— Sarah Northall’s Sermon for Sunday 7th February 2016 —
Who cares if the sun cares to fall in the sea?
Who cares what banks failed in Yonkers?
As long as you’ve got a kiss that conquers
Why should I care?
Life is one long jubilee
As long as I care for you, and you care for me
Does anyone recognise that song? It’s George and Ira Gershwin. It’s actually the first of two songs I am going to mention today. Great phrase isn’t it? One long Jubilee. Jubilee is of course an Old Testament word from the Hebrew word “yobel” meaning “a ram’s horn, trumpet”. Blow the trumpet – Jubilee comes!
Jubilee might seem a strange place to begin today, as surely these are the days of Lent. In barely 60 hours’ time we wake up to Ash Wednesday and the six weeks of the wilderness will be upon us once again. The orthodox traditions call Lent the Bright Sadness. Today we will sing and lay aside the Gloria and we will silence alleluia from our liturgies. The promise of Easter endures but in Lent we let it lie veiled in penitential purple. And so Lent is, as all great fasts are, an interruption. The lockgates firmly closed for a season against the flood of resurrection hope the story of God’s love which defines us.
These are the days of waiting. It is seven weeks until the Resurrection will heal what is broken in our hearts and bind up what is wounded. Seven weeks, with all of Lent lying in between this Sunday and Easter Day. The maths is well … interesting. Lent is 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve – except if you count it, that’s six weeks, 42 days and then you need to add Ash Wednesday, and the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week too. That’s 46 days, but then you subtract the Sundays. Tadah 40 days! But liturgically, Lent merges into Passiontide, from the Sunday before Palm Sunday, and then fades away on Maundy Thursday. It’s all a bit churchy.
What I do know is that SEVEN WEEKS today we will rise to greet the risen Christ. Easter is the 50th day from today. JUBILEE! These are the days of spring-cleaning. What freedom, redemption, restoration will define this year’s Paschal Jubilee? Let me ask it more simply. When you wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will you be different? What are you preparing for? It’s time to blow our own trumpet, sound the ram’s horn. You have a Jubilee to get ready for!
Lent is not a second chance at New Year’s resolutions gone soft. Lent is the annual reenactment of Jesus’ journey in to the wilderness. Lent is the annual insistence that Jesus not only redeemed us, but he spent over 33 years on earth preparing to die well. Lent is the annual liturgical reminder that conversion to Christ is never finished on this side of the Kingdom of God. Lent is the annual invitation to share in Jesus’ death so that we might share in his resurrection. Lent is the annual call to purify our souls for the great high priest of the great feast of Easter. Lent is the annual opportunity we are all offered to rekindle the flame of faith, and move forward in hope toward God whose mercy awaits to embrace us with His forgiving and transforming Love.
Can you see this Lent differently, perhaps? Have a seven week adventure and end it with Jubilee. And maybe, tackling little adventures every day, along the way, might mean that this Lent earths itself into your story, roots itself into your heart and mind. Try things for your heart, your mind, your soul and your body. Try things for your neighbour too. These are the five ways that our love for God is expressed and refined.
Maybe try something simple everyday.
- Sit prayerfully with the same picture each day during Lent (see try this external site for some starter ideas)
- I came across someone who I tried to give away 40 things he didn’t need last Lent (many people in Oxford use Freecycle to pass things on for free)
Maybe, try something seven times seven …
- Mondays might be thank you card writing day
- Tuesdays might be the day you pray the Litany from the BCP (or try this modern translation)
Maybe attempt something that endures throughout the weeks.
- A couple of years ago, I read Ben Hur, A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace.
- Might this be the year you find out about mindfulness? (This are resources from Tim Stead our area dean, who is also running a Lent series on Christian spirituality and mindfulness this year)
- Or Julian Prayer? (We have a silent contemplative prayer group that meets monthly – try Sally Brodhurst for details)
- Or join a home group, go on a conference, or follow a series of Lent lectures? (The notice sheet has lots of info)
You can also make use of the ‘daily office’ which is the morning, evening and night prayer services for individuals and groups in the Common Worship family of resources. The links will take you to everything you need – just scroll down until you see the large red lettering each time.
Whatever you do, take responsibility for your own progress towards the Easter Jubilee that lies ahead.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
These are the days of abundance. Choose wisely and gently, for in doing so you are declaring a jubilee for yourself, a transfiguration.
Transfiguration. One of those church words, that comes with a The and a capital letter. Like Ascension or Nativity or — as Lent’s bitter-sweetness pervades our imaginations once again — the Upper Room, the Garden, the Tomb. The Transfiguration – A specific time and place. Only a few days after Peter has declared Jesus as Messiah, the Christ, maybe only a few weeks before Palm Sunday’s hosannas will rise and fall away. Probably on Mt Tabor, a suddenly rising hill in Galilee, away to the north, before the road takes him, no – before the road south to Jerusalem that he chooses with every dusty footstep.
Jesus heads up into the wild places, as usual for prayer, but this time, he invites Peter, with the brothers James and John, into the intimacy. Luke 9:29 Young’s Literal Translation gives us “and it came to pass, in his praying, the appearance of his face became altered, and his garment white — sparkling”.
For us, transfiguration has no The, no capital letter, it’s not a specific time and place. It is a long obedience in the same direction, a pilgrimage of transformation. These are the days we are given my friends, as we heard in our moments of penitence earlier, for pardon, for forgiveness, a time for amendment of life and in the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit, this is a day for healing.
And in those days, for Peter and John and James, there was more. The radiance has room for companions. The sight of Moses, the lawgiver of the covenant, and Elijah, the prophet forerunner of the coming kingdom, burst open upon their eyes. Visions? Appearances? Were they wearing name labels? These great men come, as two witnesses, to the glory of the Christ, and the legitimacy of the road he has accepted, the days he has chosen. The Transfiguration is the perfect pivot from the light of Epiphany to the deeper, richer radiance that illumines every step of the Gethsemane Road.
I said that there were two songs today.
Robin Mark 1994
These are the days of Elijah
Declaring the word of the Lord, yeah
And these are the days of Your servant, Moses
Righteousness being restored
These are the days of great trials
Of famine and darkness and sword
Still we are the voice in the desert crying
Prepare ye the way of the Lord!
Say, behold He comes, riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun, at the trumpet’s call
Lift your voice, (it’s) the year of Jubilee
Out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes
POSTSCRIPT: When I came to post this sermon online, I stumbled upon a remarkable piece of video. We are all probably used to contemporary hymns and songs having a certain style and flavour to them. I have sung Days of Elijah many times, but not once has it been anything like the US Marines singing it. I am challenged by the video, and I suspect there is something of ‘bright sadness’ in my jumbled up response to it.