Archdeacon Jonathan gave the following sermon during the Church at Home online service on Sunday 10 May.

75 years ago this weekend the western world was celebrating Victory in Europe. This was news that signified relief, release and recovery: relief at no more casualty notifications from the front-line; a release of exuberant emotion at the cessation of hostilities, and the hope of freedoms recovered. Bonfires, dancing and parties erupted spontaneously across the country. The war was won; we could dream again! Yet just below the exhilaration lay something more bitter-sweet, with many exhausted by the strain of six long years of war memories of loved ones lost in the conflict and rejoicing put on hold for those still caught up with the war in the Far-East. Celebration quickly turned to reflection, for we knew deep down that life was changed – so many questions: how would society be rebuilt and what would it look like for me and my family?

Such a jumble of emotions and questions are common in times of heightened awareness, at pivotal moments in our lives. I’ve observed this myself working alongside servicemen and women on operational duties, and in their loved ones back at home, when what is secure and familiar is no longer certain. You may sense this yourselves in the complex new world created by Covid-19. Jesus’ disciples are no different to us in this respect. In our Gospel story, the level of tension is high. The disciples are trying to get their heads and hearts around all that Jesus is saying and doing. Talk of Jesus being killed yet glorified, of betrayals and denials, and then experiencing this great servant leader stooping to wash their feet and calling them to love others as he has loved them. It all seems a bit overwhelming – to put it mildly.

So what a beautiful gift it is to know that Jesus understands us – completely – and is able to calm our hearts and inspire our minds: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house…I go and prepare a place for you.” Perhaps some of us are like the disciples, needing to hear that comfort and reassurance of Jesus in our own circumstances? Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, one with the Father, is uniquely able to bridge Heaven and Earth, Eternity and the Present Day: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, he says, “No-one comes to the Father except through me.” So, whatever our uncertainties about the way ahead, whatever the lies that we may have received or perhaps given, whatever the destructive patterns within or around us, Jesus offers a radical and lasting alternative in himself!

And with that relationship come two gifts come from this relationship: firstly, the promise of eternity that cannot be shaken by any unforeseen circumstances – this brings a whole new dimension to ‘We’ll Meet Again’ – and secondly, an invitation to work with Jesus in uniting heaven with earth today. “Anyone who has faith in me,” he says, “will do what I have been doing…so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”

It follows that we believe both in life after death – but also in life before death, as the strapline of Christian Aid puts it. Christian Aid was born into the social and economic vacuum that followed the Second World War, with western finances in disarray and a wave of refugees sweeping across Europe. In response to Jesus’ great commands, both to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves, over 75 years its work has expanded to bring humanitarian relief and development across the globe. It has educated succeeding generations on the causes of poverty and advocated for countless victims of injustice, those without a voice. So the need to support this ministry has arguably never been greater, for those poorest are always most vulnerable to dwindling financial resources and changing climate.

It takes courage, of course, to represent Jesus in speaking and acting for truth. In our first reading it led to martyrdom for Stephen, as he encountered fiercely defended interests, even religious ones. But in standing up for those on the margins we fulfil the call of Jesus, a Kingdom call, living with the promise of life after death and sharing his invitation to life before death. It is humbling to see this lived out across the Diocese of Oxford, as online Alpha courses and school assemblies, for instance, go hand in hand with compassionate Christian service in neighbourhood food banks and key working environments.

75 years from the Second World War we again live in pretty strange times. Contemplating the gradual lifting of lockdown, whole societies, even the Church, are facing uncertainties about the future, concerning health and housing, employment and family life, patterns of church life. As disciples of Jesus, sharing his saving love and establishing his Kingdom on earth, let us take heart that he remains ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’.


The Venerable Jonathan Chaffey CB
10 May 2020

You can watch the full service here and donate to Christian Aid Week online here.


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 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.