A sermon recorded in the Vicarage dining room by Canon Eric Woods for Sherborne Abbey’s “virtual” Easter Day Evensong 2020

Spring has come for us today!

Christ has burst his prison,

And for three days’ sleep in death

Like the sun has risen.

All the winter of our sins, long and dark is dying,

Welcome now the light of Christ,

Life and joy supplying.

“Christ has burst his prison”. Perhaps these words have extra resonance today as, each in our own little way, we are all “in prison” at the moment. We are all in lockdown, and I think the best thing that has happened to us all in recent days is her address to the Nation by HM The Queen. But today is Easter Day, with its promise of resurrection, and new life, and the hope of things to come.

This was meant to have been my final Sunday of official duties as Rector of Sherborne. This evening there was to have been a great and glorious Evensong, with guests from far and wide, including the Lord-Lieutenant and many of my former curates (bless them). And of course a splendid party. Ah well, losing all of that pales into insignificance compared with the sufferings of so many throughout the world.

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Salisbury has written to me as follows:

You are licensed until 30th June and therefore you are legally the Rector until then. In the light of present circumstances, what we had previously agreed has to change. This will need communicating carefully and clearly.

Something like this will need to be said:

“Because of the present situation in which Eric and Sandra are unable to leave the Vicarage until a physical move becomes possible, Eric will continue to minister in the benefice until a move becomes possible or his actual retirement date of 30th June, whichever is the sooner. [Of course that can be reviewed if this lockdown continues for longer than we hope.] In this he has the support of the Bishops of Salisbury and Sherborne.”

I have consulted my colleagues and all the Churchwardens, and they are unanimously in favour of my continuing at the helm under the terms which Bishop Nicholas has indicated. Meanwhile, to those of you who have sent us so many letters, cards, emails and personal gifts, please accept our very grateful thanks. We have been inundated, and I cannot possibly write to thank all of you individually. I just hope you don’t feel cheated that we are still here! We greatly appreciate all your many kindnesses.

When at last the time comes when we are able to move to our new home in Sturminster Newton, it will be a massive wrench to leave Sherborne. But I believe in resurrection.

Resurrection? Oh yes. That’s just a big word for something at the heart of the Christian message. It happens whenever we bump into God and his love, and God bumps into us. Then sadness is turned into joy, grief into celebration, and loss into gain. Guilt is transformed into new life and regret into a fresh start. And that is what we call ‘resurrection’.

How on earth does this happen? Well, it doesn’t just happen on earth. It also happens in heaven. You see, God saw that his people – that’s us – had become hopelessly estranged from him by going our own way and doing our own thing. It was like a member of the family going so far out on a limb that suddenly they lost contact with the family and couldn’t get back. So Jesus on the Cross took – as it were – our hand in one hand and God’s hand in his other hand and reunited us in himself. It caused his death by the forces of evil, but they failed to destroy him. The power of love was too strong. He rose above that sort of defeat. That resurrection brings us all new life and fresh hope.

I’m conscious of not explaining this very well. Words are not the best way of explaining mysteries, or miracles. Yet mysteries and miracles take our lives and lift them up out of the humdrum and the mundane – and our present predicaments. You see, we may all be in physical lockdown, but the risen Christ will not permit a lockdown of our hearts and minds. Rather he comes to fill them with his resurrection joy. So Sandra and I can still wish you all a very Happy Easter, and all the joy of the Empty Tomb. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!