Easter 5 – 19th May 2019
Preached by the Rev’d David Higgon (Associate Priest
One of the words repeated in John’s Gospel is ‘Glory’ or glorified as in today’s reading.
What comes to mind when we hear the word ‘glory’? Is it the Glory of a past empire like the Roman empire, or the pomp of ceremonial occasions? Yesterday was the FA Cup final and every commentator had the words ‘the glory of the cup‘on their lips.
Some 20 years ago when I took my first service at Ranby prison and I decided to have some really uplifting songs that the lads could sing – so we started with When the Saints go Marching In.
Now I had some quizzical looks of the organist Sylvia as if to say do you really want to sing that hymn and unfortunately, I soon found out why the hard way.
The hymn was sung with great gusto but there were three different versions being sung at the same time, there was me and a few nervous prisoners were singing the words in the hymn book, but we were drowned out by others singing two other versions. One group were singing When the Reds Go Marching in to the chorus Glory-glory Man United while another group were singing When the Whites Go Marching to the chorus Glory-glory Leeds United - with both sets gesturing to each other in a threatening way, while in the back ground the prison officers on duty in the chapel were on their radios calling for reinforcements. Fortunately, it didn’t end in a riot and things calmed down but every time I hear that hymn I start twitching nervously.
We as Christians can get confused by what we mean by Glory. In Coventry Cathedral there is a magnificent tapestry by Graham Sutherland entitled ‘Christ in Glory’ which shows Christ in Glory above humanity, as a king rather than an ordinary human being. In this chapel we have the symbol of Christ the King – Christ raised in Glory. Yet when John in his Gospel uses the word Glory, he is referring to Jesus the man. In Cana where he changed water into wine, he ‘revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him’. At the raising of Lazarus Jesus assured Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory?’ Most powerfully, three of the twelve disciples see him transfigured in a vision of dazzling light. Glory is the sign of God’s activity, the visible expression of God’s presence in the world.
God’s glory is revealed not in heavenly realm but with Jesus at a wedding in Cana, at the grave of his friend Lazarus and on a criminal’s cross. It’s Jesus as the man who shows us God’s Glory, in him at Cana we see God’s abundance and generosity, At the grave of Lazarus he shows God’s compassion and love to those that suffer; in his betrayal and trial, we see his passive hostility to the destructive forces of evil and in his death on the cross his sacrificial love, his self-giving service.
Jesus reveals God’s nature and glory. Perhaps it seems strange that Jesus announces his glorification at the last supper rather than at the transfiguration. Judas has just gone out to betray him. Jesus faces desertion, disgrace and an agonising death. It is one of the darkest moments in the gospel. But against this background Jesus sets his face to the cross, demonstrating the unimaginable extent of God’s love for the world.
The context illuminates rather than overshadows the revelation of God’s glory, for that glory finds its expression in the outpouring of selfless love. Jesus makes it clear that the disciples must continue to express that love. In it, their lives will be transformed, and they will show God’s glory to others.
If we are looking for signs of God’s presence, we need to look for self-giving love. It may be in the activity of those who bring relief to the victims of war and famine across the world. We can look for signs of God’s Glory in those who recognise that God’s love extends to the whole of creation and who campaign against Governments and big corporations to protect the environment. Or in the work of those who support homeless and jobless people on our streets. Or in the devotion of carers for the severely disabled or mentally ill or for elderly parents with dementia.
These are true signs of glory in our world and we can look for these signs in our homes, our Church, our community - anywhere there is selfless love working amongst us.
Easter 3 Year C – 5th May 2019
(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)
Text: “It is the Lord!”
I was pleased to read in Church Times a while ago an article on the gentle art of fly fishing. It was written by a clergyman who had only discovered this delightful waste of time in recent years – spending his retirement learning the ins and outs of the trout’s diet, and then using the skill with feathers and fur to try to build an imitation onto a hook – convincing enough to provoke a fish to snap at it. He finished the article: “In retirement, I enjoy fishing most in the hills overlooking Conway Bay. Fishing soon puts me in prayerful mood, mostly thankfulness – for fresh air, water, birds, insects, trees, flowers, distant views, solitude – and an excellent meal at the end of the day. You might like to try it.” end of quote. It put me in mind of that poem “Leisure” by William Henry Davies – “A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”.
After many years of being a keen but only moderately successful participator, I’ve decided there are two sorts of people who try to catch trout – there are fishermen, whose aim in life is never to leave the lochside or riverbank empty-handed, and to always catch a bigger fish than they caught on their previous fishing trip; and there are anglers, for whom the final outcome – shall we call it “the score” - is immaterial – it’s enough simply to have taken part – to have had that day, that afternoon, that evening standing and staring, rod in hand and very little else happening. That’s me – I must therefore be an angler, not a fisherman. Successful trout fishing – or angling – is principally to do with deception – the art of making things appear to be what they are not, while at the same time making things not to seem what they really are. It’s not just to do with the skillful tying and selection of a fly – it’s to do with how it’s presented to the fish; but in the end, it’s the trout who will weigh up the evidence of what it sees and decide whether or not this is safe food.
Today’s Gospel story tells of a remarkable fishing-trip – sometimes known as the account of the miraculous draft of fish. I suppose it’s a fisherman’s dream – the ultimate fantasy – but only of passing interest to an angler. These disciples in their boat on the Sea of Galilee depended on fishing for their livelihoods – they didn’t go out every day to “stand and stare”. And yet on this fishing-trip they were stopped in their tracks – the tables had been turned on them. Now I know there have never been trout in the Sea of Galilee, but it was as if the fish/angler situation was re-presented. The fishermen were faced with the trout’s dilemma - could they trust their own judgment – the evidence of their eyes?
As with many of the recorded Easter appearances of Jesus, He is known and recognized principally by what He does or says. When He appears to Mary Magdalene, it’s in the calling of her name; at the kitchen table at Emmaus it happens with He breaks the bread at the table; when he meets with Thomas He gives him an invitation. Now, on this occasion, He performs a miracle. Peter knew who it was by what he saw – but how, in a way, he must have hoped it wasn’t Jesus. It’s tough facing up to your own failures. At least when he had denied even knowing Jesus the previous week, he thought that was it – at least he wouldn’t have to face Him again. What would he say to Jesus now that He was standing there on the shore?
We’ve all been there in some shape or another – hoping the ground would open up and swallow us. When we’ve wronged somebody, we know just how difficult it can sometimes be to approach the person we’ve hurt and ask forgiveness. Perhaps most of all we worry about how we’ll cope if our apology gets thrown back at us. In this encounter between Peter and Jesus, there’s no recrimination – but instead, echoing his denials of Jesus, He asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” And in that exchange, with each response, Peter is given a duty to perform – to care for and lead those who were forming (did they but know it) the infant Church. Eleven frightened, weak-willed men and a handful of women – it’s hardly a promising start – but it’s a significant choice. It’s significant because it’s so encouraging for us – 2,000 years later – that Jesus chooses people as flawed as Peter and his associates to be His ambassadors – and that means that we can be chosen too. “Follow me”, He says, knowing just what sort of a person Peter can be. “Follow me”, He says to Judas Iscariot, knowing that he’ll betray Him. “Follow me”, He says to you and me.
I expect you can find parallels in your own lives, as you have and continue to make your journey in the faith. I certainly do. It amazes me each time I stand at the altar and use these hands with which I sin so readily, to perform the most sacred action in blessing bread and wine just as Jesus did, that we might all draw closer to God and He to us. Of course, you will remind me, it’s got nothing to do with me – all is grace. And that’s what it all boils down to – grace. Place ourselves entirely in God’s hands and He has a way of surprising us. We have to think that if He can use flawed, impetuous Peter, who can’t He use?!
The retired priest who wrote that article in Church Times also wrote: “Fishing has encouraged me to be patient, have faith and stay in the present” – end of quote. It’s not a bad description of all that’s asked of us in the Christian life – be patient, have faith, stay in the present. Peter came to know this – perhaps it’s second nature for any angler and – who knows – that may be why Jesus singled him out particularly. And that same God which we see so perfectly displayed in the person and life of Jesus, is the one who calls you and me – called us first of all through our baptism to be His – and renews that call every day, that no matter what sort of a mess we made of yesterday, today is a new day, and His love for us is new every morning. This is what He made clear to the wet and bedraggled Peter as he scrambled ashore that day, and it’s a spur intended to keep us going too – trying to live out that calling as best we may – even when our pasts, like Peter’s, bear the marks of being too easily swayed by the apparent safe and easy way out.
Peter’s response to Jesus’ questioning – “Do you love me?” and Peter’s reply “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” – reminds me of that poster which I first saw outside a Church building many years. You’ve probably seen it yourselves. It had a picture of a judge sitting behind his desk, and peering over the top in a rather discomforting and accusatory way. And underneath it said: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to make the charge stick?” It is the calling of each of us not just to produce enough evidence to make the charge stick, but to serve the consequent life sentence with joy and the right sort of pride.
Easter 2 -28th April 2019
(preached by the Rev’d David Higgon – Associate Priest)
Well its back to normal after the euphoria of our Easter celebrations, once again we return to our daily routines, to work , to school but for many in our world won’t be returning to what is normal. It wont be a return to normal for the relatives of the people who died in bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Day itself and it wont be a return to normality for the families of those who died at prayer in Christchurch.
But today we continue to celebrate the Easter story notwithstanding the devastating terror attacks
We continue to celebrate because the resurrection does not promise that all will be well in this life, that everything has been sorted out and everything has been put right – we celebrated because of the hope that the Resurrection offers us it is the hope of a new beginning, of a new creation that leads to us all to being at one with God.
At the heart of today’s gospel reading, is hesitation, doubt and uncertainty. The hesitation is shown by Thomas but surely it was shared by others then and since.
Thomas looked for evidence that Christ had indeed risen , he would not accept the word of his companions without seeing it for himself. I am with Thomas on this because we all should look for evidence to confirm the unexpected, let alone the impossible.
The risen Christ provides Thomas with the evidence but nevertheless commends ‘those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’. It is interesting that the same Thomas is the one who asks another challenging question ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ (John 15.5).
Thomas is the one who doesn’t accept anything at face value . He is a seeker of the truth and it is been perhaps unfair of the church historically to label him as ‘doubting Thomas - because his quest for evidence is surely both legitimate and sensible.
In this world of social media and with people skilled at creating news stories and in creating fake news, there is a tendency that all of us come to believe only that which confirms our existing prejudices, irrespective of the evidence. I believe that those of us who preach that Jesus is the way the truth and the life have a particular responsibility to take evidence seriously.
Whatever you think of the tactics of the Extinction Rebellion protesters, they are reminding us that, in the end, the challenge us to take seriously the evidence of climate change which points us to conclusion thatclimate change is greater challenge for us than even than terrorism.
Tom Wright reminds us that the story of the resurrection begins in the darkness and chaos before God’s creation of the world and the coming of light and life .
The Word was made flesh in whom God’s life and light are made visible and then on the cross flesh again dies and chaos comes again and darkness descends on that small group who stand at the foot of the cross.
Then on Easter morning there is again life and light .
The resurrection is a startling new beginning, not an unexpected happy ending.
I wonder if those of us who have grown up knowing the story of the resurrection understand fully quite how startling and unexpected it is?
Against the background of tragedy, whether personal or global, it can be hard to believe in the light at the end of the tunnel which the resurrection represents. But in the resurrection story there is no promise that we shall not suffer Jesus in his life and death and resurrection points us to the truth that the new life we are promised is not without costly self sacrifice.
In Jesus we see both God’s abundance and generosity, and we see his compassion and love to those that suffer;
We see his hostility to the destructive forces of evil and we see his sacrificial love, his self-giving service, even to death on the cross,
and we also see in him the birth of a new creation on that first Easter Morning.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a gift of light and life to the earth and to its people, a gift of light and life for all creation.
We as the community of God’s people are drawn into the life and light of Christ’s resurrection to share in God’s deep compassion for his creation, to show our compassion and our love for those who suffer and to cry out when God’s creation is fractured and wounded. To proclaim Gods’ love and justice not only in words but in costly self-giving service and in doing so to share in the hope that we have in Jesus for the future of the whole of God’s creation.
That’s why in all the tragedy both personally and globally we proclaim
Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Easter Sunday 2019
(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)
Text: Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).
For some years, I had a boat moored in Ardmair Bay; and when the wind wasn’t being too windy and the clouds looked as if they might hold their contents long enough for me to do so, I would go out and catch mackerel – or anything else that was foolish enough to latch onto the hopefully proffered feathers on the end of my line. Like all fishing, it was the very best way of wasting time, even if sometimes all I encountered was disgruntled seals. And often when I was afloat out there, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere (especially if I had my back to its direction of travel) a succession of massive bow-waves would hit the side of my little plastic boat, and it seemed as if the next one would pitch me into the sea. Of course, it never did – but it was the suddenness of the surprise of its arrival that caught me out time and again, because it seemed to come from nowhere. It was generated by the passing of the Stornoway ferry, but as bow-waves travel remarkably slowly, the ferry was usually long-gone and out of sight by the time it actually hit.
One of the few facts we know about the Resurrection of Jesus is that it came as a surprise, as the event itself was not eye-witnessed by anyone. We don’t know exactly what happened – what it was like – when Jesus was raised from the dead. That is God’s secret. There were no witnesses - the Gospels make that clear. Whatever happened, it was seen by no-one. It was what happened next that convinced the disciples that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead. How else could they experience Him, talk to Him, touch Him, and share a lakeside breakfast with Him – as they did? There is evidence for all these things. There is no evidence for the event itself.
We don’t always recognise what is and what is not truly significant in this instance. And perhaps to ask exactly what happened isn’t the right question. What is important is the significance of what took place, and what was to happen next. To ask ‘What happened inside the tomb?’ is to use language which will point us in completely the wrong direction. The much more important, and much more interesting, question is ‘What happened next?’ – ‘What was the ‘bow-wave effect’ of the Resurrection?’
This isn’t to evade the question, ‘Was Jesus raised from the dead?’ Rather it is to suggest that the answer to that question lies not in precisely what happened to Jesus’s body, but in what happened to the people who had known Jesus after the tomb was discovered to be empty. And this is precisely the point the Gospel-writers themselves try to make. They don’t treat the Resurrection as an event to be discussed, analysed, minutely investigated and interpreted. Rather, they came to understand that the Resurrection experience takes place whenever and wherever Jesus encounters His disciples as the risen Christ. Take John’s stories of the Resurrection encounters, the first of which we heard read as today’s Gospel. It shows us that we can find the risen Christ right in the middle of heart-break and sorrow. Mary has come early to the garden, and has found the stone rolled back. She runs to fetch Peter and ‘the other disciple’, and they go into the tomb and find it empty. The two men return to their homes, puzzled and dismayed, but Mary stays by the tomb weeping, beside herself with worry and grief.
Then, through a blur of tears, she sees the figure of a man. Not unnaturally she takes him to be the gardener. Rich people like Joseph of Arimathea wouldn’t have done their own gardening; they’d employ someone to do it for them. And as Mary sees this man, she thinks - surely he will know what has happened to the missing body. And all the pent-up emotion and stress, the grief and the tiredness, break. She blurts out, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ It is the voice of utter heartbreak. How on earth could she have gone and carried away the dead body of a full-grown man? But – as so often with grief - she doesn’t know what she is saying, torn apart as she is by the events of the last few days. And this ‘gardener’ answers all her anxiety and despair with just one word - ‘Mary’. It is enough. Everything that has happened to her and her friends – all her hopes and fears – are focused and resolved in that one word.
As He speaks her name, ‘Mary’, she is recognised and welcomed, affirmed and cherished, raised up and blessed all in one go. The risen Jesus recreates this new world, beginning with those closest to Him, and like His Father in the first act of creation, He does so by naming them. And as He names them – “Mary”; “Simon Peter, do you love me?”; Thomas, come here and feel my wounds’ - it’s as if He recalls all that they are and have been, and gives all that they are and have been his blessing, and they become part of His new kingdom – called by name, recognise, affirmed and made new. And the best part of all this, is that we – the Easter people – are included in this blessing.
But don’t imagine for a moment that we encounter Resurrection only in the big, tragic and dramatic moments of life, and that the rest of life – humdrum, mundane, ordinary – is immune to it. In the next chapter in John’s Gospel we find another incident which shows us that Jesus encounters us in the routine frustrations of our everyday lives. A handful of the disciples have gone back to their work as fishermen – what else is there for them now? And they have worked all night in vain - not a single fish. They row back to the shore, tired and dispirited. And then they see a stranger on the shore who speaks to them warmly, and tells them to go out again and cast their nets one more time. Reluctantly they do so, and they can hardly haul the net in again because it is so full of fish. Suddenly recognition dawns for John: ‘It is the Lord’ he shouts. The risen Jesus has turned a night of frustration and failure into a morning of joy and success.
We don’t know exactly what happened in Joseph’s borrowed tomb in the wee small hours of Easter Day – what it was like when the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead. That is God’s secret. But we do know what resurrection feels like in those moments when we can feel the bow-wave – sometimes in the most unexpected of circumstances - encountering the risen Christ all the time, in sad times and glad times and very, very ordinary times – because our God is the God of Surprises. It’s my prayer for us all on this wonder-filled day, that together we may all be surprised afresh, lifted on this Easter bow-wave set off by Jesus Christ Himself, who is risen – He is risen indeed. Alleluia!