Sermon notes for Easter 5A for St Thomas’ Ellesmere Port & St Lawrence Stoak
We often hear the angels say “do not be afraid”. Jesus takes up their heavenly strain. He says “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. It’s as if the whole heavenly host are trying to strengthen us and encourage us.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
The many dwelling places are places made ready for us to live in, places for us to dwell, abiding places, where we may be where Jesus is.
It is such a well known passage that some of us might know it by heart (it’s certainly good that we should take it to heart). It’s a passage which is often used at funerals – and that has had the effect that apply the passage to our post-mortem state. But what if this isn’t about when we die but is more about where we live?
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to crucifixion and resurrection. That is the preparation of a place for us – and it’s a place which is opened up for us in life, not just in our death.
Suddenly we are given a choice. Jesus is saying to us “your place or mine?” – the choice is between the place in which our hearts are troubled, and the place opened up for us by Jesus where we can be where he is. There is another space, another place for us to live.
Have any of you seen the sculptures by Anthony Gormley at Crosby? It’s called Another Place. It is interesting how the mood of the sculptures changes with different circumstances. Here is the calm – a warm day, just right for a paddle. There are other days, when the tide is high, when the sea is stormy, when these sculptures look like they are drowning, clinging to life.
Put a fence in front of them and the mood becomes very sinister, particularly as the fence divides us from them. They look like prisoners. Are they enemies? Is there a reason we need to be kept safe from them?
My point here is that we have another place – a dwelling place which Jesus has prepared for us where we may be also, day to day in which our hearts would otherwise be troubled.
This has come home to me only recently. I was asked to do a funeral. The person who had died had a really difficult life in which he had suffered from severe mental illness from an early age but had hidden it from everyone except his closest family. His children had to keep the secret. Neither parent could work. They were too proud to claim their rightful benefits …. You can perhaps imagine the very mixed emotions of the family when he died.
They chose the passage we have read this morning for the funeral, presumably for the hope they had for their father. But what if Jesus hasn’t just prepared a place for those who have died, but also for those who grieve? And not just as a consolation in terms of “there is a place in heaven” but in the sense that a new space is opened for us to move into in which we find a more compassionate understanding, a kinder understanding, a gentler understanding, a place generous and forgiving in which we can see our troubles in a new light.
This is a space prepared for those whose hearts are troubled. Those not knowing how to make ends meet. Those who don’t know where to turn. Those who are overwhelmed. Those who know their need of God and a world of his making.
We have a choice. We can let our hearts be troubled, or we can accept Jesus’ invitation and the Spirit’s urging to that other space – the space prepared for us.
This is a space we move into in prayer, or retreat, or moments that just open up for us in which we experience the strengthening and encouragement of God. Prayer and discipleship is how we inhabit the space Jesus has prepared for us.
Our reading from Acts (Acts 7:55-60) describes the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
The Tiffany window showing the Stoning of Stephen focuses on Stephen’s appearance. His face is shining. That is what those looking at Stephen noticed. “They saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15)
I would like us to take this in for a moment. This is what happens when we move away from the space that brings trouble to our hearts into that space where we see our troubles in a new light. One of our prayers this week was (the Collect for Julian of Norwich)
Most holy God, the ground of our beseeching, grant that as we are created in your nature and restored by your grace, our wills may be so made one with yours that we may come to see you face to face and gaze on you for ever. Amen.
A person who survived Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl, has this to say:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
He remembers: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread”.
They made their choice in that misery, to not let their hearts become selfish, but to live charitably, even to their last piece of bread.
We also have a choice for the time being. We can choose one place or another. We can choose the place prepared for us by Jesus, or the place that is so troubling. It is the same life. We don’t escape the troubles. After all, Stephen was stoned to death and Jesus suffered on the cross.
But there is a space that is opened for us to live with a different frame of mind, a different choice of attitude, that chooses to trust the one who doesn’t want our hearts to be troubled. It is on that that we need to dwell.
PS If you’ve read so far (thank you) you might be interested in this Blessing of Many Rooms by Jan Richardson