The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s104g06 St Barnabas East Orange Easter Day 16/4/2006
"he is not here" (he has escaped :-) Mark 16.6
One of the constant difficulties of hospital chaplaincy is that people keep moving! With no disrespect what so ever to the hospital, people keep moving from ward to ward, from bed to bed, even from hospital to hospital, and the chaplain has a job just to keep up. I sometimes say things like they do it just to confuse me :-). Many, many people in hospital say to me as they are waiting for this or that to happen, and how boring it is. The hospital is, of course, dealing with a large number of people, all with vastly differing degrees of urgency. I can and do sympathize with the feelings of boredom -- but I know that none of the staff ever feel bored! Actually when people move, it is generally a sign that they are getting better, or alternatively, that they actually need and are receiving more intensive care. So moving is good.
When I was in Adelaide, I had on a number of occasions to ring the various hospitals to try to find a parishioner. I had, quite inadvertently, been given partial or inaccurate information, and I had to try to find where a person actually had been admitted. I sometimes had to joke with the "switch" that the person had escaped -- with the implication that the person had escaped my clutches.
But, on a more sombre note, some good friends in Adelaide had a daughter who absconded from Glenside (Adelaide's equivalent of Bloomfield) and she decided to walk to Melbourne and was hit by a truck and killed on the South Eastern freeway. I have to say that often doctors and staff of hospitals are actually more aware of just how sick or well we are, and it is good to realize this and to take their advice.
On Good Friday I talked about the Cross resulting from people wanting Jesus to only associate with them and not with others. They wanted to keep Jesus in a little box, one that only included them and a few of their chosen associates. In those days they did not bury people in boxes like we do, but the principle is the same. The most important thing for those who had Jesus killed was that he didn't associate with people other than themselves.
So the resurrection is the sure sign that the efforts of those who wanted Jesus not to associate with others failed. The little box in which they sought to confine him was entirely inadequate to the task. Even the cave and the stone that the women couldn't roll away couldn't stop Jesus from him associating with others.
And we might be tempted at this stage in the sermon to exclaim: "Praise the Lord"!
But the problem is that the risen Jesus has not just escaped the little boxes that the religious people of his own day wanted to imprison him in -- he always escaped the little boxes that succeeding generations have sought to imprison Jesus. The resurrection is God's guarantee that Jesus has escaped the little boxes that we would imprison Jesus as well. So perhaps this resurrection doesn't sound quite as comfortable. It means that the risen Jesus doesn't just support "our" cause. It means that perhaps we might have to move -- that we cannot stay static.
I spoke on Good Friday that our Christianity is no guarantee that no ill will ever befall us, and that we are always going to be in control, self sufficient, independent and distinct from others. I spoke about our atonement with God being dependent on our commonality with all other people. And interestingly the message of Easter is precisely the same, for the risen Jesus leads us out of our little boxes of control, certainty and comfort -- to others beyond. And some of us might welcome this joyfully while others might resent this entirely.
The Church has traditionally taught that the risen Jesus is found here in Church, and we've had debates -- really to not put too fine a point on it, we've actually had heated fights -- about where the risen Jesus is really found -- in the sacrament of the altar, in the words of scripture, in a particular interpretation of the words of scripture, in a view about baptism, in fellowship, in the music, in the liturgy or in the lack of it. All of these things have concentrated on us -- and the importance of what we are doing, and doing here. Our "Christianity" has focussed on fighting to get everyone to recognise that the risen Jesus is really only found contained in our little box. But the risen Jesus tells us that God can never be contained in any box, ours or anyone else's.
The Easter message is about finding the risen Jesus -- out there -- in the real world in which we live -- in the real people whom we meet. Let us be quite plain about it. Jesus was crucified for associating with others so the resurrection is God's guarantee that the risen Christ will still be found amongst others -- and the question is where we will place ourselves -- amongst all the others that Jesus associates with, or in a little clique with people like-minded to us?
So I find the risen Jesus in the hospital wards, in the care of the staff for their patients, whether they or the patients are "Christian" or not.
I have been asked by our bishop to be chaplain to the local police, and the police have a vital role in the very work of creation, bringing order out of chaos. They are here to encourage us to love our neighbours as ourselves -- a good New Testament theme if ever there was one. I suspect some police will have little to do with the Church and I am not surprised. The first recorded murder in the Hebrew and Christian tradition stemmed from a religious dispute -- whose offering to God was more acceptable to God and whose was less acceptable. Faith and religion (by whatever name) can be used to marginalise others, dismiss others as expendable, and to kill others. And this has happened and continues to happen in the name of Christ, without having to look elsewhere. Gay people continue to be marginalised by many in our Anglican communion. I have no doubt that they feel that they are the butt of religious intolerance and terrorism.
In my police chaplaincy recruiting package is a handbook "A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity for Operational Police" detailing aspects of the Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Sikh faiths; and I thought how wonderful this is. It is salutary to think that our police officers are more aware of the customs and sensitivities of these people than the majority of people celebrating Easter this morning. It is salutary to consider that our police officers are much more frequently loving their neighbours "24/7" as the modern phrase goes -- than we are who come to Church so frequently, yet rarely mix with others as they do.
This is of course but one example of where we can find the risen Christ in our community -- and no doubt you could come up with many others.
I invite us to rejoice at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledging that the world would be a very, very boring place, if everyone actually thought like us, worshipped like us, lived like us. Why on earth do we try to change everyone else to make it so -- when it's the ultimate exercise in futility anyway?
I invite us all to rejoice in the resurrection, despite the fact that it means that others will never think, worship or live like we do, for no amount of wishing will make the resurrection go away!
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