Bishop Sarah’s Holy Week Engagements

The Bishop of London marked Holy Week with a number of services across the capital.

On Holy Tuesday, the 26th March, she led the Chrism Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Bishop Sarah’s Chrism Eucharist Sermon can be read below:

St Pauls Cathedral Chrism Eucharist 28 March 2024

1 Samuel 16.1-13a, 2 Corinthians 3.17–4.12, and Luke 22.24-30

It may surprise you – or reinforce your suspicions – but when I run (or stagger) across London, I do not listen to the dulcet tones of Radio 4, but rather Radio 2.  In February I was running rather later than usual – the downside of this was that I encountered more people. The upside was that I caught ‘Pause for Thought’ by Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley. She was speaking about her time as a Bishop in New Zealand, and the Maori idea of ‘tūrangawaewae’.

Bishop Helen-Ann explained that tūranga means ‘to stand’ and waewae means ‘feet’. And when you put it together you get a word that means ‘the place where you put your two feet on the ground and you just know: ‘I’m home’’.

I wonder where is the place where you put your two feet on the ground and know that you are home?

For some this may be a geographical place. For others it may mean a group of people or a spiritual place.

Having moved a number of times, like many of us in ministry, my tūrangawaewae is my family. But in listening to Bishop Helen-Ann, I was struck that my tūrangawaewae is also now here. I don’t mean ‘here’ St Paul’s or even London, but after nearly six years as the Bishop of London my tūrangawaewae is here in the midst of our shared ministry, which is both yours and mine. Which first and foremost is Christ’s.

That does not mean that it has always been easy and that I haven’t made mistakes, and I am almost certain that it will not be easy in the future and I may make mistakes again. But it is the place that I have been called to put my feet, and know that I am home – and so have you.

The American spiritual teacher and psychologist, Ram Dass, once said ‘We are all just walking each other home’. I don’t think he meant literally. He seemed to mean two things: ‘home’ as in death and our ultimate place in God; and the place of ‘home’ within ourselves where we know ourselves to be loved and wholly accepted by God. In our shared ministry we hold the potential to help one another to plant our feet on the ground of our ministries and walk each other home.

But because of some of our deeply-held theological differences – or even just differences of style in ministry – there are ways in which we are sometimes deeply unhelpful to one another as clergy and find ourselves doing the opposite – jostling and challenging each other on the path and causing one another to lose our footing.

During a recent event at St Andrew’s Holborn, I reflected on Jonah’s experience of God’s hand in his life, reassuring him of his place in the world. Freed from the fear of his own failure, Jonah found the confidence to join in God’s plan: to trust the God who had saved him once and to brace himself for the hostility of the people of Ninevah, knowing that whatever is to come, God will be alongside him.

And the results are far from what he had feared. Instead of failure, spectacular success! An entire city repents! Most of us can only dream of this sort of reaction to our preaching!

But something then surfaces in Jonah which prevents him from rejoicing in the moment. It seems to be a surge of resentment, that the God who forgave him for his attempts to run away and hide, the God who rescued him from the belly of the great fish, offers the same mercy to the repentant people of Ninevah.

In Justine Allain Chapman’s Lent book, ‘The Resilient Disciple’, she writes about humility, saying:

‘Humility is the quality that all mature Christians grow into, a quality where a deep sense of inner dignity and value is palpable to others and brings them solace. It is a fruit of the Spirit, sometimes translated as ‘gentleness’ … Humble people are grounded (which means lowly, on the ground or earth). They are secure in themselves and in touch with their own vulnerability as human beings, but also fully aware of their strengths. When you are confident of your own place in the world, not struggling to prove yourself or be recognized, you can be free to take an interest in and bring out the best in others. In humility you can see the vulnerabilities of another and generously use your knowledge to support, guide and affirm that person. It is an inner quality that comes from those who are secure, mature and able to be generous with themselves.”

Jonah hadn’t quite taken that next step which Allain-Chapman describes. He hadn’t yet learnt the humility which would enable him to translate his own experience into compassion for others. He still lacked that generosity of spirit. It would take the experience of the worm-eaten bush and a further conversation with God to get him there. If indeed he did get there – we aren’t actually told whether he did.

We learn humility step by step. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back.

It is hard, I think, both as human beings and as clergy or LLMs and Christians, to be secure in ourselves and confident of our place in the world. We battle with our need to prove ourselves in comparison with others – or against the measure of our own, self-imposed and rather exacting standards. There are many reasons for this, both personal and professional. Society – and sadly, sometimes, the Church – have a tendency to encourage our sense of competition and our habit of comparing ourselves with one another. And so we do not always bring out the best in one another.

We are called to tend and care for one another as well as for our flocks. To wash one another’s feet. To encourage one another to find the solid ground that was our first calling. We do this by working across our differences and our traditions as co-workers in God’s Kingdom. We do it by speaking well of one another – and if we find ourselves unable to do that, finding ways to challenge one another with respect and consideration, in real relationship with each other. In the words of Cole Arther Riley, from her book ‘This Here Flesh’:

‘To be able to marvel at the face of our neighbour with the same awe we have for the mountaintop, the sunlight refracting – this manner of vision is what will keep us from destroying each other.’

We are reminded that all of us – not just the ones we like or identify with, or agree with, or feel comfortable with – all of us, with unveiled faces, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another. And that, as Paul tells us in today’s epistle, it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry – not by our own rightness.

Six years ago at my installation, music was commissioned by Judith Bingham (b.1952) for the 133rd Psalm. Whilst I did not identify with the bit about Aaron’s beard, the psalmist reminds us that the precious oil on the head running down was like unity, pleasant and good, and this brought me, then and now, to the ground of our ministry together.

Today, we bless the oils which remind us of the diaconal and priestly ministry in which we plant our feet. The oils and the ministries associated with them lie at the heart of our vocation. They are for the sick and dying; for signing with the cross at baptism; and for baptism, confirmation and ordination. They help those whom we anoint to find their home in Christ. To plant their feet on God’s ground. As with Samuel, who took the horn of oil, and anointed David in the presence of his brothers, the spirit of the Lord – which came upon David from that day forward – will come upon those whom we anoint.

As St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3, we are God’s co-workers. We are called to work with the grain of God’s righteousness – the mission Dei – to bring about the Kingdom.  This is not easy, but we are encouraged by Paul’s words in today’s epistle: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies’.

Lent and Holy Week give us the space to stop and to ask: what are we doing to work with the grain of God’s righteousness, in our relationships, our communities, our ministries? How are we using the resources we have been given? How awake are we to all that is revealed in God’s light: the things which call for joy and celebration, and the things which invite us to work for change? Those things which are the ground of our calling.

Of course, in the end, Christ is our cornerstone, the ground of our calling, our tūrangawaewae.  Let us pray that in our shared ministry we will help one another to plant our feet on the ground of our ministries and know that we are at home. Amen

On Maundy Thursday, Bishop Sarah had the privilege on presiding over the ceremonial washing of the feet ceremony, at the Tower of London.

On Friday 29th March, she read the closing prayer at the annual Wintershall Passion in Trafalgar Square.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, Bishop Sarah was interviewed on BBC Radio London by Jumoké Fashola. Bishop Sarah discussed her recent appointment as Chair of Christian Aid and the work she hopes to achieve in her role, the role of Christianity in reconciliation, and the message she sought to deliver, this Easter. The interview can be accessed via this link.

Holy Week celebrations culminated with Easter Sunday’s three services at St Paul’s Cathedral, where Bishop Sarah presided over the Dawn Eucharist, and the Choral Eucharist, then delivering the Easter Day service.

Bishop Sarah’s Easter Sermon can be read below:

St Pauls Cathedral Easter Day 31st March 2024 Acts 10.34-43 and John 20. 1-18

Early in the morning on the first day of the week while it was still dark.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia

This morning, before dawn, while it was still dark, a hotch potch band of us gathered on the porch outside the West end doors of this cathedral, like groups of Christians across the world. From earliest times Christians have kept vigil through the night before Easter, to recall the story of God’s saving work, from creation through to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Easter Vigil marks the end of the emptiness of Holy Saturday, and leads into the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

The ‘Alleluia’, which has been silent throughout Lent, returns. As John of Damascus (the Arab Christian monk) wrote:

Now the queen of seasons, bright
with the day of splendour,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render.

As we stood on the porch, candles were lit and there in the darkness the light began to shine. In the Revelation of St John, Jesus speaks of himself as the morning star – Venus, spinning in the opposite direction to earth, which shines its brightest at the darkest part of the night, just before dawn.

And early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. Early in the morning.

The theologian, Selina Stone, in her beautiful book called Tarry Awhile, writes about ‘God who specialises in working in the darkness’. She says:

‘God receives an offering and makes a covenant with Abram in the dark (Genesis 15:12–21). It is in the dark that Jacob wrestles with God and receives a blessing (Genesis 28:10–22). It is at night that Rahab negotiates safety for her whole family and earns her place in the genealogy of Jesus by hiding the spies (Joshua 2). Darkness represents deliverance for the children of Israel, separating them from the Egyptians who pursued them (Joshua 24:7). Deep darkness is one of the marks of God’s presence, the place from which God’s voice comes forth (Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:22–3). Darkness is the place and space of encounter with God.’

While it is still dark, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. Early in the morning: that place of new creation and new beginnings. We hear echoes of the opening of John’s gospel – ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God’. In the beginning, God took the dust of the ground and breathed life into Adam’s nostrils. This very dust from which we were made, God redeems through Christ’s death and resurrection, restoring us to life, and life eternal.

Here in the garden – while it was still dark – Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus, and God is still at work. There is something here which refers us back to the wonder of that first creation. So it is not surprising that poets and painters have played with the idea that ‘Christ’s cross and Adam’s tree stood in one place’ (the words of John Donne in his poem ‘Hymn to God, My God, in My sickness’).

Yet when it was still dark, God was at work on Mary’s behalf. He was making a way where there was no way. And Jesus said to her: ‘Mary’.

Bishop Stephen Conway in his reflection on what a good Easter looks like, suggests that the word which makes us live might be our own name in the mouth of God. Just as Jesus turns and calls Mary by her name. And, following Mary, having been seen and named by Christ, we are invited to see what being a new creation might mean. We are invited to catch up, in our imagination, on what the resurrection might mean for us.

And here in the garden Jesus has questions for Mary. As she stands weeping outside the empty tomb, his first words to her are ‘Woman why are you weeping: whom do you seek?’ (20:15)

At the beginning of his public life Jesus asks the disciples of John the Baptist, ‘What are you looking for?’ And the night before his death he asks those who come to arrest him ‘For whom are you looking?’ And here, at the first resurrection appearance, to Mary, he asks ‘Whom do you seek?’. Each of these crucial events opens up with a question about searching and desire.

As you sit here this morning, what is it that you seek?
These words guide us to a profound awareness of ourselves, our understanding of who we are and of our desires. They reach into the hope for joy that gives every human being identity and meaning. Saint John of the Cross said, “In the first place, it should be known that if anyone is seeking God, the Beloved is seeking that person much more” .

And who is the Christ we seek?

It can be easy for us to have an image of God as invincible, self-sufficient, and all powerful. In the words of that great hymn, we look for a God who is “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”. We want a God who shields us from our own vulnerability.

But the bible bears witness to another God, a God who hears the cries of the poor and defends the orphans, widows and immigrants. The God of the bible suffers with people, he comes among us as a vulnerable baby boy then is executed as a criminal, suffering a painful and humiliating death and being buried in a borrowed tomb. The transcendent one who has moved into our vulnerability, our guilt, our alienation, our suffering and death. The wisdom of the cross seems folly to the world. Wisdom that knows that it is by denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Christ that we will find life in all its fullness.

Rowan William suggests that the resurrection is the first experiment of forgiveness and healing which creates new patterns of life together and so reveals a fresh understanding of a social God, not tied to God’s physical presence but to the identity of the community in the power of God’s Spirit.

And it is the power of the resurrection which allows us to see the darkness of the world in its light.

Bishop Michael Marshall in his book ‘Lent with the Beloved Disciples’ quotes from CS Lewis: ‘I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead in the same way that I believed the sun rose this morning; not only because I can see it, but because I can see everything else in the light of it’.

Then there is the second question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The resurrection changes the way everything is seen. How we see God and how we are seen. Mary Magdalene discovered that she no longer needed be defined as a person by her sins or any other people’s categories. She is accepted by the restoration of the inner beauty that is the birthright of the sons and daughters of Christ.

In her darkness Mary is ministered to, and Jesus calls her to ‘Go and tell’.

What was she to tell? That Jesus was alive. That the resurrection embodies, in flesh and blood, the truth. The truth that fear and terror are not the last words. That death is no more. That God works through the darkness to bring life, hope and purpose. She was to proclaim hope.

Let us pray this morning that we may see ourselves in the light of the resurrection and proclaim the hope which Mary encountered while it was still dark.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia