Easter Day Sung Eucharist
23 March 2008 at :00 am
What constitutes a good news story? That is a question not only for the news media themselves; it should interest all of us who are consumers of the ever increasing amount of news. But the answer is not particularly easy or clear. The Church’s communications officers dread a phenomenon found in England in August, when lack of political news promotes an interesting but comparatively trivial human story to the top of the news. One such, some years ago, concerned the refusal of a clergyman to allow grieving relatives to inscribe a gravestone in his churchyard with the word Mum, as against the more formal Mother. The story became international news. Such stories can stay in the news for days, as journalists, sometimes desperately, seek a new angle. The human story is of particular interest. And the new angle can be particularly destructive.
Apart from these human stories, we have the great stories: the Iraq war, this year the US presidential election, the state of world markets, global warming, some of them more important than others, some of them destined to be resolved or to disappear in the fullness of time, others to run and run. Nowadays, with the various electronic media on which we all rely, giving us instant communication, whilst there are still local stories, the stories that dominate are not national, but international, and they gradually come to dominate our sense of what is important and true. There seems little coherence to these stories but they add up to a sense that there are powers at work, distant from us, beyond local or national control, shaping our world, moulding our lives. They can even come to control our thoughts. Often these forces seem terrible and destructive. A false decision in terms of lending by one bank in a far country threatens to pull down the whole global banking system. The hidden powers of darkness are at work.
There is, though, a great story, a good news story, which people who have not heard it need to hear and we who have heard it need to hear again. It is a story that confronts the powers of darkness. It is a story with transforming power that can make a radical difference to the world and to its citizens. What’s more, it’s a true story, it’s the true story, the only story that can make sense of everything that ever was. It’s the story of God and of God’s love, from the beginning, before time began.
The story begins with the very reality of God, before time, before space, as pure love, open, generous, overflowing love, shared in the beautiful and intimate relationship we know as the Trinity, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the lover, the beloved and the love that binds them together. The power of God’s love is such that the universe is created as the place and context in which that love can be expressed. By a process which science can help us track but with a purpose which science can never explain, God creates the universe, and within it the world in which intelligent, communicative humanity comes into being, made in the image of God, with the power and the gifts necessary to enable human beings to be as God, to be one with God. But if God’s love really is open and generous, it is to be freely shared, and can be rejected. Human beings have the capacity to respond to God and to love Him as He loves us; but human beings also have the capacity to reject God and to follow their own path, please only themselves. Too readily, human beings choose to go their own way. They turn away from God. Slowly a people emerge, God’s chosen people, who by His design come to know God; they too are selfish and wayward, but at least they begin to understand. Time and again they turn away from Him; time and again they are brought back to Him.
But this story is not just a good news story; it is a human story as well, a tragedy and a triumph. Finally, the chosen people seem to be ready for God’s long-prepared plan to be put into effect. God the Son is born into human flesh and lives amongst human beings, bringing the love of God and the forgiveness of God and the healing power of God to all who will receive it. “They will respect my Son.” [Matthew 21: 37] But they reject him. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” [John 1: 10-11]
At first, crowds followed Jesus, attracted by the challenge, clarity and humour of his teaching, and by his miracles of healing. He turned the world upside down. The poor and the weak suddenly seemed important. But little by little, the crowds fell away, as they realised that following him would not be easy. And perhaps his claims became too much for them as well, his claim to know God intimately, to speak for God and to act for God. It was a small band that followed him to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Even they couldn’t really understand him. They had come to believe that he was the promised Messiah, who would free his people Israel from the Roman yoke to live as God’s people again. But what was this about dying and rising again? It made no sense. But they stood by him. The holiday crowds came out to greet their Messiah, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. But then he confounded their hopes, overturning the temple sacrifices and rowing with the Jewish authorities. The crowd began to turn against him, the high priests plotted against him, the Romans feared an uprising. He was crucified outside the city walls. The inscription, ‘This is the king of the Jews’ was ironic.
His disciples thought it was the end. They were terrified for their own lives. Some escaped Jerusalem and headed for their homes. But Jesus had been raised from the dead; the tomb in which his body had been laid was empty. It didn’t take long for the word to spread that Simon Peter had seen Jesus alive with a new life. Many of the disciples saw him themselves, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, on the lakeside. Even some who had not seen came to believe. The experience was no matter of imagination, no wish fulfilment, no vision of a ghost. It was real and strong enough to transform the terrified disciples afraid for their lives cowering in a locked room into apostles risking everything as they proclaimed for all to hear the power and triumph of God’s love in the risen Christ. They knew now that being Jesus’ disciples did not mean hoping for worldly power and glory but dying to this world so that they might live in the power of Christ. They knew now that the powers of darkness can never overcome the power of God’s love. Love conquers everything.
This great story of God’s love and transforming power continues with us as we gather to worship on Easter Day. It remains the defining story of our culture and civilisation. The risen Christ greets us this morning, as he greeted Mary of Magdala, the first apostle of the resurrection, on the first Easter morning. He calls us to be part of God’s great story of love. If we would find life and joy and love, we can find them only in him. As St Paul said, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” [Colossians 3: 1-4]