Five lovely candidates, aged from 12 to something over 80; pictures of them all in church, and some of them with friends and relations, decorate this Post.
I had expected the Transfiguration Gospel, but I'd forgotten that Common Worship is a bit erratic when it comes to Lections. So instead I prepared a homily - more a little chat really - on the Epistle, and that appears below.
Our Citizenship is in heaven Phil. 3.20
Where do you come from? Oh, we drove over from Lymington this morning. No, where do you really come from? Well, I was born in Dorset – Dorset proper, not the bit they added on with Bournemouth. But I don’t really come from here; just as I’m pretty sure from his voice that the reader of the first lesson comes from nearer to Birmingham than Bournemouth? Being born in the County was not a matter of choice, rather it was only by chance I was born in Weymouth. My father was serving in the Navy and was based in Portland, so mother came down to Weymouth and, a month earlier than expected, I appeared. And we lived in Dorest for just three weeks. Sorry! For many of you here, if you have not moved around much in your life, the answer to where you come from is probably “Broadstone” - though I know some of you might say “Reading”. So maybe the question should be “Where do you belong?” Then you might all say “Broadstone”.
When Jesus was born, he too happened to be born somewhere which was not to be his hometown. Nazareth was where he grew up, where I suppose he’d have said he belonged; but he came from Bethlehem, where his parents were for the census. So for Jesus, and for some of us too I daresay, the answer to “Where do you come from?” and “Where do you belong?” can be two different places.
We might give many answers we give to questions like “Where do you come from?” or “Where do you belong?” or “Where do you live?” or “Where’s your home”. And when we have answered all those, we still have more to say. They are going to take a census in Britain soon, and then there will be questions about citizenship. Usually, but not always, you are a citizen of the country you were born in. For most of us, the answer on the census form will be “British”… and even that is not the end of the matter.
St Paul said it in the epistle this morning, in the sentence I started with: “Our citizenship”, he says, “Is in Heaven”. In the end, for all of us, that is where we truly belong. It is why we try to keep Lent properly – to remind us that the things we enjoy on earth must not rule us. We must be ready to give them up, because in the end, we are not made for the earth. St Paul spoke about those who are enemies of Christ: they make a god of their bellies, and all their thoughts are focussed on earthly things, like money and food and what people think of them. If we let our bodies rule us, they will ruin us. But we are to rule our bodies, control our appetites, live as what we are - not beasts, but citizens of heaven. That is what we were made for, to be transformed: Jesus, says S Paul, will transform the body of our humiliation, and make it just like his glorious body.
What we are doing today, in Confirmation, is to join with the five candidates, Jo and Sheila, Angela, Phoebe and Louise, and present them and ourselves to Our Lord Jesus and say “Here we are, Lord: we belong to you; we want to be citizens of heaven”. It is lovely to have such a range of candidates – it reminds us that no one is ever too old, or too young, to be a citizen of heaven. That is why we baptize babies, and all of us start our citizenship of heaven when we are baptized. We remember that when we go to the font in a short while. As citizens of heaven, we are part of a Royal Priesthood; and just as kings and priests are anointed, so will these candidates be.
The Holy Oil marks us out, and through confirmation we are admitted to the fellowship of heaven, to the company of angels and archangels and all the saints. So the high-point of this service for the candidates is when you receive Holy Communion – and all of us who are members of God’s Church can join with them in receiving the Bread of Life and the Wine of Salvation, the body and blood of Christ. You’ll see in the service book that if you are not receiving Holy Communion, that is if you are not baptized and do not usually receive Communion in this or some other Christian Church, you are still very welcome to come to the altar to receive a blessing.
So now, I hope we all know that we are engaged in a very solemn and important time together: let’s be silent for a few minutes as the candidates come out to be presented.