A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on Easter Day-16th April 2017 by the Reverend John Towler.
Maybe the nearest understanding I have of Easter faith is this moment, now! I am alive, I am present, and the spirit of the living God lives within me. Is the life I live now a foretaste of my resurrection? Is the life of connectedness in this community this morning a foretaste of the resurrection of the body? I guess we all come year by year to this great mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ with more questions than we do answers.
The gospel reading from St Mark is probably the most succinct of all the resurrection accounts. It is also the last chapter of his gospel. Somehow its abruptness tips over into this moment. St Mark uses the words of the ’young man sitting in a white robe’ to declare one of the most astonishing proclamations of all time: ‘he is not here……………he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you’. When I say the end of the gospel tips over into this moment I mean that this morning right now is our Galilee: for Galilee substitute Fordingbridge-where else would he be?! We can debate until we are blue in the face about what actually happened in our rational Western way but maybe the truth of the resurrection of God’s Christ will elude us unless we are still, and know that it is inside of us and between us he lives-allowing ourselves to experience this great mystery of presence.
Let us return to Mark’s account of the resurrection. What might be significant about Galilee is that it is the place where the disciples receive their calling by the lake. In Galilee they will ‘see’ the risen Christ as disciples who have been forgiven and who are renewed. Somehow Jesus is taking them back to the roots of their calling as disciples.
Galilee is also a code for the whole universe and tells us something about the total inclusiveness of all peoples for all time. What I mean by that is that Christ’s resurrected presence knows no barriers of space and time or place. Again our rational Western minds would like to know how. A modern theologian and scientist Don MacGregor has proffered a partial explanation. I will try and put it as simply as possible. Our world billions of years ago was brought into being by an act of Divine consciousness. Jesus the divine man is the ultimate expression of that divine consciousness-the closest human being who is at one with God. In his selfless act of dying on the cross he builds a bridge between humanity and God-he shows us a way of reuniting ourselves with God. By his resurrection he changes for all time the energy field and unites us through his Spirit to God. So through the Spirit of love he transcends our notions of time, space and place-witness his resurrection appearances to Mary, the disciples, the friends on the road to Emmaus, to Paul on the Damascus Road and to you and to I.
And that brings me back to this moment! Why am I here; why are you here right now? Somewhere along our journeys we have been touched by the fruits of Christ’s resurrection, we have become aware of his living presence within us. We have said ‘Yes to life’. We have responded however deftly to God’s call. Laurence Freeman in his book, ‘Jesus The Teacher Within’ writes this:
“To read the gospels, to pray in words and sacrament, to meditate, to live within a Christian Community, to study the traditions of orthodoxy, to alleviate the sufferings of others-these are all ways of experiencing the Resurrection. We only discover its meaning by experiencing it, by recognising him.”
There are two stories of resurrection appearances which on the face of it seem contradictory. The first is that occasion in the garden when Mary is in shock and like so many who are bereaved is looking and searching for her loved one, Jesus. Jesus appears to her and she is able to say and an equivocal ‘yes’-she says in recognition, ‘My Lord and my God’. The second is that walk of the two friends on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walks with them incognito, unrecognised and it is only when they share a meal and he breaks bread with them, they have any recognition.
There is a wonderful novel called ‘Incognito’ written by a Rumanian ex-communist, Petru Dimitriu. It is a profoundly moving account of the search for sanctity and humanity in and through and beyond the corruptions and inhumanities of life in our generation. It is an amazing story of how God’s mystery unfolds to Sebastian who is a soldier undergoing immense beating and dehumanising degradation in war. Let me read you two extracts:
“This was it, the sense and meaning of the universe: it was love. This was where all the turns of my life had been leading me………..”
For love was his response welling up ’from some unknown source’, of which he writes,
“What name shall I use? ‘God’ I murmured, ‘God’. How else should I address Him? O Universe? O Heap? O Whole? As ‘Father’ or ‘Mother’? I might as well say ‘Lord’ to the air I breathed and my own lungs which breathed the air? ‘My child?’ But he contained me, preceded me, created me. ‘Thou’ is his name to which God may be added. For ‘I’ and ‘me’ are no more than a pause between the immensity of the universe which is Him and the very depth of our self, which is also Him.”
Orthodoxy would say this is not a Christian book but for me is a testimony to Christ’s Resurrection, his cosmic spirit touching hearts and minds like Sebastian’s. God’s Risen Christ dances his way through the lives of all his people, the communists among them! For many, they do not ask the question of ‘Who is this?’ What the story confirms for me, in my experience, is that recognised or not, on Easter Day, we celebrate a power of love which deeply transforms lives, which brings comfort, healing, forgiveness and gives meaning to my existence right now, today and forever. Thanks be to God for this most unspeakable gift. Alleluia.