A sermon preached at Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral in Bangor at the Choral Holy Eucharist of the Sixth Sunday after Trinity 2023 • Order of service
Choral Holy Eucharist 16/07/2023
Choral Holy Eucharist of the Sixth Sunday after Trinity.Visit https://bangorcathedral.churchinwales.org.uk/Darllenfa/…
“Into the deep.” “Don’t be afraid.” “From now on.”
Some 4,000 years ago, one of my Anglesey forebears died.
Perhaps he was a powerful man. Or perhaps she was dearly loved. Or perhaps the winter had been particularly bleak, and the spring death meant much. Whatever the reason, kith and kin that year did something that they hadn’t done before. They carried the body from the village — the collection of simple round huts that was their shelter — across the Anglesey countryside to a small henge, a circle of standing stones. Perhaps they knew that their forebears, in turn, had erected that circle a thousand years earlier; or perhaps it seemed to them a natural part of the landscape; or perhaps they knew it as mysterious, a sacred gift who knows from where. But within that circle they laid the body; and others after it. Through the centre of the circle they erected some standing stones of their own with lintels atop, forming a covered passage; and over that passage they raised a mound, a cairn, of earth. The internal stones of straight covered passage through the cairn’s centre they situated with such care that each Midsummer’s Day, the longest day of the year, the rising sun, appearing over Snowdonia to the east, shone its rays directly through the portal stones at either end. As five thousand years later, as one morning this June, it does still.
Bryn Celli Ddu, the Cairn of the Dark Grove, we call that neolithic passage-tomb today. It lies outside the village of Llanddaniel Fab, the village where one of the sons of Deiniol, our founder, is said to have erected his enclosure, his own hazel bangor, early in the seventh century. On Friday, Iestyn (from our Choir) and I walked the way the son would have walked from Llanddaniel Fab to visit his father here in Bangor, across Anglesey’s fields, along the Menai Strait, and down the valley to the city. We started our journey at Bryn Celli Ddu.
Think of it, if you must, as a journey from neolithic superstition to the clearer, Christian light of this place. But, standing there, at our Friday pilgrimage’s start at Bryn Celli Ddu, I felt more connected to than estranged from those who had built it… and those who laid there. That mound of green earth, at home in its landscape, but also hallowing it; that passageway of blue stone where light and death had once met one another in peace; that simple place in Anglesey’s stillness, pregnant with the promise of dawn, of new life, of new beginning. There’s a sermon there, I thought.
“Into the deep.” “Don’t be afraid.” “From now on.” Those are the nine words, in three phrases, on Jesus’s lips, that leap out at me from today’s Gospel.
“Into the deep” is where Jesus sends his despondent disciples to cast their nets. They have been fishing all night, and theirs is not the gentle fishing of the casting of rods and the patient waiting, but the manual trawling with heavy nets, scooping up that night, time after time, a non-existent catch. But to tired, uninspired, dubting men, Jesus says “Put out into the deepwater and let down your nets.” To listen to Christ, to follow Christ, to seek Christ, our life-long task, should have to it the thrill of the depths beneath us; the expectancy of hovering over the face of the deep as at the moment of Creation; the anticipation of knowing that God will provide from those deep waters such abundance as to overwhelm all our fears of meaninglessness. “Into the deep.”
“Don’t be afraid,” he says to Peter. Faced with the awesomeness of God, that overwhelming, abundant love, that fear of meaninglessness abolished, that perfect Good, the God who can fill both boats so that they began to sink — faced with that awesomeness, Peter falls down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man!” I am, perhaps, never so aware of my own brokenness, of my own dysfunction, as when I stand face to face with that which is beautiful; I never weep for myself more that when I am embraced by that which is beyond measure generous and kind. It is one of belief’s paradoxes that, faced with perfect Truth and Love, we often respond, not with delight, but with fear our own shame and guilt. To which Jesus speaks those words of God to God’s beloved people that echo through the Bible — the words to Abraham and Hagar, to Joseph and Moses, to Paul, to the Philippians, to John the Divine, to Eljah’s widow, to the shepherds on the hillside, to Mary at the Annunciation: “Don’t be afraid.” “Don’t be afraid. For I am with you.” (Genesis 26:24) “Fear not. For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” (Luke 2:10) “Don’t be afraid. For you’ve found favour with God.” (Luke 1:30) “Fear not; I am the first and the last.” (Revelation 1:17) “Don’t be afraid. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) To listen to Christ, to follow Christ, to seek Christ is to know our forgiveness, to accept our acceptance, to be freed from our guilt. “Don’t be afraid.”
“From now on.” “From now on you will be catching people,” Jesus says to Peter. He means, from now on a new stage of listening, of following, of seeking has begun. He means, from now on you need not worry about the past, the burdens you’ve carried, the fears you’ve held, even the wrong you’ve done. He means, from now on there is a new beginning. “From now on” is a favourite phrase of the Gospel of Luke — a phrase filled with hope and needful promise. For to listen to Christ, to follow Christ, to seek Christ is to fail and to fall, you and I, time and again; to fail and to fall, to grieve and to lose, and to hear God say “from now on.” It is that dawn, that new day; that promise and that hope that there is always, in Christ, in life and beyond death, new beginning.
“Into the deep.” “Don’t be afraid.” “From now on.”
Our sermon series looks this season at the mission of the Church, and on the call of each of us, to tell, to teach, to tend, to transform and to treasure. Sometimes we can hear those calls anxiously. Christian life can become too driven by duty and demands; and the teaching of the Church either too tame for fear of scaring us, or too narrow for fear of us thinking for ourselves.
In that boat, that upturned Bryn Celli Ddu, Jesus teaches us, not how to pass an exam, not even how to be good, but how to see the light. “Put out into deep water,” he teaches us, for in the depths will you find meaning. “Don’t be afraid,” he teaches us; you are dear to me, all that you are. “From now on,” he teaches us, and from then, and from then, and from then again, life begins, and begins, forever dawning again; and Faith, and Hope, and Love, they never die.