Sermon for Easter Evensong, Te Deum & Benediction Sunday 16 April 2017
Easter 2017 – Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning at Festal Evensong
From the Te Deum: when thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death: thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Christ is risen. You and I, with all our faults, are raised too, into a new life, a life lived with God. The long services of Holy Week, and the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter daybreak, have taken us into that new life. God’s love is present and He is engaged with you and me, and how we live. He shows us how we can live. There is to be self-giving love, the love of bread broken, feet washed, oil crushed. There is to be a death, death to fear, death to our self-importance, death to our rather stale views of religion. Our first life is brought to a close, so that we can have a new beginning. Resurrection is taking on joyfully what St Paul called ‘the mind of Christ’. What is the mind of Christ? What are his core teachings proclaimed today with the name Resurrection? What Christ sees, and what we see now, is that there is no separation between God and human beings, and no separation between each of us and the other. We are nearer to the heart of God than we ever imagined.
There are only so many Easters in a human life. The rituals might be the same each time, but we change, so it’s never quite the same each year. It is quite possible to come to all these services year after year, with the best will in the world, but with a sort of built-in resistance; this is the habit of intelligent people trying to puzzle it all out, always ready for some new theory, something that works for us about what really happened at Easter. But what happens at Easter is what you did. For on Good Friday you took to the foot of the Cross all that you are, all that you have become, and you laid it there, all the junk, all the misunderstandings, all the sorrow, all the isolation, everything, all the contradictory forces of your life, the pain of the world, in fact, and then, whoever you are, God raised you up to share his life. My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. The Cross, as a symbol, is a source of healing. Easter joy is not joy that everything has suddenly got better, but joy in a more simple, deeper, healed understanding of what commitment to Christ means, a self-emptying, a liberation from the egotism which confines, a divine forgiveness, an empty tomb indeed.
Jesus’s tomb is empty. So often we do things the wrong way round, we turn back to find him, because we know he died, and that large stone in front of the tomb represents all our religious doubts and difficulties which we try to shift, in that dead legalistic religion which never gets us anywhere. But there’s no need for that now. Jesus is risen and gone before us into Galilee.
No wonder we’re shattered. You might think that by our own efforts and all these services we make Easter; but Easter is God’s work, not ours. In the godless, secret place of your heart, Christ is risen. In the weakness we try to hide from others, Christ is risen. In the suffering of war and violence in our world, Christ is risen. Now that is not easy to understand. Like the Cross, the first thing we see is suffering; only when we discover the mind of Christ on the Cross, do we begin to see the love of God in that fearful symbol, God reaching out to divided humanity in a sinful world, an irreversible love flowing from the source of being. Where Christ suffers, we are called to suffer too. Where Christ rejoices, we rejoice too. That’s what I mean by Resurrection life; it is not just being a good Christian believing things; it is our participation in a deeper understanding of the whole of Creation and the sacredness of human life, with a constant hope in the victory of love over death. We do not define ourselves by those we exclude, but by the One we follow. Fear and chaos can be transformed, as they were for the disciples on Easter Day.
Can we now follow Christ to Galilee? For the Kingdom of Heaven is opened for us there. Resurrection means walking away from the tombs, trusting the heart and awaking to a new life, the old life transfigured, where we know God, not by thinking, but by love. Not right belief, but right practice. This is where Christ went before us, the first fruits of those who slept. At the Resurrection everything that Jesus is, everything he’s said and done, becomes universal, his life for everyone. The Church of the Risen Christ can now attempt the impossible, gathering in all who are dispersed, into the one love. And you and I can now attempt the impossible, turn round our lives, gathering back in what we have divided and rejected. I have learned again not to keep God in the tomb of my life, in what’s gone, what’s passed, but to look for him in a garden at first light, at the start of every full and glorious day.
The first Christians greeted each other on Easter Day with the words: Christ is risen! And the reply was: Christ is risen indeed and hath appeared unto Simon. To Simon Peter, the coward disciple who denied his Lord, Christ is risen. To us, who made all those promises years ago and have gone the wrong way time after time, Christ is risen. Christ appeared to his Church first, to us. We are among the first to know that the tomb is empty and that Christ has been raised from the dead. Which is why we wish each other today a very Happy Easter.