Easter 3 sermon preached online by the Vice Provost. 18th April 2021

1 John 3: 1-7; Luke 24: 13-35

We catch up this morning with those two disciples as they trudge along on the road to Emmaus. It seems easy to relate to how they are feeling – perhaps especially this year which does feel like a year that we’ve trudged through, waiting for something to emerge that will be a gamechanger. And for us, that is happening; we’re seeing the signs of new life. Life is beginning to open up and we can begin to look a little bit further ahead than the very immediate future.

The disciples though weren’t looking ahead to better times, they were completely caught up in the moment. In many ways they were blinkered; their ability to see what was going on around them was limited by the fact that their focus was turned inward, on their own pain and confusion. Many of us know that feeling too – we know that recent bereavement leaves us feeling that our world has narrowed; leaves us with the feeling that whatever is going on out there is little to do with us today, because today all we can manage is to keep breathing and to struggle our way through the essential tasks, put one foot in front of the other in the hope that we will be able to just keep going.  But we also know that however overwhelming those feelings are, they will pass. We know that bereavement is a process and a journey that has to be travelled.

And then their eyes were opened and they saw. Their eyes were opened, the energy shifted and their focus switched from that place of confusion and darkness to somewhere that had light and hope and gave them a focussed direction of travel.

There have been two reasons this week for my gaze to have shifted. The first happened in this building. The playwright, Jo Clifford, wrote and acted 5 chapters of material that were offered under the heading ‘a space to bless’. She took us over the course of the week on a journey through the story of this Cathedral and into a theology of inclusion that didn’t shy away from addressing questions such as oppression and discrimination, personal greed and political power.
Jo explored the journey from darkness into light – the darkness of the 19th century world that surrounded this land when this extraordinary and life giving building was constructed.

Jo helped me to see parts of this building in a new way. Helped me to see her struggles and challenges in a new way. Helped me to see my own struggles and challenges in a new way.
And that means that her material was good theology. It challenged and disturbed; it said something profound that, as soon as I heard it, I knew to be true. It made me laugh and cry; and it left me with something to ponder. If you missed the livestream, the link is in the weekly notices and also on our FaceBook page and I thoroughly recommend watching them.

The second reason for my gaze to shift this week came in the form of a conference, links to which you’ll also find in the notices and on our FaceBook page.

The provincial liturgy committee gave its support to an online conference, Responding to the Sacred, that opened up some of the conversations about language and liturgy, conversations about gender and inclusion about the nature of humanity and the nature of God.

The conference organisers started out with an idea that they wanted to explore questions to do with gendered language. It quickly became apparent that to have a focus on male/ female language was too narrow. It became clear, even in the planning stages, that as soon as we talk about inclusion, as soon as we begin to talk about pushing the boundaries of what we might understand of the nature of God, we’re talking about something that is very much more than a male/female binary. What happens is that we are taken into that territory that Jo Clifford explored during the course of the week; territory that allows us to name some of the injustice, to look at internalised prejudice, to begin to name the sources of darkness.

And naming the sources of our darkness is a necessary step on the journey towards recognising the sources of light. Those disciples on the Emmaus Road were locked into their place of deep darkness. They were experiencing the despair and despondency that was inevitable after what they had witnessed and lived through. They were on that journey through grief that helped to shape them and enabled them to grow into the people they eventually became.
Darkness and light isn’t a binary any more than male female, gay straight or whatever. There is a continuum from absolute darkness to overwhelming light. Going directly from one to the other can be disorientating or even painful. There’s a need for a time of transition. A process of movement from one place to another.

The journey that those disciples took allowed them to go on a transitional journey. They were in one place and it took them a little time to recognise that there was a different place to inhabit, a different way to perceive.

As our church begins to think more deeply about how we share our faith and our experiences of God; how we convey, in words and music and imagery and texture and light, that we want to be more overtly inclusive, that we want to welcome people as they are and regardless of who they are, that we want to participate in the discourse about climate change and stewardship of land, that we want to be relevant, then we need to journey.
All of the evidence would suggest that we’re not there yet. We have intentions and aspirations, but we don’t always know how to communicate all of that very well. We can be rather good within the church at imagining people know what we mean, when we haven’t found a way to tell that they can hear.

One of the gifts of liturgy and of the creative arts is that they resonate for us in more ways than what we hear. They use all of our senses – open up the space within which we might encounter God. That opening up of space allows us to be a little bit like those disciples, to go on a transitional journey towards a place where we perceive differently.

I want to end with the words of blessing that Jo Clifford used each day:

Bless us in our confusion and distress.
Bless us as we try to make sense of things.
Bless everyone trying to shine their light.
Everyone trying to make this world a better place….
Bless us when we’re happy
Bless us when we’re sad
Bless us when we’re frozen in terror
Remind us we are not alone
We never were
We never are
We never shall be
For he is she
And she is he
And we are they
And they are we
And shall be for ever and ever



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