I haven’t shared one of my sermons on my personal blog in a while but I felt in the current circumstances that I would today. I was particularly inspired by these two articles as I wrote this year’s Easter Sermon, both very much worth reading:
‘The impossible has already happened’: what coronavirus can teach us about hope – Rebecca Solnit in the Guardian
Prepare for the ultimate gaslighting – Julio Vincent Gambito on Medium
Here is the text of my sermon for Easter Day 2020, to listen to the audio version, press play here:
Easter Sermon 2020. Gospel reading: Matthew 28:1-10.
In the last 100 days our world has irrevocably changed. It is as if a pause has been placed on our lives. And we all know that although we long for things to return to normal – that version of normal will never exist again. This crisis, like the snow melting, is revealing the great weaknesses of our society, it is exposing the corruption that we have got used to living with but it is not only revealing the bad things. It is revealing to each of us the truth that we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. We are realising how much we need each other. We are realising who the real key workers are in our society, it is not hedge fund managers or celebrities, it is the low-paid army of faithful carers, refuse collectors, nurses, hospital porters, checkout assistants, shelve stackers, warehouse workers, truck drivers and postal workers on whom we rely for our day to day needs. We are speaking to our neighbours again over our fences, we are putting ourselves out for strangers, we are giving encouragement to those who need it in the form of applause every Thursday night. We are, to put it simply, learning to love one another again.
That first Easter was full of fear and confusion. If you read all the accounts of the resurrection in the gospels, fear is one of the overwhelming emotions. So if you are fearful today, you are in good company. Mary Magdalene and the other women and the disciples were all terrified, and they saw the Risen Christ standing in front of them, they saw him with their own eyes!
Matthew writes in his gospel that the women “left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy”. Fear and great joy – it is possible to experience both at the same time and that is certainly what I am feeling today. Fear and joy.
Then Jesus says to the women, “do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”. For the first time this year, I have thought about the gap between seeing the Risen Christ at the tomb and his appearing to the disciples in Galilee – 80 miles away. There would have been quite a long time of fear and confusion as the disciples decide what to do, all they have to go on is the word of the women and the word of Jesus through them that he will see them in Galilee, they don’t know where specifically and they don’t know when. They have to live with that uncertainty. Perhaps this year, we are in the same position. We rejoice at the good news of the resurrection, knowing that Jesus has indeed conquered death and won us eternal life with him. But we are fearful of what is to come and what Jesus will say to us when we get to Galilee.
We often think at Easter of the metaphor of the butterfly – a symbol of death and resurrection. A caterpillar’s sole purpose is to consume, eat, eat, eat, that is all they do (as you’ll remember from the wonderful children’s book the Very Hungry Caterpillar). Before this crisis, our world revolved around consumption, we buy things to make ourselves happy (or at least we believe that lie), since the lockdown we’ve been having to learn to be creative with the food we have in our cupboards rather than buying food every day on the way home from work. We’ve stopped using our cars so much and we are beginning to see the earth breathe again. When a caterpillar is in the chrysalis, it breaks down and becomes neither caterpillar nor butterfly, it is in an in between state. It can never return to being a caterpillar again. Once that caterpillar that has transformed into the butterfly leaves the chrysalis (which, by the way, is a long, slow process that requires much patience), it can never go back – it can’t crawl back into that cosy environment, the chrysalis has served its purpose and is of no more use – just like Jesus’ empty tomb. Then the butterfly has a whole new identity, a whole new way of being, a whole new life to forge. It has to go to Galilee. After all this is done, when we can return to work, to church, to one another’s homes, let us forge a new reality, building on what we have learnt during this time in the chrysalis. Let us not return to that corrupt world where the wrong people are valued, where we spend all our time consuming, where we don’t care what happens to the planet.
Christianity is a religion that always looks forward, towards that day when there will be no more pain and no more crying, we declare the mystery of our faith, Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. We strive forwards. We remember that Paul writes to the Philippians (and bear in mind Paul wrote these words when he was in prison):
10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
We press on with the disciples to Galilee, and just as at that first Easter, the Resurrection will continue to change the world as Christ is at work in us.
Alleluia Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!