Journey's End

Sunday 12th May 2013
Year C, The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Sunday after Ascension Day)
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Parish Eucharist
Acts 16:16-34
Revelation 22:12-14; ;
John 17:20.26

There are some preachers who affect an enthusiasm for association football in order to ingratiate themselves with their congregations but I am not that sort, as anybody can attest who was present near the end of Derek and Sylvia's Diamond Jubilee tea party yesterday when, around five O’clock, I moved the adjournment so that I could listen to the FA Cup Final, dazzled by the prospect of an upset. And, in the 90th minute, it came. But it was not the game itself which had an impact on me - after all, anything can happen in a one-off game which depends not only on very slight skill variances on the day but on luck - what really made me joyful for Wigan Athletic - and anybody who doesn't know where Wigan is can come and see me afterwards, privately - was the journey the club made from minor league obscurity in the 1930s to membership of the Football League in 1987 and now winners of the FA Cup which many still think is the most prestigious knock-out football trophy in the world. And inside that story of a journey there was the personal journey of Dave Whelan who, in the first FA Cup Final I ever saw, between Blackburn Rovers and Wolves in 1960, was carried off the field with a broken leg, aged 23, never again to play in a major football match, but who led Wigan out yesterday, stepping on the Wembley turf for the first time since breaking his leg.

Our three Readings today are descriptions of three stages of a journey. In the first, which is taken from the end of John's Great Discourse which begins in Chapter 13 with Jesus washing his disciples' feet and proclaiming the New Commandment of love, Jesus sends his Disciples out telling them that those they touch in the name of His Father will be blessed; and that means us. In the second, the Disciples, having been sent out, find themselves in unusual circumstances. Paul, plagued by a young woman with some kind of evil inner force, expels it from her and is then imprisoned because her minder has lost money through his action. Imprisoned, Paul and Silas do not embark on moral lectures or complaint but instead praise God and their praise causes the prison to shudder and disintegrate. They are freed, their wounds are healed and the Governor and his family are baptised. And in the third, we see the journey's end in the last verses of the book of Revelation and therefore in the last verses of the whole Bible. Those who have built the Kingdom of God on earth reach their ultimate resting place, the Apostles sent out, the Gentiles brought in; and all manner of spiritual waifs and strays , in spite of their pride and delusion.

As we have come to such an ending it is appropriate to look back on the Bible as a whole and observe that it is almost entirely concerned with the relationship of God and 'his' people, properly constituted in the worship of the Creator by the created; that is our purpose, that is why we were made. If we ask the average person what Christianity is about, whether we are thinking about people who never come to church or regular Christian worshippers, sad to say, he or she would no doubt say that it is a religion concerned above all with ethical strictures in general and those concerned with sexual conduct in particular; that is a sad indictment of us in both our roles as Christian worshippers and evangelists. In fact, in spite of all the sound and fury - too much sound and far too much fury - the Bible has very little to say on ethical matters.

Within the Bible, Acts is often described as the Book of the Holy Spirit but might better be described, less snappily, as the "Book of Baptism through which the Holy Spirit operates". In Baptism we begin our journey of faith and relationship with God in the power of the Spirit which we receive and which we witness every time the Priest invokes the Holy Spirit to bring Jesus to be with us in the bread and wine; and through all our triumphs and pitfalls it is worship that sustains us.

It is not insignificant that we have spent so much time, effort and money to reconstitute our church but no matter how well it serves us as a base for fellowship, as a social space, its primary purpose is worship; just as a team plays together, each member playing for all the others, we pray together in mutual support. And although I would not want to over-stretch the metaphor of football, we are always apt to be carried away by the moment, to see no prospect of victory when times are hard and to see no prospect of falling when we are at the top. Unusually, in this respect, triumphant Wigan didn't have any champagne last night because they have two games to play which will see them remain in the Premiership or relegated. And although we naturally want to share our triumphs and our tragedies with God, we must be careful that our relationship is  not entirely a matter of recounting our human drama; we must never lose sight of the sacred drama which culminates in Resurrection, Ascension and our salvation.

We have built ourselves a place which we should see as primarily our focus for collective prayer which will help us to keep both our triumphs and our tragedies in balance, which will help us to support each other, primarily in worship, which will give us the strength to go out and proclaim the good news so that others in Baptism may embark on the journey on which we have already embarked.

On this Sunday, our minds are, metaphorically at least, fixed on the 'above', on the ascended Jesus as we await the coming of the Holy Spirit a week from now. Our worship is not only of the Creator and the Saviour but also of the Risen and ascended Lord and the Spirit to come. As Easter people we are not spared from the ravages of Pilgrimage but we travel in the Spirit, who will come to us anew next Sunday, knowing where our journey will end.