Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Sermon preached by Erica Wilding on The Fifth Sunday of Easter, 10th May 2020 via Zoom

May the words of my mouth & the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

“Let not your hearts be troubled” – Jesus’ words are surely just as real and important to us today as they were to His disciples in the Upper Room on the night before His death. They are words of comfort and reassurance as we remain behind our own closed doors, fearful of this silent assassin, the global Corona virus pandemic which has caused so much heart ache and anxiety to the world. The number of those who have died is breath takingly horrific as is the very real impact that this is having upon people’s mental health and financial situation. The rise in domestic abuse cases and the delay in medical interventions for other illnesses, will also undoubtedly add to the human cost of this virus and increase the anxiety of many. 

Jesus has just warned His closest companions that one of them is to betray Him and that Peter will deny Him three times, so one can imagine that the disciples would have been left feeling like their whole world was being turned upside down. So then, as now, Jesus’ words are words of comfort.

I have heard it said that Christians should be ever cheerful; that our faith in God should fill our hearts and minds with joy and peace, confident that our faith means that all will be well. But I think we all know that it isn’t and can’t be true. We know that, as Christians we are not immune to the pain and suffering of this world. Christians also experience the devastation of broken relationships; the crushing disappointment of stolen dreams and the grief that penetrates to the very marrow of our bones, when those we love pass away.

And Jesus himself experienced anxiety. Three times before this passage, John describes Jesus as being troubled in spirit. In chapter 11, when He comes to Bethany and sees the grief of His close friends Mary & Martha for their brother Lazarus, we are told that “ he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” and in one of the most powerful verses in the whole of the Bible we are told “Jesus wept”. In chapter 12 – just after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, He says “my soul is troubled” as he contemplates His fate – the cruel death of a Roman crucifixion and in chapter 13, again we are told that he was troubled in spirit, as He predicts His betrayal by someone with whom he has spent the last 3 years of his live.

All of this tells us that Jesus Himself understands what it is to be troubled. He knows what it is to mourn, to worry about one’s future and the future of others and to suffer betrayal. Jesus knew he was born to die for our sins and whilst he was ready to die, He was still worried. Despite, His supreme confidence in God’s love, his humanity caused him to worry, just as we do.

Remembering that, should be meaningful to us and give us all great comfort in these worrying times. It should, alongside the powerful words of the psalmist, in a way give us permission to mourn and show our concern for what is happening. The lectionary Psalm for today is Psalm 31 which contains the lines “ Be my strong rock, a fortress to save me for you are my rock and my stronghold; guide me and lead me for your name’s sake” and “have mercy on me Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, my soul and my body also”. The “language event” that takes place in many of the psalms [by which I mean, the journey that takes us from distress to hope], can help to articulate both our sense of despair and the steadfastness of God’s love throughout the ages. 

But I think what Jesus is saying to us, in his words “Let not your hearts be troubled” is that when it happens – as it surely does to everyone alive – we must not let those concerns overwhelm us. We must meditate upon Jesus’ own suffering and through that become strong “in” Christ through faith. We must remember that our Lord and Master suffered to. Its Ok to acknowledge our fears and doesn’t make us any less of a Christian for doing so. But we need to anchor our Hope in Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who opened the gates of heaven and whose death meant that our death is not the end. Adoration changes our perspective – rather than focusing on our own concerns and needs, prayer in adoration lifts our eyes to the heavens and reminds us of the beauty of creation, the awesomeness of the work of God’s hands and the many blessings that He continually pours out to us each day.

And, in amongst all this anxiety, with eyes uplifted we will see that there are signs of His Kingdom even now. In the bravery and heroism that we are seeing demonstrated by our key workers; the spirit of generosity and compassion that has been shown by many for those in need and in the way that we as a society are now reliant upon many who might have been referred to before the onset of this crisis, as some of the least in society. We are dependant now – not on the well paid bankers, wealth creators and pleasure givers like footballers, film stars and celebrities – but on the humble nurse, the paramedic, the postie and those who keep our shops operating, to save our lives, keep us connected with the outside world and keep us fed.

The Bible has, apparently, although I’ve never counted them myself, 365 instances where we are told not to be afraid. One for every day of the year. I remember hearing that at a time when my mother was suffering terribly with her radiotherapy treatment and my stepfather had just died and it brought me great comfort. I hope it has that same effect on you now.

Let us take that into our hearts this morning and know that we need not be afraid; we must have faith & courage, just as this country and its brave heroes had 75 years ago, for Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.