In one of his sermons at the University Church in Oxford, where he was the Vicar, John Henry Newman highlighted three markers that help us recognise the value of Lent and the miracle of Easter.


First, he called upon his parishioners to recognise that “many lives are blighted by sins unconfessed and unabsolved”. How many of us carry the burden of mistakes, failures or wilful selfishness that we have not really owned – just tried to put to one side, or move on from? Psychologists, let alone spiritual guides, know that these kind of negative factors remain as powerful undercurrents. One of the challenges and tragedies of our time is the tendency to live as though sin was not real – the key emphasis is confidence and improvement. Negatives are regrettable, but to be conquered by our own personal momentum.

The miracle of Easter includes the dynamic that honesty with ourselves, including our failures and sins, is the only way of becoming open to the grace of forgiveness and the new start that resurrection can bring.


Newman’s second point was that personal faith and experience becomes selfishness unless it is placed in a wider framework. The glad acknowledgement that each of us can only thrive if we are part of a community. Wholeness for each individual is only found and experienced through participation in a Holy Communion.

The miracle of Easter is that broken, imperfect lives can be bound together into the Body of Christ. A Holy Communion which supports the self not just now, but into eternity.


Newman’s final observation was to highlight that “England was dominated by an appetite for wealth and power”. Perhaps even more the case today than in the middle of the nineteenth century when he was preaching.

The miracle of Easter invites our ambition to be for the wellbeing of others, especially those in need, as a sign of how God’s new life is tasted together on earth, as it will be in heaven. The Easter people of the Resurrection gathered to look outwards into the needs and hopes of others. We call this mission.

A powerful framework for our thoughts and prayers in Lent, as we prepare to recognise once again the miracle of Easter.  

The Bishop of Derby

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Looking Outward

Iris Murdoch is remembered now as a novelist rather than a philosopher. For many years, however, she taught and wrote philosophy. It was often against the prevailing current of mainstream academic philosophy but connected with older traditions of wisdom and enquiry, and gave them new life and direction.

In her book, The Sovereignty of Good (1970), Murdoch has a fascinating reflection on the relationship between prayer, art, and morality:

Prayer is properly not petition, but simply an attention to God which is a form of love. With it goes the idea of grace, of a supernatural assistance to human endeavour which overcomes empirical limitations of personality… The chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy: the tissue of self-aggrandizing and consoling wishes and dreams which prevent one from seeing what there is outside one… We cease to be in order to attend to the existence of something else, a natural object, a person in need. We can see in mediocre art, where it is perhaps more clearly seen than in mediocre conduct, the intrusion of fantasy, the assertion of self, the dimming of any reflection of the real world.

Paying attention to what is outside one. In a recent letter to the Guardian another keen observer of our society, Frank Field MP, wrote that, ‘Voters’ loyalties move out from their loved ones, getting progressively weaker as they view their community, our nation and then the world.’

If we lose the capacity to look beyond ourselves and pay attention to what we find there, that is not just a social and political matter; it is a spiritual crisis, for we lose contact with the God who is always beyond us, drawing us forward out of our comfortable certainties.

February begins with Candlemas. A candle gives light and warmth, but it does so by losing itself; it is consumed by the flame. ‘We cease to be in order to attend to the existence of something else’, writes Iris Murdoch. That could be a fruitful theme to ponder this Lent.

Christopher Cunliffe

Invitations to Confession

A1       When the Lord comes,

            he will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness,

            and will disclose the purposes of the heart.

            Therefore in the light of Christ let us confess our sins.

cf 1 Corinthians 4.5

A2       A voice cries out in the wilderness,

           ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’

            So let us listen, and turn to the Lord in penitence and faith.

cf John 1.23

Gospel Acclamation

G1      Alleluia, alleluia.

           Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,

           and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.                                                            


cf Isaiah 40.3-5

Introductions to the Peace

J1        In the tender mercy of our God,

            the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,

            to give light to those who dwell in darkness

            and in the shadow of death,

            and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

J3        May the God of peace make you completely holy,

            ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayers at the Preparation of the Table

K2       Look upon us in mercy not in judgement;

           draw us from hatred to love;

           make the frailty of our praise

           a dwelling place for your glory. Amen.

K3       As the grain once scattered in the fields

           and the grapes once dispersed on the hillside

           are now reunited on this table in bread and wine,

           so, Lord, may your whole Church soon be gathered together

           from the corners of the earth

           into your kingdom.  Amen.


L1        And now we give you thanks

            because you sent him to redeem us from sin and death,

            and to make us inheritors of everlasting life;

            that when he shall come again in power and great triumph

            to judge the world,

            we may with joy behold his appearing,

            and in confidence may stand before him.

L2        And now we give you thanks

            because when he humbled himself

            to come among us in human flesh,

            he fulfilled the plan you formed long ago

            and opened for us the way of salvation.

            So now we watch for the day,

            knowing that the salvation promised us will be ours

            when Christ our Lord will come again in glory.

L3        And now we give you thanks

            because you prepared the way of your Son Jesus Christ

            by the preaching of your servant John the Baptist,

            who proclaimed him as the Lamb of God, our Saviour.

L4        And now we give you thanks

            because your Son our Lord was awaited by the prophets,

            announced by an angel,

            conceived by a virgin,

            and proclaimed at last to men and women of every race.

Extended Prefaces

M1 From the First Sunday of Advent until 16 December

           It is indeed right and good to give you thanks and praise,

           almighty God and everlasting Father,

           through Jesus Christ your Son.

           For when he humbled himself to come among us in human flesh,

           he fulfilled the plan you formed before the foundation of the world

           to open for us the way of salvation.

           Confident that your promise will be fulfilled,

           we now watch for the day

           when Christ our Lord will come again in glory.

           And so we join our voices with angels and archangels

          and with all the company of heaven

          to proclaim your glory

          for ever praising you and saying:

M2 From 17 December until Christmas Eve

          It is indeed right and good to give you thanks and praise,

          almighty God and everlasting Father,

          through Jesus Christ your Son.

          He is the one foretold by all the prophets,

          whom the Virgin Mother bore with love beyond all telling.

         John the Baptist was his herald

         and made him known when at last he came.

         In his love Christ fills us with joy

         as we prepare to celebrate his birth,

         so that when he comes again he may find us watching in prayer,

         our hearts filled with wonder and praise.

         And so, with angels and archangels,

         and with all the company of heaven,

         we proclaim your glory,

         and join in their unending hymn of praise:

Blessings and Ending

P1       Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you,

            scatter the darkness from before your path,

            and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory;

            and the blessing …

P2       May God himself, the God of peace,

           make you perfect and holy,

           and keep you safe and blameless, in spirit, soul and body,

           for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ;

           and the blessing …

P3       May God the Father,

           who loved the world so much that he sent his only Son,

           give you grace to prepare for life eternal. Amen.

           May God the Son,

           who comes to us as redeemer and judge,

           reveal to you the path from darkness to light. Amen.

           May God the Holy Spirit,

           by whose working the Virgin Mary conceived the Christ,

           help you bear the fruits of holiness. Amen.

           And the blessing …

P4       May God the Father, judge all-merciful,

            make us worthy of a place in his kingdom.


             May God the Son, coming among us in power,

             reveal in our midst the promise of his glory.


            May God the Holy Spirit make us steadfast in faith,

            joyful in hope and constant in love.


           And the blessing …

Resources taken from Common Worship Times and Seasons. ©The Archbishops Council 2006.

Intercessions for Advent

H1       In joyful expectation of his coming to our aid

            we pray to Jesus.

            Come to your Church as Lord and judge.

            We pray for…

            Help us to live in the light of your coming

            and give us a longing for your kingdom.


           Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

            Come to your world as King of the nations.

            We pray for…

            Before you rulers will stand in silence.


            Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

            Come to the suffering as Saviour and comforter.

            We pray for…

            Break into our lives,

            where we struggle with sickness and distress,

            and set us free to serve you for ever.


            Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

            Come to us as shepherd and guardian of our souls.

            We remember…

            Give us with all the faithful departed

            a share in your victory over evil and death.


           Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

           Come from heaven, Lord Jesus, with power and great glory.

           Lift us up to meet you,

           that with [N and] all your saints and angels

           we may live and reign with you in your new creation.


           Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Silence is kept.

           Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay;

           give new courage to your people,

           who trust in your love.

           By your coming, raise us to share in the joy of your kingdom

           on earth as in heaven,

          where you live and reign with the Father and the Spirit,

          one God for ever and ever.  Amen.

Intercessions for Advent

H2       Watchful at all times,

            let us pray for strength to stand with confidence

            before our Maker and Redeemer.

            That God may bring in his kingdom with justice and mercy,

            let us pray to the Lord:

            Lord, have mercy.

            That God may establish among the nations

             his sceptre of righteousness,

             let us pray to the Lord:

             Lord, have mercy.

            That we may seek Christ in the Scriptures

            and recognize him in the breaking of the bread,

            let us pray to the Lord:

            Lord, have mercy.

           That God may bind up the brokenhearted,

            restore the sick

            and raise up all who have fallen,

            let us pray to the Lord:

            Lord, have mercy.

          That the light of God’s coming may dawn

          on all who live in darkness and the shadow of death,

         let us pray to the Lord:

         Lord, have mercy.

         That, with all the saints in light,

         we may shine forth as lights for the world,

         let us pray to the Lord:

         Lord, have mercy.

        We commend ourselves and all for whom we pray

        to the mercy and protection of our heavenly Father:

Silence is kept.

         Almighty God,

        as your blessed Son Jesus Christ

        first came to seek and to save the lost;

        so may he come again to find in us

        the completion of his redeeming work;

        for he is now alive

        and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

       God for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Sign of a Star

New Year begins with the Epiphany story of a journey into new experience and new perspective. The Wise Men meet the infant Christ and return home by another way. How does the new experience and the new perspective we receive from our encounter with Jesus work? How do we know the route of the journey such an encounter involves?

Only Connect

Our world is focussed upon relationships – their quality and their maintenance: for individual flourishing and for international peace. The reaction to every disturbance in relationship is therapeutic – what can we and others do to best remedy the dis-ease and establish harmony. In spiritual terms we work at our relationship with God.

This is one lens through which we can examine the Epiphany story. People from a different culture are led by the star to encounter Jesus in Bethlehem. They offer their gifts to acknowledge relationship and are inspired by this worship to return home by a new way. Relationship made, blessed, direction giving. Here is a model for Christian living and much evangelism. We try to guide people to encounter Jesus and form a relationship, a bond through worship. It works well for many, and begins a journey of self-discipline.

Disconnection Too

But life, even Christian life, never runs smoothly. Temptation, failure, suffering, darkness, terror, remain part of the mix. Often our response is to seek closer relationship. But the story of the Epiphany has another lesson for us. The key was the star – distant, mysterious, beyond the bounds of human therapy. To acknowledge the star, just as the shepherds acknowledged the angels, or Jesus calls to His Father, is to acknowledge the distance between earth and the stars, between myself and others, between cultures, between experiences and perspectives that form the ingredients of relationships.

When we trust the star, as we trust the Father, as we trust the Christ, we cannot simply assess, analyse and act in terms of relationship (therapy) – the distance and disconnect is too great. Rather, as we trust the star, the Father, the Christ, we need that element of watching, wondering, walking where we are called. Not the security of an apparently steady relationship – the spiritual template that so many find impossible and incredible. Instead, there is a call to the faithful following without knowing too much about the next steps; and owning that much is out of our own hands. An ‘unknowing’ that trusts the light to lead us in a kindly way, amidst the terrors of Herod – like persecution and violence, and the resulting migration crisis which engulfed the Holy Family.

Mission owns the richness of relationship with Jesus, but also the riskiness of having to wait, seek guidance, negotiate with the anti-Christ forces, and find a way through difficulties as well as blessings. Relationships can benefit from therapy, our own improved performance. But, there is need for more - spiritual relationship requires waiting for a simple gift of grace: A star silent but signalling to any small group of faithful seekers. Surely a richer model for churches today.

For a New Year may we give thanks for connection and relationship, but learn to look further, to the mystery of light in the darkness – sheer gift and grace, for new experiences and new perspectives.  

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