Second Sunday of Easter

23 apr 2017


Preacher: Canon Stephen Hance, Missioner

Readings: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Hebrews 11:32-12:2


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely*,and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

This has been one of those weeks when I was glad I didn’t put pen to paper to work on my sermon too early, because when I began thinking about this talk we didn’t know that we were going to have a General Election over the next few weeks, and what an interesting and important Election it will be. Because alongside all the debates that characterise all election campaigns – the economy, the NHS and public services, leadership, taxation – will be a more fundamental debate that is specific to this time and place, namely, what do we want a post-Brexit Britain to look like? Some who wanted us to leave the EU clearly wanted a ‘soft’ Brexit – something akin to free movement, broadly European social policies on things like immigration, simply without membership of an organisation which some saw as bureaucratic or inefficient. For others, leaving was precisely about tearing up the consensus on all those things, closing the borders, ‘British jobs for British workers’, a different sort of culture. 

So this election will be – must be – about, not just which party will cost me less tax or run the NHS better, but who are we? Who do we want to be? What kind of values will shape us? And it’s appropriate that we think about these questions as we prepare to celebrate St George, our patron saint, whose flag is often used as a cipher in these debates, sometimes co-opted to a kind of hard nationalism, but perhaps who should best be seen as an example of the kind of courage we are going to need as we step into the future.

If you want to think about these things, I recommend reading the three lectures which the Archbishop of Canterbury gave in Holy Week, which are available on his website. To give you a taster, Archbishop Justin says:

“The danger today is of having a rootless and self-protective society without generosity, arising from a lack of confidence of what it is to be British. One form of a Christian hope faithful to our past is of a generous society rooted in history, committed to the common good in the present and a steward of the hopes and joys of future generations in our own country and around the world.”

The writer to the Hebrews talks about the saints, that great cloud of witnesses, who inspire us, who challenge us, who cheer us on as we try to live into that vision – rooted in history, committed to the common good in the present, stewarding the hopes of the future. Many of those referenced in Hebrews 11 achieved extraordinary feats, as the legends say St George did. Many paid the ultimate price for their obedience, as George did. And now they urge us to live into our best selves, to create the best post-Brexit Britain we can – engaged, open, just, compassionate, generous, a force for good in the world.

Sometimes that vision can seem a very long way off, well beyond our reach. We need the perseverance that Hebrews speaks about to pursue it. But Christians don’t simply try to find the strength and courage in themselves to do that. They find that strength and courage in Jesus, the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ who, as Hebrews says, endured the cross, disregarded its shame, and won the prize, taking his seat at the right hand of God the Father. It is his example, his resurrection, and his presence with us that gives us boldness, confidence, and security in who we truly are. And that is what we need to help create the culture, the nation that we want, for ourselves and for future generations. 

* Hebrews 12:1: Other ancient authorities read sin that easily distracts