Let’s speak with God’s accent
Peter Seal, 7 April 2019
Philippians 3: 4b–14; John 12: 1–8
The school term has ended and many families are now on holiday until after Easter. It actually feels a little like those weeks before Christmas. We are getting used to living in what has been described as ‘double dimensions’. Maybe that’s actually a theme for the whole of our lives; and not just double, but triple, quadruple, etc., etc.!
Today, Passion Sunday, the pace quickens, and I want to use this sermon to look ahead to the coming weeks. I begin with some words from Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’, Piccadilly, and regular contributor to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. Her book has the title Our Sound is our Wound.
What she suggests is that the sounds, noise and music with which we are surrounded in modern life have spiritual implications. At the end of her book she talks of the need for the Church to speak with the words of God, and to search for the silence Jesus needed so often.
She explains that there is a cost to speaking in this way. She talks of speaking with God’s accent. To quote:
There is a cost to speaking with this accent, as it will associate us, as Peter’s accent did on the night of Jesus’ arrest, with the one crucified by frightened and violent men. We will often confront, as Peter did, our capacity for betrayal and cowardice.
But when, like Peter, we have heard Christ’s words of restoration, we will, from our greatest failure and deepest fear, acknowledge our need for forgiveness, and help to change the world.
She continues – and this is the best bit –
The character Emmanuel Nene puts this succinctly in Alan Paton’s novel Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful: ‘Don’t worry about the wounds. When I go up there, which is my intention, the big judge will say to me, “Where are your wounds?” And if I say I haven’t any, he will say, “Was there nothing to fight for?”’
And so with renewed zeal to fight for what we believe most strongly to be right, and seeking to speak with God’s accent, we look first to next Sunday, PALM SUNDAY. Jesus enters Jerusalem; we re-enact this with a procession. Jesus rides on a donkey, a sign of humility. People pave the way shouting hosannas – Hail, King. They are excited and expectant.
Jerusalem is the big city – the centre of power, politics and decision-making – and therefore a dangerous place.
We come then to MAUNDY THURSDAY with its three distinct emphases:
- A celebration of the institution of the Last Supper, when we sing alleluias and wear white festival vestments.
- Then we explore, in drama, the theme of love and service. The word Maundy comes from the Latin ‘mandatum novum’ – a new commandment – and we act this out in the washing of feet.
- Thirdly, at the end of the service, the mood changes. We move from the Upper Room to Gethsemane; from light to darkness; from celebration to agony, the agony of prayer; and the cruel wounding of betrayal, arrest and trial. We strip the altar of its coverings, leaving it bare and exposed, as Jesus was. And then begins the Night Watch. The remaining blessed bread and wine are placed on the Lady Chapel altar – the very presence of Jesus, for us. This is a time of profound silence – of watching, waiting and praying.
GOOD FRIDAY is so named because of what it came to mean. Our eyes are fixed on Easter, but we must pass through Good Friday, and share his wounds, for the sake of today’s world.
Jesus becomes very quiet – the one to whom others do things. We’re called to be with him as he dies, slowly and in excruciating pain. At fearful cost, a victory is being won.
It’s probably true that all worthwhile victories in life are won at great cost. During Holy Week, as we journey with Christ, we become intimate witnesses to the terrible cost of the greatest of all victories – the victory over death.
HOLY SATURDAY: Jesus is dead, lying in a tomb. Here at 10 am the Easter Garden is prepared. It’s a quiet day, and hopefully not too busy.
And then at 8 in the evening – one of the least attended but most moving services of the whole year – the Vigil and First Light of EASTER. We gather in the dark for a time of watching and expectant waiting as we hear about God’s mighty acts in history. And then, recalling the discovery of the empty tomb ‘while it was yet dark’, we light a fire outside the main doors of St Paul’s. The new Easter candle is lit, and we each light a candle of our own, claiming, ‘Christ is my light’. The wondrous words of the Exsultet are sung.
On EASTER SUNDAY, we meet together (as Christians will the world over), with the church looking beautiful and the sweet scent of spring flowers, and lilies in memory of loved ones who have died, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
All our preparing – Lent courses complete, spiritual and physical disciplines achieved, the long 40 days finally over – we break forth with the Gloria and many, many alleluias. God has raised Jesus from the dead. It’s an extravagant, glorious, golden, jubilant day … and the beginning of the 50 days of Eastertide.
What you and I probably fear most is our own dying; this, now, no longer needs to be how it is. Jesus has broken the bonds of death. He has opened the way to heaven. Our lives have meaning and purpose.
What you and I probably fear most is our own dying; this, now, no longer needs to be how it is.
To quote from Lucy Winkett again:
‘Don’t worry about the wounds. When I go up there, which is my intention, the big judge will say to me, “Where are your wounds?” And if I say I haven’t any, he will say, “Was there nothing to fight for?”’
As we choose our battles and listen for the songs of lament and freedom in a world bellowing with violence and fear, we live our lives attentive to the movement of the Spirit and know that it is in the love of God that we finally rest from a noisy world.
To conclude: as we seek to speak with God’s accent, it is in the love of God that we finally rest from a noisy world.