s159g01 Somerton Park Easter 15/4/01
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Luke 24:5
I suppose it is the privilege or the preoccupation of the elderly to reminisce about the past. In all probability this means I'm getting old! I recall the time when I was about to move to Somerton Park over ten years ago now. I can still remember thinking how much I'd matured in the faith during the six years I was at Kapunda ... I can't now even remember the particular issues I then was so clearly able to list to bear out the perception I had then. Needless to say, I now look back at the intervening period and think - how much I have learned since then! I sometimes have described my faith journey as a "work in progress". And this is true.
For all my definite statements about "truth, justice, and the ... way", my words are ever "in part" (1 Cor 13:12). It is one of the joys and the curses of being a member of the clergy that one has to stand in a pulpit, week after week, and proclaim what one believes to be the truth (the whole truth, and nothing but the truth) as one sees it at the time, but knowing full well that the words that I say can never be the whole truth. There are still further perceptions that I have not seen, views of which I have not taken account - all of which mean that in three years hence, or even next year, I will have cause to modify what I say today.
And yet, in the midst of this transitoriness and provisionality, this year I feel gladdened by Easter, in a way I haven't ever been before, in all my 24 years since I was ordained a deacon.
It is not that I've fasted with particular assiduousness this past Lent. Indeed this Lent I've organised myself so that I have had less services of worship to conduct. I suppose, looking back, I've viewed Holy Week and Easter as something of a challenge to get through. The extra bits in the liturgy for Palm Sunday, the evening services each night of Holy Week as well as the Diocesan Chrism Mass. The celebration of Maundy Thursday night and Good Friday services. We used to have two services on Good Friday, as well as an Easter Vigil. Holy Week was crammed with events, and for someone whose responsibility it is to plan and lead them, it was a bit of a nightmare.
Now that we have a more achievable program, I am now, for the first time, beginning to appreciate the season for the message it brings.
I suppose that it is also pertinent that I say these words as I begin my preparation for my Easter sermon on the Sunday night of Lent 5. The sermon for Palm Sunday has been finished, "put to bed" I think is the journalist's term. The Temple has been stormed by the poor and the outcast. The beginning of my sermon for Good Friday has been begun, where I concluded that the cross and resurrection is not the ultimate "carrot and stick" to get people to avoid any divergence from the narrow way, the cross and resurrection is the invitation to us to see in others the goodness and grace of God.
I know where I am going.
And the message I am preaching is a message that touches my heart. It is the same message that I have been proclaiming for a long time now, but for the first time I feel I've really linked it to the events of Good Friday and Easter.
And there is something about having time to listen, to not having one's life filled with events to plan, people to organise. There is also something about preparing sermons in advance. Even though I've been doing it for a long time now, it is the first time I've been able to put the Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter sermons together. It's taken me 24 years to do it, of course. And I should not forget the contribution technology has made to this. If I was still hand writing my sermons, Good Friday and Easter would no doubt still be a bit of a mystery to me :-) And encouragement from people ...
Christ is risen from the dead. Of course Christ is risen from the dead! God was never going to allow the Godhead to be associated with the pretensions of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor, the outcast and the alien.
On Monday mornings, the opening sentence of Morning Prayer is: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Romans 5:5). I can't tell you how often I have said these words, either on Monday morning or Monday evening - and I've always thought they have meant "God loves me and has given me the Holy Spirit ..." But for the first time I've realised that God's love has been poured into my heart - to love others. The action of the Holy Spirit enables me, an "other" to receive the love of God, that I too may love another "other". It has got nothing to do with me being in a cosy "matey - matey", "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" relationship with God. It's about me being loved to love others. God's plan is much more like: "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch someone else's back in turn ..."
I've gone to some lengths this morning to describe some of my faith journey. Sometimes people want a simple explanation of Christianity, all the answers, the truth all bound up in a little book. I can give you some answers to some of the easier questions in life. So I was asked recently what is the seven branched lamp stand described in Exodus 25 - it is called the "menorah".
But the real answers for life are found as we live it. We too will find answers, not among the dead but among the living - for that is where the risen Christ is to be found. There can be no broader term for all of humanity than "the living". We disciples follow and find Christ as we do. There is no place where we can go and not find that the risen Christ has not already been there.
Andrew Hamilton, the editor of "Eureka Street" asks the question, is Easter just the happy ending to a sad story - in this way. "The trouble with happy endings is that they cancel out what has gone before. In happy endings, everybody lives happily ever after. Before, all was trouble, grief, sin and absence. Now, all is joy, serenity, grace and radiant presence. Before, doubt about God and Jesus Christ; now conclusive proof both of Jesus Christ's divinity and so of God's existence. Before death, and now life. Before unrelieved sin, and now dominant grace. This large rhetoric collides with our experience of life on both counts. Endings rarely bring unrelieved happiness, while the saddest of stories, seen in retrospect, are rarely without meaning for our journey ... The deepest experiences of faith and grace are often edged with hesitations and ironies ... " (Vol. 11 #3 p11) Again I wish I had this sort of eloquence!
Interestingly, the event which brought this home to the author was not reading the Bible, hearing an eloquent preacher, or receiving the blessed Sacrament. It was attending a testimonial game for Sir Donald Bradman, and having to leave before the great batsman had an opportunity to get to the crease! (I apologise to my American readers for whom the game of cricket is a mystery and these words are quite unintelligible - Sir Donald Bradman was to the game of cricket a bit like I suppose Babe Ruth was to the game of baseball (I hope :-). Sir Donald died recently.)
Here indeed is finding the living among the living ...
The message of Easter is not just that Jesus is raised from the dead, it is that the efforts of the religious authorities to stop Jesus associating with the likes of ordinary people was ever doomed to failure, and that as a consequence, we will still find the risen Jesus amongst the lives of ordinary people.
My own father, God rest his soul, always used to say that if you stop learning you are dead. And how true this is. If you find someone with all the answers, the real answers to life I mean, a person who has no need to learn anything else, then that person is dead, and you will not find the Living One there. It is the same with religions and faiths. The ones with all the answers are the ones where you are least likely to find the Living Lord.
Jesus Christ's only claim to uniqueness, is in that he is found among people, all people, for in this way he represents the true nature of God.
So I am grateful not to have found all the answers. I am grateful that I will continue to grow in the faith as I see God in people other than those who come to worship, people other than those who call themselves Christians, people from different cultures, languages and faiths, even the secular and the sick.
For Christ is Risen, Alleluia, and so the opportunity to seek and find this presence and grace remains, for each and everyone, not hidden away, protected from the likes of ordinary people, but amongst the likes of we, ordinary people, all who recognise the presence of God in ourselves and others.
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.