He is Risen: An Easter Sermon

The entire Christian faith hinges on the words ‘He is risen.’[i]

We talk about the centrality of the cross,

in fact for some Christians the cross is all that matters,

everything else is like window-dressing.

But without the resurrection the cross is just a death;

We might sing of the power of the cross,

            but the power of the cross is powerless without the resurrection.

Without the resurrection the gospel is no news;

without the resurrection the words of Jesus are an impossible dream;

without the resurrection the church is a bunch of delusional do-gooders who’ve wasted too many opportunities for a Sunday lie-in;

without the resurrection Jesus himself is just a tiny footnote in history;

without the resurrection death is still the last word on life;

without the resurrection the only way to overcome evil is to fight fire with fire;

without the resurrection our past is a prison and our future is fate;

without the resurrection your bank balance and your BMI is all that matters;

without the resurrection the possible election of President Trump would mean

the end of the world.

I say again the entire Christian faith hinges on the words ‘He is risen.’

As the apostle Paul says:

            ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile’ (1 Cor. 15.17)

The resurrection means Jesus is alive,

            Jesus lives.

It means the narrative of his life has not ended.

The gospels are not biographies of a dead man,

but they are the account of one who lived and died and was raised to life.

The gospels are not simply a record of the past,

            they are the revelation of the Living One

                        who invites us to follow him,

                        who beckons us to listen,

                        who forgives us of our sin,

                       who loves us without restraint.

To read the gospels

            is encounter the one who is the same

                        yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13.8)

The whole Bible becomes his living words,

            because Jesus, the Word become flesh,

                        Is the Living Word of Life.

This is the good news:

            Jesus is alive today

And so we know we can live his way,

            loving enemies, forgiving wrongs,

            letting go of control.

And this is why the church is not deluded.

They are a community of persons

            who lives have been, and are being, transformed

            by their worship and witness,

            of the Risen and Reigning One who breathes

                        His gift of mercy and peace upon them.

            The church does not worship a dead hero,

                        But a risen King.

            The church is a community of living memory,

                        Because it remembers one who lives,                    

                                    who is the head of the Church

                                    and Lord of creation.

That Jesus is alive,

            is why he is not a footnote in history,

            but its meaning and key and its goal.

The life of Jesus has created the greatest music and poetry,

            has founded centres of healing and learning,

            lies beneath the basis for justice and dignity.

            This is to practice resurrection,[ii]

            this is to anticipate the coming kingdom of God.

The church are an Easter people or they are no people at all.

The resurrection of Jesus is the defeat of death,

            the end of endings.

It is the assurance that he alone is the first and last word,

the resurrection of Jesus is the promise that we’d not fear our final breath.

The resurrection of Jesus means that the reality and power of evil is not

overcome through violence

            but instead through the cross –

the resurrection is God’s vindication of non-violence

‘The cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determine the meaning of history.’[iii]

The resurrection says the way of the cross is not accidental,

            but the grain of the universe.[iv]

Rather than fight fire with fire,

the church fights fire with water and bread and wine

                        with baptism and holy communion

            believing that the cross and resurrection of Jesus are more powerful than guns or bombs, tanks or Trident.

The resurrection of Jesus means our past can be forgiven and our future is now our destiny in Christ.[v]

            Where our past can be a prison, holding us in its grip, the resurrection announces that Jesus comes to free us, meaning our past is no longer able to assert its power over us: what has been is forgiven.

            Where our future can be fearful, uncertain, the resurrection announces that our future is now knowable – it is life with Jesus, we are no longer subject to the whims of fate, but can live with confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.

The resurrection of Jesus means that money and health no longer determine what a good life looks like.

Without the resurrection, we live fearful of not having enough, we live fearful of being destitute; we live with the lie that money makes happiness.

The resurrection declares that we live in the abundance of God, whose gifts never run out, who calls us into fellowship and friendship, who gives us good work to do, who offers us the joy and peace and hope of Holy Spirit.

            Without the resurrection, we live fearful of suffering and illness.

The resurrection of Jesus says that even in the midst of suffering, God is with us and God is for us.

The resurrection causes us to see life as a gift rather than a right, it draws us to see that suffering can sometimes be a vocation, for it is not finally ultimate.

The resurrection of Jesus means that we need not finally fear Trump or Putin or Isis.

The promise of God revealed in the raising of Jesus is that a new world is coming

The witness of the church is not dependent in living in a benign democracy,

            but on the power of the Holy Spirit

The early church did not fear Caesar,

for the resurrection of Jesus turned the church outward in mission

            with boldness, courage, faith, love, hope.

With the St. Paul let our prayer be to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3.9).

The early church witnessed to a new age, a new time, a new creation.

Two thousand years on it can feel like we are stuck in the old age, the old time, the old creation.

The claim is that the church in the west is dying,

            it is certainly losing numbers,

but the resurrection of Jesus says God will never give up on the church,

            not because of its own righteousness,

            but because of the mercy and grace of God,

            that is raising daughters and sons,

                        like you and me,

who have experienced the power of resurrection

                                    to transform, forgive and be sent

                        to proclaim the good news that Jesus lives.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through

the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,

who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—

of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—

may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Though you have not seen him, you love him;

and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him

and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1.3-9)

Amen.

 

[i] This sermon found some inspiration from ‘If Christ is Risen’ a sermon preached by Sam Wells on Easter Sunday 2015. http://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/wp-content/uploads/April-5-SW.pdf

[ii] Wendell Berry, ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’

[iii] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

[iv] Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe (SCM, 2001) borrowed from Yoder.

[v] Sam Wells, The Nazareth Manifesto (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)


Cross Art

I am part of a small team that has sought to find ways of telling the Christian story in Southend Town Centre. A few years back we took over an empty shop for Holy Week and installed a form of the Stations of the Cross. Last year we sought again to tell the Easter story through a series of framed bits of art that we placed in different locations across the Town Centre. This year we commissioned 5 local artists to design a cross. We then produced 500 small crosses and we dropped them all over the town centre for anyway to find a take away.

The five cross designs was a fascinating way to how others see the cross. I'm not sure what each of the artists was intending, but these are my reflections.

12439168_1743223125922555_3087816158612026394_n This first cross is imprinted with a compass. I see this in two ways. First, the cross is that which stands radiating out across the world - north, south, east, west. Second, the cross is the compass of the Christian life, it is how the church seeks to orientate its life.

 

 

 

 

 

This second cross is imprinted with flowers. I see these flowers either as about to flower or in the process of withering away. The cross is both death and life. It perhaps captures something of St. Paul's words to the church in Corinth that 'we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus … death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.' 942868_1743222782589256_3778254669096056587_n  12063849_10154033414788430_7454691459228584178_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cross reminds me of a rainbow and so the promise God makes Noah to never flood the earth again. It is a promise of commitment to all creation. The cross also contains across it a line of thorns, and so saying that God is making a new promise now in the death of Jesus, a new covenant. A new promise, a new covenant that confirms the promise to Noah and at the same time dealing with the human propensity to sin. 12705331_10156637445845363_1851606440469577233_n 

Chocolate now lies at the centre of the Easter season. It has replaced the cross. And so here in this fourth cross we see the two juxtaposed together. Do they any connection? Chocolate can taste bitter or sweet, which perhaps also reflects the meaning of the cross, it is bitter and sweet, sorrow and joy.  12919070_10154058660980148_1913538865_n
 
 
This final cross is one that suggests that though  it happened long ago, the cross remains alive as something with power. The images look like fossilised fish and the words are 'life', 'long before', 'on belonging to', 'hand in hand', 'remains.' It is perhaps the most enigmatic of the five designs. The Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes wrote a book called Past Event and Present Salvation and I see this cross as grappling with that sense of past and present.

Who will roll away the stone? An Easter Sermon

Who will roll away the stone?

Mark 16.1-8

Easter Sunday 5th April 2015

Belle Vue Baptist

 

Who will roll away the stone?

Jesus is not asking the question this time.

The women disciples are.

Who will roll away the stone?

Jesus is hidden behind the stone.

Jesus who has died is hidden behind the stone.

Jesus in whom they had hoped, with whom they had lived,

and to whom they had followed as Lord.

Who will roll away the stone?

Who will roll away the stone so they can at least give his body the honour its due

and they can cling just one more time to him, before he becomes just a memory.

And if these women are asking the question,

so are we,

who will roll away the stone?

   Jesus you called me and I followed

   Jesus you promised and I believed

   Jesus you gave me faith and hope – small like a mustard seed, but you planted me in soil ready to grow.

   but … but now there is this stone

   in the way … this big stone that I can’t move.

A stone that represents

my cynicism – I can’t get past that you’re just too good be true,

I can’t get over that maybe you’re just all made up, or at least

history as made you more than you are.

my apathy – I can’t find the energy to keep believing, the passion just isn’t there    

                   anymore, it all seems too much like hard work

my suffering – I can’t stop asking why me Jesus? why is this happening to me?

my sadness – I just feel sad, there’s no joy left in me, I feel like you’ve taken away  

                   those I loved …

Who will roll away the stone?

 

For some of us, perhaps many of us,

the Saturday of Holy Week is where the story ends:

Jesus dead in the tomb.

Faith and hope ebbing away.

We started, but now we can’t go any further;

we started, but we don’t know how to go any further;

we started, but we don’t want to go any further.

Who will roll away the stone?

The stone represents

the thing we can’t get round.

The stone represents

our desire to stop.

The stone represents

a weight we cannot lift.

 

Easter dares us to look again.

Easter dares us to believe that God is stronger than the stone,

that Jesus can make a way where we can’t,

that Jesus will come and wait until we are ready to go again,

that Jesus can remove the weight weighing us down.

Easter declares that nothing, nothing whatsoever,

(to borrow some well-known words)

neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation – and certainly not a large cumbersome stone – can separate Christ from God, and us from Christ.*

Easter is the announcement

that Jesus is who he said he was

that the gospel really is good news

that death is undone

that a new world has come

         that the stone lies rolled away.

 

Come to the tomb and see that it’s empty.

Come to the table and find Christ is present.

Go into the world for Christ goes ahead of us.

And who is this Christ: he is risen one,

         who says ‘Be clean’;

         who says ‘Your sins are forgiven’;

         who says ‘Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’;

         who says ‘Don’t be afraid just believe’;

         who says ‘All things are possible with God’;

         who says ‘This is my body’.

 

The woman in the story move from despair to terror.

The stone lies rolled away,

but they are overwhelmed with the news that Jesus is risen.

We are left with an ending that is unresolved,

but with the word of hope and faith, ringing out,

‘He has risen! He is not here’

The promise is we will see him again,

if we will go and look for him.

Easter celebrates a new day, a new world, a new time,

it invites us to leave behind

our cynicism, our apathy, our suffering and our sadness,

to be embraced by Jesus,

do you want to see the glory of God?

Jesus is both here and he is beyond waiting for us,

he invites us once again to follow him,

back to the beginning:

the kingdom of God is near,

repent and believe the good news.

 

* Sam Wells, Learning to Dream Again.

This sermon was helped by reading Ched Myers, Binding the Strongman and Wells sermon 'Rolling Stones' in Learning to Dream Again.


Easter Icons 2015

Cadburycross
This year's Easter Icons is in the street. For several years it was hosted in a church, last year we were in a empty shop in a shopping centre, this year we've gone on to the streets. 14 pieces of 'art' in and around Southend High Street, even one at the end of the Pier, that seek to tell the Easter story. There's a website here to accompany the trail.


How do we live Easter?

The church is getting better about observing (or recovering) lent. There are number of resources, ideas, possibilities for people to engage with intentionally (or half-heartedly) over the 40 days.

There is little or nothing for the 50 days of Easter.

How do we live Easter or to use Wendell Berry's wonderful phrase 'practice resurrection'?

Easter tends to pass us by.

We get to to the summit of resurrection day and then drift along until Pentecost, or maybe Ascension.

What are Easter habits?

Lent is hard work, should Easter be a rest? After all, the disciples went fishing or at least were fairly quiet until Pentecost. Should Easter be a break (many clergy often need one), and then at Pentecost, when we pick up the work of again, (empowered by the Spirit)?

Its easier to preach Lent, than it is to preach Easter, or that is it what it can feel like.

So any ideas for 50 ways to live Easter?


Easter Icons report

This year we saw over 400 people visit (including approx. 250 primary school children) during holy week. This is what we did. photos can be found here.

1. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (Luke 19.41-42) | a video meditation reflecting on different cities around the world and how we still don't know what makes for peace

2. Jesus clears the Temple (Matt. 21.12-13) | a giant wailing wall in which people were encouraged to write prayers and place in the cracks

3. Jesus is anointed at Bethany (Mark 14.3-9) | a chance to be sprayed with perfume, for just as the woman wanted Jesus to feel special, so we wanted people to be reminded how they special they are to God. There was then an opportunity to write on a post-it how they wanted to be remembered

4. Jesus washes the disciples feet (John 13.1-15) | There was a photographic display of feet and then an opportunity to have feet washed with this reflection

5. Judas (Matt. 26.14, 47-50) | borrowing from kester brewin's 2006 blog post on the judas i never knew, this was a monologue of judas' story and then an invitation to reflect on different "villians" and ask whether any are wholly evil

6. The Garden of Gesthemane (Matt. 26.36-46) | we made a garden with real grass using the baptistry. in the garden the words of jesus spoken to the disciples we're heard. this reflection went with it.

7. Jesus before the High Priest (Matt 26.57-68) | an opportunity to reflect on jesus' trial in light of unfair treatment of prisoners today. we had an orange jumpsuit. this reflection went with it.

8. Peter (Matt. 26.69-75) | matt smith made some excellent newspaper front covers that told the story of 9 episodes from peter's life. we gave every school child who visited a t-shirt with 9 symbols representing the 9 stories.

9. Jesus before Pilate (Matt. 27.1, 11-26) | this reflection encouraged people to make a difference, we had 5 examples of people who had made a difference. to go with this we had cards from tearfund on life the label, fair trade and cutting carbon footprint.

10. Jesus carries the cross (via dolorasa) | this was a video filmed in the narrow streets of bath, reflecting jesus' journey to the cross.

11. Gologotha (mark 15.22-24) | we made an easter egg cross with this reflection.

12. 'Father into your hands, I commit my spirit' (luke 23.44-46) | an opportunity to write a prayer of something that they wanted to commit to God and place it his hands.

13. 'Surely this man was the Son of God' (mark 15.37-38) | an opportunity to reflect on who is jesus. there were sets of different glasses / binocoluars through which people could view a picture which depending on how you looked it, could be seen the centurion's words. this reflection went with it.

14. Jesus is laid in the tomb (luke 23.50-56) | a bench to sit and wait and reflect on the death of jesus. this reflection went with it.


Interim Report on Easter Icons

Today was the last of 3 days of school visits (about 250 students from 7 different schools, mainly primary) to our Easter Icons exhibition. We're open tomorrow to the public between 12-6pm. It's been a fantastic few days - its be great to see children and adults engaging with the different stations. Geoff has kindly blogged some of his reflections here. A full report with pictures will appear at some point in the next week.