Black Lives Matter

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This Sunday, as well as being Trinity Sunday, marks the retirement of John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. He is the first black holder of that office. He has been known for being charismatic and uncompromising. He is a forceful person. He has been a passionate advocate for social justice and to transform the welfare of people in poverty. He has also been on the receiving end of vile racist abuse. As he retires, we give thanks for his ministry and pray for him as he enters a new phase of life.

I was listening to the comedian, campaigner and actor Lenny Henry being interviewed on ‘Grounded with Louis Theroux’, a podcast for Radio 4. He spoke about his life, his work and racism in the UK. The shock was how much racial abuse has been a part of his life – in the background, directly at him and through prejudice. He referred to racism still going on today, overt, not just hidden, but at bus stops and on the underground. For all we celebrate a multicultural society we know there is this darkness beneath the surface, and both Lenny Henry and Archbishop Sentamu can attest to that.

It can be so easy to ignore and pass-by at the casual and low-level end, but it’s not so easy when it is explicit. When a police officer in the United States thinks it is acceptable to kneel on a black man’s neck until George Floyd died of asphyxiation, there is no longer a neutral place to hide. To be neutral is to say that he acted in an acceptable way, which it most clearly was not, or to not care enough to take a stand. It is to become complicit in it or drawn to be complicit. Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it with characteristic punch when he said ‘when an elephant is standing on the tail of a mouse, your neutrality will not be appreciated by the mouse’. Neutral takes a side by default; it takes the side of the aggressor.

The hashtag and slogan #BlackLivesMatter, circulating at the moment, is an important reminder that racism can lie hidden behind blander statements like ‘All Lives Matter’. Of course, all lives do matter but the point of the specific is to challenge the prejudice, the hatred and the violence. It is to shine a light on the vice and call it out. ‘All lives matter’ can be a way of watering that down. We have inclusion as one of our core values but we have to spell it out at times, just where that rubs so that it is challenged. As Lenny Henry said in the podcast, someone has to take a lead to effect change.

On Saturday there is a demonstration planned to take place in Cathedral Square. Most of us will not be there – because we are still shielding or keeping distance from large gatherings as we are required to do. The church building will be there, though, standing as it does at the heart of the city. As it stands there it can be a symbol of inclusion and value or of indifference. It can be a symbol of standing in solidarity with those feeling unheard and discriminated against, even if we as its congregation are not able to do so physically, through a poster in the main noticeboard. As St Paul put it, in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, all are one (Galatians 3:28). Today he would highlight the racial unity and equality too. The equity needed spelling out then and it needs it now.

Even in lockdown and shielding, we can proclaim the light and hope of Christ. The political challenges continue and there are people who suffer at the hands of others’ hatred and prejudice. When we want to see a more compassionate and caring society, one that does show that all lives matter, it is important to be prepared to make this clear when others are behaving differently, to be specific. Being known by our fruit is more important than posing for photo calls outside churches – especially if the way has been cleared by rubber bullets and tear gas, as for President Trump this week. It’s not enough to hold a bible, we have to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it, then live it in justice, truth and peace proclaiming the love of God in Jesus Christ for all.

God bless, keep alert, and find ways to show the light and love of Christ in this coming week.

Opening Letter in weekly newsletter for Peterborough Parish Church, 5th June 2020

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Shielding and God’s grace with us: Night Prayer reflection on Visit of Mary to Elizabeth

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On Monday our church calendar commemorated a feast day full of joy and promise. Two women, both expecting babies rejoiced together as they looked forward to the birth of their children. One was the mother of John the Baptist, the other Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The feast day goes by the name of the Visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth. It is shown in this window and it is a scene of two women greeting one another.

Actually, the greeting goes deeper than that, because as we heard in that passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:39-56), the child in Elizabeth’s womb gives a kick of excitement, and she says her child is greeting the other, Jesus. Even in the womb John the Baptist fulfils his vocation to point to Jesus, to acknowledge him and celebrate his arrival.

So, for a church named after John the Baptist, this is a feast day for us to keep, and that is what we are doing in this service. Just as it is John the Baptist’s vocation to point to Jesus, it is ours too. Whether we are out and about or in confinement, lockdown, or just being careful. Elizabeth in the gospel was in her period of confinement, period of protection when she shielded to ensure as far as anyone can that all went well with the final stages of pregnancy. And Elizabeth is what would be called an older mother, her conceiving being remarkable at her age and so she needed to take care.

In our shielding and confining, even as some of the restrictions are easing – for our economic well-being, our mental well-being, because we just need to get out and about a bit more – we remain vigilant and alert; we are careful. We may feel closed off, but we can still give a kick of excitement at the signs of God’s presence and blessing. And looking for signs of blessing, delighting in them, is an important stage in restoring mental and emotional well-being.

The story of Elizabeth in her confinement reminds us how natural shielding is. It is part of taking care of ourselves and others, perhaps the most vulnerable in the unborn and in those expectant with promise fulfilled. Shielding reminds us that we are all mortal and vulnerable, fragile but also resilient.  We may find that we have inner strengths to draw on that we hadn’t realized, but only if we have fed them with the hope of promise to be fulfilled and the longing for the moment when life will spring forth.

There is also in this touching story of two expectant women, the joy of time spent together. For us that might be delighting in those we are with, in those who call or skype or facetime, even zoom, connect with through social media and email or letter. It might be that these services being streamed are helping connect and bring spiritual moments when the heart can greet and meet and share together in the joy and hope of God’s promises fulfilled. God is reliable and to be trusted to bring to fulfillment the promise of his blessing, presence, peace and eternity.

The passage we heard from Luke is the source of the first part of the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer. She is hailed, greeting, saluted enthusiastically because she is full of grace, of God’s gift to her and to us. The Lord is with her, within her, and as Mary is the God-bearer, an ancient title given to her – theotokos, so are we to be. She is blessed among women for when God is present and grows within us, it is a moment of deep blessing because God’s promise has been and is being fulfilled. We bear God in Christ to the world too.

During the summer last year, staying with the Franciscans at Alnmouth in Northumberland, I came across what I would call a more Biblical version of the Hail Mary prayer, one that is more Christ-centred and keeps our hope there, remembers that it is he who fills the mediatorial space between humanity and the Godhead; we need no other intermediary. So, our prayers are through Christ and no one else. It is an alternative in their Daily Office book, for use when the Angelus is rung.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.

Blessèd are you among women,

and blessèd is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Son of Mary, Son of God, have mercy on us,

now, and at the hour of our death. (p37)

It is a prayer of confidence that God is in control, even when we might be overcome by events, as a woman in pregnancy and child-birth is. God’s gift, God’s grace is with us.

So, for us, where are we struggling in this shielding and confinement? Where are the moments of blessing, of connections made and shared? Where can we find moments of delighting in God’s hope? Where is grace present and bringing gift to us? These are places of healing and well-being. They are moments when we are visited by the Lord who comes to us in surprising guises. We are blessed with Mary and Elizabeth in the greeting of their children and in the hope of Mary’s child. God’s grace is with us.

Reflection on Visit of Mary to Elizabeth for Night Prayer, Peterborough Parish Church, Wednesday 3rd June 2020

 

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Being alert for the gift of the Spirit

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Christ’s Ascension, depicted in the reredos at Peterborough Parish Church

Thursday was Ascension Day, the day we read, as we did in our first reading (Acts 1:6-14), of Jesus’ final moment with his disciples in person. One joker on the internet referred to it as being the day when he started working from home. He promises that they will not be left comfortless, they will receive the power of Holy Spirit and with that they will be his witnesses.

There is also mention of the cloud. In the bible clouds bring mystery into the story. To us they might bring fluffy shapes in the sky or, for the more technologically minded, remote storage to enable easy access wherever we are. We can connect to the cloud and retrieve that file, that document or photographs which have been placed there for safe keeping. The reality of the internet cloud is less romantic and mysterious. It is a bank of computer hard drives in a warehouse somewhere, connected by fibre optic wires and satellites.

Whenever we want to talk about God, we find the images and metaphors that speak most to us. And cloud storage enabling remote access on the move is not a bad one for Ascension and this period looking forward to Pentecost next week. The gift of the Holy Spirit is our access to God’s guidance and inspiration. It moves, opens and changes us. It transforms situations in mysterious ways. Never underestimate the power of prayer. And we will hear next week that the frightened became champions, witnesses on a mission and prepared to stand up to be counted, where previously they hid.

Another phrase from our readings with a strangely relevant twist to where we are now, came in our second reading (1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11). The instruction to ‘discipline yourselves; keep alert’ because there is something out there looking for someone to devour, is bang on message. We are being encouraged by government to do just this. And being alert may seem vague to some in messaging terms, but actually it does convey a stark warning. Shape up, watch out and don’t let your guard down. This virus has not gone away and could come back for a second bite, worse than before because that is precisely what has happened in previous pandemics. So, watch out.

Of course, Peter, assuming the letter that bears his name was written by him, was not talking about a pandemic. He was, though, still warning of things that throw us off course. Being disciplined and alert is to be prepared for the task we face, to be on the watch out for what might come at us. It is to be robust when trials and challenges come. If we live hopefully, faithfully and justly, we have great resources to draw on when times are rough. And they are rough now. They were rough for Peter’s first audience; a church facing persecution and attack.

Ascension is about a leaving with the promise of a return in a different way. Jesus leaves them again. He left them on the cross and with his burial. Still reeling from that, they encounter him after the resurrection and struggle at first to come to terms with this. And now they are going through the loss again. This period between Ascension and Pentecost is one of dislocation and needing to find the bearings again. They have to start re-defining as they wait on the Spirit. This is not given instantly, so they need to be patient.

We are used to this gap, but for them it was not clear what was coming next, and that is always a moment of anxiety, especially if like me you like to know the map, have a picture in your head of the route. We have to learn through this period of waiting and loss to wait on God in faith and hope and trust. We need to wait on God because that is how he comes to us, on those who have made themselves available and alert to this gift.

Their resilience comes from continuing to meet, to pray, to break bread together. Their lockdown was different to ours. But the readjusting applies. We have a great deal of readjusting to do. When we do get back into the church together it will be different. What we have to trust is that God will continue to feed us, to inspire us and equip us for the tasks we face. The Spirit will come and it will bring the new focus and life that we need to face what lies ahead.

So, we have to be alert, to enter the cloud of the memory bank of our faith and our hope. We are singing the Lord’s song in a strange land and it will remain strange for a while yet. In our waiting we will encounter the surprising gift, the answered prayer and the renewed hope.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sermon for Easter 7, live-streamed from Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 24th May 2020

 

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A beacon inspiring faith, hope and love

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There has been a report that internet searches for prayer have rocketed during lockdown. It seems there is an enhanced interest in spirituality and religious questions. How sustained this is no one can know at this point, but this coincides with these online services seeing far more people viewing them than turned up before lockdown. It might be a giant pause button has been pressed which allows this yearning to come to the surface which lay dormant or just struggled to reach above other pressures. It might be that questions of mortality are to the fore when we are presented with daily death rates. It might be that online worship is easier to peep into than a door is to go through – especially when you can pick your time to pop in. There may well be lots of explanations, some even more subtle. If this is you, I’d be really interested to hear your story.

This is not new. In our first reading (Acts 17:22-31) we heard of Paul coming across something similar as he walked through the centre of Athens. It was such a religious marketplace, with altars to all sorts of spiritual offerings, that there was even an altar to ‘an unknown God’. This is often taken as meaning that they hedged their bets, just in case they’d missed one out. They wanted to cover all bases.

Paul takes this an opportunity to tie to this altar a label naming Jesus Christ as the one they are looking for. He gives an account of God’s love in Jesus Christ and how he offers hope and purpose for them, and by extension for us. The unknown God is named in Jesus Christ and the hope of his resurrection. Stop looking elsewhere, this is the real deal.

The second reading called for us to be ready to give an account of the hope within us (1 Peter 3:13-end). Be ready to say this is what matters to me, this is the spiritual place I go to and where I find purpose and hope. This is what feeds and inspires, provides the light to direct my path. As we delve into the story of our faith, its rich allusions and wisdom, its holding of the dark times as well as the ones of joy and thanksgiving, we find a faith that can cope with where we are. It makes the connection we need with the one at the heart of everything, God.

This crisis has had me looking at the work we had been doing in this church to refresh our vision and what we see the church as being for, and how this directs our planning looking forward. The lockdown rather disrupted all of that, but looking at what we did, it still holds true. I am relieved that it seems to have been robust. We could express our overarching aim as being to be “a beacon of faith, hope and love in the heart of our city”. And this church has shone as that through so many centuries, including the Great Plague in the seventeenth century when my illustrious predecessor, Simon Gunton, remained faithful to his ministry throughout. He is an inspiration.

Being a beacon works in two directions. It is a light that shines out to inspire and give hope. So many connect with that in so many ways as they pass by and call in. I am so sad that this virus has required us to close the doors to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. We know more about epidemiology than was known in the past. So, we take that seriously. But I am glad to be back in here this morning for you, even though we were reminded in our first reading that God does not live in shrines made with human hands, this place does stand as a focus for what we are to be as a beacon of faith and hope and love, to remind us of the story of our faith in Jesus Christ. Prayer hasn’t stopped in here because every time I have come in to check on it, I have said prayers for our city and all its people.

Beacons, as they shine light, also illuminate the shadows and things come to light that were not so obvious before we flicked the switch. It becomes, to mix metaphors, a plumb line, something to be measured against. It sets a standard for us to aspire to and reset the course if we have gone off line at all. May be this lockdown gives us chance to also press pause and think a bit. What matters about a building we can’t all be in, and what doesn’t matter; what is more important?

We aim to be a beacon of ‘faith, hope and love’ and that phrase comes from Paul’s great hymn to love in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 13), the one that begins ‘if I speak in the tongues of mortals or of angels but do not have love, I am an empty vessel that just makes a lot of noise.’ – a loud and annoying noise at that. The faith is the faith of Jesus Christ, the hope is of his resurrection and the love is the love of God revealed and shown in and through him.

It is also the commandment we are to keep if we love God: the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us. To show this love in everything we do. And as our gospel reading told us, we show our love for him when we show our love for everyone, when we follow this commandment to love one another as he has love us (John 14:15-21).

When we want to see the unknown God, we will see him in the acts of loving service which are the response to the beacon of faith and hope, the source of which is Jesus Christ. It is to be our aim in this church to be such a beacon to inspire in this generation as our predecessors did in theirs, because:

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

Sermon for Easter 6, Live-streamed from Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 17th May 2020

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Inspiring the future in the way of Christ’s love

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On Friday we commemorated the 75th anniversary of VE Day. This marked the end of the Second World War in Europe. The actual end of the Second World War did not come for another three months with the victory over Japan. This is sometimes referred to as the forgotten war and so there will be more on this in the summer.

When you have been through the best part of six years of conflict and restrictions, indeed rationing was not over, the relief will have been enormous. We are enduring significant disturbance at the moment and it is a battle of life and death, this virus being so contagious and without a vaccine. When this is over, no doubt there will be a major celebration. We can, therefore, understand why, during his broadcast to the nation on 8th May 1945, King George VIth called this “a great deliverance”.

On Friday the Queen reminded us of this and spoke of how her generation had “kept faith that the cause was right”. The message she said for VE Day was to “never give up and never despair”. It is to know the direction, the purpose and hold to it; to be confident in who we are, what matters to us, and where our hope lies.

The earliest Christians, followers of the risen Christ, referred to themselves as followers of “The Way”. St Luke tells us in Acts that it was not until Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch that “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26), sometime around AD46. The word literally means ‘Messiah People’, people who follow the Way of the Messiah, because that is what the word Christ means. So, we remain people of the Way, but that way is the way of Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading we were taken back to this title deed (John 14:1-14). Jesus tells Thomas that he is the Way, The Truth and the Life. As our anthem from Fiji told us,

‘without a way there is no going, without the truth there is no knowing and without the life there is no living’.

The Way is to be firmly rooted and set in the life and hope and truth of Jesus Christ, so that when difficulties come, we are resilient and able to remain stable and secure.

With a lot of people asking what will come out of this crisis, the best answers take us back to who we are and who we are being called to become. That has not changed, whatever the scenery may look like. We are still beloved children of God, inheritors in Christ and shaped by the Spirit. We are people of faith, hope and love. Those lie at the core of The Way because they are built on truth and show God’s life. The greatest of them is love because that is the point, the source and the goal of all that there is.

So, when we want to think about what shape the future should take, the guide is the rule of love. And if we want to protect ourselves then we need to think how love will do this. The NHS, our care system and health care have turned out to be not just a welfare system, but the front line of our national defences. And the more we look at this virus, the more we realise just how interrelated we all are and our world is. There is unlikely to be a solution to this virus that does not join the world in partnership. Rivals, enemies and friends will have to work together. Perhaps a virus can be a force for good after all – as destructive as it is.

And that is one of the side effects of battling any great danger. In the 1940s the world had to come together to deal with an aggressor who threatened the security of everyone through the horrors of the Nazi regime. The cause against this was right, the challenge not to give up or despair because evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction and one of those seeds is its ability to mobilise and unite previous rivals in common cause. So, perhaps we are being called to a more inclusive, equitable and just worldview. That will be no bad thing.

Today is the beginning of Christian Aid Week. While charity begins at home, it is where we learn it, it does not end there. It extends to embrace everyone – become an expression of the rule of love. As we become more aware of the webs that unite the world, so aid is an important part of our responsibility to our global neighbours and friends. Supporting them turns out to be in our own interests, part of our defences, though generosity is the rule of love at work and that is why this week matters. We usually give out envelopes this week, but that campaign has this year had to be online. There are details of how to give in the newsletter.

The Way is Jesus Christ, his light and hope and peace.

The Truth is love, it’s fire and passion and uniting.

The Life is the gift we receive and share and in which we flourish.

May Christ the way, the truth and the life, be for us all our sure ground for faith, our firm support for hope and the assurance of God’s love.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sermon for Easter 5, Live-streamed Sunday 10th May 202

 

 

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Let love be the new normal

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There is quite an industry at the moment in trying to second guess what the future will look like. What will life and the world look like when we come out of lockdown. On one level, this is such a disorientating experience that it is very difficult to think beyond where we are and taking each day as it comes. The immediate has led to crisis management and response, because that is where we are.

This time is very hard to bear, and so just like the story of Noah on his floating art feeling lost at sea and wondering where home is, so we long signs of land. Uncertainty, while it is always with us, is something we prefer to cover with the known knowns. This is a time of exile, enforced. We have not gone on a spiritual pilgrimage into the wilderness to find ourselves, or even to find God, we have been wrenched from where we were and endure enforced incarceration, distancing and separation. I find the images of exile speak more to me than those of exile at the moment.

This time though will come to an end and there are some twigs beginning to appear, of signs of coming out the other side, at least in some limited way, and we are expecting a major announcement at the weekend about what is likely to emerge in the coming days. As we enter that it is unlikely that we will return completely to how life was before – this virus has not gone away, and without a vaccine or immunity we will still have to take care of ourselves and others; take care of one another.

Whatever the new normality looks like, as it is being termed, it will not come from no where. So, some have been asking us to think about what we are missing and therefore want to see restored. Equally, what are we quite glad to see the back of, even if we’d have chosen a less dramatic way of being shot of it. These are windows into what we treasure and what we value. And somewhere in there will be the operating system we use to access it.

Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church in America, him of that high octane royal wedding sermon a few years ago, spoke recently about what he was looking for. He spoke of the new normality being shaped by the rubric of love. Let the rule of love be the defining character of the new normality. If we do that we will find a more compassionate, more embracing, more open world, one where people flourish and grow in the warmth of the sunlight rather than being weighed down with clouds and darkness. It will be a world that is more inclusive, that looks to count people in and not count them out. When we are going around keeping distance, lest my neighbor infect me, this is a challenge and an important counter to the suspicion and fear that distancing can bring.

The rule of love doesn’t mean that we don’t ask critical questions of those who run things, including governments. Accountability means that we hold up a measure by which to take stock. But that measure needs to be the rule of love not the rule of hatred or fear. The rule of love means that the hungry find food, the homeless shelter and therefore we need to commit the resources needed make this happen. And again announcement today is that there will be a major review of provisions for the homeless and as resources have been committed over recent week we hope and pray that they will be found for what is needed going forward as well – and I welcome that review.

The story of Noah, with its rainbow and floating zoo, is only a temporary fix. The new normality in that story doesn’t last. And within a few pages the old sins continue. Unless we address what lies within that divided, that sent us off down rabbit holes of endless consuming and frenetic activity, we will not change. The love we need is the love that sets us free with hope, with generosity and thanksgiving. This is the love that will change us, the love which we see in Jesus Christ. And it is healing in so many ways.

Reflection for a service of wholeness and healing during Night Prayer, Live-streamed Wednesday 6th May 202

 

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Looking up while locked down – lessons from Julian of Norwich

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Today we are going to look back 600 years from our locked down state to a medieval mystic, the anchorite Julian of Norwich, to see what she might be able to teach us from a form of religious isolating and how she used lockdown to look up. What words of hope and encouragement can reach across the centuries to inspire us in our isolation and confinement?

Mention the name of Julian of Norwich and two things are likely to come up. Firstly, she referred to God as Mother as well as Father. This has often been taken to be revolutionary and radical, but she wasn’t the first to do this. The eleventh century Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm, did it three centuries before her, and he was drawing on the words of Jesus who got there first. As Jesus gazed on Jerusalem, he wept over it and how he would like to gather the people to himself as Mother Hen gathers her brood to her heart (Luke 13:34). It is an image of loving, embracing, protecting and nurturing. And the love of God is a central theme, if not the central theme, in Mother Julian’s book, her ‘Revelations of Divine Love’.

The second thing likely to come to mind will be hazelnuts. Small, round, easily held in the palm of our hand. Or alternatively, now available handily encased in chocolate – an essential for lockdown survival. More of that in a moment.

The woman known as Julian lived in Norwich in the 14th century. We don’t actually know who she was or even what her name was – though some have tried to work it out. Her name is taken from the Church of St Julian in a modest area of Norwich away from the city centre. It is not central and that is fitting because Julian spent 26 years holed up in her cell next to the church.

She had a profound religious experience while lying on what she thought was her deathbed. She was so ill that she was given the last rites and recalls the crucifix being held before her eyes. This image of Christ’s passion played on her mind and she reflects deeply on the love of God she saw there, on Christ’s grace, and that he gave so much for the salvation of the world, for her. Sometime after she recovered, she became an anchorite, a solitary religious in isolation in a cell next to a church.

It is almost unthinkable for us to imagine being sealed into a single room for 26 years. We are struggling with six weeks. She would never leave it and is probably buried under the floor. Once she entered, food was passed through to her. She could see and receive communion through a window into the church and there was a window the other side onto the street where people called to consult her wisdom and insight. Not quite as isolated as it might seem, but it was confined.

Julian lived in the shadow of the Black Death and would hear the carts trundling past her window taking the dead for burial. Having nearly died, she had a strong concept of being mortal and fragile, of life being subject to the will of God and could be taken, surrendered at any moment. It is a context that focussed her mind of the love of God in Jesus Christ, on his passion and on the hope we have in him and through him. This mattered above all else. Our own confinement seems to be raising an interest in spiritual questions and from the numbers tuning in to these services there would seem to be a desire to connect and explore questions of faith.

As Julian recounted her visions, she reflected on what she thought of as two kinds of spiritual sickness. One was to make heavy weather of our hardships and sufferings. The second was despair, where we are weighed down with doubts and dread. The remedies were to remember the patient endurance of Christ, his passion and joy, and to delight in his love. She wrote in Chapter 73 of her ‘Revelations of Divine Love’:

“Love makes might and wisdom come down to our level. For just as by his courtesy God forgives our sins when we repent, so he wills that we forgive our sins too, and as a consequence our foolish despondency and doubting fears.” (Chapter 73)

We are to let go and not be weighed down by what we have lost, but be present in this moment, for this is where God will reveal his love to us; here, not somewhere else.

Then there is that hazelnut. In it she saw the world and contemplated three things:

  • that God has made it,
  • that he loves it
  • and that he cares for it.

God is the maker, the lover and the carer. In this she saw the world in a bigger context, just like the astronauts who have looked from space and seen the blue planet in the vastness of the universe. It is packaged, like my bar of chocolate packages the hazelnuts it contains. And there is at least one person in this household hoping that they will be able to liberate them from their casing at bit later.

Isolation gives us time to change our view. Actually, some people seem to have a lot of time on their hands and others seem to be struggling to keep up. But we are looking at life differently in our lockdown state. As Mother Julian did with her hazelnut reflection on the world, may we come to see our Covid incarceration within its context. The most important part of which is that God who made us, loves us and cares for us. We see this in his self-giving passion and resurrection.

Our lives are so fast paced and often we are looking for outputs and striving. Julian sits in contrast to some of her contemporaries and our own frenetic, endless activism.  Remember the psalmist’s assurance in the storm,

‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10).

Take some time to be still and notice where you are, to be with God and know that God is God. Be renewed in hope, in trust and confidence in God’s enduring goodness for as Mother Julian assures us

“all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” (Chapter 27).

In Christ all shall be reconciled to God and brought to fulfilment in him. Look out of the window and see yourself in a greater context of a road, of a city, of this country and planet. Zoom out in your mind and maybe join those astronauts gazing on the world from space. Think back to the Gaia earth exhibition in the Cathedral last year and at the earth suspended in that vast space. Or just place a hazelnut or bar of whole nut chocolate in your hand and use it think of the world; that God made it, loves it and cares for it, and so with us… and then enjoy the chocolate –

‘taste and see how gracious the Lord is’ (Psalm 34:8).

 Alleluia! Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

Sermon for Easter 4, Live-streamed Sunday 3rd May 202

 

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