Sermon preached on Easter Sunday (20 April 2014) by The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor
The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel looks at gratitude and says that we should all 'resolve to be more grateful to God and more affirming of each other.'
Song of Solomon 3: 2-5; 8: 6-7 Revelation 1: 12-18
Almost exactly a year ago to the day, the great (in various senses of that word) television cook, Clarissa Dickson Wright, took part here at St Paul’s in a series of conversations under the Dome about divine and human creativity. In her conversation with our Chaplain, Sarah, she spoke of her faith and said that we, as Christians, don’t show enough gratitude to God.
Miss Dickson Wright died recently after a life crowded with incident and one can paint a picture in one’s mind’s eye of her reunion with her television colleague Jennifer Paterson – the other ‘fat lady’ as they were known – who died some years ago. That will be quite a banquet in the heavenly places.
And one assumes that Clarissa will remember her wistful take on our lack of gratitude and now be offering in the divine presence humble and hearty thanks for all God’s kindness and loving mercy to us and to all people.
I think she’s right. We don’t show enough gratitude – either to God or to each other. When I or my colleagues receive a letter of complaint about some shortcoming or other here at St Paul’s which our correspondent has taken the trouble to point out to us, we have somehow to convince ourselves that there were another ninety-nine letters that weren’t written which said thank you. For, although we do not ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do God’s will, we are human and, as the Queen once said of the honours system in this country, people deserve a pat on the back.
So, on this Easter Day – this day of resurrection, new life and new beginnings, let us resolve to be more grateful to God and more affirming of each other.
When I was a wee lad at school, I remember that the whole thrust of the hymns we sang in assembly was about thanks and praise: ‘Now thank we all our God’ (to a gloriously dance-like tune which is almost unknown now), ‘Glad that I live am I’, ‘Thank you, Lord, for this new day’, and many others. And the hymn book, by the way, was called ‘With cheerful voice’ which tells its own story.
Modern worship songs, however, are more inclined to pain and agony as if their writers and the people who sing them are insufficiently confident in the resurrection (or, I suspect more cogently, because of a disgruntlement on the part of certain types of Christian that the resurrection rather gets in the way of a good dose of judgement).
Well, ‘With cheerful voice’ was at primary school. At big school, I’m particularly grateful that a battered old 1931 hymn book was thrust into my hands in chapel – here it is, old and tired with its spine hanging off (I know how it feels) – and this battered old hymn book, at number 443, still has the original version in it of the great hymn, based on Psalm 100, ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ which has the considerably more accurate paraphrase of that psalm in the third line of the first verse: ‘Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell’ – a line which has been so regrettably changed in later versions to ‘Him serve with fear, his praise forth tell’. I’d love to wring the neck of the angst-ridden editors who did that to the joy and exuberance of Psalm 100 – ‘O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands’.
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell – echoing that glorious line at the end of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’; ‘Then is there mirth in heaven, when earthly things made even atone together.’
Yes, I know there isn’t much in the daily news to make one laugh; yes, I know that pain and misery are the lot of many people in this world;
yes, I know that Easter Day is little more than a mirage for those ensnared in tangle wood at the foot of a Good Friday cross. But for what do
we draw people on in hope if it is not to share our Easter joy?
The recent advertising campaign by Oxfam is a brilliant answer to the question I’ve just posed. In the footage of people who need help, we see the generosity of other people lifting these people’s feet off the ground and huge grins spreading across their faces. And, yes, I do know it’s a camera trick: they’re not really floating in mid-air just because someone has texted £3 to Oxfam.
But it’s a good aim – to turn human despair to human laughter as a mirror of the divine despair of Good Friday turned to mirth in heaven on Easter Day. Do we dare to imagine that an echo of laughter might have sounded in that empty tomb on that first Easter morning? Or does the God squad disapprove of such frivolous thoughts...?
I’ve never quite understood why clergy administering the oil of healing always look so anguished – as if somehow the healing process will be enhanced if the physician looks ill too. I remember the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, addressing a group of clergy on this subject. He said, ‘If I’m ever in hospital, please don’t come and visit me!’ It’s very telling that President Bush Senior could only get to sleep at the height of the first Gulf war by watching episodes of the great BBC sitcom ‘Fawlty Towers’ every night.
Laughter is the best medicine. Comedy is redemptive. There is mirth in heaven. We don’t show enough gratitude. There isn’t enough joy. So, let our Easter Day resolutions be more gratitude and more joy.
A few decades ago, someone crossed out the word ‘mirth’ and substituted it with ‘fear’. It sums up what many people think of us lot. But, today, Christ has trampled down the fear of death. So let us give thanks and rejoice and serve him with mirth – and draw the world away from anguish to laugh with us – laughing in the face of death because Christ is our Saviour.