The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s159g10 Easter Day 4/4/2010
'Why do you look for the living among the dead?' Luke 24.5
It was and is entirely normal and natural for the women to take these spices to the tomb. It is perhaps characteristic of the female gender to want to do things nicely, while the men go off and resume their fishing. I guess we all grieve differently, and one way is not better or more kosher than another.
But as I read again this gospel reading, I wonder if our coming to church this morning is not significantly different from the women bringing these spices to the tomb. Often these days we would bring flowers to a grave rather than spices. I suspect that the women were doing the ordinary preparation for burial that the authorities and the timing of Jesus' death precluded. And again, it is often those of the female gender who do the unenviable tasks, like this.
But this Easter morning, are we too just bringing along spices to brighten up a pretty dead institution with an age-old message that has lost its power to transform? Are we looking to the events of 2000 years ago? Is this Easter not materially different from last Easter, and the Easter before that, and etc, and etc? The promise of transformation has been inextricably lost in the midst of time.
We bring flowers, we sing hymns, we pray, we have fellowship and we go home feeling good, and I am glad for all of these things.
Are we too looking for the living among the dead? This is not meant to be a snide remark about this or that community of faith or even the Anglican Community at large, but a rather more general observation that we WILL find the living among the living. We will find the risen Christ among ordinary people doing ordinary things as well as among extra-ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things.
I am want to say that if you want to know where I see God most at work, it is in the hospitals where I have worked, rather than the churches where I have worshipped. And this is the essence of the incarnation, that God is found in the ordinariness of life, not in separate and sacred places accessible only to the privileged or the initiated. We will find the living one among the living. We will find the living one as we live our lives, not as we hide ourselves away from real life.
Our Easter celebration is therefore not that we come into this sacred space to find and worship the risen one, but that we come to this sacred space in thanksgiving that we have found the risen one from whence we have come, and to which we will soon enough return.
Some will be aware that I have recently emigrated to New Zealand, and the reason for this is that I have met a new lady in my life and New Zealand is where she lives. I have been amazed how this has happened. Sure, there have been hiccups, but also evident is a constant reassurance that this is the direction that I should take. People from Orange have commented on how well I look since meeting Mary. We are to be married on May the 15th. I find new life in relationships and I hardly think that I am alone here. People in New Zealand have been so welcoming, even though I am an Australian and there is a healthy amount of cross-Tasman rivalry. Some people find that losing their job has been the best thing that has ever happened to them, as they have been forced to look at the world in a broader way and explore new possibilities. We find new life as we move out of our normal comfort zones and meet different people.
Sadly, and here is a comment about the church, we are apt to sanctify the past, and to relate to only those people already here and so to fossilize the present when our Lord bids us look outward, to live for the present and a better future.
I continue my reflections on art, and the perceptions that inevitably the artist is a solitary figure, for he or she stands outside the humdrum of compliance and points us to something fresh, new and liberating. Because I am preparing these words before Easter, (as all Easter sermons are prepared before Easter) I am reflecting on the words that Jesus was crucified outside the city: 'Jesus .. suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. (Hebrews 13.12,13) The artist stands alone because otherwise his or her perception would get swamped by the institution. He or she has to live by faith, faith in oneself and the message which is ever so intricately bound up in one's own person and not simply following the crowd. But the institution, bound up in doing things, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen rewards imitation not initiative, and commends those who conform rather than those who stand outside and call the community to something new, something less constrained, something more free.
One of the loveliest of pictures of God is in St Paul's 13th chapter of his letter to the Corinthians and toward the end of these well known words he writes: 'For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.' And what we see in a mirror dimly is ourselves! The promise is that we will see God in ourselves clearly, and as we realise that this is a promise for all, that others will see God in themselves clearly also.
So the Easter message is that this process of living for the present and the future, that new and fresh, liberation await us and all people that the forces that would constrain us and others are broken. We will find the living among not just those who call themselves 'christians' or those who have faith, but among the living, in everyone who is made in the image and likeness of God, male and female, of whatever hue, culture, or ethnicity. We will find the living among gay and lesbian people, among the marginalised and the alienated.
So the transforming power of Easter comes as we do as the two heralds say and look for the living one among the living, not as we bring our devotion to the tomb of where he was last seen.
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