Happy Easter! The Lord is risen!
We have major building works in Sheffield Cathedral at the moment. The Cathedral remains open for daily and normal Sunday worship but we don’t have the space for larger services. So this morning we moved across the road to the Cutlers Hall, the home of the Cutlers Company in Sheffield, for the Easter Eucharist.
It was a great occasion with Easter joy, full choirs and orchestra and our traditional Hallelujah chorus at the end. This is my sermon from the service.
The Risen Christ and the City of Steel A sermon for Easter Day in the Cutler’s Hall 31st March, 2013 Acts 10.34-43 and John 20.1-18
Alleluia. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Some words from our reading from the Book of Acts. Hear the good news.
“They put [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a real, historical, actual event which changes everything.
We share together today in a unique event in the long story of Sheffield Cathedral and the Cutlers Company. We have been neighbours and friends for hundreds of years. But this is the first time the Cathedral’s main Easter Eucharist has taken place inside the Cutlers Hall. It is good to be here and warm thanks to the Cutlers Company and to the Master Cutler for their welcome.
Our visit today falls in a very significant year for the Cutlers Company. One hundred years ago, a Sheffield man named Harry Brearley played a leading role in the development of what was at first called rustless steel and then, eventually, stainless steel.
Brearley’s invention was one of three great developments in the story of steel in this city which have shaped Sheffield in the modern era. In 1740 Benjamin Huntsman invented a way of making steel in a crucible. In 1856 Henry Bessemer developed something called a Bessemer converter, further refining the process. You can still see one at Kelham Island.
If you look back at the history of the city, you can see how these real events in history and all that flowed from them shaped its life. It’s the same with the resurrection of Jesus. 300 years ago, Sheffield was a settlement of just 7,000 people. Imagine that. Little more than a village with a parish church at its heart. Then the crucible was developed.
200 years ago the population was 60,000, a small town with a parish church still at its heart. Then along came the Bessemer converter. 100 years ago, the population of the city stood at half a million. Harry Brearley invented stainless steel. The parish church became a cathedral. The Sheffield cutlery industry slowly began to use the new material. Items made in Sheffield travelled all around the world. The city was on its way to becoming the third largest metropolitan authority in England, which is what we are today. Steel and manufacturing are the backbone of its life.
It’s no wonder that the city is taking a year to celebrate 100 years since the invention of stainless steel. It’s a wonderful story of knowledge and innovation combining to produce growth and prosperity. It’s a story of determination and courage against opposition. Harry Brearley was mocked when he first suggested this new metal could be used for cutlery. It’s a story of real, actual events in history shaping and changing the world.
So I take my mitre off to the Cutlers Company this morning and to the steel industry in this city and join the celebrations. My bishop’s ring is a simple band of stainless steel: a reminder of the importance of this industry to this city and region. A reminder as well of one of the qualities a bishop sometimes needs.
We are right to celebrate and look back and wonder. But here’s the thing. How much more wonderful, how much more wonderful, is the story, the event, the life we mark and celebrate today in this service and in hundreds like it in churches all across this region and all across the world.
Does it not make you tremble? It was an event in history, a concrete event in history, described just like the day Harry Brearley mixed chrome and carbon with steel. The accounts we have are from eye witnesses. They were written down within a very short time. They put Jesus to death by hanging him on a tree on Friday. On the Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, there was a day of rest. On the third day, on the Sunday, God raised him from the dead.
Peter says this: “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear not to all the people but to us who were chosen as witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”.
His tomb was empty. The authorities could not produce his body when they wanted to deny the resurrection. His disciples were transformed by the event from frightened men and women who ran away to people who would suffer and die to bear witness to this historical truth. This good news of the resurrection spread across the ancient world like a flame through dry straw. This was not hallucination or conspiracy or pious imagination or wishful thinking. This was a real, concrete, historical, physical resurrection and from it the church was born.
A few weeks after the resurrection, there were just 120 people gathered together in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Humanly speaking they had very few resources: no buildings, no finance, no organization, not much education between them – something the church today needs to remember. It’s an historical fact that a generation later there were communities of Christians in every major city of the Roman empire and beyond. This was such life changing, world transforming good news it spread from town to town carried by volunteers. It is a matter of historical fact that the early Christians were all devout Jews. Yet these devout Jews changed their day of worship from Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, to Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. This was the event in time which changed everything.
The good news of the resurrection of Jesus spread rapidly from Jews to Gentiles. It spread to India, to Africa, to every part of the known world. The growth of the Christian church was remarkable. Less than three hundred years after the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, overturning the old faiths. More than half the world’s population was Christian.
Last October it was my privilege to be in another upper room in Rome with 400 bishops and cardinals of the Roman Catholic church and their ecumenical guests. There were representatives there from every region on earth all part of this one, holy, catholic and apostolic church drawn from every nation and all witnessing to this single deep and world changing truth that on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.
Ten days ago I was in Canterbury Cathedral for the enthronement of our new archbishop with the Archbishops of the Anglican Communion drawn from every part of the globe, all professing together that Jesus Christ is risen, living, active in the world today and his death and resurrection affect every human life for good.
There have been many inventions in the history of human knowledge. But there has only been one resurrection. That is what makes our faith unique. Jesus ministry was remarkable: his teaching and his healing and his love for others show us what God is like. Jesus death was remarkable. He goes willingly, knowing that he is to die, placing himself in the hands of those who will crucify him. As we will declare again in this service, in his words at the Last Supper Jesus knows and understands the significance of his own death:
“This is my body which is given for you…..This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”.
The words of a man who is about to lay down his life for his friends. But if his life and ministry are extraordinary, his resurrection is unique. “God raised him on the third day”. Jesus lives. Everything changes. Christians believe that we can know Jesus Christ today in our daily lives. We believe that because Jesus died and rose again, we can begin our lives again with God and that eternal life is offered to everyone.
Today we look out on our city, on our region and on our world. We all see the need for economic renewal and regeneration – the kind of renewal which came through Harry Brearley, through Huntsman, through Bessamer and all the others who have contributed to this city. We see the need for the fusion of science and industry and education and manufacturing skill and entrepreneurial genius. All of those talents are God given and we have them in abundance in this city. We need to grow our economy from within as we have done in the past. There are more great inventions yet to come from this region.
But as we look out on our city and our region and our world we must also, surely see the need for a still deeper spiritual renewal and regeneration: a need to forgive and to be forgiven; a need to find wholeness and healing and peace; a need for pride in ourselves to give way to humility before our creator and wonder at the beauty of the world; a need to turn away from the greed which drives us and shapes our institutions; a need for honesty, for justice, for love of neighbor; a need for the renewal of communities and relationships and families; a need for peace; a need for faith; a need for the worship of money to give way to the worship of God.
That deeper spiritual renewal cannot come from human effort or invention. It cannot come from what is physical. It comes only from a turning back to our creator and maker, to the living God, through Jesus Christ his Son. It comes from the gospel we celebrate today: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15.3-4).
According to a survey released this week, four out of five adults in Britain believe in the power of prayer. There is a deep longing for spiritual renewal. But many of those who pray do not seem to know the living God whom they are seeking.
Christ is risen. His resurrection was a real event, a unique event. We look back and we see how this one day changed history. We look around the world we see how this one event goes on changing lives in every place and culture. We look within and around us and we see the need for new life still.
We come with Mary in the garden. We come to meet our risen Lord in fellowship together, in the scriptures, in the sacrament. We come to have our faith rekindled this Easter morning. For you and I and for the world, everything changes. Amen