Sermon for Easter 5C – 15th May 2022

The memorial to Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Karrer (from Wikipedia)

Acts 11:1-18  • Psalm 148  • Revelation 21:1-6  • John 13:31-35

On September 9th 1943, the governor of the German occupation of the Greek Island of Zakynthos, named Berenz asked the mayor, Loukas Karrer, for a complete list of all Jews on the island. After consulting with Greek Orthodox Bishop Chrysostomos, he rejected the demand and the next day the two of them decided to go together to the governor’s office. The governor again demanded the list. 

The bishop explained that these Jews weren’t Christians, but had lived here in peace and quiet for hundreds of years. They’d never bothered anyone, he said. They were Greeks just like all other Greeks, and it would offend all the residents of Zakynthos if they were forced to leave. But the governor insisted that they give him the names. The bishop then handed him a piece of paper containing only two names: Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Karrer.

In addition, the bishop wrote a letter to Hitler himself, declaring that the Jews in Zakynthos were under his authority. The speechless governor took both documents and sent them to the Nazi military commander in Berlin. In the meantime, not knowing what would happen, the local Jews were sent by the leaders of the island to hide inside Christian homes in the hills. However, the Nazi order to round up the Jews was revoked – thanks to these two men who risked their lives to save them.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

One weekend a few years ago, Anna and I were due to take a couple of mature ladies by car to Dunbeath Gardens. Two wonderful, but contrasting walled gardens stuck on a cliff-top. It so nearly didn’t happen. On the Friday our car was in the garage for some repairs and so at ten to five I phoned to enquire if it was ready. Sorry, said a voice at the other end, there have been some problems so it won’t be ready today. Is that a problem? I don’t think that it was love that filled my heart at that point. We’re supposed to be taking two elderly visitors to Dunbeath tomorrow, picking them up at 9:30 in Golspie. Oh dear. Well I could let you have the old Focus in the yard. OK, but I also have to get to Lairg for 7:45 on Sunday morning. You can just hang on to it until yours is fixed. OK, does it have any petrol in it? Not much. OK.

So I went down to the garage and picked up a beat-up old Ford Focus, smiled sweetly and said these things happen, don’t worry about it and have a good weekend. So Friday night I prayed that the car had enough strength to get the four of us up the Helmsdale and Berridale braes and enough braking power to stop us coming down in too much of a hurry (interesting that there’s a cemetery half way down the Berridale Braes).

By the time we got to Dunbeath it was drizzling, not a promising start. But when we met the head gardener (you have to make an appointment to visit), the world brightened up. Neil is a wonderful man full of warmth, a man who cared individually for the needs of each of us as he showed us around and talked with passion about his plants and his work and how he’s no intention of ever retiring. And you know what he does in his time off? He does the gardens of half a dozen elderly folks in Dunbeath and the surrounding area.

We had a great day and when we got back home at 4pm there was a message that the car was done and we could drop the Focus up and pick up our own. Tom had come in early on Saturday morning and fixed the car by 10 O’clock. 

Now neither Neil not Tom would regard themselves as religious – they’ve both told me as much quite directly, but both have demonstrated the sort of love (agape in Greek) that Jesus is talking about when he spoke of the Love that his followers should show for one another. We meet today as a community of Christians just as Jesus’ disciples met and Jesus says the same to us as he said to them:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

Sometimes it can be very difficult to see where God is at work in our lives, especially when there is uncertainty or things are not going well. It might be very profitable for each of us to look back over the last week or two and see how God’s providence has been at work at various key points. Some of these experiences will bring back happy memories; others may be more painful. Nevertheless, God was always present, leading us on, being there for us in the unconditional and undeserved love shown to us by others, there in the stillness, there in the chaos, there even when we were too sad or too angry or too elated to see him. 

In October 1944, the Germans withdrew from the island of Zakynthos, leaving behind 275 Jews. The entire Jewish population had survived, while in many other parts of Greece, Jewish communities were eliminated.

What did John the Divine see in his vision?

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’

Revelation 21:1-6

Amen.

Dunbeath Castle

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