Author Archives: melbournedean

About melbournedean

I am the 15th Dean of Melbourne, and am responsible for the worship and mission of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne/Naarm on Wurundjeri Country, and the home church for Anglican Christians throughout Victoria, Australia.

On Resurrection: a ‘Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time’

An address given by the Dean of Melbourne, at the Funeral of Neville Finney (13 January 1934—20 May 2023), Lay Clerk Emeritus of St Paul’s Cathedral, on 26 May 2023

Neville loved magic. For many years, after the first Christmas Carol Service at St Paul’s Cathedral, the choir would gather at Bishopscourt for their end of year celebration. After the barbeque the boys (in those days the girls’ voices had not yet been established) would be allowed to kick their footy across the hallowed lawns of the Archbishop’s house, while the lay clerks, clergy and parents enjoyed a glass of wine in the summer sun. 

Then it was time to head into the Drawing Room for the choristers’ treats—choir boys receiving commendations and gifts—after which Neville would step into the ring and magic coins out of thin air and make them disappear in front of everyone’s eyes. A silk handkerchief would be produced—see: only one handkerchief—and turn into a vibrantly, colourful length of silk scarves. Cut ropes were magically restored to their full length. Coins would be pushed through the tabletop. In Neville’s hands, the impossible became possible and seemed effortless. A magical performance to conclude the choir year, that matched the magic of music which had gladdened the hearts of those attending that year’s Christmas Carol Service at St Paul’s only an hour or so earlier.

Neville was an integral part of music-making at St Paul’s Cathedral for 40 years, just as he had previously been at All Saints’ East St Kilda as a treble, then as head treble, and then an alto. He brought the same magic of making the effortful seem effortless, that was a hallmark of his performances as a magician, to his commitment to music. A cornerstone of the choir back row, at St Paul’s Neville sang at multiple Evensongs a week.

Neville not only sang music but set it, so that others might sing with him. In an age when computers meant hard-coding, and people knew ‘Sibelius’ to be a Finnish composer and not a universally accessible music notation program, he put his hand to music notation, for instance by setting the psalter composed by his wife Dr June Nixon, which is still in daily use at St Paul’s. Twice a year, Neville would put together and publish the Music Foundation Newsletter, sharing the choir’s accomplishments, and those of Australia’s first (and only—thus far) woman Director of Music, with a  faithful and generous cohort of supporters.

Neville was devoted to June, and her music-making: it was at his suggestion that she took on leading the choir here at All Saints’ in 1965. At St Paul’s, it was he who set her compositions for performance and arranged for them to be published. Neville organised their regular international recital tours and overseas visits; taking care of each detail. Recordings of the Cathedral Choir were produced by Neville, first as vinyl—a 7-inch EP, The Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral: AE Floyd remembered; June’s tribute, a year after taking on her role as Director of Music, to an illustrious predecessor organist and composer—later Neville would help produce the choir’s CDs. 

Without Neville’s magic of making the effortful seem effortless, Cathedral music at St Paul’s would have been all the poorer. As it was, Neville magicked sheet music and recordings out of thin air—or so it seemed to those who did not recognise the hard work that went into making things look effortless. Unless you knew the trick, it all seemed magic because so much happened out of sight, unseen.


There’s another magic that happens unseen: the power of new life where death had reigned. The author CS Lewis called the resurrection a ‘deeper magic from before the dawn of time’ (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, London: Geoffrey Bless, 1950). Lewis called the new life wrought by the resurrection ‘magic’ because it, too, happened out of sight. Unseen by any witnesses, in the dark before the dawn of Easter Day, Jesus Christ rose from the dead so that we might not have to fear death anymore.

God’s life-giving action at Easter is hidden; only the incredible result is visible. We only ever see the empty tomb, the stone rolled away, the folded grave-clothes and the messenger witnessing to the event. We never see the actual resurrection itself. However intently we examine the facts, we will only ever see the result of the resurrection: new life where there had been death; an empty tomb where the crucified Jesus had lain; a risen, living Saviour, greeting his friends in the garden of the resurrection.

Now, I don’t want to spoil Neville’s magic tricks—so if you want to maintain the illusion, now is the time to cover your ears. Neville worked with props and practised hard to make things appear and disappear out of thin air. I am not sure whether he’d show you the magic box he used, or the clever device—‘Slydini’s own “Coins Thru Table”’—that enabled him to press a coin into a table, only to vanish. Neville’s magic was based on props and a lifetime of experience as a showman—like his music making, his magical career started precociously early: he began practising with a children’s magic set aged four. But Neville’s magic was practised, was a clever illusion.

The reason why CS Lewis speaks of the power of the resurrection as a ‘deeper magic’ is because it is not an illusion. Jesus truly did rise; his disciples saw, touched and held him, and spoke with him. And because of this profoundly life-changing, incredible action we need not fear death when it comes to us. Death does come to all of us. Indeed, for Neville, and his family who cared for him, in these past months the shadow of death was never far away. Neville’s health deteriorated, and his physical strength gave way. His care was intensified until last Saturday, when he died, on the birthday of his beloved June.


The patron of St Paul’s Cathedral, the apostle Paul, wrote these words to the church in Corinth: ‘Behold, I show you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet’ (1 Cor 15.51). Because of God’s ‘deeper magic’—the incredible power of the resurrection—life will come to all who died. We will change, will be restored, when Christ brings his new life to all who believe: ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ will all be made alive’ (15.20-22). Our grave-clothes will be rolled up, and we, the perishable, will be clothed with imperishability, and the mortal with immortality, because ‘death has been swallowed up in victory’ once and for all, when Christ rose from the dead at Easter (15.54). 

When life comes to all; when the resurrection of all those who have died takes place, what happened unseen on the first Easter Day will be signalled by unmissable music. The trumpet will sound, and all the dead will be raised, and the world will join in Christ’s death-defying anthem: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Cor 15.55-58). The great trumpet will sound, to signal that death is defeated and all are alive.

I never was able to talk with Neville about his own confidence in what Lewis called the ‘deeper magic’ of resurrection. But I know that he and June understood well the symbolism of the clarion call of resurrection: when the great organ at St Paul’s was restored in 1990, they both donated a new organ stop—the Tuba Magna, the ‘great Trumpet’. Our own musical herald of the resurrection, forever embedded among the bombarde stops of the mighty Lewis organ in St Paul’s.

Until that other Tuba Magna, heaven’s great trumpet, sounds for all of us, we live in hope and faith. We have to make do with the symbols of resurrection in our midst—the Tuba Magna adding lustre to our organ playing in St Paul’s, the life-giving power of music-making, the joy-giving power of magic—symbols by which we may remember Neville and comfort one another in our grief. As we entrust him to the ‘deeper magic from before the dawn of time’ today, I do so in the firm and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life that Christ has wrought for Neville and all of us. May he rest in peace and share in God’s ‘one equal music’ (John Donne, Bring us O Lord God), until the great trumpet sounds to summon all who rest in Christ to life imperishable.

© Andreas Loewe 2023

Entering into the ministry of the Good Shepherd

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne at St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne,
on Good Shepherd Sunday, 30 April 2023

This morning’s readings are an invitation to us to accept the care of Jesus and, in his name, to share that care with others. They tell us that before we seek to offer care for others, we first need to receive the care of Jesus ourselves, by becoming members of his flock. They charge us to open the doors of our churches—our sheep fold—to others who are not yet of our fold but also belong; and to guard the doors of our fold against those that would cause harm to the community of Christ. Above all, they set before us a vision of a flock that is unified, and grows, when people share in fellowship and prayer, feed on the word of God and the bread from God’s table, and generously share these gifts with others.


Our gospel reading takes us to the Jerusalem temple. It is winter, the last months of Jesus’ earthly ministry have begun. Jesus has just opened the eyes of a man born blind. People had come to faith in him and began to follow him. Others were deeply offended by the claim that he called on God as Father; that he claimed a unique relationship that enabled him to know God’s will, and to do God’s works, in a way that was so radically different from that practised by the traditional Temple priests. People flocked to Jesus and heard him teach in the temple precinct. And Jesus tells the people a parable, a teaching story. 

Coming to God, the Father, to be saved is like a sheep fold, a walled enclosure with a gate. Those inside are gathered together. The walls provide safety and warmth for the flock. There is a gatekeeper and a shepherd, and both keep watch over the flock. The gatekeeper ensures that only those who are meant to be inside the fold are admitted. The shepherd shields and feeds the flock: at daytime, he leads the sheep to pasture and watches over them. At night, they are kept safe in the fold, with the gatekeeper on watch for any who would break in and steal, or cause harm. 

In Jesus’ teaching story, the shepherd and the gatekeeper are charged by God to keep God’s people safe and feed them, and to bring in others to share the security of his fold. In fact, Jesus tells the people that he is both the Shepherd, and the Gate. He is the One who feeds and pastures God’s people, and he is the one who admits people to God’s fold. He alone is the way to God, Jesus teaches in the temple. ‘I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them’ anyway, he attacks the very people who had hitherto laid claim on God’s authority.

In the temple, the traditional gateway to God, Jesus teaches that the sacrifices of thanksgiving and sin offerings meant to give access to God were, in fact, useless. Jesus himself is the Gate to the sheepfold; there is no other way to reach the Father. Offering sacrifices to seek God’s favour is like trying to sneak into the sheepfold by climbing over the wall, Jesus tells: ‘anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in another way is a thief and a bandit’, he begins his temple teaching. Their leaders had killed the sheep and destroyed the fold. God was rightly absent from them, and God’s people rightly did not hear their voice.

We enter into communion with God through Jesus, our gospel reading tell us. He is the Door to God as well as the Shepherd of the sheep from whom we receive everything that is needed for our spiritual lives. Jesus shelters his own, he leads us and cares for us. By entering his fold, we may find safety from danger and food for living in thisworld, and salvation and eternal pasture in the world to come. ‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’, Jesus will tell them later, ‘no one can snatch them from my hand’.

Entering the fold means listening to Jesus’ voice. Jesus will later tell the temple priests: ‘you do not believe in me, because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them and they follow me’. Those who listen to Jesus’ voice may enter into his fold and find there safety and belonging. They will be known by name, and called his own. People who are known by name are never mere acquaintances: Jesus here speaks of a living bond between him and his followers: God has given them to him to keep safe forever. Those who are held in Jesus’ hands are held in the hands of God himself: ‘my Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand’, he teaches.

Because Jesus and his Father are one, his sheep will be led and nurtured by a selfless leader, who will never abandon his flock, even in times of danger. Jesus will not hand over his own in order to save himself. He is the leader who remains with his own until the end. ‘I lay down my life for the sheep’, he promises. ‘The reason that my Father loves me, is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again’, he tells the people later. ‘No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and to take it up again’. This is Easter leadership: the self-giving leadership of the One who gives his own life so that all might have life forever.


One who heard that teaching, the apostle Peter, will later reflect on this model of Christian leadership. In his first epistle he tells us, ‘Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps’. Follow the model of Christ, the fearless leader who gives his life for his own, in leading the people of God. Follow the model of Christ by sharing with him in seeking out the lost and bringing them to safety. And always remember that we too were once lost sheep; are folks in need of salvation. Peter writes, ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness’. The remembrance of our own salvation is the motivation for saving others: Because we once had gone ‘astray like sheep’, we are called to bring others to Christ, and find in him the shepherd and guardian of our souls.

Christ is the Good Shepherd. He knows his own, he calls and saves them; he feeds them and leads them. He is the guardian of our souls, Peter knows. Christian leaders are to be like shepherds, guarding Christ’s flock from harm. People who go out to bring in the lost, people who guard the souls of those that are saved through Christ forever.

I wish our church had exercised a leadership like that set before us in our readings today: both going out to search and save the lost, to meet their needs and feed them, and keeping those who have been found and returned to the fold, safe from harm. But all too often the church has only exercised parts of that charge and failed to keep the charge of fully being caring shepherds of God’s people.

Let me explain: there have been times when we opened the door to the sheepfold to those who would destroy. We failed to watch the gate and keep our flock safe from harm. Wolves in sheep’s clothing entered the fold and ravaged the flock. We kept in power and esteem those who were causing harm or enabled harm, and turned our eyes away from their abuse because we were too concerned with the upkeep of our own reputation and structures.

The abuse of vulnerable people by members of the church, the sexual abuse of children by church leaders, and the domestic abuse within church families, is an indelible stain on our church. We will never be able, I fear, to make full reparation for the harm we have caused. But we can choose to speak out to condemn abuse, and speak out against harm, and better educate ourselves to safeguard Christ’s own flock.

Here at St Paul’s, we take safeguarding extremely seriously. Our staff and leaders receive clearances for ministry and, alongside or volunteers, are trained in safeguarding, and we set a culture where we encourage conversations about what it means to keep people safe—both when they are here at church and when they are in their own families. We want you to know what you can do to prevent harm. Leaders of God’s flock are held to the highest standards, today’s readings tell us. Where people are hurting because of the actions of the church, where people’s lives have been scarred and closed off from the fullness and abundance offered by the Good Shepherd, we need to challenge our leaders, and change. ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly’, the Good Shepherd tells us.

Failing to guard the gate is one failure of leadership. But so is keeping the door of the sheepfold shut altogether. All too often we shut the doors to those who long for shelter and nurture. We fail to search for the lost, prevent them from entering into friendship of Christ. We fail to look beyond ourselves to see a world longing for meaning and meaning-full life, because we are too preoccupied with our internal affairs and struggles.

Over the past three decades, the tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion has become a rift. Here in Melbourne, we live right on the fault-lines of that rift. We won’t, I fear, be able to heal that rift. But we can choose to shift our perspective from looking inwards to looking outwards, and open our doors to those who seek to enter into Christ’s friendship, and find his grace.

Here at St Paul’s, we have decided to stop staring at the growing rift in the Anglican Communion, to stop wondering when it might tear, and instead concentrate our energies in re-opening the doors to our sheepfold. We know that people in our community here hold different opinions on the matters that divide our global communion. But we want to hold a generous space, where we model respectful disagreement. Where we choose to set aside our differences in order to concentrate on the shepherd-ministry that is Christ’s, and which is his gift to us. When we look beyond ourselves and our differences we can share in the work of seeking out, welcoming and bringing in people who long to hear Christ’s voice.

We do this through our studying of the Scriptures, our fellowship groups, our advocacy and our hospitality. ‘The gatekeeper opens the gate, and the sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd’, Jesus teaches.

Friends, we all are invited to enter into the ministry of Christ, the Good Shepherd. We are each invited to hear, and recognise ourselves, the voice of Christ in our lives, and to share his words, his call, with others. ‘I am the good shepherd, my sheep listen to my voice’, Jesus tells. Hear Christ’s call, listen to his word, and know yourself loved by him. And we are each invited to enter in through Christ, the gate, to find community, safety, and nurture. Just as we are called to share his ministry of keeping safe the fold, his own, by the way we look out for and nurture one another, by the way we strive to ensure that all members of Christ’s flock may flourish. ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture’, Jesus assures us. Keep safe Christ’s own, help others grow in faith and love, and share with him in shepherding his people.

Now may the God of peace who, through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(Hebrews 13.20)

© Andreas Loewe, 2023

Easter: Hope for living today

A sermon preached at St Paul’s Cathedral by the Dean of Melbourne, 
the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at the Easter Vigil 2023:

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

In his first letter to the Corinthians, our patron, St Paul, challenges the early Christian community: ‘If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and your faith has been in vain’ (1 Cor 1.13-14). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then there is no reason for us to believe, Paul confronts us. Yes, our society would be a lot fairer if we followed Jesus’ teachings to work for justice for others. Our lives would be much happier if we lived according to Jesus’ instruction to treat others in the same way in which we ourselves want to be treated. But without the resurrection, Paul tells us, there is no real purpose to our faith. ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins’ (1 Cor 15.17).

Because without resurrection the world would have stopped on Good Friday: Jesus would have remained a condemned, crucified man. Without Easter, Christ remains dead. He cannot raise humanity, let alone forgive sins. How could Christ justify us, if he had not first been justified by God? If Christ had not been raised, there is no chance for reconciliation and forgiveness. Sin and death would have the final word. Without the resurrection, ‘those who have died in Christ have perished’, Paul knows (1 Cor 15.18). We remain guilty before God, and our faith would have no real purpose. ‘We of all people would most be to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15.19), because our lives as Christians are founded on the reality of Easter, Paul tells us. Our faith is meaningless without the resurrection.


What does resurrection look like? Jesus spent much time teaching his disciples what new life in God looks like. New life in God looks like a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies. When it has been buried, it germinates; rising through the soil to bear much fruit. New life in God is like a light that is placed on a lampstand and gives light to a dark house. In his parables, Jesus draws on the natural cycles of death and life in the world around us to explain that death is only ever a stage of life. Yes, every seed we plant dies, but only by dying, it can bear fruit. Yes, the darkness comes every night, but remains only until we light a candle, or the sun rises again. In the end, life and light will win out, Jesus assures his disciples. The very death of nature contains the seeds of life.

But the parables from nature that Jesus tells his disciples reflect only one aspect of the resurrection: the regenerative aspect of resurrection. The rhythm of life and death that is rooted in nature. In nature we see how new life is contained in each seed we plant; how immortality is already embedded in the natural order of creation. 


True resurrection, however, goes far beyond a natural cycle of death leading to renewal of life. Easter speaks of resurrection—not regeneration, nor immortality—precisely because Easter takes so seriously the effects of death. When Jesus is crucified, we are confronted with a death that is real, brutal, and unequivocal. There is no doubt that Jesus died; tortured and broken on the cross. That this terrifying death has been overcome by God’s extraordinary intervention at Easter is what makes the Christian faith so powerful.

Imagine if the Easter story had ended on Good Friday. On Good Friday, we saw the powers of the world—betrayal, denial, injustice, inaction, spite, hatred, fear, mockery and anger—fully unleashed on Jesus. As he hangs on the cross, unrecognised as a Sovereign by the Romans, denied as God by the people of his own faith, Jesus holds the suffering and pain of all humanity between his outstretched arms; experiences the full impact of the despair of abandonment and God-forsakenness.

Imagine the story of Easter had ended that Good Friday, with Jesus’ lifeless body taken from the cross. Death would have had the final word in the story of humankind. Had Jesus remained in the grave, Jesus would have died twice condemned: both by his peers and by his God. ‘Let him save himself just as he saved others’, the cries of the crowd rang on Good Friday, as Jesus hung dying on the cross (Mt 27.42). A dead Saviour can’t save others, can’t justify others. Paul puts it starkly: ‘if Christ has not been raised, then you are still in your sins’ (1 Cor 15.17). Without God’s powerful action at Easter we would have been convicted alongside the One we follow. Then we of all people would be most to be pitied.

But Easter means that God is the God of the living, and the death of death. God is alive, and so is Christ; the tomb is empty and the stone that was meant to contain the Lord of life has been rolled away. Love lives again, in spite of the cross. Easter means that God has broken the power of sin and death. That God has not given up on his world. By conquering death, God has broken the power of destruction and death once and for all. By raising his Son from the dead, ‘as the first fruits of all who died’, he has raised all humanity to life (1 Cor 15.20). All may be forgiven and restored. When we die, none will have to die in fear. Because Life has been restored by the inexpressible power of God.

Paul knows that this hope was true not only for Jesus at the first Easter. God did not just raise one man from the dead. He has raised all people from death. The transformational power of the resurrection is true for all people, for all time. ‘If for this live only we have hoped in Christ, then we of all people are most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15.19). But Easter is true eternally, it is true forever for all who put their trust in the risen One. God is the Lord of Jesus’ death, and God is also the Lord of our deaths. Just as he raised Jesus from the dead, he will lead all people from death to life. ‘As all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ’ (1 Cor 15.22). Because of the power of Easter we, of all, are most to be blessed.


At the end of all time, the risen Lord himself will tell the story of how he had been raised from the dead. Until then, we are given signs and symbols to assure us in our faith: the empty tomb; the witness of the first apostles who saw and touched, walked, ate and talked with, the risen Lord; the giving of God’s Spirit and the impact of that Spirit on each one of us as we grow in faith and trust. Until the time when we behold him in his glory, we behold the power of the resurrection aslant, Paul suggests earlier in his epistle: ‘now we see through a glass, darkly, but then we shall we will see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known’ (1 Cor 13.12). We will only ever be able to comprehend the full power of Easter at the end of all time, when Christ will return and we behold the true glory and power of God with all the redeemed. 

Until that time, we see as if through a mirror; are granted glimpses of the resurrection to confirm our hope and strengthen our trust. We may see new life in the power of Christ to change lives—when we let our own lives be transformed by God’s love. We may see reflections of resurrection light in our world—when we carry his light to the places we live and work, the places we pray and come together to celebrate. We may see this power at work in entire nations: it is through the resurrection that we are enabled to work for reconciliation, and seek that new beginning, new heart that, for instance, a Voice for First Peoples in Australia offers, and the more just settlement for Indigenous People and Torres Strait Islanders offered by the gracious gift of the Statement from the Heart. And we see God’s life-transforming resurrection power at work this morning, in the lives of the 19 candidates for baptism, confirmation and reception met here today.

‘I am the first and the last, and the Living One. I was dead, and behold, I am alive for ever and ever’, the risen Lord speaks to us in the final book of our Scriptures (Rev 1.17). And he assures that because he has overcome death forever that first Easter, we may have hope for living today: ‘I hold the keys of Death and of hell; do not be afraid’. 

Thanks be to God for giving us the victory, through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Easter in times of conflict

Easter Oration delivered at Melbourne Grammar School by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, on Wednesday in Holy Week 2023

406 days ago, Russia invaded Ukraine, setting off a war in the heart of Europe that has embroiled the entire world. Last Sunday, I walked alongside Ukrainian Christians at the Palm Sunday Rally for Refugees. There is a large Ukrainian community here in Melbourne, and I joined Bishop Mykola Bychok of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and other faith leaders in leading the rally through the streets of the CBD. ‘The war in Ukraine has led to 8 million people being made refugees’, Bishop Mykola told the thousands of people attending the Palm Sunday Rally. ‘Four million are refugees in our own country, Ukraine. Another four have fled to places as far away as Australia, Canada and South America’. More people than live in our state have been made homeless and fled the war. 

Earlier, I had asked another Ukrainian priest what it is that we can do here in Australia now that the war in his homeland is in its second year. ‘Pray for an end to the war’, Fr Andrej told me: ‘work for peace in the world, and tell the truth about the war in Ukraine’. These three actions—prayer and worship, working and advocating, and truth telling—are central to our lives as followers of Jesus, and will sustain us in times of conflict such as these.


During Holy Week and Easter, we follow Jesus on the journey to the cross in real time. Day by day we follow more closely to the place of his suffering that is our salvation. For Christians, the cross is not the end of our journeys. Rather it stands at the beginning of our walk with Christ. One of my heroes of the faith, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put it this way: ‘The cross is not the terrible end of a happy, pious life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of our community with Jesus Christ’. For those of you who do not yet know about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, let me give a brief introduction. A charismatic academic theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was well known for his direct, persuasive writings about what it meant for ordinary people to follow Jesus. Actively opposed to the rise of Fascism in Germany from its earliest days, he was one of the leaders of a group of over 7,000 pastors who, in 1934, broke away from the German Protestant church in protest of Nazi anti-Semitic laws that required all state employees, including pastors, to be ‘Aryan’. Bonhoeffer worked to train pastors for this illegal church, and worked to create communities of people who would understand what it means to follow Christ in times of conflict.

Because of his resistance, Bonhoeffer lost his lectureship, his freedom to broadcast, publish or speak in public. Over the coming years, he was sent out of the country for his own safety multiple times. And yet he chose to return and join his family in actively resisting Nazism. His brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi recruited him into a group of double agents, The Canaris Group, led by none other than the head of the German military intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Bonhoeffer committed to truth telling by smuggling evidence of Hitler’s war crimes out to Allied countries, while his brother-in- Hans was personally involved in a number of attempts to assassinate Hitler. The Canaris Group helped smuggle Jews to safety from Germany and occupied territories. 

It was sending money to support Jewish refugees they had helped reach Switzerland, that led to the whole Canaris Group being arrested in 1943. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned. First in Tegel Prison, then in a cell under the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, and later in Buchenwald concentration camp. In 1944, he was tried late at night, without witnesses, before a drumhead court-martial hastily set up in a laundry in Flossenbürg concentration camp. The documents about the failed ‘20 July Plot’ to kill Hitler had been found. In the final weeks of the war, Hitler personally demanded the liquidation of the entire Canaris Group. On 9 April 1944, three weeks before Germany’s total surrender, Admiral Canaris, his deputy General Oster and Bonhoeffer were humiliated, stripped and hanged on a butchers’ hook. Some witnesses say Bonhoeffer’s death took six hours. His brother-in-law Hans died the same day, in Sachsenhausen Camp. This year, their anniversary of death falls on Easter Day.


‘The cross stands at the beginning of our community with Jesus Christ’, Bonhoeffer tells and adds: ‘the cross is laid on each Christian’. ‘In each case’, Bonhoeffer says, ‘it is the one cross’—the cross of Christ, on which he suffered and died on Good Friday, and over which he triumphed at Easter. When we witness to Christ through our words and actions, we bring Christ to the world, carry an inestimable gift to others. We witness to the One who carries our cross by carrying one another’s burdens. By telling the truth of the suffering and injustices others face, by advocating and fighting on their behalf, and by praying for and with them.

Telling the truth is one of the most powerful things a Christian can do. Last Sunday, faith and political leaders from across our state, Muslims, Christians, Jews, people from all walks of life, came together in calling on our government to give refugees a fair go. Holding nations accountable for their actions by speaking out, making the state responsible for what it does, is what Christians are called to do in times of conflict. Telling the truth, time after time, even against hope, even when we are wearied by the effort, will ultimately win out. Prophetic truth telling is what brought down Apartheid in South Africa and, here in Australia, led to the release the refugees on Nauru and the Park Hotel in Carlton, and to the opening of a visa track for refugees on temporary protection visas. Telling the truth about the sins of the past brought reconciliation in South Africa and, I hope, will be what also will lead to greater justice for First Nations people here in Australia.

Working for peace in the world, likewise, is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Commenting on Christian living under the repressive Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer said: ‘Where the world despises other members of the Christian family, Christians will love and serve them. If the world does violence to them, Christians will help them and provide them relief’. The outpouring of practical support by the nations neighbouring Ukraine, the unheard-of support of the world-wide community, is one way of showing forth the values of Christian living in times of conflict. If the ‘world’ feels too big for you, your local community and government is tangible and knowable. Supporting community organisations working with refugees, or even attending rallies like last Sunday’s are good ways in which each of one of us can show practical support. (Xavier College had a group at the March. I’d be delighted to welcome a group from Melbourne Grammar next year). 

Working for peace in the world means writing to our political representatives; advocating for swifter, more generous action in settling those displaced from war zones. You may never receive an answer back from your MP, but where many express the same concern, MPs do take note. In this way, we work regardless of the many people who seek to make faith irrelevant in modern society, and regardless of the many people, perhaps even a majority, who slumber when others suffer. This is what heroes of our faith like Bonhoeffer did in the 1930s and 1940s, and it is what we are called to do as we face the same challenges today.

All these actions—telling the truth and working for peace—are underpinned by prayer. Prayer is what unites us with Christ and resources our resolve. Prayer reflects the inward reality of faith to our world. By our prayer and worship this Holy Week and Easter we, too, can help others gain glimpses of this eternal reality. If you are already committed to being part of a worshipping community, do join its Easter celebrations. If not, then please join one or, of course, come to your Cathedral this Easter. 

It is by our own actions that we can shine some of the light of the resurrection in our world. When we live as disciples in this world—by our prayer, by working for peace and by telling the truth to power—Jesus himself will help us bear our burdens of faith-filled living and sacrificial action in this world. In the same way that Jesus’ disciples witness to his deeds of liberating power, so Jesus himself will witness to us in the time of our trial and suffering. 

This is what celebrating Holy Week and Easter, what faithful following of Jesus in times of conflict means: to stand by Christ in his suffering in the trust that, by doing so, we will also share his victory. Stand with him in the darkness of Good Friday in the trust that, by doing so, we will shed the brilliance of his resurrection light into the dark places of our world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer assures us that our Easter celebration becomes real when we witness to Christ in this world. Because Jesus will bear witness for us in the world to come: ‘Those who have held onto Jesus in this life will find that Jesus will hold onto them in eternity’, Bonhoeffer assures us. ‘Easter reveals to us the entire glory and power of God. Just as God raised Jesus in inexpressible power, so too will he lead his people from death to life. This is where we look in hope today’.

I wish you all a blessed Holy Week and a happy Easter.

Andreas Loewe and Katherine Firth have published Journeying with Bonhoeffer: Six Steps on the Way of Discipleship, on which the biographical summary is based.

Image attribution: Dietrich Bonhoeffer with children preparing for confirmation (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0211-316 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Open our eyes, Lord, that we might see heaven open

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at Christ Church St Lawrence Sydney on Laetare Sunday, 19 March 2023:

John’s Gospel, through which we are journeying during the middle of Lent, is the gospel of the coming of the light into the darkness of our world. The central theme of the coming of God’s light, and its rejection by the world is set out right at the start of the gospel, in the great prologue of the Incarnation. In Jesus—God’s eternal Word-made-flesh—was life. That life was ‘the light of all people’. Jesus’ life brings light. God’s coming into the world as one of us can open our eyes, and help us see ‘even greater things’—even heaven opened, as Jesus promised Nathanael in the first Chapter of John’s Gospel. 

Throughout the Gospel of John then, the drama of the light coming into the world is played out. In the first ten verses of the Gospel, John tells us how his story will end: ‘the true light, which gives light to all people, has come, yet the world did not recognise him’. In spite of this incredible gift—light to walk by in darkness, and life to live by eternally—people rejected him. From the very beginning, John lays out the division that the coming into the world of the Son of God brings: those who prefer darkness are unable to recognise Jesus’ light. They seek to extinguish the Light of the World, by killing Jesus.

At the highpoint of the Gospel, which has been sung so evocatively for us yesterday evening, the light of life blazes in judgment on the world. There is no darkness in John’s Gospel at the point of Jesus’ death. The sun is at its peak, as Jesus is crucified. Jesus accomplishes the work of salvation on the cross as the sun shines at its brightest. A reminder to us that even though the darkness can put Jesus to death, the world’s darkness will never overcome his light.


Jesus is the world’s light, and Jesus gives the world life. And, as Jesus wants to open our eyes so that we may see ‘even greater things’: the reality of heaven opened.

This morning, the parable of the battle between light and darkness that underlies all of John’s Gospel is played out in the miraculous healing of a man born blind. All who follow Jesus—even those born blind—may have God’s light of life. While the disciples are trying to score some theological point—‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’—Jesus tells them that this sinless man had been denied sight so that God’s works might be manifested, and proceeds to open his eyes.

Without much ceremony, Jesus made mud. Mixing dust with his own spit, he anointed the blind man’s eyes. Jesus—God’s Word-of-creation-made-flesh—takes the stuff from which all creation comes and to which all creation will return, and uses it to anoint the blind man’s eyes. Our translation lets us down here: the Greek reads ekchrisen—which really means ‘anoint’, not ‘spread’: from the root we get our words for chrism and Christ. Jesus, God’s Anointed, anoints blind humanity and sends the man away to wash in the pool of Siloah.

And just in case we might have missed the point of the story, and John’s Gospel—that Jesus has been sent by God to give people the light of light—John helpfully tells us that the Hebrew name of the pool means ‘sent’. In the same way in which the Father sent his Son so that the world may have God’s light, so the nameless man is sent by Jesus to have his eyes opened and have light. And the man went, washed, was able to see, and came back to his neighbours. And Jesus disappears from sight, leaving the man to explain what happened.

Obviously, the man had never set eyes on Jesus. He was blind when they met. All the man knows about Jesus is his name. When he returned home, now able to see, his neighbours were suspicious: either he had not really been born blind, or he was not the same man. ‘Never since the world has began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind’, the man himself reflects later. And because they can’t understand what has happened, his neighbours take him to the religious authorities, the Pharisees.

Where his neighbours were incredulous, the Pharisees were dismissive. There was nothing to see here. Jesus was not from God because he did not keep the commandments. He had healed on a Sabbath. Therefore, the miracle was a sham: the man couldn’t really have been blind. The final encounter between the nameless man and the Pharisees is a masterpiece of John’s storytelling, as the people who believed that they were specially enlightened—because they guarded the faith—try to get the man to deny that Jesus had given him light and sight.

Increasingly isolated (disbelieved by his neighbours, not really supported by his parents—‘he is of age, ask him’—bullied by the Pharisees), the man has realised that Jesus was much more than a miracle healer. During his three interrogations, he has come to understand the truth: that God sent Jesus to bring light. Where first he called him, ‘the man called Jesus’, he now knows Jesus to be ‘from God’. That conviction—combined with his bluntness and boldness: ‘why do you want to hear my story again, do you also want to become his disciples?’—led to his excommunication.

The Pharisees ‘drove him out’, John tells. Leaving Jesus, who was nowhere to be seen during the man’s interrogations, to search for him. Jesus finds and asks him: ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ And the man who, through three interrogations, had in his heart already chosen to follow Jesus, affirms his choice: ‘Lord, I believe’, he told Jesus. As he had his own glimpse of heaven opened—his own Epiphany—he worshipped Jesus.


Becoming a believer in Jesus, and worshipping him, is the reason this Gospel was written, St John tells us at the end of his book: ‘These signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that you may have life in his name’. People who accept Jesus’ light will live. They will see the world through Jesus’ eyes—in need of God’s life, in need of God’s salvation. They will be able to snatch glimpses of heaven open in their daily lives.

Jesus calls each of us to open our own eyes to that life-giving light. He tells us that have our need for life and salvation is met in him. He charges us to look at the world around us and shine his light into its darkness. He dares us to look at our community through his eyes, and there see glimpses of heaven opened. And most importantly, he tells us to invite others in sharing his life-giving vision and light.

We are invited to shine Christ’s light into the dark places of the world by our advocacy and action. At St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne, we meet together regularly to pray, think and talk about how we as a community of disciples can help shine Christ’s light. Our members help shape our vision for our Cathedral advocacy. Together we decided to shine a light on First Nations Justice. Since 2016 we have been actively working with our First Peoples to seek a more just settlement for Indigenous Australians. During the past three years have appointed three First Nations Canons. Last year, we studied the Statement from the Heart together. This year we want to shine the light of Christ’s justice into our nation, by our advocacy for a Voice to Parliament. When we shine Christ’s light into the dark spots of our life—personal, corporate or national—we can see more clearly what needs to be done to change, and can work together to bring about change.

We are invited to carry the light of Christ into our communities by our welcome and service. At St Paul’s we carry Christ’s light into our city by working for Refugee Justice; being a place of welcome for people from all nations and backgrounds. For more than a decade we have advocated for, and welcomed, migrants and refugees. Our welcome to people who have fled their homelands and our helping them rebuild their lives here in Australia has changed our life as a Cathedral community. We are truly international now, with people from more than 25 nations; some with their own national fellowship groups. When we carry the light of Christ to into our communities, we can not only bring hope and healing, but will be changed by that light ourselves.

We are invited to open our own eyes afresh to see heaven opened in our daily lives by our learning and living. At St Paul’s we believe that, before we go about inviting others to open their eyes to the reality of heaven open, we need to open our own eyes first. Which is why we take Christian formation seriously. We meet Sunday by Sunday to study God’s Word together. We invite people to explore our faith by regular enquirer courses, leading to baptism and confirmation. This consistent invitation bears much good fruit: this Lent, we are preparing 25 candidates for baptism, confirmation and reception on Easter Morning. Our congregations have grown, not only in numbers but also in self-awareness and confidence. In a recent study group, we asked ourselves how we can be better equipped to talk of God’s love with our neighbours or work colleagues. When we let our eyes be opened to Christ’s light, and actively invite others to share Christ’s life-changing vision, we may ourselves see greater things and be given a new and broader vision.

Friends, we all are invited to let our eyes be opened to the reality of Christ’s life-giving light. We Christians are given that light to shine into the darknesses of our world. We each are given that light as a guide on our own journey of life. We each are called to look out for glimpses of heaven opened in the places where we live, work and worship. And by letting ourselves be changed, be suffused by that light, we are called to work to make heaven open a daily reality, not just a distant possibility. ‘I am the light of the world’, the Lord assures us as we journey together with him: ‘whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’.

Thanks be to God.

© Andreas Loewe, 2023

Turning away from sin and embracing life—a reflection for Lent

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne at St Paul’s Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent 2023

At the beginning of Lent, the church’s season of renewal and growth, stands the reminder that we humans are mortal, and sinful. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we offer the opportunity to be signed on the forehead with a cross—in ash. The symbolism of this ‘ashing’ has its roots in the solemn act repentance of the Jewish people: putting on sackcloth, simple, unadorned garments, and ashes on the head, as signs of returning to God, of conforming to God’s will. ‘Remember, o mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’, the priest says as he ashes each worshipper. ‘Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’.

During the six weeks of Lent, our Sunday readings explore the journey of turning away from sin and being faithful to Christ. We are going to hear from Scripture what it means to be far removed from God through human sinfulness and are encouraged to think about what it takes to know and do God’s will. For much of Lent we will be hearing from our patron, St Paul, through the first chapters of his epistle to the Romans. For Paul sin is not a light matter: he takes sin very seriously indeed. In the New Testament, the Greek word for ‘sin’, harmatia, is mentioned 173 times. Of those 64 times by Paul. If Paul is the New Testament author who is most concerned with sin, then his Letter to the Romans is the epistle that most considers what sin is and means: of the 64 instances that Paul writes about sin, sin is mentioned 48 times in Romans. 

Sin, for Paul, is not simply wrongdoing, or the daily struggle to live a values-based life. Sin for Paul is a deep-rooted principle of evil, and wilfulness: is the power that does harm to humanity and the root of all its conflicts. Sin is always present in human community, Paul knows: even­—especially, he would say—when we wish for good, evil is readily at hand.

If Paul is the New Testament author most concerned with sin, he is also the writer most concerned with the way in which we can rid ourselves of its destructive effects. The epistle to the Romans is Paul’s first and longest letter. It is, in fact, the first Christian text to be written following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to the Jewish-Christian community in Rome to encourage them to forgo their differences and quarrels, which for him are signs of sinfulness. Instead, he tells them to recognise the unity they can enjoy by knowing Jesus Christ; and to discover for themselves the harmony and mutual love that are the fruits of Christ’s forgiveness. Sin has an effect on the way we think, Paul tells them. It has an effect on the way we eat and drink, and it has an effect on the way we die, he reminds them. Forgiveness and grace, on the other hand, is what enables us to live together as the people God loves, and is the basis for our confidence that Christ has overcome death.


Today’s readings tell us the story of how sin came into the world, and how it affects everyone. They take us to the very beginning of the story of God and his people, and the first acts of human disobedience that opened the way for sin and evil to enter our world. They tell us that evil has become our basic problem, and ultimately the cause of our death. They show us how sin seeks to tempt us with things we long for­—food and comfort, reliance and security, power and influence—and how sin may use good things—including God’s word—to tempt us. At the same time, they assure us that, although sin is a universal problem, redemption—the forgiveness of sin—is available to all people and that God judges and punishes sin itself by overcoming it through Jesus Christ.

Our first reading, from the book Genesis, takes us to the abundant and peaceful garden of creation. God made it, and knew it to be very good. He placed humankind in the garden to tend and protect it, and permitted humans to name and therefore have influence over all creatures. He placed all things necessary for a rich life in the garden, walked the garden himself and lived closely among his people. God knew his creation personally, and loved it, and sought for it to flourish. God also placed the key to knowledge at the heart of the garden: the knowledge to see the world as God sees it—frail and complex, full of choices, requiring a nuanced course of constant decisions to navigate life. Humankind, our reading tells us, desired and acquired this knowledge. That which appeared to them as a delicious delight, revealed itself to be a deadly duty.

Where previously people had lived in harmony because they knew only harmony, now they knew both good and evil. The two humans instantly knew their vulnerability, our reading tells us—knew that they were figuratively and genuinely naked before God, and rushed to cover up their nakedness, in the hope that God would not notice their choice. The writer of Genesis speaks of the act that has become known as the ‘fall from grace’ in allegorical language. The garden might have seemed harmonious, and very good, but cunning and deception was already present in this idealised community. The persuasive serpent represents the double-tongued talk of evil persuasion, and the venom that brings death: the point of the story is that evil will talk smoothly, that evil will tell that our choices are simple when they are not, and that evil will, ultimately, leave us vulnerable and unprotected. We will not be protected by the loincloths we may conjure up for ourselves from the first thing that is at hand. Sin will have its prize, and that prize is human life: evil, our reading tells us, is the reason for sin, and sin is the reason why people die.


Our Gospel reading takes us to an encounter between the author of evil and Jesus Christ. Jesus had just been baptised. There was no need for Jesus to be washed from sin in baptism. His cousin John the Baptist knew that Jesus alone among humans was without any sin, and called him out: ‘why should I be baptised by you’, John asked his cousin, ‘when I in fact have need to be baptised by you’. Jesus of all people needed no washing from sin, and yet took on the ritual in order that ‘all righteousness might be fulfilled’. Jesus submitted himself to the Law of Moses, and its requirements of righteousness. And as he came up from the waters, once all righteousness had been fulfilled, God opened heaven and anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, and called him his beloved Son. The same Spirit that had anointed him now led him into the wilderness ‘to be tempted by the Devil’, our reading tells us.

We would expect the Spirit-filled Jesus to be full of power and strength, driving away Satan, in the same way in which he drove out demons. But Jesus does not evade temptation by driving evil away. He fasts, and prays, and at the moment of his greatest vulnerability—famished after forty days—he encounters the tempter. And Satan tempts Jesus to use his powers to serve himself: ‘command these stones to become bread’. And Jesus, who will share a few loaves and fishes with thousands and who will turn water into gallons of fine wine for others, resists. God’s gifts are used to serve God and neighbour, and not to serve self.

Satan tempts Jesus three times: tempts him to test his reliance on God by an act of wilfulness by causing a spectacle. And Jesus who would later rather endure the loneliness of the cross than call up a legion of angels, resists. The last temptation is power—not the power that serves others, or the power that sets humans free from the effects of sin and evil by bringing healing and wholeness, but the power that enthrals, subdues and tyrannises. ‘If you worship me, I will give you all these kingdoms’, will give you all human power. And Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world, finally casts Satan away, and commits himself to worship and serve only God. 

All righteousness is fulfilled in this act of dedication, in which Jesus commits himself to be the One who will take away all sinfulness by his death on the cross. As Jesus walks away from the wilderness, John observes in his gospel, his cousin who had baptised him, instantly knows him to be the sacrificial lamb that would be killed so that all have life. ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’, John declares (John 1.29). Sin must be terrifying indeed if it takes the Son of God to take it away. God made Jesus, the sinless one, to be sin, so that all sin might be taken away, our patron saint tells the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 5.21). The principle of sin is eradicated—taken out at the root—when the Lamb of God is killed, and Christ lifted up on a cross.


Sin is terrifying. It applies to all people, our epistle reading argues convincingly. For those living under the Law of Moses, the rules of life given to the people of God on Sinai, the Law holds them accountable for their deeds. They will be judged on the basis of their observance, or lack thereof, of the Law. Would it be better not to know the Law, Paul asks rhetorically? Well, those who live apart from the Law, those who have never known God, will also be held accountable for their living. All are subject to God’s judgement; both those who live under the Law, and those who do not. Just as all are subject to sin: ‘there is no one righteous, not one; there is no one who understands’, Paul tells the Romans (Romans 3.29): ‘All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God’.

‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’, we solemnly recalled last Wednesday. Remember that the effects of sin are death. As the ash crosses were marked on our foreheads, we were also reminded of the remedy for sin: ‘turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’. Turn away from sin. In the next few chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans we will see that Paul has faint hopes for us: alone, Paul believes, we will never have the capacity to turn away from sin. Sin, simply put, is all pervasive, and hard to escape under our own strength. But together with God it is possible to turn away from sin. When we turn to Christ, when we remind ourselves daily—in our prayer and actions—of the goodness and love of God, and the sacrifice and selfless acts of Christ, then, Paul rightly knows, we have a chance to turn from the sin to which all of us are subjected. ‘Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’.

Next Sunday, our readings will tell us more about at what this faithful turning to God, this act of committing ourselves to God, looks like. We will hear words of promise and reassurance, hear that God seeks to bless and not to condemn. Today, though, let us take seriously the gravity and effects of sin. That no one lives without the daily struggle against sin. That without the daily need to turn from turning from the enticements of sin to serve self—to provide for our own comforts first, or only ever strive for our own recognition and renown—that without the daily turning from sin, and focusing on Christ, we remain subjects to the tyranny of evil. ‘Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ’.

Where sin is deadly and clouds our life, turning to Christ is joyful and life-giving. If you have not yet committed to turning to Christ, and seeking baptism or confirmation, I encourage you to talk to one of our clergy about what committing to Jesus Christ means. If you have already made the commitment, in your baptism, to reject evil and turn to Christ, you will have experienced the joy that discipleship, that following Jesus can bring. When your fundamental commitment, made in baptism, is lived out day by day in discipleship, by every action and work of yours, choosing at every step to turn to Christ, and choose life and joy, and thereby rejecting sin and death. 

This Lent, I invite you to pray with me, each day that we might choose Christ, choose life. You may wish to pray the simple prayer of the penitent, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner’. Or you may wish to pray the lines from the prayer that Jesus taught us, asking that your will be conformed to his: ‘Lord Jesus, thy kingdom come, thy will be done’. Especially when you feel that you are tempted to sin, or when you feel that God is far from you, I encourage you to pray for God to meet you in your need. And if you are already committed to prayerful living, I invite you to pray for those who still need to make that fundamental commitment to living with Christ. Pray for a friend, or a group of friends, whom you would like to see turn to Christ. Again, do so consistently, and joyfully, knowing that it is in turning away from sin, and our faithfulness in Christ, that we may share in the life that is forever.

‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But God is righteous and justifies all who have faith in Jesus’. Thanks be to God.

© Andreas Loewe, 2023

By your Word I am invited: Reaching for the Bread of Life

A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, at a Cantata Service as part of the Australian Deans’ Conference at St Andrew’s Cathedral Sydney, on 5 August 2018:

Johann Sebastian Bach, Erschallet ihr Lieder, erklinget ihr Saiten (BWV 172)

Reading: John 6.25-35


Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Thank you, Dean Kanishka, for your kind invitation to preach here this morning. I bring you all greetings from the Primate, Archbishop Philip Freier, and the people of St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne. It’s a great joy to be with you this morning and to share together in our celebration of the gift of God’s Word, and the gift of music to encourage and inspire our journeys of faith.


I was brought up in the ‘old’ South Wales, and came to Australia nine years ago to take on – or so my wife Katherine and I thought – a five-year stint as lecturers, she in the Faculty of Arts, and I in Theology. Six years ago, that time scale changed somewhat when I was elected Dean of Melbourne. At the time, the Senior Canon took me to one side and said: ‘Don’t worry’. I was hoping for words of encouragement, but instead heard a reflection on my relative youth: ‘Don’t worry, you won’t be the youngest Dean of Melbourne’. ThatDean was the illustrious Stuart Barton Babbage, great great grandson of the inventor (with Ada Lovelace) of the Calculating Machine, scholar of English puritanism, war-time air-force chaplain in Persia and Palestine, who became Dean of Melbourne aged 37. Of course, you know well that prior to his taking on that role he had already been Dean of Sydney for six years.

I had the privilege of meeting Stuart at the end of his life, and hearing about his ministry of opening the doors of St Andrew’s to this city, a ministry he would continue with great energy and commitment for nine years at St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne. Stuart’s hallmarks were his love for the gospel, his love of people, and his love of music. At St Paul’s he would lead Choral Evensong every Thursday, knowing that it was not only the people in St Paul’s, but all who had tuned their radios to Radio National, that would be in attendance to hear and reflect on God’s Word through sublime music. And not only those who worshipped in St Paul’s, or listened to the service on their wireless. But also, and especially so, the choir.

People often speak of ‘preaching to the choir’, and imply that the musicians that enable our worship all share faith in Jesus. I myself was a chorister before I became a Christian, and I know that I am not the only one to have found faith through music-making.

I came to faith when I was a choral scholar in Oxford. There I not only shared in leading choral worship but, as you can imagine, heard a good many sermons. But it was music, and more specifically, the music and message of Johann Sebastian Bach, that drew me closer and closer to Jesus. For me, Bach’s music choral was an invitation to lived faith.

The more I sang his works and later, as I reflected on them as an academic, I came to realise that Bach’s Cantatas and Oratorios were nothing other than sermons in sound.

It was one such sermon in sound, on a frosty night in Advent (a frosty night in Advent!) at the end of my first term, that began my journey of faith. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. As I joined the glorious opening chorus, ‘serve the highest with glorious choirs, let us honour the name of our ruler’, for the first time I consciously recalled owning Bach’s invitation. I was not only a part of a glorious choir – though our director of music always felt that there was room for improvement – but that night I believed that I did sing in service of the highest. Through music I began a journey of faith that led me to experience the freedom that can be found in service of the highest: in music and message, lived faith and fellowship.

If any among you, especially fellow music makers, have yet to experience that liberating, life-giving freedom that comes from lived faith, please talk to me, or any of my decanal colleagues, over morning tea. And if you already follow Christ, I encourage you to think back to that moment, or that gradual journey, that led to your own commitment of faith. And to think what it might be that you need to take on, or which barriers you might still need to take away, so that you may be enabled to share this invitation to faith joyfully with others.


What did I expect when I found Jesus Christ? I guess, I was hoping for shape and guidance for my life, was expecting that my prayers would make life easier, more secure. That expectation was only partially fulfilled. Yes, knowing and loving Jesus has given shape to my life. But finding Jesus hasn’t made my life any easier, nor more secure. In fact, I think the reverse is probably the case. Knowing Jesus has made my life more unsettled, less predictable.

The realisation that coming to Jesus and knowing him may be different from what we had expected, I think, is what the people in our gospel reading also found so hard to understand. Knowing Jesus, following Jesus, may not be what we had first thought. Later in the chapter from which our reading is taken, Jesus’ close circle of followers will talk among themselves: ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’, they say in verse 60. And Jesus will ask them outright: ‘Does this offend you?’ The Greek word skandalizei puts it even more strongly: does this scandalise you, does this form a stumbling block for you? Yet the scandal of following Jesus will lead them to see ‘greater things than these’, he promises them.

The people who had just seen 5,000 people fed by a couple of loaves and some fish will see far greater things. They will see the ‘Son of Man ascending to where he was before’, Jesus tells them in verse 62. Ascend to the Father who sent him and, before that, ascend to the cross. And the knowledge that Jesus is God’s Son, and will suffer and die, will cause offense. At the end of the chapter in verse 66 we read how ‘because of this many turned back, and no longer followed him’. This rupture is one of the many breaking points in John’s gospel, where people turn away from Jesus because his teaching confronts them with a reality that is too challenging to their own preconceptions.

Why did the people come to Jesus in the first place? In verse 25 Jesus confronts them: ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate your fill of the loaves’. They came because Jesus had given thousands of people free food, fed them so generously that twelve baskets of left-overs were gathered in. They came, because Jesus had suddenly left them, and miraculously walked across Lake Galilee; had entered his disciples’ boat and sped it to the other side. When the people caught up with him, they knew themselves to be in the presence of a man full of power, and they wanted more of that power. They wanted miraculous power. Power to change things seemingly effortlessly. They came to Jesus not for Jesus’ sake, but for the sake of his power.

And Jesus told them that their efforts to be with him so that they may be filled with his power are in vain. They may have successfully raced around the Lake to catch up with him, but unless they come to him for his sake, they labour in vain. ‘Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that will endure for eternal life’, he told them in verse 27. There may have been twelve baskets of left-overs, but those would not endure to eternity.

The food that Jesus gave them in this powerful sign will not endure. That miracle will become memory; that power will perish. Because, for John, the way to share in Jesus’ power is by sharing in his weakness and suffering. Yes, the people had heard Jesus’ words of invitation and shared in his meal. But unless they were also prepared to share in his suffering, all they will ever have experienced is a free meal.

Responding to Jesus’ invitation means coming to Jesus for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of living with Jesus. Responding to Jesus’ invitation means accepting Jesus as he is.

Acknowledge your motivation, Jesus tells the people (and us with them). Do we exert ourselves to race to him so that he might help us to consolidate a power that will not last? Or do we come to him as he is: come to remain with him, and share in his communion, and the suffering of his broken body on earth? We all called by God, whoever we are. Just as we all are invited to reflect on why it is that we seek Jesus.

‘By your word I am invited’, our cantata chorale concludes, and graciously calls us to Christ.


‘Do not exert yourselves’, Jesus told the people. ‘Do not work for food that spoils but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you’. The food that the Son of the Father will give. The food that the one whom God personally has authorised and commissioned, on whom God has set his seal, will give. ‘For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’, Jesus tells us in verse 33. The bread that God gives is more than any other perishable nourishment. Christ is himself that life-giving food. And in the same way, in which he is the light of the world, or the way, or the water of life, in which he is life in its fullest abundance, so Christ will give life to the entire world. That life endures, lasts forever. Because the bread of life – the life-giving things that Christ gifts us – are lasting gifts from God.

When challenged by the people to perform another miracle – ‘what sign then will you give that that we may see it and believe in you? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness’ – Jesus told them that the manna from heaven was not the gift of a human mediator – Moses – but God’s free gift. There is an essential difference between the gifts, just as there is an essential difference between the givers, Jesus explains. The manna was miraculous bread from heaven. It fell like hail each night, and was gathered up in the morning by the people. But any that was left over perished – some of the people, not wanting to gather up the sweet morsels each day tried to store it, ‘and it bred worms and rotted’, perished, we read in the book of the Exodus (16.21).

Just as the heavenly manna perished, so the mediator who argued with God that the people would be fed miraculously in the first place – Moses – also died. ‘It was not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven’, Jesus tells the people in verse 32, ‘but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven’. God gifts the true bread. And with the true bread, God gifts the true mediator. Who will give his life so that death will die: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’, Jesus proclaims in verse 35. Christ himself is the true, the lasting mediator, who gives us himself as the gift of the Father: ‘whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day’, Jesus will tell the people in verse 54.

The one true mediator between God and humankind, who lives forever, gives the bread that is eternal. And he does so, by giving his own flesh and blood on the cross. In the end, the bread of life is much more than flour and water mixed and baked and given thanks for. Jesus’ bread of life is what sustains all life: is the food that sustains all faith. And the source of the life that is forever is found in Christ’s death.

Christ has come into the world so that the world may have life, and he gifts his own life for the lives of all people, he explains. ‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day’, we read in verse 39.

And the key to being saved and raised up, is by seeing and believing in Christ. Not because of the miracles, nor because of the food that may perish, but because of the fulfilment of the divine will.

In the gospel of John ‘true seeing’ often is a shorthand for ‘believing’, just as ‘superficial looking’ may stand for ‘unbelieving’. The people who have come to Jesus to share another meal are now invited to look beyond that which will perish – the loaves and fishes, the memory of the manna – and to see that which will last. And the ultimate act of seeing, and believing, is the moment of fulfilment, is the ultimate scandal that will make many people break away. When Christ himself is raised up on a cross, so that he might draw all people to himself.

Those who look to the perishable, Jesus knows, will see the ultimate tragedy: death destroying a powerful healer, teacher and miracle worker. But those who see and believe, will see God’s ultimate act of power displayed in the weakness and brokenness of the cross. Death destroyed by death; the bread of life broken, so that all may eat and be filled and never be hungry again. The water of life outpoured so that all who believe may never be thirsty.

‘The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’, Jesus assures us. Our true bread are the fruits that spring from the broken body on the cross: the bread, the wine, the Spirit Christ breathed on the world as he accomplished all, and the Words of eternal life he gave us. As our cantata puts it, ‘your word, your Spirit, your body and your blood refresh me from within’. They feed and nurture us, and remind us of the immense cost of our salvation.

The reformer Martin Luther, whose works Bach had studied just as thoroughly as has he studied the Scriptures, put it like this. When Jesus says, ‘”whoever comes to me shall never be hungry or thirst”, that means, “they will never die”. This saying should be engraved in our hearts with golden letters or, better still, with living letters, so that we all may know where our souls are kept when we die’ (WA 33: 61, 31-39).

Christ calls each one of us to open our eyes, and to see in the brokenness of the cross the ground of our salvation. He calls us to open our hearts, and let them be homes for the Words of eternal life: the ‘living letters that tell us where our souls are kept’. He does so freely, and graciously, so that all people might share his life. And, as we hear his invitation, you and I are called to reflect on what it may be that may still scandalise us in this story of grace so freely given; and what stumbling blocks we might still place in the way of those who yearn to hear this good news. What is it that keeps us from the cross, and what is it that we place in the way of the cross.

‘Welcome in faith to me’, our cantata suggests a response, ‘highest love, come within! You have taken my heart’.


Welcome in faith: for the past four years we have displayed a nine-metre banner on the South spire of our Cathedral. It shows a woman holding her daughter. The picture on the banner was taken in one of the transit camps for refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. ‘Let’s fully welcome refugees’ it reads; a reminder of the plight of millions of displaced people, and the punitive response to that crisis by our own leaders. While our banner may not have changed the hearts of our leaders, it has transformed our Cathedral. Hundreds of refugees have come to St Paul’s to ask us what our welcome to refugees consists of: ‘Thank you for welcoming us, what do you do for refugees’, they said.

And in turn they experience a welcome that did not look at their faith, their race or their visa status, in our free English classes, our shared meals, and our Bible studies and worship in easy English that we run for those who have yet to find their new voice and language. Others came to see why it was that Christians were praying for, and welcoming, refugees from majority Islamic countries. And they were told that it is when we receive others as Christ, that we receive the Lord himself.

As a result of that welcome and care, many people have been drawn to faith in Jesus, and have become congregants; two of them have been ordained, and another has been selected for ordination in our diocese. When we welcome others in the name of Christ, we come to experience the transformative power of God in our own lives and communities: at our Cathedral we found that when we began exercising an intentional ministry of welcome, our congregations grew by 30%.

The experience that Christian churches grow when we exercise a ministry of welcome to others, is not only true when we welcome refugees, but true for many others who often face exclusion, or feel they lack recognition in our churches – indigenous people, women and children, people from the LGBTI community, people from low socio-economic backgrounds, people with disability, people suffering from long-term illnesses, and many more. For us at St Paul’s our intentional ministry of hospitality and welcome in the name of the Gospel has been transformational. What is it that we – our leaders across the church, our bishops, deans, rectors, ministers and lay leaders – you and I need to do to enable that transformational change? What is it that we need to do to enable that welcome in faith?

Because when we welcome others in the name of Christ, and invite them to share our Gospel, our faith and our fellowship, our Cathedrals, our parishes, can be transformed. Because when we make a home for others, we practise what it means to make a home for Christ ourselves, to make ourselves into homes for Christ. At the most fundamental and profound level of the Christian faith is the news of the incredible gift of God to the world: God became human in Christ Jesus, so that we might share in the life of God.

And we share in God’s life when we allow God to dwell in us, and our communities, when our churches and our hearts are open for Christ. Our cantata puts it in this way: ‘come, then, into the hovels of our hearts, though they are poor and small; come and allow us to ask you: come and dwell within us’.

One of the greatest challenges of faith is the confidence that Christ will be sufficient for us, and that we – authentically as we are, and who we are – are sufficient to welcome Christ. Many of us, myself included, struggle truly to believe that we will not lack for anything if we let ourselves be fed by Christ; struggle truly to believe that our hearts are good enough to become a home for Christ. Yes, we are entirely undeserving to receive Christ. But the point of our faith is precisely that even though we do notdeserve to receive Christ, he nevertheless seeks to come to us.

As Jesus assured his questioners: ‘This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of what he has given me, but raise it up on the last day’.

We will never deserve Christ through our actions. But Christ gives himself to us freely when we truly seek him, find and recognise him for who he is, when we know him to be the Lord of life. When welook at them, our hearts are nothing more than ‘hovels’, as our cantata puts it. Yet our hearts are the very places where God seeks to dwell, where God seeks to make his home with us, so that we may have life in all its fullness. ‘The work of God of this’, Jesus told the people, ‘to believe in the one he has sent’.

When we place our trust in that gracious invitation; when we believe in the Son of Man, all our wants will be met, our gospel reading assures us. When we turn to Jesus Christ, we are given all that we need for life: we are washed clean from all that holds us back by the water of life; are refreshed by the Word of life; are nurtured by the bread of life, and are led by the light of life. Even ‘the hovels of our heart’ can be transformed into ‘the paradise of souls, in which God’s Spirit breathes’, as Bach’s cantata puts it: may be renewed and restored to be places fit to receive Jesus Christ.


In the 1720s it was the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach who opened the doors of the Leipzig churches to share in music the good news that God wants to live with us. With ringing songs and sounding strings he proclaimed that the decisive moment had come: the ‘blessed time when God will prepare our souls to be his temple’. In the 1940s, Dean Stuart Barton Babbage opened the doors of this Cathedral to people seemingly forgotten or neglected by the church: by civic observance, blessings of tools and instruments, he proclaimed God’s invitation to prepare a home for God and to be at home here at St Andrew’s, to city workers, trade unionists and labourers. In the 1950s, he shared God’s gracious invitation with our city, by opening the Scriptures in Bible studies, and filling St Paul’s (and, across the airwaves, our entire nation) with sermons in sound.

The invitation that God seeks to come close to us, that he calls us to know him, turn to him, love and follow him is not restricted to a favourable time in the past, proclaimed by outstanding servants like Dean Stuart and Cantor Sebastian. It is a timeless invitation. Today, you and I – Bishops, Cathedral Deans and Worshippers, Visitors and Volunteers, Ministers and Musicians – are called to extend that same welcome. Make it known to those who have yet to hear it; those feel they do not deserve to hear it; those who may be scandalised by it and have shut their ears to it; and those who need to hear it afresh.

Today, you and I are called to open the doors of our Cathedrals and communities to the people around us; are invited to ask for the grace to be able to remove any stumbling blocks that still may prevent others from hearing the good news. Today, you and I are called to recognise that it is now that is the favourable time; that this is very moment that God seeks to dwell with us and make his home in us. Today, we are invited to open our hands, stretch them out, and receive the bread of life.

And now to him who is able to keep us from falling, and to make us stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.

William Watkins – priest, hymn writer, ecumenist, reconciler

William Watkins

The Revd Canon William Hywel Watkins CStJ was born in Aberystwyth on 1 September 1936 and died there of pancreatic cancer on 13 July 2018. For forty years he served the Church of Wales as a parish priest, rural dean and Chapter Canon in South and West Wales, a region he fondly called ‘the periphery of the periphery’.

Watkins took great pride in his hometown, Llanbadarn Fawr, an important centre of early Welsh Christianity. He was schooled at nearby Ardwyn Grammar School Aberystwyth, and read history at St David’s College Lampeter, before proceeding to Wycliffe Hall Oxford in 1958 to read theology as an ordination candidate for the Diocese of St Davids. Deaconed at St Davids Cathedral by Bishop John Richards in May 1961 and priested the following June, he served a seven-year curacy in Llanelli. He was appointed vicar of Llwynhendy in Carmarthenshire in 1968. Ten years later, in 1978, he was made vicar of the Benefice of Uzmaston with Slebech and Boulston where he ministered until his retirement. From 1987 he was rural dean of Daugleddau and, in 1993, was made a member of the Chapter of St Davids Cathedral, occupying the stall of St Nicholas. In 2001, he retired to his family home on the ‘Costa Ystwyth’, as he called it, and was delighted to be able to rekindle old friendships in Cardiganshire.

Watkins was deeply committed to the ministry and outreach of the Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem and, in 2000, was invested as Commander of the Order. From the twelfth century until the dissolution of monasteries, his parish Slebech had served as the West Wales headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller of St John. During his incumbency, the village’s ancient association with the Order was reinvigorated by regular St John’s-tide outdoor services in the picturesque ruined Hospitaller church on the Eastern Cleddau River. A gifted hymnodist, Watkins contributed many modern hymns for use by the members and cadets of the Order of St John, and throughout the wider diocese of St Davids. His ear for matching contemporary words to traditional and popular tunes was so much appreciated by his parishioners that one them challenged the vicar to write new words to Edelweissfrom the Sound of Music. He gladly accepted the challenge, he recalled: ‘I wrote a lovely hymn for the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary’. His hymns celebrated the joy of salvation and the gladness that can be found in Christian service, and echoed the melodies and poetry of his own rich life.

An eager student of German, his commitment to post-war reconciliation was kindled at school. He first became aware of German opposition to the Nazi regime during the War: his German teacher at Ardwyn, Fräulein Einhorn, had fled the persecution of Jews and settled in West Wales. His recollection of her nickname for him, Starrkopf(stubborn boy), was as indelible a memory as his great sympathy for the plight of his teacher and her fellow Nazi victims. At university he sought out German students and made lifelong friends. Later, as a priest, he established similarly strong links with church leaders in the Evangelische Kirche of Bavaria and Baden, the twin state of Wales. A regular visitor to Germany, he shared in ecumenical worship and preached at the Church of the Resurrection, Pforzheim, the ‘Dresden of South-West Germany’. Built from rubble following the 1945 aerial bombardment that obliterated most of the city, the church was named for the new and liberated life that was able to emerge following the fall of the Nazi regime. For Watkins, the lasting physical and psychological scars for the people of Dresden and Pforzheim and other theatres of the Second World War were living memorials to the evils of war that further fuelled his own engagement in reconciliation.

His principal contribution to the work of international understanding, however, was opening his Vicarage to countless overseas visitors. Watkins was an attentive host, generous with his time, and proud of his ever-widening circle of ‘scattered and very dear friends around the world’, as he affectionately described us. There, on the quiet banks of the Western Cleddau river and, later, at his ‘Little Grey Home in the West’, he shaped a community of friends with whom he shared in laughter, poetry and music, discussion and prayer. Even when we had returned to our homes, he celebrated the enduring values of friendship and faith in his regular missives. ‘Politics always seems to end up in tears’, he wrote to me following the Brexit referendum: ‘for me, the Christian faith has so much more to offer’. It is in this faith, and to the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection that we commit him.

The Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe OStJ
Dean of Melbourne

Lives made just by Christ: Commemorating Martin Luther

This weekend we recall the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of ninety-five theses on justification. The Augustinian monk did what every other Wittenberg academic seeking to debate work in progress did: he posted his theses for debate on the doors – we believe – of the university and castle church at the centre of Wittenberg. This is how he put it: ‘Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter’.


Little did Luther know that this conventional act of seeking to try, debate and refine his academic thinking on what it means to be made just before God would fuel a wildfire of social and ecclesiastical discontent that would lead to a thorough reform of German church practise, and the establishment of a new denomination that would bear Luther’s name. His ninety-five theses were immediately translated from their original Latin, the language of scholarly debate, into German and other European languages. They spoke into society that had, since at least the mid fourteenth-century, put increasing pressure on the church to adopt essential reforms.


Many of the things that we take for granted in our worship today were on a catalogue of demands that predated Martin Luther: the reading of the Scriptures in the language of the people, singing of hymns in one’s own language, the ability to receive both the bread and the wine of the Eucharist were foremost on the list of demands. As were some broader social demands addressed to the church as one of the largest landowners in Europe: harsh taxation and tithes – the system of charging a levy on the fruits of the harvest – which further widened the gap between rich and poor.


And finally, there was the central issue of how people are made just before God. In an age in which both heaven and earth, Saviour and Satan, were very real places and people for all, the question of how humans would share in the life that is forever, and be deemed worthy of that life, was fundamental. In the late fifteenth-century, an elaborate system of penitence had been developed as a result of more than three hundred years of theological research. People were made just before God, the cutting-edge traditional theologians of Luther’s day believed, by confessing their sins, and by making reparation for their sins: they would undertake an act of goodness to make up for what they had done wrong, or the right they had omitted to do.


So far, so good: a system of checks and balances. I agree that if there were an act of goodness for every evil, then the world would undeniably be a much better place. The problem began when the system became commercialised. Acts of goodness could be outsourced, as it were. Someone else would undertake the spiritual exercise of penance on your behalf, most likely a monk or nun, if you only paid for it. When this system was extended not only to one’s own sins and omissions, but those of one’s dead relatives and friends – payments for parents in purgatory – theologians like Martin Luther seriously began to question the spiritual value of such a punitive and pecuniary approach to justification.


Luther did not set out to be a reformer. He became a reformer by his strongly held convictions on what it means to be made righteous before God. Or rather, what it does not mean to be made righteous before God. And while the event we commemorate this weekend would forever be associated as the beginning of the German reformation, for Luther it was another stepping stone in the middle of a long academic, and personal wrestling with the Scriptures. For more than four years in the run up to 1517, Luther had been reflecting and lecturing on Romans. His Theses were the culmination of his theological research, and his firm conviction that people are not made just by paying the church for prayers offered on their behalf, and certainly not on behalf of those who had already died, but that people are made just by a change of heart.


‘For years’, Luther later wrote, ‘I hated that word “the righteousness of God” … which I had been taught to understand … that God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner. … I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners and secretly … I was angry with God’ (WA 54: 185). It was Paul’s epistle to the Romans, our epistle reading for this morning, that was the sticking point for Luther, particularly the sentiment that ‘“no human being will be justified in God’s sight” by deeds prescribed by the law’. In a system of justification where it was precisely by deeds commanded by a divine law – five monand a Pater Noster for this offence, a couple of decades of the rosary for that – in such a system, no one would ever be made just. Paul said as much in our epistle: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.


And Luther living, as he later reflected, ‘as a monk without reproach, felt with the most disturbed conscience imaginable, that I was a sinner before God’. In the sight of the infinite and just God, no one could stand righteous: under the terms of God’s own law ‘every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God’ (WA 54: 185). And the laws of the church, Luther then firmly held, reinforced that understanding. Penance and payment for sins committed would never fully remove sin. Which is why, the church taught that people languished in purgatory for centuries being cleansed from the wrongdoings they committed during their lifetimes.


Surely, there would need to be another way to become justified before God, Luther felt. By April 1516, Luther was convinced that there was absolutely nothing that human beings can contribute to their own justification, other than believing that God desires to justify those who love him. Luther had weighed every word of our epistle, and came to believe what Paul meant when he said that we are saved not by the law of works, ‘but by the law of faith. We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law’ (Romans 3.28). Put differently: according to the law, according to our own deeds, humans stand no chance to pass muster before an infinitely righteous God. But when they place their faith not in their own righteousness (or lack thereof) but in God’s righteousness, they acknowledge their weakness and draw on God’s strength.


Luther found great comfort in the central thesis of today’s epistle reading: because Christ who was without any sin at all gave his life freely, those who believe in Christ may live. Paul put it this way: even though ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift’. That gift was bestowed on God’s people when God sent Jesus into the world to live among us, and die for us. When Jesus died, ‘he had passed over the sins previously committed’ (Rom. 3.25). All sins, past, present and future, are covered: not by anything that we can do, but only by believing that God has granted us this incredible gift freely. When Jesus died, all sin died with him, giving all humans the gift of being made right before God if only they believe.


In 1516 Luther wrote: ‘Christ died for me, he made his righteousness mine, and made my sin my own, then I do not have I, and I am free’ (WA 56: 204). And the way in which we may celebrate this freedom, Luther believed, was by opening our hearts to God’s love. Luther wrote that the effects of the salvation wrought for us on Calvary are effective today, because ‘the cross of Christ is distributed through the whole world; each person is always allotted their portion’ (WA Br 1: 25). All of us who believe share in the event of salvation, Luther interpreted Paul, and encourages us: ‘Do not cast the cross aside, but rather take it up as a holy relic to be kept. Not in a golden or silver case, but in a golden – that is a gentle and loving – heart’ (WA Br 1: 25, 1: 37f.). We are to be the reliquaries of the true cross, and enshrine in our hearts the symbol of our salvation. In the same way in which many of us wear the sign of our faith on a chain around our necks, we are to become living bearers of the cross, holding close to the innermost parts of our being the firm and certain hope of our being made just before God, and our being gifted new life forever in God’s friendship.


Luther did end up revolutionising the church. He set out comfort those who, like him, believed that they could never be good enough for God. His insights into the graciousness of God, and the infinity of God’s love fundamentally changed the church. All that is required for us to be made good and just before God, Luther came to believe, is already given us in Christ Jesus. All we need to do is believe in the fruits of his salvation, have faith that the new life he promised is for you and for me, and open our hearts to him in that faith asking to be made just and whole. And this is good news for all who believe, and worthy of our celebrations, that ‘in his divine forbearance God has passed over our sins … and justifies those who have faith in Jesus’ (Rom. 3.25-26). As we give thanks for the insights into the love of God of his servant Martin Luther, it is my prayer that we may be strengthened in faith to believe this truth, and through our faith we may be renewed in grace and transformed to be people whose very hearts are homes for God.


A prayer after Martin Luther:


You, Lord Jesus, are my righteousness
but I am your sin;
you have taken on yourself
what you were not
and have given me what I am not:
open our hearts to your grace,
that we may be strengthened in our faith
and made perfectly whole in hope
for you are alive and renew our lives,
and reign with the Father and the Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.



Bach’s ‘Trauermusik’

Today’s performance is the result of a fair amount of detective work. It is deeply frustrating for Bach scholars that only few of his works were published during his lifetime and, although some 1276 manuscripts of Bach’s works survive today, not all of his works have survived. Today’s work is one of those for which Bach’s music has not survived, neither in print or manuscript. All that remains of the contemporary sources for the Trauermusik for the reigning prince of Köthen-Anhalt is the libretto, published by Bach’s librettist Picander, the nom de plume adopted by Leipzig poet Christian Friedrich Henrici (1700-64). Picander and Bach collaborated on numerous works, the most extensive project of which was, of course, the retelling of the story of the Passion according to St Matthew, much of which would have first been performed in Leipzig at St Thomas’ Church on Good Friday 1727 (though the manuscript score that survives to date dates back to 1736).

On 19 November 1728, 19 months after the performance of the Matthew Passion, Bach’s Köthen employer, patron and friend, Leopold I of Anhalt-Köthen died at the age of 33. Four months later, on the eve of the Annunciation, 24 March 1729, Bach’s and Picander’s Trauermusik was performed as part of his funeral at the Ducal Chapel of St James. This rather lengthy delay in burying the reigning prince was not uncommon. In seventeenth-century Europe royal funerals were resplendent affairs, even in the Calvinist duchy of Anhalt-Köthen, and required much detailed planning. In this case, Leopold might even have stipulated that the funeral be delayed so that Bach was able to attend and direct the music Leopold had commissioned. While at Köthen, Bach had only written secular cantatas: the Calvinist court did not share the same liturgical tradition as Lutheran Leipzig or Weimar. The cantatas that he did write, then, were celebrations of the reigning prince – mainly birthday cantatas. In addition, Bach composed a number of instrumental works for Leopold, a keen amateur lutenist.

The libretto of the Leopold’s Trauermusik was first published as a libretto booklet for the funeral and, three years after the first performance of the work, in a collection of Picander’s poems. Picander’s words are the fixed point in the half a dozen or so reconstructions of the work. The first of these was the nineteenth-century editor of the first Bachausgabe, Wilhelm Rust. All of the reconstructions draw on the music of the Matthew Passion, and Bach’s other funeral work, the Trauer-Ode for Queen Christiane Eberhardine of Poland and Saxony, Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl (BWV 198), also performed first in 1727. Much of the music for today’s Trauermusik was first performed – in different contexts and as different commissions – two years before Leopold’s death. The compiler of today’s reconstruction suggests that it was fortunate that the Matthew Passion and the funeral ode for Queen Christiane benefited from the fact that Leopold planned his funeral in good time: they were able to draw on the music for the projected funeral. Bach simply asked Picander and his funeral ode librettist Gottsched to write new words for the Köthen music for the two substantial performances of 1727.

Unfortunately, we have no substantial evidence to establish precisely what came first: the Trauermusik, or the Passion and the funeral ode. It is just as likely that, having heard – of – the success of the Passion and the ode, the ailing Leopold asked Bach to conceive of a work that would honour him. In an age in which musical recordings did not exist, and any re-performance or re-use of a work was an opportunity for the genius of Bach’s music to be appreciated by another audience, it was common for music to be adapted for other performance purposes. Just as at the death of Princess Diana of Wales 25 years ago, the singer Sir Elton John was asked to adapt his Candle in the Wind to create a moving funeral tribute, Good-bye England’s Rose, it may well be that the reigning prince asked that the music of Bach’s most-loved vocal work be used for his funeral, rather than the other way around. In the absence of firm archival evidence, it is hard to determine the chronology.

Whichever may have come first, this afternoon’s performance echoes seven arias and two choruses from the largest, longest and most complex vocal work Bach composed in the second decade of the eighteenth-century. His B-Minor Mass, completed a year before his death, would rival the complexity of music and setting, but at the time of Leopold’s death the Matthew Passion was the pinnacle of Bach’s music making. And so while it is hard to say whether today’s performance was a stepping stone to the ‘great Passion’ or the Passion and the Funeral Ode for Queen Christiane the inspiration for the Trauermusik, the music and words themselves are a fitting tribute to a passionate promoter of Bach and his music. I am delighted to share in the first performance of this latest reconstruction as Bach’s Trauermusik by the combined forces of Polyphonic Voices and the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra under the baton of Michael Fulcher. For me, the work will help me re-discover what I love about the St Matthew Passion through the vehicle of Picander’s libretto to celebrate Leopold and his reign. The fact that the work is performed 288 years after Leopold’s death is testament to his ‘immortal fame’ as the final movement of the work so confidently proclaims.

Image credit: H.-P.Haack, via Wikimedia Commons.