Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
21st May 2017
Sermon for The Sixth Sunday of Easter
In a short time the world will no longer see me, but you will see me because I live and you will live. John 14.18.
There are some individuals who have left the world a massive human legacy. My own experience of one such great person was the founder of the Hospice Movement, Dame Cecily Saunders. I spent a year at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham in the early eighties working alongside patients who had been referred to this place and who were deemed ‘terminally ill’. It seemed at the time a revolutionary thing to establish a place of care, a cross between a hospital and a nice hotel with all the amenities in the service of those whose lives and medical diagnosis had been deemed hopeless. But it was also a Christian community. A community of hope. A centre of excellence in which minds and hands and hearts and voices combined to provide a new light of hope in a dark place. In the middle of so much cancer, something new and important could be set down. The fact of dying might no longer be seen as sinister or awful, but the natural complement to a life well lived. The fear of death was laid bare. I remember in 1970 hearing of the death from cancer of a young woman athlete who had won a silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games. Lillian Board had died of colo-rectal cancer, and its fact had been published in all the papers. The effect of the death of this 22 year old woman, whose athleticism had brought her to the peak of success on the track, was for the communication of the unspeakable cancer. . Cancer was then regarded as unmentionable, and referred to as the big ‘C’. The Hospice Movement, helped to slay this terrible demon and to cast out great fear.
The Biblical readings for these Sundays after Easter point us to the kind of Church which emerged out of the life and death and Resurrection of Christ. And the picture we are given is of a Church living its life from the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This energy was a life force granted to the Church through the gift, the operation and the proclamation of The Holy Spirit which granted life and substance and future to the Church. The Church was not just a religious organisation, but a living organism whose head was Christ. It was a Church whose identity lay not just in the example and teaching of Christ but in his very body and blood. This was a Church of the Incarnation, a life and death Church. And rather like the Hospice Movement, the Church was to be radically humanitarian, a slayer of age-old and life-denying demons, a Church whose practical human wisdom, healing power and courage in the face of opposition was to break through the barriers that separated life from death and faith from fear. As John tells us in today’s Gospel, “…you will see me because I live and you will live”.
It is certainly true of a Christian Church like Holy Cross, that it experiences life and death and everything else between. Here in King's Cross we often witness acts of violence in our streets, where the police tape has been ranged across familiar walking paths, and where individual policeman stand guard over an empty scene. At the same time a baby cries, and then streams of children and commuters bustle up and down Whidbourne Street. Someone is playing their music too loud, someone has arrived outside church and sits on the bench to drink his regular can of lager at 9 in the morning. An elderly woman walks past leaning on her shopping trolley for dear worth. The landlord of the pub opposite walks his Alsatian dog. A road sweeper or cleaning operative come to sweep up last nights fag ends while a jogger runs past. Whether it be the Hospice, the life of the early Church or a King’s Cross Street scene, for us as Christians these are all places which have been and are inhabited by the love of God. There is no place and no circumstances in which the love of God cannot be manifest and shown to be real. The mark of the Christian Church from its beginning was its ability to address its place in the big world as an involved inhabitant. Christianity has never been a religion based on ideals. Nor is it a closed sect. It faces the world as it finds it and is called to be Christ in all those situations where the world cries out in need.
The Church must surely stand as that place and those people in which the presence and purposes of God are made known. The Church affirms the wonder of our human being and therefore its great worth. The Church as Hospice. The Church as place of listening and healing. The Church as place and people of hope. This will involve the casting out of fear in its many and various forms. It will be the Church’s call to be a hospitable place which embraces life inside and around it. God’s eyes and so Christian eyes look with compassion on the world that Jesus came to save. The Easter message is that the Resurrection of Christ from the Dead is not gifted to the chosen few, the spiritual aristocracy, but to our entire common humanity. The Church exists as an agent for the healing of the whole person. Our true calling this Eastertide is the one which finds ourselves newly composed and our hearts more compassionately open to the world around us, a world which needs the love of God just as much now as it did when the tomb first stood gloriously empty. This forms an important part of Jesus' valedictory or goodbye message to the disciples. But he does not leave them spiritually orphaned. He reminds them and us that “…you will see me because I live and you will live”. Death has been swallowed up in His victory...life now has the last word.