St Francis, Terriers - Easter Sunday (27.03.2016) Easter Liturgy

Tony Dickinson

easter picOne of my predecessors as vicar of St Peter’s in Chalvey was notorious for his Easter sermons. Every year he would read the Gospel for the day with all due solemnity, mount the pulpit and say “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” And that was that. Carry on with the rest of the Mass and go home.

Those of you whose eyelids are sagging under the impact of too little sleep and those whose tummies are beginning to indicate that they could do with a bite of breakfast and a cuppa are probably envying the congregation of Chalvey back in the 1970s. But the wise and venerable churchwarden who told me that story nearly thirty years ago was less than impressed. He wanted feeding – not with breakfast, but spiritually. He wanted some integrity: not just glib assurance, but to know, and to feel more deeply, why it matters that “Christ is risen”.

That is a question that becomes more and more important in a world which is, in so many ways, on the brink – politically, economically, religiously, environmentally. Some people will tell you that the raising of Jesus offers a personal escape plan from coming disaster, whatever shape it may take. God raised Jesus. God will pluck us to safety out of any catastrophe that may overwhelm everyone else. To which the only repeatable response is “Hoo ha!” God does not magically protect his people from harm. Our brothers and sisters in refugee camps across the Middle East, our brothers and sisters trudging across Europe to what they hope will be safety, or entrusting themselves and their families to unseaworthy craft in desperation to escape from a government which bombs its own citizens – they will bear witness to the truth of that statement.

Nor is the resurrection a conventional “happy ending”. This time last year, we heard St Mark’s account of what happened on the first Easter morning, leaving his readers in suspense as the women run away in terror from the empty tomb. And St Luke’s account, which we have heard this morning, is not much more reassuring. The women find the empty tomb. The women receive a visit from mysterious strangers, who ask why they seek the living among the dead and give them a quick-fire recap of the story of which they have been part for the last three years.

At least this time the women don’t run away in terror. They go and tell the disciples what they have seen and heard – and the disciples refuse to believe them. “These words seemed to them an idle tale”. Perhaps that isn’t entirely surprising in a culture in which women were legally incapable of acting as witnesses, but it’s pretty depressing nonetheless. Even if Peter does go and check their story, it leaves him none the wiser. “He went home, amazed at what had happened.”

That, really, is what today is all about. Not something that happened two thousand years ago in Palestine, but something that is happening now, in us. Resurrection isn’t a knock-down proof that Jesus is who Christians says he is. Resurrection is promise and process. Resurrection is the promise that death is not the final end of all creation. Death is part of the experience of all creation, from micro-organisms to galaxies, but death is not God’s last word. God’s last word, his eternally living word, is Jesus, crucified and risen, bearing the scars of human cruelty and stupidity, of malice and hatred and fear, but undefeated because in him love, God’s infinite, unconditional love, has triumphed.

Resurrection is a process of stripping away all that gets in the way of God’s love, but we can’t experience resurrection if we don’t first experience death. In this life, that means what St Paul calls “dying to sin”, dying a dozen little deaths each day as we recognise the actions and attitudes that alienate us from God. That means not seeking the position of power which enables us to impose our story, our version of events, but the position of truth, the position of the women, in which we humbly set out our experience and invite others to share it. When we have reached that position we can say with integrity “Alleluia. Christ is risen!”