Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
25th Apr 2021
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2021
“I am the Good Shepherd”.
During these Sundays of Eastertide we forgo The Old Testament Reading. It’s substituted by a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. To reinforce the case for the experience of the apostles we have words which crown their experience of resurrection life with words from Jesus, revealing both his new identity under God and in turn the new relationship which the apostles have with their former teacher. For he is now in the words of Thomas become ‘their Lord and God’. The resurrection marks a sea change in their relationships not only with God but with their fate, their world and its future course.
Jesus does not leave them in any doubt as to how things have changed. They have changed because of him. And he is at pains to identify himself to them, to reveal himself to them in strong terms. In John’s Gospel we have the so-called ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus’. And in our Gospel reading ‘I am the Good Shepherd’. Jesus informs them and reassures them in equal measure, and repeats in the Gospel the fact that ‘he lays down his life’ as a ‘good shepherd’ and acts to protect them from the wolf – the one who snatches them away and scatters them; a powerful image of falling away from God.
Many hymns take up Jesus’ reassuring words and especially ‘The King of Love my Shepherd is’ :
Perverse and foolish ‘oft I strayed
But yet in love he sought me
And on his shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me
And directly to us individually is St Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer of serenity:
Let nothing trouble you,
The Good shepherd is the one who is carrying us, guiding and protecting us and helping us to realise that in God’s sustaining presence, we have all we need. The one thing necessary is God and without him we lack what we need to live authentic lives. For it is in God that what troubles and threatens to undermine us in this life finds its response.
This reassuring note is most necessary for the community of Christian Faith as we emerge out of a period of un certainty and upheaval. As I wander the streets of the parish there have been lots of conversations around ‘checking one another out’. Of course we have all been able to ‘tell it like it is’ but for Christians generally it must be possible to say that there has been a strong sense of ‘God being with us all the way’. We have been led through this current crisis to understand that our lives are - all of them on this earth – being lived provisionally. That our lives, even denied of the usual solaces of social ingathering and of satisfying old routines are more than these things. St Teresa is able to comment with startling truth. She reminds us that ‘all things are passing away’ and that life finds us, if we did but know it, in a very real state of profound waiting. But it is how we wait under duress that is important for her and for us. We may wonder when frustrated by the strain of events that ‘patience may obtain all things’. We wait under the care and guidance of the loving God - for God to heal and renew. We wait in vain if we wait for our own ‘wish fulfilment’.
A phrase repeated in this morning’s Gospel is the one in which Christ repeats that he has ‘laid down his life’ for the life of flock which is the community of faith. The epistle reminds us that
‘God laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. Little children, let us love , not in word or speech, but in truth and action’
The spirituality of waiting on God breaks forth into the spirituality of serving God actively. We mirror the activity of Christ the Good Shepherd when we too are mindful for the lives of others. It helps me in prayer to consider the lives of those in need and to ask myself how I might be feeling and coping or not coping in their situation? The case this week of a member of our congregation being forced to seek new accommodation at the age of 90 put me in this same place. How would I be feeling? Wouldn’t it gladden my heart if I thought I had friends who would understand a little of what I was going through and come and help me? The early Christians, those for whom John’s Gospel and letters are addressed, were motivated to see the Church in this way, as one organic body, and to mind it and mend it in acts of unfussy and unselfish care. It was this response to the human condition which gave the early Church the power to grow and to become so numerous and influential.
It was and is under the banner of loving care, following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, that St Teresa’s English incarnation, Mother Julian of Norwich could say with all meaning and muster:
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
18th Apr 2021
Sermon for Easter 2
“My Lord and my God” John 20.28
The post-resurrection appearances of Christ serve not only to drive home the message of the Resurrection but convict the witness in the deepest level of their being. They give us the sense of God’s calling and of Christ as its visible manifestation. Doubting Thomas is shown the wounds of Christ as signs of the meaning of his suffering and death. It is by Christ’s wounds that the ‘secret’ of his Messiahship is communicated. It is through the wounded Christ that the full fruits of his ministry is understood and responded to. It is as if God the Father is saying ‘It is by these means alone that my love for you is shown”. “It is in response to my wounded Son that I call you to serve me”. “To know these things you must go by the way of unknowing”. “To serve me you must cast all care aside”. “I am calling you to believe in this…”
Thomas was not present to hear the first glad news of the Resurrection. Because of his absence he can only accept its truth doubtfully. He wants not only to ‘see’ it but also even to touch it! He wants to experience the resurrection viscerally and even to use a word shared by all who have received the Covid jab, subcutaneously. Only by putting his finger into Christ’s wounds will he recognise Christ as truly alive. The Gospel writer John wishes us to know that the call to serve Christ, to embrace the Christian vocation takes the individual beyond the realm of proof and into the deeper realm of sacrificial and unselfconscious self-giving. Thomas’ doubting is of little importance if it does not draw us into its counterpart – the call which draws you out of yourself and into the life of the other. The wounds are a reminder that this may be costly, but c’est la vie, as the French say, ‘that is life’. Real, true life.
The Camden Abu Dis Friendly Association is led by Dr Nandita Dowson. Camden teachers and other community leaders, under its aegis, have been visiting settlements in Palestine, esp. in Abu Dis. They have met other schoolteachers, parents, and young people who are under sentence of isolation in the Palestinian territories east of Jerusalem. I will never forget when asking the young people of Abu Dis what they wanted to do as a career an unusually large number said ‘doctor’ or ‘nurse’. It was moving to meet the young personalities who have suffered tremendous early dislocation and disharmony. Yet they want to dedicate their futures to mend and enhance and improve their social environment. Somewhere deep inside is the need to express something of their longing for freedom and harmony and to want to help make this possible for others, too. These are vocations which seem to appear out of nowhere, but do in fact emerge out of the fruits of a wounded existence.
I noticed in all the filmography relating to HRH the late Prince Philip that the motto at the foot of his crest simply says: ‘God is my help’. When the lives of a child like Philip and the Palestinian youth emerge out of experiences which have been unsure, and where perhaps there has been great emotional challenge, so too the recourse to express something of what it might be like to live ‘on the other side of hope’? Many remarkably caring persons, coming from difficult backgrounds, have nonetheless ‘put themselves out’ in the service of others, and particularly at the level of bodily care, to make this world a better place. From a background of inherited displacement may come the desire to offer it back as a passionate response to the beauty and possibility of life itself? There is the accompanying idea of the interconnectedness of vocations, particularly ones which bring strength and healing to those they nurture. We may remember personalities in our own lives who have truly believed in us and given us in turn much needed self-belief and self-confidence. They are bringers of resurrection. No doubt Prince Philip owed much to two stunning vocations, one which belonged to his own mother who became a religious and founded an order for nursing the sick, and the other the Jewish emigree Kurt Hahn who, as the prince once said ‘understood adolescents better than they understood themselves’. These bringers of resurrection, having experienced the brunt of suffering in their own lives had nonetheless made possible resurrection in others. God’s great helpers.
In Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, the recourse to God, out of a life of great personal trial, was I think, something of a key. I say all this as our attention is drawn to the means by which Christ shows his wounds to Thomas. This is not just a ‘showing’ but a visceral immersion into the wounded Christ. We may shiver a little when we consider what lies beneath our skin, our bodily packaging; what the medics call ‘sub-cutaneous’. It relates powerfully to what lies at the heart of our human woundedness and vulnerability. The ‘going deeper’ is a figure for the deeper and more profound response which the resurrection of Christ calls out in us all…
Thomas’ doubting is, in fact, of little importance. It serves as a powerful contrast, to draw us to that greater recognition of God which lies deep within our human nature, and which is the catalyst for that greater response to service of which the wounded Christ is the living embodiment. This has emerged not out of personal choice alone, but whose possibility is for the transformation of our lives and other lives. Thomas is finally able to give his assent. His teacher, Jesus of Nazareth is now both human and divine and his resurrection life is now and forever possible for all who come to him. He has seen his salvation.
The Orthodox Churches call ‘Doubting Thomas ‘Believing Thomas’, for his response to that which he has come to see in truth:
“My Lord and my God!”
Christ is Risen!
Rev. Christopher Cawrse
Sermon for Easter Morning 2021
4th Apr 2021
Sermon for Easter Day 2021
Terror and amazement had seized them and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid”
The experience of Jesus’ followers on the first Easter day reminds us of just how human and vulnerable they were. They were for all intents and purposes, ordinary people like you and me. And yet the experience of the risen Christ proved completely life changing. The first witness, Mary Magdalene had come to them and her message was a revelation and the igniting of a new realisation. But this was only to happen gradually. Last night we had great trouble getting a light from the Easter fire to the Easter candle, but in some Christian cultures that sense of gradual and even awkward realisation of the resurrection is quite deliberate. In the great Holy Sepulcre Church in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection, orthodox monks loiter around the site of Jesus’ tomb for a while quite furtively, and priests go in and out of the place of the tomb once or twice or three times, and then suddenly issue forth blazing torches, and the younger more athletic priests rush out of the tomb to proclaim the suddenly realised resurrection. The effect is as startling as it must have been for the early followers.
So much for the effect. Now for the source of the effect. The experience was not for them simply one of shock and awe. They experienced something quite new to human experience, that this Jesus, whom they had honoured and loved, had risen from the dead as God, or as Son of God, a vital part of God. The experience of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not therefore just an experience, it is now a life changing, cataclysmic event in which, because it is God who is Risen, changes their lives for ever. God is now no longer pitched upon a cross or sealed in a tomb, but God in Jesus is now alive and as God will ever remain with them In a way they could never have envisaged. Jesus is to be with them always. They in turn are to become one in God as Jesus is God.
I spent the earlier part of lockdown binge watching episodes from the 20 series of ‘Silent Witness’ about a group of trendy, likeable forensic scientists who could solve difficult and mysterious cases of death and catastrophe through DNA and the minute investigation of body parts. Alongside this I watched Agatha Christie murder mysteries and particularly the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. In thinking about the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, I might imagine the ‘Silent Witness’ team picking over the empty tomb to try and find the vital evidence for this amazing happening, closely examining specks of dust or perhaps a tiny fragment of the white linen cloth left behind. They would present their findings and we might be impressed by their handiwork but it would not carry us to an experience of resurrection. Likewise, Mr Hecule Poirot might with his acute mind summon the forces of logic to provide a plausible reason why this resurrection event had occurred and single out individuals, who in the dead of night had taken the body and hidden it. No resurrection here also.
This morning on the radio, David Suchet, who played the Belgian sleuth Poirot, related his conversion to Christianity in 1986. He had been reading the Bible in a hotel room and was convicted by the words he was reading from Romans Chapter 8.11:
He was struck by the words from Chapter 8 verse 11
If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the spirit which dwells in you.
The experience of reading and digesting this piece of scripture was for David Suchet a conversion to Christ. It spoke too, of the truth that lay at the centre of his and every being –
That God is no dead thing and neither is the word of God. It is alive and active and present. It speaks to us about our lives and their true condition in a way which can never be surpassed – that God in his love sent his Son Jesus Christ to die and to rise again, and that the spirit of God, resident in all our hearts cries out for its own ‘Alleluya’; it’s vital ‘Yes’ to God’s summons. He mentions that the Bible is really about all of us, and particularly the failures. But it is relentlessly hopeful. Its words are always meant not only to be read but to be heard, just as the follows heard those words from Mary Magdalene that he had risen from the dead and that life could never be the same again. Now we are the followers who receive her message, we now are the vital hearing witnesses and Easter calls us to become God’s very own Easter people, always and everywhere declaring Christ to be alive and operative; life giving and life renewing. And we at this time of pandemic proclaim the message of God in Jesus as the re emergence of hope in a way which surpasses mere words.
This is because of Jesus. `This is because Jesus is God. An experience of Resurrection is converting and renewing and joyful. God proves is love and trust in us as the flickering Easter candle nonetheless proclaims his light and his spirit. God can work through the terror and amazement of the followers and establish his love in them despite their partial sight. May this same human and vulnerable Easter be with you, today, on this glorious Easter Feast and for always. Amen. Alleluya!
Sermon for Good Friday 2021
2nd Apr 2021
Good Friday Sermon
When we speak of ‘Good’ Friday perhaps we are very uncertain about what this ‘good’ means. The following verses of a medieval Good Friday carol rejoice in the Cross as showing the world a true and real love, and in this showing, the saving death of Christ and the life of the singer become involved in one another as though they were partners in a dance. The medieval Christian mind could conceive of these things and draw strength and joy in their expression in a way I think we might find quite strange. He sings:
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance;
“Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold,”
The same is he shall lead the dance.
Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear to my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love;
This have I done for my true love.
Good Friday sees God’s love shown in giving his Son to a fallen and a largely ambivalent world. Christ dies in a Jerusalem swollen in population to ten times its normal size, and busy and preoccupied in coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. Nothing particularly new there, for even this morning as our Good Friday walk of witness wended its way around the King’s Cross churches, you passed working scaffolders, joggers, men delivering beer barrels, a boy practicing his basketball skills and a speeding ambulance passing by with screaming siren. Christ comes to us in the thick of life and speaks to us there. And in the crowd this morning, the crowd of Christians making this walk of witness were Christians who know all too well that if Christ is the God who dies for love of you and me he is the One who dies for all that we have to suffer and for all we have to understand and to bear, of all those things that have caused us pain and disappointment and loneliness as well as those things which bring us that joyful and self-confident exuberance which we find in that medieval Good Friday carol. This morning the Good Friday King’s Cross walk of witness turned out not to be just a mere ritual but one in which the wooden cross wended its way around the district with us following as in a dance, and where life and death and everything else in between finds a partnering of the ambivalent world with the passionate expression of faith, of the Jesus who gave himself not just for the Christian gathering, but also included others in the dance, too, even those who were not strictly paying it much attention.
Good Friday does something which we do not feel that good about. It takes us to a place in which we may know Christ only in the fact of his suffering and death. In this way is God leading us to know the Cross as a sign of contradiction. The Cross comes to shatter our illusions about a God we enjoy calling the God of love without responding to that love which ‘searches us out and knows us’. And in that searching and knowing is the plain fact of our mortality with the accompanying fact of its beauty and trajedy and with the existence of faith as a kind of longing and the recognition of life as ‘unfinished business’. The Spanish Mystic, St John of the Cross tells us that
“…we too must have our Cross as our beloved had his Cross until he died the death of love”.
St Paul was certain that to be Christian at all was to share a Cross with the One who dies on the Cross. His Christianity was also a longing,
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. Philippians 3.10
We come before God wounded, vulnerable and broken. That is our Cross. And it is Christ, who lies before us in this church dedicated to the Holy Cross who tells us this. And the teaching we receive from the Cross is the teaching that issues out of Christ’s own manner of living and dying, as the Letter to the Hebrews informs us:
“…during his life on earth, Jesus offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard”.
We all have our crosses to bear and they are not little ones. We are cross bearers too. Many people come to this church in King’s Cross defeated by life. One of these visitors said to me that she had come into this church because prompted. For out of all her suffering came a prayer, which appeared out of apparently nowhere. It was one which told her that something that to give, something had to be done. But this prospect was awful because with it the terrible realisation of all that had gone before and what had brought her to this place. The pain was numbing and deadening. But she came into church as many at rock bottom do – to come to a place of seeming truth. And her coming into this church and the sense of communion with God had helped to addressed and exacerbated the pain. This is the scope of the Cross. ‘It is after all a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Terrible, because all is caught up in God, even and especially when no easy resolution lies in sight…life as unfinished business, the painful waiting for a deliverance which lies beyond immediate reach, the pain of remaining where we are in the midst of so much that is intractible and insoluable with the possibility of the healing of past hurts and their memories… This is a true Cross.
But this is not to be the end of the matter. In this church of Holy Cross, the Cross is the same one of which the medieval caroler sang all those hundreds of years ago. It is proclaimed sadly and yet joyfully, for it has become our true centre, the revelation of divine love, and the arrival at the place of truer witness. This is the Cross through which the pain of this world’s living and longing can be held and channeled and healed. All is being drawn into the Cross as he said “When I am lifted up I shall draw all things to myself”. We are to bear the Cross as the Cross bears us, for in it the promised Resurrection to new life is already being made. In this divine and human at-one-ness is the true ‘good’ which we celebrate and honour and mourn on Good Friday.