Reconciliation in Difficult Times
A service for Passion Sunday with Edgardo Colon-Emeric, Director of the Center for Reconciliation, Duke University, and Canon Dr Jennifer Smith of Wesley's Chapel, London.
A service for Passion Sunday with Edgardo Colon-Emeric, Director of the Center for Reconciliation, Duke University, North Carolina and the Revd Canon Dr Jennifer Smith, Superintendent Minister of Wesley's Chapel, London. The service will reflect theologically on the current world situation in the context of Passion Sunday and the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of Oscar Romero. Producer: Katharine Longworth.
This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.
This Sunday finds us in uncharted territory, and uncertain times. Today Churches and other faith communities are closed out of concern to protect one another and in solidarity with our NHS.
We planned to gather for this Sunday Service at Wesley’s Chapel, the church opened in 1778 for John Wesley, founder of Methodism; instead I am sitting in the sanctuary alone, without a congregation.
This is Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent, and today we remember the life and martyrdom of Saint Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador. It is forty years since he was killed for speaking out against the political violence of the governing regime in El Salvador, nearly two since he was recognised by the Catholic Church as a Saint.
In these hard days, we will take inspiration from his life as we worship God. The voice of prayer does not stop because we cannot be together. We are united by words and song, as in the familiar words of the hymn, O Sacred Head sore wounded….
HYMN – O Sacred Head
3. Welcome 2 (146 words)The city around Wesley’s Chapel is usually full of noise and people. Today on our roof overlooking Bunhill Fields burial ground I can hear birdsong. The trees are in full blossom, daffodils and cowslips peek from under hedges, and the city is quiet. And yet, the quiet here, as all over our country, is an illusion.
We are engaged, all of us, in a vast national work to support those who are ill with Covid 19, to protect the vulnerable, and to lay foundations to re-build, one household at a time. The crisis calls out strength we did not know we had. Yet it also exposes cracks in our society: as Archbishop Romero said, ‘The Word of God is like the light of the sun. It illuminates beautiful things, but also things which we would rather not see.’
Let us pray together to confess our sin.
Prayers of confession, Assurance of forgiveness (95 words – Methodist Worship Book, Holy Communion for Lent)
Lord, you are steadfast in your love and infinite in your mercy; you welcome sinners and invite them to be your guests. We confess our sins, trusting in you to forgive us. We have yielded to temptation and sinned: Lord have mercy.We have turned from our neighbours in their need: Christ have mercy.We have resisted your word in our hearts: Lord have mercy.May almighty God have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and keep us in life eternal. Amen.
As we have prayed, so it is done: our sins are forgiven.
Be Still My Soul – Beth Nielsen Chapman
Introduction to the readings, brief bio of Romero
Our worship today will take us on a journey in three parts: we begin with lament, before moving to hope, and finally to witness.
Oscar Romero became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977: at the time the country suffered great political repression, supported by violence against those who opposed the regime. Those who appointed him thought Romero would be a ‘safe pair of hands,’ not challenging the status quo. It was after the killing of a close friend of his, a Jesuit priest, that the Archbishop began to speak out.
Edgardo Colon Emeric is a Methodist Minister, Professor of Divinity and the Director of the Centre for Reconciliation Studies at Duke University, in the United States. From his home in North Carolina, Dr Colon Emeric reflects with us today. But first listen to the words of Oscar Romero from his sermon on 8th January 1978
From Blessed Oscar Romero’s Homily on 8 January 1978 - (125 words)
We do not preach an equality that silences all people. Rather we preach an equality in which all people can feel like they are children in a home that supports them and provides them with good things. Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of the cemeteries or the product of violence and repressions that silences our voices. Peace is the calm and generous contribution of all people toward the common good. Peace is dynamic and generous. Peace is a right and an obligation that enables every person to occupy their place in this beautiful family that is enlightened with the light of God.
Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. For a Methodist minister like myself, this feels like a homecoming, a return to the rock from which I was hewn, to quote the prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 51:1). Unfortunately, the challenging conditions under which we are currently living do not allow me to be with you in person. But I am grateful that, through the wonders of modern technology, I can we with you remotely, we can be brought together as a community.
On this fifth Sunday of Lent, our journey towards Holy Week meets with a historical event, the 40th anniversary of Óscar Romero’s martyrdom.
On March 24, 1980, Romero was assassinated at the altar of a hospital chapel. He had just finished preaching was from John 12: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” That afternoon he became the grain of wheat; he fell; he died; he bore much fruit. One of these fruits was his practice of reading of the signs of the times through the Lord of history, Jesus Christ. In today’s gospel lesson, we hear Jesus say that his hour has come. This morning with Romero’s help, I invite us to consider the hour of Jesus as our hour, an hour of lament, hope, and witness.
Psalm 130Listen to the voice of Lament in the words of Psalm 130. It is read today by Harriet Appiah Anderson, an NHS staff nurse and member of Wesley’s Chapel:
Psalm 130A Song of Ascents.1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.2 Lord, hear my voice!Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.
Out of the Deep – John Rutter
SERMON II – Lament
The hour of Jesus is our hour of lament. In Psalm 130, we hear what the Bible calls a song of ascent. It is the song of a pilgrim for whom the prospect of holy days in the holy city brings no joy or security but pain and sorrow. It is a song written for our hour. “Out of depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” We are familiar with this voice. This is the voice of the infected patient told to wait for treatment, the voice of the furloughed worker drowning in debt, the voice of the one whose future looked bright a few weeks ago but is now sinking in the mire where there is no foothold (cf. Ps 69:2). It is our hour of lament.
Jesus understands the hour of lament. “My soul is troubled,” he says. However, he does not ask to be saved from this hour; he came into the world for this hour, for our hour of lament. Romero learned from Jesus that this hour is a strange gift. Lament helps us see and name the truth about this world and about God.
During his time as Archbishop, Romero lived at a hospice for people dying from cancer. He frequently invited people to visit the centre, to lament alongside the sick and the dying, to experience that truth for themselves. It was both home and Gethsemane, a lonely place where he encountered God in the bodies of his suffering neighbours. All his homilies were prepared at this little hospital. It was there that his final homily was preached. It was there that he learned to wait for the Lord. This leads me to my second point. We are not left in the hour of lament, we are not left waiting, but through our waiting we come to the hour of hope.
We hear the Gospel on which Archbishop Romero preached his last sermon,
John 12Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
Bernadette Farrell – Unless a Grain of Wheat Shall Fall
SERMON III – Hope
The hour of Jesus is our hour of hope. In the gospel reading, we hear that the hour of the cross is also the hour of glory. Like the grain of wheat, Jesus will die, but he will bear fruit. He is exalted by falling. He hopes to lose because what history calls failure he calls doing his Father’s will. Jesus redefines hope. Hope in difficult times does not grow by downplaying the seriousness of the situation. Hope is not optimism; it is not found by looking at the bright side. Hope is found in God, for with him is great power to redeem.
In his final homily, moments before the fatal bullet was fired, Romero spoke of hope. He preached of the final hopes Christians hold in their hearts: the resurrection of the dead, the kingdom of God, the harvest of justice and peace awaiting God’s people, the transfiguration of all things in Christ. He also preached of more immediate hopes: an equitable society for all starting with the poor, an end to the state of emergency, a peaceful resolution to the political polarization.
He believed that heavenly hopes strengthen and purify historical hopes. The good seeds that we plant on earth can sprout here and blossom in heaven. What matters is not the size of the seed but God. Sara Meardi de Pinto, the woman Romero was eulogizing on March 24, 1980, was an ordinary person.
She was not on the frontline of the struggle for justice, her health did not allow it, but she too made a positive contribution during the time of national crisis: her understanding presence, an encouraging word, and above all her prayers, the great interpreter of hope. Our hour of hope is our hour of prayer.
Prayer can turn a kitchen into an altar, a quarantine into a Lenten pilgrimage, a hospital room into an Upper Room, and an ordinary person into a witness. This leads me to my final thought on our present hour, we are called to bear witness
SERMON IV – Witness
The hour of Jesus is our hour of witness. In the gospel reading, when Jesus learns that some Greeks were looking for him, he knows that his hour has come, the hour when he will draw all peoples to himself. The hour of his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is the hour of his manifestation to humanity. The inscription on the cross, written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, is only the beginning. All nations will look for him and they will find him through his servants, through witnesses like Philip, Andrew, and Romero.During his time as archbishop, Romero’s homilies were broadcast on the radio . It is said that on a Sunday morning you could walk the streets of any town in El Salvador without missing a word of his sermons because every home radio was tuned in to the live broadcast.
One word sums up the content of his preaching, the truth. On one occasion, an airport employee unloading the archbishop’s bag from the plane was overheard saying: “There goes the truth.” It is because he preached the truth of the national crisis that people flocked to the cathedral in unheard of numbers and enthusiastically listened to sermons pushing the two-hour mark.
It is because he preached the truth of God’s love for the outcast that those in power considered his preaching a threat. They jammed the radio signal, blew up transmission towers, and murdered him. Romero knew this was coming. He said, “All who preach Christ are voice, but the voice passes away, preachers die…only the Word remains.” The hour of Jesus is our hour of witness. The Word who is Christ remains in the voice of his witnesses. It sounds like the voice of the nurse who risks infection and burnout for the sake of caring for the sick. It sounds like the voice of a young person risking loneliness and depression for the sake of protecting others from becoming sick.
It sounds like the voice of Romero saying, “God’s best microphone is Christ, and Christ’s best microphone is the church, and all of you are the church.”The hour of Jesus is our hour of lament, hope, and witness. The world has COVID-19, but the church is not closed for business. God’s best microphone, Christ is still speaking. And Christ’s best microphone, you, the church is still transmitting.
From Romero’s Final Sermon,
[Many people don’t understand the message. They think that Christianity should not get involved in [challenging politicians or policy], but quite the opposite is true. You just heard the Gospel of Christ:] we must not love our lives so much that we avoid taking the risks in life that history calls for. Those who seek to shun danger will lose their lives, whereas those who for love of Christ dedicate themselves to the service of others will live. They are like that grain of wheat that dies, at least in appearance. If the grain does not die, it remains alone. If it yields a crop, it is because it dies, allowing itself to be immolated in the earth; it is by being dismantled that it produces the crop.This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to improve society, especially when injustice and sin are so widespread, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God requires of us. … For we have the assurance that we will never fail in all the work we do on earth if we infuse it with Christian hope.
Canto de Meditación From Misa Popular Salvadoreñaby Guillermo Cuellar
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray for the Church of God throughout the world, for all martyrs to the faith, especially Saint Oscar Romero. For churches finding new ways to respond to our present crisis, and for people of all faiths as we work together to serve those in need.Lord hear our prayer.
Let us pray for those who have power and influence and for all who govern the nations. Lord hear our prayer.
Let us pray for the powerless, for all victims of famine and war, for all who strive for justice and peace today.Lord hear our prayer.
Let us pray for the afflicted and sorrowful and for all who need our prayers, for all who are ill with Covid 19, for their loved ones and for all who care for them. We pray for those who fear the future, who grieve the loss of loved ones, or who have no one to pray for them.Lord hear our prayer.
Gather these prayers as we say together the words that Jesus gave us:
The Lord’s prayer Our Father, who art in heaven,hallowed be thy name;thy kingdom come;thy will be done;on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us.And lead us not into temptation;but deliver us from evil.For thine is the kingdom,the power and the glory,for ever and ever.Amen.
Today Saint Oscar Romero’s statue stands above the west door of Westminster Abbey, one of the ‘modern martyrs’ commemorated there. It is right for us to close with the Abbey choir singing Charles Wesley’s hymn, ‘Love Divine.’ Be well this week, and care for one another. And the Blessing of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be with you and remain with you always. Amen. HYMN Love Divine, All Loves Excelling