Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Risen Christ, for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred: open the doors of our hearts, that we may seek the good of others and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace, to the praise of God the Father.
Lord God our Father, through our Saviour Jesus Christ you have assured your children of eternal life and in baptism have made us one with him: deliver us from the death of sin and raise us to new life in your love, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.’
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’
Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21
1 Preserve me, O God, for in you have I taken refuge;
I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my lord, all my good depends on you.’
2 All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land,
upon those who are noble in heart.
3 Though the idols are legion that many run after,
their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
neither make mention of their names upon my lips.
4 The Lord himself is my portion and my cup;
in your hands alone is my fortune.
5 My share has fallen in a fair land;
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
6 I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel,
and in the night watches he instructs my heart.
7 I have set the Lord always before me;
he is at my right hand; I shall not fall.
8 Wherefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices;
my flesh also shall rest secure.
9 For you will not abandon my soul to Death,
nor suffer your faithful one to see the Pit.
10 You will show me the path of life; in your presence is the fullness of joy
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
Acts 2:14, 22-32
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Sermon on “Low Sunday”, Easter 2
In the normal course of the Church year, this Sunday is called “Low Sunday”, because everyone took time to recover from the rigours of the great fast of Lent and the joyful feast of Easter. Today must have the record low of all years since the founding of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Church attendance throughout Europe is at zero. There is no great congregation to celebrate the risen Christ together – only virtual gatherings. It is the “lowest Sunday” because of the corona virus. The lows we have reached have induced a new terror. Everyone’s fears have become real in the light of this disease – no one is immune, even the Prime Minister has succumbed. How can we be anything but “low”?
So, how can we rise? How will we resurrect ourselves from the low of this Sunday? I wonder, will the good habit of Church attendance be re-established when our forced isolation has been eased? Will we return to the building to worship and rejoice with each other when the ban on every congregation, small or great, has been lifted?
I hope we will gather in greater numbers – I don’t think we should remain low, because of this lack of being with one another. We should be learning self-sufficiency even if our being-with is deficient. It is only through being-with- one-another that we develop and learn. The lessons I want to understand from this politically enforced singularity focus on moral behaviour and good manners – two things which, I think, belong with each other, as they reflect each other. They show themselves in our actions toward one another. Morally, we understand ourselves only in relation to those ’round about us. Our morals must reveal themselves through our manner of behaving toward one another.
I think this time of isolation should teach us about how we should behave when we do get to embrace and greet one another in love, the love of people saved, the love of people grieving.
How can we consolidate our graciousness toward each other, how can we show our moral care for the other, except through good manners when we are with one another? The social distancing we have been practising has relieved us of the burden of any close caring contact. It is much harder to look someone in the eye to express any care, when you are two metres apart. How can we pass the peace apart from signing and bellowed speech, when we cannot touch each other, when we cannot reach each other’s heart through the nuanced modulation of speech? Good manners, I think, confirms the moral space we create for each other – the handshake affirms it, our tone sustains it – the embrace of the peace symbolises and substantiates all we believe about the love of God and one another.
“In great fear they cried out to the Lord.” In these times of the virus, when we are keeping ourselves to ourselves, as prescribed by law, don’t we cry out in our anxiety? The anxious hearts today reflect the hearts of the people in medieval Europe during the time of the Black Death. How are we to keep ourselves “safe”? How can we avoid the virus and the sinister dangers of depression and despair – those maladies which can insidiously root themselves into the heart of our lives? How can we be healthy when we are no longer with others in a positive manner? Haven’t we become hermits all too easily? This life of isolation has become the norm for so many of us. It has not really affected how we are deep in ourselves. Dropping contact, staying six feet apart has not changed some of us, has it? We shop remotely, we stay at home – no change there. Has this enforced separation really changed us fundamentally? I know that I am as comfortable now as I was before the “lock down” of this legislated isolation. But even though I have not felt so very different, it has made me realise my deficiencies – how negatively I have experienced life. Now I realise just how dismaying my life has been. Now I know the low manner of my life.
And surprisingly it seems that these negative ways of being with one another just seem to appear all of a sudden. We haven’t seen them coming, have we? They are like “the leaven of malice and wickedness” – quietly taking over the course of our lives, without our even noticing the direction our lives have taken. All of a sudden we realise what we are, where we have been thrown. I suddenly realise how spiteful and mean I have always been. What are we to do when we wake up to those realisations about ourselves, when those scales of unseeing fall from our eyes? How can I remain so despicable, as I recognise myself for what I am? How can I be so wicked, especially in this Easter season, when our Lord gave himself up on the cross, and now leads us to the joy of salvation?
Our destination of heaven has been revealed in the old, old story. The Easter garden is where we understand just what our ownmost possibility is. But when our feet are mired in the clay of the garden, and we see clearly just what we are, then we come under the spotlight of our ownmost possibility. That finality stares us in the face. What are we to do?
Like the Danish theologian, we stand on a precipice, there is no safe place to retreat into – we are exposed and alone, isolated ultimately – we must make that leap of faith into a future of infinite possibility one way or another. At the focus of all time, I must choose – as the old Welsh hymn has it – between truth and falsehood to become what I should be, the culmination of my ownmost possibility, or live the ultimate lie. I reckon the lockdown has given us that reality of our ownmost possibility.
The existential nihilists might say that this virus has forced us into the limits of who we are, and we must confront the nothingness of our existence. But that would give us no exit from the banality of an earthly life into any of the joyful mansions of the Father’s Kingdom.
We must leap into the bright future of Christ’s promise. Lent was when the government bans on gathering together, the closing of shops and pubs, the social distancing all took hold. We christians have been able to overcome the limitations of governmental recommendations because of our faith, let alone with the marvels of electronic communication.
What is our isolation today when compared to the isolation of Jesus on the cross in those last moments of Good Friday? The old, old story does not end there, in spite of some biblical scholars’ opinions. The old, old story continues in our hearts, where our faith lives. Not in the lowliness of our fear, but in the gracious love of Christ and one another which joins us together even if we are all two metres apart.