A Sermon from Sherborne

A leap of faith

A sermon for the Parish Eucharist at Sherborne Abbey, preached on Sunday 15 April 2018 by The Reverend Sister Isabel Keegan, FJ, on her last Sunday as a member of the Sherborne clergy team.


A few weeks ago Sister Annmarie and I went to the cinema to see a movie called ‘Finding your Feet’ I am sure some of you have also seen it. The cast was made up of familiar names such as Joanna Lumley, Timothy Spall, and Imelda Staunton, all now well past their middle years and still doing well – so proving that there is still a good life to be lived after seventy and beyond!

The overall theme of the story was about the various random messy events in our lives such as betrayal in marriage, the courage to divorce when love has definitely died, and become destructive, and the inevitable sickness and death that comes our way.

However, running through all this doom and gloom and the inevitable chaos of life, we were presented with a cameo of men and women who became friends through their shared passion for salsa dancing, wild pond swimming and an energetic sense of humour!

Through these times of shared energetic activities together, they found themselves able to respond compassionately to each other in a variety of times of crisis.

We both agreed it was not the funniest movie we had seen but the end was for us quite poignant and we burst out laughing – I promise to describe this later!

The Gospel this morning recalls the story of the Risen Jesus, as He appears to his closest friends, who had recently deserted and betrayed him. They were rightly ‘startled and terrified’ by his presence. To reassure them Jesus said ‘touch me and see’ and after he had asked for and eaten a fish-snack, (roasted in the open) he opened their minds to the Scriptures.’

Elizabeth Johnson in her book Quest for the Living God wrote a chapter on three young German Theologians who tried to make sense of the horrendous suffering of the Holocaust in the post-war years. Johnson reminds us that at the centre of our Christian Life is the memory of the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact the passion and death of Jesus is also at the heart of our priestly ministry. Annmarie believes that’s why we wear red at a priest’s ordination, a sign of martyrdom.

In every Eucharistic liturgy we celebrate, the central act recalls Jesus’ self-giving the night before he died, a remembering that makes this Self- Giving present again through the sacramental bread and wine.

Throughout the New Testament we have evidence of how Jesus immersed himself in solidarity with all of humanity but particularly with those who suffered. Each time we gather to take part in this pivotal act of remembering his death and resurrection we are reminded afresh of all who suffer unjustly in our world today. And as clergy our role is walk beside those who suffer as much as when we walk beside those who celebrate. Sadly, but factually, in modern history, Crosses are still being set up in our world, as the cry of abandonment continues to echo down through war torn areas, and the dysfunctional countries of our world.

But Johnson reminds us that because we believe that the crucified Jesus is Risen our Remembering entails a burning hope for the future. There is no positive meaning in unjust radical suffering that destroys people’s hearts. And as clergy our role is to assist you to remember the burning hope of Resurrection even while we must face the full measure of the negativity of human life, and refuse to ignore or spiritualize or glorify it.

The world we know can be brittle, fragmentary, discordant and opaque – in a word, dis-eased/sinful. And at present we have no inspirational leaders to help us to remember, that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, if we hang on limpet like to that burning hope for the future.

You see there is a mystical-political way to life that goes on opening a pathway through the history of suffering. We can decide to oppose these wrongs in the public sphere, we may deepen our practice of justice and kindness, to aim at beauty and a full table of life’s good for all.

By taking this path we continue to live out the ideal of our Living and Risen Jesus. Then we can truly be priests for one another.

The last scene to the movie I made reference to at the beginning of this sermon is that of the female actor leaping from the canal bank onto a rather shaky barge on which her lover was heading out to France. When he called out ‘What are you doing’ she replied from mid-air ‘Taking a leap of faith.’ She made her final choice between familiar security of a deeply unhappy marriage, and the risk of adventure. However the film ended before we saw whether she ever landed safely on the barge or not!

That will of course be Ann-Marie and me tomorrow night at midnight as we make our own new ‘Leap of Faith’ onto the shores of Ireland. So please continue to pray for us as we to try to deepen our practice of justice, kindness and compassion, and a full table for all – but this time in the bogs of Kerry! Amen.

The Reverend Sister Isabel Keegan FJ 15/04/2018
The Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sherborne