A Sermon from Sherborne
From the first verse of this morning’s Gospel [John 20. 19-31]: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”
We make a great mistake if we imagine that the tribulations of our present age mean that God is not working in our world. When typhoon or hurricane stir up great storms at sea, down in the depths of the ocean nothing is disturbed. Another stream of events flows silently on. Elijah could not find God in earthquake, wind or fire. He only found him when he learned to listen for the sound of silence, the still, small voice. “Be still, and know that I am God.”
And so it is with God’s peace, resurrection peace. In the words of Sister Mary Agnes’s poem from her collection Daffodils in Ice:
No human eye was by
To witness Christ arise,
But I, this morning heard
The Resurrection of the Word.
It sprang through night, opaque,
A note so pure and clear,
I felt my spirit wake –
It flooded everywhere –
I know that it has been;
There is a vision new.
I see the universe
Divinely bathed in dew.
So Easter is not a noisy event in a noisy world. It comes to us quietly, like the silent step of a gardener on grass. Reassurance comes to us gently, as a crying woman is comforted. New life finds us unexpectedly, as two broken-hearted travellers on the road to Emmaus are reassured. Fresh hope steals in, as when a room full of frightened men are given new courage.
It is the powerlessness of the cross and the quietness of the resurrection which demonstrate to us the real power of God to heal and to reconcile. At the Abbey, though the great doors are locked, the porch gates are open. And there, on Easter Eve, Sheilagh Hollingsworth, one of our flower arrangers, produced the most beautiful Easter garden along one of the ledges. On Easter Day itself I saw a young man sitting on the grass outside the porch, his rucksack by his side, simply contemplating the beauty of those flowers. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I am sure that it was for him a quiet and healing moment.
One thing we have learned in the last few weeks of pandemic is that no-one is immune from suffering, and that neither wealth nor power nor military might can give us peace of heart, or heal us physically, emotionally or spiritually. As I walk once a day through the deserted streets of our town, or in my garden where only the occasional car in Acreman Street drowns, for a moment, the glorious sound of birdsong, I realise afresh the healing power of inner peace.
Our western notion of peace largely springs from the Latin pax, where belligerents are separated and kept apart by force of arms. But the Biblical shalom pictures a world at one with itself, working harmoniously, achieving the purposes for which God has designed it. So the risen Christ reaches out wounded hands, longing to draw together all in our fractured world, from warring nations to those suffering broken relationships, broken hearts and broken dreams. And if those working tirelessly to care for the sick, or to supply enough of the right medicines and protective equipment, or to knit together their communities into communities of care, think that I am being fanciful, let them remember that they too must have a place of peace in their hearts and souls, or they will fall by the wayside of emotional and spiritual exhaustion.
True peace, true healing, can only be born out of the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb. The cross demonstrates the cost at which God alone can forgive; there was none other good enough to pay the price of sin. On the road to healing there is no bypass round Calvary hill. But the noisy crowds clamouring for blood outside the Governor’s Palace give place to a new family of humanity, born in that room where the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples and said “Peace be with you”. This is our hope, our Easter hope, and this is our joy. And I dare to claim there is no other hope and no other joy in the life of humankind like that of Easter. For Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Alleluia.