Dealing with Sundays like this

This was one of those weekends when the sound of preachers ripping up their previously prepared sermons could be heard across the land.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you just can’t get into the pulpit with what you have previously prepared, for the world has moved on. Everything has changed and something needs to be dealt with.

The classic example of that was the Sunday morning when everyone woke to discover that Diana, Princess of Wales had been killed overnight.

It happened to me in a more local way when the terrorist attack on Glasgow airport took place on a Saturday afternoon just before we were due to do a Radio 4 Broadcast service on the Sunday morning. Ten revisions of the script later, I preached one of the best sermons I’ve ever done and St Mary’s seemed to say something that was of national significance at a very tense time. The service was an object lesson in why worship needs to be done live on the radio and not pre-recorded.

That came over to me very strongly again this morning when the Radio 4 service was from the Keswick Convention. Though they got someone in to do a live prayer and head it up at the beginning, there was no hiding the fact that the service that had been recorded on Tuesday was intended to be heard in a different world to the one that pertains today.

There has been such a run of horrible news. The corruption that the press scandals have revealed, prominant figures dying, the extremely serious nature of the European and World economic stresses and then these terrible attacks in Norway have combined to produce a time when people are asking profound questions and looking for ways to think about our place in what feels like an utterly broken world.

Having to deal with days like today is part of what churches and religious people do. It is part of what we offer to the world. We can do it best, I suspect, when we have the full range of experiences of Holy Week in our spiritual repertoire.

Today, the congregation listened with rapt attention to the reading from the epistle, Paul’s incredible assertion of the power of the love of God in all circumstances.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or
distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able
to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Similarly, after the sermon, the place fell quiet and we sank into an unusually deep silence.

As it happened it was Cedric who was preaching this morning, who preached an excellent sermon (available below).

Some weeks one preaches for laughs. Sometimes one preaches to beguile. Sometimes to educate, ellucidate or entertain. And sometimes you preach because it feels as though life itself depends on it.