John Linell, ‘Christ Appearing to the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus’, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Dear Friends (Click for audio)
The Gospel reading for this day is Luke 24:13-35, in which the evangelist narrates how two disciples, one of whom was called Cleopas, are travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus and unknowingly encounter the Risen Lord.  He talks to them on the way and, in response to their questions, explains to them how he is present in the Scriptures.  He makes as though to walk on as they reach their destination but, as it is evening, they eagerly invite him to stay for supper.  He breaks bread for them at the meal and, as he does so, they recognise him, although Jesus then vanishes from their sight.  They, however, filled with joy, rush back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples.

Journeys such as this relatively short one (it is approximately seven miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus), or longer ones such as the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela (literally ‘St James of the Field of Stars’) in northern Spain, are often the settings for an inner journey of the soul in search of God – not that pilgrims think that God is ‘lost’, but that the outward, physical journey provides the context, and the impetus, for the inward, spiritual journey.  Unfortunately, with increasing mobility problems, my own pilgrimage days are over, but I shall always be glad of those I was able to undertake in the past, since the discipline and even minor hardships involved often yield unexpected insights into the way in which God meets us at our point of need.

As I have suggested many times in the past, the Emmaus narrative has an unmistakably liturgical feel to it.  Its shape reflects that of the Eucharist, beginning with an exposition of the Scriptures, followed by the ‘breaking of bread’, in which we can share in the body and blood of Christ, who is always present in our worship, although we may not always be aware of it.  In this way, as the third evangelist is suggesting here, our Eucharistic worship, too, becomes a ‘pilgrimage’ in which Christ reveals himself - and perhaps our current situation, in which we are unable to undertake this journey, except ‘virtually’, will help us rejoice all the more in this privilege, once restrictions are lifted.
In the meantime, with prayers and blessings continuing,

Fr Stephen

Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter (Click for audio)

Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
  with the sight of the risen Lord;
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Acts 2:14a and 36-41 (Click for audio)

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

On the day of Pentecost,

Peter, standing with the eleven,
raised his voice and addressed the crowd,

"Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty
that God has made him both Lord and Messiah,
this Jesus whom you crucified."

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart
and said to Peter and to the other apostles,
"Brothers, what should we do?"

Peter said to them,
"Repent, and be baptized every one of you
in the name of Jesus Christ
so that your sins may be forgiven;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

For the promise is for you, for your children,
and for all who are far away,
everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."

And he testified with many other arguments
and exhorted them, saying,
"Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

So those who welcomed his message were baptized,
and that day about three thousand persons
were added to their number.

Gospel  Luke 24:13-35 (Click for audio)

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke.

On that same day
two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus,
about seven miles from Jerusalem,

and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

While they were talking and discussing,
Jesus himself came near and went with them,

but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them,
"What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?"
They stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him,
"Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem
who does not know the things
that have taken place there in these days?"

He asked them, "What things?"
They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,

and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over
to be condemned to death and crucified him.

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Yes, and besides all this,
it is now the third day since these things took place.

Moreover, some women of our group astounded us.
They were at the tomb early this morning,

and when they did not find his body there,
they came back
and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who said that he was alive.

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb
 and found it just as the women had said;
but they did not see Jesus."

Then he said to them,
"Oh, how foolish you are,
and how slow of heart
to believe all that the prophets have declared!

Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things
and then enter into his glory?"

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
 he interpreted to them
the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going,
he walked ahead as if he were going on.

But they urged him strongly, saying,
"Stay with us, because it is almost evening
and the day is now nearly over."
So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them.

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus;
and he vanished from their sight.

They said to each other,
"Were not our hearts burning within us
while he was talking to us on the road,
while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem;
and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

They were saying,
"The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

Then they told what had happened on the road,
and how he had been made known to them
in the breaking of the bread.


‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’, Caravaggio, c1601-1602

Dear Friends (Click for audio)

The Gospel reading for this day is John 20:19-end.  John’s description of the disciples meeting with the doors ‘locked’ because of their fear ‘of the Jews’ (the Gospel was compiled during a time when some Christian churches were experiencing persecution by Jewish communities) has a striking resonance with our current situation, when churches continue to remain closed – but, of course, with the important difference that the disciples were huddled together for self-preservation, whereas today’s locked doors are intended to assist the safety of the entire faith community.  There is an interesting article on this point by Angus Ritchie, in the 17 April edition of The Church Times, in which it is mentioned that some have been questioning the legality of the Archbishops’ directive to close all churches during the current crisis, especially since this has deprived many of a much-needed sanctuary for private prayer and solace in a time of grief, separation and fear of the unknown.
Most of us, however, understand the necessity for the directive, and accept this deprivation as part of the contribution we must all make towards the greater good - and it has, at least, led to the increase in on-line services, which are reaching, and being appreciated by, many who would not count themselves as regular churchgoers – the story of ‘doubting Thomas’ which concludes today’s Gospel reading, continues to resonate with many who, for whatever reason, find difficulty in accepting the faith.  The Spirit, in other words, continues to be at work in this situation, and many commentators are suggesting that ‘virtual church’ will remain a significant part of our outreach and mission, long after the lockdown has been lifted.
In my view, although this could well turn out to be a good thing, it could never replace the incarnational nature of meeting together in person for worship, in which all the senses, including those of touch and taste (the exchange of the peace, the reception of the bread and wine of the Eucharist) are involved in our corporate offering of thanksgiving to God.  

Nevertheless, in cases where this is not possible for any reason, ‘spiritual Communion’ is a recognized alternative, as indicated in the following prayer, which may be of help in our current situation:-
‘In union, dear Lord, with the faithful at every altar of your Church, where your blessed body and blood are being offered to the Father, I offer you praise and thanksgiving.  I believe you are truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.  And since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I pray that you will come spiritually into my heart.  I unite myself to you and embrace you, do not let me be separated from you.  Let me live and die in your love.  Amen.’ [From the manual of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.]
With prayer continuing for our entire community of faith, and blessings,
Fr Stephen

Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter

Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you
in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Acts 2:14a and 22-32 (Click for audio)

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

On the day of Pentecost.

Peter, standing with the eleven,
raised his voice and addressed the crowd,

"You that are Israelites,
listen to what I have to say:
Jesus of Nazareth,
a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs
that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—

this man, handed over to you
according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,
you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

But God raised him up, having freed him from death,
because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

For David says concerning him,
"I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;

therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.

You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'

"Fellow Israelites,
I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David
that he both died and was buried,
and his tomb is with us to this day.

Since he was a prophet,
he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him
that he would put one of his descendants on his throne.

Foreseeing this,
David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
"He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.'

This Jesus God raised up,
and of that all of us are witnesses.

Daniel 6:6-23 (Click for audio)

A reading from the book of Daniel.

So the presidents and satraps conspired
and came to the king and said to him,
"O King Darius, live forever!

All the presidents of the kingdom,
the prefects and the satraps,
the counsellors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance
and enforce an interdict,
that whoever prays to anyone,
divine or human, for thirty days,
except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions.

Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document,
so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians,
which cannot be revoked."

Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.

Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed,
he continued to go to his house,
which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem,
and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God
and praise him, just as he had done previously.

The conspirators came and found Daniel praying
and seeking mercy before his God.

Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, 
"O king! Did you not sign an interdict, 
that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, 
within thirty days except to you, O king, 
shall be thrown into a den of lions?" 
The king answered, 
"The thing stands fast, 
according to the law of the Medes and Persians, 
which cannot be revoked."

Then they responded to the king, 
"Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, 
pays no attention to you, O king, 
or to the interdict you have signed, 
but he is saying his prayers three times a day."

When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. 
He was determined to save Daniel, 
and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him.

Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, 
"Know, O king, 
that it is a law of the Medes and Persians 
that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed."

Then the king gave the command, 
and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. 
The king said to Daniel, 
"May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!"

A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, 
and the king sealed it with his own signet 
and with the signet of his lords, 
so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.

Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; 
no food was brought to him, 
and sleep fled from him.

Then, at break of day, 
the king got up and hurried to the den of lions.

When he came near the den where Daniel was, 
he cried out anxiously to Daniel, 
"O Daniel, servant of the living God, 
has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?"

Daniel then said to the king,
 "O king, live forever!

My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths 
so that they would not hurt me, 
because I was found blameless before him; 
and also before you, O king, 
I have done no wrong."

Then the king was exceedingly glad 
and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. 
So Daniel was taken up out of the den, 
and no kind of harm was found on him, 
because he had trusted in his God.

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

When it was evening on the first day of the week, 
and the doors of the house where the disciples had met 
were locked for fear of the Jews, 
Jesus came and stood among them and said, 
"Peace be with you." 

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. 
Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 

Jesus said to them again, 
"Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 
"Receive the Holy Spirit. 

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; 
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 

But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, 
was not with them when Jesus came. 

So the other disciples told him, 
"We have seen the Lord." 
But he said to them, 
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands,
and put my finger in the mark of the nails 
and my hand in his side, 
I will not believe." 

A week later his disciples were again in the house, 
and Thomas was with them. 
Although the doors were shut, 
Jesus came and stood among them and said, 
"Peace be with you." 

Then he said to Thomas, 
"Put your finger here and see my hands. 
Reach out your hand and put it in my side. 
Do not doubt but believe." 

Thomas answered him, 
"My Lord and my God!" 

Jesus said to him, 
"Have you believed because you have seen me? 
Blessed are those who have not seen 
and yet have come to believe." 

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, 
which are not written in this book. 

But these are written so that you may come to believe 
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, 
and that through believing you may have life in his name. 


Piero della Francesca, ‘The Resurrection’, c1463-5, Museo Civico, Sansepolcro

Dear Friends

Looking at my diary, I see that the last public service I conducted was a baptism which took place on Sunday, 15 March.  Thereafter, the Lent Group and a Guild of the Servants Sanctuary Stations of the Cross had to be cancelled as, of course, were our Mothering Sunday services.  To say that we feel bereft, when we cannot even enter our churches for quiet prayer, especially during Holy Week and Easter, is truly an understatement.
However, I was very grateful to receive, from a member of our St Mary’s congregation, an article by Tim Stanley which was published in The Daily Telegraph on Maundy Thursday, describing how churches are reaching out, through the live streaming of services and the provision of other online resources, to all sorts of people who would not normally attend church, or who have ‘lapsed’ from doing so.  So perhaps, in God’s providence, this situation is being used for good in unexpected ways, and maybe we can trust that, what feels at the moment like a ‘continuous Lent’ will be turned eventually to Easter joy.
Certainly, the message of the liturgies we would normally be holding in church at this time during the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday through to the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday) is, precisely, that God’s salvation for all humankind is effected through events which, at first sight, appeared to represent the triumph of the forces of darkness.  People sometimes say to me, ‘Why is Good Friday called ‘good’?’ and, of course, the answer must be that the passion and death of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, were permitted for our sake.  As Bishop Melito of Sardis puts it in one of his sermons on the Pasch:-
‘He (ie Jesus) is the Passover of our salvation.  He was present in Mary so as to endure many things; in Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound; in Jacob a stranger, in Joseph sold; in Moses exposed; in David persecuted; in the prophets dishonoured.  He became incarnate of the Virgin Mary.  Not a bone of his was broken on the tree.  He was buried in the earth, but he rose from the dead and was lifted up to the heights of heaven.  He has brought us from slavery to freedom.  He delivered us from darkness to light, from death to life, from tyranny to an eternal Kingdom.’
It is my prayer that we’ll all be given grace to rejoice in, and give thanks for, these eternal truths this Easter, whatever our circumstances.

With Easter blessings.

Fr Stephen

Acts 10.23-43 (click for audio)

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

Peter began to speak to those assembled in the house of Cornelius.
"I truly understand that God shows no partiality,

but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right
is acceptable to him.

You know the message he sent to the people of Israel,
preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.

That message spread throughout Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:

how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and with power;
how he went about doing good
and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.

We are witnesses to all that he did
both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;

but God raised him on the third day
and allowed him to appear,

not to all the people
but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses,
and who ate and drank with him after
he rose from the dead.

He commanded us to preach to the people
and to testify that he is the one ordained by God
as judge of the living and the dead.

All the prophets testify about him
that everyone who believes in him
receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

John 20.1-18 (click for audio)

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

Early on the first day of the week,
while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb
and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple,
the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them,
"They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,
and we do not know where they have laid him."

Then Peter and the other disciple set out
and went toward the tomb.

The two were running together,
but the other disciple outran Peter
and reached the tomb first.

He bent down to look in
and saw the linen wrappings lying there,
but he did not go in.

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb.
He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head,
not lying with the linen wrappings
but rolled up in a place by itself.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in,
and he saw and believed;

for as yet they did not understand the scripture,
that he must rise from the dead.

Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

and she saw two angels in white,
sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying,
one at the head and the other at the feet.

They said to her,
"Woman, why are you weeping?"
She said to them,
"They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him."

When she had said this,
she turned around and saw Jesus standing there,
but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her,
"Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?"
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,
"Sir, if you have carried him away,
tell me where you have laid him,
and I will take him away."

Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
"Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her,
"Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and say to them,
"I am ascending to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.' "

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,
"I have seen the Lord";
and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Collect (click for audio)

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
to praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.


16th-Century Icon of the Entry into Jerusalem

Dear Friends
Over the last century considerable research has been carried out into the liturgical practices of the early Church. Scholars have unearthed ancient texts and documents which throw a new light on the way in which services were conducted in the first centuries, and these, in turn, have led to revisions in the way in which we conduct services today.
Nowhere is this more true than in the Church of England, which, during the 1980s, ‘reinvented’ the way in which services during Lent, Holy Week and Easter were organized.
I remember, from my time at theological college, how the advent of a book called Lent, Holy Week and Easter transformed the way in which we kept this special time of year, which of course recalls the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Lent, Holy Week and Easter drew on the diary of Egeria, probably a French or Spanish nun, who visited Jerusalem on a pilgrimage there between AD381 and 384. She describes the services she attended, which involved walks to and from the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem, as well as along the via dolorosa. Apparently, according to her account, these events were seen as one long service, which took place over several days: on Palm Sunday, palm branches were carried to commemorate the entry into Jerusalem, although no donkey was used; on Wednesday in Holy Week the focus was on Judas plotting Jesus’ betrayal; Thursday recalled the Last Supper, the washing of the disciples’ feet and the agony in the garden; Good Friday focused upon the crucifixion, and then Holy Saturday night was devoted to the Easter Vigil, with much longer readings than we would use these days. The entirety made up a single drama, broken up into a series of ‘acts’.

All these aspects continue to be recognizable within our own liturgical commemorations, although our services also draw inspiration from the medieval passion plays, during which the Franciscans introduced tableaux vivants to bring the events to life – something unheard of in Egeria’s day.

Sadly, of course, we shall not able to participate in these services this year, but we can meditate on the Scriptural readings (as published in the magazine) and in this way the events can, once again, become real for us and will help to fortify and renew our faith.

Fr Stephen

Collect for Palm Sunday
Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your tender love towards the human race
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever.

Philippians 2.5-11

A Reading from the letter of Paul to the Philippians

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,

he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the Glory of God the Father.

Matthew 21.1-11

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

When they had come near Jerusalem
and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,

"Go into the village ahead of you,
and immediately you will find a donkey tied,
and a colt with her;
untie them and bring them to me.

If anyone says anything to you, just say this,
'The Lord needs them.'
And he will send them immediately."

This took place
to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

"Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you, 
humble, and mounted on a donkey, 
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;

they brought the donkey and the colt,
and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, 
and others cut branches from from the trees 
and spread them on the road.

The crowds that went ahead of him
and that followed were shouting,
"Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

When he entered Jerusalem,
the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?"

The crowds were saying,
"This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

Dear Friends 

As I write, the coronavirus seems to be continuing its inexorable spread and it feels as if we could do with some good news for a change! But, of course, ‘Gospel’ means precisely that — the good news that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has conquered death and the forces of darkness by freely accepting what was regarded at the time as a shameful death (the received wisdom was that anyone who was hanging from a tree’ was cursed for our sake, only to be vindicated through being raised by God from the dead. The narratives within the four Gospels which relate these events differ in details and emphasis (just as witnesses of any historical episode will describe it differently, depending upon which aspects resonate most for them) but the overall message is the same — the small group of Jesus’ disciples, whose hopes had apparently been dashed for ever at the Crucifixion, are gradually transformed, through their encounters with the Risen Lord, into courageous apostles of the good news of salvation for all humankind. And it is interesting to see, as we read what are often described as the ‘resurrection narratives’, that Jesus reveals himself to the disciples in ways which take account of their particular needs and characters: Mary Magdalene is met near the tomb by someone she thinks at first is the gardener and is greeted gently with the calling of her name (John 20:11-18); ‘doubting Thomas’ is encouraged to put his hand into Jesus’ side so that he may not be ‘unbelieving any more but believe’ (John 19:28); other disciples, walking to Emmaus, are joined by an apparent stranger, whom they recognize as Jesus only at the ‘breaking of bread’ during supper (Luke 24: 13-35).

And, of course, these narratives are not simply records of past events. They are intended to help us as we continue our own spiritual journeys — during times of despair, doubt or uncertainty, or just in the everyday round and ‘common task’, Jesus meets us when we turn to him in prayer, read the Scriptures and join together in the breaking of bread in Holy Communion. So, ‘peace be with you’ as we prepare to celebrate once more this year, on Sunday, 12 April, the joyful feast of the Resurrection, and a very happy Easter to you all.