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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Ascension Day with the Knights Templar

On Thursday we welcomed members of The Grand Priory of England of the Knights Templar to St Stephen Walbrook for an Ascension Day Service which combined our mid-weekly Eucharist with the Investiture of a new knight into the Order. Here is the sermon given by The Grand Chaplain-General, The Grand Priory of England, The Supreme Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem:

For 200 years the Templars played a vital role in the military, political, economic and spiritual life of Western Europe and the Middle East. The Order was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect pilgrims who were visiting the sacred places. They are best known for their role in crusades. Less known, for example, is that Aymeric (the Master of the English knights) was crucial in the negotiations which produced Magna Carta 800 years ago last year. We produced a medal to commemorate that event. Princess Ann accepted one. We also issued a medallion and I’m pleased to give one to Jonathan.

But some may ask who are we today? Wasn’t the Order abolished in the 14th Century on charges of heresy and the like? Well until a few years ago – in 2004 to be exact – that might have been a reasonable comment.

The background is that King Philip IV of France was greatly indebted to the Templars in the early years of the 14th Century and he hatched a plan to discredit the knights by accusing them of many crimes (including heresy). In secret he had all of the French knights arrested on Friday 13 October 1307. Note that: “Friday 13th” – that’s where we get the idea of that day being unlucky. It certainly was for the Templars!

Many died, many “disappeared”, many “confessed” after dreadful torture. Today such so-called ‘evidence’ would not be allowed.

Pope Clement V established an enquiry into the accusations but failed to publish the results and make his Absolution public until after King Philip had done his worse. Even the Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay, was burnt to death in Paris on 18 March 1314.

Unfortunately the Pope’s Absolution document was mislabelled and misplaced in the labyrinthine files of the Vatican’s Secret Archive until Barbara Frale, an Italian researcher at the Vatican School of Palaeontology, found it and recognised its significance. She published it in 2004 and the Vatican issued a limited edition of 799 magnificent facsimiles at £8,000 each 2007.

Pope Benedict XVI received an unnumbered copy. I haven’t got one but last week one was for sale on eBay for about £41,000.

Somehow the Templars survived but it’s an unoptimistic message – hard work and sacrifice can sometimes be “rewarded” with libel, persecution and even death.

The Hillsborough disaster is a current example. Those who survived and the families of the 96 who died have fought for 27 years to establish the truth. Their faithfulness has triumphed and we learn that though truth can be a fragile thing, its shelf life is eternal.

We heard in the Reading (Luke 24.44-53) that the disciples were told that Jesus would return again and meanwhile they were to be his witnesses. As I’m sure you all know the word which is translated “witness” is, in the Greek, μάρτυρας (marturas), and this is like our word “martyr”.

So it seems that Jesus wasn’t suggesting that being a witness to His Truth would be easy. It might bring persecution and even martyrdom!

Jesus told them they were to wait in the City to receive “power from on high” (the Holy Spirit) who would enable them to fulfil the Great Commission to: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19-20). They obeyed and were soon out, baptising and preaching and teaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, and the gift of Life Everlasting.

And the proof of their success is here. We are the evidence. The disciples obeyed and we are the result of that “power from on high”.

Obedience is the key to success and shortly we shall obey another of Jesus’ commands – to: “do this in remembrance” of Him (Luke 22: 19; and 1 Corinthians 11: 24-25).

And there’s another thing which Jesus wants us to do. Put simply, it is a direct and committed response to Jesus' prayer that his disciples: “may all be one, even as he and the Father are One” (John 17: 20-21). We, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, should work together and worship together and in this way demonstrate our visible Christian Unity.

It is my firm belief that in today’s increasingly secular world we Christians have got to put much more effort into getting together with other Christians from different traditions and denominations and worshipping our One God, together. We Knights Templar are doing it.

Obviously all Christians should obey Jesus. So we should:

1). Preach and teach the Gospel;
2). Baptise and celebrate Holy Communion; and
3). Work and worship together, ecumenically, as one with each other and at One with Jesus.

Then, when He returns, in fulfilment of the Ascension Day promise, we shall be ready!


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