Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18
Another Sunday into the Covid 19 crisis, and another cartoon to start this week’s sermon, with thanks to Dave Walker (CartoonChurch.com) for making this available, free, to all.
I cut the grass yesterday – I wouldn’t dignify it with the soubriquet “lawn”, as it has been permanently shaped by a puppy who dug holes at will and who has created bare earthen pathways across it in her constant pursuit of interloping foxes. It was a totally normal thing to do, to get the lawnmower out and put some order into the garden as Spring starts to burst out around us. And yet it was not a normal day at all. Conversations with people passing by happened at a great distance. Barely any cars could be heard, and the silence in the sky from absent airplanes is still slightly strange, if a little wonderful on the birdsong front.
Everything appears normal, but it isn’t. Our lives are circumscribed by Government advice. Normal human contact has been shrunk. Our homes are more lived in than for many years, now, and there appears to be no end in sight. The churches are locked, bolted up, unavailable. Our normal way of worship has been put on hold. Prayer has become personal and internalised, Bible reading a solitary activity.
But as Dave Walker’s simple but effective cartoon states, the Church is very much open. We continue to worship our God, we continue to rejoice in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are still powered by the Holy Spirit to reach out to others in love and care, to offer of ourselves what we can so that others can enjoy the fulness of life that God offers us in Christ.
Two out of our three readings for this Sunday are downright strange, too. It is not normal to visit a valley full of bones and to see them return to their full human form. It is not normal for Jesus to delay visiting a sick person, so that he dies. It is not normal for Jesus to talk theology with a grieving sister. It is not normal for Jesus to raise his friend Lazarus from death to life. But it is normal for Jesus to weep with Mary, it is normal for Jesus to command life to appear. It is normal for Jesus to cast off from Lazarus the shackles of illness and despair and replace them with joy and wholeness.
In these difficult, abnormal times, let us hold on to the normality that God has created, that Jesus has restored, that the Holy Spirit empowers. God’s amazing, self-giving love brings life and joy, health and hope. Jesus Christ, by his life, death and resurrection, has brought us all back to a normal relationship with our loving God, and has demonstrated how to be fully human. God’s Holy Spirit is in us all the time to guide us in our choices and to alert us to the needs we will encounter and how we can be part of their solution.
Let us, through this abnormal time, explore what being fully human really means. Look at the example of Jesus, and see how he behaves. He gets tired and angry, emotional and joyful. He exposes people’s hidden motivations, both bad and good, and draws them on to a truthful way of living. He understands suffering and anxiety, as he went through both, in extreme circumstances. He knows what it is like to live under circumscribed laws, as the Romans ran Israel during his time, and there were very strict rules on where you could travel, how you could work, and with whom you could associate. The Romans were very good at locking down whole towns or villages, in a way that would make our current restrictions look very lax.
We have a God who understands what we are going through, who knows the human heart and how it reacts to joy and pain. We have a God who loves us through those times, walks with us, supports us and casts off our shackles and leads us into fulness of life.
May God give us grace to use this time to grow as his children, to learn to love in new ways, to care in new ways, to share our joys and sorrows in new ways. And may we have confidence in our loving God, to sustain and protect us all the days of our life, to his eternal praise and glory.
Rev Peter Hart
Cover image by CartoonChurch.com