A sermon preached on Easter Sunday morning – Fake News? – Mark Ward, St Mary’s Fordingbridge
I wonder what brought you here this morning? I asked exactly the same question to the midnight mass congregation at Christmas 2015. Some of you will be here because you are always here, some because you are perhaps visiting family or friends and some because, well it just felt like the right thing to do today. Any one of those is absolutely fine. I suspect, or at least I hope that unlike midnight mass none of you has dropped in on the way back from the pub, although if you lived in a small town in Lincolnshire that my family lived in during the 1980s, it was always possible to go to the local pub, The Bull, for breakfast and pour your own pint to go with it, a hangover, if you’ll pardon the pun, from the days when the locals went fishing all night, or so they said.
But I digress – the Christmas story, as I recounted that evening, is a bizarre one. We now live in a world which has a new peace time phenomenon – fake news, so imagine you have never heard this before:
An older man, about to marry a younger woman learns from an angel that his intended is already pregnant by something called The Holy Spirit, they then go on a very long journey whilst she is 8 months pregnant, turn up at their destination and find that they should have booked online but didn’t and they end up in a stinking barn surrounded by animals and then are visited by some, no doubt, equally fragrant shepherds who have brought a few extra animals with them. If that isn’t enough, the new father is visited in a dream by another angel who suggests they take a different way home as the King’s assassination squad is looking for their baby. To be honest it’s the stuff of fiction isn’t it?
So, let’s fast forward 30-odd years. The baby has grown up and puts a rag-tag group of the locals together and persuades them to wander around with him living at the mercy of the weather and the kindness of the people they meet. But it turns out that this is no ordinary man, but a man nonetheless. He can heal the sick, he can make the dead rise to life, and he can avoid temptation like no other, and he is absolutely brilliant at not answering the question he has been asked and in so doing usually gets right at the heart of the matter at hand. Oh, and he can turn literally hundreds of bottles of water into the finest wine anyone has ever tasted, walk on water and calm a serious storm.
Yet, at the height of his fame, and having seemingly overcome attempts to silence him, it appears as though his whole world has fallen to pieces – and in the space of a few days his friends desert him, he gets hauled up in front of the local invaders’ big-wig who has no idea what to do with him, and then the very people he has been helping rise up and condemn him to death resulting in an excruciating few hours nailed to a cross during which time he slowly asphyxiates as he is unable to bear his own body weight, and even during that time he forgives someone who is strung up next to him and arranges for his mother’s future welfare.
Now if that isn’t enough, as we learned this morning, a couple of days later there is an earthquake which rolls back the stone over the tomb he has been placed in and he has disappeared.
So let me ask you again – what brought you here? Fake news? – If you had never heard this story before what would you think? It takes some believing doesn’t it? And even if it did all happen as the four books we have to read from lead us to believe it did – what is the point of it all? Surely it’s just some old mumbo-jumbo from the past.
So what does that make us then – gullible, stupid?
On the other hand does the amazing world we live in, and the stars we so far know of and the galaxies we as yet don’t, does that all exist out of pure chance? It is difficult to believe that it does.
Then again you say, but the world is full of evil and greed and hate, and we only have to go back a few weeks to the events in London recently to be reminded of that. If there is a God why on earth would he allow such things to happen? It’s a fair point, or so you might think.
But for me, and I suspect for numbers of you here today, it is the very fact that this is such a strange story which makes it real. How many savours of the world would arrange to be born into abject poverty, how many rulers would surround themselves with significantly fallible people to the point that they are completely hopeless most of the time? How many kings would travel for 3 years just in the clothes they stand up in and how many would submit to the kind of death Jesus allowed himself to suffer, when he had proven beyond all doubt that he could have done almost anything to escape?
For me it’s about suspending our own sense of reason. We try to rationalise everything don’t we, it’s the world we live in, especially now that we have to sift the fake from the real. Take the story of Jonah for example – how did Jonah survive in the belly of a large fish? Well I don’t know, our logic says he would have died because there was no air and then been dissolved by the acid in the fish’s stomach, but to a God that can create the world, I suspect it wasn’t that difficult to arrange. God exists outside our logic, outside our capacity to understand and we can only really learn from him if we accept that, if we open our minds to any possibility, and that’s why he chose all of those strange ways to make himself known to us, because it suited his purposes. And for us, we don’t always need to understand, we need to believe.
And that is my very long-winded way of getting to the morning of the Resurrection. The women run to the tomb to do all the stuff they had intended to do on the Friday but couldn’t because the religious leaders forbade it, as the Sabbath Day had begun. And when they arrived they found an empty tomb. The version we have heard today doesn’t tell us this but if you look at another account, Mary Magdalene meets someone she thinks is a gardener or maybe a caretaker of the land, and after hearing her own name mentioned just once – “Mary” – she not only recognises, but is adamant she has seen Jesus – she simply believes. She doesn’t stand and rationalise it, “well maybe I’m so upset I’ve dreamed it, maybe I ate something or drank something which is making me hallucinate”, no – she simply accepts it, Jesus is alive, and with that she runs back to tell the others, who not surprisingly think she has gone a bit la-la.
Yet Mary has seen beyond her human and earthly logic and accepted that God simply IS. And that’s why I’m here this morning because for me God simply IS. Jesus is hope beyond all the rubbish and the hatred. Jesus is the only one that makes the seemingly senseless massacre of a few days ago, a hundred miles from here, make any sense. His death taught us that we exist for one another, for the common good. PC Keith Palmer died to protect many others. I have no understanding why the others died but we see our true humanity – our small ability to grasp Godliness in the actions of those who so desperately tried to save others, in the actions of those who simply comforted others – “Love one another as I have Loved You”.
If you are still not sure why you are here – to be honest, it doesn’t matter – you are here, and you will leave here as Easter People, as Resurrection People, maybe not overflowing but at least and maybe only the tiniest bit touched by a God who has loved you since before you were and after you will be, and in the meantime, capable with his gift of love for you to do almost anything in his name.
So if you don’t quite understand it all, take comfort, neither do most of the rest of us, but you don’t have to rationalise everything to believe. Amen.