Sermon preached at Mattins on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (6 May 2018) by the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

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Sermon preached at Mattins on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (6 May 2018) by the Revd Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor

The Precentor reflects on Peter's threefold denial of Christ and the importance of a culture of forgiveness as a 'nutrient of democracy'. 


We have just witnessed in scripture the threefold reinstatement of Peter into the fellowship of Christ. This is the Peter who shortly before the crucifixion of Our Lord has denied Jesus three times, in the courtyard of the High Priest – as indeed Jesus predicted he would do, shortly before.

Now, the risen Christ asks Peter three times if he loves him.

Peter, still the impetuous naive young man that he is, is hurt by the repetition of the question, ‘Do you love me?’ ‘Lord,’ he says, ‘you know everything; you know that I love you.’ It’s a moving and testing scene. We see the power of forgiveness at work but we see too the demands of love such that this forgiveness must come with some reproof. Jesus doesn’t make it easy for Peter. But love isn’t easy which is perhaps why we find it so hard to forgive.

Our politicians are having a harder time than usual right now and there is little forgiveness knocking around. We demand too much of our politicians and we have too little sense of the collective responsibility that comes with democracy – and we are strangely unwilling to forgive – to give people the benefit of the doubt – to ask how we can help – to look into our heart and, to quote Shakespeare, ask what it doth know that’s like my brother’s fault.

You see, if we think one person can sort out law and order, immigration and Brexit all at once and kind of now, then clearly it’s all going to go wrong because one person can’t do all that and survive.

Forgiveness, it seems to me, is not a superior quality. It doesn’t mark someone out as being better than someone else. It doesn’t need to be patronising. I sometimes think that people avoid forgiveness because it makes an assumption that the forgiver is right and the forgiven is wrong. But who am I to judge?

Clearly, in the case of Peter, he is guilty of denial but, even when a case is clear cut, the humane amongst us might want to ask questions about why he acted in the way he did and whether we would have done any different.

‘There, but for the grace of God, go I’ is often better expressed as something like ‘I’m blessed not to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

Political life is a pretty ghastly existence right now and democracy is the loser if we hound our politicians to their political deaths such that only a very narrow type of person takes the risk of standing for election. The culture of blame which singes the wings of anyone who flies close to it is destroying democracy and we fan its flames every time we buy The Daily Mail or kick off on Twitter about things of which we know nothing.

The culture of forgiveness which Jesus articulates in the beautiful poetry of his death is a close relative of that other nutrient of democracy: which is collective responsibility. We’ve lost that quality as we hide behind the menacing glow of our smart phone screens.

So don’t be too hard on Peter. Look into your heart and ask what it doth know that’s like my brother’s fault.

And, although Jesus tests Peter in the way he expresses his forgiveness and reinstates this naive and impetuous man, don’t forget that we can’t see the scene. We know what was said but we don’t know what it looked like. Through the inner eye of my imagination, I like to think I can see Christ dig Peter in the ribs after his brief interrogation and then throw his arms round him as they laugh and cry together.

What a beautiful thought. Spare a thought for Amber Rudd and for Theresa May and for politicians of every political colour who dare to put their head above the parapet and, instead of shooting them down, let’s go and ask them what we can do to help. 

That’s collective responsibility and it looks rather fine too.

Then we can do Our Lord’s work and feed his sheep – together.

Let us pray:

Behold, O Lord God, our strivings after a truer and more abiding order. Give us visions that bring back a lost glory to the earth, and dreams that foreshadow the better order which you have prepared for us. Scatter every excuse of frailty and unworthiness: consecrate us all with a heavenly mission: open to us a clearer prospect of our work. Give us strength according to our day gladly to welcome and gratefully to fulfil it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.