Easter Sermon

A number of years ago, I was put in charge of the Information and Communications Board of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

This meant that I was in charge of trying to formulate the church’s internal news and helping to work out our message to the outside world.

I think it was fair to say that there were one or two people who thought this might be just a little risky.

In the end, I did what I could and for much of the time I set about commissioning things from other people and getting them published and with the help of many others worked very hard.

Unfortunately though I had a weakness. I could cope with being serious and good for 364 days of the year (well, more or less) but there was always April Fool’s Day.

There were a number of articles over those years which I wrote myself but which I probably shouldn’t have published in the name of the church.

Amongst them was the one in which I announced that a committee that had never existed had come up with a new corporate image for the church. I changed the slogan from “The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You” to “The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You on Sunday”. Silly though that was, it didn’t seem to bother most people. Rather more startling was that I published a new version of sign that hangs outside all of our churches and in the middle, instead of a bishop’s mitre, I put a kneeling Buddha with the stated hope that this would improve interfaith dialogue.

I think that it would be fair to say that this venture did not particularly improve anyone’s dialogue.

I still treasure one response that I had to this in which someone never mentioned the slogan or the picture but remonstrated with me at great length for choosing colours that were not good for those who are colour blind.

Similarly the next year when I published an article advertising in the name of the College of Bishops that henceforth we would be using a new algorithm for calculating Easter and that Easter would align with Easter in the Church of England only every other year and on the alternate years we would keep an entirely different date in company with the American Episcopal Church.

Again, I got some correspondence about this. The only advice that I have for anyone wanting to go into church communications is never to publish something thunderously stupid in the name of the College of Bishops. The danger is, people believe every word.

All this seems a little redundant in these days of Fake News. Every day is All Fools Day and everyone has trouble working out what is true and what is false.

Carefully constructed April Fool’s day absurdities seem rather inadequate in the face of international politics in which the most outrageous candidate anyone could imagine became the leader of the free world and suggests arming teachers as a way of keeping gun crime out of schools; and domestic politics which seems to be carried out as though food banks are a normal part of the welfare system and not a daily crisis of people crying out for bread.

These things are not jokes. But they make fools out of us all.

As it happens, it is surprisingly rare for Easter Day and April Fool’s Day to fall on the same day. It is sixty years since it last happened and it won’t happen again for another 21.

But must not that first Easter Day have seemed like a day of utter foolishness?

The first witnesses to the resurrection were women, whose testimony was not taken seriously. Not simply because they were women, I suspect so much as because of how everyone had seen him die.

Here in St Mary’s we go through the story of the crucifixion four times. Firstly in the readings on Palm Sunday and then three times on Good Friday.

People are shocked when I say it but the honest truth is that by the time I get to the end of the fourth time through, I really want him to stay dead.

After all, Jesus is far easier to deal with if we think he is safely buried away not making any more demands on us.

But the news of Easter Day is that what seemed like the greatest foolishness is the greatest wisdom. What seemed like the greatest defeat is in fact the greatest victory. What seemed like the ravings of mad fools is in fact the great truth that will help us to defeat the foolishness of homelessness, war, violence and social exclusions of every kind.

For no matter what you do to people, hope springs up.

No matter how bad things are, the news that love conquers death is still true.

No matter what you say to people, someone will always sing Alleluia. And alleluia will always win in the end.

Over the course of Lent, the cathedral clergy have been giving Lent addresses on a Sunday evening in which each person has been asked to address the question – why am I a Christian?

Let me tell you why I am a Christian.

I am a Christian because of Easter Day.

I am a Christian because we are an Easter people and our song is alleluia.

I am a Christian because the utter foolishness of the first news of Easter turns out to be the truth.

The women were the first to spread the news and it was greeted as foolishness but that is now the faith to which I cling. For I can make no better sense of the world.

The first person to wish me a happy Easter this year was a Muslim writing on behalf of his community not just to me but to all of us gathered here to wish us a happy and joyful day.

And in a land riven with Islamophobia, that makes my heart sing.

Easter is about those moments when your heart sings. When you know for sure that love will make a fool of prejudice, will make a fool of sorrow and will make a fool of death.

Jesus Christ is risen.

For if Christ were not risen from the grave we would not be gathered here in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

AMEN

Good Friday Preaching – The Servant Girl

 

The truth is, I only really noticed her on Sunday. I’ve never payed her the blindest bit of attention before.

I guess no-one ever did.

The servant girl who answered Peter back. She’s a woman in John’s gospel but a servant girl in the version that Matthew and Cedric were watching on Sunday. There’s more detail there too.

Peter warms himself by the fire. Cold. Human. Miserable.

She sees him and simply says, “You were with Jesus the man from Nazareth”.

He says no.

She says, “yes you were.”

He denies it again.

A third time, “But you are a Galilean”

Scripture rather euphemistically says that Peter began to curse and swear an oath and said, “I do not know this man you are talking about”.

I think it is important not to mistake what is going on here.

Three times she says – you were with that Jesus.

And Peter’s response is, “Look you, fuck off! I didn’t know the man you are talking about at all”

That’s what scripture tells us happened.

And then the cock crows.

And I’ve preached on Peter on Good Friday plenty of times. And I’ve preached on the cock crowing. The triple betrayal. The cock. The shame of it all for Peter.

But I’ve never really noticed her.

Until this time.

You always notice something or someone new when you come to the passion again.

This time for me it was her. The servant girl. The one who spoke up, spoke clearly and spoke the truth.

And we don’t know her name.

There is a, perhaps rather fanciful, tradition about names in the New Testament. There’s all kinds of small bit parts in the gospels and in Acts – people who appear and disappear rather suddenly. Simon of Cyrene is an obvious example in the passion. The tradition is that those whose names we know from scripture are probably people who found faith and became part of the early Jesus movement that was to become the church. There’s some sense to it. If they joined the movement they would be known by those who collected the gospel stories. They would still been around. In the case of Simon of Cyrene, we even know the names of his sons – surely he had contact with the early church if they were all remembered by name.

But this servant girl is one of those who appear with something very significant to say but whose names go unrecorded.

Looks like she never joined the movement and probably was never much taken seriously by anyone at the time.

But she speaks the truth and we should listen very carefully to what she says.

She speaks the truth to Peter even in the face of his shame and betrayal of all the love and values that he once professed.

Ever meet this servant girl?

She was around at the recent investigations into child sexual abuse in the church.

I don’t remember her name but there she was giving testimony against all kinds of be-dogcollared bigwigs.

Her testimony can be summed up easily:

“You knew Jesus? You knew this to be wrong? Why didn’t you do something?”

And she made those bigwigs wriggle with shame.

The servant girl in the courtyard with Peter speaks truth to power. She persistently calls out his lies.

She is a better priest than Caiaphas. She is a better judge than Pilate. She knows right from wrong. She knows she is being lied to and she says so.

And Peter – yes, that’s Peter, the rock on which the church was built has no answer.

I still don’t know her name, and I’m not sure she wants to have much to do with the church anyway but I’m sure I’ve started to hear her voice more often recently.

The woman in the courtyard accusing Peter.

I hear her speaking truth to power.

I see her holding up slogans demanding gun control following a shooting in her school.

I was there she says. I know what really happened. I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

“You knew that man Jesus didn’t you and yet you ran away when he was vulnerable and in trouble”.

I know not her name but I hear her speaking out about abuse in the world of showbiz, the world of politics, the world of religion.

And she speaks the truth.

She knows that those in power, no let’s name it – men in power will wriggle when trouble comes and try to cover their backs. Try to say – I was not there. I didn’t see it. I knew nothing about what was going on.

The darkness of the courtyard, Peter stands warming his hands by the brazier and the light of the fire causes her to see the badge he is wearing that no-one else can see which says plainly – “It wisnae me”

She she’s fooled by nothing.

She knows that cheating is wrong in business, or education or relationships. She knows that abuse is wrong in the classroom, on the sportsfield or in clergy training programmes. She knows that in this world in which everyone has an opinion, there’s still such a thing as truth. Black and while truth.

She knows what’s what and she has found her own voice. And she speaks the truth.

I found myself on Sunday listening to the passion and asking myself why I’ve never heard her voice before.

But I’ve never heard it because I’m part of the system too.

Patriarchy is the system that we all find ourselves negotiating and most of us find ourselves making deals and compromises with patriarchy. And voices go unheard.

Are things changing.

Is the servant girl – no let’s call her a woman, is the woman in the courtyard finally being heard?

I don’t think we can know yet.

But I do know she’s finding her voice. I do know she’s speaking truth to power. I do know also that the powerful are going to put up quite a fight to shut her up.

But she looks into that patriarchal world and she calls us to live by the company that we have kept with Christ.

Love is both the goal and the weapon. Love is the destination and love is on the horizon but love is the weapon by which we nip away at patriarchal assumptions, rules and systems.

She knows the truth, does the woman in the courtyard. And this is her time.

Who needs a crowing cock.

These days she posts on twitter.

And she uses the hashtag #metoo.