The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer online      21st March 2021
There are just too many things to feel
Jeremy Fletcher

Romans 5. 12 – 21
Victoria Nwayawu Nwosu-Hope is a broadcaster and writer. On the radio she has presented Capital Radio’s breakfast show, and is now to be heard on Radio One. Neither station is on my saved list, and I somehow missed her on Strictly three years ago. I wish I hadn’t, because her work on Radio One is all about mental health and living well. She’s an Amnesty International Ambassador, speaks three languages, and is a judge for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year.
She gave me the theme for tonight’s sermon, not that she knows it. On the excellent Radio 4 show, Fortunately, this week, she was interviewed by Fi Glover and Jane Garvey. Speaking about all the mental health challenges and serious matters facing us all today, she said “there are just too many things to feel”. That was it. With the pandemic, Brexit, the proliferation of nuclear arms, Black Lives Matter, reclaiming the streets, the toxic nature of men and women … “there are just too many things to feel”.
Today is Passion Sunday. The “passion” of course relates to the progress we are about to make through Holy Week. There will be crowd hysteria, of joyful and hateful kinds. There will be angry religious disputes. There will be betrayal and denial in the closest of relationships. There will be injustice and corruption, political expediency and abuse of power. There will be staggering violence meted out and the use of the death penalty to make not just a legal but a geopolitical point. There will be “too many things to feel”. 
How do we give words to these things? How do we “feel” them? Perhaps we have to avoid words. I was wondering why I don’t seem to have too many sermons for this particular Sunday, and I’ve realised it’s probably because on Passion Sunday we, like many churches, give ourselves over to other ways of feeling, encountering, facing this. For us it’s the performance of a Bach Passion. For others it’s a meditation, or the use of poetry and visual art. There are so many things to feel that words and sermons are probably not the best vehicle. 
This then is a Sunday to choose how you will travel this road, walk this journey over the next fourteen days. We have not had our Bach Passion and all you have tonight is me using words to say that words won’t quite do. But there are Bach Passions aplenty out there, some of them streamed live. We have featured more visual imagery in our services over lockdown than ever before, and it’s introduced me to the Visual Commentary on Scripture. I recommend it. For these next two weeks do look at the commentaries based on the events of Holy Week and the Crucifixion. 
At the heart of the Gospel narratives of the passion is the shattering realisation that the only being for whom there are not “too many things to feel” is God the Holy Trinity. The writers who followed, notably Paul and Peter, try to encapsulate the belief that as Jesus the Christ suffers and dies, absolutely everything that his broken and lost and dangerous and sinful and evil – all these too many things to feel – are drawn into him, and dealt with. There is nothing to feel which God has not felt in Jesus Christ. 
To put it in Paul’s positive terms in Romans 5: “one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” This, says Paul, is grace abounding “all the more.” It is right that, especially in complex and devastating times, we recognise that there are too many things to feel, that there are people right on the edge and beyond it, many of them the young to whom Vick Hope speaks in words and ways which I’m forty years too old to do. It’s right that we look with open, tearful eyes, at toxic things and women who are not safe and men who perpetrate wicked acts. It’s right that we ask how our nation can happily acquire more weapons which will devastate in an instant. 
It’s right that we face the reasons there are too many things to feel. And then it’s right to look at what God says in all this. Not with words out loud, but in the Word, the Word made fragile, bloody, pain bearing, death-knowing flesh. This Word feels everything. Our feeling will take words, yes, because I’m using them. And our feeling will take to the heights of music, and visual art, and the physicality of dance, and all the aesthetic and philosophical endeavour of humanity. Today is a day to promise ourselves that we will not receive the grace of God cheaply or in vain, but with an open soul, ready to feel all the things, because Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, to the glory of God, has felt them first. Amen. 

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