Second Sunday of Lent - Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn

  • Readings

    Genesis 17.1-7,15,16; Romans 4.13-25; Mark 8.31-38

If he would come today today today, Oh what a day today would be; But now he's away, miles and miles away From me across the sea.

Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Hoping against hope’ is painful to read.  The speaker gazes out hoping, hoping against hope that the one she loves will return.  Against all the odds, against all that would suggest that she is simply deluding herself, against all that is sensible, against all the evidence she hopes

If he would come today today today,
Oh what a day today would be;

Peter is so shocked by what Jesus says that he takes him aside to try to make him see sense.  Peter is always depicted as slightly older than the rest of the disciples, an old sea-dog, a man of the world, without the romantic infatuation of a young man like John or the passionate abandonment of a zealot like Simon.  Peter had his feet on the ground and lots of lived life experience to call upon.  And so he pulls Jesus away from the crowd, takes him aside, out of earshot and rebukes him, puts him straight on just how things work in the real world.

The government during this pandemic has been accused time after time of over-promising and under-delivering.  Well, that is just what Abram thought about God.  All these promises being made to him and his wife Sarai about what would happen, that their offspring would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore, as the stars in the heavens, that he would be the father of many nations.  It all sounded brilliant – except that he was as good as dead and his wife was well past the age of bearing a child.  It didn’t look promising to say the least.

But as St Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, reflecting on the response of this patriarch and matriarch, they hoped against hope,

‘being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.’

It seems to me that this is the only way to travel, the only way to live, it’s the only way in which you can deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.  We have to believe that what he says, that

those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

is simply true. There is no other live-giving way to be.

Hoping against hope is all about setting aside the wisdom of this world, all the experiences that you have had in the past, all the things that would tell you that this is just impossible, that this is not the way the world works or life works and stepping out into a future with everything seemingly stacked against you.

If he would come today today today,
Oh what a day today would be;

Like many people I was deeply moved, moved to tears to be honest in each episode, by Russell T Davies’ series ‘It’s a Sin’.  You may have watched it, if you haven’t and you’re not too easily shocked – but then ‘Bridgerton’ seems to me a bit more shocking on that front – I encourage you to watch it.

It was a real reminder to me of what we all went through in the 1980’s as the AIDS pandemic struck our communities and of all the fear and the prejudice and the loathing, of others and of self, that it created in people.

The story of that group of friends, living with AIDS, dying from AIDS, was deeply moving.  Thirty years ago this year this Cathedral responded to all of that, that heart-breaking reality, with something seen as scandalous – we set aside a chapel dedicated to those who live with HIV/AIDS and that chapel still exists and the candle still burns there, all the time.  It was scandalous, some thought and I suspect some still think that we should not do this for those who brought on themselves, so they think, by their lifestyle and their choices a plague of their own making, the judgement of God.  So how could we dedicate sacred space to them?

But we were brave, we hoped against hope.

But it was not the men in that series whose stories moved me, though they did, as much as the figure of Jill.  There are many ways in which women who hang around with gay men have been described.  The figure of Jill in this series is a powerful, sacrificial, self-giving angel of a person who with real strength and depth of love acted out of that concept of hope against hope.  All the evidence, all the wisdom, all the science suggested that she should keep her distance and yet she couldn’t – just as Princess Diana couldn’t – but drew close, inspired by love, driven by love, taking up the cross on behalf of others. Jill is the star of the show – and we know that there are many Jill’s around, then, now, in our communities, the defiers of conventional wisdom whose cry would be

If he would come today today today,
Oh what a day today would be;

Goodness only knows how the new roadmap out of this pandemic will work – but it is the only map we have and we have to follow it.  We hope against hope, for our communities, for the world, treading a path that seems unclear and uncertain, often defying the voice of experience, hopeful even when it all seems stacked against us.

God promises today that we will be fed, that as bread is broken and wine outpoured, we will be satisfied.  And the promise applies to you, sharing in this Eucharist online as much as those of us who are gathered here now around this table.  It defies wisdom but then taking a loaf and calling it ‘my body’ defies wisdom but every day for two thousand years we have done it and have known it to be true.  The journey is hard, but

If he would come today today today,
Oh what a day today would be;

My friends, he has come, the Lord is with us and he simply asks us to follow him, in faith, in hope, with love – wherever the journey takes us.