Homily for Holy Thursday 2023

If you watch the coronation of George VI in 1937 ( you might be struck as I was by how very “Old Testament” are the robes he wears (Exodus 28 and Leviticus 8 tell you more). I assume that Charles III will be similarly attired next month and doubtless we’ll hear Handel’s anthem “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king” at the high point.

It is as if in the coronation ritual all past history is gathered up, concentrated into the moment of anointing the monarch, before being propelled into a new future. Space-time compressed into an instant then launched like fireworks into a transformed world.

That is exactly what I think tonight is about.

It is part of a process in which history is wrapped up into a single event—the agony in the garden—before exploding into a new world.  We humans can’t make the most of this transformed world if we live in tombs weighed down by memories of past mistakes and resentments, so as Jesus says the Last Supper is about forgiveness, freeing us from the past. 

It is not Jesus having “supper with his friends” as the dreadful prayer in Common Worship has it. It is far broader and deeper than that. The mass is not about you and me feeling good because we’ve partaken of a bit of wafer and a sip of wine. It’s not about how you feel. It’s not “me, me, me”. It is far broader and deeper than that. It’s about God, not you.

It is cosmic.

In Greek, chaos means disorder, cosmos means order.  At creation chaos is transformed into cosmos. Tonight we celebrate the renewal of that process as the forgiveness offered by the host at the Last Supper enables us to live life abundant with divine order and beauty and opportunity and hope.

It is or should be an ecstatic revelation of the Divine when as Isaiah says clouds of incense fill the holy place.

That is why I think that this mass should be celebrated with awe and majesty and beauty and colour and enthusiasm and joy and the best sights, smells and sounds possible. That is why I think it should be celebrated at the high altar with the priest facing God, not as a shared snack for members of a cosy club with the minister facing his customers like an “Open all hours” shopkeeper.

This is cosmic glory, cosmic transformation. 

But there is more to come. 

Transformation of the cosmos can only come when we recognise that we are part of it—part of community, part of something much bigger than self. Transformation of the cosmos can only come when we respond as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane by putting aside self for selflessness. His transformation was a struggle. In the agony in the garden his humanity said “please don’t make me do this” then he submitted, saying “let it be as you wish”. Jesus let go of human self-regard, allowing it to be enveloped by divine selflessness. 

And so for us. Our transformation comes when we renounce self-regard for selflessness. 

What better way to symbolise that than by washing each other? We are very prudish about our bodies and reluctant to let others touch us, but people in Biblical times were much less troubled than we are. Washing feet in those days, given the state of the footpaths, the weather, the dust and the lack of stout brogues, was a utilitarian and compassionate act of care. Today we might wash the face, or hands (you never know where mine have been).

Until we’re allowing someone else to minister to us, and until we’re ministering to others similarly, we will not enter into the fullness of this cosmic transformation. So set aside your Hyacinth Bucket notions of pride and prissy propriety and get your shoes and socks off. Now.

Cosmic glory.

Bashing on

Easter Bunny?
Photo by Martha Bach Devine

Lent is a time for self-examination. John Bell’s hymn ‘Will you come and follow me’ has always struck me as a harsh and challenging text, so I chose it as the focus for our 2023 Lent explorations.

It’s based on Jesus’s words in Matthew 25 verse 31 onwards about feeding the hungry, tending the sick, and so on. Bell’s text and the teachings scattered throughout the gospels demand that we examine what makes us ‘tick’ as people so that we can see how our own desires and prejudices and behaviours prevent us from being Divine agents in the world, and prevent the Divine light that is in every one of us from shining out to light the way for others. 


But the more we have explored the text, the more I find myself torn. It is so demanding that I am doomed to fail. And if I am doomed to fail, then what’s the point of even trying? It raises the question: ‘why am I a Christian’?

The answer is simple. I am a Christian because I was born in Carlisle in 1950 with Scottish and northern English ancestors that were saturated in Methodism. Had I been born in Damascus or Khartoum or Delhi or Beijing I would almost certainly not be a Christian. I am a Christian, therefore, through accident of birth. Simple as that.

What has kept me a Christian? The answer without doubt is beauty: music, ritual, mystery, architecture, ideas, longing, being transported to another place. In short, liturgy and ritual done in a relaxed and seemly manner with all of us giving of our best in reading, in singing, in serving, in speaking. It is a performance — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Yes, gospel teaching is the best way to live life in all its fullness, but without the numinousness it’s all rather puritan and sterile.

Indeed, I wonder if the ritual, the beauty, the mystery are more important for me than the Christian message. If the focus of the liturgy were the Easter Bunny rather than Jesus Christ, would I still be a Christian, or would I be a devotee of a small mammal of the family Leporidae with a bobtail and floppy ears?

I’ve come out of these Wednesday evenings feeling inadequate about my inability to live the The Summons. And so I become more determined to enjoy the liturgy and abundant life and do the best I can secure in the knowledge that like everyone else I shall fail. I bash on. 

The Latin for ‘I bash on’ is perfero — which coincidentally was the motto of Cumberland County Council emblazoned on the exercise books of my education in the 1950s and 60s.  And that takes me back to where I started. You can take the boy out of Cumberland but never Cumberland out of the boy.

God bless this mess.


Homily for 12 February 2023

Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20. Psalm 119:1-8. 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. Matthew 5:21-37

In preparing for today I looked at the readings set in the revised common lectionary for the second Sunday before Lent. So far so good. That lectionary is used by most of the western churches, including the Church of England most of the time. Unfortunately, the CofE sometimes goes it alone and today is such a Sunday when it paddles its own canoe. By the time I realised my mistake I’d already chosen two hymns so I’ve stuck with the “wrong” readings. Though we’re out of step with the CofE, we’re in step with the bulk of Catholic Christendom. Got it?

In the epistle, Paul is cross with the Corinthians. He is berating some for saying they are followers of Apollos, and others for saying that they are followers of himself, Paul. They’re all in trouble because they can’t or won’t look beyond their noses and see that whether or not they follow Apollos or Paul they are all followers of Jesus. They choose not to see the wood for the trees. They choose not to take a big-picture view. 

Now the gospel. It’s possible to read it as a series of bad-tempered, headmasterly warnings about what we should and shouldn’t do. Many people do indeed read it that way—as a list of instructions about keeping on the right side of an irascible sky pixie in order, I suppose, to get a more comfortable seat in the afterlife. If there is one. 

But if you pay attention to the text, reading it several times with imagination, you will see that this interpretation is, again, failing to see the wood for the trees.

Let’s take a couple of examples.

I suspect most people would agree that it’s wrong to kill someone, except possibly some politicians. “I’ve got a little list of society offenders who might well be underground and never would be missed” but I doubt I’d have the guts to rub them out.  So let’s assume killing is verboten. Unfortunately. Pretty easy to keep that rule, you’d think.

But, Jesus says, if you spread malicious gossip about somebody, you are in a very real sense killing them. If they become aware of the malicious gossip, they certainly feel deeply wounded. I doubt that there is a parish priest in the land that has not suffered from this sort of malice. I have, and even in retirement still do. So, Jesus says, it’s not enough to keep the rule in practice if you’re murdering people through gossip.

Here’s another example. A man who has sex with someone else’s partner is committing adultery and leading the other person similarly astray. Fair enough you might think. But Jesus says if you look lustfully at someone else’s partner, never mind that you’re only looking, you are guilty of committing adultery in your mind. If, sisters and brothers, you have ever looked at someone and thought “coo, I fancy him/her” you are, Jesus says, committing adultery in your mind.  

So is there anyone who has never committed adultery? Show of hands not necessary.

The message is, as so often with Jesus, don’t you dare to condemn anyone else until you have done a thorough and exhaustive inventory of what’s going on in your own mind. Every act begins as a thought. Every harsh or mean act begins as a thought. Every compassionate act begins as a thought. Choose wisely.

These are but two examples. This passage is used by churchy jobsworths to make people feel guilty and miserable. In truth I think that Jesus is much more compassionate than that—he says “look guys, nobody is perfect—and certainly not those who think they’re the bees’ knees—since everybody falls foul of some regulation in their thoughts. So stop judging and be compassionate with others. Forgive them as you yourself would like to be forgiven”.

We often misinterpret scripture because we don’t appreciate middle-easern ways of thinking and speaking, and the way they use colourful metaphors and repeated ideas in order to hammer home their points. The suggestion that Jesus makes to tear out your eye is a good example: it’s not to be taken literally, but rather a dramatic way of saying “take a fresh look, try and see things differently from another point of view, be imaginative”.

I could go on but I shan’t. Instead I’ll summarize the gospel message by saying that since nobody is perfect we should all be compassionate with others who fall foul of rules and regulations. We all do.

You can choose to take a superficial and literal view of the text. You can choose to be merciless and cruel in enforcing rules and regulations. Or you can choose to look beyond the literal meaning—to look at the wood not the trees—and apply it with imagination displaying judgment and wisdom. It’s hard work to examine one’s thoughts and conscience. It’s easy to think superficially and have a list of “mechanical” rules about what to do. But that so often results in harsh injustice as individual circumstances are not taken into account. So be imaginative, be compassionate, be loving. 

In the first reading the writer says we can choose either fire or water. To my mind, water is the easy option, colourless, inoffensive, comfortable. Making the right choice, the wise choice, the compassionate choice is like choosing fire. It’s uncomfortable, painful, destructive—but you can’t rebuild until you’ve destroyed. Jesus is fire. He cauterises our thoughts. He burns away our pretences. He makes our hard hearts malleable. He brings compassion, love, tenderness.

Let’s not be rule-bound jobsworths who In the words of the first hymn “make his love too narrow by false limits of our own, and … magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own”. 

Reject that.

Instead, remember that “the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind”.

God is tenderness, and those that live in tenderness live in God and God lives in them.

You choose.

When to the Temple Mary went

Monologue for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple 2023

Let me introduce myself. My name is Shimon. I suppose I was named after Jacob’s and Leah’s son of long ago. To the Roman authorities I’m Simeon.

I’m an old man. My enthusiasms have withered, all passion spent. My knees and back give me trouble. My guts are in an uproar. My sight fails, my hearing too. I have to get up once or twice a night for a piss and I often don’t get back to sleep. My friends and relatives are dying around me. And after a life of striving, hoping I was doing the best for my family and those I serve, I’m tired, even exhausted. 

I moved into town a few years ago and live near the Temple. I go there most days for a bit of peace and quiet and to think. I try to listen to what the Lord says to me, but it’s not easy with all the noisy nonsense in my head. 

Anyhoo, a couple of days ago a funny thing happened to me in the Temple. I was in my usual spot when a family came in. a mother, husband at least 10 years older, and the young babby. I imagined they were here because the child was being offered to the Lord as the first born son, and so it was. Turns out they were from up north, the back of beyond—Galilee I think.

Something drew me to them. After a few pleasantries with me cooing over the babe, the mother—Maryam was her name—gave him to me to hold. 

The most extraordinary feeling came over me, hard to describe but here goes. Awe, wonder, warmth, pleasure, a feeling that the child would grow up to speak truth and so cause trouble. He would not have an easy time, for truth is never welcome to dictators like the Romans and jobsworths. He would show us the way to the Lord. 

I suppose the overwhelming feeling was one of relief—relief that here at last would be someone who brought the past and present together, like in the narrow bit of an hourglass, to power the future. It so affected me that I actually said out loud “Now I have seen the way. I need nothing else. I can ditch the stuff that used to be so precious. I can relax and stop worrying. I can live the rest of my life in trust.” No need then to fret about nocturnal micturition and other troubles of old age—at least they mean I’m not dead yet.

The moment passed. The family went on its way and I was left in a rather strange trance.

The whole episode set me thinking. What if the way to the Lord—let’s call it salvation—was not just about who the baby was—and I still have no idea—but was also about the fact that it was a baby, a child, that was showing it? What if the qualities of being a child were themselves necessary for the journey?

So the next day after a fitful night I made a list of things that might be relevant. Here’s my list.

  • Dependence on others, readiness to accept help.
  • Straightforward. Trusting. Direct. Unhampered by so-called politeness and good manners.
  • Honesty, lack of guile.
  • Pushing at boundaries. Taking risks. So many of my friends are imprisoned in their own choices they’ve forgotten how to look over walls.
  • Full of energy. 
  • Using imagination to have as much fun as possible. I remember how a wooden box could be just about anything I wanted it to be.

The openness and open-mindedness of children reminded me of an image of salvation once given to me by a Rabbi: no boundaries, freedom to move, freedom from the past that comes from living in the moment—being fully aware of what exactly is going on in and around me, with open eyes and mind: observing but not judging.

I thought how the “freshness” of the child I once was had been squeezed out by having to deal with the trials and tribulations of jobs, family, and bureaucracy, together with things that come from pride, wilfulness, selfishness, thoughtlessness, self-deception, pretence, puffed-upness—in a word, ego.

I need to get in touch with that child. I see with stark clarity how the child is father of the man both personally and in the strange way that the baby in the Temple showed me.

I, Shimon, an old man, carried the child, but the child governs this old man.

Felix dies nativitatis

Imagine the birth. Mary pushing, shoving, moaning, yelling. Imagine the placenta, umbilical cord, blood, fluid. Imagine for a moment that the stable and animals are not fiction. Imagine the noise, the animal dung, the smells, the hay getting places it shouldn’t.

Imagine the mess.

The nativity is messy. The infant is born into mess. My life is messy. Your life is messy. If you say it’s not, I don’t believe you. Being human is messy. But being human is what the nativity is all about.

People try to clean up Jesus. People try to clean up God. But the truth is that God is not present only in things that are cleaned up. God does not demand tidiness or purity. God does not demand cosmetics or fig leaves to cover up bits of us that we would like to be hidden away. God does not demand that we pretend. If God were to demand anything (which it doesn’t), it would be that we hide nothing – that we accept the reality of the mess we’re in.

God is present in you and me, in your mess and mine — the mess of the world. God works with mess: disorder to order, chaos to cosmos. We have no need to pretend. Pretending is exhausting. I have no energy left to waste on pretending. As it says at the beginning of St John’s Gospel, every single one of us is a child of the Divine. I am. You are.

The message of the incarnation is that you and I are like Mary — agents of the divine. Let Jesus grow in you as Mary let it grow in her. As it says in verse 4 of “O little town”, O holy child of Bethlehem … be born in us today. Everything you do to make life a bit better for somebody else is you acting as God’s agent. Everything you do to make life more difficult or unpleasant for somebody else is you acting as Satan’s agent. Choose well.

You will make mistakes. You will get things wrong. You are not perfect. Get over it. Enjoy being human. Help others to enjoy being human. Help others to glimpse joy and delight, even if only for a moment. Then, you are letting the holy child be born in you again and again.

The Christmas message is not about making yourself sick on chocolates, or stuffing your face, or arguing about what to watch on TV, or about reliving your childhood. The Christmas message is about bringing joy to the world — and helping others do likewise.

Happy Christmas. Mess is made divine,

Past and present

Homily for Advent 4 2022 at Horninglow

I’m always dismayed to hear Christians say they don’t bother with the Old Testament. Many say just that. 

I’m always shocked when I hear clergy say much the same. Some do. Whatever this says about their education and training, it speaks of a kind of dementia, one in which memory has vanished, leaving them disconnected from their history and family.

When a snowball rolls down a snow-covered slope, it starts small but as it goes on its way the snow it rolls over sticks to it so it gets bigger and bigger, its history, as it were, accumulating around it. You and I carry our history with us in the form of genetic inheritance, learnt experience, memories of good and bad. This is vital: we need to remember what’s life-threatening and what’s safe. It’s a matter of survival and species preservation. 

We can’t really understand where we are unless we understand where we come from and how we got here. 

So it is with the Jesus story. We can’t properly understand it without knowing something of its background. This is particularly so in Advent as we encounter the prophecies of Hebrew Scripture—the Old Testament.

Hearing that the young girl shall conceive makes no sense without the prophecy of Isaiah. The animals at the crib (not in the gospels) make more sense when we recall another prophecy of Isaiah. And though not relevant to Advent, the prophecies of Zechariah are essential reading for a proper understanding of Holy Week. 

Of great relevance to Advent are the images from Hebrew Scripture that we sang of in the first hymn “O come, Emmanuel”. They give us a glimpse of the redeemer that the Jews awaited—and still do: wisdom, leader, descendant of Jesse, David’s successor, morning star, king of the nations, the Divine within. They passed into the Christian church as plainsong antiphons—texts sung before and after Magnificat at Vespers or Evensong in the last week of Advent.

I am always moved by these chants. I first heard them—sang them—as a choral scholar at Carlisle Cathedral, fresh from somewhat puritanical rural Methodism. It is as if they wrap me in timelessness, bringing the past into the present in anticipation of the future.

I shall sing the first one.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Today’s readings tell of Mary. In Luke’s gospel she gives us a startling use of Hebrew Scripture. You might think that Magnificat was Mary’s invention. Not so. She, a teenage girl learning of her biologically impossible pregnancy, uses the song of another woman told of an another biologically impossible pregnancy—that of the very postmenopausal Hannah when she learns she is pregnant with Samuel. You’ll find it at 1 Samuel 2: 1-10.

Here are extracts: My heart rejoices in the Lord; I smile at my enemies because I rejoice in Your salvation. Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the Lord is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, and those who stumbled are given strength. Those who were full have to earn their bread, And the hungry are fed. The Lord raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.

These are revolutionary texts. They come from the lips of women astonished to be told they are pregnant. Let’s consider two bits of Magnificat.

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. A better phrase for “imagination” would be “devices and desires”, since the Greek word translated as imagination implies deliberate self-seeking. It means “I did it my way”—the me, me, me boast of the super-confident who believe they alone have the ear of God, the boast of all who are above themselves and who forget that pride is followed by fall. In Eugene Peterson’s wonderful translation of Luke’s beatitudes: “it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get”.

Note how God scatters the proud—not by bossing and lording it over others with displays of power, but as one who comes as one of us. And this even at his death, when much as he would have liked to have been spared, he put his ego-self aside. Peterson again:  “It’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long”. Selflessness trumps selfishness.

I could go on, but I don’t want to stray too much from the Advent theme.

Over the next few days, see if you can set aside a few minutes to consider the images in that great hymn “O come, Emmanuel”. See if you can set aside some time to consider the revolutionary Magnificat and ask yourself “what can I do to help make God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven?”. See, in short, if you can come up with ways to use your past to enrich the present and future for the common good.

The divine embryo is growing in Mary’s belly. Mary is one of us—we are all Mary. Let the divine embryo grow in you, then in a few days’ time you can sincerely sing “O holy child of Bethlehem … be born in us today.”

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Stations of Advent – the Antiphons

Address for Advent 3

I have written about prophets in the December magazine (see It is hard not to feel as if you are being harangued by them—as if they are wagging their fingers at you like a head prefect. It’s possible to read the words of John the Baptist like this.

I used to but I don’t any more. 

He talks about a baptism of repentance. It’s the feeling that comes in that moment when you see past actions and attitudes as having been selfish and self-serving though at the time you persuaded yourself that your motives were entirely pure and noble. Such a realisation leads to shock and the shedding of tears when you see that you are not as perfect as you thought you were. You see things in a new light.

This is repentance—no more and no less than a new way of looking at things. It is a joyous moment, even if painful, when you see the truth.This is what the Baptist was on about—a new way of looking at things in order, if you like, to clear the ground of weeds and rubbish that make it difficult for the seed of the Divine to grow and flower. It is preparing the way for the coming. It is hopeful.

What is it that comes? Who is he that comes?

The Advent antiphons give us a glimpse of he that comes. They are used from 17-23 December before and after the Magnificat at Vespers. They bring us images from Hebrew Scripture: wisdom, leader, descendant of Jesse, David’s successor, morning star, king of the nations, the Divine within.

I am always moved by these plainsong chants. I first heard them—sang them—as a choral scholar at Carlisle Cathedral, fresh from somewhat puritanical rural Methodism. It is as if they wrap me in timelessness, bringing the whole of history into the present moment in anticipation of the Divine growing within.

You have the Latin and English texts before you. Listen as I sing the antiphons and let yourself be enfolded by all cosmic history. Use them for the rest of Advent. Listen to them on Youtube. The are far more eloquent than any Advent sermon you will hear.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento. O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. 

O radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare. O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis. O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis,[48] qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone[53] making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster. O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Let us not forget

Homily for Remembrance Sunday 13 November 2022 at Horninglow

In the mid 1980s I visited Moscow and what was then Leningrad. I learnt that the Russians lost more people in WW2 than the UK, US and Germany combined. I have a granddaughter in the US. I see how US society values its servicemen and veterans. It puts us to shame. I have a daughter, a son and many dear friends in the Republic of Ireland and I worked there for 19 years, three as a Church of Ireland rector. Their focus on 11 November is different from ours. 

So not surprisingly, I have confused attitudes today. They include 

  • embarrassment that we’re raking over the past, and keeping open the wounds, revelling in jingoism.
  • incredulity that we English delude ourselves thinking that we won WW2 unaided.
  • anger at the waste of life.
  • recollection of the camaraderie that bad times can bring. It’s understandable that people feel that the war years were the best of their lives—if they survived.
  • shame at our involvement in war, particularly in Ireland—and that is not over yet.

But whatever is buried away in our minds, today we recall those who have died in what is called the service of their country. Those who obeyed orders. 

Now, let’s not restrict this to the two world wars of the 20th century. Let us not forget that our women and men have died in Korea, Balkans, Falklands, Cyprus, Middle East, Egypt, Africa, Ireland. Iraq and Afghanistan, where a poppy has a different meaning. 

Let us not forget people of every race and tongue who have died and continue to die in war:  Syria, Ukraine, Africa—in fact just about everywhere.

Let us not forget those who wait. It was a woman of Derbyshire and Staffordshire who brought home to me the effects on those who wait at home. Vera Brittain of Buxton and Newcastle under Lyme lost her fiancé, brother, friends, So let us remember too the bereaved mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, lovers, friends.

We sanitise war by thinking of the dead. It is easier. It costs nothing. We don’t have to provide medical care for the dead like we do for the maimed. We don’t have to worry about the lacerations, the amputations, the psychological scars when we consider the dead. Who was it said, if you want to forget about the nastiness of an event, arrange an act of commemoration and then forget about it? Let us not forget that behind the ceremony today there are countless stories of real continuing human tragedy. 

Are we just going to stop at remembering? Are we going to pray that things will change? Do we expect a sky pixie to sort problems that we humans have brought upon ourselves?

Perhaps it is we who need to change. 

What causes warfare is the notion that we are right and others are wrong—that we must impose our will on others. Individuals fight. Groups fight. Nations fight—all because one side wants to impose its will on others. And at the root of this is pride and vanity—not just theirs but yours and mine too. It’s unfashionable to use the word sin, but sin is what it is—the sin of the individual and the sin of the world. 

There is a solution. Micah told us what it is: do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Or in the words of another translation, “do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love.  And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously”. Don’t misunderstand “humble” or “humility”. They’re not about grovelling, they’re about being realistic in knowing your strengths and weaknesses, recognising your failings and—yes—not taking yourself too seriously. 

Micah spoke, Jesus showed.

“Simple” you might say, but oh how difficult it is to quash egocentric pride that makes us justify our views at the expense of those of others.

You might say “surely we should fight oppression and injustice, with weapons if necessary”. And as it happens that’s what I say—that fighting for justice is love in action. But others would not, for it’s possible to use Christian doctrine to support both points of view.

I leave you with a thought. If I say I am the best, the greatest, people call me ridiculous. If we say we are the best, people call us patriots.

Let us not forget that war comes from within the human mind—yours and mine. Kyrie eleison.