As we wind our way through an extended weekend of music making hosting the BBC Songs of Praise team recording from our very own St Aidan’s Church, we give thanks to God for the gift of music, which gladdens the heart and wants to draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s love and care for us.
When we worship, when we praise God, we, too, join in that music that fills the heavenly realms. Every Sunday we join the angels’ song: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, what we pray at every eucharist: ‘With angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven we proclaim your great and glorious name, evermore praising you and saying, holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might: heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest!’ When we worship, we are drawn beyond ourselves, we glimpse some of the glory angels gaze upon, and join their song of praise.
In music we can see something of the transcendent beauty of our ‘out of the ordinary God’.
Lo, he comes overwhelms me every Advent – ‘with what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars’; the Agnus Dei of Haydn’s Little Organ Mass moves my adoration into higher realms, before inviting us all to behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, blessed are those who are called to his supper, I bow before the ‘hands that flung stars into space’ of my ‘Servant King’ and my God, Sander’s Reproaches bring me down onto my knees at a Good Friday Liturgy, a glorious Welsh tune changes us again and again ‘from glory into glory’, a roaring organ voluntary lifts the roof after the end of a celebratory service – and these push only my buttons…
Think of how you physically react when you hear the exuberance expressed in, oh I don’t know, Mozart’s Coronation Mass or a Last Night of the Proms ‘Pomp and Circumstances’, or the colossal sounds in the cinema of film music with choirs and orchestras blazing away. What an amazing psychological effect this music can have! And it is the task and privilege of musicians and the end of our own music making: to help us enter this transcendent, transfigured place beyond ourselves.
Music gives our worship wings. It soars and flies, it beckons heaven come down to us.
Music touches parts of us nothing else can quite reach. It enlarges our imaginations, it moves our spirits, it overwhelms our self-centredness, it coaxes us to love in a new and deeper way.
I could tell you how I was first overwhelmed as an 11 year old singing ‘my’ first Messiah, how, of course on hind-sight only, the ‘worthy is the lamb’ became and has remained the song of my life and ministry.
And I am sure, we could all tell stories about how a hymn or a psalm, a song, a piece of film music or the latest released album had a profound effect on us.
That is why we stop making music and singing ourselves at our peril! It is an investment in mission. It has converting power. And above all, it is for the praise of God. Worshipping God is the most important thing we can do in this life. It’s the only thing we shall do in the next, when we shall be like the angels, and their song and ours will be joined ‘in perfect harmony’, forever in tune with heaven.
It’s not too late yet, even without a ticket, if you’ve got an appetite after all to join us for this afternoon’s recording of the Songs of Praise programme! Just come back in good time and in good voice for the recordings taking place between 2.15-5.45pm – all are welcome!!
With my love and prayers: Mo. Andi
Jesus, only hours before his passion and death, saw the end approaching. At table with his friends, he could have told them all sorts of things … about being careful … staying away from danger … keeping their heads down… Instead, he said this: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.’
It sounds so easy. We Christians ought to be able to love, for goodness sake, it is a defining mark of who we are. It is at the heart of the faith we are to live and proclaim as we follow Jesus.
So, what is it about love that is so difficult? Love seems so easy when we love people who think like us, look like us, live like us … and love us, too. Love seems easy when we talk about it, and think about it. Romantic love and movie love seem so special and charming. And everybody loves a good story.
Human nature, however, is considerably messier and even the most self-aware and selfless among us find it at times hard to practice this radical and inclusive love by which Jesus says people will recognize us as his followers: ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Difficult, challenging? Indeed, and yet … in all our struggles and distractions, let us strive to learn that love and practice that love, so that the world may believe.
With love and prayers: Mo. Andi
“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.”
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
How is our love, brothers and sisters? How is our love? If we’re known as Christians by our love, by our love … is it love we are displaying in our living and being, our listening and speaking, our giving and receiving?
I sometimes look at Christians, including myself, and want to shout: ‘When did Christianity lose that over-the-top love for which the early Christians were most famous When did Christians become some of the world’s greatest haters? Why do today’s Christians so often love so badly?
Jesus was, is and always will be the world’s greatest lover – he is way, truth and life, he is cornerstone and bright morning star, he is living water and living bread in whom all our hungers are satisfied, he is light and love itself, personified, made flesh, poured out, incarnate.
Saint Aidan, our patron, arrived in Northumbria, invited by King Oswald, to spread the Christian faith among his people, and settled with his brother monks on Lindisfarne. The first thing he needed to do was, quite literally, to learn the language of the people among whom he was to live, to preach and to minister. He then followed a very distinct pattern of living and witnessing: regularly, mindfully, prayerfully, he walked the land and talked to all people he met, sharing of himself and of the love of Christ. He brought hope, he brought learning, he was generous in helping the poor, he ransomed slaves and restored them back to freedom and life, he was humble, he was gentle, he showed no favouritism to any group or class or background or status or origin. This went hand in hand with periods spent on the island in study and prayer. These were times to anchor himself in Christ afresh, to deepen his own discipleship and to grow further together with his companions … were they not to share the task and vocation of making Christ known in word and deed in their locality and their communities.
My friends, we too are called to continue to ‘learn the language’ of our parish and community, to become and remain inculturated in our unique context, to learn and re-learn its issues, and challenges, its joys and sorrows, its needs and achievements – and share in them by being and remaining visible, by engaging with various groups, by getting to know people and getting known, always ready to profess the hope which is within us. But undergirding that needs be our own continuing nurture and growth. One of the central places we find that continuing nurture is through our worship, as we come together Sunday by Sunday to be drawn into the life and love of the living God, as we receive the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation and say our own ‘Amen’ to the promise, prayer and challenge as the host is placed into our hands ‘the Body of Christ’, as the cup touches our lips, ‘The Blood of Christ’.
We extend that through our pattern of the (nearly) daily celebration of the Mass. The Mass anchors us in the mystery of Christ’s self-giving love, sets us on the path of life and calls our response in love and service. This is not ‘just a proud tradition of the past’, but must be at the heart of our calling as God’s people in this place. Here we stand not only for ourselves, but also for the lives of those who cannot or will not be present with us, we stand on their behalf and on behalf of the world, pleading Christ’s sacrifice of self-giving love to transform us and all creation.
People of God, we must do our utmost to continue to strengthen our Eucharistic fellowship both on Sundays and weekdays in numbers and in sincerity and devotion. Likewise, we are called to grow in our knowledge and love of God through study and prayer. With the corresponding office of the day said, we enter into the rhythm of joining the church universal at prayer, anchoring ourselves in the life of Christ and deepening our own discipleship. And of course we ought do that, too, through study and reading, discussion and sharing. Coming together as God’s people to learn and grow through activities as our Lent group, or our newly launched Easter group, or looking towards a quiet day or day pilgrimage in the future – all opportunities to get to know each other a bit better, to be enriched in our Christian life, and an opportunity to enrich each other through our sharing and growing together. Then, and only then, can we truly sustain and be sustained by our many distinct ways of Christian service, be that through HELP, through the food share and community meal, through hosting PAFRAS and the Eritrean church, through working with the various communities within our congregation and our parish, through feeding the hungry, reaching out to the homeless, helping refugees, welcoming strangers – all ways through which we under Christ play our part in making present a bit of God’s good and life-affirming Kingdom. Here is our opportunity not only to serve, but also through our love and example to help those who are recipients of our services to learn to become servants of the Living God themselves. If people can say about us ‘see how they love and serve each other’ they will not be able to help themselves but to be drawn into our community, drawn into the Kingdom of God. In Jesus, and this is what Jesus lived and breathed and preached and acted on, in Jesus, the kingdom had drawn near, and had already touched time and space: the sick were healed, demons were cast out, sinners were forgiven and called friends of God.
A rabbi is said to have once asked his students: ‘When can we know that the night has ended and the day has begun?’ ‘Is it the moment when you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog?’ one student suggested, ‘Or when you can see the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree?’ another tried. ‘No,’ said the rabbi, ‘it is the moment when you can look at a face never seen before and recognise the stranger as a brother or sister. Until that moment, no matter how bright the day, it is still the night.’
God wants us to be light, God wants us to be leaven, God want us to be salt.
In the early church, when someone was baptised, a pinch of salt was placed on the new believer’s tongue. Purified in Christ, we are called to be a purifying agent in the world. The church as leaven exists to be an everlasting, ever-leavening agent that can turn dough into bread for a hungry world.
Light illumines the darkness. To quote Leonard Sweet in his book AquaChurch: If there is darkness, the blame should be attached where it belongs: not to the world that is dark, but to the church which is failing to provide the light. That, brothers and sisters, Easter people is our calling!! If there is rottenness, the blame should be placed where it belongs; not on the world that is rotting, but on the church which isn’t salting it enough to stop it from going bad. If there is unfed hunger out there, the blame should be placed where it belongs; not on those who are gobbling up fake spirituality and fast-food pieties, but on the church which isn’t leaven enough to get into the dough to make bread for a hungry world. Living the kingdom, being the kingdom, my friends, is our true vocation.
Jesus didn’t just talk about the kingdom, though with his parables and stories he certainly again and again gets our attention, piques our curiosity, fires our hearts and minds, but just as importantly he lived and breathed it with his whole being: teaching, healing, forgiving, eating with sinners, embracing women, touching lepers, washing feet, breaking bread with his friends.
Light, leaven, salt, agents of God’s kingdom, our calling, people of God, reshaping our lives, being renewed in love and service… so they will know we’re Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia.
The Greek in our Gospel uses two different words for our English word ‘love’:
The ‘agapeo’ Jesus uses is a love that is unconditional, unreserved, unlimited, unwavering and totally oriented for and to the good of the other, a love that is godly and selfless and pure.
The ‘philio’ Peter uses denotes a relationship to a friend, affectionate, generous, loyal and happy, but as it is human in the end it is conditional, fraught with envy, selfishness, misunderstandings even denial, so: “Yes, Lord, you know I love you as one loves a friend” answers Peter.
Peter reaffirms what has been his greatest strength all along – his friendship for Jesus. And so he is commissioned – to feed the sheep, to tend to the lambs, to be the rock on which the church is founded, to hold the keys to the kingdom.
Now, Peter has no magic word to open the door, Peter is simply the one who has learned the hard way to be God’s friend … loving as a friend, striving for loyalty, growing in understanding, sharing delight, tempted and failing at times, but always drawn back in compassion and friendship. In the end, Peter understood. Not everything, but the one thing that mattered. “Peter, are you my friend?” “Yes, Lord, I am your friend”. And against that friendship even the gates of hell could not prevail.
With love and prayers: Mo. Andi”
Dear Friends, well, here we are again on Thomas Sunday. Good old doubting Thomas. He couldn’t take the disciples’ word about having seen Jesus alive; he needed proof; he needed to be sure. And I can understand him so very much.
Jesus does not come to the disciples in a blaze of glory, surrounded by angels or accompanied by trumpet flourishes. Rather he comes quietly. And he comes with his wounds. He is not all neat and tidy, but still bears the marks of his suffering, the marks of his humanity.
How often do we as humans struggle to hide our woundedness which we regard as signs of weakness? Yet, the risen Christ still bears his wounds and he comes to meet us and to bring us peace, his resurrection giving us hope that we, too, will be healed and made whole.
Jesus’ appearance to Thomas reminds us that doubts do not disqualify us from discipleship. Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; rather it is an element of faith. We look at ourselves and see doubting Thomases, God looks at us and sees the best: beloved children, faithful friends, spirit-filled partners in the ongoing work of creation.
With love and prayers: Mo. Andi. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.