EASTER 2013 [RECORDING OF SERMON]
So we come to Easter, and I wonder by what path we have come. How have we prepared ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus? For this is the purpose of Lent and Holy Week – by prayer and fasting together, by study and sharing in worship together all the last seven and a half weeks have been leading up to today. Our celebration today is the Culmination of all of that.
Week by week through Lent we have looked back to Ash Wednesday – to those words spoken over us all at the Imposition of Ashes – Dust you are and to Dust you shall return – Repent of your sin – Believe the Good News. We were confronted with our mortality, the reality of our lives and called to re-orient ourselves. As I said a few weeks ago, re-orient is a very pertinent way of putting it – we turn to face East, more specifically we turn to face Jerusalem and the Resurrection of Christ. In terms of Ash Wednesday, we prepare for today by Repenting and Believing the Good News. Thus we are ready for Easter. But . . . even the most diligent of us is only ever partly ready – how can we be ready for something which is so outside of our experience of anything we have ever known?
This winter, as many of you know, one of our daughters will be married back in England – there is a lot to do in order to get ready, but it’s not the same. We know what happens at weddings, and so we know what has to be arranged. No one is saying ‘What is a wedding?’. Thinking of Hannah’s wedding made me think of my own. Actually for one young man there, it was something unknown. It was only on the morning of the wedding that I realised that my best man had never been to a wedding! He was a little nervous, I had to eat his breakfast as well as my own 🙂 But at least my friend Mike had lots of folks around him to point him in the right direction and tell him what to do – we all know what weddings are about. But the Resurrection of Jesus? How do you get ready for something which everything around you tells you cannot happen??
Part of our preparation for today is to enter as fully as we can into the experience of Holy Week – in particular Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We accompany Jesus to his death. In an hour at the cross we confront our own complicity in his death – we face the fact that We called out crucify, We abandoned him, We betrayed him, We killed him. And we have to face that to begin to in any meaningful way celebrate Easter. We have to Know that Jesus is Dead in order for Easter to do its work. For we are not speaking resuscitation – our annual cycle of lent and Holy Week, if we do not take the medicine it offers, if we only partly enter in, leaves us in effect waiting for Jesus to come round from a nasty accident. If we have not faced our mortality, and seen it plain as day in Christ crucified, if we have not entered into the utter blackness of Good Friday, then we cannot see the light. For we are not talking shades of Grey here, we are talking Light and Dark, Black and White, Life and Death. No, without the preparation of Lent, the Catastrophe of the Resurrection cannot do its work. Yes, the Catastrophe of Resurrection.
Why Catastrophe?? Surely it is the very opposite of a catastrophe? Believe the Good News? No? Yes! The Good News, but the Good News is catastrophic. The Resurrection of Jesus calls Everything else into question. If Christ was not raised from the dead then our lives can go on pretty much as before – indeed as St Paul reminds us, If Christ is not raised from the dead, then we are wasting our time. But if he is . . . then we are called to a life like no other, for there is nothing in all Creation as we know it that is Like the Resurrection of Jesus.
As I said in an article I had to write for the Star, the gift of Easter here in New Zealand is that it goes completely against the flow of life in the created world. Here there are no spring flowers – here we are headed towards winter – here everything around us proclaims death. So here we are confronted with the Fact that the Resurrection of Jesus goes completely against the grain. We cannot make it fit into our lives, it either completely changes the course of our lives, or we must needs let it go by – there is no middle way. The resurrection of Jesus is not something which we assimilate, a fact we either believe or do not – we do not ‘take is on board’ the ship of our lives, Rather the Resurrection is that Ship which sails in completely the opposite direction to the World’s story about itself, and we must choose, whether or not to jump ship. To live out our lives as best we can, or to give up on them and to live out of the Resurrection.
To make of the Resurrection of Jesus some mere metaphor for the cycle of life, even something on which we pin our faint hopes for life after the death of our mortal bodies, is actually to choose to deny it, for it requires nothing of us. The world hasn’t changed. the flowers will still come up next spring, life will go on as usual. There is no middle way.
Funnily enough, I call in my defence Bishop David Jenkins who some years ago caused quite a stir in the Church of England by declaring that ‘The Resurrection of Jesus is no mere conjouring trick with bones’. Now Bp David did not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, so he might seem an odd ally here, but his words were right on the money, so to speak. For the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, was not something which happened in a vacuum. It was a Unique happening, but it was not Isolated. In other words, when God raised Jesus from the dead he opened the door to a totally New way of living and a transformed Cosmos. What we call Real, Real Life, The Real World, everything about our lives and indeed all of Creation is challenged by the Resurrection of Jesus.
And we see that Catastrophic nature of the Resurrection Very clearly in the gospel accounts – especially in the synoptics, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three gospels in particular reveal how the Resurrection of Jesus shatters everything.
For up to that point in the story, each of the evangelists has told pretty much the same story – up to this point the narrative follows the same path – parables, healings, challenging sayings – in many many places word for word the same . . . until the Resurrection – and then it is as if Everything has fallen apart – all four accounts are to all intents and purposes completely different, all four struggling to make sense of what has happened – the Old Story has come crashing to a halt and from nowhere, without Any prior warning a New Story has broken forth, A New Reality. And like those first disciples we are left groping around, afraid, dismayed, perplexed, doubting, yes even terrified . . . the World is Not as we thought
‘Why are you looking for the Living amongst the Dead?’ asks the angel in the tomb. You have followed the narrative of the story of Jesus to what everything in you tells you Must be its logical conclusion – you Know he died, you have come to the tomb. And you are completely wrong!! Wrong about Sin and righteousness and Judgement. Wrong about everything.
The Resurrection of Jesus proclaims we have got everything Wrong. We cannot make it neatly fit into our lives – and that is why it is so hard to prepare for it – that is why despite our best efforts we keep skimming over Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, because the message of Easter is too shattering to our understanding of the world to face so square on. in a sense, to Celebrate Easter – and We must Celebrate Easter – is almost impossible, for it is to celebrate the end of our world.
At Easter we Celebrate that our world has come to an end. All to often we focus on the end of the disciples hopes and dreams on Good Friday, as if their world has come to an end. No it hasn’t, we know it hasn’t – where does the Risen Jesus find them but fishing – their world has carried on. No it is the Resurrection of Jesus that announces the end of the world as we know it – all nations will see him whom they have pierced, and mourn. He is Risen, the End of the world has come upon us – as one of the early Christians, Hippolytus of Rome expresses it –
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen. Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty. Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever.
If we are ready for Easter, we are ready for the end of the world as we know it. We prepare for Easter as we would prepare for our death, to say with Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
Perhaps that is the best metaphor for how we prepare for Easter. Indeed it is what Lent is given us for – You are Dead in Sin – New Life is available. Lent teaches us to say no to our life – that we might say Yes to the Life of the Risen One
The Resurrection of Jesus proclaims we have got everything Wrong. We cannot make it neatly fit into our lives – no – We have to conform our Lives to the New Reality – The Life of the Risen one who fills everything in Every way.
Behold, the End of the World has come – Believe the Good News
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed. Alleluia