A message for Ash Wednesday
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Today, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent and every year, for as long as I have been a priest, people have asked me, “what should I give up for Lent this year?” More recently, however, folk have also asked, “what should I take up?” More of that later….
For the past year, more than ever before, we have lived in a tension between the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death. Initially, we worked pretty hard at denying, ignoring, forgetting, outrunning and overcoming those twin realities. But they are always there; they are always present.
What has that been like for you? In what ways have those two realities, the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, made themselves known to you? Perhaps that’s what you are facing today?
The reminders of mortality and the fragility of life are all around us. They come every time a friend or loved one dies. And it’s even more stark when she or he is our age or younger. Yet the reminder also comes with an aging body, a body that no longer does what it used to do or no longer looks like it used to look. It’s a bit slower, achier, flabbier, less agile. Illnesses and accidents hold before us how easily and quickly life can change.
So what do we do with that? How do we live with the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death?
As much as we might want to escape these two realities, we cannot. Nothing we can do will change or prevent them. What if naming and facing those realities is the first step in taking back our lives? That’s what this day, Ash Wednesday, is about. We mark ourselves, this year almost certainly virtually, with the ashes of mortality and fragility. We remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. And that’s a challenge. It’s not as easy as it sounds. We can go home and wash off the ashes but the truth remains: life is fragile and we are mortal.
And it would be easy at this point to hold up our hands, surrender to the uncertainty of life, lay down before the certainty of death, and declare that nothing matters. It’s all in vain. We could become cynical and hopeless. Surely, that’s not what this day is about. Surely, there’s more to our life than that.
What if we are marked with the ashes for the exact opposite reason? The ashes of this day do not mark us as a declaration that it’s all vanity and nothing matters. Instead, the ashes proclaim that everything matters. There is nothing inconsequential. Everything matters. Every word we speak, every action we take, every choice we make matters, makes a difference, and carries consequences. Every person in our life, every relationship, every moment matters. There is nothing that does not matter.
What if Lent is a time of recognising that everything matters. What if it’s about remembering and reclaiming our treasures? I know that’s not how we usually think of Lent but I want us to come to Lent in a different way this year. I want us to look for and reclaim what’s right. I want us to re-treasure the things of our life that are of ultimate importance, the people and things that are of infinite value, worth more than money, prestige, position, power, or stuff. Maybe failing to treasure is what lies behind the pain, brokenness, dysfunction, and violence that too often fill our lives and world. Maybe failing to treasure is the sin from which we need to turn away.
So tell me this…. Who or what are the treasures that hold your heart? What are the values, hopes, and dreams to which you give your heart? What is of ultimate importance in your life?
Maybe it’s the practices that have taken you deeper into the life of Christ. Maybe it’s the values you hold for yourself, the values by which you recognize yourself and when you live those values you know you are living from your truest and best self. Maybe it’s the qualities that brought wholeness and integrity to your life. Maybe it’s the things that keep you showing up day after day. Maybe it’s what nourishes your life and strengthens your relationships.
So what if we take this Lenten season as a time of re-treasuring? To re-treasure people and relationships, to re-treasure justice and compassion, to re-treasure love, forgiveness, hope, beauty. What if we were to reclaim those and a thousand other things like them as the treasures of our life?
I know how easy it is to forget those treasures, to lose them, take them for granted, or just set them aside. The busyness of life, the distractions, our sorrows and losses, our pains and wounds and our fears can make us forgetful of what really matters or cause us to put our treasures aside. Sometimes we’re just plain old tired, worn out by the changes and chances of life!
What if our Lenten practice this year were to reclaim and re-treasure that which is of ultimate importance and infinite value? What would it be like to reclaim those treasures in your life? What would it take for you to reclaim your treasures? How might that change your life and relationships?
I don’t know what your treasures are but I know you have them and I also know this: our treasures do not exist apart from but in the midst of the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death. Even as life is changing and passing the treasures of our life never go away. They are the treasures of heaven here on earth. Surely, these treasures must be in loving relationships?
I come back to, “what should I give up for Lent this year?” and “what should I take up?” These are good questions, but they are not Jesus’ question. Jesus wants to know what we treasure. Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter – our hearts. He reminds us that our hearts follow and give themselves to what we treasure. When we name our treasures, we find ourselves, our very hearts. The greatest of our treasures, of course, is our loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Let us journey though Lent as treasure hunters, discovering what we truly value, where we actually spend our time and energy, and what occupies our thoughts and worries. Let us name our treasures and find our hearts.
Yours in Christ and in the Bonds of the Order,
In memory of Anna
A message for Candlemas 2021
22And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 23(As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) 24And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
25And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
30For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
33And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
36And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
39And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. 40And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
Candlemas, 40 days after Christmas, is surely one of the most evocative feasts in the Church's year; the Gospel announces light, glory, and salvation to the world from the lips of those who have longed and waited all their lives for the consolation of Israel, the deliverance of Jerusalem, and the light of revelation for the gentiles. Simeon gives us the Nunc Dimittis, or Song of Simeon, but Anna, who has no song or canticle to her name, is the focus of my concern today; a widow who has made the Temple courts her home for a long time.
I imagine we've all met people like Anna. When I was at theological college, I knew an ancient woman, slight and dilapidated, called Dorothy. She seemed to live in the sacristy of Salisbury Cathedral. Every day Dorothy attended the early morning Communion and stayed at her post until after Evensong. One terribly windy night, the Dean found her bowling through the Close like tumbleweed on a Hollywood set.
The matron of her old people's home, not unsympathetic to religious practice forbad her daily attendance at Church. Dorothy was inconsolable until it was pointed out to her that attendance on alternate days might enable her, in the long run, to attend more services before she went to meet her Maker. Given half a chance, Dorothy would not have departed from the 'Temple', preferring worship, fasting and prayer, night and day.
In Luke’s account, Anna’s life is dedicated to prayer and worship. She responds to this child who has been brought to the Temple and speaks of the hope he brings for those waiting for the redemption of Israel. For her, the child Jesus was a sign of hope, a pointer to the end of darkness and the coming of salvation, light and redemption. Yet, he was a mere babe in arms. We are told that it was many years later that Jesus began his ministry at the age of 30. Then he began to speak of the kingdom and through signs and wonders drew the crowds and changed the way people thought about God.
Candlemas marks that point when, for Anna, waiting moved from a prayerful long-term hope into something more concrete, still not yet but definitely coming. From the waiting being about a yearning for God to act, it becomes a trust that God is acting and, in time, the reality of that will be seen.
Anna has waited; kept her counsel, waited, and waited, and waited. I like her part in this aspect of the Christmas story, for waiting is what many of us must do.
Some of us are in the midst of a very long winter of the soul where we feel close to, or actually, being overwhelmed. We raise our heads looking for the sign that winter is drawing to a close. Whether the way ahead looks long, or the signs of thaw are apparent we need to not despair, to trust that God always sends the spring, new life will come, the sun will shine and the light will increase. We offer our situations praying that God will sustain us through the dark months and enable us to recognise the signs of new life when they begin to appear.
Sometimes we need to seek Jesus – to go looking for him and make an effort. But the gospel also tells it another way. To those who cannot move or do not know, God will come to you. Later in the life of Jesus, Jesus will meet seekers, but he will also proactively seek the neglected, confused, lost and ignorant, and those who’d never thought of looking. God is there for them just as much.
We commit ourselves to living hopefully. Hope is lighting a candle in the midst of the darkness and saying to the darkness of fear, ageing, isolation or loneliness, “I beg to differ”. So, Jesus is in the Temple to be consecrated as a first-born male, as the custom demands. But as with all such customs, the blessings will flow both ways. Anna is blessed just as much as the One she came to bless. So, may you be blessed as you wait; and wait with those who have waited longer. The light shines for us all, and the darkness will not overcome it. Amen.
Yours in Christ and in the Bonds of the Order,
A virtual service for the Feast of St. John the Baptist
We have managed another first for the Province - we held our first Provincial virtual service on Wednesday 24th June to mark the Feast of St John the Baptist, a “red letter day” not just for the United Orders but also in commemorating the anniversary of the foundation of Grand Lodge. The Order of Service is still available, so please click here to view a copy.
You can also still view and download the service here: Service of the Feast of St. John the Baptist.
There is also a rousing performance by the London Provincial Knight's Templar Home Choir!
A message for Pentecost 2020
John 14:18 - "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you." (NRSV)
Just what were the feelings of the disciples on the evening of the first Good Friday and through to first seeing their risen Lord? It is possible the description of 'despair and tribulation' must almost be considered euphemistic! All their hopes were dashed. They had thought, indeed were convinced, that the Messiah, in the person of Jesus, who would redeem Israel, had been revealed to them. Their dreams and hopes lay shattered in the dust. Surely, they must have been filled with terror as they huddled together behind the locked doors of the upper room, fearful as to when and how soon after the Sabbath the Jewish authorities would come looking for them. After all, with the crucifixion of Jesus, they had, as they thought, destroyed the head of this threatening movement, why not get rid of the rest of the body? Would they, the disciples, soon be following their leader to Calvary?
Then came the miracle of that first Easter Day. The women, less fearful of, and at risk of, mortal danger, ventured out to complete the task of properly cleansing their Lords body only to find Him no longer in the tomb but risen from the dead and we read of that account as recorded in the Gospel of John with the encounter between our Lord and Mary Magdalen. Mary rushes off to tell the disciples the good news and Peter and John are bold enough to leave the security of the upper room to verify the truth of the empty tomb. Then what a thrill that evening, when gathered behind locked doors, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst with the greeting, “Peace be with you.” How, not just glad, but overjoyed they must have been: Jesus is alive and back with them once more they were filled with HOPE.
Over the next forty days He reveals Himself to more and more of His followers in a phase that may be described as one of reconciliation. A period for His followers to become reconciled to the fact that He had died yet was alive, albeit in a different form, able to materialise and disappear at will. Reconciled to the fact that as God incarnate the redemption that He had brought to Israel was one of LOVE not of military might as traditionally perceived as the role of a messiah. Reconciliation with the sceptics and those with doubts as in the person of Thomas. Above all reconciliation with cowards and traitors in the person of Peter (the one who had denied Him three times) on the shore of Lake Galilee, after having demonstrated His bounteous generosity by once more filling the nets to bursting as He had done once before. Then a final good-bye to His closest disciples and evaporation into a cloud at the Ascension from the Mount of Olives.
The next ten days the disciples spent in prayer and in breaking and eating bread together as Jesus had commanded they should do in remembrance of Him yet seemingly without any other sense of purpose. Then, one morning, perhaps as they were finishing breakfast, there was the sound of a mighty wind, which was heard outside, lights danced above their heads and they were clearly filled with a feeling of euphoria. In this state of excitement they knew what they had to do. They had to tell the world the Good News of the risen Christ. In their excitement, they must have gabbled, or spoken in tongues, as
described in the Act of the Apostles. Such was their enthusiasm that those who heard were able to grasp the meaning, even if they did think that they must be drunk! In a way, they were intoxicated, not with wine, but with the Holy Spirit.
What parallel may be drawn between the gamut of emotions experienced by those first disciples and those to which we are now exposed with the pandemic of Covid-19 is for each individual to say, but it bring us back to the text 'I will not leave you orphaned.' The modern translation, rather than saying 'leave you comfortless', is more subtle and nuanced. Princes William and Harry have been very open about the emotionally devastating effect the death of their mother has had upon them as children and as they have grown up. A loving parent offers much more than just comfort. They can offer stability, advice, reassurance and support. Importantly you don't have to be a child to be an orphan. There are a number of our members who have lost a parent during these last trying weeks and others who have died themselves leaving their children orphaned.
Through belief in God as revealed in Jesus, our Heavenly Captain, we too can have the strength of His Holy Spirit living and working though us. Good News that we as Christian Masonic Knights need to proclaim loud and clear by our words and actions in unity with all other Christians with whom, in remembrance of Him, we break and eat bread and drink wine together.
With the blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and knightly love we greet you all in the bonds of our Order.
A special message on Easter Day 12th April 2020
1 “I lift my eyes up to the hills - from where will my help come?
2 “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
Easter is the highlight and premier festival of the whole Christian family that is the Church of God. The day on which, looking up at the empty Cross and down into the empty tomb, we celebrate that beacon of hope given, not only to the faithful but also to all mankind, that by the Resurrection of God Himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, we can look forward, beyond mortal death, to an eternal life of love and felicity in His spiritual presence. However, just as there can be no Easter without the joyous celebration of Christmas, nor can there be Easter without the horror, grief and despondency of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It all seems too relevant to Easter 2020.
There can be little doubt that, at this most difficult time, the like of which, with the exception of war time, has not been experienced since the great flu pandemics of 1918 and 1922, there is a pervading feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. There are some amongst our Order who have already fallen victim to infection or succumbed to this frightful virus, or whose relative or relatives have been so afflicted: for the rest of us there is the uncertainty – might we be the next to fall victim? For those of us, or with close, greatly loved, relatives who are working on the front line in healthcare, it is particularly worrying and distressing. We all must be in empathy with the psalmist in searching for a place of refuge and sanctuary. However, it isn't to be found in the hills or anywhere else in material terms: it cannot be found in the bottle or by burying one’s head in the sand of self-indulgence or of saying “it couldn't possibly happen to me” because it very well might! It won’t go away just because we ignore it! It is indiscriminate, as the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister can testify.
So what can we do? Above all, keep faith: give ourselves in complete trust to that in which we believe and help will come from the Lord to give us the strength and fortitude to cope with whatever might befall us. As Christian Pilgrims and Knights who have been clothed in the whole armour of God, let us not shed one piece as we face the tribulations of life. Above all continue to cling to those truly Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and LOVE. This Easter we will not be able to unite physically with our fellow Christians in public worship
and partake of the Holy Sacrament together but we can join together virtually through many of the streamed services and be assured of God’s spiritual presence with and in us, for if we offer ourselves to Him, He will be with us. When we join in the intercessions and pray for the world, let us each remember our fellow knights, feeling fully assured that our hope of meeting again in Christ's name will be fulfilled.
Our blessings and knightly love to you all in the Bonds of our Order.
1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The Lord protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The Lord sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
A special message on Palm Sunday
21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “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.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
It is not a long ride from Bethphage to Jerusalem. But it is a bit of an uphill climb, albeit a short one as those who were on the KT pilgrimage in January will recall. At the top of the hill, you get a marvellous view right over the Kidron valley to the city walls and into the city itself. Straight ahead, you could see the massive walls of the Temple on their colossal foundations. The building had taken years to put up and wasn't finished yet. It looked as if it would last for ever. It was meant to. Yet it would be destroyed within a few years of being finished. You could see the market stalls even from here, the meat sellers and the cloth merchants, the potters and the leather goods all huddled together. Just beyond the Temple was one of the great palaces that the Roman Governor sometimes used. There were others to the east of the city. Behind the Temple were the huge water pools of Bethesda. With all the sacrifices at the Temple, all that blood and mess you needed plenty of water to keep the place clean! People would go there to wash and, sometimes, to be healed. From up here on the hill it was all a magnificent sight. A place to be proud of. God's city for God's own people. A place for a king.
And today a king would be visiting it. It would be quite an occasion, with the crowds out cheering and shouting. A day lots of people would never forget. It's a day we're remembering today. A king's day. So let's have a king. We'll have to make sure everyone knows you are a king. So let's give you a crown and just for a moment you can even sit on a throne. A king shouldn't stand up for too long. Nor should a king have to walk into the city. He should ride in, in style. Do it properly. A king should have the biggest horse in the
country a king's horse. Only this king was different. He didn't have a throne. He didn't even have a crown. And he certainly didn't have a horse. When he decided to ride into the city he chose not a horse but a DONKEY.
It's not much fun being a donkey. People make fun of you. They think you're stupid but you're not. Just quiet and thoughtful and like to take things gently and a steady pace. Let's have a donkey. When Jesus came to Jerusalem he rode a donkey and how he was cheered. They called him king even though he wasn't on a great horse. He was on a little donkey. Jesus was a humble king. And the humble donkey was feeling very proud. To have been chosen by the king, by a king who values ordinary and humble creatures like donkeys, ordinary humble folk like all of us. This king is not a swank he had no crown, no posh clothes, no great palace. But for the moment they all cheered him.
Later on in the week things would be very different. He would get a crown but not a splendid one instead it would be a crown made of thorns put on him by soldiers making fun of him. But he never stopped being a king. With a crown of thorns and nailed to a cross, he was the greatest king of all, the loving, humble king. And what about the donkey? He has never been forgotten. Always remembered , just for being himself, doing what he could, giving the king a ride into Jerusalem.
Today if you see a donkey, a proper one, and you look at his back, you will see a mark there across his shoulders and down his back. It makes a cross. Donkeys carry the mark of the king who was crucified. And every baptised person bears that mark. You can't see that mark but, when we follow Jesus the King, his mark is manifest by the kind of people we are; for the mark of the crucified King is the mark of love and of kindness, of unselfishness and goodness. King Jesus asked an ordinary donkey to help him, to serve him by carrying him into Jerusalem. He calls us to serve him. And we who bear the mark of Jesus are in the service of the King.
Many of you have gone the extra mile this week to care for those who are most vulnerable. All of you have shown compassion and empathy for those around you. You bear the mark of the King and we pray that you bear it with pride – may God bless you all!
A message from the Provincial Prelate
and the Chaplain to the Bodyguard
We have been reflecting on Psalm 16. It begins, “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge”. There have been many words spoken and written over the past couple of weeks regarding the circumstances in which we find ourselves as families, communities, nations and as a global community. A great deal of very useful, helpful and necessary advice has been issued and we need to act on that for the sake of ourselves but also for the sake of others.
We believe the words of Psalm 16:1 are also useful, helpful and necessary and we need to act on these words too, for our own sake and for the sake of others.
As you know, the Masonic meetings, which form the core of our fraternity, have been suspended for the next four months. We can no longer meet up or gather physically in one place to perform or practise our ritual, to enjoy friendship and fellowship with each other. This does not mean however that we cannot continue to be brother knights together. It does not mean that we cease to have purpose as part of a worldwide fraternity.
Love your neighbour as yourself. These words of Jesus (found in Mark 12:31) coupled with the command to Love God are, says Jesus, the greatest commandment. In all of the choices we make, in all of the ways we behave, in all of the situations we find ourselves in, especially in these uncertain and unknown times, these words are there to guide us. As the family of the Provincial Priory of London, we want to love, support and encourage each other through the coming weeks. We also want to extend that love, support and encouragement to those around us: our family, friends, neighbours and, particularly, the vulnerable in our society.
Please be assured that we will be praying for each of you over the coming weeks and, please, do not hesitate to contact us using the details below – we will do everything we can to support and assist you.