Sermon third after Pentecost 2024, 9 June

Fr Nicholas Edwards

As the Rev’d Narelle said last week, we are now in so-called ‘ordinary time’, that time in the church’s calendar when not much seems to happen, after the splendours and excitement of Easter, the Ascension, and the Sundays of Pentecost and the Holy Trinity, and we swap the red and white and gold colours, for green. 

This is the time of the year when the readings appointed for Sunday no longer fit together neatly, as the appointed Scripture does in other times of the year, to form a coherent and harmonious message for the theme of the day, summed up neatly by our opening prayer, which attempts to collect the different parts of the day together in a united thought. 

We are now in that time of year when the OT, the Epistle and Gospel readings follow their own trajectory, rather than then supporting each other. I sometimes wonder if the readings are planned that way to encourage people more to attend church every Sunday, in order to follow the stories and arguments in those respective readings, which progress each week, rather than at other times of the year, when they stand together, and make sense as a group, each Sunday.

Having said that, it does give us a variety of different options for preaching, not being held back by a single main focus for the day. What strikes me in today’s readings is a passage in the Gospel, which speaks about Jesus and his family. We don’t hear much at all in Scripture about his family, and we tend to crave that sort of information about important figures; to know more about their backgrounds and influences, and especially for Jesus, what might have sustained him through the difficulties of his earthly ministry.

Of course, Jesus spoke of his two families—firstly his mother, brothers and sisters that he goes home to, in St Mark’s Gospel, after appointing the twelve. It’s quite a surprising phrase that we heard in the gospel—‘Jesus went home’. We get so used to the idea that Jesus wandered around, without a home, staying with various people on his travels, that to hear of his going home sounds quite odd. In fact, various writers have made much out of the notion that the Son of Man had no place to call home, until he returned to be with his Father, his most important family connection.

Jesus also refers to his second family, when he says at the end of our reading, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ We have the opportunity to include ourselves in that family.

What do we know of Jesus’ earthly family? His mother St Mary, of course, with him until the end. And Joseph, often referred to as his foster father, who disappears from Scripture before Jesus embarks on his ministry. 

3 or 4 brothers are named (depending where you look) including James (who we know as James the Less, different from our Church’s St James), Joses (a variation on Joseph), Jude (who we believe wrote the epistle of St Jude), and Simon (not Simon Peter, but a different Simon that we don’t hear anything else about). 

It does get complicated regarding the brothers, because the word ‘brothers’ is often used to describe cousins or close friends, and sometimes includes unnamed sisters as well, and so we can’t be sure these were actual blood brothers of Jesus. And church tradition speaks of those brothers as adopted brothers of Jesus, being from a possible previous marriage of St Joseph.

Curiously the brothers appear to be absent at the burial of Jesus, which goes against customs of the day, but they do appear again in the Acts of the Apostles, praying alongside the women, and Jesus’ mother. There are some early writings that name two sisters of Jesus as well—Mary and Salome. The Orthodox church recognises sister Salome as a friend of the mid-wife who helped at the birth of Jesus (Jesus’ midwife is someone we never hear about in the Anglican Church).

In our Gospel reading today we also hear of two startling proclamations from Jesus, firstly that “people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter”; and then also, “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”.

It is an immense relief to know that we have the opportunity of our sins and whatever blasphemies we utter being forgiven, alongside that opportunity of being part of Jesus’ family. How wonderful to have the slate being wiped clean through the grace of God. But terms and conditions apply. Specifically the unfor-giveable-ness of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. 

One way of interpreting this is to relate it to what Jesus says in St John’s gospel, chapter 3. “Those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” In other words, the unforgiveable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is akin to not accepting the divinity of Christ, the Son of God. Those who said Jesus had “an unclean spirit” were declaring that they did not believe in him, as we believe. And so those people have chosen not to avail themselves of the loving salvation of God. 

Sobering thoughts for those who don’t believe, and far too gloomy a note to end this sermon on. So I will remind you of words from our Epistle: “we believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us into his presence.” Amen.

Sermon Easter 7: Ascension Sunday

It was Ascension Day on Thursday, and today is often marked as Ascension Sunday, when we can celebrate the rising of our Lord far above the heavens: no more to be seen in his bodily form upon this earth, but to live and reign with his and our Father, beyond time and space, until he comes again.

At Christmas we sing about a baby, born to be king. The Ascension is Christ’s enthronement festival, celebrating the exaltation of that baby as Lord of heaven and earth, and his coronation as King of the Universe. And in the Ascension is the completion of the circle of his journey, which began when we sang, “He came down to earth from heaven.” Now we can sing, “He went up to heaven from earth.” 

Our east window celebrates the Ascension. The top series of pictures feature Christ in all his glory, rising through the stars and clouds. In that centre section he is surrounded by angels, and with the twelve gazing up at him. 
This event was before Matthias was elected, as we heard in our earlier reading, and so the eleven disciples are joined by Christ’s blessed mother. 

Here Christ rises above all those events that are depicted in the scenes below, of his life and key moments is the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. As he rises above them, at the same time he takes them and us with him, 
sanctifying what is left behind in time and space.

Originally the Church kept the Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost all on the same day, following the timeline in St John’s gospel. That must have been a long day of great celebrating, and I imagine everyone would have been very tired after that, especially with all the baptisms and confirmations traditionally held on that day. 

Then we moved to have Easter for forty days, culminating in the conclusive act and feast of the Ascension, which follows the chronology in Luke. 

Finally, the church has settled on the feast of Pentecost as a separate Sunday, and has extended the season of Easter to its full 50 days, which for us concludes next Sunday, when we had intended to have a confirmation service here at St James’, but are now going to spend more time in preparing the candidates.

The Ascension marks the completion of our Lord’s redemptive work here on earth. But all is not over by a long stretch. His disciples and we are kept waiting for the full conclusion. Jesus has ascended, but we know the story has a major twist to come. 

An angel addressed the baffled disciples watching their Lord and friend disappear through the clouds, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 

This Jesus has not gone forever. He will return. The angel tells us not to look up, but to look forward. Forward to that day when all things will be fulfilled and the mysteries of existence will be explained & complete. 

In the old Ascension Day Collect, we prayed that as Jesus ascended into the heavens, may our hearts and minds be there too. While he is physically no longer among us, he is not absent, for we can be with him still in our hearts and minds, and we believe he is with us in the Holy Spirit, AND he will come again. 

Christ is now beyond time and space. Before, during his earthly time, he was in a small geographical area in Palestine, but now he is everywhere at once, no longer confined. Even, to answer one question from our confirmation class, he is even on other stars and planets out there that we have no knowledge of. 

We see in Christ’s exaltation, the hallowing of our humanity, as we had a sense of in the Incarnation, when Christ was born as a human. Now all that promise is set in motion, establishing our access to God’s eternal splendour, as Christ experiences through his ascension into the heavens.

St Augustine wrote that we are already there too, in heaven with him, it’s just not quite fulfilled in our bodies, YET. To dramatize this sense of conclusion in the liturgy, at the end of the gospel on The Ascension, previously the practice was to extinguish the pascal candle, to show that the resurrection appearances were at an end, Easter was over, and we were now in heaven with him, in our hearts and minds. 

Now we keep the candle burning until Pentecost, continuing to celebrate the Resurrection for a little longer, and we light the candle again at baptisms, to point towards the new life in the Resurrection that baptism brings. 

The time between the Ascension and Pentecost is traditionally a time of increased prayer, and in the past a time of fasting, because Christ the bridegroom had been taken away from his bride, the Church. These days the custom is for prayers to focus on a desire for the unity of the church, and we honour that here on Friday, when St James’ will host an ecumenical service for the churches of Morpeth. 

We pray for unity, because, like the disciples who saw Jesus ascend into the heavens, we wait—we wait together, all the church and all the world, for the return of the Lord.

In our Gospel today, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

It is Jesus’ earnest prayer that we be one—one united church, despite our diversity, and so we continue to pray for that to be a reality.

One of the striking features of our east window is the variety of hand positions Jesus is shown to have. 
In the Ascension scene he is not holding his hands up to enjoy the moment of his ascension, as is often (and usually) depicted in art. But here we see him holding his palms down, as he blesses us, comforts us, and shows 

us that he is not leaving us, but forever carrying us in his heart to the throne beside his father. 

As we now move towards the Eucharist part of this service, our eyes can move down to the window’s scene of the last supper, recalling the time when Jesus was not physically out of reach, but on the same level as us, where those same hands were raised in front of him in blessing. 

We now recall our Lord’s saving acts through this Eucharist, believing him to be present once more, now that he is not limited to time and space, but free to be here among us, in the bread and wine we will share. 

As we celebrate this Eucharist, and then go out into the world, we rejoice, that we are a part of Christ’s glorious life and mission, as it was on earth, and as it is now in heaven, and as it shall be. 
We rejoice in that privileged position, as described in words of the hymn, printed on the pew sheet, 
“Ever on our earthly path A gleam of glory lies.” 

Keep that gleam of glory in mind, and keep that knowledge of Christ’s hands stretched out to you in eternal blessings; Christ who is ascended and yet who, we pray, dwells with us continually. Amen. 

Sermon Easter 2 2024         Doubting Thomas

Imagine the scene. It’s the end of the very first Easter Day, the actual day Jesus rose from the dead, although this fact is not yet known to many of the still-bereaved disciples. 

According to John’s Gospel, these followers of Jesus had locked themselves in their meeting place. There were probably more in that room than the ten—the 12 disciples, minus Thomas, who was elsewhere, and also minus Judas of course. And they had locked themselves away in fear of the hostile non-believers, who were still out to cause problems for the faithful. 

What the followers were doing and discussing, we don’t know, but it must have been fairly sad and concerning times for them.

Then miraculously Jesus turns up, somehow getting past the locked doors, and he is keen to demonstrate with his wounds who he is, that he is the real Lord, risen and alive. And their sorrowfulness turns to joy. 

The followers rejoice—not afraid of Jesus as in the other Gospels. Imagine that scene, with the shouts and tears and hugs and open mouths gaping at their friend, now alive and in their midst. 

And Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for their lack of faith, as he might have, going on his previous rebukes. This is the post-resurrection Jesus, when he must have been free from his own anxiety that had plagued him leading up to the crucifixion. His own faith in what the Father had planned was now vindicated, as he too experienced himself as risen, gazing on his own wounds.

Jesus then breathes the Holy Spirit on them, and declares ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ Actually most MSS say he breathed—literally he expelled a really long breath, not breathed on them. This is important in the sense that he wasn’t giving the power for absolution of sins just to those individuals present, but to the collected body of believers, the church as a whole. 

Of course this is passed on in the Church, and safeguarded through the apostolic ordained priesthood, but according to John this ability is not limited just to priests—as there were others in the room than Christ’s apostles—but is a characteristic of the Body of Christ, the Church.  

Interestingly, or at least I find it interesting, that act of breathing that Jesus does, used to be part of the rite of baptism, when the minister would breathe on the person being baptised. 

With our knowledge of airborne viruses that sounds just as safe as Thomas being invited to stick his hand in Jesus’s side. 

Thomas was out when Jesus arrived, and had to wait a week to see him. The next time Jesus appears, Thomas is in the room. Again, although the followers had rejoiced, they were still locking their door. 

Famously Thomas had said he wouldn’t believe that Jesus was alive until he had proof. Jesus now offers him that proof, and in a way sanctifies doubt. 

He does gently rebuke Thomas for not believing, but fully goes along with Thomas’s needs to have some proof. I believe this means it’s ok to ask God for some proof when we are struggling with our faith. 

It’s worth noting that Thomas did not actually touch Jesus’s wounds—despite what it said in our hymn, about his feeling Jesus like reading braille—he would have needed a lot of hand gel to do that safely. Thomas saw and believed, without having to put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’s side.

And Thomas calls Jesus ‘My God’. That is the first time this is applied to Jesus, being called God, and it crystallises our understanding of Jesus, for he is our God. 

In his gentle rebuke of Thomas, Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ This includes those followers not in the room at the time, but also those like us who have believed down the ages, and who will come to believe in the years to come. 

Note Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ He doesn’t say ‘more blessed’, but just blessed. It’s not a comparison or a competition, but all are blessed: those who have seen the risen Lord and believe, and those who have not, and yet still believe. 

We don’t see Jesus like Thomas and the others saw him. But we can see—in a sense of understand, perceive, and know—we can see Jesus through the Holy Spirit he breathed into the world. We can see Jesus in people we love, in people who are struggling, and who suffer. And we can behold Jesus through prayer. 

And if we aren’t always convinced of Jesus’s presence among us, then like Thomas it is alright to be hungry for something more. And this something more will require us to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to understand what it is that God will give us to show us the proof that Jesus is alive. Amen. 

Fr Nicholas Edwards

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Sermon Easter Day 2024, Fr Nicholas, St James’ Morpeth

Christ is risen, alleluia!

A very happy Easter to you. It’s great to see so many here, clearly marking this service as an important part of your day and of your lives. 

In the middle of so much going on in the world, so much trouble and difficulty, with violence and unrest across the globe, and the struggles that each of you is facing, struggles that never seem to go away, it is vital we turn our faces towards the risen Lord and celebrate his resurrection with him, and our sisters and brothers throughout the lands. 

Because it is this very day, when we mark with great joy, the rising from the tomb of our Lord and Saviour. This very day is the day we get that reassurance, accompanied with a rush of joy, that no matter how bad things get, everything will be alright. 

Because Jesus has proven himself to be the Lord of Life, defeating the powers of darkness, which held humans captivity for thousands of years. And this means we can celebrate today, knowing in full certainty that God has purchased for us, his precious, most loved children, a place with the risen Christ in eternal bliss. 

One of the most peculiar aspects of the resurrection, as it is recorded in the Bible, is that it was not expected by anyone, apart from Jesus himself. It comes completely out of the blue as a real shock for the followers of Jesus, who as we know, take a bit of convincing that it has happened. 

Mary Magdalene thinks a gardener or someone has moved the stone away from the tomb. There’s no hint or suggestion in her conversation that maybe something huge and more glorious might have occurred—even though her conversation is with a couple of angels. Even when Jesus stands behind her and asks her why she is weeping, she doesn’t appear to think that maybe Jesus has risen from the dead. Instead she has a go at Jesus, assuming him to be a gardener, accusing him of meddling and hiding the dead body of her friend. 

Later on, on the Road to Emmaus, and by the Sea of Tiberias, the disciples regard Jesus as a stranger, in Jerusalem they think he is a ghost. In our Gospel reading today, we heard that Peter’s companion, the ‘other disciple’, went into the empty tomb and that he ‘believed’—but it doesn’t say what he believed. 

An unknown young man, dressed in white, does report what has happened, in St Mark’s gospel, but then Mary and her two friends don’t tell anyone. 

It takes a while for grieving followers and friends of Jesus to get it: to understand the full reality and wonderful news that Jesus is risen from the dead, and a massive shift in the world has taken place; a shift that those believers, and we today, have full access to. 

Of course it is taking our world today a while to get it too. A great sadness is the huge number of so many people who do not believe, so our work remains, to spread this good news. We need to celebrate and share that joy so that others may know and believe too.

Now, we have something special here in church today to unwrap. So I invite the children to come up the front, to help us reveal what is in this mystery parcel. 

Those of you who don’t know, I wonder if you might take a guess at what this could be?

This has been buried in the ground for the past six or seven weeks, since Shrove Tuesday actually, when we dug a hole and covered it up. Let’s have a look. 

It’s the Alleluia board, which the Sunday School children decorated before Lent. 

All throughout Lent we have been trying not to say, what we have called in our house, the ‘A word’. I slipped up at least once. But today, as you’ve noticed, we can say it all we like. 

I hope we can hang this up somewhere, and maybe paint and bury and dig up and reveal and add a new one each year to make a collection of Alleluia boards.

We stop saying Alleluia during lent because it’s a time for us to slow down and reflect and, and feel the rhythms of life a little more than we might usually be aware of. Lent is a little like having a rest before getting up and being especially active. And today is that day to be active. 

Something else was buried, that has been unearthed today, something we are celebrating at this service. Any thoughts what? 

Jesus. He wasn’t buried for seven weeks like this board, in fact he was only gone for three days—laid in a tomb with a big stone rolled in front of it. And we speak of him descending down into the depths of the earth, because that’s where we think of as the place that’s the opposite of Heaven. Where do you think Heaven is? 

Right, so Jesus went the other way for three days, but God the Father, brought him back, and now Jesus lives in heaven, and we will join them there one day. 

May God bless you with the full abundance of his love today. Amen.

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Sermon Palm Sunday, Fr Nicholas

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Today we celebrate that time in Jesus’ life, when he was cheered by his disciples and a crowd, as he rode on the back of a donkey, traveling into the big, famous and glorious city of Jerusalem. 

The people were throwing their clothes on the ground in front of Jesus, a great sign of honour, so he and the donkey would have a kind of soft carpet to walk on. The people began waving branches of palm trees and olive trees, the two types of trees that there were a lot of over there in the country of Judea, in the Middle East. And the people were shouting out words from what we call the Old Testament of the Bible, but what people knew in those days as just the Holy Scriptures. ‘Hosanna’ they shouted, which means a kind of cross between, ‘Save me’, and Hooray’, if you can imagine such a word.

All this was happening because Jesus was getting close to the most important part of his life here on earth. He was being recognised as the really special and incredible person he was, and people were treating him—not only like a royal celebrity, but like the person that had been spoken and written and dreamt about, and whom prophets had predicted would come, for centuries and centuries.

Needless to say, there was a lot of excitement in the streets of Jerusalem on that day, and we have been trying to capture some of that here, with our walking around the church and our palm trees. 

All this might remind some of you of the excitement when a royal person, or a celebrity, or a royal celebrity, visits. Lots of people get excited and go out to watch, and maybe shout out in their excitement, and throw a party and have a good old time, and afterwards say things like, wow, wasn’t that fun, we had a lovely time, and isn’t that person terrific. 

But afterwards, maybe later that day, or the next day, we realise that life carries on as normal, that nothing has changed, and that the visit of the royal celebrity has only provided a bit of a distraction from an otherwise difficult and struggling world. 

The arrival of Jesus might have looked like the arrival of a royal celebrity like we have these days, but the whole reason for the excitement and what was about to happen to him, and to the whole world, was so very different. 

Our Gospel reading today is known as the ‘Passion Gospel’, because it tells us about Jesus’ Passion, which means his pain and suffering. We heard all about the profound events that Jesus went through—his betrayal, the last supper, his agony in the garden, his arrest, his sentencing, his crucifixion and his death. 

As the rest of this week goes on, we recall in more detail some of these events. Wednesday is known as ‘Spy Wednesday’, when we pay attention to Judas, the spy in the midst of the trusted disciples. 

On Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper. It’s called Maundy Thursday because of the commandment Jesus gives, that we love one another. Back then they pronounced ‘commandment’ like ‘commaundment’, which is where the word Maundy comes from. 

Then on Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ death. In other countries they call it Great Friday, or Long Friday, or Sad Friday. But we call it Good in the sense of Good meaning Holy, or special. 

And this whole week is good, holy and special, because of the wonderful acts of God that we remember, as Jesus makes his journey towards Easter Day, when he will be revealed as the saviour of the world.

One of the unusual things we do this week, is to cover up or remove crosses and other symbols in the church. You can see what we’ve done to the processional cross. This is for two reasons. Firstly there’s a sense of getting prepared for mourning. Much like you might take down the balloons and bunting when some sad happens at home, we prepare the church by making it plainer and sombrer.

There’s also a reflection on the passage in the Gospel when people picked up stones to throw at Jesus, and Jesus hid himself, going out of the Temple. Because Jesus hid himself, we too hide the statues and other images at this time of year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, because in a week’s time, of course we know what will happen, and how we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. 

And in the meantime, I wonder if anyone can tell me what kind of a tree you can hold in your hand? 

May we journey on through Holy Week, humbly and bravely, beside our Lord as he endures his passion. Amen.

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Sermon Lent 5 2024           John 12.20-33

One of the key passages in our Gospel today reads, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

For those of you who are gardeners, this might seem common sense. A grain of wheat, or any seed, needs to go into the earth, and needs to stop being a seed, to die as a seed, in order to become something much bigger, richer and fruitful. 

Of course, not all of the seed dies. The core of the seed, the little embryo part, lives and develops into the plant. But the outer part of the seed, the coat and whole structure supporting, protecting, encasing the embryo, that must be discarded, in order for the seed to fulfil its destiny.

Jesus himself seemed pretty good with gardening and farming analogies and parables, telling us about sheep, mustard seeds, & fig trees. He knew what he was talking about when it came to the life of a grain of wheat, as he did when he talks about our lives.

I’ve been enjoying the rectory garden since we came here six months ago, and learning a lot, encouraged by some helpful parishioner volunteers. Although we haven’t planted any wheat, I hope you are all looking forward to eating a lot of pumpkin in the coming months. 

It’s difficult not to reflect on the Circle of Life when Gardening. Everything that has life grows and consumes and eventually physically dies, giving way to new life, and often what remains of the old will provide life for new things growing. 

When Jesus uses the analogy of the seed, the meaning for us is clear. Jesus helpfully spells it out: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

To follow these words of Jesus, we need to put aside old things for the new to flourish. We need actively to shed our outer casing—the worldly things that have been wrapped up in, like the outer parts of a seed encase the embryo within. Yes, those things have been supporting us in some way, and of course make up a lot of who we are, but now we need to think about these things differently, and willingly choose to kill them off. 

Jesus uses that strong phrase, “hating your life in this world”. So it’s not just showing a slight preference for some parts of our life and not others. It’s about hating the things in your life that are not healthy parts of your relationship with God; things that would not belong in the kingdom of God.

Hating and killing off parts of our lives is hard, as it involves learning what parts of our lives we need to address, then moving beyond what has been comfortable for us, perhaps things we are fond of. And change always brings with it anxiety. So it takes courage and commitment. 

It’s an active process, in that we need to do it, not just wait for things to happen. Jesus speaks of the necessity for the grain of wheat to “fall into the earth and die”, but the rest of the gospel (and our understanding of human nature) makes it clear that we can’t just wait for the grain to fall. 
We need to jump. We need to be active.

What needs to go—to be shaken off, what needs to die—will be different for each of us. A place to start are obvious bad habits or sinful behaviour, things that set us apart from God in some way. Added to that are aspects of our lifestyles, that if changed would make our connection to God easier, clearer, stronger. 

A guide through all of this can be the simple question, “where is God in what I am doing right now”, or, “What would God want me to do in this moment, or with this decision.” Going beyond using simple questions like this might involve reading a spiritual book on the subject, or even better—getting yourself a spiritual director or companion. 

Shedding the outer part of our seed and creating the right conditions for growth is also hard, because we will never know when we have achieved this ultimate growth. Humans struggle when we can’t gauge our progress, when we don’t have an idea of how long we have to wait for something, or how well we are doing with an activity. Our growth towards eternal life is hard to measure, because like a plant we never stop growing, until that final moment when we are called to be with God, and all our potential is truly and finally fulfilled.

In this parish we see a circle of life. I’ve been looking through some of the photo albums and boxes of photos of past years. Even looking back ten years, there are so many people I don’t recognise. Sometimes this is because you have changed in that time, and so look different, but also new people have come in, and others have moved on or died. 

This is natural. Although in the past I’ve spoken about trying to bring back the lost sheep to this church (and I’m grateful that a few lost sheep have returned) it’s a natural process that some people leave not to return, and new people arrive. 

There’s another aspect of today’s gospel that will become stronger, as in the coming two weeks our reflections on the death of Jesus reach a peak. When Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying, he refers to himself as well as us. 

He speaks of his own destiny, how he will descend into the earth in death, not as the end of his ministry, but as the turning point, the arc in the circle of his life, as he fulfils his loving duty to the Father, and uses the seed of his life to die and then rise again for us. 

This season of Lent is a time when we withdraw, falling into the earth for parts of us to die, for new, fresh growth to be born at Easter. 

The new life that Jesus will experience at Easter, will involve his springing up from the depths of the earth, to unimaginable glory. 

Glory that we can and shall share in if, like a grain of wheat, first we fall into the earth and die. Amen.