The way to freedom

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7.55-60 & John 14.1-14

We have been adjusting to a new and unfamiliar way of life now for almost two months. We have come to realise the things we miss, and our hopes for the future. The news in these past few weeks has focussed almost solely on Covid-19, and I do wonder if we are indeed focussing too much on ourselves, but I will come back to this later.

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The one day on which the news here in the UK was different, was last Friday: VE or Victory in Europe Day. I suspect a particularly poignant day for those of you who remember the first VE Day: Churchill’s memorable speech and street parties throughout the country. The question in how far the Church should be involved in civic celebrations such as VE Day and Remembrance Day has always been a topic of conversation, as there is a wide range of opinions on the relationship between our faith and armed conflict.

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The familiar voice

Reflection on the story of the Good Shepherd
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 23 & John 1.1-10

Our readings this morning make us reflect on God in the familiar image of the Good Shepherd. Although not many of us still live in a place where shepherding is a common profession, the Biblical stories have become very much part of our Western narrative, even for those who would not call themselves Christians.

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That of course comes with its risks, because the way we imagine a shepherd nowadays, will have been very different from what they may have looked and behaved like two millennia ago. However, I don’t want to dwell on that thought too much, but rather share a story that made me think of the Good Shepherd a few weeks ago. I was out on my daily round of exercise on Granham Hill, just around the corner from where I live. Usually there are sheep roaming around at a distance, and the only interaction between them and me is a curious look at one another.

However, on this particular day, one of the sheep was stuck in some barbed wire. Being reminded of my pastoral profession, I felt a duty to see if there was anything I could do. Slowly I approached the sheep, at the same time not trying to scare it as well as thinking how I would go about freeing it. Whilst I was still at a good distance, the sheep was so shocked by my appearance, that this in itself was enough for it to free itself, and quickly it ran away.

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Taking bread

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24.13-35

EmmausThe beautiful and intimate story that we hear in Luke’s Gospel this morning brings us back to the first Easter Day. On the same day as the women discovered the empty tomb, two of the disciples are on their way to a village called Emmaus, which is a good two hours walk.

As we can imagine, they are discussing the events of the past days. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, their hope that Jesus would now show himself to be the Saviour he had told them to be. But then, his capture, condemnation and crucifixion; and now the empty tomb. They are trying to make sense of it all, but I suspect without much success.

This intimate setting of just two people walking and discussing together is one with which we may have become familiar in the last few weeks as well. If we are in a household with more than one person, we too may have had similar walks: discussing the current events and how to make sense of them. Or we may have had these conversations on the phone, or two meters apart in the queue to Waitrose or on our daily round of exercise. In whichever setting, I am sure that we too have found ourselves sad, bereft and anxious, just like these two disciples on the road.

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The doors are locked

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31

IMG_1366This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.

We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.

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It makes all the difference

A reflection for Easter Day
John 20.1-18

It is Easter morning, and the first words on our lips are ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen!’. We then look at the news, in the hope to find the world a different place; a place in which we had never heard about Covid-19, and we felt safe and secure. Yet, we wake up to the same reality as yesterday: what we had wished to be a dream from which we wake, is the world in which we live.

IMG_0631Yet, today, everything is different, although it may not seem so. To understand, let’s look at the story of Mary, one of the most moving stories in the Bible. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary goes to the tomb where they had laid Jesus a couple of days earlier. She is on her own, and I wonder what she is looking and hoping for? Is she hoping that by visiting the grave, she will wake up from this nightmare, and realise Jesus is still there?

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Watching and waiting

A reflection for Holy Saturday 

For many of us – we who are not on the frontline in medicine, care or retail – the experience of the global pandemic could be described as a prolonged Holy Saturday. A time of waiting, without knowing what lies ahead of us; without being able to do very much. This inability to help is hard for many of us, whether we have children who we desperately want to help, or elderly relatives, or people we know who depend on help in our local communities.

IMG_0620I suspect that it is very much like the experience that the early disciples, Jesus’ friends and followers and his family had. Still in shock after the events on Good Friday, his sudden arrest followed by his brutal crucifixion, now there is nothing they can do.

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Turning point

A reflection for Good Friday

Good Friday is a day on which I often feel torn. It’s in many countries the start of a long bank-holiday weekend, so the ideal time to visit friends and enjoy the time together. Yet, today of all days in the year, I find it hard to enjoy myself. I feel disturbed: somehow it feels inappropriate to have fun. Yet, should I really let this event from the past – an event at which I was not even present – control my feelings, rather than what is happening today, in the present?

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I suspect that this is a feeling to which many can relate, particularly in a time of grief. When we mourn the loss of a loved one, it can feel wrong to continue with our daily tasks. It can become hard even to eat, to get up, let alone to read the newspaper or to smile at a funny comment. For me, it is one of the most compelling reasons that the famous line in the poem ‘death is nothing at all’ is plainly wrong.

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