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Sunday 15 September 2024 Trinity 16, Twenty-fourth in Ordinary time, Proper 19

Living in the story of God

Mark 8:27-38

By Grace Thomas
Canon Missioner, Manchester Cathedral

Context: main Eucharistic Cathedral Service. The congregation size varies between 100-150 and is made up of people of all ages and a wide range of backgrounds, often with a large number of visitors and tourists

Aim: to encourage us to remember how we live and participate in the story of God in its widest sense

‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’ (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens).

I love a good read, and, for me, there is nothing better than getting lost within the pages of a book. Storytelling is an art and, whether recalling lived events or composing a piece of fiction, their beginnings and endings are anchors upon which the arc of the narrative is shaped.

Whenever I read the final words in Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, I am taken back into the epic story. These words speak of a sacrifice done willingly and rooted in love. This story ends with death –the final lines given to Sydney Carton as he faces his execution. Parallels can be drawn between Carton’s last words and Jesus’s own journey to the cross, which is alluded to in our gospel reading today. Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross. Whoever wants to save their life must lose it. This has the potential to be a difficult and sobering call – to be a follower of Christ is to lose your own life. It can feel hard to contemplate what this means.

But, the arc of the story of God does not end in death. Unlike Sydney Carton, Jesus’ last words on the cross, at his execution, were not his last words. His resurrection three days later changed the world and means that the story of God continues. As people living in the light of the resurrection, we live in the knowledge that our story doesn’t end when we lose our life. ‘Where o death is thy sting’, we ask, because death is not the end of the narrative – it is simply another chapter.

When I was eighteen, my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was devastating. Yet, mum was a woman of deep faith and, even amidst great physical pain caused by her illness, she carried this sense of calm about her. She knew where she was going and she knew that God was with her. As a troubled teenager who was struggling with many questions, my mum’s strong faithful conviction changed my life. I wanted to know more about this God who was clearly holding my mum with such love and care. My mum’s death was painful – and remains so even today – but I saw how this wasn’t the end of her story and, through it, my story was changed as I saw the light of Christ shining through her. My faith was formed afresh through the death of someone precious to me. She knew she was being guided through the valley of the shadow of death – it was not a dead-end street but a journey to the next part of the narrative.

Losing your life and dying for the gospel is, for the most part, a metaphor. Though many have been martyred for their faith, for most of us today, losing our life for the gospel means dying to our old life and beginning a new life as a Christian. The death of our old life is not the end – it is merely a chapter in our ongoing story of faith, where we open our lives to be children who walk as Easter people, living in the joy of the Good News of the resurrection.

When we lose our life to God, we do something that is far, far better than anything else we have ever done and we journey on in our story in the assurance that the peace we experience is a far, far better peace than we have ever known. It is not the end but instead the beginning of a new part of the narrative that sits within a story as old as time itself.


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