Fab service this morning and busy too.
Herewith my sermon for Holy Cross Day...
In 1986 Julie Chimes agreed to let an emotionally distressed acquaintance wait in her cottage until her busy doctor boyfriend was able to make the time to get home in order to assess his patient. No one, not even the woman’s psychiatrist or family knew that she had recently taken herself off all medication for paranoid schizophrenia. Helping herself to a carving knife, she then set about attacking Julie. In a piece she wrote she said:
I think of myself as fortunate because I have never felt a victim. I can remember shouting out that I loved my assailant, which, given the circumstances was as much of a surprise to me as being stabbed. The physical pain was excruciating but a phenomenal strength and focus arose within me, which guided me out of the cottage. Eventually a courageous passer-by managed to disarm my attacker, as she was trying to hack off my head. Police eventually arrived and thought me dead, but I was aware of everything...
From my perspective the sequence of events that had led up to her arrival in our kitchen were so bizarre I knew there was no one to blame. I felt certain the attack was part of a much bigger picture. I believed on some level that it had had to happen and it was not the tragic accident that most people thought. I was determined to understand and a quest for truth began to unfold within me.
My rapid recovery from the five main stab wounds was considered something of a miracle but the attack affected my family leading to ill health and in a way my mother’s early death. My step father later asked for my forgiveness. I am neither christened nor religious but Christ’s words about “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” is the closest way to describe how I felt. This expansive feeling of understanding and compassion even allowed me to take a call from my assailant’s sister, who wanted me to know her sister was desperately sorry and asked my forgiveness. As I blamed no one, there was nothing to forgive, but there was still a lot for me to learn and understand. I wanted to know if it was it possible to reach this place of peace without some horrific trauma.
I have learnt that this inner place of forgiveness and peace is available to everyone, everywhere and in any circumstance. I now know when there is understanding there can be compassion. When compassion arises there can be forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness there is peace.
Friends, after this sort of horrific crime, talk of retribution would be perhaps considered normal. Banner headlines on the red tops would be screaming for it. The more extreme the crime, the louder the shouting. And yet despite the calls for the reintroduction of capital punishment and full life tariffs, we are also less and less willing to take responsibility for our sons and daughters, or indeed for anything for that matter. We want the life tariff but will not acknowledge the part we have played in creating a culture where that is even suggested - where we are increasingly alienated from each other, where life moves fast, where all that matters is getting to the top and doing it at the expense of everyone else, where I reach out and take what I want now - whether I have earned it or not - whether that’s staples from the stationary cupboard or my neighbour’s new car.
In our experience of personal tragedy or loss, of ‘who is my neighbour?’ we still shake our fist at the sky and blame God. “If God loved me...”, “if He is all powerful...”, “if He is there...” and yet, it is exactly in these sorts of places that the cross stands, eclipsing our life and our world.
The cross is a dark place. It brought justice and judgement on the criminal and retribution for the vengeful aggrieved. Yet Jesus was no criminal and God is no hate filled father. But the cross for each one of us is retribution for our sinfulness but it is God who takes the responsibility.
Today is Holy Cross Day, and today we are reminded of the victory or triumph of God on the cross. In a world of countless seen and hidden Stephen Lawrences, of Afghanistans or Iraqs, of domestic violence or tragic accidents it’s hard to take... There is tradition the says that the cross of Jesus was made from the wood of the tree in the Garden of Eden from which Adam an Eve ate. Somehow, through his cross, Jesus’ death offers life and hope, it renews the relationship with God that humanity first had in Eden. On the cross, the affects of our sin are dealt with and God forgives us, and forgives us and forgives us.
Our society wants retribution because we cannot offer forgiveness. We cannot take responsibility for our actions because we cannot receive forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is acknowledging what has happened, and in spite of it, changing a relationship.
Julie Chimes felt that there was no-one to blame for what happened to her so therefore nothing to forgive despite her horrific attack. If it were me, I’m not sure that I would feel the same. This my friends is surely why the cross is a victory and a triumph for God and us. For through Jesus’ death, God acknowledged that there was much to forgive between Him and us. Each sin of ours, a stab wound to his heart of love. But somehow through the cross - the price is paid for my sin and I go free from its slavery to it to live God’s way. Somehow through the cross Jesus takes my place and receives the punishment due to me for my sin. Somehow through the cross - Jesus ultimately reconciles all that it is to be broken and human with God his Father.
I am forever grateful. My life is so easily a mess - not living by God’s standards, or not living up to either your or my most basic expectations. Yet between you and me and me and God stands Christ’s cross - offering forgiveness and a change in our relationships.
Through the cross we are each offered real hope - the way we are is not the way we should be, says God. For the cross stands between heaven and earth, pointing the way, pointing me again God’s way.
That’s hope. That’s triumph. That’s victory. That’s forgiveness. WOuld you Adam and Eve it? Touch wood...