VICAR’S SERMON for 19th April

From REVD MARIA

Our APCM, due to be held this week, has had to be delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As I prepare this, we are three weeks into the restrictions, with more on the way.

I am to retire at the end of April. Susan and Geoff, with your support, will take All Saints through the APCM process later this year. The preparations begun in March to find a new Incumbent will also be back on track.

At an APCM the Vicar has a report to prepare. Over the last few years, I have combined this with a sermon delivered at the Eucharist before the meeting. This year has been so different from that which was expected, but we continue as best we can. The Vicar’s report notes how the previous year has gone, and what we hope to achieve going forward. As I will no longer be the Incumbent at All Saints I have no say in how the future here will play out, but I pray that you will continue to care for each other and the wider community through prayer and action, that you will serve your neighbours wherever and whoever they may be, and that you will continue to listen and act on God’s plans for your individual ministry and that of the church in Banstead.

Today is an opportunity to look at how we conducted our business of sharing the good news, serving others, and continuing Jesus’ commission through 2019. More extensive reports will be available on our website and in church when we reopen.

Last year was a busy one, as they usually are in Banstead. In addition to Sunday worship we continued to welcome members of the wider community to all sorts of events, from weddings, baptisms and funerals through to school services, Sing for Joy, STT and more.

We also continued to meet people where they are, be that at Nursing Homes, the Open Door Café, Schools, Banstead Friends, Beer and Banter, in individual homes, at clubs, the Foodbank and the hospitals. We have welcomed new members to the congregation and sadly have lost some good friends. We give thanks for them as we remember their love and contribution to church life.

To share the Gospel message well takes the whole church community, combining the many and various gifts to be the most effective. It isn’t just the role of the Vicar, or Curate, or licensed readers, or choir, or churchwarden, or children’s worker to spread the good news. Everyone needs to do their bit.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who volunteered last year, in any capacity, as without you all the work done within the church as well as everything done in the community would come to a grinding halt. I couldn’t do my work as Vicar if all of you had not done yours.

I pray that going forward you will continue to bring Christ to this community and beyond, using newly acquired internet skills as well as resurrecting the good old-fashioned ways of being church: to Seek, Love, Serve, God and neighbour.

Does this Sunday seem any different to you from Easter Sunday and the Sunday before? In this strange new world where we haven’t been able to mark the passing of Lent, Holy Week and Easter as we have always done, we may have lost our bearings somewhat.

We have been confined to our own little spheres, self-isolating, and socially distancing ourselves. The opposite from what we would normally do. Yet still we have moved through the crucifixion to the resurrection, and, on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, to Jesus’ appearance to the frightened disciples in the upper room (John 20:19-29).

Thomas wasn’t with them when Jesus appeared. Maybe he had volunteered to collect supplies? Protecting his friends from the dangers they faced if they went outside. Echoes here of full carrier bags left on doorsteps while the vulnerable wait inside for this worldwide crisis to pass. The disciples feared the Romans, a human threat, we face an invisible threat and must remain in lockdown for the love of each other and the health of our frontline services.

I suspect that some may feel as though Easter was cancelled this year. That they continue to fight frustrations, feeling powerless, struggling with loneliness, anxiety and fear in the face of this world crisis.

That is why we need to grab hold of the message of how the risen Christ gave new life to the disciples. How he gave them the Holy Spirit, energized them and gave them confidence. How he made them into people who were filled with both peace and power. The world needs that peace and power now more than ever.

Christians around the world read the same weekly scripture. This week it’s the story of how Jesus appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room after his resurrection. The disciples already knew that Jesus was risen, the women had told them about the empty tomb, and about seeing Jesus in the garden, and they had over the years, witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles. The disciples had seen so much, taken part in so much and been commanded by Jesus to do so much.

But after Good Friday, after Easter Day, they were powerless people. They couldn’t make themselves do what the Lord had commanded. Their frail faith couldn’t be made strong simply by declaring, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ Jesus knew that, so he did something else. When he appeared to them, he not only blessed them, saying ‘Peace be with you’ and ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’. He breathed on them, he said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’, and by his presence, his command, he gave them the breath of life.

Jesus gave power to the powerless. Do we as Christians (even when life is ‘normal’) sometimes share the disciples’ initial sense of hopelessness as they waited in the Upper Room? Don’t we too experience the strain of trying to make sense of things, of not being sure just how to do our best, where to do it, and when to do it?

As followers of Christ we have hope and faith that God is with us, God is in this pandemic with us, loving, crying, grieving, encouraging. Jesus came to redeem the whole of humanity. We as Christians are called to share the good news in all circumstances, even when we feel hopeless or helpless.

We are not really very different to those first disciples. The power that transformed them is the same Holy Spirit that enables us and all Christians to love God and serve their neighbour. The renewals that have happened and which will happen again are because of God and his love; they happen because Jesus is alive, because he has been able to burst out of the sealed tomb and to enter into locked rooms and fill hearts that need him.

Easter wasn’t cancelled this year, we just had to find different ways to worship and give thanks. Of course, we look forward to worshipping together once again in our beautiful ancient building, but we must not forget the new ways through which we have shared the good news despite the lockdown.

May we be steadfast in our faith, and when this world crisis lessens, may we go out with the determination to walk alongside our neighbour and do what Jesus did, love, support and serve, whatever the current state of the world or our own personal frailties.

May we trust Jesus and give thanks, knowing that as he has risen to new life, he is here to bring new life to us all. He is here, and he will bring that life, even though on occasions there may be closed doors in his way.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

May God be praised, amen.                                               

 

 

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