Saturday, 26 March 2016

When confusion gives way to joy. Easter Sunday 2016




The first consequence of Easter morning was not joy but confusion.

You see we live in a universe that appears to be ruled by death.
We come from dust and we return to dust.
And if the current cosmological theories are right we live in a universe that began in darkness and nothingness and that will end in darkness and death.
And we learn to live with it.

We will live, we will do stuff, stuff will be done to us and then we will die. And that is it.
‘Life’, said Ernest Hemingway, ‘is a dirty trick. A short trip from nothingness to nothingness’.

And as far as the dead are concerned:
We remember them.
There is a great line in the film, ‘Good Night, Mr Tom’. The boy is grieving for his friend who has been killed in the blitz. He can’t get over it. So Mr Tom takes him down to the grave of his wife. ‘Look’, he says, ‘They do not die. They live on. In here. In your heart. In your memory. ‘
Yes, we remember the dead.
And we honour the dead.
This church is littered with memorials that honour the dead.
There is the cenotaph with the words, ‘The Glorious dead’.

We remember the dead, and we honour the dead – but whatever we do, they are still dead.

So the women were coming to honour the dead Jesus.
They were going to anoint his body with spices.
Why? Logically it makes absolutely no sense– it would not stop his body decomposing.
But I guess they want to do what we want to do in the face of death: They want to say that Jesus was special to them; that Jesus mattered.
And in the face of death they wanted to do something.

But the two men who gleam like lightening speak words that shake the lives of these women to the core. They speak words that are going to reshape, to reconfigure our universe. They speak words that can utterly transform our lives.

‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’

It is hard to take.
The reaction of the women is not joy but confusion.

This was the last thing that they expected.
Yes, they had heard Jesus’ say that he would be handed over to the authorities, that he would be crucified and that he would rise from the dead. But Jesus was Jesus. He said some difficult things – like eating his flesh and drinking his blood, like hating your father and mother, like passing through the eye of a needle, like dying to yourself - and you didn’t always know quite how to take them.
And yes, he had raised some people from the dead. He had raised Lazarus who had been dead for 4 days. But who was going to raise him?
And Jesus could not come back. He had been whipped with a scourge that would have given him wounds from which he would never recover; he had been nailed to a crossbar; and when he was dead, someone had thrust a spear into his side – just to make sure. 

That is why, when the women came to the tomb, and the stone is rolled away, and there is no body, ‘they wonder about this’.
It is why, when the two men speak to them, they are terrified.
It is why, when they go back to the others and tell them all this, the disciples don’t believe it.
 ‘Women!’ they say. (They said it. I didn’t!!)
And it is why when Peter goes to the tomb, and sees the strips of linen that were wrapped around the body of Jesus lying to one side, he goes away ‘wondering to himself what had happened’.

It is not joy. Not yet. It is confusion.

I find this all very reassuring.

There is an authenticity about it.
And the experience of those women on the first Easter morning is a bit like our experience.

Most of us here have not seen the risen Jesus

There are one or two who would claim to have seen Jesus. There is a dear woman here in our parish who has seen him. It happened 12 years ago when she was kneeling at the communion rail at St Peter’s. If you get her to talk about it is as real as if it happened yesterday. She can point to the spot where he stood. And she said it terrified her.
I don’t know why he appeared to her in that way, although a few months after that encounter she lost a child in tragic circumstances – so perhaps it was his way of reassuring her.

And there may be several here who can’t say that they have seen Jesus, but who have had such experiences that they are absolutely convinced that Jesus is alive. Our bishop, Bishop Martin, writes in his Easter letter:
‘So it was a few years later, when I was about 20, I was walking down St Andrew’s Street in Cambridge, and in an intense moment I suddenly realised, without warning, that Jesus, risen from the dead, was as physically real as the man who at that instant was walking towards me. I was not aware that I had been thinking about what the resurrection was like, or in what sense I believed it, but from then on I knew - for me - it was real.’

But I have not seen him, and I suspect that most of us here have not seen him.
Not yet.

But like those women, we have the evidence
-          The tomb was empty
-          We have the words of the prophets that he would suffer, die and rise again. And we have Jesus’ own words.
-          And we have the words of those people who were there at the time and who did see him.

And they challenge us: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’

1.      Why do you live as if this world is the only world that there is?

Why do you invest so much time and energy into this world, when there is so much more? Why do you live for the values and treasures of this world?
Why don’t you live for the one who came from eternity and who will live for eternity?
Why don’t you live for the Kingdom of God?
Why don’t you live for the one who is alive, who rose from the dead, and who will come and transform this creation and make it what he meant it to be and who will take you to be with him?
Why do you live in the world as if it is ruled by death, when in fact it is ruled by life?

2.      Why are you so sceptical?

When the women spoke to the disciples, they simply rubbished them. People will talk of astonishing things happening and we, even we who claim to believe, will often dismiss them as hysteria or hype.
But we live in a world in which a man has risen from the dead. I’m not suggesting that we should be gullible; we need to test all things. But good for Peter, that even though when he first heard what the women said, he dismissed them, he still went to investigate. And if we really believe that he is alive, then we must have a place in our theology and in our faith for the unexpected, what people call "a miracle"

3.      Why do you grieve for those who have died, especially for those who were Christian believers, as if you have no hope?

Of course we grieve for ourselves. We have lost people who are so dear and precious to us, who made us what and who we are.
But we do not need to grieve for them. We will see them again. Not as they were.
I think we’ll all be a little bit shy of each other, a little bit scared of each other, when we see each other there. We will be people who have seen Jesus face to face. We will be transformed, transfigured, radiant and glorious.

4.      Why do you come to church as if you were coming to a mausoleum or a museum, to a place where we remember a dead Jesus?

This is not a place where we simply remember him.
When we come to the Lord’s table we do not come simply to remember him – like we might remember Julius Caesar or Queen Elizabeth or even a dear friend. We come to meet with him.

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

The women and the disciples did not have long before they saw the risen Jesus.
He had a busy day! He appeared to some of the women in the morning, to Peter in the afternoon, and to the disciples gathered together in the evening.

And yes we can meet him here and now. I pray that as I am speaking some of you are hearing him speaking to you, and that you will have the courage to respond: to open your hearts and minds and to say, ‘Yes Lord Jesus; I haven’t seen you but I believe that you rose from the dead; that you are alive. Come and live in me.’
And as we come to the Lord’s table and eat the bread and wine we can meet with him.

And one day – maybe here, maybe there – we will see him: our risen Lord Jesus, who loved us, who died for us and who rose again from the dead - face to face


And then confusion will give way to unspeakable joy. 

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