Saturday, 7 April 2007

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2007 - Clashing Calendars!

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2007

Easter is the climax/highpoint of the Church’s year. Though eclipsed by Christmas in popularity, it is the most important day for those who profess the Christian life. As you will know the Church’s year begins on Advent Sunday which was the 3rd December last and will end on the 1st December this year. The fact that the Church’s year is not in harmony with the secular calendar is perhaps a useful reminder that there are times when as Church we are called to question and critique the society and world in which we live. Yes we are a part of it, but we are not slaves to it!

I personally find the Church’s calendar a very helpful framework for my own faith and spirituality as it forces me to engage with all of the parts of the story of Salvation, not just the parts I like. In particular the way the calendar shadows the life and earthly ministry of Jesus helps us through repetition to fashion our lives in imitation of his. Year on year we walk with Jesus from his childhood in Nazareth, his ministry in Galilee and his Passion Death & Resurrection at Jerusalem. This is not just a case of reading and rereading the stories of Jesus life – It is about relating to him on a daily basis as we experience with renewed freshness and enlightenment the events of his life, death and resurrection. As the saying goes if you want to really get to know someone then you need to walk a mile in their shoes. And so that is what we try to do as we follow the Church’s calendar, so that we can deepen our relationship with Christ.
And that relationship with Christ is what it is all about – God in Christ reconciling the world to himself – in other words restoring relationships and reparing broken relationships with the whole of Creation. That is the Good News of Easter!

During Lent this year I was asked by a student to answer quite a detailed survey on the Resurrection – It wasn’t easy – it was very personal, and in-fact I am ashamed to say that I never got around to completing it – Why? Because it was the wrong time….we hadn’t got there yet….Jesus was headed towards Jerusalem but the events of this Holy Week past had not occurred and at this stage on the journey the only answers that I could have offered were going to be somewhat cold and dispassionate when our faith is anything but that! The climax of Jesus’ earthly life is even called the PASSION! It is about the incredible depth of the LOVE of God that goes so far that he gives his Son for us – YOU! If that is not PASSION what is?! It is certainly not something that can be reduced to theological propositions. The Death & Resurrection of Jesus is not theological abstraction – It is pure LOVE – LOVE greater than we could ever deserve or desire!

Easter is one of the few times that the media pays much attention to the Church these days. (As much the Church’s fault as the media’s incidentally). Even then it is usually in a search for sensationalist headlines. Across the water the Dean of St Albans got himself into trouble during this past Holy Week for his understanding of the meaning and significance of Jesus’ death as expressed in a radio broadcast on the BBC.

There are many different theological theories about the nature and meaning of Jesus’ death on the Cross roughly divided into the following categories:

  • The cross as sacrifice
  • The cross as a victory
  • The cross and forgiveness
  • The cross as a moral example

Dean Jeffrey John got in hot water because he played down the first category of sacrifice and in certain quarters was branded a heretic.

Among those who would criticize him, however justified, and I don’t think they were, there is a danger that in their defence of ‘traditional’ Christian understanding they reduce the Cross to a mere mathematical formula…. A proposition or a proof that cannot even approach the idea of PURE LOVE for which there is no formula except the person of God as revealed in Christ!

For me and for many it is enough to say that Jesus died for my sins!
How that happens I don’t understand because it is born of a LOVE so great that I cannot comprehend it! It is interesting that Jeffrey John in his broadcast ended with the following story which for me suggests that he too is convinced of the power of the Cross. Speaking of God’s identification with us in Christ he says:

The most powerful illustration of this I know comes not from a Christian writer but a Jew, Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and Nobel prize winner, who described his experience of Auschwitz in a famous book called Night. In the face of so much horror and evil many lost their faith; yet for a few it became, paradoxically, a new realisation of God's closeness to them. In one harrowing passage Wiesel tells how a young boy was punished by the guards for stealing food. He was hanged on piano wire, while all the other prisoners were forced to watch:

For more than half an hour the boy stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony before our eyes. We were all forced to pass in front of him, but not allowed to look down or avert our eyes, on pain of being hanged ourselves. When I passed in front of him, the child's tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed. Behind me a man muttered, 'Where is your God now'? And I heard a voice within me answer him, 'Where is he? Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows'. For me - if not for Ellie Wiesel - this above all is the meaning of the Cross: that God is one with us in our sufferings, and not just 2000 years ago but through all time

But enough of death you say! What about Resurrection?

Well – Resurrection doesn’t happen in a vacuum! Easter is not just about Easter Bunnies and Easter Eggs, Spring, New Birth and other warm and cuddly pictures!

Easter is about a God who on the Cross identified fully with the depths of human suffering, pain and cruelty and took our sins and failings and suffering onto himself and then in the Resurrection released us from the captivity to death. That is the Good News of Easter!

Back to the calendar and that discrepancy I talked about at the beginning between the secular and church calendars! Let us remind ourselves that the calendar by which we live our lives, which measures our earthly mortal stay on this earth is not the only measure of our lives. In Christ our lives have an eternal significance and purpose that no earthly calendar can possibly define or limit. In conquering death on the Cross Christ has turned our finite lives into the potential for eternal life in him.

But at the same time let us also remember that this earth is sacred – If not why would Jesus have come to experience incarnation? The work of his kingdom begins here on Earth as the Lords prayer reminds us: “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven” and so Easter should not only be a time to marvel at God’s amazing Love but to bring that Love out into the world. To allow it to transform everything and everyone it touches.

I finish with a story told by Leonard Sweet in his “The Gospel according to Starbucks - a story which illustrates the transformative power of that LOVE :

There once was a rather rough, uncultured man who for some reason fell in love with a beautiful and hugely expensive antique vase in a shop window. Eventually, after saving for a considerable time, he bought the vase and put it on the mantelpiece in his room. There it became a kind of judgment on its surroundings. He had to clean up the room to make it worthy of the vase. The curtains looked dingy beside it. The old chair with the stuffing coming out of the seat would not do. The wallpaper and the paint needed redoing. Gradually the whole room was transformed.

For me that is what the Resurrection means:
Total and complete transformation of our lives, born of an unimaginable love in the light of which nothing will ever be the same and nothing will ever be ordinary again!

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