Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
10th May 2020
EASTER 5 SERMON YEAR A 2020
It’s strange but true that at this time of Coronavirus the Church is being called upon to embrace the real contrast between lock down and resurrection. As we pass through the Sundays of Eastertide, each Sunday sets before us ever newer evidences for the Resurrection life. We discover along the way that the Resurrection of Jesus was not an isolated incident’. Rather it relates to all who have ever responded to Christ and to us too in the here and now.
St Paul reminds us in this morning’s letter to Peter that
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 1 Peter 2.9
The resurrection confers a new kind of identity and new purpose. We give thanks those who have proclaimed the resurrection hope through their own commitment to the greater good. We have this past week celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day and in the Queen’s address to the nation she paid tribute to past human sacrifice whilst affirming the hopeful legacy that emerges out of it:
Many people laid down their lives in that terrible conflict.
They fought so we could live in peace, at home and abroad.
They died so we could live as free people in a world of free nations.
They risked all so our families and neighbourhoods could be safe.
These words are, like St Pauls words, profoundly life-affirming and inspirational. They are part of a deeper consciousness which commands our understanding of past sacrifice in the need for present courage. Much of the language of hope and assurance refers us back to times when, amidst great challenge, individuals and communities have remained steadfast and faithful. They have responded to the call to the ordinary life of ‘doing one’s job’ or ‘doing one’s duty’. As the WW2 caption says on so many biscuit tins and tea towels “Keep Going and Carry On”. That will remain true of all of us : that our best attempts to keep things going will make up the hope we need to ‘come through’ this time of great challenge. It is also a time which makes many demands upon us and may well one day find us changed for the better. The resurrection life will have worked itself out through the creative use of time and the reaching out in positive and joyful hope even while we are, so to speak, ‘shut in’. We will remain a community of prayer. The spiritual refreshment and perspective it offers is the sure antidote to stir craziness.
As with the populace at times of emergency, so too for individuals who have stood out at times of crisis to put new heart into the lives of the many. Captain Tom Moore was first seen by us barely a month ago as just another fundraiser for another charity - albeit his age and military background made his little walk particularly moving. But the raising of £32 million pounds for the NHS charities sector was no small matter. It revealed both the very old man who was simply ‘doing his ordinary thing’ alongside the fact of his inspiring and moving and cheering all of us as he approached his 100th birthday. Likewise, our NHS workers have come into their own in extraordinary ways. Boris Johnson’s two carers, Jenny McGee and Luis Pitarma saved the leader’s life and this provided us with a picture of the realities of life and death being waged on the front line. Through their care, the nation has witnessed the astonishing recovery from death of our PM, unprecedented in our history. The applause offered on Thursday evenings for our NHS workers is a moving and joyful tribute to their brave and sacrificial work. For Christians the resurrection is always about the transformation of ordinary human circumstances and the possibility that lies within each one of us for the renewal of hope and the emergence of new understanding. This time of apparent dislocation urges the appearance of a new social terrain with the strong need for the re-wiring of the old circuitry in the old way of doing things and the challenging of pre pandemic priorities.
This week, on Thursday we observe the 200 year anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, and as we remember her we might pause following all the great phrases which surround her career. And in pausing, we might thank God that she was not primarily a nurse but a statistician, and that she believed that the right use of statistics could give legislators and politicians the tools to transform situations where bad practice had resulted in unnecessary suffering and death. It is to the founder of modern nursing rather than as the ‘Lady of the Lamp’ that her true fame is due. She was the first to popularise the use of statistical ‘pie charts’ and the right use of statistics is going to play a large part in the future overseeing of our nation’s governance. It would be marvellous for some of us to applaud her this Thursday as we celebrate her birth in 1820.
Christians have a duty to invest their imaginative energy and active effort in the spiritual and practical support of the greater good. The Coronavirus pandemic has not found the churches asleep or hidden away but alive and active and supportive of the care of those who are particularly vulnerable. We are learning new ways to disseminate and share the word of God. There have been many who have come to church online and found the Christian lifeline and spiritual compass especially welcome in this time of uncertainty and dislocation.
For Christians, the resurrection hope provides the bridge which carries us across and through that which we would fear and dread even unto our own death. We traverse the bridge of faith in life as God’s resurrection people, spurred on by the life that has been set before us, even Jesus Christ our Lord whose example is our witness. Amen.
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2020
3rd May 2020
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A
“I am the door of the sheepfold”. John10.4
It is an irony during this period of Coronavirus that though we are denied access toour church buildings we are nonetheless being welcomed into the domestic spaces of our congregation and then in the media of public figures in a way never before permitted. This represents an opening of doors normally closed to us. As Matt Hancock, our health secretary was this week holding forth on behalf of the nation I made an attempt to spot the titles of the bookshelves that lay behind him. Doors are used as a means of demarcation and even of exclusion, and yet where there are open doors there is also the possibility of welcome. A new way of doing church allows us greater informality and the ability to feel ourselves more keenly to be a company of the faithful. Denied my normal place in the great sanctuary of Holy Cross Church, I feel the joy of the immediacy and intimacy which our current online services now offer. Mention has already been made of the very early Christians who drew enormous strength and inspiration from such gatherings as ours.
In this morning’s Gospel, the identification with Jesus as ‘the door to the sheep fold’ beckons us into a singular and significant place. Jesus stands before us and it is he who offers us life. At the Ordination of new clergy to the Diocese of London, the Great West Doors of St Paul’s Cathedral given a rare opening for the candidates to enter in. At the beginning of an enthronement ceremony for a Bishop, the great door of the Cathedral is shut against him, and he must raise his shepherd’s crook and hammer it against the same door to gain entry…He must be seen and proven not to one of the pretenders mentioned in the Gospel, but one recognised as a spiritual leader and for whom the church’s welcome is a ready one.
Jesus is the one who both calls us and leads us into the household of faith. The door is the one which leads to the sheepfold and acts as its only conduit. We may have seen a herd of sheep pressed against a sheep door ready for dipping. The door is opened to let one in at a time. The door acts as a control to the means of entry into the fold. And in this simple descriptive way, John’s Gospel, a Gospel for the life of the emerging Church, insists upon Jesus as “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, and it is in Jesus that the way to the Father is secured. Remember that the very early Christian Church practised a Christianity known simply as ’The Way’. One way only. Amid a world like ours where there were many competing religions and viewpoints, and the insistence on one way was a definitive mark of the Church’s preaching of the Gospel of Christ. And where there was one way there was one Jesus Christ. Doors have also come to be representative of our powers of discernment and the human mind and the ‘doors’ of its perception. To enter by the way of Jesus is to accept, like doubting Thomas that Jesus is your Lord and your God.
The fact remains that our churches remain a vital point of contact with the living God. Our visitors are a part of our identity as a serving church, with their hopes and dreams, their desire to give thanks, their longing for communion and the receiving of grace, their lighting of a candle or their keeping of silence in a hallowed space? There was a time when Anglican churches in London refused entry to people owing to the colour of the skin and their social background up until the early 1960s.
The Gospels we are reading from St John at this Eastertide are for and on behalf of the life of God’s Church. The Resurrection is above all else a deliverance from fear and a living for Christ, a listening to the voice of Jesus who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. In the London of 2020 it is going to become more important that our church can make that 180 degree turn outwards and in and among the communities it is called to serve - even if the scope for our physical contact is for now somewhat hampered. A Church turning itself inside out and toward the stranger, the traveller, the outsider, toward our local community, toward and onto our great city of London, and onto our world and with its suffering and pain.
The figure of Jesus as the Door of the Sheepfold is the one which is calling us to a greater realisation in our own lives of his loving compassion. As we meet Christ so Christ meets us this morning and as this happens a prayer is being asked of us. That the doors of our own minds and hearts, closed off through fear and anxiety may, by the gentle action of Christ, be opened a little, and that the light of Christ’s Resurrection and its liberating power may flood into those places where we may see and love anew. If we can respond in this way there lies the hope of a church which lives the Resurrection. For it will have experienced the renewal of hearts and minds that makes more resurrection possible. The doors of its very heart will lie open.
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter 2020
26th Apr 2020
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter Year A (2020)
The Supper at Emmaus
“Did not our hearts burn within us as we spoke with him on the road?”
The meeting of the stranger on the Road to Emmaus is akin to Mary’s meeting with the gardener who happens to be Jesus. She recognizes Jesus as he calls her by name. But at Emmaus, Jesus is recognized firstly (in retrospect) as a travelling companion and then more directly in the breaking of bread. The communication is non-verbal. But it is in the familiar action of the breaking of bread that the disciples are reminded both of the Jesus they knew in ordinary time and witness the Christ they now encounter as their Living God.
The Supper at Emmaus allows us to see the emergent Christian Faith and its relationship to past scripture, to the physical appearance of Christ and then to what St John Henry Newman called ‘God’s presence and his very self and essence all divine’ as Jesus makes himself known to them.
The Dutch Painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was a visionary, able to see into the deep recesses of the mystery of human being, as is the case in his picture ‘Supper at Emmaus’ (1648). He is able to convey in this painting both a beautiful visual surface and yet also invites us to catch a glimpse of a whole inner world. He does this as he suggests that before anything else, the painting is a living symbol which holds true for all of us. Of the God who reaches out to us before ever we realise God for ourselves. Of the divine action and the human action existing within one act of reception.
Embedded deeply in The Supper at Emmaus lies the promise that Jesus will be with us always and in a particular way in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist. The breaking of this bread is to be the symbol and sign for all time that God has made his home with us and that in him, “…bidden or not bidden, God is always present”.
St John Henry Newman writes:
A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next… There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter only see face to face.”
It’s significant that the two disciples who met the Lord on the road did not at first recognize Him, even when He explained the Scriptures to them and his own identity. For we learn that “…beginning with Moses and the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him.” (Lk. 24:27) They realized only in retrospect that their hearts were burning within them. It was when “he took bread, and blessed, and broke, and gave it to them,” that their eyes were truly opened. This is the moment caught by Rembrandt. The moment of revelation. He helps us to see that the world of ordinary things is nonetheless shot through with the presence of God, who may reveal himself at any time. Is our faith a receptive one? This question echoes the Letter to the Hebrews 11.1 and the telling description of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…”
The account of the meeting of the stranger on the road to Emmaus allows us to see how faith in God is apprehended at different levels of perception and understanding. We never ‘see’ or ‘possess’ God completely. Nor did the disciples before us! Rather, we experience him in others, catch glimpses of him, meet him intimately in prayer, or, like the disciples we can recall certain life experiences in which God had been truly present. God is free. We cannot contain God. And for it to be otherwise would make of our visionary faith something less than it should be. Faith as we know is to be tested, Sometimes tested to the very limit.. It is in this way that God is experienced as our source of life and hope and not as a false antidote for all that we experience as contradictory or threatening.
It has been quite meaningful at this time of Coronavirus to observe the countless allusions to our country when last at war some 75 years ago. Richard has shared a marvellous blog from Radio 4 in which the life of Vera Lynn, now 103 years old, chimed in with the Queen’s allusion to her signature song ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The World War involved for the people certain duties and trusts which would not have been asked for in peacetime, and particularly the call for a certain obedience for the sake of the greater good. The Second World War dictum “Is your journey really necessary?” now particularly applies to those who are rushing around our streets without good cause. This idea of our all playing a strong part in the achievement of a great good is one which is a test of or corporate character. Emmaus contains that same call to the maturing of Christian character with Christ as our guide. It provides us with a rich source of joyful and positive resurrection hope as we currently live with realities which limit us and challenge our sense of what constitutes normalcy.
In the last War the National Gallery remained open, even though most of its paintings had been deposited to a slate mine somewhere near Aberystwyth. Even so, with the gallery so rationed of its rich content, the Second World War period was one of a great flourishing of the arts under the directorship of Sir Kenneth Clark. People were drawn more than ever more to the elevating and life enhancing experience of looking upon the great pictures that remained and the new life they imparted.
So too on the Emmaus Road something great is imparted to the Christian Church. … The Resurrected Christ continues to impart its message of joyful hope, a hope experienced in the deep places of the human heart and soul. A life giving and life enhancing hope which promises that Christ is always with us and will never leave us, even and especially when we are being severely tried.
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter 2020
19th Apr 2020
Sermon for Easter 2 2020
“But these words are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20.
There is a great eagerness these days to speak of significant events which ought to leave a lasting legacy. The most famous was the plea which came out of the First World War that the remaining soldiers would return to ‘a land fit for heroes’. In this time of Coronavirus there are voices which already give expression to the kind of world which will emerge after the virus. With all the destruction to the economy and to livelihoods, President Macron of France believes that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to the transformation of capitalism — where there will be the opportunity for a new corporate morality to hold sway, but, he reminds us that “…leaders need to act with humility”. This might be wishful thinking but what is certain for now is that the world is navigating ‘unchartered waters’. We must hope and pray that any human crisis like this one has the capacity to hold within it the germ seeds for new understanding and the regeneration of new hope. Most are agreed that things can never be quite the same again. A good crisis can bring about great outcomes. But the legacy can only be made good by concerted human action with an understanding of the possibility and yet also the vulnerability of human existence.
These observations lie at the heart of the Easter Gospel. The crucifixion and death of Christ had been experienced by the disciples as the obliteration of their hopes. They made themselves a church not just of shut doors and windows but a church in terminal hiding, a beleaguered church nursing its grief. The Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb provides them with new hope and new direction, and deep joy. It is a joy that must be acted upon. Jesus life and hope has travelled through the locked doors and windows of their minds and hearts with its future providing promise “I am with you always” Matthew 28.20. In his first letter to Peter, Paul, writing less than 20 years after the resurrection describes this new life as “imperishable, undefiled and unfading”.
The recognition that ‘Doubting’ Thomas gives to the wounds of Christ makes him for Eastern Christians ‘Believing Thomas’ He acclaims Jesus as both Lord, and for the first recorded time, as God. Not just identifying but personalising his acclamation as ‘My Lord’ and My God’. He is the first example of a converted Christian and his conversion is one of the heart and is a conversion to God the Father’s action. It is also a conversion to a new way of life and action. A waking up to a new world of possibility.
Our readings this morning all point to this. In the Easter Sundays to come the Old Testament Reading is replaced by readings from the Acts of the Apostles, which trace the immediacy of the resurrection movement in the life of the very early church. We come face to face with the disciples of Christ who are now out in the open, and ready, and outspoken, with their leader Peter, to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus (which had happened for them only months before). This Resurrection they claim is radical and experienced in the immediacy of the present. . It was promised by King David of old and involves God’s own direct action in the here and the now. The crisis of faith brought about by the death of Jesus finds its outcome in Thomas’ passionate avowal that Jesus of Nazareth has now become Lord and is God.
And what of us? What of our ‘here and now’ as Christ’s Church? Resurrection faith is the one which is lived in the immediacy of the present moment and of present circumstances. At this present time of coronavirus this will mean that the time available for us is a time which is more useless time than we are accustomed to. Many across the nation will be watching much more TV, many will find the long spells of inactivity frustrating and difficult, may will turn in on themselves and for many this unproductive existence will affect their sense of well-being and even sanity. But for some, perhaps for many who tread a spiritual path, this may be a time of enrichment. Perhaps when things were ‘normal’ we took so much for granted. In our current confined situations life need not atrophy. In the useless time we can rise joyfully and readily to its many challenges.. In my own existence, I now awake, in the middle of King’s Cross to bird song. Though I feel awkward as to what now constitutes the so-called ‘working day’ my useless activity is not as useless as it seems and there are opportunities for lengthy conversations with friends and parishoners that before Coronavirus I was ‘too busy’ to make. I am more aware, too of those lives known to me which in the current set of circumstances, lie vulnerable to the elements. Curiously but obviously these are those who cannot fathom or manage the internet. They may find themselves excluded. This is a time when the hierarchy of important persons in our society has been turned upside down, with healthcare and NHS personnel coming top of the list of those who matter most and whose work exists within our nation’s mind’s eye as selfless, brave and totally invaluable.
In all of this comes the message which Christ proffers to Thomas. That he is one of God’s chosen. Jesus holds out his wounded hands. He shows Thomas the wound at his side. “Do not doubt but believe”. The true legacy of the Resurrection is the one which is given in Christ and which today instructs us to open our minds and hearts without prejudice and the fallacies of apathy and self-doubt to the life that is already being given in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead – “the outcome of your faith and the salvation of your souls”
Claiming and reclaiming our chosenness is the great spiritual battle of our lives, for in a competitive, power hungry and manipulative world, it is all too easy to forget that God has always known us, and God has chosen us – eve when we slide into self-doubt and self-rejection. Knowing that we have been and are known by God, and that we have been chosen by God, is the first thing we need to claim as we behold what we are and become what we receive in Him.
Easter Message in a Time of Coronavirus (Love from us all at Holy Cross Church)
12th Apr 2020
EASTER MESSAGE FROM THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
AND FROM HOLY CROSS CHURCH CROMER STREET LONDON WC1H 8JU
Dear sisters and brothers in the Crucified and Risen Lord,
As the days of celebrating Easter approach, we would like to convey to you the traditional Christian greeting, which affirms the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and its powerful liberating message, bringing joy and hope to the world, overcoming fear and uncertainty—
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
This year, we observe Easter in a challenging context amid painful situations. The COVID- 19 pandemic, which has affected the whole world, is also affecting the way Easter will be celebrated. To protect our own lives and those of others, we cannot fill the streets with processions, nor will churches resound with hymns and liturgies, expressing and sharing our Easter joy with one another. Instead, we will share the mystery of Easter and meet the Risen Lord in our homes, but through online presence we will nonetheless still gather and in joy and hope proclaim the Easter message as best we can! Many of our people are experiencing fear and uncertainty, as well as trauma, separation, isolation, loss of members or even death in their families or in their church communities.
Yet, despite these traumatic and painful situations, the message of Easter continues to be a joyful one of courage and hope.
The first experience of the disciples with the Risen Lord occurred in similar circumstances. Out of fear and to protect their lives, Jesus’ disciples gathered in a room, behind closed doors. And there the Risen Christ came among them, bringing his peace. As they were startled and terrified, “He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened?... See that it is I myself.’” (Luke 24:37-39).
The Risen Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Easter is a reminder and encouragement that God in Christ continues to love and care for the whole world, overcoming death with life, conquering fear and uncertainty with hope.
To those who may be tempted to explain the present situation as an expression of God’s punishment and wrath, the Easter message conveys that our God is a loving God, the source of life, not death, the God of life and love “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17).
Dear sisters and brothers, throughout the centuries, the Easter greeting ”Christ is risen!” has always infused Christians with the power and courage to confront death, destruction, oppression end enslavement, fear, doubt and uncertainty. As we are confronted today with the challenges of COVID-19, we assure you that in these days we are united with you in prayers and in affirming together our common faith and hope in the Risen Lord: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).
Sent with love and prayers from Fr Christopher Cawrse,
Holy Cross Church, Cromer Street, London WC1H 8JU.