St Asaph Ordination of Priests 2020: Sermon – Terror in the air

Ordination of Priests Sermon

3 October 2020

St Asaph Cathedral

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jn 19: 19 – 23

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wow.

Wow, Bishop Gregory.

Wow,  friends and family watching at home.

Wow whoever you are.

Wow because God is doing amazing things here in the diocese of St Asaph.

Gareth, Sally,  Andy, Rachel, Simon, Chris, Susan, Carol, James

It has been so good to spend these three days with you. To see the remarkable people God is calling to priesthood in his church, in this place, at this time.

Jesus died and descended to the dead. 

Jesus spent three days in the tomb. 

Well, I hope our three days together hasn’t felt quite like that. But I do hope you are feeling resurrection joy now.

As Christians, as priests we are called to be resurrection people.

Ministers, messengers, heralds of the resurrection.

Here we are in this most extraordinary of ordinations, in, I hope, contemplative intimacy; there is a stillness, in this place as if it was evening; there is space around each of us. For this hour you don’t have to be concerned about whether your family and friends made it on time, found somewhere to park or managed to get breakfast before they set off. It is just us, resurrection people, gathered around a table, listening to our resurrection story.

The disciples didn’t know on that evening when Jesus came into the room just what it was to be a resurrection person. It was new to them. New to the world. But we know, every one of you knows. In little ways you have told and shown over the last few days how the resurrection has touched your life; made a difference; changed things.

The doors are not quite locked this morning. But they might as well be, because we are afraid. Afraid of plague, and virus, afraid of infection. 

Let’s name it as the poet Gwenallt did in that stunning poem we looked at last night: there is terror in the air.

The winter ahead is going to be hard; the economic effects of this pandemic will make the Great Depression look easy.  The person holding the role – as we used to call it –  of leader of the free world is in hospital. We are in local lockdown and can’t even visit each other’s houses.

There is terror in the air.

But the pandemic is not really anything new.

It is like dye thrown into water. It reveals what is always there.

It is the human condition to live with terror. We have fooled ourselves for seventy years. That we would be the generations without world war; the generations in which everyone would get just get richer and that economies would just do one thing: grow.

We had a warning in the financial crisis of 2008. And now we have the big one.

But to be human is to live with terror: to know that death is always a possibility.

To know that whenever we make a choice we might be making the wrong one; to know that the good we want to do we do not do; and those things we don’t want to do: we do.

This is the human condition.

And in these strange times look at the gospel we have just read and notice how shocking it is. 

He breathed on them.

When you are ordained this morning we will have made every possible effort to make sure that Bishop Gregory doesn’t, can’t breathe on you.

Out there the police have powers to make sure that we don’t do what Jesus did and make our way into peoples homes despite their locked doors.

But, even so, we are resurrection people.

The church has been in terror for decades. Terror as our numbers decline, as we worry about what the future will hold, terror that we will have to close our buildings, that there is no future.

And yet God works. He is working in every place where people are gathering on Zoom, or phoning round, working in Hope Street as Rachel and Andy and the team do a new thing there. Working in the Mission Areas of this diocese as resurrections shatters the traditional structures of the church and makes something new.

And God works in the terror of my life; the terror of all our lives: that we won’t be good enough; that our relationships won’t work out; that we will lose our job; that our children will not be happy and successful.

We are all afraid.

And into that. Jesus does come. 

Jesus comes to us, he has come to me, he has come to you and we know him.

We know that Jesus makes a difference.

Last night together at St Beuno’s we looked at those two things that only a priest can do, that soon you will be able to do: to set people free from sin and to take bread and wine and reveal the presence of the risen Jesus.

To be a priest, to be a minister of the resurrection is to be someone who makes a difference, to be someone who changes things.

We know that the world can’t just go back after this pandemic. We are changed for ever.

We know that the world will never be as it was because of the ecological damage we, the human race, have done.

Our task is to speak resurrection into that. To make a difference. 

Where there is terror: to bring peace.

To say to people as Jesus did, as Jesus does: Peace be with you.

And to show them as Jesus did the wounds.

To speak to them of Jesus and the difference he has made in your life.

Friends at home. Ask these people; get them to tell you the difference that Jesus has made to them, in their lives. If you are feeling the terror right now ask them to pray with you and to help you hear Jesus say: peace be with you.

And to do that, to be a resurrection person, to be a minister of the resurrection on our retreat we’ve shared five ways, five steps of sustainable ministry; ministry that will continue for the rest of your lives:

Read your bible: keep it close to you. Never go many hours without touching base with Scripture. Especially the psalms; pray them every day as Christians have always done, learn them off by heart. The psalms are a powerful weapon against the terror, because they are full of terror, and full of resurrection which is stronger.

Most of all they are full of Jesus.

Use his powerful name over and over again in your life. When the terror seems strong in you and around you: speak his name. Say it out loud; the name above every name; the name that makes demons fly; the name that speaks peace.

Love the church: this is the body of Christ; this is where a difference is made; wounded, bloody, crucified, holes in our side. We are resurrection people. Love it deeply as we love our family and friends with all their wounds.

Know that you are never alone because you belong to this body the church and because you are ordained to the priesthood of the church. You will not own it, possess it, you simply share in it. Priesthood is something you participate in. Don’t hold on to it. Swim in it, revel in it and enjoy it.

And in the steps of our journey over the last few days we headed to one thing: the Eucharist.

In your priesthood love this banquet, 

our cup overflows, 

God himself has set the table for us, 

there beside restful waters he leads us, 

even through the dark valley of plague and terror.

This is what your hands will be anointed for: 

to take bread and wine and make it different.

Do it as often as you can. Love to do it, seek out places to do it and people to do it with. 

Whether it’s an old Burton’s store in Wrexham, a medieval church or your dining table with your family or friends.

Do these five things:

Read the bible;

Call on the name of Jesus

Love the Church

Celebrate your inter-being in the body of Christ in resurrection ministry

and celebrate the Eucharist

Do these five things and you will be resurrection people. 

God has called you to joy.  To en-joy the priesthood.

Gareth, Sally,  Andy, Rachel, Simon, Chris, Susan, Carol, James 

enjoy it, 

revel in it

because wow, 

God is at work here in the diocese of St Asaph.