Epiphany is the anniversary of the Prestwich Mission Partnership, between St Mary’s Prestwich, St Gabriel’s Sedgley Park, St Margaret’s Prestwich and St George’s Simister. This year the occasion was marked with a “pulpit swap”: all the clergy presided at one of the other churches in the PMP. This is the sermon that Rev Deborah (St Margaret’s) preached at St Mary’s.
I guess this is one of the few sermons that you have heard that has started with a cake. This is the Roscon de Reyes – the cake of the kings. It is a special cake for the fiesta de los Reyes, the festival of the kings. Tradition is that hidden in the cake is a king and a bean. If you get the king you get to keep the king and wear the crown (show the king). If you get the bean have to you pay for the cake.
For the past few days I have been staying with relatives in Majorca for the festival of the kings or, as we in the Anglican Church would say, Epiphany. It is a really big festival and in many ways it is more important than Christmas Eve and Father Christmas. In fact it is not Father Christmas who brings presents for the children, it is the kings. On the ‘noche de Reyes’, night of the kings, Palma is packed with children and families awaiting the procession of the kings. The kings arrive on the beach and are the final part of a series of floats that wind their way through the city. It seems as though the whole community is involved – the police in dress uniform on horses, the postmen and women on a float, dancers, roller skaters, themed floats representing various groups within the community and several bands with varying types of music. Finally the kings, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, each on their own float designed as a ship with an entourage going before them, toss handfuls of sweets to the excited children awaiting their arrival.
The coming of the kings is part of Spanish culture. My aunt explained to me ‘we may not go to church every week but our religion is important to us. The coming of the kings is part of our culture and tradition. Everyone comes down to Palma to see their arrival and after that the children go to bed and receive their presents in the morning. The kings gave presents to Jesus so we give presents to each other.’
As I stood watching the parade, it made me think ‘what does the coming of the kings, the wise men, mean to us, as individuals, to our world and to our mission partnership?’
Our gospel reading from Matthew gives us the account of the kings who come from afar bearing gifts for the new born king. There is awe and wonder in the story of the wandering magi led to Jesus from the distant East by a star. It testifies to the far reaching, indeed global and cosmic implications of Jesus birth. Even more it witnesses to God’s commitment to reach all the world with His redeeming love.
It is a story we are familiar with and enjoy – in part because of the exoticness and mystery and partly because of the fittingness of their gifts. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Kingship, priesthood and death. Not your normal presents. Not the kind of presents the children of Palma would be expecting to wake up to the following morning, and yet so appropriate for Jesus. A foretaste of his redeeming work. Epiphany gives us a chance to focus on what gifts skills and talents we each have to offer Jesus by giving them to those around us, especially those in need. Christine Rossetti in the well-known hymn ‘In the Bleak mid-winter finishes with those well known words
‘What can I give him, poor as I am, If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wiseman, I would do my part – yet what I can I give him, give my heart.’
And yet beyond the excitement, the gifts and the fun there is another element to this story that often gets missed. It is the note of fear and opposition that Jesus’ birth brings from the start, the politics behind the scenes. Herod is frightened of being usurped. He contrives to find out what is happening through the scribes and Pharisees and plots to ensure that he remains the sovereign power in Jerusalem. Fear is a powerful thing and we heard about the consequences of Herod’s fear when we commemorated the Holy Innocents on the 27th December. In many ways this is not too dissimilar to many areas in our world today. Political intrigue, fear induced violence, fear, ambition and selfishness. If Matthew’s account is much more sober, it is also realistic. We only need to switch on the TV and see scenes of devastation in Aleppo and Mosel, refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution, bombs and shootings, a world where innocents die every day to preventable illnesses and hunger.
And yet what is at the heart of today’s gospel is that Jesus comes to redeem our world with all the problems that are so much a part of our modern society. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. A vulnerable child through which God came to live and die for us so that, in Christ’s resurrection, we might experience new life – not just for ourselves but for our world.
The coming of the kings also draws your attention to the fact that God’s love is for all of us. The wise men are from the East, obviously not Jewish and yet they have come to worship the new born king. This is very much echoed in our second reading. The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Paul himself recognises the grace given to him to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ. This surely highlights our role in mission to all.
Today we celebrate our mission partnership. In the past we have closed the churches down and have all attended one of the partnership churches. This year, to celebrate our journey together, each of the clergy have gone to a different church, as have the readers from each church. Today, as a partnership, we celebrate all the things that have been achieved together of the last few years. Our youth group continues to flourish, our clergy meet on a weekly basis to pray together and share the Eucharist. We have regular events, both in the partnership and through churches together, in which we can witness together the love of God. Our Carol service in the precinct is just one such example.
But we are also looking for ways in which we can journey together more in the future. Each individual church is developing their own mission action plan. We are hoping to have the opportunity to share these together and to look at what we can do as the Prestwich Mission Partnership together to show God’s love to the people of Prestwich. In effect, to develop a mission partnership action plan. Each of our individual churches is different, with different skills and talents, but by working together and sharing those skills and talents we can make a difference in our world and share God’s love to all. Steve has told us about your puppetry ministry. We have Messy Church and are hoping to start up Family Friday and would like to have your puppetry team involved in some way. Through Steve you have very good links with different faith communities, which could be something you could share with us. Equally our Peregrini prayer or our Stations of the Cross might be something you may be interested in. There may a project that we can all work together on over the next few years.
After the service I would like to invite you to share the ‘roscon de reyes’, cake of the kings with me. (The 8.00am congregation have had first dibs which is why it has been cut into). No one has got the king or the bean yet! Don’t worry. If you do get the bean you don’t have to pay for the cake! Let it be a reminder to us of offering our skills and talents afresh to God this Epiphany tide, to share his love with others and to make a difference in our world such that the glory of the Lord, in our first reading, shines in our world today.
Bones fiesta de los Reyes.
Happy Festival of the Kings