Bishop Olivia gave the following sermon during a Church at Home online service.

The Sunday after Easter is known as Low Sunday. In early Christian times it marked the end of the ceremonies surrounding the Easter baptisms, and also the end of the Octave – the eight days of feasting which are kicked off on Easter Sunday. I have to say that the Easter eggs in our house didn’t last nearly that long!

But Low Sunday doesn’t mean that Easter is over. Eastertide lasts for 40 days – right up until Ascension. And that is important because it takes time to absorb a new truth, a new reality, and to learn to live differently.

There’s a sense that those who saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion were not sure how to react: with joy or with fear. In Mark’s gospel, they simply fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone.

We need to stay with that sense of joy and fear, of amazement, of caution, and of beginning to dare to feel that it is true. Belief is something which, for most of us, is not an instantaneous thing, it’s more of a process, a gradual coming round, a questioning acceptance. And for those early disciples, and for us, a slowly dawning realisation that everything has changed. It took time.

There is a great deal of disbelief in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene, the first Apostle, the first disciple to be told by Jesus to ‘go and tell’ she was disbelieved; the two disciples in Mark’s gospel who saw Jesus on the road were disbelieved; and here is dear Thomas, famously refusing to give any credence to these ridiculous fanciful tales unless he sees the marks of crucifixion himself. Jesus totally got this when he said to Thomas Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.

Those who have come to believe. When I was much younger, I had quite a long period of discounting much of Christianity because I simply could not sign up to believing that someone could come back to life after death. I found it literally incredible, and I thought that no-one who had an ounce of intelligence could seriously base their life on this belief. But, over time, as Jesus said, I came to believe. My reluctance was overcome, not by well-reasoned argument, or cleverly written books, but by looking around me and seeing people I loved and respected, and knew to be very intelligent saying yes, this is what I believe.

What difference does it make? The belief that Jesus is indeed risen from the dead is life-changing. It leads to a different way of looking at life, and at death. We slowly come to realise that everything that we thought about the world has changed. Our values turn upside down and our timeframe shifts and tilts.

None of us is unaware of what our world and our country are going through at the moment. Familiarity, reassurance is not what is being given to us this Easter. Certainty is not being given to us. This Easter, it’s hard to feel that we have a celebration of joy, new life and freedom when our freedom is constricted, sickness, death and grief are all nearby. It almost feels as though we are still in Good Friday.

What’s being given to us is change, confusion and disruptive newness. Very much like the early followers of Jesus. And some of us don’t deal very well or adapt very quickly to these things. But in the midst of it all, we are discovering new things about ourselves and about what matters. Ask yourself;

What is it you miss at the moment, and is it the same as what you expected to miss?
What do you long for? What is the thing that would make you happiest?
And was there something which you used to think was really vital, which you now find you are doing fine without?

It is important to reflect on these things, amid the strangeness and confusion of our changed lives, lived inside and, for many of us, online, and for many more, alone.

So we are shut-in, and we’re re-evaluating. And we’re realising what is important. I would like to think that we’re being more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous. And if this time has anything to teach us, it is that after it is over, we mustn’t be pulled by the undertow back into the complacency of life as it was before. There are things that need to change.

We have come to value being there for each other and have seen the need to work together for the good of all. We have come to realise that the people who are rewarded the least in our society are the very people we rely on for the delivery of the basics of life: the shelf stackers, the refuse collectors, the care staff, the nurses and other NHS workers, the shop staff and the bus drivers. Brought into sharp focus is that poorer families have less space and no gardens. People who are confined together in small spaces will have less good mental health and are at a greater risk of violence. And having no home is a greater risk still.

When we are able to get back to normal, if the old normal even still exists, there are things that need to change, because how it was isn’t good enough, and isn’t how it ought to be. How can we shape the new normal, after COVID in a way that reflects what we have come to believe in this journey through Eastertide; that acknowledges how very precious life is, and how very precious each individual person is? And how can we make sure that we succeed in this?

It takes repetition of the newness to keep us on the right track, because the undertow that pulls us back into the familiar is strong. We need to swim against it. It takes time to absorb a new truth, a new reality, and to learn to live differently. This is the beginning of our Easter journey, and it starts with each one of us, where we are, now as we embrace the belief that Jesus is indeed risen from the dead and that changes everything.


Bishop Olivia
Low Sunday, 2020

Watch the Church at Home on on the Second Sunday of Easter service here. Details of our Church at Home services, together with a listing of parish live streams can be found on the Diocesan website.

I love the Easter stories in the gospels. The ending is the best part of the book. I love the gentleness of Jesus in John as Mary meets him in the garden, as he breathes his Spirit into his disciples to strengthen them, as he restores Peter by the lakeside. I love the story of the road to Emmaus in Luke and his gentle listening, the way their hearts burn as he unfolds the scriptures and the way Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread. I love the sense of power and purpose in Matthew as the disciples are given the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples, which still goes on to this day.

But there is one gospel ending I have never understood or focussed on at Easter until this year: the ending of Mark. Three women come to the tomb where Jesus was laid, bringing spices. The stone is rolled back. They enter the tomb. They see a young man in a white robe sitting to one side. He tells them that Jesus is risen and they are to go to Galilee and meet him there. And then we read this: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

And there the gospel ends. Scholars wonder if the original ending was lost. If you look carefully at Mark 16, you will see two other endings are added to the story. The oldest manuscript though end with a very short sentence: they were afraid because…

This year to end on a note of fear seems right. Our world and our country are in the midst of a natural disaster. We are reminded every day of our mortality. Many of our families and friends are already touched by illness or by death.

In such a time it is natural to be afraid and we want to run away. One of the deepest parts of being human is a strong desire for our lives to go on: a longing for eternity. But that longing collides with the dreadful truth that one day we will die.

In this time of fear, the Church is called to come back again to the very centre of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and ponder what that resurrection means. Death has been overcome, put into reversed and conquered. Jesus has opened up the way to new and eternal life. We grieve for those we have lost, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. As we shall say in a moment together, we believe in resurrection.

If you read the New Testament carefully, the first disciples found the resurrection of Jesus hard to understand and hold onto. It is a truth so big it turns our world upside down and inside out. Thomas famously did not believe until he could see and touch the Lord. Luke describes the disciples as startled and terrified: joyful but still disbelieving and wondering. In Mark, the women are at first afraid at such a great and deep truth.

Jesus is risen and that changes everything. Death becomes a gateway and not an ending. Life is lived in the light of eternity. Love endures beyond the grave. The meal we share today is a foretaste of a banquet in heaven. This invitation to life is open to everyone. There is no need to be afraid.

Because of Jesus, resurrection is the pattern of the world. There is no doubt that these days are terrible and difficult: perhaps the worst we will ever live through. But there is no doubt that there will be a resurrection and rebuilding and resetting of our lives, of our families, of our economy and of our world. We will meet again. There will be lessons we can learn in this season of what is really important and essential. In the meantime we pray and love and hope and encourage one another in the faith of the resurrection.

Because of Jesus we are able as the people of God to face our mortality and see beyond it. Christ is risen. We have new hope. Because of that hope we can sing to one another as the children sing to us now: Be bold, be strong for the Lord our God is with you.

Easter Day, 2020

Watch the Church at Home on Easter Day service here.

Bishop Colin gave the following sermon during a Church at Home live stream earlier this week.

Leadership and its different styles have been very much in the media over the past few weeks.

The question, ‘Who is in charge?’ when the Prime Minister fell ill.
The calm reassuring words of our Queen.
The unpredictable statements coming from across the pond.
And the energy shown by Joe Wicks encouraging us to be active.

All of these, and many more, have given us insights, some helpful and some disconcerting, of leaders under pressure. And at the same time, as we have travelled with Jesus, from Palm Sunday through this Holy Week, we too, in this quite extraordinary and disorienting year, have been accompanying a leader under the greatest pressure he ever faced in his life.

A leader who had set his face to go to Jerusalem whilst knowing full well what awaited him there.

A leader who was willing to do the unpredictable, like riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, against the received political wisdom of his day.

A leader who had to wrestle with his closest followers jockeying for position, fighting silly personal battles, even betraying him, just when he needed them most.

A leader who encouraged them to look to a more hopeful future, but who experienced the frustration of their incomprehension.

A leader who, this evening, stripped off his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet.
And some or all of those things, we too may have been thinking about, or experiencing, in the past weeks.

From my perspective, I have been immensely impressed by the ways in which people have stepped up in partnership to help others in their communities. What is going on in Oxfordshire and across the Thames Valley is a source to me both of pride and hope. My only warning to us all is one that Bishop Steven has already repeated many times. We are in this for the long haul and it is crucial that we take our breaks and do not aim to be running non-stop. Many of the major calls on our ministries, lay and ordained, will be coming in the next few weeks as the pressures from funerals, both those that are COVID related, and those that are not, along with their related pastoral care, mount up.

Of course, with these will come the opportunities to do some of the things we are best at doing. There will be the Memorial and Thanksgiving Services that we will be asked to take. The re-opening of our churches and the opportunity to ring our bells again can be celebrated at various points. And All Souls’ Tide could be marked as never before.

But all of that lies ahead.

For the moment what sort of leaders will we be called on to be? Two things have struck me as I have reflected in preparation for this sermon both on the scriptural passages and on the Ordinal.

The first is the call for gentleness. There is plenty of evidence that in the experience of a major trauma individuals and communities can switch quite quickly from heroic endeavour into back-biting and blame. Indeed, it is arguable that you need then to work through the inevitability of the latter in order to emerge the stronger as a result. If that is indeed the case then I, and my fellow bishops need to heed the words that our authority is given ‘ to heal, not to hurt, to build up, not to destroy’ or in the pattern of Christ and in his words, quoting Isaiah, to us all, ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory’. Much of this will be happening after I have retired but the big thing will be to give this the time it will need, individually, in our Ministry Teams, in our Congregations and in our wider communities.

If gentleness is crucial, then so will be an appreciation of the ordinary. The longer I have served as a bishop, the more I have come to appreciate the importance of the ordinary in our life of our diocese. What comes naturally and the relationships we form really matter. Recently I was reminded of that in a passage that Charles Chadwick drew to my attention. It comes from Michael Ramsey’s classic book ‘The Christian Priest Today’ though the lessons he draws from scripture apply to the laity as well as the clergy. I quoted it recently at Diocesan Synod and it is well worth repeating.

And with this I close.

‘Amidst the vast scenes of the world’s problems and tragedies you may feel that your own ministry seems so small, so insignificant, so concerned with the trivial. What a tiny difference it can make to the world that you should run a youth club, or preach to a few people in a church, or visit families with seemingly small result. But consider; the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter and that the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child are of infinite worth to God. Let that be your inspiration. Consider our Lord himself.
In a country where there were movements and causes which excited the allegiance of many – the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Essenes, and others – our Lord gives many hours to one woman of Samaria, one Nicodemus, one Martha, one Mary, one Lazarus, one Simon Peter, for the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.

It is to a ministry like that of our Lord himself that you are called. The Gospel you preach affects the salvation of the world, and you may help your people to influence the world’s problems. But you will never be nearer to Christ than in caring for the one man, the one woman, the one child. His authority will be given to you as you do this, and his joy will be yours as well.’

Maundy Thursday 2020

Details of our Church at Home services can be found on the website

Bishop Steven gave the following sermon during the Church at Home live stream on Palm Sunday. The picture is one of many DIYcross pictures sent in to our Facebook page. Our thanks to everyone who contributed an image.

Love and prayers to you and your family as we share in this worship together for Palm Sunday, each in our own homes.

This will be a Holy Week like no other as the pandemic continues. Some of us will be spending this week working in essential services such as health care or food supplies or care for the vulnerable. You have our thanks and appreciation. Some will be isolated and alone.
Some will be working from home.

We will all be taking time for prayer and worship not in our churches but in our own homes as we walk the way of the cross with Jesus and as we mark his death and resurrection.

We will miss familiar places and people and services but, I hope, we will all be able to find God and find inspiration in new ways. We are focussing in this service on the first to great act of the drama. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. You will find on the website a link to a dramatized reading of the whole passion story which we can listen to later today or through the week ahead.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Today is normally a day of full employment for donkeys and processions round the church or through the village. I’ve done a few in my time and I always enjoy them, particularly when there are little accidents. But this great public symbol needs unpacking.

The donkey is more than a convenient form of transport. Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king, imitating the humility of the kings of old and echoing the ancient prophecies of the House of David. Everyone in the crowd knows this. That’s why they throw their coats in the road and tear the palm branches from the trees to make a royal road. Jesus is their Messiah.

His coming is a challenge to the Romans and to the Jewish leaders. His coming brings hope to the people. Hosanna, they cry. Hosanna to the Son of David. That word Hosanna is a prayer. It means “save us”.

To understand all that follows, we need to understand that Jesus comes today as king. He enters Jerusalem publicly, deliberately, his face set towards the cross. He knows that he comes as king to suffer and to die for the sins of the world and then to triumph over death.

The cross is not something others do to Jesus. The cross is Jesus action of love for others, for the sins of the whole world. We will watch and listen to this unfolding drama of love, as Christ offers himself for our sake.

But Hosanna is our cry this day as well. Hosanna as we welcome Jesus as our king to our homes and to our hearts. Hosanna as we cry to God to save us: to save us from disease, and isolation, and grief and selfishness, and fear.

We may not be able to see each other today, but all of us know much more deeply how much we need each other. We cannot be part of a congregation we can see and embrace or hold. But we are part of a great unseen cloud of witness all across the world, the Church of Jesus Christ who are walking through this strange Holy Week together.

Today we say with Christians all across the Diocese and across the world, Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Save us Lord and deliver us from all that we are facing.

Today we open ourselves to all that God has to teach us and all the world in this Holy Week.


Watch a recording of the Church at Home service below.

Palm Sunday from Diocese of Oxford on Vimeo.

“Look a virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”

I am struck at the end of this year by how many Christmas carols are lullabies and I have been wondering why.

There are plenty of carols which are the opposite, of course: Hark the Herald Angels Sing is a call to wake up. O Come All Ye Faithful summons us to worship. Some of the best-loved carols tell the Christmas story: O Little Town; Once in Royal David’s City; While Shepherds watched.

But many are simple lullabies. They are full of gentleness and tenderness and welcome and love. Away in a Manger. Silent Night. The Coventry Carol. The Rocking Carol. There is even a Radio 3 website which ranks carols by how likely they are to send you to sleep.

After a difficult year, those simple carols move us in ways we don’t fully understand. A tear comes to the eye. Sobs rise in the throat. We take the hand of those we love. Friends embrace. What is going on?

The carols are reminding us of the very centre of the Christmas story; the very centre of the human story. At the end of a difficult year, the world does not need to be told to pull itself together. The world does not need to be shouted at or scolded or condemned. The world doesn’t need yet more words seeking to explain the mysteries of life.

The world simply needs to catch a glimpse that, after all, God really is love and mercy and goodness, despite everything. The world needs simply to be held and loved and mended. The world needs rest and peace.

Our world needs to hear again that God speaks in gentle whispers and not through earthquake, wind or fire.

That wisdom comes from teenage girls and foreign lands and ordinary working people.

By common agreement, 2019 has been a difficult year. There is a deep fear abroad in the world. The very climate of the earth is changing in ways which are damaging and unpredictable. Still, the leaders of some of the most powerful nations on earth are in denial and others too slow to act.

We hoped technology might bring us together. We are more connected than ever before, but we are also more lonely and isolated and divided. So-called social media eats away the borders of our person and encroaches on every secret place. We see the worst side of human life and inequality reflected in the mirror of our online lives.

The political rancour and stalemate we have endured has affected workplaces and families and morale and spills over into every day fractures and divisions. The ordinary trials of life, illness and insecurity are amplified the more we understand the lostness of the whole world. Where are we to turn for help when all everything is coming apart?

“Look, says the prophet, a virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”

Over all this sad and weary earth, God sends and sings this lullaby. Christmas in our culture now is a time for deep remembering. We have almost forgotten the story but not quite and not at Christmas. Here is the great and mighty wonder. God is love. God is born into our broken and frightened world. God comes to us as a child, the Son of Mary. God enters creation in humility and truth. God comes to redeem us. God comes to be with us.

God comes to save us from our very selves and the from the mess we make. That is why God’s Son takes the name Jesus, Saviour. God comes to mend us and remake us: Jesus is the Prince of Peace. God comes to end loneliness: we are not alone in the vastness of creation. God is with us, Emmanuel. God comes to bring hope for all our futures and the promise of a just world and a kingdom which will live forever, a new heaven and a new earth. This is the story we are called to live and called to tell.

Jesus is God’s own lullaby, the Word made flesh, the word of life, the word of love. Whatever your year has been like, hear this lullaby this Christmas. Take hold of this word of love as a person who is sinking in quicksand seizes a rope.

Hold it fast.

Allow yourself to be anchored and pulled to safe ground. Rebuild from this strong centre.

You are loved. God is with us. Jesus is born.

He is here.


+Steven Oxford
Christ Church Cathedral
Christmas Day, 2019

“Thank you so much to the Wardens elect, and to the outgoing churchwardens for the ministry you exercise week in and week out. ” That was the opening line to Bishop Steven’s annual Charge to the churchwardens who tirelessly serve our parishes. His words are applicable to every churchwarden in the Diocese:

Read more

Father Jean Marc Fournier is chaplain to the Paris Fire Brigade. On Monday evening, Abbe Fournier led the successful attempt to rescue the precious objects from the burning Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Among them was the crown of thorns, the equivalent someone wrote this week of England’s crown jewels, but surely an even more important and powerful symbol. This simple crown was brought to Paris in 1238 when Notre Dame was newly built.

It looks like a wreath comprised of brittle but elegantly woven marine rushes. The first reference to this crown of thorns is from the early fifth century in Jerusalem. The crown was moved to Constantinople around 500 years later and then onto Paris where it has remained ever since.

Much has been written this week of the symbolism of the burning Cathedral and the plans to rebuild. Images of the cross which survived in the ruins of the nave have been passed across the world.

But the most powerful and life-giving image of all, I think, is this fragile ancient crown, a brand snatched from the burning, whether or not it is the actual crown worn by Jesus Christ.

This crown is central to John’s gospel. If you have a moment later today, look back over the story of the passion and see references to Christ as King. On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, coming as the anointed king of Israel.

Pilate’s dialogue with Jesus and with the crowds is all about what it means to be a king. “Are you the king of the Jews?” and “Here is your king”. The crowds reply “We have no king but the emperor”. Pilate’s charge above Jesus cross is written in three languages: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”.

“And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head”.

We cannot understand the real meaning of Easter day unless we understand who is crucified and risen. Jesus is the coming king. The crown of thorns is the symbol of his kingdom.

Here is your king. This is the king who does not assume his throne through violence and force of arms.

This is the king motivated by love who brings in a kingdom not of this world.

This is the servant king: the one who kneels to wash the feet of his disciples and who brings in a kingdom marked by justice and peace.

This is the king who gives to his followers a new commandment: above all we are to love one another.

This king is not for one nation alone in a single lifetime but for every nation in all the time to come. This king does not inaugurate a dynasty for his reign will last for ever. Instead, he forms a community through his death on the cross and his rising from the dead. He does not come to be served but to serve.

And this is why the crown of thorns is such a remarkable symbol: of power and glory combined with suffering which saves and redeems the entire world.

In the garden on Easter Day, joy and pain are woven fine. Mary is weeping. Four times we are told of her tears. The gentle gardener speaks her name and that is all it takes. In and through her grief Mary recognises that this is indeed Jesus, her teacher and her Lord: the king whose death has brought salvation to the world. In Peter’s words in Acts: “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”.

All those who believe and follow him are taught to pray, each day for the coming of God’s kingdom: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. The kingdom of the king who wears this crown of thorns. This is the kingdom of Isaiah’s vision, realised through suffering, where infants will not die and the elderly will live out their days in sand peace.

How will this kingdom come? The way is symbolised by this crown of thorns. It is the way of love and reconciliation. It would be a wonderful consequence of a terrible fire if the crown of thorns were to find its way back to the centre of our common life and our understanding of power.

The suffering and tears continue even in the midst of joy in Sri Lanka today and in South Sudan and in many places where Christians suffer for their faith. Joy and pain are woven fine. Easter is our reminder that it is the songs of joy which will prevail.

We live in an age of sharp and polarised debate. Extremes of left and right offer us their certainties. Words are used to wound and tear down and incite fear and violence. More and more people live in echo chambers of their own making and blame others for their misfortunes.

Our nation flounders in uncertainty: or rather we flounder in the conflicting fire of different certainties. The result is deeper and deeper fragmentation. There is a danger we will inflict damage on our common life which will endure for a generation.

The crown of thorns offers a better way. It does not point to a particular path but it does lead us back to a better politics. It is a symbol of servant leadership; of suffering and glory woven together; of not seeking power for its own sake; of exercising that power when gained with gentleness; of holding together glory and sacrifice; of being willing to draw and hold all things together.

Her Majesty the Queen celebrates her birthday today. Her reign has been built on the pattern of the servant king. The Queen offered words of wisdom to the nation in January speaking to the Women’s Institute in Sandringham. “I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture”.

The recipe sounds so simple. But it is really very difficult and this kind of wisdom is slipping from the centre of our national life.

I am sure France needs its crown of thorns in this present moment as much as we do, but I would be enormously cheered if we could borrow this powerful symbol of a different way and set it for a time in Westminster Abbey or even here in this Cathedral. It would be a reminder that each of us is called to share in the ministry of the risen Christ and especially Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.

This day we remember and we celebrate that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. In Christ there is forgiveness and new life for all. In Christ, death has been conquered. In Christ there is fresh vision for the whole world. From Christ there flows a different way of combining suffering and service and glory and power. All of us are called to follow in this way: the way of the crown of thorns.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


The Easter Day sermon given by the Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
21 April 2019

Who is your favourite character from Narnia?  For those under 30, the Narnia chronicles are children’s books penned by CS Lewis, a kind of forerunner to Game of Thrones with much less blood and sex. 

My favourite is Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle from the Silver Chair. Puddleglum is the Eeyore of Narnia. His outlook is uniformly bleak. In his world, it’s best to keep your expectations low and it is almost certain to rain tomorrow.  But Puddleglum has the best line in the story.

Jill and Eustace are trapped in the Underworld trying to rescue the Prince.  All three fall under the Witch’s spell.  All is about to be lost.  Then Puddleglum bravely sticks his foot in the fire. He draws a line. The smell of burnt Marshwiggle starts to lift the enchantment. The pain clears his head. “One word, Ma’am”, he says to the Witch…

“Suppose we have only dreamed and made up all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself…. Then all I can say is that the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. We’re just babies making up a game if you are right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real-world hollow”.

Puddleglum holds the vision of the light, of the kingdom of Aslan, even in the darkest places of despair. In that tension he finds the courage to stand, to act, and to bring hope to others. We come together this Maundy Thursday to renew our commitment to ministry and to place our feet back in the fire for another year.

How are we to minister and serve in such a very lost and broken world? In a society which is so unsure of itself? In which people carry heavy burdens and face fear and despair with such meagre inner resources? How are we to help our communities back to a place of confidence and fairness?

How are we to continue to help the world find the strength to fight the chaos of climate change and unite around the goals of justice and peace? The imperfections of the Church sap our strength. All of us have heavy burdens to bear ourselves. How can we shoulder them and yet still offer hope and healing to the world?

Puddleglum is a character from a story. But Puddleglum stands in the long line of the prophets: men and women who are utterly realistic about the condition of the world and of the human heart and of the people of God and yet are filled with a vision and hope beyond themselves.

When Jesus stands in the synagogue at Nazareth and unrolls the Book of Isaiah and reads these words, he is standing in that tradition: holding the darkness of the world in tension with the deeper vision of God’s kingdom. We must stand there too: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free”.

We must stand there too, however difficult we find it.  There is another kingdom. We must stand in the place of hope. We must hold out in our lives and our preaching the tender message of salvation for lost and broken people. We must craft and proclaim from the scriptures a vision for humankind and creation which is more loving and honest and hopeful than anything this world offers. We are called to sustain by word and sacrament thousands of imperfect and countercultural communities who hold out a different vision of human life and which infect and re-infect the world’s dis-ease with God’s deep medicine of joy.

This is no easy ministry. The longer I am a bishop, the more clearly I see what this vocation to serve God’s church can cost; the more deeply I appreciate the sacrifice and dedication of colleagues and friends who are LLMs, deacons, priests and bishops and who serve in different ways. Thank you on behalf of God’s church for your faithfulness to God’s call.  Thank you to all who support and encourage those called to these ministries.

This is no easy ministry. But these ministries remain vital ministry not only for the Church but for the world. There is no greater need than the rekindling of hope, the singing of a different song. All of us need to watch over ourselves, to acknowledge the difficulty of our calling, to take time out for refreshment and renewal, to recover where we are wounded, to live gently where we can because we too are loved by God and precious in God’s sight.

And as we renew our commitment to this ministry, how will we minister in this coming year? May I offer you three pathways to reflect on and to explore which flow from this service and especially from the blessing of the oils.

The first is to recover confidence in the Church’s ministry of healing, symbolised by the oil for anointing the sick and dying.

To pray for healing is to be utterly honest about the human condition but also to hold out a vision of love and hope.

For some years now, the ministry of healing has been, I think, declining in importance in our churches. But we live in times of great pain and confusion. I have begun to notice some churches offering opportunities for prayer and anointing again: moments of grace where we lift those who are suffering to God. Take these oils and use them to anoint the sick and the dying and see what God will do.

The second is to recover confidence in the great sacrament of baptism with confirmation, symbolised by the oil for signing with the cross at baptism. To baptise and mark others with the sign of the cross is to be utterly honest about the human condition to but also to hold out a vision of love and transformation.

We are still at the beginning of the renewal of catechesis in our diocese. We want to see children and young people and adults come to a living faith in Christ, baptised into the life of the Church and equipped as mature disciples to serve God in the whole of their lives. I see encouraging signs of new beginnings, first steps in confidence but we have much still to learn. Take these oils and use them to sign many with the cross at the beginning of their journey of faith as children and as adults.

The third is to recover confidence in our ministry of calling others to Christian service in a thousand different ways, symbolised by the oil of chrism. To call others into ministry and mission is to be utterly honest about the state of the world but to hold out a vision of God’s purpose and of a new creation.  There is much good work going on to encourage vocations across our Diocese and I am thankful for all those who are involved. One sign of growing confidence and life will be that the flame of this vocations work will spread to more and more parishes as we recover hope and confidence in God’s grace and see more and more diverse groups of people offering themselves in God’s service.

Take these oils and use them as a reminder that you too are called to invite others into the cost and joy of these ministries.

Four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. On this day we will remember all that Christ gives to us in the Eucharist. We will remember Christ’s call to service and to the washing of feet. We will remember the new commandment to love one another.

You and I are called to be a people of hope; contemplative, compassionate, courageous. May God renew in each of us that hope and strength in ministry for the sake of God’s Church and for the sake of God’s world.


The sermon from the Blessing of the Oils service at Dorchester Abbey on Maundy Thursday, 18 April 2019.

See a behind the scenes photo gallery of the service on the Diocese of Oxford Facebook page.