Sermon preached by Fr John Pritchard
on Sunday 22nd March 2020 (Fourth Sunday of Lent)
1 Samuel 16.1–13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8–14; John 9
Last night when I came into church there were two people sitting in the nave of the building, at a safe distance from each other. Both started talking about the impact of the lack of contact with friends, with family and how this pandemic is limiting their freedom. One talked about the deep, deep sadness of seeing the vulnerable and many others in our community having to be so limited in looking after themselves because of panic buying in our shops – while some shop aggressively, others are being left to purchase the crumb pickings. Yet, she also spoke of the new neighbourliness and joy of community in the street in which she and her husband live. But for many, myself included, I just miss the handshake, the kiss on the cheek, the hug. And I think we are going to be missing this physical contact for a long time to come, and that lack of touch will impact on our mental health if we are not careful: the lack of embracing each other, while essential to limit the harm of the Covid-19 virus, will stir in us a natural sadness. Even though many of us live alone, most of us experience the closeness of another human greeting, and it subtly cheers the heart, and gladdens the soul.
Our Gospel today on this Mothering Sunday reminds us of the isolation of the man born blind. For many years he has depended on the gifts of others as a renowned beggar. For many years he’s sat on the outskirts of society as an unclean, untouchable person because of his “sin” – at least that’s the community’s presumption. For many years, he’s been sitting in darkness; not just because of the obvious association with blindness, but he has been cast out of the usual things which lighten our lives, and delight our hearts.
But as Jesus says in our Gospel reading, this man is not blind because of sin or wrongdoing. ‘He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’ It is a hard lesson for any of us who have known hardship in our pasts or even now, that coming through hardship often reveals something greater: the dark times of our lives mostly reveal a greater understanding in us of our identity, even a sense of purpose for us.
But the illumination for the blind man comes in many ways and on many levels for us to appreciate in the Gospel. First, not only is there the revelation again of the power of God in Jesus and that Jesus is not only the light of the world, but also that God is close to us, and touches us so that we might have eyes to see, and hearts open to God through which we can respond to God in our lives.
Also, there is in the Gospel the image of the blind man being sent to the pool to wash – a reminder of the relationship we have with the waters of the font, and our baptism, which the early church called photismos or “illumination”. So as we share in the understanding through the scriptures and our baptism of who Jesus is, our eyes are opened, and it is by the nature of this illumination that we see and know ourselves to be Christians and what that entails for us in our daily lives.
On many levels there are eyes being opened, minds being opened, and God is being revealed! We are reminded in John’s Gospel as we are in the other gospels that Jesus, the Son of Man, is the Lord of the Sabbath. And on the Sabbath, on the day of God’s time, that he will act, heal and restore the sick and the vulnerable – rather than see them wait any longer, sitting in the darkness society has created for them. And also, it is society that Jesus wants to take on: for who stands in opposition to this healing, who would rather keep this man down in the dust? The Pharisees, the ones who see, yet who are blind! But the joy of the gospel is that the blind see, and in engaging with Jesus, proclaim, ‘Lord, I believe’, and that belief creates dynamic purpose in the one who was blind.
At this time in our national life, the church has to sit in the light of Christ. The scales need to fall from our eyes and we need to see that even though this pandemic is a terrible thing which will diminish and potentially harm many, we still have freedom to choose and be reminded that we are a people who walk in the light of Christ, and that light gives us purpose. This purpose it seems at this moment is to find ways to bring the light into the lives of our neighbours, and those who are self-isolating. This purpose is to not panic buy, but to consider the needs of our neighbours and friends in society.
And in not being able to come to church, we must find the old-fashioned ways of re-engaging with our faith in the privacy of our homes, and hopefully through the wonders of technology. I remember as children we would always find time to say our prayers at home – before food, before sleep. You are still that child – though a child of our Father in heaven. So make space in your homes and in your time alone or with family to pray to God, to say the Lord’s Prayer, so that the light of God will illuminate your homes as well as your hearts and minds, that you might at least feel his touch in our contactless society. Remember also the man by the pool, the blind man who Jesus brings light to his life and the world. Jesus does the same for each of us if we have eyes to see, and hearts to respond to God’s love.
This is perhaps the moment for the church to remember itself, and remember that in small groups, even in ones and twos, Jesus revealed himself as God to the disciples. So now as a church, we are not to self-isolate from those around us as we so often do in our religious buildings, but to be where all of God’s people are, out there, to serve, and love, to bring comfort and compassion, understanding and even healing to our communities.
This is the most challenging time we will collectively face, but as Fr Daniel reminded us on the Feast of St Joseph a couple of evenings ago, God is with us. God is with you in your home, in our suffering and joy. In our isolation, and in the ways we reach out to each other, God is there in the phone calls we make, and in the quiet meditation of our hearts. The blind see the light of Christ in our Gospel: let each of us sit in this light and be Christ to one another. God bless you, your mothers who you may or may not see, mother Church who you might or might not be able to visit – and as a mother cares for her child, let us care for one another.