Reflections for the Unfolding Year Alan Wilkinson

‘I was appalled by the depth and profundity of Christian thinking, and by the cogency of the Gospel’ wrote a Christian convert going on to say what swayed him: ‘it was something about [a Christian community’s] quality of being which left me feeling like a thirsty man in the desert… a lovingness and peacefulness, a sense of shared and accepted purpose, a humbleness before facts which made me feel singularly small and lost’. This is one of several illustrations in Alan Wilkinson’s sermon collection that heartened me as a word picture of the power of lived out Christianity to draw folk in.

Reflections for the Unfolding Year spans Advent to Christ the King Sundays with additional topics and distils spiritual wisdom over 50 years from a priest mainly based at Portsmouth Cathedral who served in my own Chichester Diocese as Principal of the Theological College. I say ‘distils’. The relentless liturgical cycle challenges priests to address Advent, Easter etc again and again.  Sometimes you feel you’ve struck something rich that’s worth broadcasting and Fr Wilkinson’s selection from his files contains such gifts which have very often been handed on to him from others.

The enclosed Roman Catholic nuns at Dachau struggled with the cursing verses in the Psalms because they were aware of visitors leaving the concentration camp fuelled with the desire for revenge. They illustrate a typical sermon on use of the Bible and how Christians read it ‘in the light of the character of Jesus’ which is behind the issue of the bracketing of Psalm verses now abandoned in Common Worship. Author Henri Nouwen’s fascination with trapeze artists led him to have a go himself and gain understanding that trust is their secret, making this analogy. ‘I can only fly freely when I know there’s a catcher… dying is trusting in the catcher’.

Inscribed on the frontispiece we read ‘in gratitude for the Church of England, Catholic, Reformed, Liberal’. Wilkinson’s sermons reflect all three aspects. There are references to the evangelical power of sacramental confession and to Christ’s presence and sacrifice in the eucharist as well as to the right honouring of Mary. A major theme of inclusion couples with his contesting RC and Anglican opposition to remarriage of divorcees, female ordination and same-sex unions. His reflection on Anglican-RC relations sets forth though the ultimate inclusion of the resurrection in Cardinal Hume’s sermon in Westminster Abbey. ‘We have been, I think, like two sisters - estranged, not on speaking terms, quarrelsome, misunderstanding each other’ like Queens Elizabeth 1 and Mary’ buried there together yet ‘in hope of resurrection’.

This book is a resource for preachers and any who seek illustration of the faith of the Church through the ages and its transforming power.

Reflections for the Unfolding Year  Alan Wilkinson
Lutterworth Press 2017 £15 ISBN 978-0-7188-9498-6 171pp

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