Monday, July 12, 2021

Who'd be a prophet? Trinity 6 B, 11th July 2021 Coventry Cathedral

 If you could choose anyone from the Bible to invite to dinner – apart from Jesus – I wonder whom you might pick.

I suspect that very few of us would choose John the Baptist.

He is such an uncomfortable character - “Right but repulsive” as Sellars and Yeatman might have put it – and we don’t as a rule welcome the voice of challenge that he exemplifies.

Even when he was drawing the crowds on the banks of the Jordan, he wasn’t known for his winsome, beguiling approach

Addressing them as “You generation of vipers” is, you have to admit, an INTERESTING way to get your hearers on board

John the Baptist is a disrupter, a disturber of the peace – and on the whole we don’t warm to that kind of character, even if he isn’t attacking us directly.

Small wonder, then, that he is short of friends at court.

John has spoken openly against the marriage of Herod to his brother’s wife Herodias, and this had made him very unpopular with the lady concerned. I suspect that this might be because she knew in her heart that her relationship with the King was irregular...You may have noticed in yourself a tendency to particularly dislike those whose words confirm your own secret feeling that maybe you’re not getting things as right as you pretend.

When someone else confirms the rumblings of conscience, it’s really hard to ignore – and hard to enjoy their company while you’re still ignoring their words

 So, here at the centre of the national life, John is making waves – and as his imprisonment is not enough to silence him, Herodias seeks another way.Her husband, caring more for his image than for doing the right thing, is putty in her hands. After all, his kingdom is built upon power and wealth and he can’t afford to show any weakness, whatever good sense the Baptizer seems to be talking. No U turns here. To change his mind, to withdraw his expansive after-dinner offer to Salome, would mean losing face – and that’s something that leaders struggle to do.

 So Herodias has her way

 Horrible.

 But surely not very relevant to us today.

Blocking a dissenting voice on social media or refusing to engage in difficult conversations is a world away from silencing anyone for good.

What on EARTH has this passage to say to us, the peaceable, respectable congregation of the Cathedral Church of St Michael, Coventry?

 While we might recognise that we are not above reproach (“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” remember) we are probably not struggling with the kind of monumental disquiet that Herod and Herodias are experiencing. Or so you might suppose.

As a quick reality-check, it’s always worth asking God to help you consider  just whose kingdom you’re busy building...

(Of course, if you ARE being battered by your conscience, listen to it – and perhaps take your concern to one of your priests so that together we can listen to God and seek God’s healing and forgiveness)

And yet – and yet – there is SO MUCH that we should be challenged by in Church and world alike, so many things that should give rise to every bit as much scandal as the immoral marriage of Herod and Herodias.

Things that diminish our humanity, if we allow ourselves to let them slide as “just the way things are.

Things we – you and I – need to challenge.

 If we do not identify as Herod OR Herodias, then perhaps we are called to be John.

Prophets do not always foretell the future.

More often they speak truth to power...standing on the edge of society, from where they have better view of all that is going on, both good and bad.

What’s the view like from where you are?

I wonder if you have noticed anything in the past week that might need challenging?

A change in legislation that could make it illegal for anyone to rescue a boatload of asylum seekers drowning in the Channel perhaps, or a decision to cut the UK Aid budget by £4.1 billion...A growing tendency to value people in terms of their productivity…The gradual disappearance of integrity in public life...The removal of the £20 top up to Universal Credit…or a decision by the House of Bishops of the Church of England to ignore the recommendations of its own commission, that each diocese should appoint a racial justice officer because they couldn’t afford them – though there are still funds for church plants ...

Those are among the things that have given me pause, at least. You might well be fired by other causes for concern, and look at things from a completely different viewpoint.

That’s fine....but the point is, that there will be times – and this may be one of them – when you and I need to speak.

It can be hard to find the courage to lend our voices to those who are often silenced by the structures of society – but, be comforted, I don’t think it’s likely to cost us our heads.

John the Baptist’s role was to point the way to the Kingdom.

That’s our role, too, as Christ’s Church – and we sell the gospel short if we do not strive to show its values in our life together and in our interactions with  wider society too.

 I’m sorry.

I know this isn’t easy but it feels like one of those inconvenient truths we have to confront now and then.

I did say that John the Baptist was an uncomfortable companion, and if we take on his mantle we may not find ourselves universally beloved.

We may, though, find ourselves closer to Jesus, who tends to be found among the victims when power is abused, who loved, and still loves, to spend time among the marginalised, the defenceless, those of little economic value at all.

If all of this fills you with a degree of panic, you might like to pray with me now, that we may have the courage to speak truth to power, to be advocates of the Kingdom values of justice and mercy, to set our sights always above all on Christ

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Attributed — Sir Francis Drake — 1577

Saturday, June 12, 2021

"The sea is so vast and my boat so small"

We have been privileged, over the past few weeks, to host a very special exhibition, a flotilla of tiny golden boats sailing on the altar in the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane.

Entitled "Do the little things"  it is the work of Jake Lever, who art has a quiet power that has engaged visitors in other cathedrals than ours. About this work his website says

 Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things.’  St David 589 AD

Through the pandemic, Jake turned to making tiny golden boats, sending them to people he cared about as a kind of silent, wordless communication, heart to heart. These small gestures - ‘little things’ - have started to form a web stretching far and wide, a visual expression of our universal human need for belonging and connection. 

I love this concept and was thrilled to be able to include my son and his fiancee in the web, as they announced their engagement when I couldn't be with them to share hugs and celebrations. A tiny golden boat symbolises all I want for their lives - calm sea and prosperous voyage .

There was a wonderful serendipity which brought the boats to Coventry the same weekend as the Lampedusa Cross made from the timber of a wrecked refugee boat, a reminder of all those for whom the Breton fisherman's prayer

"O God be good to me. The sea is so vast and my boat so small"

is not a metaphor at all but a cry from deep need and pressing reality.

But I had not really engaged with the significance of their presence there in Gethsemane til Thursday, when I took my turn in the SCP annual journey through the octave of Corpus Christi, "Adorate". I had signed myself, and the Cathedral, up for an hour of Eucharistic devotion, and found myself placing my tiny chapel monstrance on the altar among the tiny boats.

And they spoke to one another. 

Oh, how they spoke to one another!

Of the loving web of connection that binds humanity to God, despite all that we might do to sever the links.

Of the fragility of the Incarnation - Christ launched in vulnerability into our world, travelling in a body subject to time and decay and to all the anger of unloving humanity.

Of the fragility of the Sacrament - the life of God offered to us, week in week out in a fragment of bread 

After a year when that wonderful Sacrament has not been available to everyone, when we have perhaps found ourselves forced to deal with Eucharistic absence, it felt incredibly special to be consciously focussed on presence instead...on the reality of Christ's love revealed in microcosm there on the altar.

The hour I spent was truly balm for the soul - and I found myself reflecting on the fact that we all travel though life, however fragile our vessels, on the boundless ocean of God's love. Cathedral life ebbed and flowed about me, a handful of visitors came in, some to take pictures, others to pray, and through it all that golden threat anchored me and I knew, and I know, that it extends across space and time, and leads us safely home.



Sweet Sacrament of rest,
ark from the ocean's roar,
within thy shelter blest
soon may we reach the shore;


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Wait and see - a sermon for Ascension Day at Coventry Cathedral (with grateful thanks for the kick-start from Charlotte Cheshire)

This week in and around the Cathedral, I’ve been hugely conscious that all sorts of projects that had been months, or years in the planning, were coming to fruition.

The work is nearly accomplished in St Michael’s AvenueThe long-anticipated interpretation materials are in place, ready for our first visitors when we re-open on Monday. Even the new shop fittings are here being assembled

While there’s still a little while before the Pavilion will be finished and ready to receive guests, at least some works are all but complete, and we can begin to have a sense of how things may be once all is accomplished – for the moment, til the next wave of good ideas breaks! It all feels very hopeful and purposeful and I’m so relieved – because while I love change, I’m just not great at waiting.


This is perhaps yet another reason why it’s good that I wasn’t there with the disciples on that mountain in Galilee. I think I might have made a scene.

I was in school earlier in the week, looking at some of the RE that the KS1 children had been doing. It included plotting the disciples’ emotions from Good Friday to Pentecost as a graph…and as you might imagine, most of the lines looked like a roller coaster viewed side on. The downward plunge of Good Friday, the elated rise on Easter day, followed by a period of steady happiness for those 40 days when Jesus might turn up at any moment – then the sickening drop as that rag taggle community realised that Jesus was going again – without giving any clue as to when he’d be back.


What were they to make of that – and of his instruction to wait…?

To wait for something dramatic – without knowing what it might be.

So very hard for them. Yet more change, loss and uncertainty

Jesus has been with them, in all the wonder of his risen body.

He has gathered them and taken them on a country walk, blessed them – and that’s it.

He has gone.


These verses about the ascension are so short, just a tiny section of the gospels yet here in those brief words is a moment when the disciples teeter on the edge of transformation.

With no Jesus present to teach them, they turn from disciples, pupils, to apostles, those who are sent, just like that…though of course we get a better view of their transformation than they did themselves

To start with all they know is that they’ve been sent home. Home to wait.


You can imagine the conversation on the road.

Why can’t we be clothed with power from on high today?

Why didn’t Jesus do it before he left?

In fact, why has Jesus gone?

Where has he gone?

There are far more questions than answers.

But in the meantime, all they can do is hurry up and wait

They feel his loss deeply.

This is not a change that they would have chosen. Whatever small glimmer of hope there might be at the back of their minds, this feels very much like another bereavement.


Change, loss, waiting.

So much part of the fabric of our pandemic experience.

And in truth, everything has changed.

We won’t, we can’t, go back to how we were before. Whatever course our public life takes in the months ahead, I can’t imagine that any of us will take things as calmly for granted as I know I used to do. Even if I don’t articulate it, I know there will be an unspoken “God willing” incorporated into any and every plan. I’m different. We’re different.


So now we are waiting, to with no certainty about the outcome

We are gradually emerging from the long winter of lockdown, frustration and fear - into what? We hope for a slow and steady recovery as our economy, business, jobs and even church, pick up steam?

Or will the waiting bring more pain as organisations that have limped along for ages finally recognise that they can’t continue and businesses, organisations and even churches close down?

Will they be missed? What will their absence mean?

We wait and we pray but we do not yet know.


It’s striking how often a liminal, in between place like this is the place of growth. There are so many examples in Scripture. – though we can be tempted to skip from high point to high point, fast forwarding through the long road between.

The Exodus for example: Let my people go! Plagues, Red Sea, columns of fire, ten commandments, promised land – ta da! That process took forty years and there was an awful lot of walking, sand, walking, sand, camping, sand and more walking in between those amazing moments as God’s people learned what it meant for them to bear that title. Or another wilderness experience, as Jesus grew in understanding of his own ministry, away from it all, in an in between place. Or what about the Bible itself – Old Testament, New Testament – in between just two pages in the book we know today ,was a gap of four hundred years of silence, of waiting, of not knowing what would happen next…whether and how God might speak, and more opportunities for learning and for growth.


So what of us?

It’s quite a long time since Jesus left his friends on that Galilean mountainside. Events haven’t turned out exactly as they might have expected. No matter how often they lifted their eyes to heaven, there has been no sign of Jesus returning as they saw him go. And we’re still waiting – and we still don’t know what God is up to…but do you know, that’s actually quite OK.

If I’ve learned nothing else, I think I may finally have grasped that ours is a God of surprises, who continues to demonstrate that the end is never the end, that there are always new and wider perspectives, spaces in which we can be changed and grow.


You see, Ascension Day ultimately reminds us that God’s timing is not ours, that we cannot control the path to our future, nor poke and prod it to reveal itself to suit our impatient longing.

So we wait and we pray, for our loved ones, our communities and ourselves. Over this next ten days we are always encouraged to pray, with Christians across the world “Thy Kingdom Come” and ask the Holy Spirit will fall afresh on our communities, our churches and our lives.

Let’s do that together – for who knows what sort of flame may be lit when God’s people watch, wait and pray.

Perhaps, it might even take us, the family of Coventry Cathedral, on a whole new journey that we never expected.

Remember, by no means all change is loss.

How do we need to grow?

What might the Spirit have in store for us?

We’ll have to wait and see. Amen.

Easter 6 2021 Abide in my love

 

As the father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.

 

Aside from funerals and football matches, you don’t come across the word “abide” very often today.

I’ve uttered it more when reading the Bible in worship – particularly JWohn’s gospel – than in any other context – and in the first 11 verses of chapter 15 it appears no less than 11 times.

Well- yippy doodle doo, you might be thinking. So what?

If the NRSV chose an archaic word, why should that worry us.

Can’t we just go with “remain” - as some other translations do – and press on to the tricky stuff about love.

We will in a minute, I promise – but I’d like, if I may, to detain us for a moment first

 

You see, that verb, “abide” is all about staying put, making yourself at home – which, of course, we are all VERY practised at after the past year. We have abided in our homes, our places of safety – and will have found them more or less attractive. We have had a chance to think about what kind of space we inhabit and as a result we may have changed things round, redecorated or disposed of things that no longer seem to have a place in our lives, maybe made plans to move altogether .

We may have done a bit of reorganising of our inner spaces too, discovering what we value and what we can discard from that landscape as well.

Though the City of Culture tag line is “Coventry Moves”, for the past year we’ve been more still than for centuries. There’s hope that we may even have learned from the experience even if we feel we’ve fallen a long way short of the Desert Fathers...who famously adopted the teaching of Abba Moses of Scetis, who told a would be disciple who had travelled miles to learn from him

 

'Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’"

 

I’m writing this on the feast of Julian of Norwich – an anchoress, anchored not only in her tiny cell in St Julian’s Church but also, even more firmly, in God’s love. She had surely learned the meaning of abiding, her own brush with death not only concentrating the mind wonderfully but opening her up to that amazing series of revelations of divine love that have lost none of their power in the intervening centuries. You see – I promised we would get to the difficult love stuff in time

 

Abide in my love, says Jesus. Make your home here, with my love as the foundation, my love the walls that offer shelter from life’s storms, my love the place of hospitality into which you may invite others.

This is my commandment – that you love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

That’s where all that abiding gets you – and we can’t pretend it’s not challenging.

 

If we have responded to that invitation to abide,  seriously intent on loving one another as Jesus has loved us – well, we know how well that ended for him, don’t we.

It may simply seem too hard…Abiding is fine...Me and Jesus in a happy huddle. Fabulous.

But unfortunately, not what he has in mind.

Love one another.

No helpful boundaries suggested – love those who voted the way you did...love those whose taste in worship music matches your own...those whom you see as a blessing to the world…

Love one another.

Oh help

That, of course, was the problem addressed in the Acts reading – which is the end of the story of Peter and Cornelius, in which Peter is taught to open the flaps of the tent in which he is abiding to make room for others. Peter has been absolutely certain who he is called to love and relate to – then along comes the Holy Spirit and shatters his world view just like that. That’s simply what she does...pushing us to cross our self-created boundaries, inviting us not just to be rooted, but to GROW...

Here’s the difference between abiding in God’s love and hanging on to our own, limited, human version. Left to ourselves, we seek safety among our own kind...create systems to determine who is in and who is out, shrink our borders, include fewer people – but that’s not how Jesus loves at all.

.He embodies God’s desire to include all – When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw ALL people to myself – and invites us to recognise the limits of our own vision, and to learn from others – people with different politics, different cultures, - people we might not actually like that much.

God’s love makes room – and so must ours. Jesus doesn’t just issue commandments – new or otherwise. He calls us friends – makes outsiders insiders as he invites us to sit down at his table with EVERYONE else, to eat and discuss his great plan for the world with those who are, perhaps unexpectedly, sitting beside us

Rowan Williams puts it rather well

To obey the new commandment of love is to stay put: to stay with the people God has given us to love, to nurture and be nurtured by, to challenge and be challenged by

He doesn’t add, though he might have done, “like it or not”

We are to invite them into our tent, these people God gives us to love – to make a space there for love to abide, and for us to abide in love. This will probably involve a bit of humilty….a recognition that as limited beings, loving an unlimited God, we need to learn from one another, so that together we can harmonise with many voices that same theme: love God, and love one another.

Remember, Jesus has no favourites...Jews and Gentiles, Desert Fathers and Medieval mystics, Archbishops and Deputy Head Choristers – all are loved equally and totally. Jesus laid down his life for his friends – including each of us

By grace, we are all beloved...Let us ask for the grace we need, so that we may truly abide in love and bear love’s fruit in a loveless world.

.

Peace be with you Easter 3B 2021 at Coventry Cathedral

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said to them “Peace be with you”

Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. Alleluia.

 

That’s the version we expect.

That’s surely the only proper response to such a moment of glorious, life-changing surprise.

They were GLAD

 

Except, that’s not how it is in the gospel account we’ve just heard.

 

Instead - They were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.

 

Once again, the words we are given in Scripture are not those we might have expected.

We’ve already had to deal with this as we contemplated the ending of Mark’s gospel…

“The women said nothing, because they were afraid”

Easter tide – the season of new beginnings and what might be presumed to be happy ever afters doesn’t after all seem to be quite as straightforward as our joyous Alleluias would suggest.

It seems that we’re sometimes rather too prone to tidy things up in our haste to reach the happy ending – hence the clear-up operation that concludes some versions of Mark’s gospel...but, if we pause to think for a moment, confusion and anxiety are entirely rational reactions.

 

The disciples have had to confront their own desertion of their beloved Lord – learning in the hardest way imaginable the limits of their love and the extent of their frailty.

They have been in hiding, - I imagine them terrified at the sound of each foot on the stairs in case they too were about to be arrested and hauled away to execution.

Worse their mourning has been disturbed by rumours of an empty tomb and visions of angels but as far as they are concerned the harsh reality is remains.

Jesus is dead.

End of.

 

Let’s just stay with that for a moment, because today is the day after a remarkable funeral – and one of the greatest sadnesses, always, that surrounds a funeral is the way that a family can pour so much love and energy, dignity and courage into a service, designed to reflect exactly the wishes and the personality of their dear departed – and yet, despite everything, they wake up next morning and know he is STILL dead.

That can feel monstrously unfair – almost a rejection of all the love expended...a moment when grief is piled on grief.

 

And how is anyone – ANYONE to make peace with that situation?

With a world which has the effrontery to carry on turning, apparently just as usual, despite the experience of loss which has blown one family apart

 

And they think – We would give anything – anything – to see him one more time...to have one more conversation...a meal together….

 

And there is no peace – because, of course, this gift is simply not available.

 

Small wonder, then, that the bereaved disciples are not ready to accept either the evidence of their own eyes (we all know of the experience of glimpsing a loved one in their familiar seat, before the brain catches up and reminds us that they’ve gone) or that unexpected greeting

“Peace be with you”

They are not reconciled to his death – nor are they yet ready to believe in the resurrection.

Of all the things they might be feeling in that moment, peace is way out of sight

 

But oh, they need to receive his peace – and his pardon.

Their last encounter was as they ran away – only John daring to return, to join the women at Calvary.

They’ve surely blamed themselves time and again in the past three days

But Jesus offers no recrimination – only that extraordinary gift...which he alone can give.

 

So – they find themselves at the place where hopes and fears, doubts and wonderings collide and are presented with the staggering reality of his physical presence – and into that situation Jesus speaks peace.

 

Normally in reconciliation both parties are far away from peace. They may not even be sure that they want to attain it – and certainly neither has it ready made as a gift that they can hand over.

 

But in this situation, on one side is Jesus – all compassion, pure unbounded love – the author of peace...able like no-one else to bring it as a gift into the tumult of their jangled emotions.

 

Peace be with you

 

It doesn’t solve everything –

a longing for peace, - an offer OF peace – rarely does.

Peace is a process, not a one-off event that changes us in an instant.

Even when we CAN shake hands and smile, unmasked, at friends and strangers, our moment of “passing the peace” is rarely transformational. Perhaps we ask too little of it – have reduced that amazing possibility of sharing Christ’s peace with one another to a mere social exchange? Perhaps when we can offer it again, we may do so with deeper understanding?

Meanwhile, the disciples are still floundering

For all the physical evidence – scarred hands and feet, that they can touch...the gloriously unappetising broiled fish eaten right there before their very eyes….peace doesn’t arrive just like that

 

Joy, yes – it seems that their dreams may have come true, against all the odds.

But – maybe there ARE still dreams...Collective madness? Hallucination?

Disbelieving and still wondering seems more than reasonable to me…and it’s certainly a familiar sensation in the life of faith.

Emotionally exhausted, confused, overwhelmed – the disciples don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

They may even be too overwrought to receive that gift which they most need.

This is a place of deep, deep feelings – where there are no adequate words.

 

Weeping o’er the grave they make their song

 

I suspect that actually that group of broken, fearful dis-spirited disciples had to wait til Pentecost to fully receive the peace that Jesus was offering…

But meanwhile, - they find themselves commissioned – called to share exactly what they have experienced….repentance and forgiveness….

Whether they feel peace or not, Jesus is in their midst and he has work for them to do.

 

That work is ours too.

We have arrived at this text – arrived at this Easter season – after a year in which all our imagined certainties have been blown out of the water.

The Queen sitting alone at yesterday’s remarkable service became an icon for all those whose mourning has been compounded by the demands of this covid time, her grief a focus for all the collective grief that has been swirling around us for so many months now.

We may not yet be ready, or able, to receive Christ’s peace or to rest in the sure and certain hope of resurrection, much though we long to.

 

But we can – and we must – to coin a phrase “just get on with it”

Get on with living as a reconciling presence in the lives of our neighbours and communities

Get on with witnessing to God’s love even as we wrestle with our own doubts, our own griefs, our own failures.

 

We must speak peace to each other, whether we feel it or no – and follow up our words with loving kindness in action…

Jesus stood among them.

Jesus stands among us.

He is always present, will never leave us, his peace an inexhaustible resource for us and for all who have sobbed their way through the long night of grief, and now seek courage to meet the dawn.

 

 

 

Easter 2 B The Resurrection of the Body

 Last week the world was full of Easter joy.

Whether you  rose with the dawn to hear the resurrection greeted in the sound of joyful bird song as the bishop kindled the new fire, or rolled downstairs in your pyjamas with seconds to spare before online church, I hope and pray that for a while at least the uncertainties, questions and grey areas of faith were subsumed by the confident truth
"Christ is risen! He is risen indeed"

A week on, though, we're back with our own familiar realities...in a world where fear has literally locked us in, behind closed doors for almost a year - and where doubts and insecurities are part of the fabric of life.

And this week we’re very much confronted by death...whether your focus is the sadly shortened life of Richard Okorogheye, or the 99 years of tireless service that was the life of Philip, Duke of Edinburgh...or whether you’re remembering those 451 souls killed in the 2nd Coventry air raid over the nights of 8th/9th and 10th/11th April 80 years ago...or a quieter, less public death closer to home.

 

While the sure and certain hope of resurrection should enable us to accept death’s reality without fear for ourselves or our loved ones, there’s nothing that says we shouldn’t grieve, whatever Paul may have asserted in our epistle.

I’ve no idea how it landed with the church in Corinth, but if I’m honest, reading it this morning makes me frankly rather  CROSS.

I’m absolutely excited and hopeful about the glory ahead – but I am conscious, too, that we are not wired to simply walk away from the ravaged tents that were once beloved human bodies.

I cannot conceive how it might feel to bear an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure…

I can, and I do, know how it feels to love every curl on my granddaughter’s head, and the way her little brother totters off down the garden like a small and determined piglet in gumboots.

Here and now, the way that I experience those whom I love is in all the frailty and God-given perfection of our human bodies…those amazing works of divine engineering that shelter us all our life long.

Yes, a tent can be blown away in a sudden storm, but it can also provide hospitality, rest and nurture, comfort and joy..It can be a temporary home...even if ultimately we expect to leave it behind like the bright ephemera abandoned on the fields of Glastonbury and Reading after a summer festival.

.

Bodies too, are precious lodgings for the moment, beloved vehicles through which we recognise and encounter each other and through which we encounter God.

They are so significant, that God chose to have one himself…

And Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus his friend...and did not in any way reprimand Jairus for his stupidity in mourning the loss of his daughter…or the widow mourning her dead son.

 

So I think, Paul, that you’re on the wrong track here.

Here and now we are material beings – with a wonderful destiny, yes...but for now...BODIES MATTER which is why Thomas’s story is so important.


It does seem unfair that nobody talks about Peter the Turncoat or - despite their evident ambition - James & John the Wannabe twins - but Thomas - oh, he's Thomas the Doubter for all time - and as such, surely, the patron of pretty much everyone I have ever known.

He hears the excited testimony of his friends "We have SEEN the Lord" - and is not satisfied.

He wants firm, tangible evidence...nothing that could be based on mass hysteria (can 10 be a mass?) or the power of suggestion.

He’s not interested in memory or metaphor.
He wants incontrovertible proof that Jesus is alive.
And he receives it.

He sees with his eyes and touches with his hands a body that is recognisably that same body he saw from a distance, suffering at Calvary.

And that encounter swings it for him.

He knows the truth – because he experiences it in his own body...the thrill of touching one whom he’d thought never to touch again…

 

That, of course, is not given to many.

I believe in the resurrection of the body, we say – but

When we say farewell to a loved one’s body, we do so unsure of how the final resurrection will be. We trust, we hope that we will know them, that the love that has bound us here on earth will be part of the reality of heaven…

 

And we can take heart, I think, because Jesus did not return to his friends as an idea...but as a physical being...a person bearing the scars of the cross... sharing bread and fish ...a person they could still touch and hug and hold for a while, despite that eternal weight of glory that is his from the beginning and for ever.

 

To set against St Paul, the American writer John Updike offers Seven Stanzas at Easter

 

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

 

Christ is risen – in body and indeed.

Alleluia!

 

Last week the world was full of Easter joy.
Whether you  rose with the dawn to hear the resurrection greeted in the sound of joyful bird song as the bishop kindled the new fire, or rolled downstairs in your pyjamas with seconds to spare before online church, I hope and pray that for a while at least the uncertainties, questions and grey areas of faith were subsumed by the confident truth
"Christ is risen! He is risen indeed"

A week on, though, we're back with our own familiar realities...in a world where fear has literally locked us in, behind closed doors for almost a year - and where doubts and insecurities are part of the fabric of life.

And this week we’re very much confronted by death...whether your focus is the sadly shortened life of Richard Okorogheye, or the 99 years of tireless service that was the life of Philip, Duke of Edinburgh...or whether you’re remembering those 451 souls killed in the 2nd Coventry air raid over the nights of 8th/9th and 10th/11th April 80 years ago...or a quieter, less public death closer to home.

 

While the sure and certain hope of resurrection should enable us to accept death’s reality without fear for ourselves or our loved ones, there’s nothing that says we shouldn’t grieve, whatever Paul may have asserted in our epistle.

I’ve no idea how it landed with the church in Corinth, but if I’m honest, reading it this morning makes me frankly rather  CROSS.

I’m absolutely excited and hopeful about the glory ahead – but I am conscious, too, that we are not wired to simply walk away from the ravaged tents that were once beloved human bodies.

I cannot conceive how it might feel to bear an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure…

I can, and I do, know how it feels to love every curl on my granddaughter’s head, and the way her little brother totters off down the garden like a small and determined piglet in gumboots.

Here and now, the way that I experience those whom I love is in all the frailty and God-given perfection of our human bodies…those amazing works of divine engineering that shelter us all our life long.

Yes, a tent can be blown away in a sudden storm, but it can also provide hospitality, rest and nurture, comfort and joy..It can be a temporary home...even if ultimately we expect to leave it behind like the bright ephemera abandoned on the fields of Glastonbury and Reading after a summer festival.

.

Bodies too, are precious lodgings for the moment, beloved vehicles through which we recognise and encounter each other and through which we encounter God.

They are so significant, that God chose to have one himself…

And Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus his friend...and did not in any way reprimand Jairus for his stupidity in mourning the loss of his daughter…or the widow mourning her dead son.

 

So I think, Paul, that you’re on the wrong track here.

Here and now we are material beings – with a wonderful destiny, yes...but for now...BODIES MATTER which is why Thomas’s story is so important.


It does seem unfair that nobody talks about Peter the Turncoat or - despite their evident ambition - James & John the Wannabe twins - but Thomas - oh, he's Thomas the Doubter for all time - and as such, surely, the patron of pretty much everyone I have ever known.

He hears the excited testimony of his friends "We have SEEN the Lord" - and is not satisfied.

He wants firm, tangible evidence...nothing that could be based on mass hysteria (can 10 be a mass?) or the power of suggestion.

He’s not interested in memory or metaphor.
He wants incontrovertible proof that Jesus is alive.
And he receives it.

He sees with his eyes and touches with his hands a body that is recognisably that same body he saw from a distance, suffering at Calvary.

And that encounter swings it for him.

He knows the truth – because he experiences it in his own body...the thrill of touching one whom he’d thought never to touch again…

 

That, of course, is not given to many.

I believe in the resurrection of the body, we say – but

When we say farewell to a loved one’s body, we do so unsure of how the final resurrection will be. We trust, we hope that we will know them, that the love that has bound us here on earth will be part of the reality of heaven…

 

And we can take heart, I think, because Jesus did not return to his friends as an idea...but as a physical being...a person bearing the scars of the cross... sharing bread and fish ...a person they could still touch and hug and hold for a while, despite that eternal weight of glory that is his from the beginning and for ever.

 

To set against St Paul, the American writer John Updike offers Seven Stanzas at Easter

 

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

 

Christ is risen – in body and indeed.

Alleluia!