Easter Sunday 2011
Location: St Paul's Cathedral
“I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here: for he has been raised…Go quickly and tell his disciples…he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.” Matt.XXVIII.
One of the most unbelievable theories about the Resurrection is that it was simply a communal hallucination, wishful thinking. Wishful thinking does not change anything and just confirms our existing understanding.
All the resurrection appearances stress how the risen Jesus came to his friends as a stranger and he had to open their eyes. The discovery that “he is not here” is made by women whose evidence was not at that time acceptable in court proceedings rather than by any of Jesus’s closest students.
The Christian community was brought into being and sustained by the Easter event and the Resurrection of Christ, not the other way round.
In the story of Jesus last days we confront the fact that one of his friends was an accomplice in this arrest. Peter denied that he knew him and the other disciples, with the exception of the holy women, forsook him and fled.
We have been shown our “old self” as St Paul says, but that is not the end of the story. Jesus calls his betrayers his brothers and invites them to go back to their own roots, Galilee, to receive a new self as forgiven people so that they “might walk in newness of life”. It is Peter the betrayer who has been forgiven who communicates the Resurrection to the very people who crucified him in the very place of his death.
If we have really entered into this story, seen the betrayal, watched the crucifixion “afar off” like the women, gone to the tomb expecting to find a dead hero, and instead heard the Easter shout “He is not here”; if we have accepted his command to go back to Galilee, our own roots in the everyday, to recognise our old selves but to be freed from ourselves as forgiven people, then we shall know the newness of life, the Resurrection life in our deepest God created selves, and we and the Christian community will be genuine signs of peace and hope, and agents of peace and hope in this world of warring victims.
Easter and the greeting of the Risen Christ created the Church. Jesus appears not as some ghostly apparition with instructions for his friends on how to escape this ghastly world. On the contrary all the stories stress both the initial difficulty his friends had in recognising him but also they emphasise his presence round a table, on the sea shore, in the locked room where they had gathered.
Jesus had created his new community by speech, touch and the sharing of food. After the Resurrection, the forgiven community is sustained in the same way.
By their desertion and their betrayal, the friends of Jesus had ranged themselves on the side of the lost and guilty and made themselves marginal to the new life which Jesus embodied. At Easter, Christ welcomes them and us back to the meal which provides the key to understanding and opening the way to the new life.
At this service we give up our food and drink at the offertory into the hands of Jesus so that we become his guests and receive our life from him. The elements become charged with a new potential because they are no longer our possessions but gifts. In every Eucharist the meaning of the material world is transformed from the kind of possession which inevitably gives rise to conflict, to gift which creates the conditions for reconciliation between human beings.
On this Easter morning we celebrate the reversal of death and the open door into fresh hope for the world. Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed.
[There was an astonishing confirmation here yesterday evening when we kindled the new fire. People from every conceivable background and starting point described how they had been touched by the spirit of Jesus Christ often in circumstances of great affliction.
But elsewhere in our world, there is violence and uncertainty. I am praying for a young man Ramon caught up in the fighting in Misrata brother of another recently confirmed Christian, an Indian who has been living in Libya for twenty years. How do we celebrate the resurrection in a world like this?
Good Friday is painful enough but we can at least identify with the crucified victim in a world of such oppression and injustice. But that is precisely the point of the story we have just heard. The women come looking for “Jesus who was crucified” and they get a shock – He is not here.
We can easily see ourselves in the suffering of the crucified Jesus. Seeing ourselves as the victim legitimates our contribution to the chain of violence in which martyrs are avenged by creating new martyrs. The hardest conflicts to resolve are those in which both sides see themselves as victims and that for many years was the truth about Ireland. The sufferings and injustices are real but can blind us to our share in keeping the old cycles going. The Christian Churches have no right to feel smug about this. Catholics and Protestants have glorified their own martyrs, More and Campion, or Latimer and Ridley, depending on which side you are on and edited out the others.
The story of Good Friday, however, is much more disturbing. Jesus on the night of the Last Supper which we remembered on Thursday gave himself, body and soul to his friends gathered in that Upper Room. One of them was an accomplice in his arrest and death and the others also betrayed him by running away. Jesus had opened the door to a new world and his closest friends slipped back into the old world. The risen Lord Jesus is never our possession.
One of the common themes in the resurrection appearances is that Jesus Christ surprises his followers and meets them as a stranger. It is a reversal of expectations. His former friends have difficulty recognising him until he takes the initiative and greets them.
The message is do not fear and go back to Galilee, to their own homeland; where they must return to understand their own stories and their own part in Jesus’s death. Peter will be asked three times “Do you love me” because he has to recognise himself as the one who denied Jesus three times and played his part in betraying him.
At Easter there is no “martyr for our cause” to be discovered and no cross that can be used to sanctify an ideology or any particular system. Jesus meets us as a stranger, teaches us to see our complicity in family feuds, political conflict, economic injustice which in some cases go back centuries. Today we should search our hearts to see if there any unhealed enmities there, personal or political.]