Sermon preached on 24 April by the Revd Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor

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Sermon preached on 24 April by the Revd Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor

Canon Mark looks at the call offered by Jesus as Word as we celebrate one of the great men of words - Shakespeare

Four hundred years yesterday William Shakespeare died at the age of 52. A small plaque was unveiled just around the corner from here to mark the place he lived for a while and where he probably wrote Othello and King Lear. Many events are planned in this anniversary year and, naturally, his plays are being staged across the country with a lot of excitement. But I wonder if any of the productions will be as startling as that of The Tempest directed by Chris Goode at the Edinburgh festival in 2000?

Many of you will know that The Tempest begins with a storm and a shipwreck and takes us to an island, often in literature and myth a place of human testing, a place of magical but dangerous dislocation of the soul. The production in Edinburgh was performed in local people’s houses and flats. You offered your home and the six actors turned up like strolling players and began the play without any to do. It took place in semi-darkness with improvised lighting from torches, bicycle lamps, candles and fairy lights. At the end the actors evaporated into the night like shy spirits without even taking a bow.

It was a stark reminder that theatre is an experience you have, not a place that you go. Chris Goode believed that people’s homes are simply the best place to perform a play that is all about changing perceptions, altered states and geographical confusions allowing him and the cast to take the audience on a journey in which the familiar became disconcertingly unfamiliar. 

So in an Edinburgh flat a bedroom doorway became Caliban’s lair and Ferdinand was found undertaking Prospero’s tasks, better known as washing up in the kitchen. Miranda and Prospero’s murmured conversation heard just a foot away was Shakespeare spoken in your living room, not declaimed on a stage.

It was if you were eavesdropping and at the end in pitch black, stunned for a few seconds, the audience came to as if they were awaking from a dream - to find the actors gone. And at every performance, somewhere in your home, the actors had left behind a small paper boat, on the mantelpiece or by the bed, or resting by the window. A small reminder that it hadn’t all been a dream, it had happened and under your own roof.

Early Christians spoke of Jesus as Word, walking into the land of our homes, visiting us for a short time and in that time subverting us, our priorities and selfish comforts, our so called “common” sense and deep and destructive prejudices. He was making the familiar strange again. In that short time, re-picturing God for us, re-defining the boundaries of love, if there are such things. This man walks in and creates a storm of the human spirit blasting complacency where it has become oppressive to yourself or others, and creating a calm where struggling lives need assurance and peace.

In many ways this life in our earth-home was a tempest of yes, changing perceptions, altered states and talk of a kingdom far off that feels strangely like home. He brought an energy, a hope, a new way of being that defrosted the heart: if only you had the ears to hear, he said, if only you could tune in, tune in your lives to this brave new world of God.

A few years later in that story, we find, not a small paper boat, but a small wooden one on choppy seas with Paul and some friends, a boat with early disciples of Jesus, carrying his message to other places, other homes. It had not been a magical illusion for them, it was reality and their boats set out with the precious treasure of their witness with similar danger to refugees in our own time. It was risky but it was a message that could save us from ourselves, so they set off.

For them, like theatre, church was not a place to go - there weren’t any built yet -  church was an experience of change, a way of translating the life and holy storm of this man into ordinary day to day life and relationships, not alone but together, with baptism forging a sort of new family, water was now thicker than blood.

Peter, a stormy man himself in so many ways, as we just heard preached again and again that this Jesus story hadn’t ended though, hadn’t come and gone and left us in the dark but in fact, the Jesus movement had only just begun and now was to be continued – continued in you, if you think its important enough that is.

The paper boat is left on your mantelpiece. Is it all just a dream? Or do you have the ears to hear, spoken to you as close as it gets - “Follow me”.