Sunday, 23 April 2017

Making the unmissable, unmissable

The text of a sermon preached today - the first Sunday of Easter. The texts were Acts 2:14a, 22-32; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-end

Alleluia: Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, alleluia!

It seems incredible that it’s almost a decade since the BBC launched a multi-media campaign for iPlayer with the catch-line:

Making the unmissable, unmissable.

No longer do we worry about remembering to record a programme; no longer do we wrestle with video tapes. We can download or restart; watch live or catch up; viewing on flat screens, lap tops or mobile devices. 

But making the unmissable, unmissable is more than reliance on technology. We talk to one another, read reviews, pick up on trends - and we try to avoid spoilers. 

The latest BBC One trailer captures this in a matter of seconds through a series of conversational exclamations: Really? What? What? Where did you hear that? Really! Believe me! Did I imagine it?

No you didn’t reads the tagline - "new shows are being added every minute".

Making the unmissable, unmissable.

That could be the catch-line for today’s texts too: only we’re not in the realm of digital technology and autonomous viewing habits. Rather we’re in the realm of God’s reconciling love which transforms lives and communities. 

Today we hear of locked doors and public proclamations; fears, doubts and words of peace. There are exclamation of really, what and believe me? Some might say, did I imagine it?  “No you didn’t” respond Peter and Thomas; “no you didn’t” confirm Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple. The resurrection is being made known every minute. 

Their words are shared so that we might believe; but the unmissable is unmissable not only through their testimony but in our lives and worship, fellowship and prayer. Our risen Lord continues to breath peace into our troubled, joyful, curious, courageous and questioning hearts.

Behind locked doors, they are caught between news of an empty tomb and fear of those in authority. Behind locked doors they ponder Mary’s passionate declaration “I have seen the Lord”. Behind locked doors they are held captive by their feelings of grief, shock and exhaustion; by their expectations, disappointments and guilt.

The manner of Jesus’ being present amongst the disciples continues to reveal the self-giving love of God. His presence was unmistakable and undeniable and unmissable. This body bore the marks of nails and wounds. It was him. Resurrection signalled the defeat of suffering and death; their joy declared that love wins.

And into this unmissable moment is breathed peace.
Peace flows from the one who abided in the heart of God.
The peace that took the sting out death, touching places of infidelity and hopelessness.

This is the one who brings peace to us too.

In our locked and fearful hearts: peace!
When fear, guilt and inadequacy paralyse us: peace!
In the midst of our inconsistencies: peace!

But this is not the end. For the one who breathes peace sends disciples to be peace.

The one who had called them, affirms their call.
The one who had reached out to them, assures them they are loved.

For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son; to forgive and heal, not to condemn.
His Son now sends us in the power of the Spirit to transmit that love and forgiveness.

But Thomas wasn’t there. And perhaps sometimes we, like him, feel that we’ve missed the unmissable.  We have seen the Lord, they told him. And perhaps his exclamations of “what?” or “really!” are met by their “believe me”, “believe us”. 

No wonder he replies with “unless”: unless I see and touch, I will not believe.

Thomas is still locked in - locked into disappointment or jealously; disbelief or hurt.  And he lives with news of the unmissable for a week. He waits with the disciples - talking, eating and praying. Did he notice a change in them? Did their enthusiasm kindle something in them? Were they reaching out to him, being present with him and breathing peace?

The doors remained shut. And Jesus spoke a word of peace.

And he meets Thomas where he is: there is no belittling or rebuke. 
Thomas is invited to reach out and to touch; to believe and place his trust.
And his doubts are caught up in worship: my Lord and my God!

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas - Caravaggio (1603)

His declaration takes us more deeply into the truth of the unmissable. In him two positions are tested. Both the individualised observational evidence - of seeing with his own eyes - and also unconditional acceptance of truth - are seen as insufficient. 

The truth of resurrection is made known to him in encounter, in relationship and in worship.  
His own expectations are transformed. A deeper engagement is made possible. His faith flows a word of peace and the embodiment of self-giving love — and in his life the meaning and continued presence of those realities are communicated to others.

We stand with Thomas in receiving Jesus’ gift of peace. We are healed by the same wounds. The new life of God with us is one and the same. The Gospel was written that we might believe and have life; that we might know ourselves as loved, made whole, forgiven and blessed. 

In broken bread and outpoured wine, the unmissable is made unmissable.
Today, in this Eucharist, we are both penitent and restored.
Here God reaches out in love to the places where we feel locked in though fear, control and doubt.

In broken bread and outpoured wine, our calling as the body of Christ is affirmed.
Today, we are sent; using our gifts, passions to make the unmissable, unmissable in our networks.
Here we become an Easter people: unlocking the fears of others with peace, patience and kindness.

Many came to believe through the witness of Thomas - in South India and beyond. We are emboldened by his honesty and faith. He refused to walk away when he thought he has missed the unmissable but stayed with those who spoke words of peace and joy. He recognised Jesus as Lord.

Peter points others to ‘this Jesus’. The crowd addressed by Peter were caught up in Jesus life and death in a very particular way. In our generation, many people already know something of his life and teaching, holding on to sayings about loving neighbour or turning the other cheek. The values he professed still shape our discourse about justice and compassion.

But, says Peter, this Jesus is not merely a controversial, inspiring or popular public figure. This Jesus was raised from the dead. This Jesus endured the very worst that human beings can do; he went to the depths of our shame and failure; he took our fickleness and selfishness and burnt it away in a crucible of love.  

God’s action transforms us - restoring in us the image of his glory. Our world longs to hear that message of hope and life; of a love that brings dignity and grace. 

Like King David, our world seeks to outwit ageing and mortality - ensuring legacy and lineage, relying on creams and medicines. Like David, our world gets ensnared in cycles of violence, fear and death.  Yet, David’s hope was fulfilled. Death and decay are not the last things. God’s love sets us free. God with us in Jesus makes this known in life, death and risen life.

The reality of this Jesus is unmissable; we are to be witnesses to it.

We are to speak of this new life: the Spirit is already at work in us in. The unmissable is unmissable in the first fruit of this new creation. We see it when we seek justice, healing and consensus; when we love with generosity and conviction; being present with those who mourn; offering stability in chaos; seeking the transformation of structures within our world of work; being wise stewards of creation. 

Even when life is hard and faith is difficult, there are moments of beauty and delight which remind us that this too shall pass. Our hope does not perish; it is unfading. We are to love our risen Lord, allowing his peace to seep through layers of pain. We believe. We rejoice. We hope. In the power of the Spirit, making the unmissable love of God known in Jesus, unmissable.

© Julie Gittoes 2017

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter: the main event!

The text of a sermon preached today - Easter Day. The texts were Exodus 14:10-18, 26-15 and Revelation 15:2-4

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed: alleluia!

Bunny versus Santa Claus ran the headline.

Hot-cross buns or Christmas cake, bland Turkey or luscious lamb? ran the tagline.

You’d expect a weekend cookery supplement to run with a virtual ‘food fight’’ between Christian festivals; and after the misplaced ‘outrage’ over Easter eggs, it might be wise for a preacher to stay well away from references to chocolate on Easter Day. 

Bunny versus Santa Claus with illustration by Sam Island

However, the columnist Stephen Bush began his article with what he calls the ‘theological side’.

He wrote: ‘Easter is better than Christmas for many reasons. If, like me, you grew up in a religious household, you will know this is because the Easter festival is the main event, AKA the Resurrection, while Christmas is just the warm-up band, in which some bloke and his misses forget to book a hotel and accidentally invent Airbnb to solve the problem’.

Yes, Easter is the main event. Resurrection speaks of life, joy and the transformation of the world. In Jesus dying and rising a new age has begun. We are a new creation!

But Christmas is much more than the warm up act:  that bloke and his misses AKA Mary and Joseph held in their arms a speechless infant. That child is God with us; the Word made flesh.

Christmas celebrations gives us the first song of the main event. Then we sang ‘Hark! the herald angels sing glory to the new-born King, peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled’. Today that work of reconciliation is made visible.  Our songs of praise continues: ‘Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!’ and ‘Love’s redeeming work is done’.

All that Jesus said and did was an expression of God’s love; an embodiment of God’s life.  

When he washed feet and broke bread; when he touched the sick or he spoke to the marginalised; when he welcomed the child or challenged the rich; when he told stories about the lost being found; when he calmed storms on the sea or of the mind in turmoil. 


In these moments. 

We see the power of God work bringing healing, wholeness, forgiveness and peace.

On Good Friday we recalled Jesus’ identification with our suffering, wounded, struggling and failing humanity.

On Holy Saturday we waited. Jesus death took God’s love to the very depths of despair and life-less-ness.

On Easter Day we rejoice through life-giving love, that pain and grief is transformed and made beautiful.


Moment by moment.

We can begin again, enabled by the love and power of our risen Lord.

Today we celebrate because resurrection is a remaking of creation itself.

This remaking is something we see only in part: we and all creation are groaning in eager longing to see the fulfilment of this vision of peace and everlasting joy. It’s a longing expressed in another song: the hope of life and and love of Song of Songs which we heard in today’s anthem.

Our readings today might be surprising We haven’t heard about the empty tomb; or the fear, bewilderment, and amazement of the first witnesses; of Mary Magdalene in the garden or the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or of Peter’s proclamation to the people of Jerusalem.

Instead we’re given a bigger perspective on the main event of life, joy and resurrection. It’s a bigger story which renews our hope.  Scripture begins with the goodness, diversity and beauty of creation. Although we are created in and for love, we become ensnared by bitterness, misdirected desires; our capacity to control and harm; our own fears.

Exodus tells of those who’d been enslaved by the Egyptians - exploited, degraded and oppressed. Now they’re afraid of what lies ahead.  For Israel, the certainty food and shelter as slaves seemed preferable to the unpredictable journey of liberation, through the wilderness, to the promised land.

Their flight to freedom was complicated and dangerous. We hear of the casualties amongst those who wanted to recapture them.  A microcosm perhaps of the tensions and cycles of violence, protest, freedom and domination we see in our world today. 

Crossing the Red Sea: Dura Europos Synagogue, C3rd

In the chaos of the mud and the drama of a divided sea, these people take a step towards the freedom God desires for all people. No wonder that they sing; no wonder they rejoice in a glorious triumph; no wonder they attribute salvation to God; no wonder they take the risk of journeying on. 

This is a foretaste of what is accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection: in love made perfect in weakness, powers of destruction are broken.

Our second reading gives us the finale if you like: the book of Revelation uses kaleidoscopic images to communicate what is beyond the limitations of our human language, but which fulfils our hopes. A glimpse of everlasting life; the time when God will be all in all.

It speaks of a time when evil is conquered and suffering is no more.This fiery, glassy sea echoes the liberation from slavery through the sea; it echoes the baptismal waters through which we die and rise with Christ. The song of heaven resounds; giving us a glimpse of time when all peoples and nations will be united in glorious joyful song to God.

We long for that day.

Today is the main event. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, human history has changed. He restores broken relationships - freeing us from all that limits human flourishing and from death itself.  

We are mortal: we live, breath, create, suffer, rejoice, grieve, endure, restore and we love. We are mortal; vulnerable. And yet, because God acted in his Son Jesus Christ, we are able to live in a new way, living breath by breath in his Spirit. We are to be the gift we receive: a people of joy and healing.

As we sing ‘alleluia’ today, our lives are caught up in the main event of resurrection: our life begins anew today and every day. Because Jesus was, is and will be, God with us. Our alpha and omega; our beginning and our end.

© Julie Gittoes 2017

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Spices and linen

The final mediation for Good Friday focuses on Jesus' burial: on Nicodemus and Joseph taking linen and spices and placing Jesus' body in the tomb. The reflection on John's Gospel has been accompanied by John Donne's  La Corona It ends with Graham Sutherland's painting too - an image which is stark and lifeless; light and life-giving.

Spices and Linen
[John 19:38-42]

Moist, with one drop of thy blood, my dry soule
Shall (though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly) be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard, or foul,
And life, by this death abled, shall control
Death, whom thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death, bring misery,
If in thy little book my name thou enroll,
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which 'twas;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sins sleep, and deaths soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last, and everlasting day.


And now after these things.

All is finished.

Jesus is dead.

The grain of wheat falls to the ground.

It dies.

Hope and life are yet to be born.


And a disciple, a secret one faces fear with his own act of compassion.

Joseph of Arimathea was afraid of others: of power and custom.

But he faced power in approaching Pilate.
He embraced the responsibility of custom in seeking permission to bury Jesus.

There was a garden near by. A suitable spot.
He wants to humanise the inhumane.


Permission  is granted.

He comes.

He removes the body.

He bears its weight.

He reaches up and embraces him.

The shadows have lengthened.

Is the world hushed?

The clamour has died away.

Do some watch and wait?

Mockery replaced by witness?

The one who saw has testified to all that has taken place.

He tells the truth.


Joseph is not alone.

Nicodemus comes too. One night he had talked at length - teacher to teacher - about the nature of rebirth in the Spirit. Now we brings spices to a grave.

They bear the weight of Jesus dead body together.
Perhaps they did not know until now what their conviction meant.
Why had they sought him out?
Was it just the authority of his teaching? 
Or something more than that they came to see - at night and in secret?

This is a final act of love.
Walking. Carrying. Tending.
Did they have time to wash and wipe away blood and spittle?

Moving openly now, perhaps. It is finished.


There in that garden a new tomb.

They laid him there.

It was near by.

It was the day of preparation.


They had taken the body.

They had wrapped it with spices. 

This takes time. 

They can’t be furtive and hasty: this wrapping in linen demands patience and care.

Final acts demand their own ritual and dignity. 

Are their hearts numbed by pain; the eyes spent of tears.


They are not alone. 

Others are wracked by grief too.

His mother and the beloved disciple; his mother’s sister, the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.

These women who’d stood by: watching, waiting and wounded.

Joseph and Nicodemus bear the weight.

Placing the lifeless body in a tomb.

Death is real.

Here, today, the love of God descends to its very depths.

Flesh enters this long sleep, yet is not putrified.

We long for sin’s power to break; for death to pass from us too.


And in this light we wait. 

With the wounded and the faithful.

An uncertain breaking in of dawn. Perhaps.

In the moment that Christ is laid in a tomb, something is beginning.

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul.

Salute the last and everlasting day.

This tomb holds one who descends to the depths.
Those who carry his body, shift out of view.
Yet this tomb is straining already: slowly rising. 
Life-less yet life-like.

This is not darkness nor dazzling: this light a setting sun or breaking dawn.
So God loved the world.
He sent his Son.
Not to condemn the world.
But that through him we might be saved.

Graham Sutherland, The Deposition 

Might our tears be washed away; might our darkness lighten? Will we return to a crown of prayer and praise?

The Word was made flesh.
Dwelt among us.
Flogged, mocked and pierced.
Wrapped in linen and spices.
God loved us so much, his Word became flesh.
His Word gave up his breath, and breathed out his spirit.

What do we see as we watch and wait?

Here is Death. Whom his death slew.

An Afterward

Salute the last, and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sunne, and Sonne,
Ye whose just tears, or tribulation
Have purely washed, or burnt your drossy clay;
Behold the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which he treads upon,
Nor doth he by ascending, show alone,
But first he, and he first enters the way.
O strong Ram which hast battered heaven for me,
Mild lamb, which with thy blood, hast marked the path;
Bright Torch, which shin'st, that I the way may see,
Oh, with thy own blood quench thy own just wrath.
And if the holy Spirit, my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.

© Julie Gittoes 2017