Easter Day Sermon preached at St Andrew, Bishopthorpe
Last year we were not in church on Easter Sunday. April 2020 was the deadliest month of the first wave of the pandemic, and our hospitals and care homes were facing their toughest days. Many of us joined a service on the internet, but church buildings were empty. Few of us imagined that we would be in another lockdown during Easter 2021. Yet here we are – thankfully in Church, but still living with the changes which COVID-19 has brought to our lives.
I’m sure that in Bishopthorpe the time between these two Easters has been filled with many unrecorded acts of kindness. Neighbours looking out for one another; people mindful of those who are vulnerable; finding ways to help our front-line workers feel supported.
We shouldn’t underestimate all this compassion and care. It expresses something that flows out of our Christian faith. I’m not suggesting that people of other faiths and beliefs don’t care; we know that they do. Yet there is a shape to Christian living which is distinctive and reflects a choice of faith giving rise to action. A response to God rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Last week I commented that, at present, a gathering of 13 or more people in an upper room is illegal. Eating together in such a setting is also banned. Except here. Thankfully, in this spacious building, we can meet together and share this meal. The need for services to be held remotely is understandable, but – at least for me – it has never felt quite the same as being here. Perhaps our fast from meeting and eating together has borne spiritual fruit: a new awareness of what presence means and the privilege, when possible, of being together. Many continue to live this enforced fast, and our prayers are with them.
Part of the reason why I feel that being here matters, is that when Christians meet in worship we inhabit our spiritual home, and speak our mother tongue. It is not about the building – and yet the building is designed to emphasise elements of our faith. Following on from St Paul’s description of Christians as ‘ambassadors for Christ’, this place has the all hallmarks of an Embassy. A place filled with the things from home: the customs, the quirks and the idiom of that ‘other country’, where our souls belong.
Over the years I’ve led services of Holy Communion in many different places. With a few friends on the Isle of Iona, to inner-city care homes, people’s houses, in prison, in countless churches and chapels, with the sick and those about to leave this life. Every time, no matter what the setting, I have said the words that pattern a Christian’s sense of belonging. Words that remind us there is no hierarchy in God’s kingdom – all have sinned; self-worth is not the coin that can buy this sacrament. Love and longing invite us where there is no entitlement to be. All we can do is lift up our hands, for the food which comes by grace alone.
Love answering love, in an open palm.
Who knows where we shall be next Easter. It’s certainly true for many of us in this pandemic that ‘Today’s trouble is enough for today’ (Matthew 6:34). As the women walking to the tomb were anxious about the huge stone that would obstruct them, we sometimes find that God has gone on ahead of our anxieties – and what we imagine is sealed, stands open.
This Easter I simply want to encourage you to nourish the roots of this faith. To be fed, strengthened and built up in the calling we receive in baptism. In our faith, and the way we live, to witness to God. As ambassadors striving to be faithful, living the truth of the Kingdom which is our home. Always seeking and knowing that in our acts of service we bring a message of life; finding wherever we go, that the Risen Christ has gone before us.
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth… He has been raised; he is not here… he is going ahead of you… there you will see him, just as he told you”Words from the Gospel of Mark chapter 16, from verses 6 & 7