Sixth Sunday of Easter | Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    The Rev'd Canon Michael Rawson, Sub Dean and Canon Pastor

Sermon preached at the Choral Eucharist on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

In my final year at theological college I had a placement at the Heathrow Airport chaplaincy, spending a day a week with the team of chaplains as they ministered to both passengers and the huge staff community. It was at the time of the bombing of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie so there was plenty of pastoral work to be done. There was a steady stream of people who managed to find their way to the underground chapel of St George for worship and prayer but most of the time was spent walking the rounds of the terminal buildings, cargo areas and airline offices chatting with people and listening to their stories. Joining a crew to clean a recently landed jet and prepare it for another flight was a real eye opener. It was a dream placement for me. There was a time in my life when I was passionate about being either a pilot or cabin crew and whenever I go to an airport or fly that love is rekindled.

Being a chaplain gave you access to all areas of the airport and you could disappear behind those door which say, authorised personnel only. It was a quick hop and a jump to walk from arrivals to departures and what a different atmosphere there was. Saying goodbyes at airports and rail stations are so full of emotion and tension. There are tears and hugs and nervous laughter. All quite a contrast to the arrivals hall with its eager anticipation and shouts of welcome.

The departure hall always reminds me of an Ella Fitzgerald song, ‘Ev'ry time we say goodbye.’ Here are the opening lines:

Ev'ry time we say goodbye
I die a little
Ev'ry time we say goodbye
I wonder why a little

Why the Gods above me
Who must be in the know
Think so little of me
They allow you to go

At the Last Supper, the penny seemed to finally drop for the disciples and they knew that Jesus’ days on earth were numbered. For most human beings being left by someone they love can make us feel abandoned, dumped or rejected. Though of course people also leave to pursue new opportunities – a job, or relationship or going back to their roots. It’s hard to imagine how Jesus’ friends must have felt at the Last Supper, how bereft and panicked at the thought of him leaving them. They had been with him through thick and thin these past three years and now what was the future to hold for them.

In this farewell discourse, with gentleness and hope Jesus gives his friends consolation. ‘I will not leave you as orphans’ he says to them. He reassures them that his presence will continue with the Paraclete or Advocate, one who stands up for us, is called to our side and represents us to others.

In our gospel reading Jesus talks about another Advocate, for he is the primary Advocate and this one will be with his followers for ever, abiding with them and in them. This is a real message of hope for the first disciples and for us today, for the promised Holy Spirit is closer to us than we can possibly understand or imagine. With the gift of the Holy Spirit we are given boldness and confidence to be the people of God, pointing to the Father and continuing the work of Christ here on earth.

The earthly ministry of Jesus was one of teaching and healing; giving food for the hungry, raising the dead, being with those on the margins of faith and society; loving the loveless back into life. Although we haven’t physically seen him yet we can read about the historical Jesus who went about on the earth, teaching and healing and transforming the lives of all who encountered him. His was a life lived pointing to the values of the Kingdom of God with the uniqueness of each human as a gift from God, infinitely loved and cherished.’ Jesus ministry on earth was about building a new community of hope and joy and love, in marked contrast to the political and religious power struggles going on around him.

Jesus tells his friends and us that he and the Father are one, so Jesus’ love and care for all is not a reflection of God but it is God’s love and care, incarnated in the person of Jesus. We see this most evident in his washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper and giving himself for the life of the world with his arms outstretched on the cross. We, like the first disciples, are called to a similar radical love which breaks down barriers, setting people free to be God’s new community of love and inclusion.

We hear something of this in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles in which Paul is seeking to make connections and to build bridges with the people of Athens by saying, ‘What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’ For in God we live and move and have our being.’ He reassures them that God is not far from each of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Today we celebrate the new life in baptism offered to Leo and his parents as he is honoured as a child of God and welcomed to make a home deep in the divine heart.

We also give thanks for our unity in Christ with our friends from Bergen who are visiting us this weekend. We have a long established and fruitful relationship with the Norwegian Church both in Bergen and locally with St Olav’s, Rotherhithe, learning together what it means to be disciples of Christ in the 21st century.

The death and resurrection of Christ marked a turning point for his first followers and the same is true for us today. We, like them, need the assurance and promise of God’s Holy Spirit, the Advocate who will be with us forever, giving us encouragement and boldness to live out our faith by our words and actions. Christ leaving his first followers was not abandoning them but rather returning home to his heavenly Father. In these days of Easter may we draw strength from our encounter with the Risen Christ as we break open the Word of God and the Bread of Life and may we be a source of encouragement and hope to others.