Light into and out of the darkness

Image: The body of a Ukrainian civilian is lifted out of a mass grave near Bucha, Ukraine. Photo © Alex Kent:

Like many I have been haunted by the atrocities, the evil and the darkness that has come from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both that which began on 24th February 2022 and that which began in 2014. When we are experiencing moments of pain and darkness it can be difficult to see the blessings, the hope and the joy of Jesus. This Easter I preached the sermon below looking at how Jesus took His light into the darkness but brought it out too. I hope you find it helpful.

Rev’d Andrew Avramenko, 17th April 2022

Readings: Luke 24:1-12 and Isaiah 65:17-25

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”

Luke 24:5 (NIVUK)

The tomb was empty. Jesus’ body was not there. Despair was piled upon despair. And then this: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It is not just something to celebrate and give thanks for, it is something to hold onto in our difficult moments. It is the reminder that love triumphs, that death does not have the final word. It is a reminder that nothing, neither death, evil or misdemeanours can deprive us from or separate us from the love of God now and eternally.

Celebrating that Jesus had defeated death and given new life to us all, is attracting people to worship around the world today. We can celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and the life that Jesus gives us in now and eternally, because we are looking back on the pain of Jesus and those who watched Him die upon the Cross. We can do that because we are not in the midst of grieving like they were. We can do that because we can know that Jesus is alive.

In our Gospel reading we saw that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the disciples could not celebrate Jesus’s resurrection because they did not know about it. When they arrived at the tomb that first Easter morning they were still gripped by the darkness and the numbing grief of Jesus’s death. And though Jesus had tried to teach them, though He had indicated what would happen on and after the Cross, their grief was only compounded by the empty tomb. The absence of His body, and the words spoken to them, didn’t remove their grief; it only confused it.

The realisation, the celebration and the hope came later.

In the midst of grief

Today the same combination of grief and confusion is being felt by people across the world. This week, indeed for the past 7 weeks, for some even longer, we have seen the grief and confusion of Ukrainians as they grapple with the reality of what evil humans can do to each other. They are in the midst of grief compounded by fear. They cannot yet celebrate the lives of the loved ones they have lost. They cannot yet see the hope of victory, whether it be Jesus’s or Ukraine’s. They cannot yet see the blessings that have emerged from the darkness of their night or between the Cross and the resurrection.

This Easter we could be excused for finding ourselves rooted to the heavy anticipation of Maundy Thursday and the fear of not being able to meet our rising bills. We could be forgiven for being gripped by the grief of Good Friday and the death of those known and unknown to us, whether here in the UK, in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Rwanda or elsewhere. And we could be excused for remaining rooted in the numbness, comfortable or not, of Easter Eve — remaining in our grief for who or what we have lost.

Sadly these places and people are not alone, many people, too many people here and elsewhere in the world have witnessed evil and experienced the pain of life and death. This week in the UK, many people have been reminded of the grief they have experienced during the last 2 years of the pandemic. Many of us here have experienced that grief too. When we are in the midst of pain, like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the thought of hope, blessings and celebration can not only seem impossible but make the pain even worse. If you are one of them, please know you are in the prayers of many, including mine.

Being called into blessings

Just as the Angels called the women at the empty tomb out of their shock and grief and into the blessings Jesus had for them, they are calling us into those blessings too.

Jesus calls us into the hope of His resurrected life. The hope that is contained in His defeat of death turns a full-stop into a semi-colon. It is a hope that is contained in our promised future, in our sharing of eternal life with Jesus. But it is also a hope that is contained and available in the now.

You may well know that Jesus’s last supper, one which provides the bedrock of the words we use when we celebrate and receive Holy Communion, took place during the week of celebrations of the first passover (Exodus 11 to 13:16). The first passover came immediately after the final of the ten plagues which secured their freedom from enslavement in Egypt. It is a history which is not easy to handle because of the fear, suffering and death of so many. It was a dark and difficult time for both the Israelites and the Egyptians.

The first Passover, and each annual celebration of it afterwards, was not intended to bring up the pain of the past but to acknowledge it. Acknowledging it helped them to remember or notice the blessings, both past and present — but it also encouraged them to trust that as God blessed them then, God would bless them again in the future. Our reading from Isaiah pointed the Israelites towards the blessings of the future, the future that Jesus came to fulfil, the future that He pointed to during His final celebration of the Passover in our Earthly-realm. Jesus took the hope given in Isaiah, and the hope His disciples and many more had placed on Him, with Him onto the Cross.

The Cross seemingly removed hope from those who approached the tomb on that first Easter morning. Their grief of Jesus’s death hid the seeds of hope that He had sown before His crucifixion. They could not see the hope but that hope was still there. They could not see the light but the light was still there, it had not gone out, it had gone to defeat the darkness, and it had returned to remain forevermore. They could not see the joy to be celebrated, but they would, we would, we will. The hope, blessings and joy that Jesus is in His resurrection is a gift forever available to us, forever waiting for us, and forever with us.

When the angels spoke to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James they were helping them to see what was hidden from their sight. They did it with gentleness and compassion, just as Jesus did when Mary Magdalene met Him later in the garden, and when Thomas examined His wounds.

Light in the darkness

We can do that for each other and ourselves too. We can walk alongside those in grief, those in pain, those who are not yet able to see the hope, blessings and joy. We can say as little as the angels, and be as compassionate as Jesus. We can wait with them until their spirits rise as Jesus did before ascending, before the disciples received the Holy Spirit to fuel and guide them through to the joy. We can be children of hope for them because we are all children of the resurrection.

We are not yet free from suffering in the present, but we are freed from death to be able to live life now and beyond. And with that freedom comes release, release from the blinkers and shackles that prevent us from noticing and loving all that Jesus loves and notices. We can do that, we can see the blessings, hopes and joy when we take time to pause, ponder and pray. We can do that if we take a leaf out of the Jesuits’ book and practice the Examen.

The Examen is simply taking a short period of your day to reflect on it, to notice both the good and the bad, the challenges and the blessings. It doesn’t try to hide the difficulties, it acknowledges them, and it does so in order that they do not keep eating away at us, so that so that they don’t hide the blessings. But it doesn’t dwell on the difficulties. Once the difficulties have been acknowledged it hands them over to God and moves on to seek the blessings of the day, and it is there it dwells so that the blessings of the immediate past become blessings, hope and joy in the present to carry into the future.

The first Easter, Jesus’s resurrection, teaches us that even if we cannot see it, there is light in the darkness. Jesus is in the darkness, He took His light into it, and His light could not be put out by it. He also brought the light out of the darkness, and does so for us too.

In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verse 2, it says “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”. Today we can celebrate that dawning light, our resurrected saviour. Today we hold that light for those struggling to see that light. Today we shine the light of Christ onto the blessings amongst us, to illuminate our path with hope, and to guide us to its joy.

Amen.

Undermining the Devil’s Foothold

A sermon inspired, in part, by the Lectionary readings for 8th August 2021: John 6:35, 41-51 and Ephesians 4:25-5:2

In August the lectionary presents a series of Bible readings Jesus as the bread of life, something that immediately brings to mind some knowledge my father once passed onto me.

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Hope from the silence

This is my sermon for Easter Day on Sunday, 4th April 2021 for my curacy churches, both online and in-the-garden. A link to the digital service containing this sermon is at the bottom of the page.

Mary Magdalene sees the Empty Tomb of Jesus is a photograph by George Pedro

“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Now don’t tell anyone about it.  Does that sound strange or familiar to you?

Up until this point in Christ’s story, Jesus had instructed people not to tell anyone of His miracles.  They had done the opposite.  Finally, at the empty tomb, people are told to tell of a miracle, Jesus resurrected, and they again do the opposite!  Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome fled and were silent.

This Easter we could be forgiven for remaining in the shock, silence and isolation of the pandemic.  We could be excused for finding ourselves rooted to the pain of Good Friday.  We could be excused for remaining in the numbness, comfortable or not, of Easter Eve — remaining in our grief for who and what we have lost.  But this year we need the realised hope of Easter, the hope that fills the silence, the hope of our resurrected life that Christ gave and gives us.  Hope.

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God is a DJ – an ‘alternative’ playlist for Lent

updated every day in Lent

I love music, particularly like finding songs that unintentionally steer me towards God, whether that be through a comforting or provoking title, lyric or tune. And in 2021 I decided to use my love of music to explore Lent as a musical and spiritual devotional exercise.

Each day through Lent to Holy Week and Easter Monday of 2021, I posted on Twitter a link to song on, and using the character limit available to explain why I’ve chosen that song and what its connection is to Lent for me.

I set myself a few ground rules to encourage me to explore and find God in the musical world around me: it has to be music that I have and listen to; to try and avoid including an artist/musician/band more than once; to try not to use Christian worship songs explicitly written about Jesus, Lent, Easter, and so on (it’s not that I don’t like or listen to them, I do!).

The playlist is listed below with links to the songs and with explanations for why I think they are relevant to Lent, but if you want to listen to the whole playlist you can click on the video below to start playing it, or access it on YouTube via this link.

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Christmas is a flavour

A night sky with many stars visible
Travelling home under starlit skies once Christmas Eve had turned into Day.

Christmas has a very specific flavour and texture for me, it is that which comes from a Raspberry and Almond Pavlova (the fruit mixed into whipped cream on top of a soft and chewy meringue flavoured by an essence of the nut).

I don’t know who made it first in my family but it came into my life through my Granny. When she was unable to make them for Christmas anymore the mantle was passed onto my Mother. When she could no longer make them I took up the honour.

Today I took one to my mother and brother, then stood outside and wished them a happy Christmas through an open window. She might be imprisoned by an illness but her true self and beauty still called out, as did the love of my brother’s care for her.

The Light of the World didn’t come from the sun in the skies above my head but from the room beyond the window I spoke through. Amidst the darkness of this year, I was glad of that.

Midnight Communion, bridging the gap between Eve & Day, amplified the darkness through the absence of those unable to be present to hear the choir sing of the Light born into it. This morning the choir amplified the light brought by the new day, by this new day, by the birthday of Emmanuel. God was, God is, God will be with us in both the dark & the light. Our darkness might continue but we are not alone within it, we are with a Light it can’t overcome.

There is much wrong with the world right now but I am grateful for the Light illuminating the blessings that would otherwise be missed. Today it helped me notice the blessing of a flavour, of a memory, of people & of finally finding my place & purpose in life.

Today I’m thankful for the Light.

Ordination in a Pandemic

The 2020 Deacons of Diocese of Bath and Wells with Bishop Trevor outside Wells Cathedral

Amidst the many things to grieve and lament during the pandemic there have been some blessings to celebrate. One of these blessings has been seeing many churches embracing technology to broadcast services. These have enabled those who could not be in a church to be there. Some have been interactive and allowed people to participate fully within the service, some have enabled people to add comments to the service as it happens and afterwards, and some have been presented to be watched and used for worship at a time that suits the watcher. I reflect on this often on my Twitter account, and intend to write a blog post on it in the future.

The pandemic caused the ordinations of Priests and Deacons at Petertide (June/July) to be cancelled. There were rescheduled for Michaelmas (September/October) once ways of conducting them safely had been found. In the meantime those who had been due to start their curacies as Deacons were licensed to start them as Lay Workers until the ordinations could take place.

Both the licensing and ordination services were broadcasted online. It is fitting that they be included on this blog, a blog that has shared the journey from initial wonderings about a calling to ordination to being ordained with the online community.

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New Kid on the Block

On the sidelines

Standing on the wide open playing fields, amidst the markings of a football pitch, I realise something is amiss. For many such places are a source of joy: the source of cheers and whoops as the ball gets kicked from one goal to another. Yet as I stood there I felt the desolation beyond that which was brought on by the looming thick grey clouds above me. For me the football field is a place of sorrow, a place of hurt, a place of loneliness. 

Football was one of the main sports at school. It was also a sport I sort to find my way into a community as I moved from place to place. There were moments of joy: finding myself playing in my favourite position at right midfield, just like my football hero Kenny Daglish, collecting the ball from the defence and then delivering it to the striker near the goalmouth. But overwhelming the joy of football is the sadness associated with it: the memory of being left out in the cold of the sidelines.

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Would have, will have

Wells Cathedral, where I ‘would have’ been today.

Today was supposed to be when a time away from my family came to an end; a time when I would have finished a Retreat (a focused quiet time contemplating, praying and listening to God) and I would be walking from the Bishops’ Palace in Wells towards Wells Cathedral. I would have been wearing a cassock and a surplice, and carrying a stole in my hands as I walked through the doors of the cathedral to see my family sitting there, along with hundreds of other people. I would have taken a seat in view of the altar, and the service that would have see me ordained would have begun.

Would have.

The ordinations cannot happen today.

Today, the cathedral lies empty.

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Getting my Curacy License

Feet in a paddling pool and a hand holding a book on the Priesthood.
Getting cold feet… in a paddling pool.

In normal circumstances I would have said goodbye to my family and gone away for a pre-ordination retreat this week. There 18 others waiting to be ordained as a Deacon, and others waiting to be ordained as a Priest, would have gathered away from the hustle and bustle of life to pray, contemplate and prepare for the change in identity about to come.

But these are not normal circumstances. The Coronavirus Pandemic that has claimed and devastated lives across the world has impacted ordinations as well. We cannot yet safely gather in large groups so the collective retreat isn’t possible. Nor are the ordination services which requires a bishop to lay their hands upon the ordination candidate — in part to maintain apostolic succession. I will start my curacy as a Licensed Lay Worker before, hopefully, being ordained as a Deacon on 27th September 2020 (should it be safe to do so).

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A Sixty Second Sermon: Pentecost

Part of the reasoning behind my stole designs* is to create a theological dialogue without me saying a word. Here, on Pentecost Sunday of 2020, then is a Sixty Second Sermon speaking without words.

The music is an excerpt from “It is accomplished” by Peter Gabriel – part of his soundtrack album for the film “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

* see “My Ordination Stoles” for the reasoning behind this stole design.