Mark 4: 35-41
On that day, he said to them ‘Let us go across to the other side.’
Let us go across to the other side. The invitation is to set off on a journey to another place. That place may be somewhere we know, or it may be somewhere completely new. This morning’s story isn’t about the destination, or about what happens on arrival, it’s about making the journey. As communities around our world, we’re now making journeys – out of lockdowns and restricted living and towards a place that is the other side of pandemic. Not the other side of Covid 19, we now know that we will be living with the virus for the foreseeable future, but the other side of the pandemic situation that has enveloped our world for the past year and a half.
So what does the journey towards the other side of the pandemic look like for us as a church? If we can hear that invitation to get into the boat and go to the other side, what do we need to consider? What do we need to resource us? What can we anticipate? What kind of storms might we encounter?
Let’s think to begin with about where we’re setting off from. We find ourselves in a place that is simultaneously familiar and unsettling. The physical surroundings are more or less as we remember them, but things are different. For those of us who are within the Cathedral building, there are cameras on the pillars, reminding us that there is another part of our worshipping community that joins us in a different kind of way. For those joining us online – over the months what you have seen and heard has changed and developed. There are some obvious changes: we now have a full choir – albeit socially distanced. We are able to give communion to those who are in the building. We are also able to meet outside without our masks and see one another’s faces.
There are some changes we made a while ago that haven’t shifted. We’ve got used to staying in our seats when we share the Peace. We’re used to receiving bread only at Communion time – and for those online to watch as the celebrant receives on our behalf. We keep our distance from one another – shaking hands is a thing of the past.
As we reflect on today’s reality, we can see that we’re already in the boat, because it’s clear that we’re already journeying. We can’t have any certainty about what our destination will be like, although we might have some idea of what might be there. We might guess that it will be a space where we find ways to continue to worship together, to develop our community life together. My own view is that online worship is here to stay – interestingly I read this week that theological training colleges are going to add online worship into their curricula. So our destination will likely be a place where blended worship, forming a worshipping community when we’re not necessarily all in the same physical space, will be a feature.
One of the noticeable developments here over the past 18 months has been the use of our grounds by people within the local community. On sunny days, there are groups of people sitting and socialising – or just enjoying the opportunity to be outdoors in the warmth. Even on less inviting days, the lawns are used – not just by dog walkers, but also by people doing various forms of exercise.
We’re talking to choirs and dance classes about whether we can offer safe space for them to resume their activities. That increasing use of our outdoor space is an illustration of the way that we can be a resource within our city, and not just for those who come inside the building and engage with the acts of worship. From the beginning of next month, there will be a pop-up café on the south lawn. Another way to offer something, a way to invite people into the space that we have stewardship of; an invitation to come and share and use and enjoy that space. An invitation offered freely – an invitation offered out of our understanding of God’s freely given invitation to us.
And I guess some might say: that’s all very well and good, but what’s happening within the Cathedral – are we inviting people to join us, to worship with us, to become an active part of our community. We’re a church, not a public park. I think that the answer to that and similar questions lies in the question the disciples asked in that boat: who then is this? That’s the question that I would like the people who use our grounds and who wander into our buildings to ask.
Who then is this that inspires this community to behave in a generous and gracious way? Who then is this that people seek to follow? What are his ways and his truths? What might he be saying today?
We share the answers to those questions in a range of ways. We share the answers in what people experience when they encounter us – both as individuals and as spaces to encounter God. The film company that was in the Cathedral at the beginning of this month commented on more than one occasion on how well cared for they found this building. They understood that it matters to us to ensure that our buildings are properly maintained – not just because that’s a prudent thing to do, but because in doing so we say something about what they mean to us, what they say about the God in whose name they exist.
And that care and attention extends to the whole environment for which we have responsibility. It matters that the outside of our buildings says something about who we are. It matters that we have plants at the West End and grounds that are maintained. We might think about our buildings – and the boat in this morning’s Gospel – as places of safety. Places to find security and comfort in the presence of Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t call us into safe and comfortable places for long. The journey of faith is a journey of challenge and exploration. It can be a journey that is risky. Our particular boat, this post-pandemic boat, has set sail but we don’t yet know what the other side is going to look like. What we do know is that we are being called into a space that is not quite the one we’re leaving. It may be very similar, it may be shockingly different – that’s not for us to know today. For today, we need to know that the boat is the place for us to be, that Jesus has asked us to go with him to the other side, and that there is no need to be afraid.
If we can find ways to see this as an adventure that we’ve embarked upon together, an opportunity to grow as individuals and as a community, an opportunity to respond to Jesus’ invitation to journey with him – who knows where we will find ourselves. And in making the journey, perhaps we can witness to the incarnate God who invites us to take a risk and to respond to his call.