A sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Iffley by Judith Brown on 25th October 2023
If Wednesday, and the weekday Eucharist here, happens to be a Saint’s day I like to say something about that person and what his or her life might say to us now. But we know pretty well nothing about today’s saints, Crispin and Crispinian except that they were martyred in Rome in c 287. They are thought to have been shoemakers, possibly with a connection to present-day France. The Book of Common Prayer retained this day to honour Crispin after the Reformation, and now we have them both in Common Worship. But ironically for those of us who are English they are well known from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, when the English defeated France during the Hundred Year War. Those of us who studied Henry V will remember the famous speech on the night before the battle when the King goes round the English camp to encourage his soldiers and tells them how when they are victorious they will remember with pride this day and show off their scars gained in battle, how Englishmen now tucked up in their beds will lament that they were not there with them, and how they will be remembered for generations:
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
There is an Oxford connection, too, as All Souls College was founded in 1438 by Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury, partly so that the Fellows should pray for those killed in the 100 Years War.
Crispin and Crispinian may not give us much to go on in our Christian lives, but our readings for today do indeed. The early Christians for whom Paul and Luke were writing were like us – in the particular sense that they had not seen the human Jesus. They were the first generation learning to live with faith in the risen and ascended Christ and his presence within and among then though the Holy Spirit. They, and we, are those described in the letter ascribed to Peter, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy ….” (1 Peter 1: 8)
Luke, writing perhaps about 30 years later than Paul, portrays Jesus teaching about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and how this is the ultimate value in the lives of those who follow him. The passage we read comes after a warning from Jesus that one’s life does not consist in an abundance of possessions, and that his followers should remember how God cares for them and will give them what they need. After all, he cares for the birds, for lilies and field grass: so there is no need for worry and anxiety. But nor is there room for complacency. Christians must be alert, watchful, and live their lives in expectation of the coming of Christ at the end of time. Those who read or heard the writing of Paul and Luke almost certainly believed that Christ’s Second Coming would be very soon. Later generations lost that sense of immediacy. There are probably few of us who are in practical terms awaiting the Second Coming: we get on with life as it seems to be. But Luke’s account of stories told by Jesus about the dangers of being unprepared for a Master’s return remind us that Jesus “comes” in many ways into our lives. He confronts us, comforts us, inspires us, feeds and heals us – in so many ways, and not all of them obviously “religious”. We need to be sensitive and alert to his presence. Maybe a good habit at the end of every day is to ask ourselves where we have encountered the Lord that day and to give thanks.
Paul’s letter addresses a rather different issue faced by the earliest Christians. How is it that Christians who have been joined to the death and life of Christ continue to sin? In fact the reality of post-baptismal sin so frightened some Christians that they refused baptism until they were quite literally dying. Paul recognises the tension between their status as those who have been redeemed by Christ and called to walk in newness of life and the reality that they are not transformed overnight. They were once slaves to sin but now through God’s grace are freed to become what he calls “slaves of righteousness” or “enslaved to God”. But the process is not instant. Very soon after our passage for today Paul goes on to lament that he is still “of the flesh”, not doing what he truly wants but the very thing he hates. “For I cannot do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (ch,7:19). There is still a war going on within him.
If this was true for Paul, who had had such an overwhelming experience of the presence of the risen Christ, it is certainly true for us – as individuals and as a church. Our calling as the beloved and redeemed children of God is to be made holy by God’s grace. As Paul wrote in an even earlier letter to Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 4:3): “For this is the will of God, your sanctification …..” But the process of being made holy, of sanctification, is a long one and often hard. Mercifully, God’s time is not our time. We are called not to an instant fix but to a lasting process of metanoia, conversion, a transformation and reorientation of heart and mind, so that we become God’s Holy People.