Ripon Cathedral Founders and Benefactors 2018

Sermon preached at the Commemoration of Founders and Benefactors at Ripon Cathedral on October 14th 2018.

Ecclesiasticus 44.1-15; Matthew 5.13-16

If you travel three hours’ north from Suva on the Fijian island of Viti Levu, you will reach the turn-off that leads to the village of Maniava. This was a journey I took around about this time two years ago, with Archbishop Winston Halapua (the Archbishop of Polynesia) and forty young people from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. When we arrived in Maniava, I for one was glad of the ceasing of the bumpy journey. The cool air conditioning of the car however was replaced by the intense heat and humidity of the mid-point of the day. It was clear to me, that we had arrived into what looked like a temporary place, there were no homes as such, rather tents and precarious looking tin-structures. It turned out that the tin that made up the homes was what was recovered scattered across the surrounding valley and hillsides. Maniava was virtually destroyed in 2015 by a cyclone. One of the effects of climate change is increased everything: increased heat, increased sea levels, increased intensity of tropical storms. The effects are real, and they are happening now. The people of Maniava were, in spite of their immense obvious struggles with a lack of adequate and safe shelter, filled with joy in their welcome; they sang praises to God; they even provided a chair for me so I didn’t have to sit on the ground (just one of so many examples of gracious hospitality that I found deeply humbling). Following our welcome, we left the relative comfort of the shade and headed outside and up a hill to the site where their new church was to be built. My task was to help Archbishop Winston dig the first soil for the foundations, and bless the land. The children from the village eagerly gathered round to help me, two of them spent the whole time clearing ants away from my feet, and some put their hands with mine and together we pushed the spade downwards into the dry and dusty soil. It was heavy and hot work.

All that of course, is a world away (quite literally) from North Yorkshire some two years on. So why mention this now, here? Well, as our Diocesan Bishop, Bishop Nick often says, we need sometimes to look through the eyes of another culture in order to understand our own. We have already listened to the language of the founders of this Cathedral church, the language of Anglo-Saxon. Our forebears in faith inhabited a world that of course was vastly different from the world we live in now, but as we listen to their language we are connected with them in ways that we cannot see but perhaps, if we consider it for a moment, we can sense. The first word of that Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is ‘Listen!’ And that too perhaps is the foundation word of discipleship – Listen. Of course Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf rendered that first word ‘So’ (and here I must defer to the Anglo-Saxon scholar Canon Professor Joyce Hill in our midst; I’d be keen to know her thoughts). But in a sense, whether ‘listen’ or ‘so’ – it is a call to attention: something is happening here, and we need to take note.

‘Let us now sing the praises of famous men…’ so our reading from Ecclesiasticus entreats us – again, listen, take note. All this is because of what they did, those founders and benefactors. Those whose vision gave us all this; which we are called to guard, nurture and gift on to generations to come. We might however want to say, ‘let us now sing the praises of famous men and women…’ History is written from the point of view of the victor, and those whose voices are the loudest. None of this, none of it would have happened without the women! Someone asked me on Friday, the feast of Wilfrid what he might have made of a woman as a bishop in this area. I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess, was my reply. But I doubt it would be fair to ask Wilfrid that question; because we live in different times. What links us is Jesus’ command in our Gospel reading to be salt and light.

My friend and former colleague Nick King, who has produced the most wonderful translation of the New Testament reflects that ‘as Christians we can get our mission wrong in two ways. We can either see our task as lecturing the rest of the world on their errors; or we can think that no one will listen and keep quietly to ourselves.’ These images of salt and light, offer a middle way (isn’t that so classically Church of England?!). He continues to reflect that ‘we have to be gentle, merciful peacemakers; but we have to add ‘bite’ and illumination to the world.’ Jesus is telling a joke here; we are meant to laugh – ‘no one puts a light under a bucket do they?’ But there’s a lesson to be learnt here too: we have no cause to be shy about the Gospel message; we are called to be confident in our faith so that others might be curious and enquire what it is that gives us this confidence. And please note I am talking about confidence here, not arrogance. There’s a big difference!

In a little while we will listen to the names of those individuals who gave salt and light to the witness of this Cathedral church; individuals whose life stories are every bit as colourful and complex as their names: Eata, Cuthbert, Wilfrid, Eadhead (which if you google of course thinks what you are really after is advice on how to deadhead your roses in this autumn season!), Ceolfrith, Willibrord, Athelstan, and many many others, down to this present day: the Dean and Chapter, musicians, vergers, guides, welcomers, stone-masons, each and every person whose story is woven into the very fabric of this place. Cathedrals, this Cathedral speaks powerfully of the story of God in this city and region, but it also speaks of wider connections across borders and seas. Many (if not most) of the names just mentioned had strong connections with the countries of mainland Europe. One of the great tragedies and ironies of our current political climate is that we are so foolish and deluded and indeed arrogant to think that we are better and stronger if we go it alone. To be connected isn’t about all thinking exactly the same thing. In the somewhat irreverent but at times painfully accurate Monty Python film The Life of Brian, which tells the story of a man whose life parallels that of Jesus, Brian says to the crowd at one point: ‘You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!’ The crowd replies in unison, ‘Yes! We’re all individuals!’; Brian replies, ‘You’re all different!’ to which the crowd replies, ‘Yes, we’re all different!’. Then a lone man in the crowd shouts, ‘I’m not…’ to which the crowd says ‘Shhh!’

Earlier this year in his sermon during the consecration and dedication of the new church in the village of Maniava, the church whose foundations I had helped dig in that intense heat, Archbishop Winston drew a parallel between Jesus’ life and the Fijian concept of hospitality, often used at feast time: Help yourself! enjoy yourself – don’t stop! There’s plenty – take some home! (in Church of England terms just think lots and lots and lots of cake). Jesus’s life, death and resurrection showed that “the love of God is no longer locked up in Heaven,” he said. “It’s now on planet earth, never to stop. It’s overflowing. It keeps going, keeps coming, it embraces us and there’s no end.” And that love of God, said Archbishop Winston, had been demonstrated by the generosity of God’s people who had enabled the transformation of Maniava.

It is a world away, and yet it is right here with us, in this place and we I think are in that tiny Fijian church too – connected. God’s overflowing generosity in the Kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate.

So…let us now sing the praises of famous people; those written about, those whose names remain unknown, undocumented. Our ancestors in their generations. May their names be etched in our hearts; and may these ancient stones echo the wonder of your eternal name O God to whom all honour and praise is due now and for all eternity.

Amen.

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Be doers of the word…

A sermon preached at St Paul and St Margaret, Nidd in the Diocese of Leeds. Sunday September 2nd, 2018.

Mark 7.1-8, 15, 15, 21-23

James 1.17-end

‘You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.’

There is a strong case to be made for letting our readings this morning speak for themselves! Both these words from the letter of James and our Gospel reading reflect the theme of what sort of character we need to have in order to be a disciple. It’s an invitation to each of us perhaps to stand in front of the mirror and ask ourselves the question, ‘do you like what you see’ and even more challenging, ‘do you think God likes what God sees in you?’!

On Friday night, Myles and I had dinner with Bishop John Pritchard and his wife Wendy, and Bishop John commented to me that one of the hymns that had transformed his faith was ‘there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea. There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty. There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven. There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.’

If, when you look in the mirror, and you aren’t sure, remember those words. I have lost count of the number of times I traversed the Pacific Ocean in recent years, flying between the UK and New Zealand, but when I think of that hymn I recall the vastness of that ocean. If that is the expanse of God’s mercy, then how truly awesome is our God who knows and cherishes each one of us, even the very hairs on our heads (or lack thereof depending on how follicly challenged you might be!).

Yesterday morning I received news from New Zealand of the death of a retired Archdeacon in the Diocese where I was Bishop. A Maori priest, Archdeacon Tiki Raumati was a force to be reckoned with. He was not an easy man to listen to, or indeed to encounter. In an email I send to the Archbishop of New Zealand yesterday I remarked that my own relationship with Tiki reflected something of the complexity I often felt being a white, foreign woman in leadership. It’s very difficult for me to convey to you an understanding of what that means, but suffice to say that there was a break-through when Tiki allowed me to sit on the front row during the welcome ceremony on a marae before an ordination took place. Women you see are not usually allowed to sit on the front row on a marae (a Maori meeting ground), but in church contexts, protocol demands that women in leadership roles must be afforded equal status with their male counterparts. Tiki put up a fight on that point, but he had to concede defeat. I sat on the front row, and we stared one another down. But I also said in my email to the Archbishop: Tiki was a robust and challenging speaker, never afraid to speak truth to power and to lay bare the ravages of a colonial history that had inflicted great harm upon Maori. He also stood for a deep sense of reconciliation however, a reconciliation that was not about simply covering over the cracks, but forcing them open so that the deeper layers of our common humanity could be exposed. For that, I in a small way, give thanks and rightly acknowledge a life of faith lived in love and service of his people. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.

All of us have our weak points; things that can trigger our emotions. Jesus knew that, as did the author of this letter of James. Nicholas King, a former colleague of mine who has wonderfully translated the New Testament, writes that ‘it is impossible to recreate with any confidence the original purpose of this letter, but many scholars think that its author may have been that ‘James, the brother of the Lord,’ who became such an important figure in the early Church, and who was martyred in AD 61. If this was so, it may be that somebody else subsequently revised the letter…For our author, religion is more than just sitting in church; it needs to be tested by what happens in real life, the link between what we claim and what we do. That includes restraint in what we say (Donald Trump take note!), a distance from ‘the world’ and difficult things like showing love for the marginalised and the poor.’

That is really why this letter speaks for itself. If you do one thing this coming week, read this passage again and again and ask yourself: how can I show love and care towards others? How can I ensure that my words are spoken in love, not a naïve love but a love that acknowledges the sheer humanity of the one in front of me; the one made in the image of God who stands as Christ to me, as I stand as Christ to them? I have to say, that is one huge challenge!

But that is the whole point of being a disciple: that as our character is forged over time, we have edges that are knocked off, rough bits that are made smooth; arrogance that is perhaps transformed by humility. Jesus invites us to have a relationship with him, a personal encounter that ought to be front and centre of every part of our day, except it so often isn’t! And I wonder if what keeps us back sometimes is fear? I watched a YouTube talk recently by Eve Poole who is the 3rd Church Estate’s Commissioner; she lectures and writes on the topic of ‘leadersmithing’, because, she suggests leadership sounds a bit static; to think of leadersmithing suggests that we are crafted over time. She quotes from the 2001 film ‘The Princess Diaries’ that ‘courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.’

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.

What is that? Love. Love of God, love of self, love of neighbour. The love that compels us to care for one another. The love that challenges and provokes, but which represents that wideness of God’s mercy that knows no bounds. That is good news for each of us, and for all whom we will meet this coming week.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

Child’s play? The Trinity: a reflection

A reflection given as part of Choral Evening Prayer at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. May 30th, 2018.

Isa. 6.1-8

John 3.1-10, 14-16

Last Sunday, while I was preaching in a village church near Harrogate I noticed that a junior member of the congregation was working hard with some Lego (much more fun, I thought that listening to a sermon!) When it got to the part of the service where we exchange the peace I went to have a closer look. It turned out that young Noah was building a car which was part of a box containing bricks that could be used to make three different objects with the same combination of bricks. In bold print on the top right-hand corner of the box was the phrase ‘3 in 1’! This seemed thoroughly appropriate for Trinity Sunday. While I was attempting theological gymnastics in the pulpit, there was Noah wrestling with the same concepts in the form of plastic bricks! It would be unwise to rush to a conclusion in saying that the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t mere child’s play, because it is, just a bit.

Understanding the Trinity brings together two themes: mystery and revelation. God is mysterious and unattainable, yet at the same time God is revealed in Jesus Christ and active in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Children have a natural capacity for wonder, you only have to watch a baby’s face and eyes to see its response to everyday objects we take for granted. Even as adults, our facial expressions can be transformed when we witness something amazing, or find ourselves in a landscape that is truly beautiful. Perhaps you can think of a place you have been when you have had that reaction, when there are no words to express what we see, when words aren’t even necessary or possible. John Berger in his book ‘Seeing Things’ writes that ‘it is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.’

And so we have revelation. Those moments when things do make sense; when the penny drops and we finally understand. Such moments fuel University life: in the lecture hall, the tutorial room, the lab, the library, the practice room; in all number of places. But revelation and mystery are intertwined, not separate. There’s a well-known saying ‘the more you learn, the less you know’! This doesn’t mean that learning itself is fruitless, but that we should never be so arrogant to think we know it all. We don’t, and we never will.

This theme of mystery and revelation lies at the heart of the Gospel, and of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus. It is present too in that strange and terrifying reading from Isaiah.

Both speak of human capacity to be touched by mystery and transformed with fresh understanding through a revelation: lightbulb moments! Things that seem unreal and unworldly in fact exist and emerge in the mundane: God over us in creation; God in us through incarnation; God with us through the Holy Spirit.

From his series of poems Squarings, Seamus Heaney offers these words which seem (to me at least) to capture perfectly that experience of mystery and revelation that exists at the heart of human experience, and at the heart of the mystery and the certainly that is God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

Strange how things in the offing, once they’re sensed,

Convert to things foreknown;

And how what’s come upon is manifest

Only in light of what has been gone through.

Seventh heaven may be

The whole truth of a sixth sense come to pass.

At any rate, when light breaks over me

The way it did on the road beyond Coleraine

Where wind got saltier, the sky more hurried

And silver-lamé shivered on the Bann

Out in mid-channel between the painted poles,

That day I’ll be in step with what escaped me.

Gifted? A sermon for Pentecost

University Sermon preached at Matins in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

May 20th, 2018.

Isaiah 11.1-9

1 Cor. 12.4-13

Some ask for the world

and are diminished

in the receiving

of it. You gave me

only this small pool

that the more I drink

from, the more overflows

me with sourceless light.

The words of RS Thomas’ poem Gift give us a lens through which to view both our readings this morning, and this feast Pentecost that we celebrate today. The coming of the Holy Spirit marked a new and dramatic season for the early church. We tend to think of this event in ways that are characterised by noise and colour: a great celebration akin to the scenes witnessed yesterday during the Royal Wedding. But even in that most wonderful of celebrations, there was a stillness, a mystery and the beauty of love, a moment when time stood still and we all got a sense of the mystery that surrounds us. When Sir Peter Maxwell Davies composed his 8th symphony entitled The Antarctic Symphony he travelled to that vast icy continent and noted an ‘extraordinary sound experience…(a) gentle avalanche of snow from cliffs towering high on either side of the narrow channel through which the ship was passing – the chilling powder enveloped us all on the deck, with a whisper and hiss that paradoxically seemed to be more profoundly quiet than the previous silence; no-one could speak for minutes afterwards.’ It was this experience among others that in his words ‘determined there and then that I use a Pentecost plainsong, associated with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, in this palpably most un-Christian symphony.’ Less noise, more silence.

Any reflection on gifts and giftedness is entirely appropriate in a University setting such as this. Universities in many ways both thrive and survive on gifts: gifts of financial endowment, gifts of intellect and wisdom, gifts of achievement and success (albeit hard-earned; I have met very few people who haven’t described academic work as easy). But those gifts can be a burden too. I speak from this Cathedral pulpit located in a place of power, privilege, and immense wealth; a world away from the people and places I encounter in the Yorkshire Dales on a daily basis. It has been a long and hard winter for farmers. The ‘chocolate-box’ exteriors of rural villages belie the experience of anxiety and poverty, the lack of affordable housing, the challenge of small schools and even in places the lack of connectedness through poor broadband coverage. It is what you do with wealth that matters, and uniquely being both College and Cathedral this building and its witness stands for more than just riches and privilege, and thank God for that!

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul provides a summary of the spiritual gifts, a kind of shopping list of what is available. When you read it you have to wonder about its ordering. It has the potential for chaos. Nicholas King asks, in the context of these verses: ‘how do you prioritise the gifts, and how do you prevent the Christian liturgy from becoming a zoo, if all these gifts are on offer?’ Certainly if Isaiah is anything to go by, with a wolf living with a lamb, a leopard lying down with a kid, and a calf, lion and falling together all being led by a little child, this is a very interesting zoo indeed! But nature of course with all its rawness, hardship and violence, can also be a wise and gentle teacher. Both our readings show capacity for human beings to dream of a better world, one in which both the work restoration and the proclamation of hope are abiding principles to govern how we live. Paul’s response to potential liturgical confusion is to return to the Spirit, the source of all gifts and the driver of unity in the Christian Church. This is the same Spirit that Isaiah speaks of: the Spirit that can sustain and enliven in the most desperate of circumstances, a people in exile. But it is also a warning that both the Spirit and the gifts it provides often come from the most unlikeliest of places, and in the most surprising of circumstances.

It’s easy sometimes to see church as yet another consumerist activity; we can (in theory at least) choose where to go; we can offer various services, gatherings, Bible study groups, and whatever else we can think of. We can also choose to leave and branch out on our own in the belief that that will be better, but Christ’s body is wounded in fragmentation. The list on offer can be endless, and there is pressure on churches to market themselves, and find creative ways of using space to appeal to the apparent ‘popular market’.

But the danger is that in all of this, we forget not just who we are but whose we are. The drive to consumerism even when it promises to help a worthy cause is, as a friend pointed out to me recently really just about buying more stuff; it doesn’t save the planet or removing global poverty! We are the Body of Christ and in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body, so writes Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. In the drama of Acts, at the time of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Paul had yet to realise that, we know those words and yet so often we forget them. Not just who we are, but whose we are. Innovation, by all means, but introspective navel gazing by all means not! When we remember whose we are, then we can respond in humility and not arrogance.

Through the Holy Spirit, by proclaiming the Gospel, as one commentator observes, we still attend to the words of Jesus; in the church and in the world, we still attend to the acts of Jesus in his body. We attend to the word of God that calls upon us still; but to do any of that effectively, we need to be able to notice the things that surround us, and do that, we also need to slow down sometimes…and that…is not easy. For all its exuberance and obvious energy, the Holy Spirit isn’t about a trolley dash through the aisles, it’s about attending to the still small voice, and noticing the signs on the road. Too often the church becomes fixed on its own glory and ignores the profound reality that following Jesus was not, is not, and never shall be about power and glory; quite the opposite.

Last week, I visited one of the church schools in the Anglican Diocese of Leeds. I met a young woman who is taking her GCSEs. I listened into a conversation she was having with a career’s advisor about a work placement that she wants to do after her exams are over: at a local radio station. She will have responsibility for producing her own programme, and she was very excited at the prospect this would offer her of enlivening and growing her gifts in the world of media studies. The fact that she is confined to a wheelchair following a freak accident as a 5 year-old would not prevent her from fulfilling her dreams. I was deeply humbled by my encounter with her, by her positivity and joy in a life that some would no doubt find unbearable and without hope.

Our lives are far more about navigating our way through mist than they are about enjoying the views from the top of the mountain. Whereas other revelations of God take place at height, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes in a down-to-earth level place where the followers of Jesus were gathered together. ‘I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple’ (so writes John Henry Newman), ‘but God declared: Go down again – I dwell among the people.’ God became one of us, dwelt among us, died on the cross for us, and rose again. We don’t spend all our days on mountain tops, we need to come down and when we do, we might indeed discover that the small pools from which we sometimes drink offer us the overflowing and sourceless light of God’s wisdom, grace and mercy.

Amen.

Friction?

A reflection shared with the Wensley Chapter during a Eucharist in Middleham, May 17th 2018.

Acts 22.30, 23.6-11; John 17.20-end

Yesterday afternoon, I was driving from a school visit in Harrogate to a meeting Leeds (or rather arguing with my SatNav which was giving me inaccurate [that’s my interpretation] directions requiring me to twice do a U-turn loop around the one-way system, adding about 15 minutes onto my already slightly pressured commute!). In-between the Sat-Nav’s polite but insistent voice, I caught a trailer on Radio 4 for a forthcoming programme in their ‘The Digital Human’ series called ‘Friction.’

I checked it on online yesterday evening when I was back home, and the blurb says this:

‘It’s the life we’re told we want, where we just shout at a device and our needs are met as quickly as the supply chain allows. Aleks Krotoski (that’s the presenter) explores frictionless digital living. But is there value in friction? Aleks hears from someone who’s life depends on it, mountaineer Andy Kirkpatrick. He has a reputation for stacking the odds against himself as much as possible; long routes, often climbed alone in the worst of conditions. Back on the ground Andy also needs friction to not get complacent, accept others views without question, to keep moving forward. Without friction we risk falling prey to what economist Umair Hague describes as the infantilisation economy. One where we are diminished but being able to have our every need met by Amazon’s Alexa…Ultimately, Aleks will ask what we’re saving all this time and effort for and do we ever reap the benefits? Or does it just keep us where the digital world wants us, consuming in ever more efficient ways.’

Now, you’re probably wondering what does this have to do with us, and specifically how does it shed light on what the Spirit might be saying to the church in our readings?

Imagine a frictionless early church?

Imagine a frictionless current church?

Of course not! Doesn’t exist, and thank God for that!

The entire story of God’s dealings with our world and with human beings only works because of friction. Why? Friction produces growth; it may not always be pretty; it may at times be incredibly hard work, but as a friend of mine often tells me ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’! Rather like the mountaineer in the Radio programme, we should not become complacent because complacency breeds apathy and inertia, and before you know it, everything has ground to a halt and we don’t know why?!

Religious debates were part and parcel of the contexts within which Jesus and Paul lived and ministered. What is both interesting and significant about our reading from Acts is the information it gives us about the variety of Judaism in the First century; so much so that some scholars even talk about Judaisms (plural) not Judaism, as if it were a monolithic whole with everyone thinking and believing the same thing. This must be the lens through which we understand Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: unity is not the same as uniformity. Friction is a place of creative energy, if only we could see it positively. When we encounter obstacles, they make us stop, pause, and reevaluate. Imagine if we threw ourselves into absolutely everything with no care or regard?

Whatever we might think, the message of Acts is clear: that it is God who is in charge!

That night to Lord stood near him and said: ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’

At the start of this week, during our Ripon Episcopal Area Staff residential, I shared a reflection that cited the words borne by the new statue in Parliament Square. When you look at the statue you aren’t drawn immediately to the person: the suffragette Millicent Fawcett, more the words in the banner she carries which say: Courage calls to courage everywhere.

A compelling statement if ever there was one!

The word for courage doesn’t appear very often in the New Testament, only 7 times in fact. What is significant is that when it does appear it is always in the form of a command. Have courage is a more accurate translation of Acts 23.11. It is interesting that courage which can result in the boldest of acts comes hand in hand with vulnerability, that point when we seem to be at our weakest.

We are all bound up in the narrative of discipleship, whether we agree or disagree, whether we are walking on a smooth path or a path beset by obstacles. It’s only in the fullness that we can get a clear sense of our terrain, the land we can work, sow, and reap so that we might grow the Kingdom of God.

I’m holding all of this in my mind at the moment as I continue to get to know the people and places of this episcopal Area as part of this whole Diocese of Leeds. That is the task of discernment and discipleship that I have been called to in this season, and I rejoice that you are companions with me on the road.

Courage calls to courage everywhere.

Amen! Thanks be to God.

Easter fool

My Easter sermon from Ripon Cathedral.

John 20.1-18

It probably won’t have escaped your notice that Holy Week this year began with a bit of (what can be described in Dr Who terms as) ‘wibbly, wobbly, timey wimey stuff’: in other words, the clocks went forward an hour. A glance at the calendar tells us that this day (as well as being Easter Day) also happens to be the first day of a particular month. One newspaper yesterday helpfully suggested that today is (and I quote) ‘a once in a lifetime chance to play corny and obvious-Easter themed pranks on your friends’, such as: replace chocolate eggs on the Easter egg hunt with altogether more healthy carrots (the rationale being that the Easter bunny has in fact eaten all the eggs); or buy a packet of mini-eggs with foil, unwrap them carefully, eat the chocolate yourself and replace the mini-eggs with grapes; finally, the invisible Easter egg hunt – which really explains itself. I hasten to add that none of these will be the case in this Cathedral for the Easter egg hunt that follows this Eucharist!

Today is April 1st, April fools’ day, and Easter Day. A first century headline could well have been ‘Jesus is risen,’ because nobody thought that would happen. But it did. Fact. We join with Christians the world over this day in rejoicing in this wondrous news.

In our Gospel reading from John, we listen to what was quite a chaotic Easter morning: the stone is rolled away, the body has gone. Everyone starts running (so one commentator points out); linen cloths are strewn about. This is no grave-robbery; something else has happened here. And yet, the disciples go back home. For a cup of tea and a lie-down? Or perhaps out of fear to consider what to do next? Mary remains, weeping. And then she encounters the risen Jesus, but only recognises him when he says her name. And then, with an echo of the beginning of the Gospel where Jesus says ‘come and you will see…’ Mary proclaims the resurrection with the words: ‘I have seen the Lord!’

But here’s the thing: Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him. She must let go of him, and in the letting go become the person who proclaims. To hold on to the Word incarnate, the risen Christ, is not what Mary does; she lets go of his physical body so that she, and we, can become the agents of growing God’s kingdom. Jesus has risen, but this is not simply a return to how things were before the resurrection; it is a confirmation and an affirmation of what being a disciple is about. You have to get out there and tell the story; you have show in words and in actions, that the love of God knows no bounds; that death does not have the final word, and that in his resurrection,

Jesus showed us the fullness of God’s power, a power made perfect in weakness.

The resurrection of Jesus does not however begin or end in economic transaction: with shoppers competing to secure the chocolate egg of choice from the rapidly clearing shelves. Our understanding of the resurrection is grounded in a faith context that is over 2000 years old, and carries a deep connection to the Jewish observation of the festival of Passover: the story of the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It was likely the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his friends, the disciples, the night of his betrayal. All those events happened a long time ago, in a context very different from our own. So where and how do we begin to understand and articulate a radical belief in God who raised Jesus from the dead? What difference does it make to our city, to our region? In our world of deep scientific exploration and the need for certainty, there is little room for mystery, wonder and events that turn everything upside down. But perhaps the challenge lies ahead rather than a focus on the mechanics of the empty tomb: there was no 24-hr news coverage after all. It’s what we do with it now that really matters. As we leave this place, we begin again.

‘Beginning’ is a good place to start, because although the resurrection might be viewed as the triumphal end to the story of Jesus, in actual fact, it marks more of a beginning than an ending. The Christian theologian Alistair McGrath describes how the need to see things afresh, from the beginning, has been an important theme throughout history. In order to appreciate something for how it really is, we need to empty our minds and remove memories of things we already know. If we can do that, then we can allow ourselves to be taken by surprise when a beginning takes place, especially when that is something routine that we would otherwise take for granted.

That I think is the point of Jesus’ instruction to go and tell; he doesn’t say ‘hello’ or ‘how’s it going Mary?’ he instills a deep sense that God has done something alarmingly new.

The power of the resurrection lies not only in the fact of it having happened, but in its reaffirmation of life in a world where God is now set loose and everything is turned upside down. Through Jesus’ birth, God enabled a connection between the ordinary and the extraordinary – something far more profound that the display of objects from the past alone can ever hope to express.

Through the cross and resurrection, God affirmed a hope in humanity that brought us through the shadow of death into an eternal light. That message has remained crucial at every stage of human history. This year as we commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War; this current climate of global anxiety, war, terror, fake-news; national and local challenges caused by Brexit; challenges that we personally might be facing.

If we take hold of the rejoicing, then we have good news for the journey. If we allow the joy to enfold every fibre of our being, then we have strength to hold and to share when the road becomes difficult.

This is no April fool – it is the stunning and joy-filled reality of God’s love and mercy freely given to us all.

The liturgist and craftsman of words and prayers Jim Cotter, says this about joy:

A Presence,

the Living Mysterious One:

a joyful presence,

running to meet us like a welcoming friend,

laughing with us in the merriment of heaven,

feasting with us at the great banquet,

Clown of clowns,

Fool of fools,

the only Entertainer of jesters.

In the presence of the Joyful One,

we rejoice.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Easter fool

A sermon preached on Easter Day in Ripon Cathedral.

John 20.1-18

It probably won’t have escaped your notice that Holy Week this year began with a bit of (what can be described in Dr Who terms as) ‘wibbly, wobbly, timey wimey stuff’: in other words, the clocks went forward an hour. At the other end of the week, a glance at the calendar tells us that this day (as well as being Easter Day) also happens to be the first day of a particular month. One newspaper yesterday helpfully suggested that today is (and I quote) ‘a once in a lifetime chance to play corny and obvious-Easter themed pranks on your friends’, such as: replace chocolate eggs on the Easter egg hunt with altogether more healthy carrots (the rationale being that the Easter bunny has in fact eaten all the eggs); or buy a packet of mini-eggs with foil, unwrap them carefully, eat the chocolate yourself and replace the mini-eggs with grapes; finally, the invisible Easter egg hunt – which really explains itself. I hasten to add that none of these will be the case in this Cathedral for the Easter egg hunt that follows this Eucharist!

Today is April 1st, April fools’ day, and Easter Day. A first century headline could well have been ‘Jesus is risen,’ because nobody thought that would happen. But it did. Fact. We join with Christians the world over this day in rejoicing in this wondrous news.

In our Gospel reading from John, we listen to what was quite a chaotic Easter morning: the stone is rolled away, the body has gone. Everyone starts running (so one commentator points out); linen cloths are strewn about. This is no grave-robbery; something else has happened here. And yet, the disciples go back home. For a cup of tea and a lie-down? Or perhaps out of fear to consider what to do next? Mary remains, weeping. And then she encounters the risen Jesus, but only recognises him when he says her name. And then, with an echo of the beginning of the Gospel where Jesus says ‘come and you will see…’ Mary proclaims the resurrection with the words: ‘I have seen the Lord!’

But here’s the thing: Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him. She must let go of him, and in the letting go become the person who proclaims. To hold on to the Word incarnate, the risen Christ, is not what Mary does; she lets go of his physical body so that she, and we, can become the agents of growing God’s kingdom. Jesus has risen, but this is not simply a return to how things were before the resurrection; it is a confirmation and an affirmation of what being a disciple is about. You have to get out there and tell the story; you have show in words and in actions, that the love of God knows no bounds; that death does not have the final word, and that in his resurrection,

Jesus showed us the fullness of God’s power, a power made perfect in weakness.

The resurrection of Jesus does not however begin or end in economic transaction: with shoppers competing to secure the chocolate egg of choice from the rapidly clearing shelves. Our understanding of the resurrection is grounded in a faith context that is over 2000 years old, and carries a deep connection to the Jewish observation of the festival of Passover: the story of the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It was likely the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his friends, the disciples, the night of his betrayal. All those events happened a long time ago, in a context very different from our own. So where and how do we begin to understand and articulate a radical belief in God who raised Jesus from the dead? What difference does it make to our city, to our region? In our world of deep scientific exploration and the need for certainty, there is little room for mystery, wonder and events that turn everything upside down. But perhaps the challenge lies ahead rather than a focus on the mechanics of the empty tomb: there was no 24-hr news coverage after all. It’s what we do with it now that really matters. As we leave this place, we begin again.

‘Beginning’ is a good place to start, because although the resurrection might be viewed as the triumphal end to the story of Jesus, in actual fact, it marks more of a beginning than an ending. The Christian theologian Alistair McGrath describes how the need to see things afresh, from the beginning, has been an important theme throughout history. In order to appreciate something for how it really is, we need to empty our minds and remove memories of things we already know. If we can do that, then we can allow ourselves to be taken by surprise when a beginning takes place, especially when that is something routine that we would otherwise take for granted.

That I think is the point of Jesus’ instruction to go and tell; he doesn’t say ‘hello’ or ‘how’s it going Mary?’ he instills a deep sense that God has done something alarmingly new. The power of the resurrection lies not only in the fact of it having happened, but in its reaffirmation of life in a world where God is now set loose and everything is turned upside down. Through Jesus’ birth, God enabled a connection between the ordinary and the extraordinary – something far more profound that the display of objects from the past alone can ever hope to express.

Through the cross and resurrection, God affirmed a hope in humanity that brought us through the shadow of death into an eternal light. That message has remained crucial at every stage of human history. This year as we commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War; this current climate of global anxiety, war, terror, fake-news; national and local challenges caused by Brexit; challenges that we personally might be facing.

If we take hold of the rejoicing, then we have good news for the journey. If we allow the joy to enfold every fibre of our being, then we have strength to hold and to share when the road becomes difficult.

This is no April fool – it is the stunning and joy-filled reality of God’s love and mercy freely given to us all.

The liturgist and craftsman of words and prayers Jim Cotter, says this about joy:

A Presence,

the Living Mysterious One:

a joyful presence,

running to meet us like a welcoming friend,

laughing with us in the merriment of heaven,

feasting with us at the great banquet,

Clown of clowns,

Fool of fools,

the only Entertainer of jesters.

In the presence of the Joyful One,

we rejoice.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed, alleluia!