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‘We must not sacrifice humanity’ – Archbishop’s sermon on RTE Sunday service

The Service on Sunday on RTE One television (on March 29) was led by Archbishop Michael Jackson with prayers by Margaret Healion and music by the Revd Jack Kinkead and Klaas de Vries. The text of the Archbishop’s sermon is below.

‘We must not sacrifice humanity' – Archbishop's sermon on RTE Sunday service
‘We must not sacrifice humanity' – Archbishop's sermon on RTE Sunday service

If you missed the service you can watch it on the RTE Player.

Reflection at Service of Morning Prayer on RTE One by Archbishop Michael Jackson

Sunday March 29th 2020 Lent 5, Passion Sunday
Readings: Ezekiel 37.1–14; psalm 130; St John 11.1–45

Life as we have known it has changed radically and significantly for us all as a result of the onset of the coronavirus worldwide and in Ireland. We have been asked by those who carry out a duty of political and civic responsibility to act wisely and thoughtfully in the interests of everyone else, as a community, and of ourselves, as individuals. We are, however, asked to do this in a whole new understanding of community itself – with a diligence that demands avoidance; with a carefulness that averts contagion. We, and the whole of the world, are living at the heart of a global pandemic. As people of faith, we dare not turn our face away from our families or from our neighbours old and new. And we are discovering new neighbours all the time. We are called by the God who led his people out of Egypt and who taught his people to comfort one another through the life, death and resurrection of his Son – we are called to offer comfort. And so it is not surprizing that our hearts and our minds go in the direction of Isaiah 40.1: Comfort my people, bring comfort to them, says your God; speak kindly …

It is entirely understandable that the primary emotion is fear: fear for our families, fear for those with whom we share our life’s work and our moments of success and satisfaction; fear for those who have special needs, for those wo are disabled and uncomprehending and for those who carry underlying medical needs that they have not voiced to anyone until now; fear for babies and children; fear for those women and children who, in whatever way, will be subjected to domestic violence in homes which have now become incubators of emotions bad as well as good; fear for the homeless and the undocumented. It feels like a race against time inside time itself. The one fear we must not fear to speak out is: fear for ourselves. Self–care is not selfishness. It is a proper recognition of our worth as children of God and as children of the world. It is God’s gift to us and our gift to others. And at the heart of this gift is the voice of prayer: Comfort my people, bring comfort to them (and to me), says your God; speak kindly …

It would be all too easy for individuals and for society to close down in the current circumstances. We just do not know if isolation will become even deeper than it already has become and if inter–personal contact will become even more distanced than it has become too. As Christian people, we have a duty to the whole of society. As Christian people, we are called to a discipleship of God’s presence. God is present both in the raging of the sea and in the meeting of the waters. Our discipleship right now is to be surrounded by the Spirit of God, to trust the Spirit of God and to share the Spirit of God. If ever religion were not a private thing, if ever religion were a public thing, it is now. If ever faith were a public gift, it is now. It is not long since we marked on St Patrick’s Day the coming of St Patrick to Ireland. Our Patron Saint came not to any denominational church but to the Irish people. That gift of faith we share today with an ever–expanding family of people like us who come from an ever–widening range of World Faiths. They too are God’s children. They too are fearful for themselves and for others. They too need to feel the gentle breeze of the God whom we worship in spirit and in truth and the calming presence of The Holy Spirit the Comforter.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent is the beginning of Passiontide in the Christian Church. The face of Jesus is set firmly and squarely on his last lap, on his final journey to Jerusalem. What does he do? He says to the disciples, fraught with danger and death though it is: Let us go to Judea again. And what does he do there? He does two things that are voices of comfort in our day to us and to the whole of humanity. He weeps over his friend Lazarus. He raises his friend Lazarus to a restored and re–energized life on earth. Tears and hope frame our praying and our praising today, set as we are in the heart of loss and of confusion. It is to Martha, the grieving sister too often seen as a Biblical dogsbody, that Jesus reveals his glory in its fullest: I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. This is the hope that underpins our every action, our every response, our every picking up of the phone, our every card, our every smile – we need to learn to keep smiling at others in these days, there is far too little of it about; there is no need for any of us to turn our faces away from other people – this is the hope in life itself as together we chart our course through these days and months. The last thing that we must sacrifice is our humanity. The first thing we must do is to rejoice in the gift of life and of love itself.

The prophet Ezekiel is called upon by God to breathe new life into a dejected people, God’s people who are described as a valley full of dry bones. Ezekiel’s Dry Bones have inspired people enslaved to wealth and greed, subjected to fear and cruelty as the only life they were allowed to know. This vision lit up the spirit of those whose own bones were crushed. They were denuded of their humanity; they were clothed in divinity. God the Spirit gave them voice to praise his Holy Name in their tragic indignity. We today, as we step out on The Passion of Our Lord, are inspired to hear the word of the Lord. The word of The Spirit for today is the same as that voiced by St Paul to the Philippians in chapter 4.8: And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and attractive, whatever is excellent and admirable – fill your thoughts with these things.

As An Taioseach Leo Varadkar reminded people on the evening of St Patrick’s Day:

‘Not all superheroes wear capes …some wear scrubs and gowns.’

And he went on to say: ‘All our healthcare workers need us to do the right things in the weeks ahead.’

In saying this, he was honouring the service that is true leadership of those who are in the front line. He was also honouring the service that is true leadership of those of us who are in the back line. Whether the line is front or back does not matter. The love is what matters right now. We who have love in our hearts are called to share it with faith and with hope, faith in humanity and hope in the present and the future. Let us be moved both to tears and to love, in whatever small and big ways we can be. Let us pledge our commitment and our contribution to the perfect love that casts out fear.

St John 11.33, 34:

When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, Where have you laid him? They said to him, Lord, come and see. Jesus began to weep.