Sermon 1st April 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

EASTER MORNING, Sun 01 Apr 2018

 Revd Angus MacLeod MA BD

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-01042018

And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen,

they went to the tomb. Mark 16:2
Australians and public humiliation;

you might imagine a moralistic meander

over the recently imploded leadership group

of the Australian national cricket team.

Australians and public humiliation;

I have something else in mind, prompted by this week’s headlines.

 

In 2007, I was selected to play in the Ashes

not cricket’s oldest Test match version,

but a challenge match between British Army forces

and the attached Australian Battle Group,

to be played on an oval of sand,

a stone’s throw from the ziggurat of Ur, in southern Iraq.

 

Pre-match preparations were keen – international bragging rights at stake.

A young British officer secured sponsorship,

and national uniforms duly arrived in theatre –

gold and green for the Aussies, blue for the Brits.

 

The day itself started poorly.

We were delayed by an attack on our own camp,

so arrived late and a bit unsettled, at the Australian camp.

On arrival we were greeted by the entire Australian Battle Group

drawn up along the boundary.

For that one day alone, their Commanding Officer had relaxed

the six month, no-alcohol policy.

The home crowd were more than ready to “welcome” us.

(It wasn’t Shakespeare I can assure you.)

 

From there it just got worse.

Unbeknownst to us, the home team provided a type of ball that we had never seen before;

its weight and flight, a thing of mystery –

a mystery we singularly failed to fathom.

First ball of the match, our captain was bowled, middle-stump. The desert erupted.

Throughout the afternoon, an Australian Sergeant

maintained a “witty” commentary on the PA system throughout –

witty if you were born in Brisbane.

The whole, long-anticipated encounter was over, embarrassingly swiftly;

the humiliation complete. Well almost.

 

Three months later, when the tour of duty finished,

I paid a visit to my brother – (a fellow Church of Scotland ordained minister.)

With the true compassion of a brother he welcomed me to his home,

then led me a framed copy of the Daily Telegraph match report

with its permanent reminder of my own score that day. Zero.

 

Lessons from that very particular day In Iraq?

An increased empathy for sportsmen and women

who perform to the best of their abilities,

sometimes amid great hostility, pretend or genuine.

And that sport still has the gift of bringing people together –

important, because in the end, it is not important.

 

But what of those professionals who have so fallen from grace this week?

That the errors of cricketers merit any pulpit air-time

comes down to an observation made here this week:

That the drama being played out in the media

has echoed uncannily the Holy Week story

that we have followed over the last even days –

palms to passion, adulation to annihilation, desertion and despair.

 

A week ago, the Australian captain was possibly the world’s No1;

within days – sent home,, sacked and banned;

reputational and financial consequences, like falling dominoes.

 

Then on Good Friday, on return to Australia, a press conference;

his public apology to the nation.

The moment of complete meltdown arrived

when he spoke of the shame

that his actions have brought upon his parents.

 

Throughout the barrage of clicking cameras and shouted questions,

his father stood behind him.

At the point where the son appeared unable to continue,

the father stepped forward a pace

and rested a hand on his son’s shoulder.

When my six-year-old daughter asked me to explain what was going on I said:

The captain’s father is showing his son, that whatever he has done –

and though he has made a big mistake –

he is still his father, and he stands by him.

 

Out of these sorry events – events that in the grand scale mean so little –

out of the whole chaotic circus, emerges that image;

of the father standing silently behind the son in distress

and the hand upon his shoulder –

the wordless assurance of enduring love.

 

On Maundy Thursday we sang, Abide with me;

on Good Friday, in haunting plainsong, Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

words of desolation uttered by Jesus on his own cross.

 

Yet elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus’ last words

“Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Prayed to the God he called Abba – the affectionate Aramaic for Dad/Daddy:

As if, at the very depth, he found, or re-found,

the Father’s hand upon his shoulder.

 

And today, on Easter morning – day of resurrection –

that final confidence in the Father is made good.

For Easter Day proclaims that both the Son’s love for us

and the Father’s love for the Son have endured.

Endured the night of sorrow and now risen with the dawn.

Now, in the discovery of an empty tomb,

by a fragile group of women in mourning,

something unguessed at, beyond imagining,

some new exuberance or strength,

has been released into the world,

if only we would stop a moment

to pan for its hidden gold.

 

In Mark’s gospel the reaction to resurrection is speechlessness.

Appropriate silence – creating a space for the voice of God.

“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.

He has been raised; he is not here.

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.”
Galilee – back to the beginning.

Affirmation that the life of Jesus, the hopes and dreams he kindled,

the life before the death –

the life of costly love, remains the key.

Though once it appeared snuffed out, it flames forth still like shook foil.

That is our hope; the mercy of forgiveness – centurion or zero.

That is the hand upon the shoulder; the enduring love.