The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s026g14   Third Sunday of Easter  4/5/2014

they .. ‘stole him away’   Matthew 28.13

Our gospel reading for today gives us one explanation for the empty tomb - theft by the disciples.   We ‘christians’ know the ‘real’ reason - the resurrection.   But I want today to ponder on it’s meaning.   The tomb is aloneness and Death.   The world is communion and Life.

Thank God the tomb was empty!   I’m glad there weren't any other bodies there!

In my sermon for Good Friday and Easter I wrote: ‘Things like the Bible, the Tradition, the Theological edifices, Synodical and Episcopal authority, the Anglican Communion; all were once so elegant, but now for the most part, broken.   Their power to enthral and motivate us has been shattered .. (when these) are misused to marginalise, alienate, condemn or lynch others they have ceased to be instruments of the gospel - and God and the risen Christ have already fled.’ (1)

And I want to say, it is not just Jesus who has fled an abusive Church, people have also fled, and thank God for that!

A quite startling graph I found shows the increase in ‘no religion’ in (my home State of) South Australia beginning at close to 0% in 1966 to 28% in 2011.  (2)   And this made me think - for most of my adult life, I have been living through a great decline in church adherence when I’ve supposedly been ordained to stem it!   And the 1966 intrigued me.

My first thought was the advent of reliable contraception.    ‘The original hormonal method — the combined oral contraceptive pill — was first marketed as a contraceptive in 1960.’   (3)    The Catholic Church's position on contraception was formally explained and expressed by Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae in 1968.   (4)    While this superficially only concerned Roman Catholics, for many people it confirmed a suspicion that the church in general was largely antagonistic to the lives of ordinary struggling people.

But this was also the time of the Vietnam War, dubbed the first television war.   So ‘Vietnam did not become a big story on American television until 1965, but it was a controversial one from the time that U.S. military personnel began to play a significant role in combat in the early 1960s.’  (5)   Suddenly there was a cause to be defended or protested against on a scale hitherto unprecedented.   Real people, children, siblings, grandchildren, parents were seen being killed and injured, while family members looked on, eating their tea.   Suddenly the importance of some things were put into perspective.

Recently the actor Chris O’Dowd is reported to think ‘following a religion will eventually become as offensive and unacceptable as racism.’ 
(6)   And the Anglican, Canon Giles Fraser recently wrote about the dithering over same gender relationships in England: ‘The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.’   (7)

More and more people whose background has been thoroughly grounded in church life are turning to the world and finding more life-giving expressions of existence.   The Progressive Christianity umbrella encompasses some of these.   (8)   One New Zealand former Anglican writer, Sande Ramage, recently suggested ‘hooking up with The School of Life’.  (9)

I have been noticing the phrase: ‘the democratisation of ..’ being used more and more.   The democratisation of information, of creativity and production, of education, of justice, of technology, of science.   The most recent one was the democratisation of film-making with the first full length movie being made on a cellphone.   (10)   The internet has provided ordinary people with a way of expressing their own ideas and creativity in the ubiquitous ‘blog’.   Newspapers were termed the ‘fourth estate’, the blogosphere the ‘fifth estate’, often in opposition to mainstream opinions.   My own sermon site is an example of this.   No longer does anyone need to be ‘ordained’ to express one’s opinions, nor be licensed to have an audience.   And again, from my own experience, expressing one’s opinion enables the person to move on.   Media sites like ‘Facebook’ and ‘YouTube’ give millions a voice without having to don a long white dress and join a church to be granted a congregation - an audience.     Aljazeera, a Qatari TV and internet broadcaster, has the program ‘The Stream’ where all are welcome to contribute to a topic via ‘Skype’.  (11)  Ordinary people can write, illustrate and compile their own books, and now there are 3D printers to make individual objects - available to buy here in New Zealand.  (12)   All of these give people an opportunity to make their own unique contribution to society - almost the precise opposite of the traditional church which permits only dutiful compliance, where ‘parishioners are to be seen and not heard’.   It is not just the Church which is having to navigate around a completely different paradigm of existence that has sort of snuck up on us unawares; it is all pervasive, and therefore I suspect unstoppable.   There are of course the King Canute’s still around.  (13)

And I suspect that some will have the same sort of reaction to this as some who heard the prophet Jeremiah: ‘Thus says the Lord, Those who stay in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but those who go out to the Chaldeans shall live; they shall have their lives as a prize of war, and live.’   (14)

For it is, sadly, most often outside the church where creativity is encouraged.   Membership of the church is often all about perpetuating someone else’s offering.   Life in all its fullness (15) comes when we personally are in relationship with another, so likewise life in all its fullness comes when we as church are in relationship with society as a whole.   When we are only in relationship with those who think, act and believe like us, creativity is thwarted, and we might as well be dead.   So when others are only important when they support and perpetuate ‘our’ offering - we are a force for compliance and death rather than liberation and life.

So for me the empty tomb is a sign of the emptying church, where people are finding the courage to embrace real life rather than hiding away from it.   The old prayer: ‘Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour ..’ (16)  begins with that word ‘prevent’.   Students of Latin will know that this means almost the precise opposite of what it now means in English - to stop us doing something.   Prevenient grace is that which goes before us, showing us the way, smoothing the path, and encouraging us to follow.   The empty tomb is the example, showing us, as Church, the way from death to life, from institutional separateness to the global community.   The question is: if the abusive church ceases to exist, why would we mourn its passing?   If the inclusive church becomes indistinguishable from the community, why would we resist?   Won't the death of the abusive church actually mean life for society as a whole?  And surely this is good news, something to be embraced, celebrated and promoted!

14. Jeremiah 38.2
15. John 10.10
16. the third to last Collect in the Order of the Service of Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.