In the garden – Part two

Four hundred years ago the great Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, preached the Easter Day sermon in Whitehall before King James I and the members of his court.  It was 1620 and Andrewes was by that time resident at Winchester House on what is now Clink Street, alongside what is now Southwark Cathedral, where he is buried.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

I was reading part of his Easter Day sermon yesterday after I had posted my blog about the garden.  So I was thrilled to read these words and thought you might be too.

Christ rising was indeed a gardener, and that a strange one, Who made such a herb grow out of the ground this day as the like was never seen before, a dead body to shoot forth alive out of the grave.

But I ask, was He so this day alone? No, but this profession of His, this day begun, He will follow to the end. For He it is That by virtue of this morning’s act shall garden our bodies too, turn all our graves into garden plots; yea, will one day turn land and sea and all into a great garden, and so husband them as will in due time bring forth live bodies, even all our bodies alive again.

Mary Magdalene standing by the grave’s side, and there weeping, is thus brought to represent unto us the state of all mankind before this day, the day of Christ’s rising again, weeping over the dead. But Christ quickened her, and her spirits that were as good as dead. You thought you should have come to Christ’s resurrection to-day, and so you do. But not to His alone, but even to Mary Magdalene’s resurrection too. For in very deed a kind of resurrection it was wrought in her; revived as it were, and raised from a dead and drooping, to a lively and cheerful estate. The gardener had done His part, made her all green on the sudden.

Lord, make us your pleasant planting,
quicken us
that we may live in the garden
of your delight.


Living God Living Word

So, what went wrong? Why no blog at the normal time? Well, it was all very simple really.  I had three sermons to write before the end of the week and I’m also working on a retreat I’m leading later this month.  That and all the other things I was doing last week, including travelling up to Derby to support Stephen Hance at his installation as Dean of Derby on Saturday, meant that I just didn’t have time to sit down and write this blog.  But thank you to all those who contacted me concerned that something was seriously wrong and telling me how much you miss the blog – that is very kind of you.

Having to do so much sermon preparation this week though has made me think about how important the sermon is or I wouldn’t have spent so much time doing it!  I was fascinated to read reports about the recent ‘Festival of Preaching’ held in Oxford.  There were some wonderful preachers featured in it and as it says on the website

The Festival of Preaching aims to inspire, nurture and celebrate all who are called to proclaim the gospel today.

That inspiring, nurturing and celebrating of preachers is something that is so important.  I count myself fortunate to have been at the College of the Resurrection to train for priesthood when Jack Nicholls (later on Bishop of Sheffield) was on the staff and in the Community were some fantastic preachers.  It was a treat to hear well constructed and intelligent sermons, preaching which stirred the heart, fanned the flames of faith, retuned the soul to God.  I learnt so much about the importance of the sermon and the centrality of preaching just by listening.  But, and here I’m being honest, my experience of preaching outside of the College and Community, has not always been fantastic.  Some sermons are frankly dull, some are badly constructed, some are simply wrong and some are uninspired and uninspiring.  And then, like the sun breaking through the clouds, you hear something that does all the things that you want a sermon to do – and it restores your faith not only in God but also in preaching.

Last week we celebrated Lancelot Andrewes.  As you may know, he is buried in Southwark Cathedral alongside the High Altar.  He died in Winchester Palace on what is now Clink Street and was buried, not in his Cathedral but in his parish church.  His friend and biographer, Henry Isaacson, described him as ‘an angel in the pulpit’ and the poet T S Eliot, a great admirer of Andrewes poetic prose, wrote of him

He takes a word and delivers the world from it. Squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning, which we should never have supposed any word to possess.

In his essay on Andrewes published in 1928 Eliot admits that

His sermons are too well built to be readily quotable; they stick too closely to the point to be entertaining.

But he then goes on to quote and draw from them in his own poetry.  That is why in the lovely Benjamin Finn window in the Garry Weston Library in Southwark Cathedral the central panel is of Bishop Andrewes and the words are all Eliot quoting him. It’s a powerful combination.

Andrewes window

The Andrewes window from Southwark Cathedral


Southwark has seen its fair share of memorable preachers.  Opposite the pulpit and just to reassure the preacher is a large memorial tablet to Sir Richard How and his family.  Sir Richard, who it says was always the MP for the constituency, was also a Warden at the Parish Church.  But in 1664 he was so incensed at the sermon he was hearing that he got into the pulpit, dragged the preacher out of it and beat him up in front of everyone.  I don’t know the name of the unfortunate cleric or what the sermon was about but it must have been a corker!

We do know the name of the Revd Henry Sacheverell, who in 1709 was appointed Chaplain at St Saviour’s Southwark.  He was a notorious preacher, political, provocative, an incendiary in the pulpit.  Copies of his sermons sold in their thousands and caused riots in the country and debate in Parliament.  It is suggested that one of his sermons was the cause of the fall of the Whig Government and that Queen Anne was so delighted with that outcome that she granted her arms to the Parish Church as it then was.  Those arms hang with pride above the Dean’s stall!

Now with a maximum concentration span of 12 minutes for the average congregation you are unlikely to work them into a frenzy that will spark riots in the streets but hopefully you can spark something within people that will make a difference.


On the road to Emmaus


What I hold in mind as I do my preparation, whenever I am preaching, are those words from the Emmaus Gospel.  The two friends are reflecting back on their experience of Jesus on the evening of the day of resurrection when the unknown, then the known guest becomes the host as bread is broken.  Jesus disappears from their sight and then they turn to each other and say

‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ (Luke 24.32)

Hearts burning as they encounter the Living God in the Living Word is what any preacher would want their listeners to experience – anything less is not the Emmaus experience.

Living God,
bless those who preach
and those who listen
that our hearts may burn within us
and that your Living Word
may transform our lives.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark