Sunday 17 April 2022

Easter Sermon 2022 - Easter after Bucha and Sligo

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Easter Sermon 2022

I am sure that I am not alone in finding this Easter more challenging than usual – A couple of months ago I was certainly looking forward to it – the first Easter in three years without the strictures of Covid measures and lockdowns was an exciting and joyous prospect. But then the war in Ukraine happened and with it our world has been thrown into yet another series of crises and a whole nation is fighting for its very survival in the face of unspeakable evil. The revelations about the horrible massacres in Bucha and other cities made me ask myself whether we should or could celebrate Easter while so many people were trapped in a long Good Friday experience.

And closer to home we have had the ugly spectre of hate crime and in particular homophobic murder come to the fore with the tragic events in Sligo. And I have to say as a Church of Ireland priest I am not comfortable with how our own church has in the past and still today discriminates against those of diverse sexuality and has played a part in feeding the fear and hatred that ultimately results in crimes like the murders of Aidan Moffitt & Michael Snee. So there is a lot of darkness...........

But we are here tonight/today and we are celebrating the Resurrection, as we must, because the alternative is to give in to the darkness and the hate and that is not an option.

When I shared my thoughts about the difficulty of celebrating Easter in the current context more than one of my friends wisely pointed out that it is always Good Friday somewhere on this planet. Its just that we are more aware of the plight of some than we are of others.

If Christ is not being crucified on the Streets of Bucha then he is in Aleppo in Syria, or among the Rohinga Muslims subjected to genocide by the Burmese military, or in the terrible conflicts in Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and the Congo.

And yet these tragedies do not impact on us in the same way as the Ukraine war has done and that is understandable if not questionable – We identify more closely with the people of the Ukraine because they are more like us – they are europeans in all but name and they look more like us – Of course it shouldn't be this way – All human beings of whatever race, ethnicity or religion are equally precious in God's sight and while our compassion as a nation for the Ukranian people is commendable it does raise uncomfortable questions about all those other situations where Christ is being crucified in our world and our response has been less than audible.

Turning to the Gospel from John that first Easter was mired in chaos and grief and bewilderment – The story was over as far as most of his followers were concerned – Jesus (their great hope) had died and now the final indignity the discovery that his body has apparently been stolen – the distraught plea of Mary Magdalene first to the disciples and then to the angels in the tomb captures the mood so perfectly:

They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ (the words of one utterly broken)

And it is then that Jesus reveals himself to Mary and she recognises him: when he addresses her 'Mary' and she responds 'Rabbouni' (Teacher) an acknowledgement that the story is not over – he still has more to teach her.

Easter is fundamentally about refusing to close the pages on our story and God's story – stories that are fundamentally intertwined and undergirded by the Hope that allows us to imagine the next chapter. That is not to say we can leave the suffering and hurt behind – There is no Resurrection without Good Friday but seen through the lens of Easter, Good Friday is not the last chapter which it may appear to be – There is more to come.

Our lesson from Isaiah 65 paints a wonderful picture of the unfolding of God's story and our story and it one in which justice and peace are central and one in which we are assured they will come to fruition:

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard.....or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the 
and their descendants as well.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,

says the Lord.

That is the story of which we are a part and that is the only story that can help us move beyond Good Friday to this Easter Sunday which we celebrate tonight/today. I cannot help but think of a wonderful sermon preached by Tony Campolo in which he spoke to this very issue – The Sermon was called 'Its Friday but Sunday's Coming' and I think in challenging times it is a motto to live by – Its Friday but Sunday's Coming' It reminds us that Easter changes everthing – We are people of Hope and Resurrection – people who believe that the story is not over – people who will not let Hate win but celebrate the unstoppable Love of God that will ultimately prevail.


Tuesday 5 April 2022

Thoughts in the light of the Bucha Massacre

 Easter is late this year but Good Friday has come early – Christ has been crucified again, this time on the streets of Bucha in the Ukraine and not just once but time after time as people of all ages lie dead in the streets with their hands tied behind their backs and a bullet in the back of their heads or strewn over a bicyle or shopping cart where they fell or in black sacks in hastily dug trenches. 

I can't get these images out of my head as I go about my daily tasks. They overshadow everything, as they should for this is all they have left on this earth and I cannot deny them that – I cannot turn away – I must see them and acknowledge that they too were only days ago like me living breathing people who even amidst the horrors of war had hopes and dreams of a better future. 

Everything I do today seems hollow and empty – I am in the supermarket choosing something for dinner and I wonder were some of those lifeless bodies out looking for food when evil men on a whim decided to end their lives. I am not sure what I bought in the shop and it doesn't really matter because it seems somehow wrong that I should take pleasure in eating food that others may have died in the pursuit of. 

 I consider going for a walk and perhaps to take a few photographs of some of the beautiful countryside near where I live but I realise that this is not a day for beauty – I and we have to live with this terrible brokeness and horror – While these bodies lie on the street there is no beauty anywhere! – There is but a terrible darkness and for a time I and we have to be in this darkness alongside our sisters and brothers who are still being murdered and raped and tortured by the forces of evil. 

I want to see an end to this Good Friday and look forward to Easter Hope and Resurrection but at the moment that seems a long way off and too soon to contemplate – While this slaughter continues part of me wonders would it be blasphemous to celebrate Easter in less than 2 weeks time? 

Can we proclaim the Resurrection while children and women and men are being slaughtered on our doorstep? I truly do not know how to do that and yet honour those whose corpses lie rotting on the streets of Bucha, while they and their families are still living Good Friday.