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SERMON FOR 21ST MAY 2017

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, alleluia.

Some of you know that I am training to be a spiritual director.  This is even more of a conversation-killer than telling people you’re a headteacher – but fear not, I’m not going to go into details.  What struck me, among the few ordained and lay ministers teaching and training with me, is that we all experience similar things at Easter.  We were exhausted by the time Easter morning arrived, and for nearly everyone, if not this year then many another, that meant being too washed out to feel a real blast of Easter joy.  Which is a shame, because it is there to be had.

Many of them talked about it taking until the middle of the next week for them to have the energy to realise.  Some of them, for different reasons, felt they were still bound into the Passion – the terror of Gethsemane or the desperation of seeing their Lord suffer and die.  The Easter services are wonderful, but they aren’t a medicine with predictable effects.  And as we know, even the disciples took some time to recover, before they could begin to believe, and only then let that belief sink in and begin to guide their lives.  Which is why we have the season of Easter, to follow their return to strength and growth as believers and as resurrection people, and to feel those things in ourselves.

It took forty days and a miraculous experience of the Holy Spirit for the disciples to feel prepared to make a defense to anyone who asked (and many more who didn’t) for a reason for the hope that was in them.  I’ve had more than forty years and I’m only just beginning to feel brave enough.  To be honest, it was always not wanting to look a fool with my atheist, socialist friends when they said you don’t believe all that … rubbish, do you?  Indeed I would manoeuvre conversations to avoid going near the subject of faith.  Plus, although I’d read quite a bit, I hadn’t had time to think what this hope is.

The birth of Jesus, the entry into creation by the creator, makes clear that all creation carries the virtue of that creator, and opens our eyes to see the wonder of God in all things.  You don’t have to be a Christian, however, to carry that kind of vision around with you.  The difference for us is that creation shares in Christ’s incarnation and becomes a kind of sacrament – an outward sign of the inward grace of incarnation – of God’s love.  But we read that back into our wonder, I think, rather than incarnation being the source of our hope.  A source of comfort, challenge, yes, but our hope lies elsewhere.
’In him we live and move and have our being.’  This phrase always seems very beautiful to me.  I feel it catching me up into the arms of the living God.  It also chimes with a recent theologian’s suggestion that mystery is not simply something which cannot be understood, and therefore can be dismissed as just another idea.  Mystery is rather something which we have to inhabit, with passion, and which only releases its reality when we relinquish the normal requirements for objective truth.

While this applies to God being with us, it applies even more firmly to the resurrection.  Somehow, a miraculous birth seems easier to believe and to understand, than a complete rewriting of the rules of death.  It is a true mystery: not an idea but something which compels us, and then becomes the element in which we exist.  There’s a man here, living, breathing, loving, where no man should be. There’s hope here, where no hope should be. But it seems to me that’s the only hope worthy of the name, the hope that brings change for good, where that too, rationally, should be impossible.

Perhaps the compelling reason for the disciples’ taking only forty days to assimilate the new heaven and earth was the tremendous energy let loose by this complete break with life as they knew and understood it.  If Jesus could do as he said and rise again, then they too could be new.  They didn’t need to settle (after a decent period of grief) into their old selves, they could believe in better.  If everything else they had known, including the laws of physics and biology as then understood, were now unsure, paradoxically they could still trust that what Jesus had said was true.  Amongst the many things he said, he had told them he was the way, and the truth, and the life.  A mystery which encompassed everything.

The resurrection changes everything.  Find a little space in the three Easter weeks that remain to spend some time with that thought.  Let it fill you from inside, let it become the medium in which you live and move and have your being.  No need to trick it out with heavy reading – just allow yourself to face the mystery, to dive inside and find what it means for you.  Some people do this by imagining themselves in the scenes from the gospels and Acts when Jesus reappears.  Some look at the meaning which floods into the desperate experience of the Passion, once the resurrection is understood.  Some consider the immense love which brings Jesus back to the friends who abandoned him – saying not, “Where were you last Friday when I needed you?” but simply, “Peace.”  However you do it, try seeing things just from that perspective, of new life sustained by love, for these weeks.  Be a resurrection person, with fresh eyes, fresh heart, fresh hope.

Our world needs that hope and it needs people who see its pain and injustice through resurrection-tinted lenses.  And mixed in with the new you and the new view, there will be hints, breezes, maybe even blasts of Easter joy, in case you missed it on the day.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!