April 19th, 2020
Sermon by Jenny Ridge
The Guardian political columnist John Crace has an anxiety condition that he writes candidly about each week. This week he has really struggled because of fear of getting Covid-19. His anxiety manifests in recurrent nightmares and obsessively checking the mortality figures associated with the virus. I recognise the same tendencies in myself – I have been having recurrent nightmares and living with the existential threat that I might contract the virus and die. But I have noticed and maybe you have to a kind of solidarity that has emerged through this crisis – the virus is no respecter of persons. Neither race, wealth, class can protect us – it’s a great leveller. We can truly say ‘we are all in this together’. And the old saying – a problem shared is a problem halved – comes into its own. Because it’s a problem for all of us, it’s less of a problem just for me.
How poignant then that into today’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks his peace. There are similarities between this first Christian community and our situation today. We are both going through a period of uncertainty, an in between state – for Jesus’ community, it was the fact that he had just died, along with all their hopes of a new messiah, though there were reports circulating about his resurrection. For us the pandemic is unfolding in an uncertain trajectory. Anthologists who study human culture, calls these states liminal space - the space between the end of something we know and the start of something new that we cannot predict with accuracy. For Jesus’s followers and us, the routines have been turned upside down, both groups were self-isolating – for fear of the Jews and the Romans, for us to stop the virus spreading.
Jesus words of peace work at two levels:
1. Reassurance in the moment and during this period of unfamiliarity and threat.
2. Reassurance about the ultimate bogey – our own mortality. By His resurrection, He has defeated death – it is no longer the end point of our existence but a gateway to a new eternal self.
I want us consider how Jesus death tells us something profound about the nature of God’ love that we don’t think about so much at Easter where redemption and atonement meanings predominate. By dying, Jesus embraces the ultimate act of solidarity with humankind. Like the coronavirus which does not discriminate between who it affects, death is one of the few certainties of existence. There is a no more powerful way for Jesus, the God human, to comprehensively share the human condition than allow himself to die. That’s how much we mean to God – a willingness to walk in our shoes through the journey of death. The profundity of this dawned on me some years ago at a Nursing Conference when a paediatric nurse shared a story of parents being with their only child who had terminal leukaemia. The hardest experience of all was preparing their child for death and having to face the fact that with all other difficult childhood experiences parents can say ‘I will be with you as you go through this and be there on the other side to greet you’ - except a child’s death. ‘It broke our hearts that this was a journey, our precious baby had to do alone’. Jesus does not baulk at this final frontier. He enters into it fully, experiencing the worst kind dying by profound suffering and torture, not by disease or accident but at the hands of humans and then conquers it through the resurrection.
There is love writ large. Who would not want to get to know and have a relationship with such a God?
During this coming week, let’s think about this mind-blowing act of solidarity that communicates the intensity of God’s love for us and share that love with our family, friends, neighbours and wider community as we pass through these challenging times together!