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Easter IV Good Shepherd Sunday 25th April 2021 a reflection by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 24/04/2021 - 13:46

Easter IV 2021 Year B Good Shepherd Sunday

“And I lay my life down for the sheep…”  John 10:15b

There is a lovely and moving film entitled; ‘No greater love’ which documents a year in the life of an enclosed order of  Carmelite nuns living at Notting Hill in the centre of London. There have been nuns living on that spot for centuries and even during times of persecution the community has remained faithful to their calling and to their locale. What is the most remarkable thing in the film, however, is an interview with the Mother Prioress.

She comes across as a women full of energy and hope, wisdom and great humour but it is more than her personality that impressed me or made my jaw drop. It was simply a comment she made that literally ‘knocked me for six’. At one point she says:

“ I have not felt the presence of God for over 30 years but my faith and vocation have remained as true now as it was when I first entered the order as a novice.”

For over 30 years, this woman in an enclosed order, has spent most of her life in prayer and contemplation of God that she does not feel present. Many others would have given up, I think, a long time ago but not her. She has remained faithful to her Lord, her God and her vocation. Her faithfulness goes beyond measure.

In today’s readings we are reminded first of Peter’s faithfulness to Jesus, despite his cock crow wobble on Good Friday. In the other two readings we are shown how faithful Jesus was and is to his followers and by assumption to us as well. It is Jesus’ comment:

“And I lay down my life for the sheep…”

that I think, is so very powerful. For in those eight words we are told that Jesus is prepared to give his life as the ultimate act of faithfulness to his Father and to us. Jesus further tells us that unlike the hired hand he will not leave his flock in times of danger or threat but that he will remain with them. Jesus is the ultimate example of faithfulness and as such he sets us a template to try and follow.

It is, however, not always an easy template to adhere to for remaining faithful to a cause or an individual or group of people in testing times is very difficult. All too often our first thought is to give up and up sticks, to move on to pastures new and hopefully less testing experiences and challenges. Yet, Christ’s faithfulness should teach us something. Something about trusting in God and hoping that we will be able to see things through and once again see good times rather than bad. As we come out of this time of pandemic we need to discern afresh what it is that God is calling us to be and to become in this bit of the Kingdom. How are we being called to minister to the people of God in they place? What will our ‘new normal’ look like?

The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is a wonderful one and to have it as our dedication is unusual but exciting. Our congregation is not named for any saint or their example. We are named for our Lord himself and him alone in the example he sets us as the shepherd of his flock. Christ the Good Shepherd is a man true to his purpose and charges.  Like our Lord, we all need to remain true to God’s call and to continually seek to discern where it is that we are meant to be going and what we are meant to be doing. We do that by praying daily to God for the guidance of his Holy Spirit and by trying to remain true to the example of the Good Shepherd that Christ sets before us.

Easter III 18th April 2021 Reflections on the readings by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 24/04/2021 - 13:40

Easter III   Year B Sunday 18th April 2021

Todays three readings which all come from the post-resurrection New Testament writings explore what ‘seeing’ means. Not just seeing but perceiving as well.

Acts 3:12-19

“When Peter saw it …”

Although this is a powerful phrase to begin this reading with it is also a rather stupid place to begin. What was it that Peter saw? You get an idea it was a disabled man being told to walk by Peter in the name of Christ. But to really put this reading into context you need to read the sentences before this reading starts:

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognised him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.”

Acts 3:1-11

See says Peter to the gathered crowds, see what Jesus does for you? Peter is continuing Jesus’ ministry to the Israelites challenging them to hear the good news and to see both physically and metaphorically who and what Jesus was/is.

Peter later in this account goes on to have a good rant at the spiritual blindness of the Israelites. This is what Jesus can do for you, you saw it all but you did not believe and you crucified him. Can you see now? Peter asks or are you still blind to who he is?

In this reading it seems as though Peter is really getting a lot off his chest and he is releasing long pent up anger but once he has done o his tone comes conciliatory and affirming. He says to his listeners:

17 ‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out …”

Acts 3:17-19

Peter’s tone may be conciliatory but it is still challenging, as the Good News should always be - you did this in ignorance but still you must repent.

I think Peter gives us an idea as to what God is actually like. God is always giving us another chance to get it right, God is always prepared to give us the benefit of the doubt and is always hoping that we will come to see and perceive who he is and what he offers to us.

 

1John 3:1-7

St.John, like St.Peter in the Acts reading begins with the word ‘see’:

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  1John 3:1

‘See what love’ writes John, but he goes on to say that it was love that the world did not at first recognise because the world failed to see God in Jesus. In this piece John continues to explore what knowing and not knowing God means and he proposes that even as we come to see or know God there is always more to discover, more to see and know. God, however, can never be fully known by his creation because he is the author of all being and we his creation are only part of his being and not the sum of him.

John also tells us that our sin obscures who God is and that the more we do discover about God the more we learn that we have more to discover. The more we know God the more we have to know about him. It is a paradox. Getting to know God is a life long journey not something we can do in this life alone.

For me this is why I am a theologian, a priest but firstly a Christian. I find it exciting beyond measure trying to discover who God is and what God is - to try and perceive or see him more clearly. I know that by my nature I will never fully know God but that does not put me off, in fact it spurs me on to try and follow his ways more closely in hope of a clearer vision of him.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,

be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;

be thou my best thought in the day and the night,

both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.”

Luke 24:36-48

This is an account of one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. A time when he showed himself to his followers and a time when they saw him, even if at first they were not prepared to believe their own eyes:

“They thought they were seeing a ghost…”

And, well they might! Who had ever heard of anyone surviving a crucifixion and three days in a tomb?

Jesus, obviously knows thy cannot believe their eyes and that they doubt their perception. Jesus challenges them to look closely at him and to see and touch him, so that they can individually recognise him. When they do recognise him he knows they will be ready to hear what he has to say about the redemption he has won for them and for us. Jesus ends by calling them witnesses and witnesses are those who see something but do not necessarily see the same thing because we all see things differently and because of that we will all proclaim or deny the Christ.  Our personal perceptions of who he is will always be different.

Seeing is not as straight forward as we might first think and seeing God in Jesus is perhaps one of the hardest things we can try to do. Yet, when we do perceive God in Christ the joy we gain can be immeasurable.

“God be in my head, and in my understanding;

God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;

God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;

God be in my heart, and in my thinking;

God be at mine end, and at my departing.”

Low Sunday 11th April 2021 A reflection by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 10/04/2021 - 11:13

Sunday 11th April 2021 – Low Sunday

Peace be with you

Scientists tell us that our nervous system must receive and process information about the world outside in order to react, communicate and keep our bodies healthy and safe. Much of this information comes through the sensory organs; the eyes; ears; nose; tongue and skin. It is only when we begin to lose them that we realise how important they are to our daily life and mental wellbeing.

Coming from a medical family where there is a recent history of glaucoma and macular degeneration, I am well aware of the need to visit the opticians annually to ensure that the necessary checks and tests are carried out.

This Sunday the church commemorates the apostle Thomas. He was not present when the risen Christ first appeared to the other disciples that evening. Today’s gospel tells of Thomas’ refusal to believe in the resurrection unless he can touch the wounds of the crucified Christ.  Only when the risen Christ appears again a week later and invites Thomas to touch his hands and his side does he confess “Jesus as his Lord and God”.

In the chapter entitled “Questioning” from his book “Seeing God in Art”, Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, refers to a mosaic at Hosios Loukas, Greece made @ 1120 depicting this encounter.  Jesus holds his hands open and shows his side so that the wounds can be clearly seen.

Unfortunately, the face of Thomas is sadly damaged so we cannot see it.  Most dramatically however Jesus appears against the backdrop of a closed door that is also the shape of a sarcophagus, as though to stress that he has risen from the dead.

The writer goes on to comment that “Thomas was surely right to question the claim of the other disciples ie that they had seen the risen Christ.  Questioning is not only a good thing to do, but is essential. The willingness to question is fundamental to religious understanding as well. How can we come to believe something, or believe something with deeper conviction, unless we are willing to probe and question what is claimed to be true?”

Thomas gives us permission to question, to probe, to be honest and to act with integrity. In this we seek to understand, wrestle and hold in tension what it means to follow the risen Christ. Unlike Thomas, we have not had the benefit of seeing the risen Christ or putting our fingers in his side.

Many of us who were present in person or on zoom last week (Easter Sunday) are here again today. Why? What has brought us back? It may partly be due to the five senses which I referred to earlier. In some ways we can still hear, see, touch and taste (though not necessarily smell) something of the risen Christ. Through the weekly Liturgy of the Word and the Sacrament our spiritual lives are nourished and our faith enriched.

What struck me in today’s Gospel were the words “Peace be with you” spoken by the risen Christ.  Did you notice how many times he spoke them? Three.  What did that say to the disciples, to Thomas and to us?     

As we enter into another week may we too know something of that peace.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,

Wherever He may send you.

May He guide you through the wilderness,

Protect you through the storm.

May He bring you home rejoicing

At the wonders He has shown you.

May He bring you home rejoicing

Once again into our doors.

Prayers for the Royal Family on the death of the Duke of Edinburgh

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 10/04/2021 - 11:11

Gracious God, giver of all life,

in whom our earthly course finds its fulfilment:

we give you thanks for the life of Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,

for his service to this nation, the Commonwealth, and humanity,

in war and in peace,

in the pursuit of knowledge,

and in his example of reverence for your creation.

We give thanks for the encouragement he offered to the young,

and for his faithful support for Elizabeth our Queen.

We pray that, as you receive him into your presence,

his family and all who mourn may know your comfort

in the assurance that death is swallowed up in victory

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God,

now and in eternity.

Amen.

Easter Day: a reflection by Canon Dean Fostekew

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 03/04/2021 - 15:04

Easter Day 2022 Year B

Many of you may well be aware of the ‘statement sculpture’ by the Turner Prize winning artist Nathan Coley in the grounds of the Modern2 Gallery.

“There will be no miracles here”

The sculpture in lights on the grey scaffolding poles is a quote from a 17th century French  royal proclamation in the town of Modseine. A town which had supposedly been experiencing rather too many miracles. Atop the Modern1 Gallery entrance there is a second sculpture with the legend:

“Everything will be alright.”

Which was commissioned by the gallery from the Scottish Turner Prize winner Martin Creed. I like both sculptures very much. Not least because they make me smile. I have enjoyed seeing them on a regular basis in ‘Lockdown’ when popping in to the grounds of Modern2 for a coffee from the ‘pop-up’ cafe. If you get the ‘miracle' one on the right eye line with the three towers of our cathedral the irony of it all appeals to my sense of humour.

The two sculptures also for me have a relevance to the events of Easter. Why? You might ask?

Simply because they make us think about what the words mean. Ponder for a moment how those women at the tomb and earlier at the foot of the cross might have felt some 2000 years ago. As Jesus hung dead on the cross, the phrase of there; ‘being no miracles here’ would have resonated loudly with the heartsick feelings of loss, those faithful few, would have felt. How could anything good come from Jesus’ ignoble death on that awful instrument of torture? His body broken and abused, his life force spent and all hopes for a better future dashed upon the rocks of betrayal. No miracles would have seemed possible. As for the second phrase that ‘everything would be all right’ – how stupid and facile that would have seemed. How could his death make things ‘all right’?

We post-resurrection members of the Church know that things were to change but those remaining few friends of Jesus on that first Good Friday could not have believed anything good could have come from his death. It is no wonder that today’s Gospel reading tells us that the women approached the tomb with trepidation and tears. They thought that they were going to perform one final act of love and tenderness towards the man they had hoped and believed in by washing, anointing and shrouding his mortal frame. They had loved him, they had been inspired by him and they wanted to show their respect for him by this one last kindness. It was all they could do for him now that he was dead.

As Good Friday closed, the lifeless body of Jesus had been buried quickly in a tomb. A grave originally prepared for someone else. At his birth Jesus borrowed an animal's manger as a bed and in his death he borrowed another’s final resting place. His immediate burial was meant to be a stop-gap before the dawning of the Sabbath. It had to be fast in order not to contravene the Jewish purity laws. Jesus had broken enough laws in his life and his disciples could not bear for him to break anymore in death.

Today, as on that first Easter morning, with the Sabbath over the women approached the tomb to do what many women have done since time immemorial. They went to clean the body and to make it decent. They went to ‘lay Jesus out’ ready for a proper funeral and internment. They did not expect any miracles to have happened nor did they expect everything to be all right. They would, I suspect, have had images of Jesus both in his life and in his death running through their minds, like a film. Listening again in their heads to his teachings and wise words in hope that they would comfort and inspire them still.

They were brave, those women; Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome because they were risking their own personal safety and reputations to do what they believed was right for the man they had believed in. Women, so more often than men, do this. The men might have been content to leave him in the tomb, dead and gone but not the women. They felt they had a task to perform and perform it they would. One last act of kindness to the human Jesus; regardless of their own security.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus was proclaimed a king and was regarded as being almost ‘god like’ in the way his path was strewn with greenery. His feet were too sacred to touch the ground. These same feet were washed with tears and anointed, only to be bruised by torture and death. Jesus’ seemingly once sacred body was soon reduced to nothingness – an object to be beaten and broken - all too human now, not divine. His dead body is then more or less tossed into a tomb, quickly; to get it out of sight before the sun set and rules were broken. For me the love those women showed in their approach to the tomb that morning is overwhelming. Despite what had happened to him, they still loved him and wanted to care for him. The ‘Hosannas’ of Palm Sunday had proved to be false but the love of those women was, however, true and genuine. A seemingly simple act one might think, but an act that is actually ‘awesome’.

The story might have ended there with that last act of kindness and love but it did not. As we approach the tomb with those women we are confronted with a new reality – his body is not there.

The women must have been very perplexed, perhaps angry. Who had stolen him away? Could his detractors not even let him rest in peace? What actually happened we do not know, but something happened to Jesus and to those women. Whether Jesus’ body was resurrected physically or spiritually has been an argument that has raged for 2000 years and will continue to do so for many millennia still. Whichever view you take is right because as I see it the important thing is to acknowledge is that resurrection occurred. That Jesus came to new life and that he comes to each and every one of us afresh every day of our lives.

Resurrection is a miraculous event in that it is life changing and earth shattering. Human history has not been the same since that first Easter Day. A miracle did happen - in that perceptions were changed, as people experienced Jesus anew and spread his Gospel message across the world. Those women at the tomb were inspired afresh and they in their turn inspired the disciples and so on and so forth. That inspiration caused by the resurrection is still travelling throughout the world today – that for me is the miracle of resurrection.

The Resurrection happened in first century Palestine and it is that that enables us to believe that everything will be all right. Things might not work out as we expect but they will usually work out in ways we can learn to live with. We could leave it at that with these sentiments ringing in our ears BUT there is one more piece of the resurrection story not to forget.

The young man at the tomb told the women not to be afraid and to go to Galilee and tell the others. We could remain at the empty tomb this morning rejoicing but Jesus would not be there, what we have to do is seek him out. We have to search for the risen Jesus – the Christ,  in all we experience and in all we do. It is in this search and this continual going to ‘Galilee’ that we keep Christ alive. We are not called to dwell in the tomb with the un-resurrected Jesus but to seek Jesus in the people and places of the world. Above all things, the miracle of Easter is a call to mission, a call to take the message of the resurrected Jesus to the four corners of the globe.

The Good News is meant to be shared not kept to oneself and in sharing it we continue to allow the ripples of resurrection to move outwards from its central point, ever reaching beyond the here and now to the future and beyond. The miracle of the resurrection is still unfolding, let it inspire you each day of your life and let Jesus be your guide in all your endeavours. And, remember sometimes there; ‘will be miracles here’ and that eventually ‘everything will be all right!’

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!