Rev Tom Mumford
I pray that I may speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This last year has been absolutely RUBBISH, let’s not beat about the bush.No one has been left unaffected by this pandemic.I know people here who have lost loved ones, I know people who have lost jobs.I know people, including myself, who have had real lows in the past 12 months. Who have missed family and friends, who have been isolated and alone.This last lockdown in particular has been a real strain. The death toll has rocketed, the case numbers in Sudbury have been sky high, the funerals here have been devastatingly constant. A reminder of the seriousness of our situation. And it’s been cold, and wet, and dark. And though Zoom church has been great, it’s not quite the real thing. Online Church has kept us connected, but it will never satisfy the need for the physical, for the tangible, for the gathered body, for the physical receiving of the sacrament. And to top all of this off, the barbers have been shut, and the pubs closed. I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely gasping for a pint, and frankly, beginning to look a bit like Worzel Gummage. (If there are any barbers or pub landlords are out there: I will pay a pretty penny to kill two birds with one stone on April 12th and have a trim in a beer garden…just a suggestion.)But with all this in mind, I’ve been wondering: how on earth have we got through it? What isit that has kept you all going?
I saw an article in the paper the other week where the author talked about his envy of religious people.He began by telling how he and his wife quite happily ticked the ‘no religion’ box in thecensus.He thought nothing of it at the time, but a couple of hours later he describes experiencing a ‘pang of envy’ that had occasionally surfaced in the past.The root of it on that day, he said, was that during this pandemic, he had been filled on occasion with a sudden fear of serious illness and death, and a sense that the whole thing was totally random and senseless.He wondered, he said, how religious believers were feeling. Were they able to give their recent experiences at least a semblance of coherence and meaning?If they were, he said, he was jealous. ‘No religion’ people don’t have that.
Well, just to take on the elephant in the room here, if people are looking for a ‘meaning’behind the pandemic, I don’t think Christianity or any faith gives us simple answers. There is no simple reason as to ‘why’ the pandemic happened.I am sure though that it has nothing to do with the punishment of a vengeful God. I am much more convinced that it is to do with the flawed and fallen nature of humankind,over-farming animals, encroaching into the habitats of others, destroying vital eco-systems. This pandemic hasn’t been a divine plan of retribution, so much as a natural consequence of human-beings overreaching and destabilising the world around us.It’s no individuals fault, but it is a wake-up call, a time to look again about how we inhabit the earth on which we live. A time to ask ourselves how we might steward God’s creation,rather than exploit and destroy it.
But if it’s not simple answers to big questions that faith gives you, what exactly is the point?What does it give us?Well, I wonder what difference faith has made for you? How has it helped get you through?How has it kept you going?I know that for a huge number of you it’s been vital. Over the course of the last year, either in Lent or Advent groups, on Zoom church or even after physical-church, many of you have told me how your faith has kept you going.People have explained how prayer has helped, a sense of God’s nearness. But people have also said how the church community has helped too. The phone calls, the letters, the Zoom coffees, the sense that we’re connected though apart. The sense that no Christian is alone, no Christian is solitary.
So, it seems, simple answers might be hard to come by, but there is something in this Christian life after all……but what exactly is it, at its root, that keeps us all going? That draws us into form a community of love, that allows us to lean on and into the presence of God when the worldaround us gets tough?Well, for me anyway, thing that underpins it, the thing that drives it, the thing that has picked me up in the dark and cold months of a lockdown winter, is the reason we’re here celebrating today.It is, quite simply, Easter hope. The hope that was given to me and the world by God in JesusChrist. The hope that is founded right here, right now, on Easter Day. That hope is founded in the resurrection.“Alleluia, Christ is risen!” I could shout all day!
And the reason why this hope is so fundamental, so key, is that because on Easter Day we see that death, darkness, pain, all of that rubbish and awfulness we’ve experienced over that last 12 months, and indeed at many other points in our lives, is never the end.We believe in a God who transforms and redeems and offers new life and new hope, who’s transformative and saving power is so all encompassing, so total, that it even death has lost its sting. And so this, this pandemic, this particular rough patch in our life, is not the end, it never is. God always has the last word, and that word is love.
So if anyone asks you what all this faith stuff gives you, what all this ‘going to church’ or ‘being a Christian’ stuff is all about, how it changes your life, you can tell them this: It gives me the renewing promise of a new start, of a new life, of fresh and constant hope that this, whatever it is, is never the end. That God will transform and redeem it.And what’s better, you can tell them, is that none of that relies on you or your hard work.But instead on the grace and love of God that is poured out for all.Does it stop us messing up and experiencing pain or hurt or? No. But does it assure us that this pain and hurt and darkness is not final, yes. This is what the resurrection means!So whatever challenges and hardships you face, however tough the next few months mightbe for you: take heart, embrace hope, for we have a God who knows his way out of the grave.To borrow the words from a popular film: everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not, it’s just not the end yet.
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!