Rev. Andrew Cunnington
14th September 2014
Turning Back Time – A sermon for Holy Cross Day

I stood inside the clock face and for a moment I felt that if I reached through the glass I could perhaps turn back time.

I waited with my ears firmly blocked with mufflers for the clock to strike five and as I gazed at the huge bells and listened to the whirr of the machinery, I felt as if I might pull a plug or cut a wire somewhere and stop time, stone dead and bring the world to a standstill.

Such was the power of standing inside Big Ben, you felt as if you were in touching distance of the seconds and the minutes and the hours.

A little group of us from St Matthew’s went on a visit up that famous tower and it was a unique experience to climb up inside there. For we had each looked up at that building many times, we had heard the chimes from a distance, but now we were inside and close at hand, as that great clock struck five.

And as the bells rung with their deep and glorious chime, I thought about all those for whom 5pm on Thursday 17th July would be a momentous moment. For someone was being born at that moment and someone else was dying. For someone else there would have been a crucial interview, an appointment or an operation. Someone out there was telling someone for the first time that they loved them and someone else was professing hatred.

Then I thought of how those 5pm chimes were just a daily routine back drop to life for others The 5pm train out of Victoria. The day’s work drawing to a close. The start of Evensong somewhere, the end of a TV programme somewhere else.

I felt right at the heart of the means by which we measure our existence. The seconds, the minutes and the hours of it all.

And suddenly I realised that the one thing that held all those experiences of time together was the presence of God, if only the world would take time to recall.

It doesn’t matter whether time presses heavily upon us causing us to rush carelessly from place to place, or if it passes so slowly we can do nothing but twiddle our thumbs or count great flocks of sheep home to their folds.

God is in that moment wanting to reach out to his beloved people.

Big Ben towers over the city of London so impressively, marking time and colouring the day, and I thought how Jesus towered over Jerusalem on the day they crucified him, although the people did not gaze in wonder and awe then, but rather in despair and hatred.

Not realising that on the cross Jesus did stop time dead in its tracks, he did turn back the clock face to give us all a new perspective on the things we had done and were yet to do.

The Gospel writers are keen to mention the time when it comes to Calvary. How he hung there between the sixth hour and the ninth hour, from the heat of the day until the sun’s light suddenly failed, and for me I began to see the impact of the cross upon our lives as something moving backwards and forwards over the experiences of our life, like a pendulum full of love.

The love shown on the cross veers backwards to whatever it is you believe about creation, the Garden of Eden or even Joseph’s Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, to whatever you believe about the Garden of Easter, the first Pentecost, or your own faltering life. It swings back and forth over the whole of life’s experience filling every second, minute and hour with His love.

It swings back and forth over the lives of every person who has ever lived, whether they believed it or not Sometimes when people think its OK to ask the Vicar a stupid question, I am asked “So whatever happened to all the people who lived and died before Jesus came along to save them?”.

And I know people have been nonplussed when I tell them that the cross is no respecter of time. Jesus’ love is not confined to a twenty four hour clock nor yet a twelve month calendar year, he swings back between our past our present and our future and is capable of redeeming it all.

God so loved the world, says John in those wonderful words “that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” That hope is for everyone who has ever lived, surely it is. Not just those born in the last two thousand years, not just for those who never put a foot wrong in their lives, but for people like us who sometime wish we could literally turn back time to undo something we deeply regret. The love of the cross swings backwards and forwards over our existence, timeless and true, a pendulum of forgiveness and healing.

So as I think back to that five o clock chime inside Big Ben, so I think too of the bells that chime here every time we meet. I don’t mean the tiny dink! Dink! of the bell that goes before the service starts but the gong which sounds at the heart of this service.

Three rings when the blessed bread is raised up. Three rings when the same is done to the wine.

Part of the origin of that bell is that when the services were sung in Latin, as a poor uneducated person in the pew, you wouldn’t have a clue where you were but the ringing of the bell would tell you, here we are at the holiest moment. Whatever you believe Holy Communion is about, whatever the Holy Cross adds up to in your life, it gains its meaning here.

But we don’t have Latin anymore, we have a language we can understand. Shouldn’t the gong be declared obsolete now? Not if you see it as God inside the time of our own life. That no matter where you are on your life’s path. No matter whether those you love deepest are in the seat next to you, the other side of the world or in his nearer kingdom, this is the time of his love for you and it rings out from the cross more truly and deeply than any Big Ben chime.

So I love this hymn today:

Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee, Take my moments and my days, fill them all with ceaseless praise”, yes indeed so that there is nothing that I shall do or say that cannot be made holy.

How shall we know when the things of this world come to pass, they asked him once, and he told them it was not for them to know the time nor the hour, but only to watch, to watch how in every second, in every moment, at every chime, the cross makes holiness a possibility.

The pendulum of his love swinging backwards and forwards over our existence, in the shape of his wounded body, to and fro upon that tree. Here the bells ring out over bread broken and wine outpoured, a once and for all moment of sacrifice, that inhabits every second that we or our ancestors have ever lived.