Sermon for Tenebrae for Maundy Thurs – with psalms, readings & music by Viadana, Victoria, Anerio & Lassus Wednesday 16 April 2014
Sermon preached by Bishop John Flack
WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK – ALL SAINTS MARGARET STREET
Earlier this year I was in Rome for WPCU. I attended, as I have done many times before, the annual Celebration of Ecumenical Vespers on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. In the past it was always a great occasion for welcoming the Pope in all his glory with clapping and cheering and with only a veneer of ecumenism – a mere handshake given to official ecumenical partners present at the end of the service. But this year it was very different. Pope Francis came into the church in silence, at his own request, wearing his white cassock. He was flanked in the procession (at his side not in front or behind him) by the Orthodox, Anglican and Reformed church leaders. They sat together on simple chairs at the front and shared in the leadership of the liturgy. Pope Francis gave a direct message “we are all one in Christ, we are all in the same boat heading to the same port”.
Pope Francis has hit the Christian world like a rocket, not just his own communion but the whole world-wide church. He wants us to concentrate on achieving unity through evangelisation. He has written an Exhortation on evangelisation called “Evangelii Gaudium” – the joy of the Gospel. It is addressed to Christians everywhere, of all sorts and traditions. As I go round the Church of England it pops us regularly in OUR parishes. I understand it has been studied here at All Saints Margaret Street. Pope Francis’s considered and prayerful guidance has much to say to us.
His basic message to us in this Exhortation underlines what we have been saying so far in Holy Week – that God works through us as we are, if we will let him. He takes our gifts and our abilities, yes, but also our mistakes and failings and uses them for his purposes. He can turn tragedy into triumph. As we allow God to work in us we are drawn closer together despite our differences. We can become a community marked by forgiveness, new life, joy and peace. Here are some classic quotes from Pope Francis:
It is not by proselytising that the Church grows, but by attraction.
A missionary church never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness, but realises that, under God’s mercy, it must grow in its own understanding of the Gospel.
At the beginning of his Exhortation Pope Francis reminds us that we are all recipients of God’s mercy, indeed we can do nothing until we first accept his mercy. This is so central to his thinking that it is enshrined in his motto, a new motto he chose when he became Pope, miserando atque eligendo which translates as “now that I have received mercy I have been chosen”. In other words the first step for all Christians is to receive God’s mercy.
I’ve often been asked what is the difference between those who go to church and those who don’t? It’s not an easy question to answer because all of us have friends who are good-living people yet never go to church. What have WE got that they haven’t? I think that part of the answer is that we who are often in church know our need of God. I once had to remind one of my churches of this by putting a notice in the porch which said “This church is for sinners only”. We should know we are sinners who need God’s mercy and forgiveness. Coming to worship in a church like this one brings us to our knees and helps us to recognise the truth about ourselves. Like Pope Francis we are “miserando” in need of God.
Even the Church of England, which is sometimes too polite to talk about sin, began to recognise that God’s mercy is the first step when in 1980 it finally brought the Confession and Absolution back to the beginning of the Mass rather than half way through. We begin every Mass by seeking God’s mercy and continue by saying or singing “Lord have mercy”. As a teenager, arriving one day a little late for High Mass in this church, I came in through that door as the choir were singing Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison and the words hit me like a blast of cold air and I knew myself to be in need of God’s mercy.
AND – we seek God’s mercy for our own personal failings but also for the sins of the whole world. We belong to a world which is very far from what God intends for us, and all of us are partly to blame. The poverty, homelessness and degradation in which some people live their lives is caused by the systems we all subscribe to. Pope Francis draws our attention to this in this Exhortation. As we seek God’s mercy, we do so both for our personal and corporate sin. And as we receive his mercy and forgiveness we are granted his Peace and we can continue on the Christian journey with joy.
God’s mercy is available to us because of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the celebration of which we are engaged in this week. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Reflect on that at this evening’s Mass as you say those ancient words at the heart of the liturgy
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.