Sermon preached on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Llandudno and St Tudno’s Church on the Great Orme, in the Ministry Area of Bro Tudno
The Ministry Area’s order of service with the lections, including a poem in addition to the First Reading and the Holy Gospel, can be found here.
How are you?
Only a short while ago, saying “Hello. How are you?” wasn’t to ask a serious question. “I’m fine, thank you; how are you?” was the expected, automatic response; indeed, to say anything else, actually to answer the question, was a bit odd.
And then Covid starts, and life is upended; and I find myself asking the question with purpose and care: “How are you in the middle of all of this?”; and I teach myself to listen to, to be present for, the answer.
And when the question is asked of me in turn — how am I? — I find myself reflecting, and confiding, and trusting, unexpectedly glad of a moment of communion now, a chance to talk and share.
I wonder whether — I pray that — one of the side-effects of Covid might be that simple acts of care and compassion will be more normal: Asking “How are you?” and listening to the answer. Being asked, and being listened to, deeply, in turn.
Jesus wants to talk to his disciples about his Passion, about his Crucifixion, his death and rising again. “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands,” he tells them, “and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But the disciples aren’t really listening to the answer; they aren’t really present to what’s happening around them. And they argue among themselves, about which of them is most important — an arid, compassionless conversation among the elect about status, about petty things. “Haven’t you understood,” Jesus implores of them. “God’s ways aren’t about being first, and clinging on, about hoarding and measuring. God’s ways are in the crumbs that fall from the table; what will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life? God’s way of salvation, of living, is to lose your life, to give your life for the sake of the gospel; God’s way is to seek all that is precious, not in knowledge and eminence, but in this child, this fragile human life; take up your cross, first, if you are my followers of God’s way,” Jesus entreats them, for “the Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and he will rise again.” God’s ways aren’t about being first, and clinging on, about hoarding and measuring. God’s ways are about self-emptying — Jesus on the Cross; God in abundant blessing and overflowing compassion; Christ on this altar-table; you and me in lives of gentle, yielding mercy.
I love the stained glass here at Holy Trinity — the Annunciation depicted above the west door, those red lines of glass connecting the ancient glass brought from elsewhere, to the life of this place, connecting Christ’s coming to our lives today; the windows at the east end, not only depicting the nativity but the cycle of Christ’s birth and childhood, God with us in flesh and blood, being a perfectly typical child in Bethlehem’s crib and Nazareth’s workshop, and being a perfectly extraordinary Messiah for the wise men, and the Temple’s prophets and the teachers, God with us; and the north window here, looking out to sea through the sea of saints surrounding the risen Christ, our humanity glorified, a vision of the beatitude that awaits us.
And then I catch myself thinking: Shouldn’t there be a Crucifixion scene here somewhere? Jesus wants to talk to his disciples about his Passion, about his Crucifixion, his death and rising again. “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” God with us, the beatitude that awaits us, are to be understood, to be seen, through the Cross, beyond the Cross, in the light that shines behind it.
Perhaps here, above the vestry, is your Crucifixion window at Holy Trinity. Above the vestry, in this dense pattern, shot with scarlet like blood — here is your Passion window, you Compassion window, your Covid window. “I was hungry and you gave me food,” the window says; “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus wants to talk to his disciples about his Passion, about his Crucifixion, his death and rising again. But they aren’t listening; they’re full of themselves. Haven’t you understood, Jesus implores of them. God’s ways are about self-emptying — Jesus on the Cross; God in abundant blessing and overflowing compassion; Christ on this altar-table; you and me in lives of gentle, yielding mercy.
In my time with you here, I have tended to preach (over and again, I know) about the dangers of making God too small. God is vast as the horizon beyond the Orme, wide as the sea beyond Penrhyn Bay. But let me end by reminding you, reminding myself, that God’s love is also tiny — as small as my newborn niece’s hand in mine the other day; as small as Christ’s Body in our hands today; as small as a cup of tea; as small as a smile, a phone call, a harsh word held back, a tear, a shoulder to cry on; as small as asking “How are you?” and listening to the answer, and being asked, and being listened to, deeply, in turn.
How are you? And all shall be well.