Over Easter week a friend shared on Facebook this sermon preached by Father Jeffrey Johns, Dean of St Albans on Easter Day (this was broadcast on the BBC). You can listen to this here on Soundcloud (I really recommend listening to it, 8 minutes well spent!):
I couldn’t find the words of this sermon anywhere online so I transcribed part of it which I used as my homily at mass on Tuesday this week as I thought it was so good. Here is the extract:
To explain what he means, Paul says that the dead body is like a seed which is put in the ground but then by God’s power, it is changed, it springs into life. It becomes a plant which is infinitely more glorious than the seed ever was and yet it has miraculously developed out of it. And so, Paul says, our earthly existence will also be changed into an unimaginably fuller existence in the Spirit.
But we will still be us, we won’t be absorbed into undifferentiated being like the Buddhist idea of Nirvana. We’ll be the persons we are now but perfected and united with the union of the persons in love which is God the Trinity.
To take another example that both Jesus and Paul used. Think of the way in which we came into this world. When we were a baby in the womb, being born must have felt like dying and a very violent death at that. After nine months of being cosy and peaceful inside our mothers, suddenly all our life’s supports were torn away and we were shoved out of the only existence we knew with no idea that this trauma was actually the beginning of an infinitely richer life. Indeed, even while we were in the womb, we were forming all the faculties we were going to need for that new life, lungs to breathe, eyes to see, and a voice to cry. We couldn’t have imagined our new world, even though we were preparing for it and the cost of entering it was a sort of death. Well if that’s how it was for us at our beginning then why not at the end?
Even after being born there are still more ‘little deaths’. We have to die to childhood, or else remain infantile. We have to leave home and family behind in order to form adult relationships and a new family. Even small things like changing jobs or moving house – there’s always that wrench from the past and that terror of the future that seems to be the condition of entering the new and fuller life.
All along the way, we have to learn to let go. That is what people who want to freeze themselves cryogenically refuse to do, they want to stick to what they know. You might as well try crawling back into the womb, just as Nicodemus thought when Jesus told him he had to be born again. The truth is, we must move on. And rebirth, through death, is the pattern of all our moving on, from the very start, to the very end. We can’t cheat death, Jesus himself didn’t cheat it, He really died, and in the normal, human way with real pain and real fear. But because he came through the other side of death we can trust that for us too it won’t be the end, but only the last of so many letting goes. Our last Good Friday before our own Easter Day. Alleluia!
Alleluia indeed! A blessed Eastertide to you.