This is the sermon delivered by Rev'd John Richardson for our Ash Wednesday Eucharist
Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2021 John 8.1-11
Today – Ash Wednesday - the Church begins the season of Lent. The season lasts for forty days, from Ash Wednesday until Easter Day (but excluding the Sundays). We are all invited to share in this special season and to identify with Jesus in the wilderness.
The loneliness he must have experienced in the desert is one we can really and truly share. Phrases such as ‘self-isolating’ and ‘lockdown’ are familiar to our ears. Many of us, I am sure, have felt lonely and desperate from time to time. Many in our world have been bereaved or at the very least felt the nearness of illness and suffering.
The woman in our gospel reading today was badly in need of a friend. And she found one in the rabbi from Nazareth. Jesus brought to her the simple gift of unconditional love. Whilst those around her thirsted for retribution and her death, Jesus spoke words of compassion: “Neither do I condemn you” he said to her.
The friendship the woman discovered in Jesus can be ours as well. Our Lord is our friend, as well as our Redeemer and King. He it is who guides our footsteps. He it is who whispers words of comfort in our ear. He it is whose ways are trustworthy and true. We see how kindly he acts as he sets the woman caught in adultery back on her feet, refrains from judging her, and tells her to go on her way with the resolve not to sin again.
Here in this well known story we see the clash between the Law on the one hand, and Grace on the other. The Pharisees sought to impose upon the woman the full weight of the Law - the death penalty by stoning (Leviticus 20.10). Jesus on the other hand brings a better way, and a more compassionate way. He brings the way of Grace.
Self-isolation is such a trying time for us all. We long for the day when friends and family can share once more all the normal things of life - shopping, going on holiday, sharing a meal. Without the everyday things of life all seems artificial. This is not the way of life we want for each other. But better things lie ahead.
Lent helps us identify with the woman of Jerusalem who so narrowly escaped death. Like her, we hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us words of encouragement. Rise up and press on with the business of living. Jesus spoke words of strength to St Paul which apply to us too:
“My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians. 12.10).
The grace of Jesus. Grace is the gift which helps us to walk in faith. Grace was the gift Our Lord gave to that unnamed woman. He was being put to the test by a group of religious hardliners - those Pharisees and scribes who had to walk away with their tail between their legs when they could not bring themselves to cast the first stone.
And so the woman is liberated. She has found a friend in Jesus and she has found a new way of life - if only she will heed his plea that she sin not again. That encounter in the Temple precincts with Jesus meant that grace had come into her life, the grace that brings with it joy and hope and peace. Jesus had literally saved her life. And now he saves her soul as well.
And so, finally, let us enter the solitude of the desert strengthened in the faith we have that Jesus brings to us grace upon grace. We do not live under the Law as the Pharisees did. Instead, we follow in the steps of the sinless one who lifts us up, does not condemn us, and bids us walk boldly and confidently in the life of grace.
Rev. John Richardson.