Washed in the Blood

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for the Third Sunday of Easter, 2020

Why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?

The first Christians understood why – but only because Jesus explained it to them. Did you notice what Jesus did on the road to Emmaus? He didn’t start by showing himself to his friends and saying “Look, I’m alive!” No, he said “If you want to understand who Jesus is, let me explain the Bible to you!”

So I’m going to try to do the same thing today – we’re going to do a bit of a Bible study. And the big idea I want to explore is about the blood of Jesus.

I once heard a reflection on the radio by a man from Northern Ireland, who’d become a Hindu. He’d grown up in a Christian family, where he often heard talk of being ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb’. He said – pardon my accent – that “the very thought of being washed in the blood of a lamb is a terrible thing when you’re a vegetarian!” Do we need to use such scary language, even when it puts people off? Yes, we do!

Lots of the Christians who wrote books of the New Testament wanted people to know about the Blood of Jesus.

St Mark (14:24) said that the wine blessed at the Last Supper became the blood of the covenant. Now a covenant is a solemn promise between someone more powerful and some people who are less powerful. It was marked by sacrificing one or more creatures. So Mark wants us to know that the blood of Jesus is his promise to protect us. Jesus literally loved us enough to die for us!

St Matthew (26:28) wanted us to know that at the Last Supper, the wine would become the “blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins”.

St Luke (Acts 20:28) tells us that Jesus ‘bought the church – that’s us – with his blood’.

St John agrees (I Jn 1:7, Rev 1:5) that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin and also says that we overcome temptation through His Blood! (Rev 12:11)

St Paul too (Col 1:14) tells us that we are redeemed – rescued from being punished – through the blood of Jesus.

We don’t know the name of the Jewish Christian who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. But this disciple too understood the power of the blood of Jesus. In the Jewish religion, each year the High Priest had to sacrifice a calf as a payment for his own sins, so that he would be worthy to enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple, and then he could sacrifice a goat for the sins of the rest of the people. The blood of both animals would be sprinkled in that Holiest part of the Temple. But, we read in Hebrews, Jesus was a High Priest who was made worthy by his own blood, to offer a sacrifice for his people. The whole of Chapter 9 of the Letter to the Hebrews is worth reading – God gave us this as part of the Bible so we could really understand why Jesus had to shed his blood for us.

Finally, we have the words of St Peter, who in today’s reading says that we were ransomed by the blood of Jesus. Ransomed from what? Well, for St Peter, we are ransomed from the need to sacrifice any animals in the way that Jews had done for hundreds of years. But we are also ransomed from death and from sin. And that’s not the first time God has used blood to protect his people!

On Easter Night, we always tell the story of the Passover. God told his faithful people that if they wanted to be protected from the angel of death, each household must sacrifice a lamb, roast and eat its flesh, and place its blood on the doorpost of their house. In British Sign Language, the sign for Passover is two strokes, as if you are marking blood on the lintel and post of a door. But take note – it was not enough to mark the doorpost – the family also had to eat the lamb!

When the Jewish people had a Temple in Jerusalem, families would go there each year for Passover, taking a lamb with them. The priest would kill the lamb, and its blood would be poured into a bowl ready to be taken into the Holy Place of the Temple and poured on the altar. The family would take home the body of the lamb, to roast it and eat it.

When Jesus died on the Cross, his blood was shed… falling on the ground outside the city walls of Jerusalem. He was the True Lamb – John the Baptist had called him that. And he even made it possible for us to eat the lamb by celebrating the Last Supper.

We know one thing today that wasn’t known in the days of the Bible. Blood carries the breath of life from our lungs to every part of our body. It is not enough for us to eat the lamb – we must also be filled with the breath of God, which is the Holy Spirit.

St Peter ate of the Lamb. He was filled by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and given the courage to stand up in front of the people who had wanted Jesus dead. Peter declared on that Pentecost: “What you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit.” Maybe you’ve had your own personal Pentecost experience and seen or felt the Holy Spirit at work within you. If so, then you’ll probably want to sing and pray and give thanks to God. Lots of worship songs speak of the power of the blood of Jesus – if you’ve wondered why, now you know we are simply affirming what Jesus teaches us clearly through the Bible. If you’ve never experienced the Holy Spirit in that way, maybe today you can take a moment for prayer: just say “Holy Spirit, come and teach me to worship Jesus.” Be open. But it’s God who chooses when Pentecost happens for each one of us.

There are lots of prayers around that we can pray to ask Jesus to protect us by his blood. Some have been around for decades, others have been written to ask God to protect our health at this time. You can find online testimonies from Christians who say life goes better when you pray for the protection of the Precious Blood at last once a month. There are no rules here about prayers you must say – unless God gives an instruction the way he did to Moses, we are all free to pray the prayers that seem most meaningful to us. But if you find that praying for protection like this works, keep it up!

It may be, like the Northern Irishman who felt repelled by being ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb’ that you don’t like the language. That’s OK too – but recognise that all the first followers of Jesus came to understand that his blood protects you and forgives your sins.

I’d like to leave you with the words of another Ulsterman, C. S. Lewis, who wrote these words in Mere Christianity:

You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.

And finally, remember, God the Father and Jesus Christ love you so much that Jesus shed his blood for you and the Father raised Him from the dead – so that you would have faith and hope in God. As Padre Pio once said – pray, hope and don’t worry. You might think of today’s Gospel as the Road to Emmaus – I see it as the Road to Jerusalem, to Mount Sion, where joyful disciples rush to gather, to sing and celebrate the Risen Lord and the power of His Blood. Let’s do that joyfully as we celebrate thie Eucharist. And may the Precious Blood of Jesus protect us from all evil, now and evermore. Amen?

Some noteworthy resources:

The Protection and Healing Prayer by Fr Robert Hilz TOR.

Evangelical discussion of how to ‘Plead the Blood

Academic thesis on the ‘Blood of Jesus’ in Pentecostal Churches.

Do you want a slap?

Homily to members of Sion Community for Monday of the Second Week of Easter, 2020

Do you want a slap?

That’s one of those daft questions parents sometimes address to their wayward children. What child in their right mind is going to answer, “Yes please?” Yet, I’ll come back to this question at the end.

Today, we get a private audience with Jesus and a rabbi with questions. The answers Our Lord gives seem mysterious. What does it mean to be ‘born again’? We know that when a baby is born, there is first a ‘breaking of the waters’ before the baby itself emerges from its mother’s womb. But if that were all that happened, the baby would soon become a lifeless pound of flesh. To live, baby must take its first breath – and if it doesn’t, it is very likely the midwife will give it an encouraging slap!

When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan, he first broke through the surface of the waters; then the Spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove.

When we are baptised in water, we become part of the Body of Christ. This is amazing – God uses a physical thing, water, to change our spiritual status! Yet it’s not enough to be part of Christ’s body. To live as Christ lived, we must be filled by his breath, his Spirit.

Wind, breath and spirit – these words don’t sound alike in English, but are deeply related. ‘Spirit’ is breath – we see that in the words inspire, expire, respiration. The wind here represents God’s Spirit – we cannot control God’s spirit, but must be guided by it.

We know that to live a full Christian life, it is not enough to be baptised; it is not enough to have received the Sacrament of Confirmation; we must be open to God’s Spirit working in us and through us. In Acts today, we hear the followers of Jesus praying for the power to work miracles – and then they are filled by God’s breath. They needed a ‘slap’ to get them breathing deeply. In our own lives, too, many of us will have testimonies of how we were touched by the power of the Holy Spirit, often at a low point in our lives – when God gave us a ‘slap’ to force us to pay attention and take a deep breath of what only He could offer.

I’ve spent some time in recent days meditating on Isaiah 30:19-26, a passage sent to me by an Anglican friend. It is a prophecy for the restoration of the people of Sion; it speaks of a coming day when we shall see our Teacher and hear the voice of God guiding us over our shoulder. I offer this passage to you for discernment. So in this season, let us pray to be open to the guiding voice of God, the breath in our ear, and let us make our own the prayer of the first evangelists:

Help your servants to proclaim your message with all boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and to work miracles and marvels through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

For God to fulfil this prayer in us, we need to be completely open to the Holy Spirit. But that means we have to leave our comfortable womb, and take our first breath. God can do more in us if we are willing to be more open to His Spirit, His Breath, working within us. Taking the first breath can be a shock to our system. Now, children of God, born of the water of baptism, do you want a slap?

If you’d like to see a dramatisation of what could have happened when Jesus met Nicodemus, I strongly recommend Episode 7, Series 1 of The Chosen.

Feeling Left Out?

Introduction to Mass

Today is “Divine Mercy Sunday”. It’s very rare for the Catholic Church to recognise a claimed vision of Jesus or Mary in its official prayers, but that’s what has happened today. St Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who lived 100 years ago, was shown an image of Jesus as Divine Mercy, with a pale ray of baptismal water and a red ray of his Precious Blood streaming from his breast. Jesus asked that we celebrate this Sunday, the Sunday after Easter Sunday, as a day in honour of his mercy, saying:

On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.

What Jesus is offering is a gift equivalent to a second baptism. We know that if an adult were to be baptised and died immediately afterwards, they would go straight to heaven. Once we’re baptised, when we confess our sins we know we are restored to friendship with God but we still need to be purified when we die. That purification can be so painful that it feels like a punishment, but we can also be purified by the prayers of those who love us, which the Church calls an indulgence. What Jesus offers us on this day is his own gift of being purified without any trace of punishment.

Now normally on Divine Mercy Sunday I would lead my congregation in the special prayers straight after Mass and then sit in the confessional so anyone who wished could make their confession. Today, of course, we will be able to receive neither Holy Communion nor the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But the Church is flexible, and in these times says we can still receive an Indulgence through praying today and deciding, in our hearts, that we will go to communion and confession as soon as that becomes practically possible. While we are waiting for confession we should make an act of perfect contrition, which means we tell God we are sorry for our sins – and not just because we are scared of the consequences, but because we love God and want to come to be perfectly happy with him in a place free from all sin.

So now, let us prepare to receive God’s great gift of mercy by calling to mind our sins.

Lord Jesus, you showed yourself to your friends and followers. Lord, have mercy!

Lord Jesus, you wish to free us from all our sins and from all punishment. Christ, have mercy!

Lord Jesus, the very depths of Your tender mercy are open. Lord, have mercy!

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for Divine Mercy Sunday, 2020

Have you ever felt left out? Have you ever had the experience of Not Being Picked for something you really wanted to be involved in? I have.

At school, I was that tubby kid who was always the last pick for any sports team. I didn’t mind that – I didn’t particularly want to be running around the field anyway. But when they started a School Council, and I wasn’t picked for that, it hurt. So I kindly but firmly pointed out that it wasn’t fair for one person to represent the whole Sixth Form – there should be reps for upper and lower sixth. The staff agreed! They opened up an extra position, for which I was eligible. And guess what? I was Not Picked again! Ouch!

Or there was one time at home when we had visitors. My family didn’t often have uncles and aunties to come and visit. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old when we did have visitors once. Mum shouted ‘tea is ready!’ and I came down. I can remember what I had – chocolate pudding with tapioca! But why do I remember that day? It was because I expected to have tea with the grown-ups, but I was given my tea on my own. Why was I being left out? Wasn’t I old enough to eat with the visitors? That hurt!

I know that right now, we’re not allowed to have visitors. Everyone is staying at home. In some places that means grown-ups have no-one else with them, and that’s tough… but it can also be lonely when you’re stuck at home with a family. Maybe there’s someone else in the house who needs more looking after – a baby brother or a sick granny. Maybe you’re wondering how you can get a bit of attention from Mum or from Dad or whoever is looking after you right now.

Don’t be afraid to just ask! When I’m hearing children’s confessions in school and a child tells me they’re feeling left out, here’s what I say.

Wait until Mum, or Dad, or whoever you need to talk to is having a quiet moment. Don’t interrupt them in the middle of something else. Then just say to them – let’s imagine it’s Mum for a moment – ‘Mum, I need to talk to you about something. When can we have a chat?’ Now, that’s a very grown-up kind of thing to say so your Mum might be surprised. But she’ll either say ‘Right now!’ or if she’s tired or needs to do something for work she’ll tell you when, and she’ll make it happen. Remind her that you need a chat if nothing happens after a day or two. Once you’ve got that chat time with Mum, just tell her how you’re feeling. Don’t blame her for the other ‘busy’ things she’s doing, that’ll only make her feel bad; you know she cares about you so just talk about yourself. ‘Mum, I know there are lots of things you have to do at the moment, but I’m feeling really left out right now.’ And trust that Mum – or Dad – or whoever is looking after you, will care enough to find a way to give you your fair share of what you need.

Please remember that ‘fair shares’ aren’t always ‘equal shares’. A small baby or a sick person will need more looking after, and that’s when we have to be brave and accept that we might not get as much as we’d like. But if you need something, just ask. If you’re feeling left out, just say so. And if you’ve got an idea for something Dad, or Mum, or your big brother or sister can do that won’t take much time but could make a big difference, speak up!

Now, a word to the parents and carers. I know this is a difficult time. I know you are stretched right now looking after the people under your own roof and connecting with lots of others by phone. You want give more time to your own family – but when you can’t give more, you can give smarter. Remember that each family member is an individual and we all experience love in different ways. Maybe you’re already familiar with the concept of ‘love languages’. We’re all wired differently, so there are different things that might fill up our need to be ‘cared for’. One child might need a lot of quality time, either just talking or doing something practical where you serve their needs. Other will be happy spending most of their time on their own if they receive a small gift (maybe home-made), or the right words, spoken or written down to show you care, or a big cuddle. But remember that each child needs a share of you – their own personal share. If you don’t know what one thing is best at saying “I care” to each member of the household, maybe it’s time for a family conversation!

Remember, as well, that we’re not going to make everyone happy all the time. Jesus didn’t make Thomas happy, at first. And St Thomas had good reason to grumble. He had been a loyal apostle! When the other disciples thought it would be too dangerous for Jesus to visit the sick Lazarus, it was Thomas who said ‘Let’s go, even if we have to die with him!’ But now Thomas gets rewarded by what he feels is an insult. Jesus is risen from the dead: He is Lord, and can do whatever he wants. Jesus chooses to appear when the other 10 Apostles are all in one place – and surely the Lord knows that Thomas won’t be there! If it feels bad not being picked for the school football team, how much worse not to be picked by the King of the Universe to witness a miracle!

Jesus had a plan, but what he did was difficult for his friends. His own Mother had to see him die on a Cross! All the apostles, except John, were so scared they ran away that day. Now Thomas ends up feeling left out – but a week later, Jesus gives him a special gift. Touch! See! Know that I am risen from the dead! Thomas, like each one of us, gets his own experience of what happened to Jesus: “The stone that the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone!”

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Normally I would be saying how Jesus wants us all to go to confession today, so that we can receive the special gift not only of forgiveness, but of total cleansing from the consequences of our sins. We know that this year, we can’t go to confession. In today’s Gospel, too, the Apostles are given the power to forgive sins – but they can’t use it yet! They are locked in, in the Upper Room, and won’t be able to go out to minister until the Holy Sprit comes at Pentecost!

Jesus is still merciful, so today, let’s make an Act of Perfect Contrition. First, decide in your heart that you want to live your life God’s way. Next, decide to forgive everyone. You might need to forgive a grown-up who hasn’t been there for you. You might need to forgive yourself for getting your priorities wrong – or for imagining you can do more than you really can. Get ready to tell God you are sorry for all times you chose to do things your heart knew were wrong.

Now, if you wish, just say after me:

Jesus, I love you.

Jesus, I forgive everyone who’s let me down.

Jesus, I forgive everyone who’s hurt me.

Jesus, I’m sorry for all my wrong choices.

Jesus, take on yourself all the consequences of my sins.

Jesus, teach me to love the way you love.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Prayers Following Mass

What the Church asks of us to honour the Divine Mercy today is that we pray one Our Father, the Creed, and a devout prayer in honour of the Divine Mercy. So please join me:

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Now, regard the image of the merciful Jesus, and pray with me, three times,

Jesus, I trust in you!

Jesus, I trust in you!

Jesus, I trust in you!

To receive the Gift of the Indulgence, we are also asked to pray for the Holy Father’s intentions. Often this is done through an Our Father and a Creed, but we’ve just prayed those already and we are free to pray for the Pope in any way we wish. Actually, the Pope’s intentions are published each month, and this month Pope Francis has asked us to pray “that those suffering from addiction may be helped and accompanied”. We know that right now, many addicts will be locked in with a great stash of temptation. Many other addicts, who cannot access what they crave, will be going through withdrawal symptoms, possibly alone. So I’m going to lead us now in one Hail Mary, where we will ask the Mother of God to remember all addicts at this time.

Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Now brothers and sisters, if you have made a good act of sorrow for your sins in your hearts, you have done everything within your power which you can do today. If you are firmly resolved to go to confession and receive Holy Communion as soon as that becomes possible, then be confident in your hearts that you have received the full gift of Divine Mercy Sunday today. Peace be with you.


Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for Easter Sunday, 2020

It began with a God-shaped hole.

The two Marys went to the tomb – but where they expected to see the body of their beloved Jesus, they found an empty space.

Next, they heard a message which piqued their curiosity. Not only because it came from an angel – that doesn’t happen every day! – but because it was most unlikely. Could a man, even a man with the power of Jesus, rise from the dead? Would they accept their mission, to tell his friends to go and meet him in Galilee?

Yes! The women were open to the possibility of change. The Lord was not going to wait for them to reach Galilee, but did wait to see if they were willing to accept the challenge. No sooner had they crossed the threshold of openness, than the Lord answered the questions in their hearts. They greeted him as their Lord. They cast themselves at his feet. And in return they were given a mission: go and tell my brothers. For it was the sisters who were the first human messengers of the Good News of the Risen Christ.

For some of us, too, our journey may have begun with a God-shaped hole. For others among us, we may have stumbled across the treasure which is Christ when we weren’t really looking. Either way, the result is the same: we have been given a mission. We are his witnesses. We have eaten and drunk with him. And we find ourselves in exactly the same position as the first disciples in the Book of Acts: God allowed Jesus to be seen – not by the whole people, but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand.

We are the people entrusted with the gift of faith and the burning desire to share it. We know, to the depths of our bones, that Jesus has ordered us to proclaim the Good News that he has risen – and that one day, He will judge everyone.

Or are we? Maybe some of us listening right now are not sure. We’ve heard the claims of the women in today’s Gospel. We’ve heard testimonies of members of our community, speaking about how God has touched our lives in different ways. Perhaps you’ve grown up in a family where your parents really believe in Jesus, but you’re not sure. Maybe, like the women leaving the angel, you’ve only heard the messenger and not yet met the Risen Master. If that’s you, today, then I invite you to make a prayer in your heart: “Lord Jesus, if you really did rise from the dead, meet with me today.” Don’t say those words lightly – because if you mean them, and the Lord responds, today your life will change forever.

I’m just going to pause for a moment, for anyone who does need to pray that prayer right now: “Lord Jesus, if you really did rise from the dead, meet with me today.”

For us who have met the Risen Lord, we know our identity: we are friends of Jesus and members of his Body. We know our destiny: he has prepared for each of us a room in heaven, where his Father has many mansions. And we know our purpose: we are called to be witnesses to the Risen Christ. In the season of Lent, now ended, we have taken a long, hard look at our own faults and failings, and perhaps made an act of perfect contrition. Today, the Lord offers us a gift to enable us to “get rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness”. That gift is the Act of Renunciation.

To ‘renounce’ something is a strong act. It’s more than repenting. To repent is to say ‘I am sorry I did that and I will try not to do it again’. To ‘renounce’ is to declare two things. First, I will do everything within my power to avoid falling into that sin again. Second, I will ask God to use His power to cut me off from all the consequences of my sin. Do not do this lightly!

Renounce is the opposite of ‘announce’. It’s not ‘re’ in the sense of ‘do it again’ but ‘re’ in the sense of ‘reverse’ – when I renounce something, I am pronouncing that I am against it. Yes, I will announce that I will denounce the things that I renounce! In short, I’m done with it, so help me God!

In a few moments, I will ask you three questions. First, to renounce Satan – well, who wouldn’t want to? Second, to renounce the works of the Devil. The Bible tells us clearly that Satan is a liar and promoter of murder – but Jesus warns us that lashing out in anger is the first step towards murder. So will you renounce deceiving others, and inflicting your anger on others? Third, to renounce the empty show of the devil. Satan wants you to believe that you will find happiness in money, or having an important position, or from drink, or drugs, or fortune telling, or intimate relationships with people who aren’t willing to make a lifelong commitment to you. None of these things bring you lasting happiness – and all of them can become idols which get in the way of Jesus.

Today is the day when Jesus defeated Satan. Our Lord resisted the temptation to come down from the Cross. Truly the love of God has been made visible in Christ! By the power of what happened today, our spiritual wounds can be healed! We can be freed from the spiritual chains which drag us back into our old sins. Is it good news to tell the world that one day Jesus will judge everyone? It is, if we can also tell everyone how they can be cut off from their old sins!

This is a strange Easter. We will not be sprinkled with holy water. We may not have been able to speak with a priest in recent weeks to make our confession. But we are not cut off from the Risen Christ! The one who could open a tomb and pass through a locked door is very close to you. And each one of us can access his saving power by speaking words aloud.

To ‘believe’ in Jesus is not just something we do in our heads – it’s something we make real by our actions. To fulfil our purpose, to be messengers of the Good News, we must first taste the goodness of God. That taste may come when he fills that God-shaped hole in our lives, or provides a new sense of purpose we didn’t know we needed, or frees us from bondage – but one way or another, we must taste and see that the Lord is good.

You’ve had the whole of Lent to examine yourself. In these next moments decide what you need to renounce – Satan, his works and his empty promises. Cast away the old yeast of sin, and become the bread of life! In God’s heart is a you-shaped hole, and God longs to help you fill it! Announce your decision! Renounce your old sins! Pronounce your faith! Happy Easter!


Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for the Solemn Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, 2020

Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore.

There is a tree in this mystery. There was a tree in our history. There is a tree in your destiny. But I would first like to tell you of a tree which is in the park behind our house.

I went for a walk in the park last week – I’ve been doing a lot of that recently – and my eye was drawn to a plaque placed at the foot of one solitary tree.

“In memory of Tom and Doris. If love could have saved you, you would have lived for ever!”

Oh Tom! Oh Doris! If only you had known! Love has saved you and you will live for ever! But the love which saves you is not your love for one another, but the perfect love of Jesus Christ which we celebrate today.

In the book of Genesis, the first humans eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, refusing to trust God’s guidance in matters of morality. So God deprives them of the gift of eternal life on earth, which would have come from eating of the Tree of Life. Yet God still loved the human race and formed a rescue plan, one hinted at in prophecies of old.

The tree we celebrate today stands for a great mystery, a divine act with a deeper meaning. Jesus entered into this world and declared that he was ‘born for this’. He fulfilled great prophecies: They cast lots for his garments. Not one of his bones was broken. The people did indeed look upon the pierced one. And despite the starkness of the Passion we have just recalled, we take hope in these prophetic words: ‘My servant WILL prosper.’

A decade ago, the Roman Missal was re-translated with the principle that everything should be as literal as possible. The instructions say that we venerate the Cross. Another part of the Missal (117, 122, 308) specifies that the cross normally carried in procession or permanently on display in Church should have the Body of Christ upon us – no such stipulation is made in the directives for Good Friday. The declaration that I will make when I unveil it is ‘Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world.’ This leaves the priest celebrating with a dilemma – should he use a plain wooden cross, or a crucifix?

The history behind today’s service comes from the finding of the relic of the True Cross by St Helena, which enabled the very wood of The Cross to be venerated. Some say that in our Good Friday liturgy, we are honouring wood as a symbol of the True Cross. Others say that it has become traditional to venerate an image of the Crucified Saviour, and the same Latin word can be translated as ‘cross’ or ‘crucifix’.

I have chosen today to use a plain wooden cross. This is not a denial that the Lord’s body hung on it. This is not a protest against making an image of Christ on the Cross. But I know that for us as Catholics it is common enough to see a crucifix hanging on a wall. It is less common to contemplate the wood of the Cross. So when we come to the time of veneration, I will show you a plain cross. Look upon it with the eyes of Jesus – see the wood which you will embrace as an act of love to save the world. Do not look for the Body of Christ – but be the Body of Christ. And remember that we can only adore the Triune God – what we adore is neither the wood of the cross, nor an image of the Crucified One, but the Friend and Saviour who took your sins and mine upon this cross of wood, becoming a curse that we may receive a blessing.

There is a tree in this mystery. There was a tree in our history. There is a tree in your destiny. The Book of Revelation speaks of a tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. The whole human race will rise again, and those who rejoice in Christ as Saviour will eat of the tree of life.

Simon was named Peter by the Lord; his very name speaks of his destiny as the Rock of the Church. In today’s Passion he was far from a rock – lashing out with violence, reluctant to draw close to the captive Christ, protecting his own person at the cost of letting down his Lord. But after his fear and failure – this servant of the Lord will prosper. After anguish he will see light, and become a witness to the world of the price paid to forgive him, and humanity, of all iniquity.

Christ has done what is needed to secure our destiny. He has become the source of eternal salvation. By his wounds, we have been healed. After anguish, we can see light. But for now we live in anguish. The Devil would steal our destiny from us – but his promises are empty. At our Easter Liturgy you will be invited to renounce all his empty promises; prepare your heart now to reject whatever would keep you from your destiny.

The sacrifice we celebrate today fulfils the Lord’s promise:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Another Thomas asked how that would work; the Lord declared that he himself would be our way to the Father.

Oh Tom! Oh Doris! If only you had known! Love has saved you and you will live for ever!

There is a tree in this mystery. There is a tree in your destiny.

Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Come, let us adore.


Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 2020

Beloved, what I want to share with you tonight is nothing new.

If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet.

Both St Peter and St Paul in their letters echoed Christ’s teaching that we must be servants to one another.

Our Lord did more than wash the feet of his disciples. When you read on in St John’s Gospel, you will come to these wonderful words:

You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

If we are people who do the will of Christ, then we too are the friends of Jesus. This is who we are: friends of God and members of the Body of Christ. And we know this because of what our Friend and Saviour did on the night before he died. On this night, Our Lord left not one but two unexpected parting gifts with his disciples: his act of humble service, and the Sacrament of his own Body and Blood.

I’d like to share with you another unexpected gift, one which I was given by a visitor on New Year’s Eve: Toilet Duck!

When I sent out my Christmas letter to friends last year, I mentioned that in my first twelve months as a full-time member of Sion Community, I’d probably spent more time cleaning toilets than in the previous twelve years since my ordination. One of my friends decided I might need to be resupplied!

Parish priests often benefit from a housekeeper who looks after laundry, housekeeping, and sometimes, cooking. In community life, we all take our turn – and by doing that, we keep close to the teaching of Jesus, who invited us to wash one another’s feet. As a member of community, I’ve had to learn to adapt to this new rhythm of life.

Many of us are learning a new rhythm of life in these weeks. All of us, and especially older children, should ask ourselves: “What does it mean for me to be a servant right now? Am I taking responsibility for a fair share of the cooking and cleaning?”

In community, we are blessed with talented musicians and many opportunities to gather in our chapels to worship. But the time we spend cooking and cleaning for one another is no less holy than our time of worship, even if it feels mundane. Let’s never forget that when we do these things, we are serving Christ in one another – and when we serve one another, we keep his commandments, and Christ calls us Friends.

We also have an Enemy, the one who has been a liar from the beginning. He is the one who whispers fear into our hearts – that we’re not good enough, that we’ll do it wrong, that we shouldn’t bother. Don’t listen to him! God has given us gifts so we can use them to worship the Lord and serve one another. Rather, listen to the advice that my Mum always gives me: “Always do your best – because you can’t do better than that!”

It may also happen that in our family homes, or in our community life, someone sees us at work and offers to help. The moment that happens, all sorts of thoughts and fears rise up inside us. Will they steal my glory for doing the work? Will they do it wrong and get me into trouble? Do I have time to train them? But we are the Body of Christ, in which all parts are meant to work together for the good of all. We should not fear losing the thanks for doing our own work; rather we should beware of missing the chance to help build up the body of Christ, where we help others use their gifts and talents in his service.

Tonight is a celebration of who we are. When we succeed in being humble servants, then Jesus the Suffering Servant is present. When we succeed in working together, we build the Body of Christ. Whenever two or three of us gather in worship, Christ is present in our midst.

Beloved, what I have shared with you is nothing new. It was known to St David of old who spoke before his death to the people of Wales:

Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about.

It was known to St Thérèse of Lisieux who spoke of the “little way” of serving others. It is known to us today, when hundreds of thousands of people across England have signed up as volunteers to support those in strict self-isolation.

As Christians, we have a general duty to help the poorest and neediest members of society. We have a special duty to look out for the other members of our local church. And when we live together as a family or as a community, we form a domestic church where we receive the same challenge as the first disciples, to wash one another’s feet.

We are the Body of Christ. We are the friends of Jesus. If we are his friends, we will keep his commandments. Tonight, for reasons we all understand, I will not wash the feet of those who live with me in the Ark. But earlier today, I did clean the toilet! What act of service will you offer your domestic church this weekend?

Bonus online material:

The ministry of cleaning toilets has a long history in charismatic renewal. I know of several parishes where Catholics who had been touched by the Holy Spirit chose to win the priest’s favour by first volunteering for the church cleaning rota. Later, they were trusted to run a public prayer group or offer Life in the Spirit Seminars. Willingness to serve is a hallmark of holiness.

The Daily Decision

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community on Palm Sunday of Lent (Year A) 2020

“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” St Peter states his commitment to Jesus in bold words – but he fails to follow-through with his actions. Later, he will have a chance to make amends.

Each year, we hear the Passion and remember what Our Lord did for us.

Never, since the Second World War, have so many of us faced a daily decision like the one Christ faced in the Garden of Gethsemane – and the one which Peter faced a few hours later.

For most of us, it’s a daily decision to be humble, stay home and distance ourselves from other people.

For some of us, it’s a question of discerning what true love requires: self-protection, or putting ourselves at the service of others as community volunteers.

For a few of us, who work in health and social care or essential retail, it’s a daily decision to expose ourselves to the risk of infection, regardless of the possible consequences for our families.

Our Lord knew that He was likely to be executed for provoking the Jewish and Roman authorities. In His humanity, He probably didn’t know the details of what would happen to Him, but He did know it would be painful, and have consequences for his loved ones.

The decisions we face are less certain. We can’t know in advance whether catching covid-19 will be like a bad cold or something much worse. For healthy children, it’s almost guaranteed to be mild. For younger adults without health conditions, the risk is small – but not zero. If we take sensible precautions, every contact with another person represents only a tiny risk – but it’s still a gamble. And then there’s the longer term question – how long will it take scientists to come up with a vaccine? Until there’s a vaccine, we can expect to live in a world where survivors with natural immunity are allowed more freedom – meaning that over the coming months, the outbreak will be managed by allowing all the younger members of the population to catch it, but at a controlled rate.

Moral decisions are seldom easy to make, but they’re especially difficult when we’re victims of forces beyond our control. Even if we seal ourselves in a bubble, we have some moral responsibility for those outside the bubble – people who must who take risks to supply us with food. As long as we follow all the hygiene advice given to us, we won’t be morally responsible if, despite that, we catch or spread this virus.

My heart goes out to every Christian doctor, nurse and healthcare worker who has to balance their duty to their patients and their care for their family. Today we celebrate the great act of love of Jesus Christ who died for us while we were still sinners, not yet joined to God’s family. Belonging to a family doesn’t exempt us from the Christian duty to love the most needy members of society. The words of Isaiah today, that the suffering servant did not cover his face from insults and spittle, take on a deeper meaning for those workers who must expose themselves to the spittle of strangers. Being a single parent, or sharing a home with a person who is vulnerable because of age or some underlying health condition, changes the weight of possible consequences.

Past generations were tested on their love for God. The Romans forced Christians to burn incense to the Emperor. King Henry VIII’s officials forced faithful Catholics to attend Anglican worship or suffer the consequences. Our generation is being tested on our willingness to love our neighbours – those who live in our own homes, those next-door and those we come alongside because of our personal vocations. Ultimately, I cant tell any of you what decision is right for your own mix of responsibilities, but I do share with you the words of Vineyard preacher John Wimber, who often said that faith is spelled R.I.S.K. – not love, but faith.

Next Sunday, Easter Sunday, we will be called to profess our faith and renounce the devil. We will proclaim that we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. As we make decisions now, we do so knowing that if we lay down our life in the service of others, a glorious reward awaits us. That was the knowledge which enabled St Gianna Molla, herself a doctor, to risk her own life to protect her unborn daughter. That was the knowledge which compelled St Giuseppe Moscati to exhaust himself with a celibate life of attending Mass and caring for his patients without taking payment from the poor, until he died unexpectedly at the age of 46.

Today’s Scripture encourages us to listen like a disciple and to reply like a disciple. Just as there are many different kinds of saints, so there are many different callings upon us at this time. Some of us will be called to stay home, for the sake of the vulnerable companions with whom we live. Others will be called to take the risk of serving people in need, and a few of us will be called to minister to those with the symptoms of covid-19 – though we can and should use the equipment provided to shield ourselves from insult and spittle insofar as this is possible!

Each one of us must discern, prayerfully, what is right – and the great sign will be peace. The enemy will come to sow fear in our minds about possible consequences. Even Jesus wept tears of blood in his anguish. But here is the difference: while our minds will recognise the dangers, and be apprehensive, there will be a peace in our soul about doing the right thing – the thing that God is asking of me, in my mix of family and public duties. One of the sons of Zebedee was the first apostle to die for Christ; the other lived to a ripe old age and died a natural death. So, following the example of St Ignatius of Loyola, let us abandon ourselves to God’s will, and then, after a few days of meditation, see which choice brings us lasting peace.

What we are facing is nothing unusual. For the last 75 years, we in the West have enjoyed a lifestyle largely free from having to make daily decisions with life-and-death consequences. For most of human history, and still today in many developing countries, these decisions have been part of daily life. As confirmed Christians, as soldiers for Christ, we too now have to make battlefield decisions.

“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” St Peter learned, eventually, what it meant to be faithful to Jesus. May the Lord speak clearly to our hearts and help us to choose rightly and be at peace. May the peace of the Lord be with you always.

D 17 Gallicantu Dungeon (20)