When dramatic presentation as a means of communicating Christ’s Passion grew in popularity greater numbers of participants were needed, so it became necessary for the laity to take part, broadening further the possibility of fostering hatred. Increasingly so cities sought to outdo each other in their quest for greater elaboration. The developments were rapid and due to their immense popularity performances spilt out of the church building into the public square drawing in ever increasing numbers. And with these great festivals frenzy amongst the crowds was nurtured.

Over the years it would become a feature of Good Friday services to end with worshippers wanting to vent their anger at the betrayal and death of Christ, and if there were Jews in the community, then they were the obvious target. This was not something that would easily fade away in the following years, far from it, in fact the tragedy was that it would persist and grow. Right across Europe, well into the last century, Jews would justifiably fear Good Friday; they would shut up shop, board up their windows, bar their doors and stay at home.

It is ironic that John’s account of the Gospel claimed that on the night of the resurrection disciples of Jesus would hide behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”


  • What happens when the miracles no longer occur?
  • Or our prayers go unanswered?
  • Or the ideas for the forthcoming sermon dry up?
  • When the screen is blank and the finger doesn’t quite know which keys to press?

We have all been there surely.

There is a temptation to download something from the internet and pretend it was a spark of creative genius – somewhat different to our normal offering. We get caught out of course, we get caught out when the illustrations speak of ‘visiting the mall’, and worse still ‘after the ball game!’ Even the least attentive of congregations will sit up at that. Well, I’d hope so! But nothing is guaranteed in this life, except death and taxes as they say.

The reading from Joshua  refers to the time when the people had concluded the journey through the wilderness. They now camp at Gilgal surveying the city of Jericho down below. A flat fertile area surrounds it – which is why it is the longest inhabited city to this day, even if it has moved a mile or two south over the centuries. No longer can the people rely on the miraculous manna of the wilderness years. Now the people must forage for their food, before they can capture the land and transition from a nomadic tribe to an agrarian nation.

There are three points we can draw from this passage:

  1. We are not where we once were
  2. There is a real necessity for ritual
  3. If the miracles don’t happen – keep at it

 1 We are not where we once were.

The passage begins by reminding the people that they have left Egypt. The shame of those days are over. You were once slaves, says the writer, but you are now free. Your destiny is about to unfold.

The passage doesn’t direct the people to forget those days. Far from it. The passage begins with this reminder of that from which they have come.

One of the wisest things my college principal Graham Slater shared with us, and he shared many wise things, was at our ordinands’ testimony service. ‘Never forget,’ he said, ‘what it was like to be a lay person’. For those of us with potentially 40 years of ministry ahead, it was not bad advice.

I cannot forget how hard it was to get up at 6, drive 36 miles to work, put in 9 hours on a building site, drive home again and attend Church Council, or do a pastoral visit, or prepare for Sunday. Nor can I forget, and nor would I wish to, that I grew up on a National Coal Board Estate. And without repeating a Monty Python sketch where each tries to do outdo the other with tales of their poverty- I can say that it was not always easy – especially during the 3 day week. Enough said.

We know from where we have come. And we must not forget. But today we are not where we were – physically, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. We have brought with us to this place and time the experience of our years:

  • The stories we have had the privilege of hearing as ministers of Christ.
  • The post Church Council sleepless nights.
  • The awkward so and so who moans about the fact we didn’t have Christians Awake salute the happy morn on Christmas morning.

All of these things have helped make us what we are. Today, we are no longer where we were. And because of it we have much to share with others on their journey.

2 There is a real necessity for ritual.

When our creative thoughts seem to desert us, and the page for Sunday’s sermon looks blank, it’s the routine of our daily devotions, our spiritual rhythm and our belonging to a sacramental community that come to our rescue.

The first thing the Israelites did on their passage from wilderness to a settled state was to celebrate Passover. A reminder of their past, yes as we have mentioned, but also the sustaining expression of present belonging. Circumcision for the male members of the community had not been possible, but it was the ritual of Passover that had provided a sense of full participation in the community of Israel during those wilderness years.

The Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated at Passover in 1943. Despite the fact that rumours had been circulating for some days many households still prepared the Pesach table. On the 19th of April 1943, Passover eve, the Germans entered the ghetto. One survivor, Tuvia Borzykowski, a member of the Jewish Fighting Organization, described the Seder in Rabbi Eliezer Meisel’s apartment:

Amidst this destruction, the table in the center of the room looked incongruous with glasses filled with wine, with the family seated around, the rabbi reading the Haggadah. His reading was punctuated by explosions and the rattling of machine-guns; the faces of the family around the table were lit by the red light from the burning buildings nearby.

In his book Vision of a World Hungry, Thomas Pettepiece gives an account of his first Easter Sunday as a political prisoner. There wasn’t a scrap of bread available, nor water, let alone wine. But the non-Christian prisoners walked quietly so as to enable the Christians to gather and to celebrate the Eucharist without elements. The lack of bread reminded them of the hunger of millions. The absence of wine reminded them of the blood that had already been poured out on the streets. So, in silence, each communicant passed an imaginary bread hand to hand, with the words ‘Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ Each raised their hands to their mouths, receiving Christ in silence. And the same with an imaginary cup; taking it to their lips the covenant with Christ was sealed. Later non-Christian prisoners spoke of the impact this silent communion, with neither bread nor wine, had upon them. Some became strengthened even to face their trials because of this witness.

Such is the power of ritual, and its significance in both belonging to and sustaining ministry here and now in the hard times.

This second point is closely related to our third and final point:

3 If miracles don’t happen – keep at it.

Whenever I hear the song Eleanor Rigby I always pause to pay homage to our faithful colleague Fr McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear, for no one comes near; darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, and what does he care? But who is it? Who is it that conducts the final ritual for Eleanor Rigby? Who is there for her as she is lowered into the ground?

And more recently Sean Bean’s Fr Michael in the TV series Broken serving in an inner city parish, reassuringly flawed, but a confidant, counsellor and confessor to a community struggling to reconcile its beliefs with the challenges of daily life.

The experience of the Israelites as they travelled through the wilderness and arriving at the gates of Jericho was one of persistence and resilience. The miracles had ceased but they pressed on. It wasn’t that the Chosen People of God were perfect, far from it. They were chosen for many reasons and it certainly wasn’t perfection. One reason could have been the recognition that they were flawed, that they were an argumentative bunch, that they challenged even God.

I want to close with a report from 1985. A Times journalist reflecting back on the events of that year. I paraphrase it as I can’t recall the exact words. But it went something like this:

A famine had swept across the great plains of Africa. It was of biblical proportions. People were dying in their tens and hundreds of thousands. And from heaven God looked down upon his world and wept. He resolved that something needed to be done. So, as the journalist reported, like the gods of old this one too came down to earth. He sought to find a great leader who could turn the people’s hearts to the suffering of the Ethiopian nation and respond with great acts of charity. So God knocked on a door. The only trouble was this God was not infallible – he had knocked on the wrong door. It was opened by someone looking much the worse for wear.

‘Who the hell are you?’ asked God.

The reply came ‘Bob Geldof.’

‘Bob Geldof?’ responded God. ‘Oh well, never mind, you’ll have to do.’

The rest, they say, …..

Each and every one of us, whatever our length of travel as Methodist ministers, presbyters and deacons, have come a long way. We are not where we once were. We have brought with us stories of our experience. We are bound together in ritual and the rhythms of the spiritual life and liturgical calendar. And even when it gets as tough as it possibly can we will press on come what may toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Because one day, one day, some time ago, God knocked on our door and said, ‘Oh well, never mind, you’ll have to do.’

Friends, or, as I would prefer, brothers, for it is my belief that we are all brothers in faith.

Our world should stand still today.

Our world should stand still and reflect on what is happening to us.

The appalling terrorist attack on mosques in New Zealand is another indication of the breakdown of social cohesion. This hatred that is taking root across our world has to be challenged and overcome by those who stand for righteousness, justice and truth. Wherever we are and to whichever faith community we belong it is incumbent upon us to love one another and to build communities of respect and trust.

My prayers are with our Muslim neighbours in both New Zealand, across the world and here in Lincoln today. An attack on a person of faith because of their faith is an attack on us all – we are all children of God and stand in solidarity with one another.

The Christian Knights Templar, of which at least one of the terrorists claims to belong, is a vile and abhorrent organization that has no place in a just world. Those who take a life are not acting in God’s name but out of their own evil intentions to divide and disfigure our world. They seek to bring hell to the lives of others but in the end they only bring hell upon themselves.

Our world should stand still today.

Our world should stand still today and with one voice declare that prejudice and hatred of our neighbour irrespective of colour, culture or creed is unacceptable to us all.

As sisters and brothers of faith please permit me to share a prayer which is from the Islamic tradition but should be the prayer of us all:

I invoke the perfect words of Allah
from which neither a good person
nor a bad one can escape

for protection against any evil
that may come down from the sky or rise up to it

and any evil that may be planted in the earth
or spring forth from it

against the evil of the tests of the night
and the tests of the day

and the evil of the happenings of night and day
save only the happening that brings good

O Most Beneficent One!


It is impossible for me to imagine the grief of those who mourn today or the fear some of you feel, for if worshippers are not safe in New Zealand then nowhere in this world is safe.

When I heard the news this morning my heart broke and tears fell from my eyes. All that I have to offer is a hand, an open hand extended in friendship, please take it and let us together work as sisters and brothers of faith.

Joel 2.1-2, 12-17


The English translation speaks of a trumpet being blown in Zion. It was actually a ram’s horn, the shofar. In this instance the shofar acts as a warning to the people: catastrophe is about to fall upon the land – a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness no less! Although not named as such, the powerful army of which the prophet speaks that will cause such destruction is actually a plague of locusts.

Today’s recommended passage omits verses 3-11. Those verses describe this enemy’s approach as being like that of horsemen and chariots; they will consume the straw so fiercely that it will sound like fire and like warriors they will scale the walls of the city and terrify the inhabitants.

For a few decades we, in this small corner of God’s world, have tended to be pretty immune to the sort of disaster that Joel describes. I say a few decades because in reality it was not so long ago that even those who lived on these islands were dependent upon the harvest and weather in much the same way as billions are still dependent to this day. But many of us here have become so wealthy that strawberries can be provided all year round, the shelves in our supermarkets are stacked high with food, and no one need fear the supply; providing of course we have money in the bank and Brexit doesn’t go badly wrong. Thankfully some of us are growing more aware of how fragile planet Earth is; how vulnerable we and all God’s creatures are to global warming and changing weather patterns. A fear of impending disaster is beginning to rise amongst us.

In his dystopian novel The Road Cormac McCarthy tells us of a journey undertaken by a father and his young son. The landscape through which they travel has been ravaged. They are making their way to the coast avoiding lawless bands who scavenge what is left of this ash-ridden world. They have no idea what they will find at their intended destination. The book is both relentless and gripping. The reader is not told of what has caused this ecological calamity, whether it is nuclear conflagration or environmental meltdown. In a sense it matters not – it is as it is. Yet in this imaginary bleak world, seemingly devoid of any hope, the relationship between parent and child is all that matters. Each sustains the other for each is to the other the world entire. Eventually the destination is reached, the father hands the son on –– the boy has to live his life without the father, but the lessons have been taught and learned, it’s now up to the rising generation, for their time has come.

I can’t help feeling that like the child in the novel, we too have been brought to our destination – the charge has been handed on to us, we have been given the responsibility of caring for this planet and for those who live on it.

In our passage today we read of God’s gracious and unrelenting faithfulness in the face of disaster; but action has not yet taken place to deal with that disaster. So the horn is blown a second time, not in warning as before, nor in celebration of what has been achieved, for nothing yet has been done to save the world, but as a call to action on the part of the people. Young and old are called out, the bride and bridegroom from their wedding and the priests to weep and plead with God.

Today we are somewhere between the first horn signalling a danger and the second calling us to action. Many of us have heard the first horn but not the second. We are still messing about with the stuff that won’t save us or our planet. We are in a sort of denial or sense of impotence. We know that the earth is groaning not toward perfection but destruction. Yet we haven’t quite yet recognised in sufficient numbers what we must do or indeed developed a satisfactory urgency to respond appropriately.

However I just get the feeling that the trumpeter may well be picking up the shofar for a second time right now.

Luke 9.32

Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.

  1. They were weighed down with sleep
  2. But they stayed awake
  3. The consequences of such vigilance, not only for the three disciples but for the Church today.

Now, it would not be the last time the disciples would be weighed down with sleep.

In a garden after their last meal together the disciples would struggle to stay awake – the consequences of course were catastrophic.

But feeling sleepy or even falling asleep is natural. We need rest to be active, just as we need night to face the day, darkness to appreciate the light, doubt even to rejoice in faith.

Statistics show that in Sweden depression increases not in the long, long nights of winter but in the long, long drawn out days of summer – the darkness, taking a rest from frenetic activity is clearly important.

Which is one of the reasons why it is sometimes claimed that it is not so much that Jews have kept the Sabbath but that the Sabbath has kept the Jews. This weekend has been Shabbat UK – the Chief Rabbi’s initiative to encourage people to take Sabbath rest more seriously. Last year, inspired by the Chief Rabbi’s initiative, the Lincolnshire Methodist District launched Sabbath Lincolnshire for the 1st Sunday in Lent, no better day perhaps to consider refraining from the temptations of this world, for example by limiting our use of social media for just 24 hours. Both Shabbat UK and Sabbath Lincolnshire were amongst others featured in yesterday’s edition of the Times no less.

So rest is acknowledged as important.

Jesus himself of course would be sound asleep in the stern of the boat as the storm tossed it from side to side. Only when the disciples sensed they were about to drown did they wake him.

There is nothing wrong in being weighed with sleep or even undertaking necessary rest to face the challenges that lie ahead. But when that challenge is imminent, and maybe even existential, it is important to be alert.

Leaving Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat could have resulted in disaster for the disciples.

Falling asleep in the garden, despite the repeated warnings of Jesus, meant the guards could arrest Jesus before anyone was able to take preventative action.

But when Jesus took Peter, John and James up the mountain to pray the disciples, though were weighed down with sleep, they stayed awake.

Second point: They stayed awake

In so doing they were able to catch a glimpse of the significance of Jesus: standing between Moses and Elijah Jesus was the fulfilment of both Law and Prophecy. This had become quite clear to the disciples only because they had stayed awake. They had remained alert to possibility. They did not miss what may have been a very brief but hugely significant moment in time.

Years later the second generation of Christians would draw on this analogy to urge action on the part of believers.

Ephesians 5:

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

The days are evil. Do not be foolish and sleep through them. Be alert and understand what the will of the Lord is.

It is often claimed that the early Methodists helped save Britain from the same fate as revolutionary France. Take note populists and extremists, revolutions never end well. It is also claimed that the Methodist movement saved the Church of England by reawakening the established Church to the dire circumstances of the rural parishes and the injustices created by the urbanisation of the Industrial Age. Just as the Reformation led to the Counter Reformation and the reawakening of the Catholic Church, so the Methodist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries alerted the wider Church to both the dangers and the possibilities of socio-economic and cultural change. Even if such claims are sometimes exaggerated it is evident that those who remain alert to what is going on about them are more likely to respond much quicker to the dangers and even warn others.

The role of Watchman in ancient cities was a serious one, just take a look at the Hebrew Scriptures if you need convincing. The Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams identified three roles for the priest or minister: weaver, witness and watchman. It’s a serious business staying alert. It’s a serious undertaking both in church and community to be the one who looks out for danger.

So, the third and final point:

The consequences of such vigilance, not only for the three disciples on the mountain but for the Church today are compelling.

There is surely no doubt about it – these are unprecedented times for our nation. We have not been as divided for a very long time. We may also end up more isolated in the family of nations than we have been for a very long time. We are indeed living in difficult days. Similarly to many other parts of the world, populism is fuelling extremism. Meanwhile the planet itself is not groaning towards perfection but destruction. And we feel impotent in the face of such crises. It is as if we are weighed down with sleep. The challenges of our world seem far too big for us to do anything about them. We may even be tempted to find a corner, curl up and wait for it all to pass.

But this is not the way. It was not the way in which the disciples were able to still the storm and save themselves. Nor was it the way in which they could have saved the Christ in the garden.


Today they still come.

They still come for him.

They still seek to silence him.

They do so by coming for us.

They come seeking to silence our protestations against persecution and poverty in a world of riches.

They still seek to undermine the teaching of Jesus and the actions of his disciples. They do so because we, and the breadth of God’s love, are such a big threat to their narrow minds and manifestos.

In other words those of us who work for a better world – welcoming the stranger in our midst, feeding the hungry at the foodbank, sheltering the homeless from the storm, telling those who spew out their divisive and racist filth on social media: that this will not do, are a massive threat to those who seek power over others.

Sleepwalking at such a time as this, is not the way in which we will see the glory of God. Everything our forebears and predecessors have worked for can be snuffed out whilst we sleep. Every fibre of our being has to stay alert, see what Jesus offers in our context and catch a glimpse of his glory in our world today. Then, and maybe only then, can we climb down from the mountain top and, with renewed and resolute confidence, work amongst the stuff of life: the political world, the world of education, of commerce, of leisure and sport, and dare I say it, even in the world of religion. For there are many who prefer to focus their attention on what is happening insider the four walls of the Church than on what needs to be addressed outside them in the market place, on the streets and in the homes and corridors of influence and power.

I close not with the lyrics of a Charles Wesley hymn but those of a Christian folk duo (Leslie Jordan and David Leonard, All Sons and Daughters); partly because, though Wesley’s hymns remain sublime to this day, I think he too would want us to be alert to contemporary culture, so that we may speak and sing and act with effective relevance:

We have seen the pain
That shaped our hearts.
And in our shame
We’re still breathing, for
We have seen the hope
Of Your healing.

Rising from our souls
Is the feeling
We are drawing close
Your light is shining through.


So wake up,
Wake up all you sleepers
Stand up,
Stand up all you dreamers
Hands up,
Hands up all believers
Take up your cross and carry it on.