Bishop Paul was at Durham Cathedral today (Sunday 19th July 2020) for the first Sunday in the Cathedral following the releasing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
He presided at the earlier service and preached at the 11.30 am service.
A full transcript of his sermon follows.
POST CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN
First Sunday back in Durham Cathedral
Sunday July 19th 2020 – Trinity 6
Genesis 28.10-19a; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43
‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
For some, the exclusion from this glorious Cathedral for the past 4 months has felt like exclusion from the house of God, the gate of heaven. It has been painful not to be able to even enter into the building to pray, and to worship. The return will be filled with a real mixture of emotions; relief, joy, excitement yet mixed with nervousness, even fear. Then there may be some sadness at the limitations on how we worship; no singing of hymns; no choir; no sharing of the peace; sitting at 2 metres distance from one another. There will be the strangeness of having the bread administered by a mask-wearing president, and not sharing in the common cup.
It should be our prayer, that as people begin to return to the Cathedral, and indeed to parish churches, for personal private prayer and for public worship that each is in their own way overwhelmed by the presence of God so that it is found to be a place where God is met.
Yet, of course, Jacob’s experience was actually of a stone pillow, sleeping out in the open. There was no special building at all. He was a fugitive from home wondering what the future might hold. As he lay down to sleep his mind was full of questions, and with fear. The living God meets him in this unexpected place. Over the past 4 months, we have all been, in one sense, exiles and fugitives. Many have asked questions of what has been happening with a worldwide pandemic. Some of us have faced significant loss and sadness. Some have struggled with the confinement required to protect one another. We have all had questions for God. Yet we have been discovering meeting God in new ways, and in new places. We have found different ways of connecting with one another. There has been a huge amount of serving the most vulnerable, through the foodbanks, phone chains, shopping for neighbours, collecting prescriptions and generally caring for each other. We have observed doctors, nurses, cleaners, ambulance drivers, care workers in homes, shop workers, pharmacists, policemen, firefighters, the armed services, and a whole host more working tirelessly to care for others. Clergy and lay leaders have learned new skills, kept in touch in creative ways, and prayed for us all with dedication and deep commitment.
Together we have found God meeting us in the unexpected place and in fresh ways. We have found places that have been ‘awesome’ and no less than ‘the gate to heaven’.
As we tentatively ease back we all know that the journey ahead will continue to be hard. There will be much inner groaning, and awareness of our mortality, in the months to come. We might listen to the created order’s sigh of relief at our reduced consumption of natural resources; we might quickly forget. There is much that we simply do not know. Indeed the most honest answer to most questions about the next few months, and how the pandemic will play out both in our own nation and across the globe is, ‘We don’t know’.
Nevertheless, there are things that we do know. We are the people who have been saved in hope. We know that we are God’s children now. We know that the Spirit helps us cry out ‘Abba, Father’. For we know that God’s love has not stopped. Jesus’ death and resurrection still give us hope that death and decay are not the end but that God, God’s love and life are the final word.
We know that throughout these past months, all around the globe, the Son of Man’s word of the kingdom has continued to be sown. We know that God’s word is still taking root and growing. God continues to uphold all creation through the word of his power.
We also know that the mixture of life and death; of God’s glory and of all that seeks to deny and destroy it, continues. The parable of the wheat and the weeds is still happening. We know that there is coming a day when God’s kingdom will come in all its glory. We keep praying for this daily, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth’.
As we enjoy being able to once again gather to worship in this glorious place, where God does meet with us as we open up our lives to Him, may we all know deep within that we are God’s children now – and that God holds the glorious future.
I conclude with the words of the wonderful theologian Jim Packer, who entered glory this past week aged 93. When asked what his final words to the church might be he said, “I think I can boil it down to four words, ‘Glorify Christ every way’.” May we, as God’s children living in hope, ‘Glorify Christ every way.’