Sermon for 9.30am Parish Eucharist at the Barn Church Kew on Sixth Sunday of Easter 9 May 2021 preached by the Revd Sister Margaret Anne ASSP
Today my sermon will be shorter than usual, as this service will be followed by the APCM. Yesterday was the feast day of Julian of Norwich. In was on that day, 8th May 1373, when a young priest went to visit Julian, who was gravely ill and thought to be dying. The priest held a crucifix before her face. Then Julian, aged 30, received a series of sixteen visions, which revealed to her in most vivid form the sufferings of Christ crucified and the love of God. Julian recovered from her illness, and spent the next 20 years of her life as an anchoress reflecting on the spiritual and theological meaning of her visions. She recorded her reflections in her book The Revelations of Divine Love, or Showings. This was to be the first book written by a woman in English. Julian was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote the Canterbury Tales. As an anchoress, Julian was attached to the Church of St Julian in Norwich, where she lived in seclusion in her cell, though people did seek her out for counsel, such as Margery Kempe. Julian died around the year 1417.
One of the most famous passages from her book is that of a description of a hazel nut lying in the palm of her hand. In this small hazel nut she sees in her imagination the love of God. Julian writes:
“In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the Creator and the protector and the lover”.
God was able to teach Julian spiritual lessons through nature, and God can do the same with us. As with Julian, God can communicate some spiritual nugget to us through the wonders of nature, when we are simply walking in a green space. And south-west London is greatly blessed with such spaces, such as Richmond Park and Kew Gardens, to name just two of them.
It is a church tradition to have readings in our Sunday services from the Acts of the Apostles in Eastertide. And no wonder, for Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles is full of stories of amazing events and healing miracles and stories of new life bursting forth in people’s lives; there is a lot of energy and joy as the new-born Church starts to flex its muscles and grow. Acts is full of an upbeat enthusiasm and energy that we associate with the meaning of Easter. In today’s reading from Acts we have the end of the account in chapter 10 of Peter’s visit to the household of Cornelius, who is a Gentile centurion in Caesarea. As Peter preaches to Cornelius and those standing around, the Holy Spirit, we are told, “fell upon all who heard the word”. This is a very significant moment in Acts, for it is the moment when Peter realises that even the Gentiles can be accepted by God and baptised as followers of Christ.
Our gospel reading today from John continues on from last Sunday, taken from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples, before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Jesus comforts his disciples by declaring his love for them, and asks them to abide in his love. They are to love one another as he has loved them. He declares that his followers are his friends. The greatest love that a friend can show, is to lay down one’s life for a friend. And this is precisely what Jesus himself will do, in his death on the cross. Jesus appoints his friends, his followers, to bear lasting fruit in his name. And that is our call: to bear fruit in lives of loving service and obedience. This will bring both joy and suffering. Following Jesus is costly, but he has promised us abundance of life in him.
As Eastertide continues and we approach Ascensiontide, may we reflect on all that Christ has accomplished for us in completing his work on earth and raising our humanity heavenwards, and making possible for us continual communion with God. And despite our own personal challenges, particularly in this time of global pandemic, and also the conflicts of the wider world, let us remember the prophetic words of Julian of Norwich:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”.