Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
14th May 2017
The Fifth Sunday of Easter
“In my Father’s House there are many mansions”.
All of us, one way or another long for a sense of belonging. It is natural for us to need that place and those people to whom we can be ourselves. In recent times there has been a remarkable upsurge in the number of people living on their own. Many modern day families no longer live close by one another. Consequently, families do not form the formal units that they once did. Many are ‘second families’ or families drawn from previously existing family units. Then there are families which are scattered throughout the world, and who exist, forced apart, but united in love and communicating on the mobile ‘phone. Money is sent electronically through the ether.
In the light of the words of St John’s Gospel we may come to understand more fully the mysterious words that “…in my Father’s house are many mansions”. There are in the world so many kinds of dwelling place for a global population which has become more and more proliferated and communicating with itself from immense distances and situations in life. The many mansions or rooms speak to us of diversity but also that they form part of one household. As the Easter message is proclaimed in this series of Gospel readings from St John, it is being proclaimed for the Church. And this was a Church growing out of a very similar social situation to our own in London today. A situation where diversity of thought and custom, of language and allegiance was commonplace.
The rapid growth of the Christian Church owed itself to a miracle. And the miracle was based upon the Christian Gospel and of the Jesus of Nazareth, the local man who was in the space of three centuries to become the One for whom The One God manifested himself as his own self in human form. The growth of the Church rested very firmly on the experience of the Resurrection as an upsurge of divine power, galvanising and informing the Church. In the spirit of the living Christ this Church was to advance away from its Jewish inheritance. It did this in the firm belief, expressed passionately by St Paul, that the Christian Faith was for all people everywhere: all should partake of Christ. His death and Resurrection was for the life of the world. If this were not so, then the full significance was Christ’s sacrifice would never have been realised. For them the existence of Christ and the sacrifice of Christ are one and the same. Jesus is “…the one full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world…” This echoes the words of the writer to the Hebrews (10.14) when he tells us that “For by one offering Jesus has perfected forever those that are being sanctified…”
The Church offers us all the hope for the sanctification of our lives and their purposes. In the Church’s life, in the household of faith, lies the consecration of us all in the one body of faith. Two years ago there was a murder in Argyle Street. A man was stabbed to death in one of the so called ‘units’ where live those who are vulnerable and medicated. A row which took time to brew between two men exploded weeks later in terrible violence and the death of one of them. A police cordon was placed around the front porch for a day and a half. I heard the news of this happening not from the police but as I was beckoned into the house two days later by one of the inhabitants to meet the staff, who seemed pleased to see a priest. They were in an obvious state of shock and requested, in their own words, ‘prayers of deliverance’. And so we sat and prayed about what had happened and comforted one another in this house of dread. In my Father’s House there are many mansions and some of them are unlike any you have ever seen. Many are in need of sanctification. Now the three houses of dread are boarded up and I do not know what their fate will be, but these house, situated alongside a primary school and in the middle of the most densely packed part of London were clearly not the appropriate places for the mentally vulnerable.
St John’s mysterious words are significant for how they tell us of how strange and wonderful are God’s ways and how they inhabit so many places and worlds beyond the confines of our own. He is the God who surprised me two years ago, and brought me into a troubled house at the behest of a troubled man, poor in spirit, who was spiritually awake and genuinely concerned for the life of his house and compassionate to toward the anxiety of those bearing the responsible position.
There are so many ways in which we ‘do’ Church, aren’t there? We are being called at Eastertide to be the Church of the one household of God but one whose inhabitants occupy the ‘many mansions’ of our world’s own living. We are called, like the early Christians, to be the Church which receives that same sanctifying grace which is the presence of Christ ‘at all times and in all places’. This week our east windows will be boarded up and will spend some weeks beholding a somewhat darkened and artificially lit sanctuary. In this mansion, come what may, we behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and take that sense of his presence into our lives so that we may be Christian presences, many mansions, in his service.