‘But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.’
In my Holy Thursday Sermon I talked about how the Church in Holy Week this year found itself more in harmony than usual with the mood of the nation.
Holy Week with its themes of darkness, despair, betrayl and failure is often difficult to observe in a world that finds it hard to deal with such negative things – It is a hard sell to talk about death and defeat when Spring is in the air, the evenings are getting longer and people are generally in quite good form. It is a hard sell in a world where so much store is put on personal success and the accumulation of personal wealth.
Hard to sell in a world where hurt and pain are hidden away and treated as signs of failure rather than an essential part of the human condition.
Not so this year – The nation is depressed for want of a better word and so there is a remarkable similarity between the emotions of the people at this time and the themes of Holy Week.
But Holy week is past – Jesus Christ is risen and as Christians we are called to be joyous and thankful.
But its not that easy because now we are feeling the conflict – now the discord is obvious – How are we going to hear these words – He is risen, He is alive? Or are we going to hear them at all? Are they like an idle tale? One which we do not believe?
These words are a hard sell – Look at the Gospel reading we have just read: “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
If the apostles did not believe how are we, or even more of a challenge: How are others – those at the moment who are either outside the community of faith – how are they expected to believe? What proof are we going to show them?
Peter we are told only believed when he : ‘got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; - then he went home, amazed at what had happened.’
We don’t have those folded grave clothes – Even the shroud of Turin which many believe to be the burial shroud of Christ is the subject of dispute and debate and we will probably never know for sure if it is genuine or a brilliant forgery.
So how do we go about telling a land and a world which needs to hear the Good News so badly that this story of Jesus’ resurrection is more than a nice story and an excuse for gorging ourselves on large quantities of sickly chocolate.
We do so I believe by being the people of the Resurrection by witnessing in our lives despite all the evidence to the contrary that this is not all that there is. We need to be people of Hope and transformation, demonstrating by our actions how this active faith can transform the bleakest of situations. Some would call this a leap of faith – and it is – and to make such a leap means having trust that there will be someone there to catch us.
It reminds me of games we used to play in youth club – games that are discouraged now for insurance reasons but games that taught a very valuable lesson nonetheless. They were called trust games and involved such things as standing up on a chair and willfully letting yourself fall over – trusting absolutely in those around you to catch you.
The story of Christian witness through the centuries is the story not just of comfortable and established institutions such as the one we call our spiritual home but it is also the story of individuals and communities of faith who proclaimed Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen in the face of persecution, torture and death – people who had every reason to doubt and to walk away from their faith were ironically those who became its most convincing witnesses.
I was at my desk this afternoon/yesterday finishing this sermon and I was looking up the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own website to see if he had issued an apology in the light of the clumsy attack he made on the Irish Roman Catholic Church over this weekend – He hadn’t but I did find his Easter message which ended with this:
It is all too easy, even in comfortable and relatively peaceful societies, for us to become consumed with anxiety about the future of Church and society. We need to witness boldly and clearly but not with anger and fear; we need to show that we believe what we say about the Lordship of the Risen Christ and his faithfulness to the world he came to redeem.
The world will not be saved by fear, but by hope and joy. The miracle of the joy shown by martyrs and confessors of the faith is one of the most compelling testimonies to the gospel of Jesus. In whatever way we can, we must seek to communicate this joy, however dark or uncertain the sky seems. All authority belongs to Jesus, and into his wounded hands is placed the future of all things in heaven and earth. To him be glory for ever.
But I am not going to let the Archbishop of Canterbury have the last word – this is my sermon not his – however I was gratified to see that he agreed with me and also that he shares my propensity for ‘open mouth insert foot’ moments.
And that is significant for it emphasizes that we are, each one of us, always more than our worst day – our worst statement – our biggest faux pas – and that even after salvaging defeat from the jaws of success we can still go on and do good and help to share Good News. The same is true of the challenges we face in our lives – they too will pass.
We Christians have a very weighty burden of responsibility at this time. We are called to be HOPE for a people who have forgotten how to Hope, how to trust, how to believe. That is something that we can change – something that we do not have to resign ourselves to.
Hallelujah – Christ is Risen! – Let us bring that news out of this Church into the World so that it may bring healing and wholeness to all God’s children and all Creation.