Sermon for Rogation Sunday 2022

Today is Rogation Sunday, when the church has traditionally sought God’s blessing on the fruits of the earth and the labours of humankind.

The word rogation comes from the Latin rogare, meaning ‘to ask for something’. Historically, Rogation Days are a period of fasting and abstinence, seeking God’s blessing on the crops and expressing hopes for a bountiful harvest.

In ancient Rome at this time of year the festival of Robigalia, honouring the god Robigus would have been taking place. The priests and people would be Processing through the cornfields asking for the preservation of the crops from mildew – and in return a sacrifice was offered – very specifically the sacrifice of dogs! (Thank goodness our dalmatians, Bill and Ben, can’t read this sermon)!!

The Christian tradition of honouring Rogation Days has varied over the centuries: from observance on the fixed date of April 25 to great outdoor processions on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day. Queen Elizabeth I ordered the ‘perambulation of the parish’ at Rogationtide, a custom still observed in many places.

Imagine us processing around Tain or Dornoch declaring everything within the geographic boundaries of our charge to be specially set apart and consecrated as holy – pronouncing to every soul we encounter the liberation offered through Jesus Christ!

Of course, in times gone by, the clergy had the responsibility of what we used to call the ‘cure of souls’ within the boundaries of their charge or parish. That meant that everyone within the border was technically a member of the charge or parish. Every institution was a chaplaincy concern. Not just every Episcopalian, every single person. And Rogation Sunday was a time to ‘beat the bounds’ – to walk around the boundary of a charge so as to be certain you knew just where those boundaries were and who was inside them. It was really important to know your boundaries.

That phrase ‘to know or set your boundaries’ is popular in mainstream culture nowadays.

Bookshops are full of resources with advice to help us set and keep healthy boundaries. These books tell us when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’. They encourage us to ‘take control’ of our lives and to ‘stop hiding from love’. The objective is to become separate, to be an individual, become autonomous.

Now healthy boundaries are a good thing. They help us live more fulfilling lives. They helps us respect others and respect ourselves. They sometimes can help us overcome depression, co-dependency or anxiety, and to avoid unnecessary anger and hurt.

And yet, as good as healthy boundaries can be and as useful as they are, Jesus appears to be telling us something altogether different about boundaries.

In the Gospels, his message is not about keeping a healthy balance between work and home and it’s not about maintaining a respectful distance from others.

No.

Jesus says he is the vine, and we are the branches.

We are part of him, and he is part of us. Knit together or grafted to one another. And if you do not understand what this means to us, do not let your hearts be troubled because Jesus promises that the Spirit will come and teach us everything we need to know. The one who healed the sick will cure us of our ills as well. For Jesus, it’s all about being in relationship, connected, a part of the larger body and walking together.

You may remember this famous quotation – but I wonder if you remember who said it:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main’.

John Donne, the poet and priest who wrote those words some 400 years ago, seemed to understand. For Donne, as for Jesus, boundaries are an invention of foolish humankind.

For instance, what happens in a family when one member falls ill? Everyone is affected. Each member might also catch the disease; people get involved in caring for the sick person, things change  for everyone. Even if you are a child, if your little brother gets sick, you may not have new responsibilities – but you are sure to notice a difference in your parent’s ability to be attentive to you.

We are all part of one vine, all connected, all interrelated. When we realise this, we stop trying to work for our own selfish gain at the expense of others, for we know that harm done to anyone is ultimately harm done to ourselves. When we admit we are part of the true vine, we begin to draw nourishment from each other, instead of competing and fighting with each other.

This is not to say that the kinds of things we call ‘boundary issues’ don’t have merit, or that ‘healthy boundaries’, as society understands them, are not good things.

If the Russian leaders realised they were part of one vine, they’d stop trying to blow others out of existence, understanding that their violent efforts only serve to sever them from our common humanity and prolong the cycle of violence and oppression.

If politicians or Christians or any of us realised we are all part of one vine, we would search out ways to co-operate with each other and serve the common good, instead of championing our own particular interests.

We in the church can perhaps understand this best, for Jesus tells us he is the true vine, and his Father is the gardener. We are part of him, and he is part of us, and we are – all of us – rooted in the soil, the same earth that connects us to every living thing: every plant, every person, every molecule and every rock.

Everything we think or do affects this world – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in very big ones. Every time we cry, the world cries with us. Every time we laugh, the world laughs along. Every time we sin, the world is damaged by our actions.

But when we do our best, when we try to respect others, when we seek to follow God’s ways – then the vine thrives, more shoots are sent out, leaves appear, and then, in God’s good time, the rich harvest of fruit comes: grapes for eating, for drying into raisins, for fermenting into wine, seeds to be planted for harvests yet to come.

This is the good news of Rogation Sunday. This is the message of the angels, brought to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the hope for our salvation, the fruit of our inheritance, the future of our children. This is part of what the Holy Spirit has come to teach us, and accepting it is part of our collective healing.

We are all of us part of the one true vine. May we all come to rejoice in that revelation.

May God bless you and those you hold dear this coming week.

Fr Simon

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

Sermon for Easter 4C – 8th May 2022

Yesterday morning, I was listening to Radio 4s Saturday Live programme.

The theme of the programme was all about communication and people at home had been invited to phone in to share stories about when communication had for some reason or other broken down.

One woman who called the show told of her younger days as a teenager when she used to earn a bit of money by baby sitting. She was looking after a neighbours baby one evening when he began to cry and just would not stop.

She tried all sorts of things to calm the baby – singing to him, rocking him gently, but he continued to scream out. The woman decided to telephone the baby’s parents at the local pub they had gone to.

She called the number of the pub and the landlady picked up and beckoned the child’s mother to the phone. There was a bit of static on the line, but the young woman was able to share the problem. “I’ve tried everything” the young woman explained, “but he just won’t stop crying”.

“Rub some honey on his tummy, that always works’ the mother advised. The babysitter put down the telephone and went to get honey from the kitchen.

An hour or so later, the parents returned to find the baby laid across the sitter’s lap, still crying out loud, and the young woman rubbing honey on his tummy. “It’s just not working” she cried! The mother looked the babysitter in the eye. “His dummy, rub some honey on his dummy!”

I’m sure we’ve all had conversations over the telephone when interference or static has got in the way – and in this age of mobile phones, dipping in and out of signal can cause real problems in our communications.

In the gospels it sometimes seems like there is interference on the line when Jesus is speaking to the people. No matter how loud or long Jesus proclaims the message, it seems like some just don’t have “ears to hear.” There is a failure in communication.

It’s troubling that the religious people are especially hard of hearing when it comes to Jesus. Why can’t God’s chosen ones hear Him?

In our reading from the gospel of John this morning we learn that they can’t hear Jesus because they are not willing to listen. They don’t recognise the voice of God in the man from Nazareth because the man and his message are so different from what they expect to hear.

I wonder about Christians gathered in churches across the world today? Can we hear Jesus? Do we recognise the voice of God in Him? Do we hear and obey what he says?

Over the years many have used the particular passage we have heard this morning as a way of saying we’re right and you’re wrong. They say with pride, “We listen to Jesus because we are Christians. We are a part of the church. Obviously this passage applies to those other people whose beliefs differ from mine.”

But, how do we know that the voice we hear is the voice of Jesus or some other voice? This is a difficult but critical question to answer.

We do know that down through the years many terrible things have been done in the name of Jesus. Wars have been fought and terrible destruction has been wrought all in His name.

Did the voice of Jesus really tell people to do what they did? From our vantage point we can confidently say, “No, of course not. Isn’t it terrible? Those poor benighted souls misunderstood and misused the name of Jesus. I’m glad we’re not like that.”

But, can we be so sure that we too won’t be misled by our pride?

If people of every age have misrepresented Jesus, if people of every age have failed to hear and heed his voice, we have to at least consider the possibility that we sometimes do the same thing.

If there is one group in the Bible with which we should always identify, it is those who fail to hear and understand.

If we are not careful it becomes all too easy to wander around in life like a person with a bad mobile phone connection. We think we’ve heard something, but we’re not sure. There’s too much interference, too much static on the line.

Communication with God and with each other is disrupted by the static of our personal problems, the static of our political views and even the static of a traditional religious teaching that may be (at least in some ways) at odds with what God in Christ is really trying to tell us.

Sometimes we assume that because a person is familiar to us that we know them and that we listen to what they have to say. This is especially true when it comes to those we are close to – our spouse, partner or a family member.

We sometimes hurt the ones we love because we often ignore the ones we love. We don’t really listen to them. Instead of listening, we make assumptions.

We assume that we already know what that other person is thinking and feeling. And this can cause all sorts of problems.

“You never listen to me” the lonely loved one cries. And it’s often true.

I think that every important relationship in our lives needs an element of mystery. We need to always ask ourselves, “I wonder what she thinks about this or I wonder what his opinion might be about that.”

Assumptions can be deadly. Do away with your assumptions if you want to strengthen your important relationships. People instinctively know when you are really listening to them. And when you really listen, some amazing breakthroughs can be made.

In the same way, our relationship with Jesus breaks down because sometimes we do not listen to him. We assume that we already know what he has to say and so we do not have that quiet time to be still and know God.

We are too busy speaking. We are too busy telling Jesus who he is and what he needs to do for us in order to make our lives happy and healthy. There is no mystery in our relationship with him.

And if there is no mystery in that relationship, we will not listen. Our love for Jesus will not grow. We may even stray to the point that we  no longer hear his voice at all and so risk falling away from his flock.

Sometimes I think the problem is not that we don’t hear or even understand the voice of Jesus. The problem is that we have selective hearing, filtering out all those things that we don’t want to hear. We are afraid of a word of challenge or change or to take a risk in our own lives in order to respond to what he is calling us to do.

Though we do walk through the “valley of the shadow of death,” though we do have difficult days as we seek to follow Jesus, there is a promise in this morning’s gospel that gives us hope.

If you’re in the hands of Jesus you’re in God’s hands. And God is going to care for you today and for all eternity.

It is this promise that allows us to put our daily struggle into perspective. As the Apostle Paul put it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

If we are in God’s hands who is going to harm us? Who is going to snatch us out of God’s hands? The answer is no one. The promises of God are sure and the hope that is ours in Christ is forever.

The number one reason people don’t listen to Jesus or to each other is that they are afraid. And their fears prevent them from being all that they could be. Their fears prevent them from really listening.

Jesus invites people everywhere to put away their fears. Jesus invites people everywhere to trust and obey.

So my brothers and sisters in Christ, Listen for the voice of Jesus, listen and respond to His calling on your lives. Be faithful to Him because He is the Good Shepherd and we are his sheep. Follow Him and live!

Amen.

May Almighty God Bless you and those you hold dear in this coming week.

Fr Simon

Sermon for Easter 3C – 1st May 2022

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)  • Psalm 30  • Revelation 5:11-14  • John 21:1-19

Hauling the nets up on the shore – James Tissott, in Brooklyn Museum

How do ye live with the dead? When the end comes a door closes fast and there is never a road back to the living. The trouble is – there are so many doors! How do we find one another afterwards? How do we live with the dead? This man was my brother, he taught me all that I know. The little things as well as the big, the things that matter, the things that are only for fun! But he’s taken a road now that he can never teach me to follow.  All the certainties are with the living. All certainty and all hope. There is no road back from the dead?

The Widows of Clyth” by Donald Campbell

On Wednesday, the twenty-sixth of January, 1876, six men from Clyth, in Caithness, put out to sea to fish for haddock. The following morning, almost within sight of their own homes, their boat was wrecked and they were all lost. Between them, they left behind five widows and twenty-six children in a state of acute poverty.  

The “Widows of Clyth” is a play about the ‘Clyth Calamity’, in which these six fishermen lost their lives.  The Caithness playwright Donald Campbell gives this remarkable historic incident a sort of mythic quality. In his hands, it becomes not a tragedy, but a parable about the triumph of the widows left behind in their nearly hopeless struggle for survival and the universal truths about those left behind after terrible events.

Today I see us at the intersection of events in our world, which this play and our Gospel have things to says about. In the Easter story we have a tendency to see just the triumph.  We allow the fact that we’ve heard the story before to blind us to the reality of the journey that the disciples must make from being reliant on Jesus to lead them in person, to taking up his great commission:

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19

The Widows of Clyth have also to undertake a journey from being dependent on their men for income, status and support. They have to learn to be able to fend for themselves in bringing up their 26 children and they do that together providing mutual support as they take each tentative and bold step. In the play the two acts are set 10 years apart to emphasise the time that this journey takes.

I’ve spoken before about the slow realisation that Jesus has risen, rather than it being a suddensparkling event, so as we hear about the resurrection appearances, we should see these appearances as part of the disciples journey from dependence to self-reliance as a community, providing each other with mutual support. We should see resurrection as more of an invitation to something rather than a successful conclusion.

This man Jesus was their brother, he taught them all that they know. The little things as well as the big, the things that matter, the things that are only for fun!”.

Modified from “The Widows of Clyth

Having heard about the Easter events, what is there for the followers of Jesus to do now? Jesus has told them to go out into the world and spread the Good News, but how do you do that, or more particularly summon up the courage to do that when the whole ‘project’ seems to have ended in abject failure and the whole world seems to be against you?

The whole thing has been about great expectations and also great disappointments, and in such timesdoubt can so easily creep in. Days have become weeks since the reports of the empty tomb were confirmed by Jesus’ personal appearances among those who knew him best, mostly behind locked doors. The disciples are cowering waiting for the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would come to them, but they don’t know what that looks or feels like and they don’t know what to do while they wait.

They’ve enjoyed the thrill of being caught up in the coming revolution which the Messiah was going to bring, but it hasn’t occurred to them that the victory wouldn’t come to pass in their lifetimes.

Delayed gratification has always been difficult for the children of God, they always want things to happen quickly, but as we read about time and again in the Bible, they rarely do – they happen all in God’s time. Peter and his friends are living in an in-between time waiting for God’s next move. Forthe disciples, it’s a matter of getting them out the door, despite the risks they face, to fulfil their commission from Jesus.

The resurrection appearances so far have served to build trust between Jesus and his disciples after his crucifixion. But can they trust Jesus enough to leave the locked house and “go out” wielding the Holy Spirit as he commissioned them to?  Well perhaps as far as the going out bit, but not the Holy Spirit bit.

Over the last two years we’ve lived through extraordinary times. For a while, like the disciples, we were confined to the house and like them now we’ve been told that the coast is clear.  Many of us have emerged rather slowly blinking in the bright light. There are however many in our society, especially the elderly, the infirm and the vulnerable who aren’t really ready for that. And even for the rest of us can things ever be the same again?  And now there is conflict and war in Europe.

So seven of the disciples go back to the fishing, just like before. They fail to catch anything all night long. So their impatience and confusion simply brings more disappointment. But have they forgotten what Jesus said to them – “from now on you shall be fishers of men”. The empty nets are a sign – “this isn’t what you are supposed to be doing”.

So Jesus meets them on the shore and to encourage them in what they should really be doing, he helps them to a bumper catch and serves them breakfast and now they start to get it.

The entire narrative has been an invitation to join with Jesus in God’s mission – a mission that’s not about heaven when we die or converts to a religion. Jesus’ disciples are to be doers, working for God’s Kingdom here on earth.

The disciples are still on a journey of discovery marked by their relationships with respected friends and loved ones. They’ve to rekindle the habits of discipleship they’ve practiced for three years when Jesus was amongst them: regular experiences of God intruding into the ordinary, lengthy discussions about seeing the difference God’s grace makes in the lives of people who encounter acts of love and kindness.  Much like the Widows experience in their journey.

But if the disciples think that Jesus will always be with them in person, they’ll soon see Jesus return to his father: 

“He will take a road that he can never teach them to follow.  All the certainties are with the living. All certainty and all hope. There is no road back.

Modified from “The Widows of Clyth

They and we must find our way forward guided by the same Holy Spirit, but to do so we have to pay careful attention to what he said and did and what he commanded us to do. 

Amen.

Walking alongside each other

I was comparing some of the hymn books used in our churches and I started to notice a pattern. The later books no longer had as many of the hymns that contain war, battle, fight or armour imagery. So no “When a knight won his spurs” or “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” and you should see what liberties have been taken changing “Onward Christian soldiers” into “Onward Christian pilgrims”.

Well that all started me thinking about the wars in various parts of the world: Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan, to name but a few.

When he was Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said that the whole weight human failure couldn’t extinguish the creative love of God. In an Easter sermon he said that conflict and failure are part of the human condition, but that Jesus’ death and Resurrection turns that on its head: 

We share one human story in which we are all caught up in one sad tangle of selfishness and fear and so on. But God has entered that human story; he has lived a life of divine and unconditional life in a human life of flesh and blood.”

Rowan Williams

The lesson to be learnt from pain and conflict is that when people walk alongside each other and learn to really listen to other people’s stories and what drives them:

to learn an openness to discovering things about themselves they didn’t know, seeing themselves through the eyes of someone else. What they see may be fair or unfair, but it’s a reality that has been driving someone’s reactions and decisions. It may well be based on misconceptions, on prejudice on ignorance of the situation that someone, or perhaps a whole community is facing. We all need to listen better to each other’s stories, however painful or humiliating that experience may be”

Rowan Williams

The Resurrection doesn’t take away the reality of threat or risk or suffering; it’s just there and that’s one of the hardest things to accept. How can you or I feel ‘happy’ in a world so full of atrocity, aggression and injustice? How can you or I know ‘joy’ when we’re aware of our own failings, our own shabbiness, our own depression, in short the whole mess that our lives can sometimes seem to be?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but in reflecting on war and conflict I quickly came to the realisation that the conflict in places like Ukraine aren’t something entirely detached from what you and I do and feel in our own lives. It’s not just about a few places where bad people do terrible things to other (good) people.

I suspect that few of us aren’t involved, to some extent, in conflict in our homes and families, our work places, our neighbourhoods and communities and dare I say it, our churches. Yes churches are very good at conflict and schism.

So perhaps this Easter season as we pray for the people of Ukraine and other war-torn places, we might also do well to reflect on where we’re complicit in conflict in our lives and the lives of those around us. We might all be the better for it and our world can’t help but be a better place as a result.

Blessings
James

Sermon for Easter 2 – 24.04.22

There are some phrases that when we hear them said bring to mind a certain game show host or film or TV character and I wonder if you can guess who I am thinking of when I share some of these with you.

There are some phrases that when we hear them said bring to mind a certain game show host or film or TV character and I wonder if you can guess who I am thinking of when I share some of these with you.

NB If you are reading this sermon online, then look at the end for the answers!

  1. “There’s no place like home!”
  2. “Ay Carumba!”
  3. “I tawt I taw a puddy tat”
  4. “Shut that door!”
  5. “I’ll be back!”
  6. “Nice to see you, to see you – nice!”

And similarly, there are some phrases in our scriptures that when we hear them, we immediately identify who said them,

7. “But how can this be since I am a virgin?”

8. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace”

9. “Let there be light!”

And today, in our gospel reading we hear someone utter a phrase that immediately puts us in mind of the speaker –

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Who do you think of? Of course – the disciple, Thomas!

That one sentence has left Thomas forever labelled Doubting Thomas.

That’s the Thomas with whom we are most familiar. But actually, I think there is another way of looking at Thomas and that’s the Thomas that wants to believe. That’s the Thomas Jesus appears to in today’s gospel.

This is a story about believing, not doubting. If it tells us anything it tells us that ‘resurrection’ is difficult to accept, to believe. It’s not just an idea or a fact to which we give agreement or assent. It is a whole new way of being.

If we’re not wrestling with what resurrection means, it’s place in our life, and how it manifests itself, then maybe it’s not actually that real for us.

Doubting Thomas may be the one that gets the label, but the other disciples also have difficulty believing. On the evening of the first day of the week, the day Jesus was resurrected, they are hiding.

God opened the tomb and they locked the doors. God emptied the tomb and they filled the house. Jesus appears to them in their locked room. He speaks to them. He breathes life into them. But a week later they are in the same place, behind the same locked doors. Nothing much has changed.

Despite how we’ve labelled him Thomas is not doubting. He is simply struggling with how to believe and what to believe in. He wants to see and touch for only one reason. So that he too might believe and there’s something faithful and authentic about that. It’s a struggle most of us have probably had at some point in our lives too and a struggle that some may well be going through right now.

What do we want to believe about Jesus’ resurrection? What gets in the way of our believing? What makes it difficult to believe? And I wonder how we are wrestling and struggling with the resurrection of Jesus in our lives?

Many of us want to believe that Jesus’ resurrection offers peace, but then we see wars across the world, families in conflict and relationships broken. We want to believe that Jesus’ resurrection overcomes death, but we still cry for (and feel the loss of) those friends and family who have died. We want to believe that Jesus’ resurrection is real, but we don’t see much difference in our lives this week compared to the week before Easter.

Sometimes it’s really hard to work out how our “belief” fits with what we see and experience day to day. We can quickly and easily get to the same place as Thomas. Unless we see wars cease, conflict resolved, and relationships reconciled, we will not believe. Unless we feel the presence of a loved one we have lost, our tears dry up and our pain goes away, we will not believe. Unless we experience some measurable difference in our  lives, we will not believe.

When it comes down to it, we’re not really all that different from Thomas.

We each live with at least one “unless clause.” Unless I see, unless I touch, unless I feel, unless I experience, I will not believe. It reveals our struggle with our desire to believe, but it also reveals some  misunderstanding about faith and the resurrection.

Far too often we condition the resurrection not on the power of God, but on the sufficiency of the evidence. Each condition becomes just another lock on the door. It won’t keep Jesus out, but it will keep us trapped inside and it won’t be long before our house becomes our tomb.

The resurrection of Christ does not appear meet the conditions we demand. But it does empower and enable us to meet those conditions. It lets us unlock the doors and step outside even when we don’t know what is on the other side.

The resurrection does not end wars, but it does reveal the sanctity and dignity of life, so that we might speak and work for justice, freedom, and peace. It is the compassion behind the tears we weep and the prayers we offer for all who are victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.

The resurrection does not magically fix relationships, but it is the energy and perseverance behind our work to reconcile relationships and resolve conflict. It is the power by which we love our neighbour as ourselves.

The resurrection does not eliminate our pain or tears over the death of a loved one, but it does give us the strength to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience; not sorrowing as those without hope, but in thankful remembrance of God’s great goodness, and in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those we love.

The resurrection does not offer measurable results, productivity, or efficiency, but it does guarantee our life and our future with God.

Resurrection is not an idea to be grasped or a case to be proved. It is a life to be lived. Every time we live in the power of the resurrection, we engage with the world, one another, and our own lives in a new way. We move from saying, “Unless I see…,” to saying, “My Lord and my God.”

I don’t know if Thomas actually put his finger in the mark of the nails or his hand in Jesus’ side. Saint John doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t really matter what Thomas did. That’s not the issue. This story isn’t about Thomas. It’s about us. How will you live? What will you do? Do you truly believe in the resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?

May almighty God bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

ANSWERS TO THE CATCH PHRASE QUESTIONS

  1. Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz
  2. Bart Simpson
  3. Tweetie Pie
  4. Larry Grayson
  5. Arnold Schwarzenegger as ‘The Terminator’
  6. Bruce Forsythe
  7. Mary, the mother of Jesus
  8. Old Simeon
  9. God

Sermon for Easter Day 2022

 Isaiah 65:17-25  • Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24  • Acts 10:34-43  • John 20:1-18

Alleluia Christ is risen, 
He is Risen indeed Alleluia!!

For the last two weeks, Anna and I have had the joy of family staying and although it’s of course wonderful to have Andrew and Tracey with us, it’s really our granddaughter Alanna that’s the focus of attention for all of us.

Those of you who’ve ever spent time in the company of very young children will know what I mean when I say that they’ve an amazing sense of wonder. Everything’s so interesting, even things that might seem rather trivial or mundane to us.

Unfortunately we live in a world that doesn’t really promote or encourage wonder. When we were children like Alanna, we were in a constant state of wonder. The world was new and exciting and full of possibility. We lived each exciting day touching, cuddling, looking, tasting and trying out. Words or trying to make them were wondrous. Getting about by crawling or shuffling or taking first tentative steps were wondrous. Touch, taste and sound were all wonders to be noticed and attended to. We lived in a wondrous world.

But gradually we lost our sense of wonder, it kind of got squeezed out. So when it comes to the mystery of the Resurrection we no longer have the tools to deal with it. 

Eugene Peterson in his book “Living the Resurrection” writes:

It’s not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to one another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.

Eugene Peterson “Living the Resurrection

When we’re young, it’s easy to believe in the supernatural, the mysterious, the enchanted. But as we grow older, we learn to be more ‘rational’ and we grow in a misplaced confidence that reality is merely what we can see and understand. Even as Christians who believe in the Resurrection, we live as if miracles, awe, wonder and magic no longer have any place in our world.

There’s a point in the Easter Vigil when after recalling the history of the people of Israel, we suddenly switch the lights on and announce – Alleluia Christ is Risen and the congregation responds – He is Risen indeed Alleluia!! If this ritual gives the impression that the Resurrection is a sudden change from despair to joy, then maybe we need to think again. That’s not how it was for Mary in the Garden, for the disciples on the road to Emmaus or those gathered in the upper room, or indeed those who fished all night and caught nothing. These four instances are captured in our Eucharistic prayer today:

In the first light of Easter
glory broke from the tomb
and changed the women’s sorrow into joy.

From the Garden the mystery dawned
that he whom they had loved and lost
is with us now in every place for ever.

Making himself known in the breaking of the bread,
speaking peace to the fearful disciples,
welcoming weary fishers on the shore,
he renewed the promise of his presence

SEC Eucharistic Prayer for the Easter Season

In all of these cases “the mystery dawned”, a slow realisation as to what had happened. Jesus, the man who had been with them for a while had been put to death on a cross and they had witnessed it. So of course encountering Him again took some time to sink in.

Whoever you are, whatever your situation, however you feel, Jesus is risen. When people are suffering, in pain, sadness or despair well-meaning friends may tell them that Jesus is close to them because he suffered in His Passion and on the Cross. That’s of course true true, but looking to the Cross only takes you so far, you need to look beyond it to the Empty Tomb as well, and to the appearances to some of those that he knew – in short to the fuller mystery of the Resurrection. 

In the Resurrection, Christ isn’t dead, but is risen: risen to give you and me life, risen to give you and me hope, and risen to make you and me part of the new creation that he’s building and will complete at the end of time. Now exactly what that all means, I can’t fully understand, it’s a mystery that I catch occasional glimpses of from time to time when least expect it, but the point is it’s a mystery that I can wonder at every time it comes around in the Church year and in fact every time I take part in the Eucharist.

It’s in the holy mystery of the Eucharist that we share in the embodied life of the Risen Christ and it’s because we belong to this new world, that we can conquer death, that we’re able to live not just for ourselves but for others in love. The love that Christ showed us, in everything he taught and every thing he did. And it’s because of love that we celebrate the Cross at Easter.

We’ve all lived through a difficult year. We’ve faced considerable disruption to our lives and challenge to the way that we interact with each other. In fact this last couple of weeks is the first time in her life that Alanna has visited us, her first time in Scotland, her first time in the Highlands, in fact her first time for so many things and they’re of course all so wondrous. Perhaps we should all try to reclaim some wonder in our lives, wonder in the mundane and the ordinary and wonder in the Mystery of God’s Creation and God’s love.

Resurrection gives us the ability to be present – to live, not just forever, but for now – to “have life and have it abundantly”.

Alleluia Christ is Risen, 
He is Risen indeed Alleluia!!

Amen.

Ride on Ride on

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had occasion to travel down to Inverness a number of times and it brought a smile to my face when I saw that the donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary were out in the fields enjoying the warmer weather. Seeing donkeys always makes me think of the significant roles that these beautiful animals play in various stories in the bible. There’s the donkey that carried the heavily pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem for example. But did you know about the donkey who spoke? Balaam’s ass. You can read all about her in Numbers 22 – 24. She saw exactly what was going on – more than her boss did, in fact, and eventually spoke to draw his attention to the presence of an angel. 

Another donkey, one which we hear about as we step into Holy Week carried Jesus publicly into Jerusalem. It is well known that nearly all donkeys bear the mark of a cross on their backs and like them we carry the mark of the cross too, given to us at our baptism. Donkeys teach us a lot about discipleship. They remind us that we always carry Jesus invisibly, like Mary’s donkey, wherever we go. Every day Christ is carried into our world by us. As St Theresa said,

Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the feet on which he is to go about doing good, ours the eyes through which he is to look with compassion on the world, ours the hands with which he is to bless us now’.

St Theresa

So, on the days when we feel we’re carrying the world on our shoulders, we need to remember that we are also bearing Christ to meet the world’s pain and give people life.

There are times when, like Balaam’s ass, we shall see things that others can’t or won’t see. Then we have to do something about it. Balaam’s ass tried first of all to draw the boss’ attention to the demands of God, the angel standing in the way, and she got pretty rough treatment for her trouble. But then God gave her words to say, and Balaam began to take God seriously.

Being a Christian, being outspoken for God, isn’t always going to be easy or pleasant. Balaam was trying to maintain his reputation and wasn’t keen on anything standing in his way. We shall find ourselves challenging important people and vested interests – that can be very hard, like crucifixion.

The Palm Sunday donkey reminds us that when we go with Christ, there are no promises about easy rides. We know, however, that at the end of the suffering, after the death, there was resurrection. We know that Christ has promised to keep us company, but as we carry him with us in the world, he won’t avoid confrontation, or allow us to. ‘In the world’, he said, ‘you will have tribulation’. We know that, from personal experience, and from sharing in the pain of the world as people starve, exploit and kill each other. We shall have to hang on with some of the donkey’s stubbornness to the belief that Christ really has overcome the evil in the world, and that we shall share that victory.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

Blessings
Simon

A short service for Ukraine

A short service consisting of a psalm, a reading and a prayer, which you might like to incorporate elements of into your daily prayer, perhaps also lighting a candle for the people of Ukraine.

From Psalm 83

O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
Even now your enemies are in tumult;
those who hate you have raised their heads.

O God, do not keep silence

They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against those you protect.
They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more.’

O God, do not keep silence

Fill their faces with shame,
so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
Let them know that you alone,
whose name is the Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

O God, do not keep silence

​A Reading from Romans 12:14-21

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, 
but associate with the lowly; 
do not claim to be wiser than you are. 
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, 
but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, 
live peaceably with all. 

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, 
but leave room for the wrath of God; 
for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 
No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; 
if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; 
for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

A Prayer for the People of Ukraine

God of endless love and unchanging truth,

Our hearts despair at the extent of human wickedness,
And break for those who are being so tragically
and unjustly hurt and killed by the attack on Ukraine.

Yet we give you thanks that even in the midst of the horror,
there are so many glimpses of hope, 
in the human kindness and generosity that is being shown,
amongst a shocked and fearful people.

Today and in the days that follow,
We pray for every life that has been turn upside down 
or changed by injury or displacement, 
or loss of friends and loved ones
or fear for the future;

For those whose who are fearful and despairing;
For those who are selflessly responding to the needs of others, 
And will continue to provide care, support and healing.

We pray for all political and community leaders
And those who face the difficult task of protecting and defending their communities,
And nurturing those values on which their well-being depends.

Help us all to build a better world;
A world where difference is seen as an opportunity to broaden our understanding;
Disagreement as the chance to learn and grow,
Where faith is reclaimed to bring out the best of human flourishing,
And turn hearts to all that is good and true,

That your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in Heaven.

Our Father …

AMEN

Prayers for our Friends in Kyiv

Our friends from the Ukraine, the Kyiv Classic Accordion Duo made twelve visits to St Finnbarr’s to enthral all who heard them with skill and virtuosity and raise money for the charity Hippokrat, which supports survivors of the Chenobyl Nuclear Disaster.

About the Kyiv Classical Accordion Duo:
In 2006 Igor and Oleksii finished studying in the National Music Academy of Ukraine in Kiev. However they had begun performing professionally in 2002. Oleksii plays in the Orchestra of the National Radio of Ukraine; Igor works in the National Philharmonic of Ukraine. They decided to give the name Kyiv Duo Classic to the duo, however this doesn’t mean that Igor and Oleksiy perform only classical music; programmes of their concerts include music of Bach, Grieg, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov as well as traditional Ukrainian and Russian music. Two contemporary button accordions make it possible to produce a sound like a small squeezebox and at the same time, like a big church organ, a string quartet and even an orchestra.

About their charity – HIPPOKRAT:
The main purpose of the Kyiv Classic Accordion Duo UK tours was to raise money for the HIPPOKRAT Society of Mothers of Disabled Children who suffered as a result of the explosion in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Energy Plant. The Chernigiv region suffered most from the radiation fall out and since 1986 a large number of children have been born with mental and physical problems. Many of these children are now young adults and in need of support that the state is unable to provide.

Prayer for all in Ukraine

We pray for Igor and Oleskiy, their families and friends, those supported by Hippokrat and all the people of Ukraine in this time of  danger, fear and conflict.

Lord of all the earth,
be present with the people of Ukraine
at this time of danger, fear, and conflict.
Grant that wise and peaceable counsels may yet prevail,
and give to all suffering nations
the freedom they desire and deserve.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Holy God,

We hold before you all who live close to war and conflict;
and all who live close to the threat of war and violence.

We remember especially at this time, people in Ukraine and Russia.
We pray for nonviolence and peaceful resolutions of conflict.

Give us hearts of hospitality and sanctuary,
forgive us all our hostility and hatred.

Bring all people to the humanity you give us,
and to the reconciliation and healing for which you gave your life.

Strengthen us all to work with you to build justice and peace,
reconciliation and healing,
in our hearts and homes, in our streets,
in all communities, neighbourhoods and nations.

Bless all who live lives for the peace and wellbeing of others,
and make their service fruitful.

In the name of Christ.
Amen.