I was at St. Saviour’s Church, High Green in Sheffield this morning. Alan Greaves, the organist and Reader at St. Saviour’s was attacked on Christmas Eve just a few hundred yards from the church as he walked to church to play the organ at the Midnight service. He died on Thursday from his very severe injuries and a murder investigation is under way.
Today was the first time the congregation had come together since Alan’s death. Many people from the wider community were present together with Alan’s immediate family. Maureen, Alan’s wife, is a Church Army Evangelist and she spoke very movingly in the service about her grief and pain, about the support she has received and about the faith she and Alan shared.
I often feel inadequate before, during and after a sermon and sometimes all three – as this morning. Who is sufficient to speak on this kind of occasion? The words I did speak are below and there is an audio on the church website:
There will be a download of the audio of the sermon later today here: http://stsaviours.info
It’s been a week to appreciate the ministry of church organists and Readers. St. Saviour’s have received many messages of support from people like Alan across the country. It’s also been a week to appreciate the remarkable ministry of many parish clergy in times of tragedy and grief in a community. Canon Simon Bessant, Vicar of St. Saviours, has worked tirelessly this week supporting Maureen and her family and many others in the community.
Thanks to all those who have prayed today for Alan’s family and for St. Saviour’s. Please keep praying!
A tragic death A sermon in St. Saviour’s, High Green 30th December, 2012 Colossians 3.12-17; Luke 2.41-end
It’s very good to be with you this morning as some of Alan’s immediate family gather together with the church family here, with the wider community of High Green, with the wider community of Church Army.
There is a sense of shock and a sense of outrage not just in this community but across the whole city of Sheffield. Alan was the victim of a brutal attack as he was on his way to church on Christmas Eve, as he was walking to this church to bear witness to his deep Christian faith. There will be immense grief for those who knew Alan well, which includes many in this church and community. There will be fear that such a thing could happen, apparently to anyone. There will be anger and all kinds of questions and real pain in our hearts today.
There will also be more positive feelings. First of all love and support for Maureen and Alan’s immediate family. There has been an outpouring of prayer and support I know from neighbours and friends. People far and wide have sent messages of support to the Church here including other church organists and Readers. That support will continue and will need to continue into the coming years as Maureen and the family struggle to come to terms with what has happened.
There will be immense appreciation, I know, for the work of the medical teams who tried to save Alan’s life both in the ambulance and in the hospitals. There will be appreciation for the police for the way they have pursued their investigation and for those who have come forward with information. Police are still appealing for witnesses to come forward with any information. Maureen has said very clearly and powerfully that she longs for justice not for vengeance, again bearing witness to her own deep faith in the midst of the sharpest agony of her life.
There will be appreciation for the care offered by the community and church here and particularly if I may say so for the care offered by your vicar, Canon Simon Bessant.
And in the midst of all of this, I am sure, many will be giving thanks for Alan himself, for all he showed us of God’s grace and love. There will be occasions in the future for many generous tributes to be given. Simon has referred to Alan this week quite simply as a good man, a gentle giant. Goodness is not as common as it should be and this community and this city have lost a shining light.
And so we come together in this service this morning. We offer all of these emotions to Almighty God and his gentle love as we lift up our hearts: our grief, our pain and shock, our anger, our questions, our fears on the one hand; our love and prayers and appreciation on the other.
It is somehow harder when any tragedy strikes at Christmas time. But perhaps we need to read the Christmas story in a different way this year.
Christ was born to save a world which needed saving: a world in which hatred and evil and violence are real. In Alan’s murder, that violence and hate and evil and waste come all too close to us and steal away someone who was loved and respected and who made a difference.
Three days after Christmas, the Church remembers the darkest part of the Christmas story. We remember the death of the Holy Innocents. The story is told in the gospel of Matthew of how the wise men came looking for Jesus in Jerusalem.
King Herod sends them on their way to Bethlehem but asks them to return when they have found the child. The wise men bring their gifts to Jesus but they return home by a different route. Jesus himself is taken away from Bethlehem into Egypt. But Herod is infuriated. In his fury he sends and murders all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. An evil act.
For understandable reasons, we don’t tell each other this the darkest part of the Christmas story very often. But it is the part which shows that Christ was born to save a world in which hate and evil and violence are all too real. It is the part which shows that the most terrible crimes come not from the actions of God but from the actions of wicked men and women. It is a part which shows us the reality of evil and the suffering of the innocent in the world of Jesus day just as in our own day. We live in a world which needs saving.
The name Jesus means God saves. Jesus in his death on the cross won a great victory over evil. But that victory is not yet complete.
On Christmas Eve that same violence, evil and murder visited this community in the attack on Alan Greaves as he was on his way to Church. We should feel angry about that. We should be reminded that this world needs saving and needs a Saviour. We should be recalled and strengthened and deepened in the faith which Alan was living out in his daily life and in the final steps he took.
There is immense sadness and grief and shock in our hearts today. There will be an immense reservoir of love and care for Alan’s family and those most affected by this tragedy.
But I hope and pray that even in the midst of such a senseless attack and such a bitter loss, our Christian faith will be deepened and strengthened and will become more real to us. I hope and pray that Alan’s example to this community will be stronger even in his death than it was in his life and that he will inspire many people to be involved in serving Christ and in serving others in and through this local church.
In this time of crisis hold fast to one another. Hold fast to the faith you have been given. Turn your anger into action, your grief into giving and your tears into service.
Let me end with verses from our first bible reading which seem so appropriate for Alan who was a genuine servant of Christ, a Reader who preached in this church and an organist who loved to help God’s people sing his praises:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly: teach and admonish one another in all wisdom and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3.16-17)