Sermon from Sunday 17 April

Beauty broken, and transformed


Reading(s): John 20: 1- 18. This sermon was given by Vanessa Lawrence at All Saints and St Denys.

I wonder if you know the story of the great West Window in Winchester cathedral? It is a vast, enormous window that occupies much of the west end of the cathedral, stretching up high towards the roof. When you look closely at it, it’s not an ordinary stained glass window, but in fact a jumble of colours and pictures. It was broken in 1642, and, unable to put all the pieces back together in the same way, the glass makers put them together in a random way.

The story goes that in 1642, the Civil war was raging in Britain. Charles I was the king. He took the throne in 1625 and believed that he ruled by divine right. God had appointed him, and he didn’t need to answer to anyone else. He ignored Parliament and continued to raise taxes as he wished. This caused the country to basically split into two groups: The Cavaliers supported the monarchy and the Roundheads opposed the monarchy. Winchester was strategically really important and in 1642 the Cavaliers came and occupied Winchester Castle. Then the Roundheads rode in and captured the city. The Roundhead soldiers hadn’t been paid for a while and they were pretty grumpy and out for trouble.

After wreaking havoc in the city, they rode their horses into the cathedral. They ransacked it, prising open caskets containing the remains of kings and bishops in their search for items of value, and then threw the bones at the stained-glass windows. Hard as it is to imagine the scene of noise and destruction today, as you walk round the peaceful cathedral, the soldiers devastated the cathedral, littering the grounds with broken glass and bones.

Afterwards, the townspeople came around and picked up as much of the glass and bones as they could. They stored it in the hope that when things calmed down, the windows could be reassembled. Things did not really calm down until the 1660’s, when the monarchy was restored. The people of Winchester repaired their window, but pieces were missing and it couldn’t be put back together in exactly the same way. Instead, the glass makers came up with the idea of the mosaic effect, they took the broken pieces and transformed them into something beautiful.

On Maundy Thursday, all the clergy in the diocese are invited back to the cathedral to renew their ordination vows. This year, we were together invited to look at, and reflect on the west window. It was an extraordinary moment, as we stood there in the sunlight, the peace, and the stillness, thinking about beauty broken, and yet transformed.

As I stood there, thinking about pain, and loss and destruction, there were images of Ukraine playing through my mind – the images we have seen in the news of war and terror, the bombing of homes and people fleeing for the lives. There has been war and pain and cruelty throughout history, and yet also there are images of hope.

The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate symbol of hope for humankind.

The crucifixion of Christ broke hearts, and trust, and relationships.

It broke the hearts of his bewildered and grieving friends. It broke their trust in God, who they expected to give them a messiah, to lead them out of oppression, it broke their relationships as they scattered in fear of their own lives. It broke the body of Christ, hanging on the cross, and as his mother watched, it broke her heart too.

We have remembered all of that this Holy week as we have walked the passion story in our services – our Maundy Thursday communion here at All Saints as we shared the last supper, and then remembered the disciples abandoning Jesus in Gethsemene. Then on Good Friday at St John’s, we contemplated our own mortality through the death of Christ as Sally led us through the Last Hour before the cross.

And yet … God takes all that brokenness and transforms it into something new. In that moment, in front of the empty tomb, when Mary Magdelene recognises the Risen Christ as the Jesus she knew and loved, our vision clears, and we see the world from a new perspective. We see and we know in our hearts that we are loved, that grace overflows and transforms our lives in ways that are unexpected; we recognise that all things are restored, renewed, and healed, and that they are still being restored and renewed by the working of God in each one of our lives today.

In a moment, during our prayers, we will be transforming our own empty cross, as a reminder of the renewal and change that is possible through faith, and you are invited to write prayers to reflect where you want to see transformation in your life, and the life of the world around us.