Event Name Sermon given at the Evening Service on Easter Day 2017
Start Date 16th Apr 2017 6:30pm
Description

The Reverend Tony Kyriakides, Priest Vicar

When you crossed the threshold of that Great West Door some minutes ago, I wonder what you expected to find or hoped to experience here in this Abbey Church this evening. If you came with a friend, perhaps as you journey home tonight you will discuss how your encounter with God in this service, has left you feeling. In which case, it will not be too dissimilar to that homeward journey made by Cleopas and his friend as they made their way back to Emmaus. Of course, what were uppermost in their minds were the shocking event of Good Friday and the implausible claim of women that Jesus was alive. It was a journey which would leave an indelible mark on those two disciples.

In literature much has been written about journeys of one sort or other. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress chronicles the journey of the everyman character, Christian, from his hometown, the ‘City of Destruction’ to the ‘Celestial City’, the heavenly Jerusalem. The Divine Comedy describes Dante’s travels through hell, purgatory and paradise which, allegorically, are about the soul's journeying towards God, through the hellish and the heavenly, the human and the divine. More recently, in The Lord of the Rings, there is Frodo Baggins intent on destroying the One Ring, which leads him from his home in the Shire making the hazardous journey to Mount Doom in Mordor. Again, Richard Adams introduces us to a group of rabbits in Watership Down as he narrates their escape from the destruction of their warren and their journey to find a new home. Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and the others encounter perils and temptations along the way. Finally, I doubt any American visitor would forgive me for not mentioning Huckleberry Finn journeying down the Mississippi, floating between the two shores as the river transports him to uncertain places. I suspect you know other books charting journeys of exploration and danger.

There are plenty such stories in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The most iconic is the Exodus as Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert which becomes an unsolicited home as one year stretches into forty and that which seemed temporary becomes permanent. The children of Israel live in a place of transition between the captivity under Pharaoh and the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey. In the liminal wilderness, they are betwixt and between, and that is our calling: to journey ‘The Way’ which is betwixt and between, being neither of this world nor of the next. It is a journey which is our rites of passage.

It was an anthropologist of the early twentieth century who defined the structure of rites of passage. There is separation from a previous, preliminal world into a state of transition, liminality, which eventually allows for incorporation into a new postliminal world. Note that word ‘liminal’. It comes from the Latin limens and refers to the threshold separating two places. So, for example, you crossed the limens, the threshold, when you entered this Abbey Church. The liminal state is a transitional space as a person moves from one place to another. Transition, liminality, is a common feature of human life for there are always new thresholds to cross; the thresholds of birth and adolescence, marriage and family.

In passing from the preliminal into the postliminal world a person encounters danger and can be seen as a threat to others. That is why there are prescribed rituals which control the danger through physical and symbolic separation from the preliminal community until there can be public recognition of a person’s new status in the postliminal world. In tribal societies, rites of passage may involve hazardous tests or precarious ordeals. During this most dangerous transitional phase, this liminal period of separation, the novice or initiate is temporarily an outcast. But strangely, paradoxically, liminality is not only a time of danger, it presents possibilities of power because a person is no longer constrained by social order, status, socio-economic position or class

What has any of this to do with that road to Emmaus? Briefly, let me give you three answers.

First, post-resurrection, Jesus is a liminal person no longer constrained by his physicality. His body carries the wounds of the nails and the spear but it would appear he is not in pain; he can pass through doors and he can disappear from human sight but, as he tells Mary, ‘Do not hold me’. The two disciples on their way to Emmaus, like Mary Magdalene, greet him, their risen master, as if he is a stranger.

Second, those two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, are themselves on a liminal journey not merely between the crucifixion of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Day. As he interprets scripture, Jesus makes connections between the old covenant and the new, before revealing himself as he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and feeds them. However, there is more to this liminal experience. Jesus ‘vanishes from their sight’ and they hurry back to Jerusalem to share their news with the others who have heard from Simon Peter that Jesus has risen. What we have here is a group of people who share the mark of liminality and so experience a unique bond of solidarity which has been called communitas; a bond which transcends status and class; a bond which establishes this communitas as the in-between people, the embryonic Church.

Third, gathered here in this Abbey Church, we are the twenty-first century communitas who defy status and class. The mark of the liminal person is baptism which commissioned you and me for our journey, journeying the Way of Christ into no man’s land, betwixt and between the values of the world beyond that Great West door and the values of God’s kingdom. It is a journey which, if taken seriously, is precarious, uncertain, even dangerous. As you entered this Abbey Church, crossing the threshold, the liminal place, passing through those glass doors, you stepped under the statues of ten twentieth century people whose liminal journey led to their martyrdom. Resurrection is not the end; it is the beginning of that liminal journey into the wilderness as members of a communitas defying the values of a world which speak of self-interest, self-promotion and self-gain. Betwixt and between, we live by alternative values which speak of God’s reign and in which our love of God is expressed through our love of neighbour.

As you leave this Abbey Church, crossing once again the limens, the threshold of the Great West Door, as you journey home tonight will you recognise Jesus as he accompanies you, and will you invite him into your home?

© 2017 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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