Easter Sermon 2022

Years ago I remember going on holiday. It was my kind of travel – ferries and trains and buses and then a sailing trip with friends who used to take me despite and not because of my sailing abilities.

And there was this one morning that I remember. Will always remember. I’d managed to get myself off the boat without much incident. And rowed ashore and went for a walk in the first light of the day.

And on the walk I heard something. A tiny bird singing. And not just singing but singing its heart out. Trilling its way up and down in a way that even the best singers could only dream of.

I caught sight of it. And I recognised it. I knew what it was immediately. It was a tiny little wren singing in the morning air.

And it was one of those special, perfect holiday moments. The kind of thing you never forget.

And I felt particularly blessed. It was so rare to see a wren and hear it sing. And it sang just for me.

What a journey it had been to get to hear it. Travelling right across the country. Sailing and paddling my way across the sea. I had come a long way. And it was all worth it for the rare sound of the wren in the morning air.

It felt like a very special moment.

Fast forward a few years.

And lockdown came along.

And with the first lockdown the instruction to go out and walk every day for half an hour. And I did.

The world was still. The roads silent. The traffic gone.

And I got three hundred yards from my front door. Nearer to where I live than we are now.

And I heard a sound. Familiar.

Imagine that. I’d heard it once on holiday. So many miles away.

Well what do you know, I said. Three hundred yards from my front door.

And I listened and then went on. Another couple of hundred yards. And another tiny bird was singing.

And then another and then from across the canal, another.

The lockdowns were long. The pandemic has been long and it isn’t over yet. I think we’ve seen enormous generosity sometimes. And enormous selfishness at others.

All of human life was changed, but all of human life was there, the best of life and the worst.

For the last two Easters we have been telling one another the stories of Easter in ways that we never expected to have to do.

And it was good to do so. But I longed, oh how I longed to be able to bring people together do tell them again in this place.

For Holy Week matters to me.

For the stories of Holy Week are our stories of today. Always. All human life is here.

In Holy Week we encounter the worst of human behaviour.

A week in which we hear of bitter betrayal by Jesus.

Violence whipped up by unscrupulous leaders.

Pilate literally washing his hands to try to pin the blame for the crucifixion on others.

And a broken man buried with no ceremony, and no proper funeral whilst others celebrated a feast.

We do not need to look far to see the passion played out in our midst.

The violence being experienced by Ukraine at the hands of Putin is a real-life crucifixion story.

The agony of those of us who experienced heart numbingly difficult funerals whilst others partied in Downing Street is a bitter passion tale.

The suggestion that we should send those seeking refuge in this country on a one-way ticket to Rwanda is a bitter betrayal. A betrayal of this country’s international commitments. A betrayal of those in desperate need. Not one passion story but thousands of stories of people betrayed by those who should offer friendship, fairness and common decency.

The government’s proposal to export the neediest and the most desperate to a land far away for “processing” is immoral, shameless and obscene.

I say to the government today – You can’t outsource compassion. We are better than this.

Seldom was resurrection hope, the message of Easter Day more needed than today.

But Christians do not simply wring their hands on Easter Day.

On Easter Day, we proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

And it isn’t just that if that is possible for Jesus then it could happen to us. The Christian believe is that if that happened to Jesus then it will happen for us.

It isn’t just our believe that if Jesus gets new life then the world might get new life. It is our conviction that it will! And that it does.

We believe that death and betrayal, corruption and selfishness, bitterness and anger, violence and destruction… these things will never have the last word.

These are not things to live by.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and with his rising comes the news that the world is changed.

We have known love so many times by the pain it has caused us during the pandemic. The pain of separation. The pain of death. The pain of not being able to comfort one another.

Love is deep within us. And sometimes it hurts.

But love is the root of God’s mission to the world. Love that will not let us go.

It was love that brought Jesus into the world. And it is love that reaches into the very depths of hell to haul him out and us with him.

And it is love that causes us to encounter the world through the resurrection of Christ. Love that tells us to proclaim that new life has come; that death is not the end.

It is love, love buried deep, deep, deep within us that tells us to hope for, work for and believe in a world where pain and suffering will be gone. Where the tears will be wiped away from every eye.

Where we will encounter love and hope and joy in every human life so that everyone who lives and breathes on earth may be able to hear that every bird is singing.

Something happens at Easter which breaks the pattern of sin and death for good.

And I tell you that it has happened this day.

For if Christ were not risen from the dead, we would not be gathered here.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Media reports

Priti Patel’s Rwanda plan ‘immoral, shameless and obscene’, says Glasgow cathedral provost – Scotsman

Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda a bitter betrayal, says senior church leader – The Times

Boris Johnson attacked by Glasgow priest over Rwanda scheme and partygate – The National

Radio Scotland interview with Lucy Whyte – Good Morning Scotland 18 April 2022

That Damn Magnificat

A sermon preached in St Mary’s Cathedral on Good Friday 2022

There’s something about spending these three hours in a church dedicated to Mary.

Through the year, we often get particular joy from keeping the Marian festivals. We’ve got more music in the choir library about her than about any of the others who accompanied Jesus in this life.

We sing with her the Magnificat every Sunday at evensong. We share her joy. We share her hopes for a world turned upside down. Where the mighty would what they deserve. At last.

In a church dedicated to Mary, because we pay attention to her, we get a unique insight into her Son Jesus. Because she was there. There at the beginning when he was born. There when he taught the learned teachers in the temple. There sometimes when he was teaching the rather more thick disciples and the adoring crowds. There when he performed the the first miracle – water into wine.

What did she think when that one happened?

Go my son. That’s the world we want. A world put right. A world where God breaks in and joy breaks out.

But the trouble for us is that having accompanied her through all of this, we now find ourselves in his company again.

Mary stands at the foot of the cross. It is almost unimaginable that she was able to stay. But presumably unimaginable for her to leave until it is over.

And a few other women comfort her and stand beside her in her agony.

And John, the beloved. He’s there too. Ready to take her in.

We enter into Mary’s experience when the going is good. How on earth do we enter into her experience today.

Can we see this day through her eyes or is it entirely beyond what we can bear to think of?

It is common in newsgathering to tell the story of disasters through the tears of parents weeping for their children. Mothers particularly.

A whole war may be too much to take in. A whole nation invaded is expressed in arrows on a map, nothing more. A whole cities get bombed and we struggle to know one from another. It happens over there.

But a mother’s tears at a crucifixion…

Harder to ignore. Harder to walk on by.

Theological concepts are broken by the crucifixion.

Theories of how we are reconciled to God circle the crucifixion scene like vultures.

They are too big to grasp. And they offer no comfort to a mother weeping either.

What does she think as she stands there?

Can she think? Can she process this?

Raw. Present. The pain. The agony. The tears.

Three hours is long enough to think. This is a cruel death for those being crucified. This is a cruel death for those watching.

I’ve been haunted by a question this year as I try to keep company with Mary at the cross.

Did she hold fast to what she had believed about God – all the things that she had taught him?

Or did it all break down on that day?

One of the things that I love about Mary is that her spirituality seems to be about two things which she ties together.

The world being put right is one of her themes.

And the joy of singing God’s praises is another.

Now you can find plenty of other saints who loved those things. But Mary uniquely brings them together.

My soul magnifies the Lord. And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.

He has shown the strength of his arm. And the proud and the mighty and the rich have got their comeuppance at last.

It is joyful spirituality. Full of cheek and full of fun.

And oh, how often when I hear Jesus giving clever answers that bring God right into the lives of people who need God most, or when I see him turning over the tables of those who are corrupt, I think, I bet he got that from her.

But as she stands at the cross, what on earth goes through her head.

What questions does this hell scene raise for her.

Does she keep repeating to herself again and again, “The mighty will be brought low. The mighty will be brought low. The mighty will be brought low”.

Or is it worse than that.

Does she loose faith with it all today?

As she looks on and smells death all around her does she call on God.

We have no words from Mary on Good Friday. Nothing is recorded from her.

I don’t know what she said.

But I guess that had it been me, I wouldn’t be singing of the goodness of God nor of a world put right.

I’d be thinking, “Shit! The bastards have won. I wish I’d never brought him up the way I did. What could I have done differently? I should have taught him to keep his mouth shut more.

That damn Magnificat. Look where it has got him.

I sang, God has filled the hungry with good things.

But I’ve not eaten in hours and I never want to eat again. My stomach is in knots as he twists and turns in agony.

I sang, from this day all generations will call me blessed.

But from this day all generations will call me cursed.

I sang about God sending the rich and the mighty and the powerful away empty.

But they’ve won. They’ve won. They’ve beaten him.


`I sang, He has come to the help of his servant Israel.

But God hasn’t come to his aid. He hasn’t turned up at all.

I sang about the promises that God had made to our forebears to Abraham and his children forever.

But he has forgotten me today.

It is finished.

My song is finished.

And I’ll never sing again.