God conceived in Mary

The Gabriel window in St Chrysostom’s Church

The angel of the Lord appears to Mary, and she says ‘Yes’ to God. (Feast of the Annunciation March 25th)

The eternal Word of God, the Glory of God, becomes flesh in Mary’s womb. Mary receives Jesus Christ, the eternal Son Of God, within her. She shelters, nurtures and grows Christ in her living body. She clothes the Word of God with her own humanity.

God becomes flesh. Mary is the new temple, the holy of holies, she is the sanctuary of the living God.

Mary is not simply an instrument to give birth to God. In her will, her heart and in her body she assents to God’s design for herself and indeed for the human race. Today we have no doubt that the life in the womb and the first two years of life outside the womb are fundamental to the human being’s future. For Jesus Christ, Mary, his mother, is the formative human life and influence of his early years. She it is that loves, cares, nurtures and guides the infant who is God.

And so for Christians the eternal Word of God flesh is intimately, genetically, emotionally, and fully made flesh in Mary, and she shapes his being in his childhood and so in his future.

For the Christian today too, called to say ‘Yes’ to God, after Mary’s example we are to receive the eternal Word, the Light of the World, into our lives fully.

Pray for us O Holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ!

Fr Ian

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Jesus, remember me

Hidden away in the list of saints commemorated on March 25th is the name ‘St Dismas, the Good Thief.’ Poor Dismas, the name usually given to thief crucified with Our Lord,  is especially forgotten on the day as it is also the Feast of the Annunciation. There is a connection. Traditionally Christians believed the date of the crucifixion was March 25th. It was believed that from conception to death Jesus lived a life of ‘complete’ years. Consequently on the same date that the angel came to Mary he, and Dismas, died.

Let’s give Dismas a remembrance! St Luke writes:

St Dismas in paradise (carrying his cross) from a 13th century mosaic

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Looking at the crucified Christ, Dismas speaks with honesty and turns to Christ with a simple prayer. A prayer which we often echo when we sing the Taize chant ‘Jesus remember me’.

Our Orthodox friends often use this prayer, before receiving Communion:

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.

As Lent moves on we turn more to the cross. May we like St Dismas, look to the crucified Lord and pray: Remember me, Lord in Thy Kingdom. 

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Christus Rex

The representation of the tortured, wounded, body of Christ on the Cross has become a central sign and symbol in many Churches. This crucifix is often centrally displayed as a focus for devotion and prayer. In fact it was only in the twelfth century that this began to happen in Western Christianity, and to this day it is not a central feature of Orthodox Christianity.

Today many differing forms of the cross and crucifix are to be found in places of worship.

An early representation shows a majestic Christ clothed in kingly or priestly robes, often crowned, and reigning from tree. In the crucifix form of this image Christ’s arms are outstretched in an open and welcoming way and the image as a whole appears as one of triumph and glory.

This style of crucifix, the Christus Rex, comes from the earliest years of Christianity and has a long honoured tradition. It is a symbol of victory.

On the Christus Rex cross we see the risen Christ, still bearing his wounds, as the Universal King who has triumphed over death and opens arms for all in loving, serving, embrace.

It is this style of crucifix which we have recently had placed centrally at St Chrysostom’s, behind the altar, as a focus for our faith and worship. The Christus Rex cross suggests perspectives which are central to our outlook in faith at St Chrysostom’s. We are an Easter People encouraged and inspired by the Christ, the Universal King, the Christ of the cosmos, who has come among us as a human being and has suffered and died, and has shown us God’s victory over death in which we share.

We are encouraged to see the liturgies – the worship – of the Great Three Days as one great liturgical act honouring Christ the servant of all (Maundy Thursday), crucified for us (Good Friday) and risen and victorious Lord of the Universe (Easter Day). So these elements are united in the Christus Rex cross.

Canon Vernon Staley (1852-1933) a leading Anglo Catholic apologist put it well when he wrote: “It is not well to regard the Eucharist as commemorative solely of the death and passion of our Lord, and to forget that it is also the memorial of His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension. In thus emphasizing His humiliation at the expense of His exaltation some have been led to associate the crucifix with the altar rather than the cross of glory. In connection with this, it may be pointed out that our Lord in glory is a much more suitable subject. . .over the altar, than our Lord crucified.”

From St John Chrysostom’s Sermon The Thief and the Cross:

Do you not see, then, how the cross symbolizes the kingdom? If you desired further proof, it lies in the fact that the cross did not leave Christ earthbound, but lifted him up and carried him back to heaven.

(The Christus Rex Crucifix at St Chrysostom’s is a gift of Fr Ian to the church in memory of his mother and father, Mary and John Gomersall).

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Our dreams, sweet dreams?

Rembrandt: Joseph’s Dream in the Stable

Have you dreamed lately?

What do you think about your dreams?

For centuries in the ‘West’ most people have ignored dreams and simply dismissed them as absurd. In many other cultures people have regarded dreams more significantly.

My own experience of dreams is that at some difficult times working on understanding my dreams has helped me through. Several years ago I worked with a friend who was a Jungian psychotherapist and began to see dreams as often, but not always, expressing truths and ‘speaking’ to me.

A simple beginning to uncovering something about our dreams is to talk about them. Why are there certain features, what do they mean, what do we think is being said? Sometimes it helps to write the dream down.

The Statue of St Joseph in St Chrysostom’s Church

St Joseph (feast day 19th March, transferred to March 20th in 2017) was a dreamer. St Matthew’s Gospel tells us of three highly significant dreams he had. An angel, in a dream, guides him to take Mary as his wife, despite her being already pregnant. After the wise men have visited Bethlehem Joseph is warned, in a dream, to flee for refuge to an alien land with Mary and Jesus, away from the cruel intentions of Herod. Then, years later, again in a dream, Joseph is guided to return to his homeland. Joseph takes his dreams very seriously and acts upon them, and his life takes major changes of direction.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Joseph was an upright man, a Jewish man of principle. We can take this to mean he lived his faith seriously and was a man of prayer and integrity. Within this integrity and faith dreams were significant to him. This, perhaps, is a key for us. Our dreams may well have significance if understood within the context of an integrated life of faith and prayer.

Fr Ian

For other reflections on St Joseph, migrant click here and Joseph, specially chosen,click here.

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Women of Courage in the Bible

Women of courage stand out in the Bible. Sometimes because of the way history is told, and even faith proclaimed, men can seem to predominate. With this in mind the St Chrysostom’s  Justice and Peace group is looking at the stirring examples of women of courage in the Bible.

Have you a favourite Biblical woman of courage?

Some Women of Courage in the Bible, Rahab, Tabitha, Mary of Revelation, Ruth

We asked this question through our church twitter account and received some lovely fascinating, challenging and insightful answers, which we thought it would be great to share. An advantage of Twitter is that the contributor is limited in words they can use – so the responses were brief and to the point.

Jayne Ozanne, a “Gay Evangelical Christian – Writer – Speaker” nominated: “Jael who lures a bully with her charm into her tent and drives a tent peg through his head or Rahab who helps two Jewish spies.”

Grace, a family support worker replies with: Argh, so many to choose from. Esther and Rahab spring to mind straight away!

Amy also nominates Rahab who “was brave when times were dangerous.  She wasn’t afraid to act on faith when action was needed.”

Judith, a children’s nurse names Deborah: “who transformed her bonds of servitude into those of love”

Most blessed of women be Jael (Judges 5.24)

Stephen Heard; “Native Londoner and Essex boy” suggested: Ruth who “stood in tears amid the alien corn.”

David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, tweets: I’m with the brave woman who argues with Jesus over the “crumbs that fall from the table” and gets him to rethink the scope of his mission.

While Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool says: Mary in Revelation, my inspiration – with a child, chased by dragons.

Sarah McDonald, Curate at Hope Church, Islington tweets: I’m gonna go with either Priscilla or Lydia. First female church planters!

Jo Kershaw promptly tweeted her response: Judith.

And the final word to Elaine Wilkes from Loughborough “Inked Biker Girl who runs a motorbike shop with her Biker Boy. Slave to cats.”: Mary, for me. Who turned the world upside down without needing a man, just God!

Those are some of the suggestions – does any particularly encourage you? Is a favourite of yours not listed?

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The Heart in Pilgrimage

“Can you recommend a good book of prayers?”

I’ve been asked this by a farmer in Teesdale, a long term prisoner, an asylum seeker from the Middle East and a University student, and many more people during my ministry. Of course the answer I give varies according to who is asking.

Sometimes the person is asking how to pray, or about different ways of praying, at other times what is wanted is a collection of prayers, or prayers at a specific stage in life.

Whatever prayer should be central to the life of a Christian and there are plenty of good books to help us to pray.

Eamon Duffy, a noted Cambridge academic and church historian, has produced an outstanding collection of prayers, The Heart in Pilgrimage. I’d strongly recommend it to all Catholic minded Christians be they Anglicans, Roman Catholics or others. Its a book of prayers to treasure through life and would make an excellent gift to a friend or family member.

Duffy’s rich collection has prayers from all periods of Christian history, from differing traditions, famous and not so well known ones. There are traditional devotions, as well as modern prayers and guides to prayer. As well as litanies, prayers for special occasions, and forms of prayer for daily use are included.

The Foreword by Archbishop Rowan Williams, and the Preface by Fr Timothy Radcliffe are special additions to the book in themselves. Rowan Williams explores, as an Anglican, what it means to also be Catholic, whilst Timothy Radcliffe writes of the meaning and nature of prayer.

The Church Times reviewed the book well saying “Eamon Duffy is to be congratulated for providing us with such a wonderful compilation, beautifully bound and illustrated, which is a tool to help our heart on its pilgrimage..”

The Tablet concluded its review by saying “This is a book to change the lives of those who use it, and that is what I intend to do.”

Buy it, use it, treasure it, and buy a copy as a gift for friends or family.

Fr Ian

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White Lent: Now quit your care

Lent is often a time of paradox. On Ash Wednesday we hear the words of Jesus Christ calling us not to be like hypocrites who “disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting” then we mark our foreheads with ash.  We hear Christ’s words not to use lots of words in prayer, then we recite a long litany! We’re invited to live a more simple life, and give things up, then churches organise all manner of things for Lent …

To bow the head
in sackcloth and in ashes,
or rend the soul,
such grief is not our goal;
but to be led
to where God’s glory flashes,
his beauty to come nigh,

Until the 16th century in England the word ‘Spring’ was not used. The word used was Lent. Lent meant spring not only in the spiritual world, but also in the natural world too. Signs of new growth were signs for Lent, spiritual and natural, as indeed they still are:

“Lent comes in the spring,
And spring is pied with brightness;
The sweetest flowers,”

white-lent-rs-u

So wrote that great doyen of traditional Anglican liturgy, Percy Dearmer.

We sang his now seldom sung hymn, White Lent, from which this comes at St Chrysostom’s on the First Sunday of Lent. The hymn begins Now quit your care.

The hymn’s words challenge us to consider our priorities and how we keep Lent and remind us of the call to justice and social action – encouraged by the readings from the prophet Isaiah (58) at Mass on Ash Wednesday.

For righteousness
And peace will show their faces
To those who feed
The hungry in their need,
And wrongs redress

I’m not suggesting Percy’s hymn is a ‘priority hymn’ in danger of being lost. (See a list of such hymns earlier on the blog, here). I am suggesting its sentiment and challenge are worthy of a significant place in keeping Lent today!

Fr Ian

(With grateful thanks to @ClerkofOxford for her blog on which this heavily draws).

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