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Easter Sermon at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria

An Easter sermon by

The Most Reverend Andrew S. Hutchison

The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

That is the astounding reality we celebrate today – impossibly true, and overwhelmingly real.  Everything that would in any way diminish us flies in the face of this Resurrection day.  The life-giving power of God is for evermore, and the Church is created and empowered to proclaim that good news throughout the world.

Death is robbed of its power by Resurrection faith, as countless generations of Christian martyrs have said so clearly.  Some years ago I was privileged to visit a friend of mine in hospital on what turned out to be his last day in the world.  As I left the room after our prayers and a commendation, he called out to me: “Andy............There’ll be another day! Resurrection faith had transformed that ultimate moment from an ending, to the eve of a new and brighter day.

In the Scriptures we have many stories of the Resurrection of Jesus, and certainly in the details they do not all agree with one another.  How could they?  No one was there to see the moment of Jesus stepping from the tomb.  The stories were written long after the events they describe; and in any case, words of themselves are not the truth, nor can they ever comprehend it.  They can but point us to the Truth that is hidden in the mystery of God, and revealed to human hearts.

The Gospel story just read to us is from St. John’s account.  Taken as a whole, John’s Gospel is the most complex and exceptional of the four.  The others have enough in common that, though they differ in detail, we treat them as a set, and call them collectively the synoptic Gospels.  John’s Gospel is in a category of its own.  It has a sense of being closer to the events, and gives us insight into the more inner life of Jesus, and the meaning of his words.  In that sense, it is more theological.  It is his report of the Resurrection event that speaks to us today.  It is exceptional in a number of respects.  It gives remarkable detail of the inside of the tomb, as possibly only someone who had been there would have noted.  That may lend weight to the belief that it is young John himself, the beloved disciple, who is the author of the story, and who is described in it as the other disciple. 

If we read on in the same chapter, John tells us that it is only Mary Magdalene who saw Jesus at the tomb, and it is she who is entrusted with taking the news to the disciples that the Lord is risen and is ascending to God the Father. What is particularly interesting about the message she is entrusted with is that it brings the Resurrection and Ascension very close together.  In fact John also gives us the detail that at the tomb Jesus asks Mary not to touch him,  for I have not yet ascended to the Father, says the text..   We are left to conclude, therefore that when Jesus first appears among his disciples in the evening of that same day, he is already the Risen, Ascended, Glorified Christ.  The next four verses in John’s Gospel bring Pentecost, and the commissioning of the Church forward to that first day of the Resurrection. Listen for a moment.

Later that same day, the first day of the week,

when the disciples were together behind locked

doors for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood

among them. ‘Peace be with you!’ he said; then

he showed them his hands and his side.  On

seeing the Lord the disciples were overjoyed.

Jesus said again, ‘Peace be with you!’  ‘As the

Father sent me, so I send you.’  Then He

breathed on them, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit!

If you forgive anyone’s sins they are forgiven; if you

pronounce them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain.’

 

Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost and the Commissioning of the Church all bound up in a single event.  We cannot know the actual procession of events around the Resurrection of Jesus, and nor what is the “correct” version of their detail. We do know that St. John’s presentation points towards an essential truth.  It is the Resurrection event that gave new life and purpose to that circle of friends around Jesus and sent them on their mission.  There was a virtual explosion of energy that had a fundamental transforming effect on their very persons - what we might refer to these days as a real Sea change.

Whatever was the nature and substance of the One who stood in the midst of those terrified disciples hidden behind locked doors on that evening, it was not simply the resuscitated body of Jesus.  It was the Risen, Ascended, Glorified and empowering Christ, who no longer just planted seeds for a movement that was to grow in a hostile environment.  Rather, within that very hostile environment, the Church burst into life with staggering speed, and with astounding energy, confident that the living Christ was in their midst, beginning with that small circle of friends of Jesus.  That Resurrection energy came to dominate art, architecture, literature and music throughout Europe, and in much of the East through centuries of history.  It is more extensive in its reach and has more sustaining power than any empire ever devised by humankind, and whole empires have bowed before it.  In our contemporary media issues of Resurrection faith continue to make front page copy. Even as the Church in our part of the world seems to be losing its hold on the imagination, the faith continues to attract. New Christians are being baptised in unprecedented numbers in other parts of the world, and the Church continues to grow, albeit with some distressing growing pains!.

For all that, one is graciously left with a choice as to what, if anything to make of the reality of the Resurrection, and some there be who dismiss it as unreal or irrelevant.  Many more, I suspect, have never really been confronted with it.  When Mary, according to John the first ambassador of the Good News, took the news to the disciples, we are not told that they all accepted it.  We are told, however that later the same day they still had the doors barred.  When Jesus first appeared in their midst, Thomas was not with them, and simply would not believe on their say-so.  He had to have the evidence for himself.  John, on the other hand needed only to see the empty tomb to be convinced that the Lord was Risen, as he had said he would be.  So it is not surprising that all the evidence of Christian history, and all the lessons of its teachers, preachers and martyrs is not enough for some people of our own circles of familiarity.  No doubt some of that is the result of a history scarred by shameful moments of enthusiasm for the Gospel gone awry.  Aggressive, coercive evangelism has taken its toll, as has fanatical zeal for orthodoxy, and commitment to an unthoughtful literalism that veils what the Spirit would reveal through Scripture.

The challenge is still before us in our own time to witness faithfully to the Resurrection faith that is within us, by lives as radically changed and as fully energised by the Spirit of God as were the lives of those first witnesses to the Resurrection.

The Risen, Ascended, Glorified and empowering Christ still comes to us, as we huddle together behind the doors of our Churches, fearful of the encroachments of a hostile environment, if not to our safety, at least to our comfort and composure.  As He did on that first Easter Day Christ still says to us Peace be with you!  And then bids us open the doors and go out into the world with a mission: As the Father sent me, so I send you .Through Word and Sacrament, through liturgy and music, He continues to say Receive the Holy Spirit.  Then he sets us on our course to continue the process of transforming ourselves and the Church, and then this broken and unforgiving world, by proclaiming within it healing and reconciliation: - If you forgive anyone’s sins they are forgiven; if you pronounce them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain

 

I wish you the fullest blessings of this day - in your own heart and familiar circle, in the faith community of Christ Church Cathedral, and in the life of the Diocese. The theme and the prayer of the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, recently held in Brazil, was God, by your grace transform the world. In the present environment, which some of us find more hostile than others, let us open the doors and proclaim through transformed lives.  The Lord is Risen!Alleluia!  He is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

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