The Sixth Sunday of Easter
We listen to/sing along:
God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us
to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Please read before continuing: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=44
Sing along/listen to:
‘In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord’
I’d like you to imagine for a moment that St Columba’s Church didn’t exist. Imagine that you, as the people of God in this place, didn’t have a church. What would that be like? Without sounding facetious, we have been living something of that reality over these past few months, under the Covid-19 lockdown.
But take this a step further, imagine such an absence was the permanent state of life. How would we feel? It’s hard to comprehend – for although we have not been able to gather together to receive the sacraments – we are still able to see our Church if we live close by, if we look it up online, or reminisce based on our memories. We do not worship a building, ‘the work of human hands’, to connect with St Paul’s words, but rather, our buildings, as houses of God, express the unchanging and eternal reality that God is worshipped in spirit and truth when we come together. God, to quote the gospel reading, ‘abides in us’ through the Holy Spirit. We can experience something of God through online worship, but we cannot taste him – we have – it must be acknowledged – been deprived of the tangible gifts of the body and blood of Jesus in these last months.
A people who knew about deprivation were the people of Nowa Huta, a town located just outside Krakow in Poland. This town was built during the Soviet occupation which begun in the aftermath of the Second World War. The town, built on communist principles, had all the latest amenities (by the standards of the day), with multiple cinemas, apartment blocks and steelworks. The focus: work and labour to feed the ever expanding Soviet machine designed to give the impression of economic equality and transparency. Freedom however, was restricted, with the oppressors imposing their own ideological based rules. Nowa Huta had been built with everything except a Church; the town itself had become in Poland, the ‘altar to an unknown god’: the unknown god of atheism, the unknown god of the regime.
The people protested, and over several years crosses were constructed in the centre of the town, only to be removed by the authorities, they would return and then be removed. In defiance, and without permission, the new Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, who would of course become Pope John Paul II took up the challenge, and some twenty years later a Church was built. Wojtyla challenged the authorities head on – he succeeded where they had failed – their desire for Nowa Huta to be a ‘city without God’ only increased the peoples’ desire to see an altar be built to the ‘Lord of heaven and earth’. Where do we live? Do we live in a city without God?
In today’s world, we live in places that are equally hostile to the ‘Lord of heaven and earth’, the God in whom we ‘live, move and have our being’. The situation that Paul experienced is not too dissimilar to our current climate. The unknown god of the people of Athens, was in essence, whatever the people wanted it to be. The soviet god was the communist ideal. Amongst Paul’s hearers that day were the Epicureans. They believed that personal happiness was the ultimate goal of all things – how much does that ring true today? “as long as they’re happy…” is the well heard phrase. Today, happiness, or economic success or ultimate pleasure and fulfilment are the altars that have been constructed. The unknown god can be whatever you want him, her, or it, to be. Truth is determined by our personal wants.
The people of Nowa Huta experienced this: truth in their town became a system that oppressed them. How often do we see the quest for ultimate happiness and pleasure leave people in depression? How often do we see economic success lead to disappointment? How often, in the pursuit for meaning and truth are people left empty? Paul tells us that fulfilment comes not from ‘the art and imagination of mortals’ – that’s you and me – that’s any system, political, economic, or cultural.
Paul does not affirm the people he was addressing in their practices. Paul does not affirm the Epicureans in their quest for pleasure. Karol Wojtyla and more importantly the people of Nowa Huta did not affirm their occupiers in their quest to convert them to communism. Rather, to quote the epistle from St Peter, they were not ‘intimidated’, but in their hearts they did ‘sanctify Christ as Lord’. They held fast to the faith that God is the source and life of all things, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Both Paul, Karol and the Poles proclaimed, to quote our readings today, that ‘Christ…suffered for sins once and for all…to bring you to God’ ‘giving assurance to all by raising him from the dead’. This is the essential Christian hope that we are reminded of during Eastertide. Do we sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts? Are we determined to place Christ at the centre of our lives? The Polish residents of Nowa Huta did during their oppression at great personal cost?
Do we with relatively little opposition, apart from the odd raised eyebrow seek always to ‘abide’ with Christ? To truly ‘know the Father?’
If we want to know God, and to truly abide in him we will seek him – we will say, like the Poles “we want God, we want God! The gateway to this deepened Christian life is to realise in our hearts and minds that true freedom, true life exists in Jesus Christ who does not ‘withold his loving mercy’. When we get this fundamental of the Christian faith right, knowning that mercy personally, then we will truly live for God, and like the people of Nowa Huta, put the cross at the centre of our lives. We will withstand the occasional insult, and know, in the words of the collect ‘eternal joy’.
God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
may we thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.