Easter Sunday in Moscow 2022. Luke 24:1-12

My Easter sermon today is very simple

Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and he is with us.


This has been an awful Lent
As far as any Lenten discipline is concerned this year, I have been utterly rubbish.
But then I think this year, as I have said before, the wilderness has come to us.

We had so much going for us as a church
Glen who was settling in and becoming a brilliant colleague, an ordinand in training, we were live streaming Morning Prayer daily, we had a good confirmation group, the youth group, almost 3000 followers on facebook, a new third service, and plans to develop a ministry of reconciliation

And overnight it was all gone

And at a personal level, for many people, it has been a rubbish Lent: people have lost friends, jobs, livelihoods, homes and dreams. Families have been separated. There is the loss of self integrity as we become like the three monkeys. There has been so much fear.

Two different people from different countries have come and asked me the same question, using the same words: where can we find a safe space.

It has been a little death
And I fear that it has not come to the end.

So what do we have?

Well, as Christians we have a crucified and risen Saviour. 
Jesus has risen from the dead

He knows. He was abandoned, denied and betrayed by those who were closest to him.
He was arrested and falsely accused. He was dropped into the pit. He gave up everything for us. He hung on a cross and he died.
But today we remember, today we celebrate that he is risen, that he is alive and that he is with us.

I recall talking with our former ambassador a few years ago. We were speaking about the restrictions on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And he said, ‘But what they believe is pretty odd’. To which I replied, ‘But if you think about it, I claim that a Jewish peasant who lived 2000 years ago died, rose again from the dead, and is the eternal Son of God. That is pretty odd if you ask me’.

It is more than odd, but there is solid evidence for our conviction

The tomb was empty – the body was gone
The grave clothes had been left. That is significant. If the body had been stolen the grave clothes would have been taken

This is the fact that explains everything.
It explains why Jesus, one of many self-professed messiahs of the time, who was crucified, is now preached throughout the world.
It explains the transformation of the lives of Jesus’ followers – from sceptical scared followers into fearless courageous preachers of the resurrection, who were willing to give their lives because they were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.
And it explains the life changing encounters that some people have with the living Jesus today
My former bishop, from St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, wrote in his Easter letter several years ago: ‘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.’
Or I think of one lady in my former church. She was kneeling at the communion rail, looked up and saw Jesus. She said she could reach out and touch him. It terrified her but also transformed her.

Most of us, however, are called to be like the women here in Luke 24
They do not see the risen Jesus. That comes later. 
But here and now they remember the words that Jesus spoke to them while he was living – and we have those same words in the Bible – and they believed the words of these two man with dazzling clothes [I didn’t know Mike had discovered the secret of time travel]
And that is enough for them. They are prepared to go and tell the apostles the message of the angels, even though they know that what they are announcing is more than odd. 

Jesus is risen from the dead!

And my dear friends, the risen Jesus is with us.

He knows our weakness, our frailty, our fears, our sin - and he still comes to us and loves us
He is the one who cannot be taken from us
He is our safe place

This year we have an Easter present.

About a year ago, with a donation by Natasha Davies in memory of Elizabeth Annie Engels Trikojus, born in Moscow in 1905 - we commissioned an icon for our new chapel. It was of the saints and martyrs of the British isles of the first millennium, in whose memory we will commemorate the chapel. These are the saints who are recognised by both the western and the eastern churches.
It finally arrived last week, and here it is.

Here are the saints: many of them endured great hardships or suffered terrible things because of their faith in the risen Christ
At the top and in the centre is the risen Christ in glory, and he holds a gospel open at the passage where he says, ‘I am with you always to the end of the age’

It is the risen Jesus who holds these men and women from different times and different places together. There are the saints from the C5th and saints from the C11th here. There are saints from Ireland, Scotland, East Anglia, the Isle of Wight, Northumberland and that strange place called Cornwall

And the risen Christ was their inspiration. Literally he was their inspiration: it was his Spirit breathed into them who gave them spiritual life.
He was their reason for living; he was their hope
Many of them went through great hardships and suffered dreadfully, but the risen Jesus was with them.

And the crucified but risen Jesus is the one who holds us together
He is the one who inspires and strengthens us

He is the one who comforts us: there can be moments of great tenderness and intimacy in our relationship with him, and there are times when he answers our prayers so directly.

He is the one who will also transform us and shape us.
Because he loves us, he is with us as fire. It is not about us being made happy, but being made holy. If we permit him, he will shape us, form us, so that we become the people he created us to be. And that means that there will be times when he will take us into the wilderness, through the barren and dry places, through the valley of the shadow of death. He will lead us through the fire and water, he will let people ‘plough furrows on our backs’ to use one of the pictures that the Psalmist used, he will strip away the people and the places and the things that we love.

But he is also our safe place - the one who we can turn to, maybe in even harder and more scarier days to come – and he will always be there for us to cry out to him for mercy.

He will remain with us and be our light and our hope.

Alleluia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

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