Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B - Mucknell Abbey
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Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B

The Community here at Mucknell is, as with any group, made up of diverse individuals with varying opinions on just about everything! As such, sermons posted on our website represent the ideas of the preachers who wrote and delivered them, not necessarily those of the entire Community.

One question that I think most of us have been asked about life here in the monastery is, “how do you manage to live in community like that? How do you do it?” with the implied ending of “without killing each other?” Well, sometimes it’s a close run thing!

More seriously, though, in classical preacher fashion, I’m going to go with three things that between them, get us most of the way there: the grace of God, trust, and love.

We see our need of God’s grace in Jesus’ words from the great prayer that makes up chapter 17 of John’s gospel. As Jesus’ time with his disciples draws to a close, the words prayed here have a real urgency to them: “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world…Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.” If this passage all gets a bit jumbled up in your head as you hear it read, then I think you’re on to something. We get mixed up into God and into Jesus just as Jesus and God are mixed up into one another and into us, and we into one another, and we in them, and they in us… But, this is not about ending up as an amorphous blob, rather it’s about accepting the stark reality of being one body. Each part is distinct, but each part belongs together. A body separated out into its constituent parts tends not to work too well. The only way it stays a body is by being united. And this body that is the people of God can only be created and sustained by God, by the work that Jesus has done in his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. We are utterly dependent on God and on the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, and that is every bit as true for the body corporate as it is for us as individuals.

As for trust: I wonder how it was for the 11 apostles, welcoming Matthias as one of them? I notice that when they’re looking to replace Judas, to make their group whole again, they don’t just wander into the street and pick up the first likely-looking bloke they see. They need someone they can trust, someone who has seen what they have seen, witnessed what they have witnessed. That said, I imagine it must still have been a little strange for both Matthias and the 11 apostles. It makes me think a little of joining the community here, in that I realised along the way that I was not just joining a community now, in this moment, but that I was also somehow inheriting a history; over time, the stories have become part of my story, too. Sisters who I never met are somehow part of my past. And that’s not to mention all the myriad ways that we pick up one another’s habits of speech and gesture.

The same can be true in any relationship: families have their ways of being too, and their traditions, and these shift and expand as the family shifts and expands: new children, partners, grandchildren, etc. And these shifts are possible at least in part because of the trust that exists between people. As we trust, we are able to discern together both where God is stretching us: for the disciples this begins with Matthias, but their stretching is far from done. Pentecost is still to come, with its massive influx of new members, as is the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles – and even that was just a beginning.

Our community here has stretched: we have stretched to become Benedictine, we have stretched to admit men, we have stretched to come here to Mucknell. Each new member stretches us. We would be foolish indeed – both as a community and as individuals – to think that God is done stretching us.

And as for love. Well. Listen again some time to Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. Hear the urgency of love in his voice. See his love as it holds him to the cross, and brings him back from death. Know that love poured into our lives: we are promised a fullness that overflows. How dare we deny it to others?

A couple of observations:

Firstly, in 1 Corinthians, as a lead in to chapter 13, Paul writes, “and I will show you a still more excellent way”. A way. Not a task, or a tick list, or a programme, but a way. A way that is delightful, joyful, painful, sometimes sharply uphill, often surprisingly ordinary and surprisingly beautiful, sometimes at the same time. A way that brings the kingdom of God to life.

Secondly, a friend of mine, a Roman Catholic sister called Silvana, tweeted this week about an advert she had seen in London for a dating app. The text read: “thou shalt not give up on dating and become a nun.” Sigh. There is an awful lot I could say about this, on a number of levels. Silvana wrote a blog post about it, and in that post she said: “Whatever else people might imagine, becoming a nun is horizon-and heart-expanding, not heart-shrinking, and, far from being loveless, our vowed celibate chastity enables us to love more, and to love freely and widely.”

There is a lot more that could be said here, but since we only realised on Friday that we didn’t have a preacher for this Sunday, my time has been somewhat limited! I’ll let Benedict have the last word, from the end of Chapter 72 of his Rule: “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to eternal life.” Amen.

Sr. Jessica

Image: Moyers, Mike. Be Thou My Vision, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57145 [retrieved May 28, 2024]. Original source: Mike Moyers, https://www.mikemoyersfineart.com/