and ran with it. Somewhere around 613 other rules and regulations were larded on top of the fourth commandment all in an effort carefully to define work and to help people avoid even a hint of performing work on the Sabbath. What was supposed to be a day of joy in both creation and redemption became a frightening day in which people worried the whole day long they might screw up and perform a deed of work after all.

To that – Christ doesn’t mince his words – “You hypocrites!” He calls them. If we would save our cattle on the Sabbath day – why wouldn’t we save a woman who has been struck with an illness?

And so, here we have our second cripple – the Ruler of the Synagogue. He, too, was crippled by a spirit. The spirit of legalism.

It is perhaps apt that the we get these readings today, when the western Church – were it not a Sunday – would have commemorated pope St Pius X. Pius reigned between 1903 and 1914, was a very pious man, with very strong views on what was suitable for a Christian and what wasn’t, and a great opponent of what he termed modernism, in fact, he even went far enough to explicitly forbid all Catholics from dancing the tango, which was seen as immoral. (Having once ended up in the A&E after being trod on by the stiletto heel of a tango dancing woman in a club once, I can somewhat sympathise…)

He, most likely, would have found a great friend in the ruler of the synagogue. The ruler was so intent on keeping the Sabbath rule, on ensuring that everything was done exactly through the letter, that he did not see the miracle that Jesus did in this woman’s life. He was so crippled by his spirit of legalism that he could not see what was happening.

Let us be clear, this was not a man who acted with evil intent. He cared about right worship, right practice, right theology. He wanted to honour the ages long rules and traditions given to the Jewish people of sanctifying the sabbath.

But what the leader misses is the heart of the Sabbath, the heart of God’s law, the heart of the tradition. What the leader misses is the brave, unrestricted compassion that trumps legalism in God’s kingdom every single time.

Having spent some time in one of the more catholic ministry assistant schemes in the Church of England this is something that I have seen time and time again – the form gets more important than the content. It’s something I myself struggle with in my own Christian life as well. Now I am not saying that there’s anything wrong to have beautiful vestments, lacy albs, or great ornate monstrances. In fact – I love it! Give me lacy cottas, magnificent fiddle-back chasubles and gold-covered baroque churches any day of the week – it does, after all, say “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”.

What we MUST make sure that we do, is that we don’t let it become the foremost priority – God is in other traditions as well, you can meet Jesus (in Word, if perhaps not in Sacrament) at our evangelical neighbours’ place too, or indeed with our friends that will worship in this very building in an hour or two.

My prayer today, for myself – for all of us – is that we, through this compassion, not only let Jesus into our own lives, but that we let Him do His work in other peoples’ life the way he chooses, without using that Catholic saying “No woman, no cry. No maniple, no Mass”.


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Putting Your Hand to the Plough

Photo by Dru Kelly on Unsplash

SERMON, Preached on the 2nd Sunday after Trinity 2022 at St Thomas, Kensal Town

Readings: 2 Kings 2.1-2, 6-14; Gal 5.1, 13-25; Luke 9.51-end

No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. In Nomine+

Today’s gospel (Luke 9:51-62) is a difficult one. It’s confrontational and it doesn’t leave much, if any, wiggle room. “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” We’re either looking toward the kingdom or we are not. We’re either responding to the call of life or we’re not. We’re either open to the coming future or we’re not. 

Jesus is calling us into question and that’s never easy, fun, or comfortable. He is calling into question the direction of our life, the values we claim to hold, and how we are living and embodying those values. He is asking us to look at ourselves rather than the Samaritan on whom we’d like to call down fire from heaven. 

By Samaritan I mean those who look, act, and believe differently from us; those who do not hold our particular religious or political beliefs; those who are not from these parts; those to whom we are opposed and in conflict with, for whatever reasons. And if you’re not sure who your Samaritans are look at your social media feed and who posts the articles and comments that push your buttons, turn on the news channel you refuse to watch, picture the face of one you crush and defeat in the arguments that go on in your head.

Today’s gospel won’t let us turn away from the people and situations that are right in front of us or the future that is coming to us. Jesus recognises and holds before us the tension in which we live. On the one hand we say to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” On the other hand we say to him, “But first let me go and ….” You probably know what that’s like. I know I do.

When have you experienced that tension? When has it felt like you were being pulled in two directions, the way of Jesus and some other way? In what ways have you said, “But first let me go and…?”

It’s easy and simple to follow Jesus, in principle. Love your neighbour as yourself, love your enemy, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty something to drink, turn the other cheek, forgive not just seven times but seventy times seven. These are values Jesus holds. That’s where Jesus is going. That’s the direction in which he has set his face. That’s the road to Jerusalem and it sounds good. Most of us probably agree with those values. It’s the road we too have chosen to travel, in principle.

But it’s so much harder and messier to follow Jesus in life than in principle. I suspect we are all in favour of love, hospitality, forgiveness, and nonviolence until we meet the unloveable, the stranger who scares us, the unforgivable act, the one who throws the first punch, or the Samaritan in our life. Then it’s a different story and that story usually begins with, “But first….”

Jesus, however, puts no qualifications, limitations, or exceptions on where he is going, who is included, or what he is offering. He doesn’t seem to care who we are, where we are from, or what we have done or left undone. Labour or Tory, citizen or foreigner, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, black or white, good or bad, believer or nonbeliever just don’t seem to matter to Jesus. For him there is no why, no conditions, attached to love, hospitality, forgiveness, or giving. He does not allow for a “but first” in his life or the lives of his followers. 

“But first” is the way we put conditions on the unconditional. 
• Yes, I will love the other but first let me go and see who the other is, whether she or he is deserving of love, whether I like him or her, whether he or she agrees with and is agreeable to me. 
• Yes, I will open my door to and welcome the stranger but first let me go and see who’s knocking, how different he or she is from me, what she or he wants, what I am risking. 
• Yes, I will forgive another but first let me go and see if she or he has acknowledged her or his wrongdoing, is sorry for what they did, and has promised to change. 
• Yes, I will give to and care for another but first let me go and see why I should, what it will cost me, and what’s in it for me.
But first…. 

It’s as if we are backing our way into the kingdom while keeping an eye on the door. It’s as if we are walking backwards into our future, not wanting to see or deal with what is before us. It’s as if we have put our hand to the plow and looked back. And we already know what Jesus thinks about that. 

I don’t want to back my way through this life. I don’t want to live, if you will pardon a bad pun, a butt first life. And I hope you don’t either. I want us to turn and lead with our hearts, that deep heart that loves the unlovable, forgives the unforgivable, welcomes the stranger, and gives without seeking a payback or even a thank you.  

I wasn’t kidding when I said that this is a difficult gospel. I wish I could resolve this in some neat and simple way, as much for myself as for you, but I can’t. It’s not about resolving the gospel. It’s about resolving ourselves, resolving our heart. That resolution is not a simple or one time decision. It’s a way of being in this world, a way of relating to others, a direction for our life. It’s a choice we make every day. It’s the road to Jerusalem. 

That means looking at the ways in which we are backing through life. It means naming the people and situations to which we have turned our backs, and acknowledging that we do sometimes live a “but first” life. 

I wonder what our lives and world would be like if we were to love, give, welcome, and forgive without a “but first?” 

I think it would be risky and scary and look pretty crazy. But as I look at the world, read the news, and listen to the lives and stories of others, the world is already risky, scary, and crazy. So what if we took a better risk, faced a better fear, and lived a kinder craziness? And what if we were to let that start with you and me, today, in our lives, in our particular situations, and with whoever or whatever is before us? 
What if we were to lead with our hearts and not “but(t) first?”

No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. In Nomine+

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