Sermon for Easter – Year A – 2014 ‘Do not be afraid!’

Easter 2014

Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is Risen

“One has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised again for us”

Two events of personal ‘significance’ have come to pass this last few days. On Thursday, the Diocese in which I was ordained ceased to exist. As someone asked me, ‘how old does that make you feel?’ The Old diocesan boundaries have been swept away, and today something radically new has been established. The Country which I once inhabited has disappeared. So in a sense I am now homeless . . . But!!!

The second thing happened not only to me, but to my family and I a week ago Friday . . . We were finally granted Permanent Residency status in New Zealand . . . which means it is safe for me finally to come out and stop pretending . . . I hereby declare in front of you all, without fear of immediate deportation – I DO NOT like Pavlova. . .

No home to go back to – am I an insider or an outsider here? . . .

It is interesting to note how we use ‘Culture’ to denote insiders or outsiders. A few years ago in England a government minister suggested the key test of whether folk really belonged was ‘Who do you support at Cricket?’ It was a particularly barbed choice as his target was the English born Asian population who turned out in droves if either India, or Pakistan was playing . . . or rather the Indians turned out for India, and those from Pakistan for the Pakistani team . . . ‘Real English people support England at Cricket!’

And what drives that determination to define, to mark those who are in and those who are out? Fear. Fear of the other . . . and in the Ukraine for example we see where that leads – where it always leads – and will always continue to lead. I find it immensely sad if not tragic that in the church we seem to have baptised the idea of ‘culture’ – for it is a way of seeing the world that in the last analysis is profoundly contradictory of the Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – no matter how much we try to dress it up in the sheep’s clothing of ‘celebrating diversity’. As St Paul says ‘For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

The hostility between us. As I have been teaching through Lent, our perception of healthy community is one in which we have sufficient power to negotiate a comfortable distance from one another, it has little if anything to do with Life in Christ. Our fundamental problem is estrangement. The more power, and generally wealth we have, the easier it is to believe that it doesn’t exist – that all is well with the world – one way or another it rules all human lives. Through the sin of Adam, all of us become strangers to one another, for we have become strangers to God. The relationship between the Man and the Woman, between brother and brother is broken – and that leads to only one place – ‘In Adam all die’. Fear reigns – Life is extinguished. As Baxter Kruger puts it, in his wonderful exposition of the gospel ‘Jesus and the undoing of Adam’ – ‘Anxiety became the matrix of human existence’.

And thus the New Life, The Life of The Risen One is heralded with these words ‘Do Not be afraid!’ Fear is no longer what it means to be human. The consequences of our estrangement have been overcome in Jesus Christ. To Be in Christ is Not to be afraid.

In dawn’s early light ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary’ come to the tomb ‘And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men’ And the first words out of the angel’s mouth? “Do not be afraid”??? And indeed the women struggle to take in this command – for they run from the tomb quickly ‘with fear’, but as it dawns upon them, also ‘great joy’. ‘Suddenly Jesus met them and said “Greetings!” As usual our diminished translations do this salutation little justice – Better “Rejoice!” “Be Glad!”. The women are already running ‘with great joy’, but now the words of Jesus to them as they worship him, “Do not be afraid”. ‘He is our peace . . . for in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us’, Life in Christ is never determined by fear and estrangement, for in Christ, the old order of things has been judged and done away with.

And so it is unsurprising, totally unremarkable that the Resurrection is twice heralded with the words ‘Do not be afraid’ – The most oft repeated command in all of Scripture comes forth with full force in these Resurrection accounts – the declaration of New Life in the Risen Christ. The Old way of fear and separation is done away with at the cross.

The Old has gone, the New has come. Matthew marks both the death of Jesus and the Resurrection with earthquakes. As we know only to well, here on the PAcific Rim, Earthquakes change everything. As many have remarked following the Christchurch earthquakes, nothing can ever be the same again. But Matthew does not tell us that the Earthquakes changed everything, rather he is telling us through this metaphor, that everything has changed. The Old has gone. The Old life that was our life has been judged and declared finished in the death of the representative human, Jesus of Nazareth. We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
Now He is Risen – The New has come and so we who know our old life to be done away with as the One man dies are invited to walk in newness of Life. As Paul reminds us And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. We, the baptised are called forth from the death of Sin, to Participate in the New Creation, of which the Resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits.

This is no ‘better’ life than those amongst whom we live – it is a life of a totally different order. There is no continuity, between the life we once lived, and that which no pertains in and through the Risen Christ – and we should expect no less – for if the Resurrection is ‘beyond belief’, then surely its consequences also lie beyond categories that we can simply lay hold of. It is Radically New

And this is why we observe the discipline of participating in Holy Week – for without that full participation, that dying to ourselves that we might in the words of Thomas ‘go with him that we might die also’ – without that then, all we do is keep rehearsing the Old story which has been judged at the Cross – our lives just echoing the words of Macbeth

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Without participation in Holy Week, the Resurrection is at best a plaintive hope, and at worst a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. This is why we go with Jesus through Holy Week.

It is why we walked in here last week waving our ‘palm branches’ – worshipping the one who comes to us ‘meek and gentle on the colt of an ass’, in our worship of the one who makes himself nothing accepting that as our Way also.

It is why we have gathered in the dark three evenings to be with Jesus in Holy week, to strip away our illusions about our lives, about Light and Love.

It is why we came together to share in a common meal, to wash one anothers’ feet, that we might grow deeper into fellowship with Him and with one another – Knowing that this is no mere ceremony but our Way of Life together.

It is why we joined in The Last Supper, and watched in the dark as the story was played out in the night. Finally it is why we joined together twice on Friday – to rehearse the tale and then to hear these words ‘It is finished’ To hear God’s judgement on the way of sin and death – to See in the death of Jesus our own dying to that old life controlled by fear, that life lived on our own terms. To see there the death of History as we know it. To Know the End in ourselves. To know in truth what St Paul tells us ‘that one has died for all, therefore all have died

These are not things that are put on by the church for us – they are the actions of the Body of Christ – for this is the story of Christ, who is our life. Participation. And it is Knowing our Participation in his death – that we might know our participation in His Life. that we might with those women Know the Joy of the Resurrection – and HEAR the words deep within us – Do not be afraid!

So, to conclude I fearlessly proclaim amongst you ‘I do not like Pavlova!’ 🙂 Because if we are participating in what Christ has done, through the Cross, those things that divide us, both great and small are swept away. What matters is no longer my culture or yours, that which divides and therefore is a token of fear. What matters is a New Creation, and that, our lives hidden in the Risen Christ, we are brothers and sisters, with Christ and one another.

And the end of my old diocese? When I was in the UK in July I visited the diocese for the last time – it is no longer there – I cannot go back. That the new diocese comes into being today is a powerful statement. For so it is with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The old order of life has come to an end in the death of Jesus. The Earthquakes heralded the End, yet also an utterly New beginning. As with the diocese – all the boundaries of the life we once knew have been swept away and something new has been established. This is why if we hang onto our life we lose it, for upon the Cross it has come to an end. What is on offer is nothing more that participation in the Life of the Risen Jesus. The Life that we call eternal life. For what is God doing? Baxter Kruger once more – nothing less than ‘recreating the human race through death and resurrection’

“One has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised again for us”
Christ is Risen from the Dead. The Old has gone, the New has come
He is our Life
Nothing can ever be the same again

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