The unlived life

This is the sermon I have preached this morning. According to our Statutes it is meant to be the bishop who preaches on Easter Day. But +Christopher is still recovering after some knee surgery – so I was able to enter the pulpit of the Cathedral and preach. As I say in the sermon I am picking up on the theme that Canon Leanne Roberts had chosen for her sermons this Holy Week; she has been our Holy Week Preacher. The title she chose for herself was ‘The Kingdom is Now: fear and the unlived life.’ I couldn’t resist adding to the stream of her thoughts – and she kindly gave me permission to do so. You can listen to all her addresses on our Facebook and YouTube platforms. The lections for today were Isaiah 65.17-25, Acts 10.34-43 and John 20.1-18. Happy Easter!

‘Mary, why are you weeping? Mary, for whom are you looking? Why are you weeping; why are you searching?’

Mary was in deep distress in the garden in the first light of dawn. She’d been there when the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb. She’d seen it with her own eyes, helped with her own hands. But now the tomb was empty, the body gone, the grave clothes left behind and there were these angels and this stranger asking annoying questions. ‘Why was she weeping; who was she looking for?’ It was obvious, or it was to her, she was looking for the one who’d given her back her life, the one who was her life, whose life had been taken from him. She was weeping for Jesus, she was looking for Jesus.

The other gospel writers give us other sets of emotions in this scene on the morning of Easter Day. They speak of fear, of terror, of anxiety. But however they describe it, we’re thrown with the women, with the disciples, with Mary, into a place in which people are in one way or another afraid.

Oscar Wilde’s ‘Selfish Giant’ has a very nice castle and a very nice garden. Having been away for seven years visiting his cousin, a Cornish giant, he comes back and finds that other people are enjoying his home. So he builds a wall, a high one, to keep the outside out, to keep others out, to keep him in. He can sit behind his strong wall and enjoy all that he has.

But the wall keeps everything out, it keeps the children out, it keeps spring out and it even keeps Christ out. Until someone makes a hole in the wall, just big enough to creep through. And spring and Jesus enter into his closed space, making not just the tree in the corner of the garden blossom but his life as well. As the spring petals fall on the dying giant the child

smiled on the Giant, and said to him, “You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.”’

Canon Leanne has been helping us to confront our fears during this Holy Week, the fear of change, of disgrace, of death, to name but three and I want to pick up on her powerful theme and address the Fear of life, the fear of living, living the unlived life.

It’s not just the giant who’s effective at building walls to keep life out. We can all be wall builders in one way or another, to protect the life that we have, the life we enjoy, the life we can cope with, and then spring fails to come and we need God to find that hole in the wall to break into our place of fear.

The prophet Isaiah in our First Reading says something so powerful

No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.

The prophet is speaking of this new heaven, this new earth, that Peter presents to Cornelius and his household, in our Second Reading. He speaks of what we’d want to call the kingdom, of which our Risen Lord is king, he speaks of a place in which we can live life to the full, not a shortened life, not a lessened life, not an unfilled life, but one in which both infant and old person live their full potential.

When I was a teenager we had the most amazing curate in our church. Fr Irving had come to us from Mirfield. He’d been born in Antigua and had come over to study. He had Sidney Poitier good looks and I’d never seen such a handsome priest let alone a black priest before. Like all of us he had basically one text and one sermon. It was this, John 10.10

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’

Abundant life, life in all its fullness, life to be properly lived, life to be embraced, life lived in the fast lane, full-fat life, in which you can be you, truly, fully, as God intended, as God created, outside the walls where Jesus died but where life sprang from the earth.

You may know the Easter hymn which begins like this

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

The final verse says this

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again.

This is what is happening in the garden and whether it evokes tears and frantic searching, whether it evokes fear or terror or anxiety or any of that rag bag of emotions that we see displayed in the Easter stories, it’s all because we sometimes fear the life that he, the risen Jesus, holds out to us, because we are too comfortable, too certain, too safe behind the walls we’ve built for ourselves or that others have built for us to contain us, too easy to live the half-life we’re living.

Am I really prepared to live my unlived life, have you really embraced life in all its fullness, are you living the abundant life that Jesus says he came to bring, is his touch bringing your wintry, grieving, painful self back to life and to a better place?

I want that life myself, I want that life for you, my sister, for you, my brother and I want that life for every person.

We’ve kept Lent, Passiontide and now Easter with the horrors of the events in Ukraine at the forefront of our minds. Lives are being destroyed, futures are being bombed out of existence and life is being lived out in an atmosphere of overwhelming fear. At the same time we’ve seen in the past few days our own government responding to what they call, ‘the People’s priorities’ by proposing to transport to a processing facility in Rwanda, those who arrive on our shores seeking a better life for them and their families. Cruel, cold, inhuman, callous – there are no good ways to describe what the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are proposing. And it needs to be said, this is about people of colour who arrive on our shores, the ones whose needs we’re being encouraged to despise. This is not the abundant life that Mary was confronted with in the garden, this is life denying, not life giving – and it’s shameful.

Instead, what we proclaim today is Jesus, demolishing the walls that divide, breaking into our locked places, dragging us into the light, holding before us the possibility, the reality of life and leading us to live our yet unlived life in the kingdom – if we dare.

Because it means you being fully you, and me being fully me, and can we bear to be whom God loves and the world and the church so often condemns?

‘Mary, why are you weeping? Mary, for whom are you looking? Why are you weeping; why are you searching?’

Mary’s tears ceased, her searching ended as she turned and recognised Jesus and he called her by her name and brought her into the first day of her new life. And he does that for each of us today, he invites us to step with him into the garden of his delight, to blossom and flourish, to bear kingdom fruit, to be fully who we are, fed and nourished as we are in this Eucharist with the fullness of his presence, the fullness of his life.

Do not fear life; embrace it, live it, be it.

Risen Lord Jesus, cast out my fear, that I may fully live, fully love, fully embrace the life that you have given to me. Amen.


‘While it was still dark’

Happy Easter. We have had a very good Holy Week at Southwark Cathedral. It was a joy to get into the church and a real joy to have Dr Paula Gooder as our guide through the week. This is the sermon I preached early on Easter Sunday. The readings were Isaiah 25.6-9, Acts 10.34-43 and John 20.1-18.

As this slow unlocking of life continues I realise that there’s so much that I’m looking forward to – something of that freedom that we used to enjoy, to do what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it, to go where we wanted to go when we wanted to go there.  I miss the theatre, and I miss restaurants, and, believe it or not, I miss hotels.  I really enjoy staying in hotels, it’s a guilty pleasure!  Airbnb is fine but there’s nothing quite like being in a hotel as far as I’m concerned.  But one thing that always frustrates us and that’s when there are insufficient plug sockets next to the bed.  We’ve resorted to always travelling with one of those multi plug extension leads in the luggage and when we’ve forgotten to take it we have to search out a hardware store wherever we are to buy one!

The reason?  Well it’s simply that there are so many things nowadays that you have to charge overnight.  There’s the phone, my watch, the iPad, maybe the Kindle if I’ve had a day of reading, my shaver, all those kinds of things.  And some of them do need to be on charge overnight and linked to the Wi-Fi so that they can update themselves and put things into the cloud and do all the work they seem to do when we’re asleep so that we can pick up our lives and our gadgets in the morning, fully charged and ready to go.

St John’s account of the resurrection begins with these words

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

So often when I’ve been thinking about Easter and Mary Magdalene in the garden I’ve been thinking about the second half of this wonderful Gospel reading.  Mary is on her own in the dawn light when she encounters Jesus, but mistakes him for the gardener, when he calls her name and she doesn’t quite realise who she’s meeting – until it all becomes clear.  And I’ve often thought about what things look like in that half-light at the beginning of the day and made that connection, which we so often do with our Easter hymns, that resurrection comes with the dawn, that life begins as the sun rises.

But Mary in fact comes to the tomb, to the garden, in the dark.  Unable to sleep, she’d picked her way through the still sleeping disciples and their companions, quietly closing behind her the door of the room where they were staying, not wanting to disturb anyone whilst they were sleeping, not wanting to have to explain to anyone what she was doing, what she was feeling or to express her raw grief to anyone else but wanting the cloak and the anonymity of the darkness to help her come to terms with what’d happened to Jesus.

And so through the dark, silent, abandoned streets she makes her way to the garden and the tomb, the cave in which she, with the other women, had left him as the sun had sunk behind the horizon and the Sabbath had begun.

‘While it was still dark’, John tells us, ‘while it was still dark’ the work of God had taken place, while the world was sleeping God was active, in the dark rather than in the dawn resurrection took place.  Even the stone had been rolled away ‘while it was still dark’, there was nothing to be done by anyone, all the work had been completed, overnight, while everyone rested, ‘while it was still dark’. God is active in the darkness, God is at work even when we are unaware that divine work is being done.

In one of his Four Quartets, ‘East Coker’ the poet T S Eliot writes this

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

It was ‘all in the waiting’. Mary was waiting, but she was waiting not as we waited for this Easter Day but waiting to complete the work of burial that she’d begun.  She could wait no longer and so she entered the darkness and discovered that in God

‘the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’

One of the images that has long been used for the resurrection is the butterfly.  If you go into the retrochoir and look at Comper’s reredos in St Christopher’s chapel you were see painted there beautiful butterflies to remind us of the new life that Jesus brings.  How can that caterpillar become the lovely butterfly, but through the tomb of the chrysalis.  Hidden away, in the darkness, out of sight the work takes place and from the darkness something amazing, something beautiful emerges.

We’ve lived through a year of waiting, of loss, of false starts, of dashed hopes, of postponed joy, of grief, of sickness.  For all of us it’s been hard, for some it has been unbearable.  And now we’re gradually emerging, looking forward to different things happening, picking up our life, embracing, loving, laughing.

But what this Easter Day reminds us is that God has been at work even in the lockdown, even in the darkness, even in our isolation, even when God has seemed very absent, even when we have felt at our most alone.  God does not have to wait for the dawn to do the work that needs to be done.  Jesus steps from the darkness of the tomb into the darkness of the world that

‘the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’

And we emerge too, daring to step into the unknown, daring to test the water of the world, daring to pick up where we left off, daring to embrace, to love, to laugh.  We’ve waited a long time for this but in Jesus, in the resurrected, butterfly-beautiful Jesus we know that

‘the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.’

The prophet Isaiah in our First Reading reassures us of the truth of all of this

Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
   This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

My friends, the night has passed, the new day has dawned, the Lord is risen and God’s work has been done.  Bread has been broken, wine has been poured, the table is set and all is ready.

We’re simply invited to step into the future and to leave the stillness behind, to join in the dance that has already begun.

God, draw us from the darkness into the light and to the banquet and the dance you have prepared for us. Amen.


I have never been a person that has enjoyed being terrified.  That does present problems when I am trying to find a film to watch.  ‘Friday Fright Night’ would not be appealing to me and I steer clear of anything that looks as though it might be frightening.  Interestingly, and against all that I have just said, one of my favourite films is ‘Psycho’.  You see, I know what is going to happen, and it is in black and white, and it is tense as opposed to scary, and anyway I think the music and the style of it are amazing.  Having said that I don’t really like shower curtains!


Enough to send a shiver down the spine!

As I was thinking about what to blog about this week when life is so strange and a bit monotonous, there was a report on the radio about a survey that had been conducted into people’s attitudes to this lock-down.  What was being highlighted in the reports was the level of fear that is around among people and, in particular, the fear of emerging from the lock-down and re-entering something that might have vestiges of normality.  Though lock-down is hard to cope with at least most of us are safe in our homes; going outside, meeting people is all of a sudden scary.

Hearing that resonated with something of what I am feeling at the moment.  My excursions from the Deanery are for these reasons – to go to the shops, especially the Borough Market which, thankfully, remains open (thanks to the traders) and our local M&S Simply Food (thanks to the staff there); to go to the Cathedral offices which I do twice a week to ‘do’ the post; and finally, to go for a proper walk, which is my version of exercise.  That is it.  I haven’t been on public transport since 15 March, my Freedom Pass is locked away! To be honest I feel quite safe and I am safely in my routine, online services, Zoom meetings, finish at 5 for the Downing Street briefing and watch ‘Gavin & Stacey’ (rationed) before I go to bed.

So I can understand the fear of what might happen when the PM says to us, ‘OK you can go out now’ or words to that effect.  How will I feel getting on the Tube, on a bus; how would I feel as a member of a real rather than a virtual congregation?  Am I becoming a little bit agoraphobic, a little bit afraid?  Is something beginning to take root within me that I need to address now?

It is a good time to ponder these things.  The twin messages of the Easter encounters with the risen Jesus are ‘Peace be with you’ and ‘Do not be afraid’.  I, we, need to hear this message.  The locked-down disciples needed to hear the message.  In the end they needed to be driven by wind and flame from their room and out into the world.  It would be a scary place for the fledgling church, not everyone was pleased to see them on the streets, to hear the Good News on the streets – but there was where God wanted, needed them to be, out there, setting their fears to one side and being the church.

As I learnt for my history ) Level, in his inaugural address in 1933 President Franklin D Roosevelt said

‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself’

Fear stifles things, but Jesus sets us free from fear.

Lord Jesus,
may fear not overwhelm us
but your life embolden us
for today,
for tomorrow.

Stations of the Resurrection

During Holy Week there is the long tradition of following the route of the Via Dolorosa, if not actually then certainly spiritually.  But there is another journey that we can make and that is through the experience of resurrection as described in scripture.  It was a journey that the disciples made, from the desolation of the Upper Room to the release from that locked-in, locked-down space into the freedom which Pentecost brought.  I have tried in this set of ‘Stations of the Resurrection’ to take us on that journey.  You can follow it on the Cathedral’s YouTube and Facebook channels – but the texts and the pictures are here for you to use in your own way and in your own time.

The Stations of the Resurrection

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The First Station : A new dawn breaks

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. (Matthew 28.1-3)

Lord Jesus, may each dawn fill us with resurrection hope. Amen.

The Second Station : The disciples run to the tomb

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Third Station Eugene Burnard

Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. (John 20.3-6)

Lord Jesus, fill us with eager anticipation for each encounter with you. Amen.

The Third Station : Touch me not

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

Mary Magdalene turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. (John 20.14-17)

Lord Jesus, may we hear you speak our name and know your love in our lives. Amen.

The Fourth Station : In the upper room

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Eighth Station tissot-the-communion-of-the-apostles-751x523

Later Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16.14)

Lord Jesus, meet me in my doubts and in my questions with the assurance of your presence. Amen.

The Fifth Station : My Lord and my God

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20.26-28)

Lord Jesus, may your peace rest upon us; may we declare you our Lord and our God.  Amen.

The Sixth Station : On the road

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. (Luke 24.13-16)

Lord Jesus, walk with us, our companion on our road.  Amen.

The Seventh Station : The breaking of the bread

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24.30-35)

Lord Jesus, feed our hunger with your bread, quench our thirst with your wine, your body, your blood.  Amen.

The Eighth Station : On the beach

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Seventh Station Jesus at the lakeside

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. (John 21.4)

Lord Jesus, may we recognise you even when we least expect you. Amen.

The Ninth Station : Come and have breakfast

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ (John 21.9-12)

Lord Jesus, meet us in the ordinary with your extraordinary love.  Amen.

The Tenth Station : Feed my sheep

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. (John 21.15-17)

Lord Jesus, feed us as we feed others, tend us as we tend others.  Amen.

The Eleventh Station : On the mount

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24.50-53)

Lord Jesus, bless us who look to you.  Amen.

The Twelfth Station : At prayer

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


The apostles were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1.14)

Lord Jesus, give us a heart to pray, to lift ourselves to you.  Amen. 

The Thirteenth Station : Wind and flame

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.


When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2.1-4)

Lord Jesus, drive us with the Spirit’s wind, warm us with the Spirit’s flame, speak through us with the Spirit’s voice.  Amen.

The Fourteenth Station : The witness

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in him shall never die. Alleluia.

Peter preaching

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. (Acts 2.14, 32)

Lord Jesus, may we be living witnesses to your life; may alleluia be our song.  Amen.

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things that are above
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Let us bless the Lord.  Alleluia, alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!


In the garden – Part two

Four hundred years ago the great Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, preached the Easter Day sermon in Whitehall before King James I and the members of his court.  It was 1620 and Andrewes was by that time resident at Winchester House on what is now Clink Street, alongside what is now Southwark Cathedral, where he is buried.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

I was reading part of his Easter Day sermon yesterday after I had posted my blog about the garden.  So I was thrilled to read these words and thought you might be too.

Christ rising was indeed a gardener, and that a strange one, Who made such a herb grow out of the ground this day as the like was never seen before, a dead body to shoot forth alive out of the grave.

But I ask, was He so this day alone? No, but this profession of His, this day begun, He will follow to the end. For He it is That by virtue of this morning’s act shall garden our bodies too, turn all our graves into garden plots; yea, will one day turn land and sea and all into a great garden, and so husband them as will in due time bring forth live bodies, even all our bodies alive again.

Mary Magdalene standing by the grave’s side, and there weeping, is thus brought to represent unto us the state of all mankind before this day, the day of Christ’s rising again, weeping over the dead. But Christ quickened her, and her spirits that were as good as dead. You thought you should have come to Christ’s resurrection to-day, and so you do. But not to His alone, but even to Mary Magdalene’s resurrection too. For in very deed a kind of resurrection it was wrought in her; revived as it were, and raised from a dead and drooping, to a lively and cheerful estate. The gardener had done His part, made her all green on the sudden.

Lord, make us your pleasant planting,
quicken us
that we may live in the garden
of your delight.

In the garden

It seems to me one of the very big divides that has been exposed by the times we are living in – these days of lockdown as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic – is that there is a section of the population who have access to a garden and a lot of people who simply don’t.  One of the joys of living in London is the sheer number of parks and public squares that we can enjoy.  These are places where people meet and gather and exercise, the places where children run around with their dogs, where you can sit alongside a stretch of water and feed the wildfowl, the places where you can admire the planting of flowers and breathe fresh air.  The open spaces are part of what makes it possible to live in London, the parks, as well as all the other public places that people can enjoy, the galleries and museums, the shops, and pubs and bars and restaurants.  London is the living room for lots and lots of people who will sleep in their studio flat but never envisaged being locked down in it.  It must be tough when we know that we should stay in to ‘stay home, protect the NHS and save lives’ but feeling that the walls are closing in on us.

Italian School; Noli me tangere

‘Noli me tangere’

The disciples were in lockdown.  They were in the Upper Room for fear, as St John constantly reminds us, of what lay outside.  They sat there waiting, but unclear of how long that wait would be.  But as dawn breaks Mary Magdalene leaves the safety of the room and steps outside.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. (John 20.1)

She makes her way to the garden where, just a few hours earlier, they had buried the dead body of Jesus, hurriedly.  Now she goes to complete the task and to weep, to be alone, but in the fresh dawn air, out of the stifling atmosphere of the locked room.

Whatever is true about Mary Magdalene, and a great deal is loaded on to her by the tradition, I always think that there is something strong and courageous about her.  There has to be a reason why she was chosen to be the ‘Apostle of the Apostles’, the first witness to the resurrection.  She must have had qualities that the others simply didn’t display.  So, regardless of all the conventions of the day, it is a woman, this woman who is chosen to be the principle messenger to the waiting, locked-down world of what God had done for humanity.  History shows us that she, with all her sisters were subsequently sidelined by a male, patriarchal church and that it would take two millennia for the voice from the garden to be heard. But we hear her voice today.

‘I have seen the Lord’ (John 20.18)

In what have become regular visits for me to the Holy Land I have been trying to discover new places, the ‘Hidden and Holy’ as I have been calling them.  Obviously, they aren’t new and I haven’t discovered them.  But they are places that are new to me and, I suspect, less often visited by busy pilgrims.  One such place is St Jacob’s Orthodox Cathedral. It is set on the courtyard that is in front of the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  As you are looking at the entrance, the doorway to the Cathedral is on your left.

To be honest I hadn’t noticed the door until recently and I don’t know what the opening hours are.  But on the last two occasions it has been open and I have gone in.  What is amazing is that as you enter you come first to an ‘outside’ sanctuary.  The iconostasis is covered but the rest of the space is open to the elements.

Outside sanctuary

The beautiful ‘outside’ sanctuary

There are some doors which then take you to the ‘inner’ sanctuary, a lovely space, one or two people there, saying their prayers, an ancient font, lovely icons.

Inner sanctuary

The ‘inner’ sanctuary

But what is very special is the shrine that is in the outside sanctuary.  It stands where the sun can shine on it and the rain can fall upon it.  It stands on the spot where Mary met the gardener, met Jesus.  We are just a few meters away from the Edicule which enshrines Christ’s tomb.  Where St Jacob’s now stands was in that same garden, just a stone’s throw away where Mary wept and was found by the stranger who called her by name.  I found the place deeply powerful.


The place of encounter

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were placed in a garden where God walked alongside them – and then, through sin, they were barred from it.  An angel with a flaming sword stood at the entrance and none could enter.  Jesus is raised to new life in another garden; another angel is there with a caring question, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ (John 20.13) and an invitation to see.  Mary is in the life-giving place where the one who has set free from her sins, encounters her and names her.

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). (John 20.15-16)

This year we are locked out of our churches as we are locked down in our homes.  But in those moments when you can emerge, get out, breathe fresh air, find that ‘garden’ space and meet the Lord there.  As the poet Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

May we too meet the Lord and hear his voice, naming us, in the garden of his delight.

Jesus, risen Lord,
meet us where we are,
name us and bless us.

The empty shell

This is the sermon I preached this morning at Southwark Cathedral.  As a consequence of the way things work out (some of this is to do with the Cathedral Statutes) I get to preach at the 9.00am Eucharist, which is lovely.  Our ‘nine o’clockers’ are not like some of the ‘early service’ congregations that you get in the Church of England but they don’t normally get to sing.  So Christmas and Easter are their opportunities to add to the chorus of the church on those feasts.  Anyway, enough of that – this is what I said to them.  The lections were Isaiah 65.17-25, Acts 10.34-43 and John 20.1-18.

Easter would not be Easter without an Easter egg or two or three.  But which to choose from?  There are so many out there, all looking equally delicious, all looking equally fattening.  The most popular has to be, of course, the wonderful, delicious Cadbury’s Creme Egg.  Is it the thick chocolate coating?  Is it that white and golden fondant filling?  Is it the thrill of getting the wrapping off it?  Whatever it is the Cadbury Creme Egg is the most popular of all Easter eggs and over 500 million of them are manufactured every year with about two thirds of that number being enjoyed in the UK alone!  So, that is a staggering three and a half Cadbury Creme Eggs for every person in the country to enjoy – and someone is eating mine because I don’t eat them.


Happy Easter!

But, brothers and sisters, I need to denounce them as heretical eggs.  This innocent looking shiny egg, available singly or in packs of three or even ten I believe, is peddling a lie.  The really good Christian egg has nothing inside it, not a bag of buttons, or Smarties or Thornton’s Continentals and certainly not stuffed full of delicious sticky white and golden fondant.  It’s a scandal that such an egg is so enjoyed!  The really true Christian egg is nothing other than an empty shell, break it open and there’s nothing inside.

When the disciples had left the tomb on Friday, as the sun was setting and the Sabbath was beginning, they rolled the stone across the entrance, sealing the dead body of Jesus inside.  In the first light of a new day Mary Magdalene makes her way back to the garden, creeps from the Upper Room where they’re all staying, eager not to disturb her exhausted and devastated friends.  In the half light she gets into the garden and sees the tomb and that the stone has been rolled away and her response is to run.  Something devastating, unbelievable has happened and she has to tell the others.

So she gets back to the room and wakes them up and Peter and John join her in running back again to where Jesus had been buried.  The sun was now rising and things could be more clearly seen.  And we get this race, young John outrunning the others and arriving first.  But in his youthful enthusiasm he’s unsure what to do.  He looks inside but doesn’t go inside, but breathless Peter arriving, has no hesitation and enters the empty space.

All of the gospel writers are clear that the tomb was empty, just a hollow shell, and not a scene of disorder, not a scene of chaos but of something almost planned, deliberate.

‘He saw the linen wrappings lying there’ it said in the gospel ‘and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.’

Things are mentioned in the gospels for a reason and John tells us deliberately about the order that exists in the empty tomb.  Those linen wrappings so carefully wound by the women around the body of Jesus, that cloth that’d covered his sacred head, are now folded, rolled, set aside, not discarded.

We run into a field as children.  There’s a bird’s nest in the tree above us.  It’s spring and the blossom and the fresh leaves are dressing what’d been cold bare winter branches.  In the grass we find an egg, but it’s just a shell, an empty, speckled shell.  A baby bird has hatched and flown.

Easter Day is a day of new creation.  That is what our First Reading was reminding us of.

I am about to create new heavens
   and a new earth.

says God through the prophet.  New heavens and new earth, in the dew covered freshness of a new day, in a new garden in which God will once more walk and ‘Ave’, hail a new woman whose name is spoken as creation begins again.

Peter is speaking to Cornelius and his household in our Second Reading and he speaks of his calling to be a witness.  He went into that emptiness, into the empty shell that’d once held Jesus.  But like a broken egg it contained nothing.  The chaos of Good Friday had been replaced by the order of the day of creation.  But what Peter is witnessing to is not a great absence but a great presence.  It could seem that the empty tomb is a symbol of the absence of God but it speaks to us in another way entirely.

The Welsh priest-poet, R S Thomas, in his poem ‘The Empty Church’ talks of the ‘stone trap’ that we made for God, but God escaped and is free.  They couldn’t nail him to the cross nor seal him in a tomb.  God chose, in the incarnation to become as we are but in the resurrection God is as we will become, liberated, part of this new heaven and new earth, enjoying the freedom of the new creation.

The images that we saw last Monday of the Cathedral of Notre Dame being engulfed in flames were terrifying.  Many of us will have walked into that vast church, stood beneath those monumental towers.  It was a building that seemed as solid as the island it stood on.  But it was so easily taken over by flames and what’d seemed so strong became something so fragile, something that seemed so permanent became something so vulnerable.  The moment the spire collapsed was one of those moments that will stay with me – a powerful image.

But even more powerful were the images that then emerged when the flames were extinguished and the emergency services gained access to the building.  It could’ve been an empty shell that confronted them, but it wasn’t.  The most wonderful sight was to see the golden cross, shining, somehow, in the darkness, standing, ordered, above the disorder of the rubble around it.

Notre Dame

Order in disorder

Peter went in and found the tomb empty, not abandoned in haste but left in order.  The two men left believing but not understanding, not understanding what this filled emptiness meant.

Emptiness can easily open up in our lives, suddenly, without warning.  Emptiness can take over in our society, a lack of leadership, a lack of vision, a lack of direction.  We rightly fear the vacuum that’s created that anything and anyone can fill.  But what we celebrate today is not the absence of God but the presence of God, the freedom of God, the life of God, who cannot be trapped and held and controlled and contained but is with us, meeting us in the garden of the new creation.

That was Mary’s witness to the others, that was Peter’s witness, that was the apostles’ witness, that is the witness of the church of the resurrection and that was the witness of that image from Paris emblazoned across the front pages, the ordered cross, majestic, in the midst of chaos, filling that empty, tomb like space.

Thomas ends his poem ‘The Empty Church’ like this

Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illuminated walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

The someone greater is Jesus, who walks from the tomb whilst the others run, who meets Mary in her grief with words of comfort, who calls us by name even when we don’t recognise him, who confronts our fragility and survives our fires with a life that cannot be defeated.

Life was born from the shell of the empty tomb and it is the life that we are living, the life fed by Christ’s sacramental presence at this altar on this glorious Easter morning.  Into our disorder God brings order; to what is old and broken God brings what is new and complete. This is Easter. The Lord is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Lord Jesus,
re-order, re-new, re-birth my life
with the power of your

A touch of doubt

It’s that Sunday when we remember again ‘Doubting Thomas’ and there’ll be many sermons, I suspect, encouraging us not to worry about the doubts that we have.  I’ve said a lot about that over the past weeks and during Holy Week about that subject whilst we had Susie MacMurray’s art installation, ‘Doubt’ hanging as a cloud over our heads.  So this is a very short blog.  But I just wanted to share with you one lovely thing – well, I thought it was lovely.

Doubt 4

A little bit of doubt amongst the blooms

The Easter Garden at Southwark Cathedral has had to be, for various reasons, relocated and so it has given members of the Flower Guild the space to do something a bit different.  Where it has ended up happens to be right next to my stall and I was looking down at the daffodils and primulas (not very Jerusalem authentic I suspect) and the olive trees (better!) and I saw amongst it all some of the netting that had been rescued from the cloud when it had been taken down on Holy Saturday.  Hidden there, a little bit of doubt, the permission to ask the questions that as people of faith we should ask, we need to ask, the questions that Paul asks about resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 – and goes on to answer.

We need honest, not simplistic engagement with the gospel and with Jesus and the sight of the remnant of the cloud against the empty cross and amongst the spring blooms gave me encouragement to continue in my own deepening of faith through asking questions.

Bless us Lord
in our believeing
in our questioning;
bless us in our doubting
in our questing;
bless us in our journey of faith.

Triduum – The tomb

The tomb of Jesus has been in the news recently.  Whilst I was in Jerusalem on sabbatical the unheard of thing happened.  The tomb was closed to visitors for two days.  Not in recent history had this happened and it came after a long period of negotiation between the various denominations that have rights and vested interests in this most sacred place.  The tomb itself is located in what is called the Aedicule which is the free standing chapel under the rotunda.  I can’t say that it’s my favourite structure.  But what made it even more ugly than I think it is was the metalwork cage that seemed to surround it, to keep it together.  That was put in place during the period of the British Mandate in order to keep the structure in one piece.  But even that, for all its ugliness, was beginning to fail.  The Aedicule had been rebuilt in 1809-10 in the style described as Ottomon Baroque but it surrounded the original tomb which had become isolated from the mountain of which it was originally part.  The place where the body of Jesus was laid had been clad in marble to protect it from holy souvenir hunters.  But when the cladding was removed on 26 October and the material that lay beneath it removed, it was found by nightfall on 28 October that the original limestone burial bed was intact. This suggested to the archaeologists working on the project that the tomb location has not changed through time and confirmed the existence of the original limestone cave walls within the Aedicule.

The tomb was then sealed up and, when I went in as soon as it was open to pilgrims again, all I could see was fresh mortar between the marble panels.  But now, all the restoration work has been completed and the Aedicule is in a sound state to welcome millions more across its threshold, into the first chamber and then the burial place itself. It will be from this restored Aedicule that the Holy Fire will emerge for the first time this Easter.

The wraps coming off the restored Aedicule

But, to be honest, it still is a mammoth task of the imagination to imagine that this chapel, freestanding, under the dome was part of a cave in a rock into which had been carved a tomb.

Mark tells us all about it.

Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. (Mark 15.46)

Matthew tells us exactly the same thing as does Luke.  It’s John who adds a few more details

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. (John 19.41)

But whether it was in a garden or not it’s clear that the tomb was hewn into the rock but the pilgrim can feel very disconnected with that.  But behind the Aedicule in the wall of the rotunda, close to the Coptic altar that clings to the back of the tomb is a little doorway that leads to somewhere more hidden and holy.

If you go through you find a kokhim complex, a series of passages cut into the rock in which are tombs (there is fantastic example alongside the road down the Mount of Olives which is signposted as the Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi).  Pilgrims clamber through the small opening and with a torch can make out the chambers, cold empty holes cut into the rock.  Some say that this was where Joseph of Arimathea, the same Joseph you gave his tomb to Jesus, was buried.  We don’t know that.  But what this place does help us do is to make a bit of a connection with what the original tomb of Jesus might have been like.

The emptiness of these tombs, the sense of abandonment that surrounds them is, of course, important.  The tomb is just the tomb, the place of resurrection, but abandoned, vacated, left behind. The very emptiness is a challenge to death and you get a sense of that in this great poem by John Donne called ‘DEATH, be not proud, though some have called thee’, one of his Holy Sonnets.

DEATH, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

It’s a really, aggressive, almost cheeky, confident response to death, with that final cry of victory ‘Death, thou shalt die’. What could be stronger. So, however good the Aedicule now looks, it has to be an empty experience for the pilgrims who enter it if it is to speak properly of the resurrection to which it testifies. Those who bow and enter through its door must leave almost disappointed – there is nothing in it.

Abandoned .. empty

The stark ending to St Mark’s Gospel always has the ring of authenticity about it. The angel says to the women who have entered the tomb

‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16.6-8)

We won’t find Jesus in the tomb – we must always meet him in the ‘Galilee’ of the world.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

My Holy Week – The Eighth Day

Yes, I know, it’s not Holy Week but that’s my point. This Sunday is one of my favourite days in the year. We call it ‘Low Sunday’ for some reason but in many ways it’s as high and celebratory as last Sunday, as Easter Day itself. This is the eighth day, we have come full circle, back to where we began. But there is no sense of deja-vu, this is a new beginning in itself. That’s why it’s so sad when people seem to think that this is a Sunday they can legitimately have off, as though arriving at Easter Day was such an effort that they need to put their spiritual feet up, turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. There is no such thing as a Low Sunday. Every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection, every Sunday is an eighth day, a recapitulation of the resurrection – and it is thrilling.

That sense of repetition is found in St John’s account of what happened this day.

‘A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.’ (John 20.26)

Thomas meets Jesus on the eighth day

Thomas meets Jesus on the eighth day

They were there again, in that room where everything seemed to happen. But as John goes on to say ‘the doors were still shut’. But Jesus breaks into that space and says ‘Peace be with you.’ It was the same greeting as on the first day and Thomas was there to hear it.

The church exists in this eighth day. We’re people of the new creation and whilst the first day of the week is important it is always the eighth day for us when new creation, resurrection happens.

I’m sorry that Octaves in the life of the church seem to have diminished in importance. The Easter Octave remains quite powerful, the Christmas one seems to be less so – and that is it, no more Octaves in the calendar. But this cycle of eight days of celebration that we can have serves to reinforce this point that the Christian week extends beyond the week, that we haven’t finished celebrating until we revisit the feast, revisit the place, for as Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

So this for me has been a week of celebration, Easter Week, brought full circle to this Octave Day and then beyond. For we’re called to live in the new, not the old creation, in the new, not the old dispensation, in the new not the old covenant and to know that peace which Jesus brings again and again into the spaces where he finds us.

Lord, easter me,
recreate me,
not only on the first,
not only on the eighth,
but on every day.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark