The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s104g09 Easter Day 12/4/2009
'he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him' Mark 16.7
My attention was drawn recently to an Anglican diocese where the laity is complaining about their bishop. One of the issues is that: 'That proper facilities should be provided for lay people and clergy to grow in their faith through education and discussion including invitations to visiting scholars, training in scripture and spirituality, and the use of proven courses and organisations such as Alpha and Cursillo.' I will not mention the URL ;-) If this were true, it would seem strange to me that a Bishop would attempt to disallow such things it would seem a bit like King Canute standing on the shore attempting to prove his special status by turning back the tide. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Canute#Ruler_of_the_waves) He is setting himself up for failure. I suspect that the reference to 'visiting scholars' is to Bishop Jack Spong, so perhaps it is true.
But it really highlighted for me that often parish and diocesan life has become an alternative society, sufficient unto itself. In the halcyon days in the 1950's the church was indeed the centre of village life. If the allegations against the bishop are true, it seems he wants the diocese to be sufficient unto itself and with those who are sufficiently like-minded to be kosher. Nowadays the whole church is definitely on the periphery and an attempt to restrict people's involvement in activities outside of parish life is to suggest that everything good is inside and everything evil is outside. I should say that I suspect that Cursillo and Alpha are attempts to return the church to its position of prominence, if not dominance, also. However people have to find this out themselves.
In my preparation for this holy week I have been thinking about how the cross and resurrection are not a past events we remember fondly amongst friends, but something we must make our own in how we live in this world. On Good Friday I theorised that it is not God's anger that is assuaged by Jesus' death on the Cross, but humanity's anger at a God who is perpetually concerned for others. The resurrection we celebrate today is therefore our guarantee that the proclamation of God's equal concern for all people is the gospel, so the real question is how we make this a reality in our own lives.
One of the things that one learns in life, is that often the real problem is to find the correct question. No matter how correct the answer to the question 3 times 3 is 9, if the question is actually what is 3 plus 3, 9 will always be wrong. So the important thing is to make sure we answer the right question. Sometimes, like my example, we think that the question is harder than it really is. Some can make the questions about God particularly hard so that those who can answer them look especially learned. But the questions about God are particularly easy, because God doesn't want knowledge about the divine to be restricted to a few, but obvious to all.
So, while it might be to the chagrin of some, God is simply one who loves others too.
The primary form of celebration for most Christians is the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, the Mass it doesn't matter what it is called. We worship and receive the communion most times we come to church. As with our Holy Week observances, this is not an exercise in mutual self-admiration amongst those who think, believe and worship alike, but an exercise that places fairly and squarely before us all - the divine imperative to include others. And not to include others when they chance to come to join us, but include others as a matter of faith.
I began this sermon with the example of a bishop allegedly trying to stop parishioners from experiencing anything other than something similar to his own spirituality. If this is true his major concern is that people are obedient. The message of the resurrection is that God's primary concern is that we think. God blesses our differences.
Galilee was the place where people thought differently, worshipped differently, lived life differently. The world-view of the motley group of fisher-persons, tax collectors, and ordinary untravelled folk were to be expanded. Few people would have travelled much further from their village than the Temple in Jerusalem and back, and that would have been a major and rare expedition. Now they were to go to the ends of the earth, though of course their world was considerably smaller than ours.
And going to others would inevitably mean that their theological perceptions would be challenged. They can't have been sent to convert the world to their own perceptions that would indeed have been an exercise in futility for the academically, theologically and philosophically illiterate persons the first apostles were. They went with some other message the essential dignity of all people and they were sent to announce and affirm this dignity by their own presence and in their own persons. If they were sent to convert, their message would essentially be argumentative and hardly good news. They were sent to proclaim the dignity of all, indeed a message of great joy for all.
We have come to worship the risen Christ this day, and praise the Lord and Alleluia! After we have sung the joyous hymns we have denied ourselves during Lent, heard the story re-told, pondered the sermon, prayed the prayers and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion sometimes it seems as if as we leave the church the world is no different from when we entered the church. But the message of the gospel, the message of that young man to the women so long ago, is the same to us: 'He is not here'. We too will find the risen Christ in our Galilee outside in the real world, in our real lives, amongst people who don't come to **our** church, believe in **our** God, don't live in the manner of life we do, and who challenge our perceptions of reality. We leave this place with the message of the essential dignity of all persons, and we too don't have to convert the world, but to announce and affirm this essential dignity by our own presence and in our own persons.
I spoke on Good Friday of the faith where 'others are struck down as insignificant, immaterial, inconsequential, their dire fate none of our concern'. The Easter message is that our acceptance of others is the essential substance of our own salvation, the essential substance of our faith in the risen Christ.
But Easter is a time, not of argumentation, but of joy. It is a time of joy for all, as all find acceptance and an essential dignity conferred on them. Of course there are some for whom this will challenge their sense of superiority and will be anything other than joyful. They will be like that person in the marriage feast dressed for a funeral rather than for a wedding and an attitude to match. He or she will not want to be involved if so many others are included. But our Easter joy is that all who wish to be are included. In the end God will not force anyone, just as God doesn't force anyone now.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"