Sermon: Easter Day – 5th April 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 8.00 am

Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist, in his novel Crime and Punishment, tells the story of Raskolnikov: intelligent, but emotionally stunted, a distant and cold observer of life, capable of achieving, incapable of loving. As a needy student he comes to the conclusion that the wealth of a miserly old woman would be better in his hands than hers: so following this logic he brutally and cold-bloodedly kills her. This act proves surprisingly unsettling to him: as does his arrest, conviction, and imprisonment in Siberia. But still he remains detached, unmoved. Among his friends is a girl, Sonia, who moves to Siberia to be close to him, visiting him for an hour each day when the prisoners took their exercise near the fence. But he remains indifferent, indifferent to her love and devotion, indifferent to her small gifts. One day Sonia fell ill, and is unable to visit. He loiters at the fence as usual, but is scarcely affected by her absence. In time she recovers and sends word that she will be at the fence to meet him. The hour comes for her to be there: and he is there, but with little feeling. And then, in an extraordinarily vivid moment, he realizes that he is not loitering but waiting, waiting to see if she would come or not come. It is in this moment of waiting that he realizes he loves her: this man who has never loved before discovers in the awareness of waiting the awareness of loving. The collapse of his former indifference appears even to him, not as a tragedy, but as a triumph: the glory of his new-found dependence and helplessness of being in love.

Over these days we have witnessed the collapse of the disciples’ hopes, the collapse of their story in the face of broken bread, Gethsamane and its awful consequence. We have seen Jesus throughout living and offering an alternative story: we have seen that new way of being and living is the occasion for denial, betrayal and desertion. And all through this collapse of a meaningful story, the disintegration of the little community we have witnessed a fidelity and integrity in Jesus’ resolve- to stay true to his prophetic challenge to find a new inclusive, outward looking Israel- and not to take the easy way out by offering a self-interested , inward-looking spirituality, not to offer a way of compromise or negotiation, and not to enter the futile response to repay violence with violence.

“But we had hoped….” is the particular cry of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and it is as if they are putting words into our mouths, telling our precise story: our story that is so caught up with rivalry and fear and competition: our story that hangs on to the way things are, or should be; that chooses to have a God made in our image, rather than the other way around. Like them, we too are bewildered and disappointed. So many of the projects of life that we put our energies into fail us, and a stranger walks with us, as he did with them, and simply asks: What? What things are you carrying, living with?” Just as we saw that attention must be paid to this man, especially as he moves from action to passion, so we are asked to pay attention to what is going on for us: for paying attention is not an end in itself, but carries within it its own potential for creativity and transformation. In any genuine effort of paying attention nothing is ever wasted.

The Gospels do not offer us doctrinal statements, creeds to assent to, but stories, stories to shake, encourage and challenge us, stories for us to begin to inhabit and live from the inside, stories that ground us in what is, and not in what should be, stories that touch our vulnerable places and which speak directly into our lives, not in the sense so much that we can say “I believe’ but “I am”., telling us not only who we are but who we can become.

So Mary Magdalene, weeps outside the tomb, mistaking Jesus, the Risen One, for the gardener. Each of the stories of the resurrection suggest how hard it is to recognize him, helping us in our own difficulties. The point of all this is of course not that he looked differently, but that they had never really seen who he was. They had never grasped how his whole person and identity was wrapped up in his relationship with the one he called Abba, wrapped up in his all-consuming vocation to offer Israel-and beyond- a new way of being human.

And so the gardener, the one she had loved and now grieved, called her by name, her “early morning name”: no less than Raskolnikov, she not only found Jesus, risen, but herself-in love, and alive. And he immediately says those now famous words: “Do not hold onto me”…Do not cling to the old story: let go, don’t try and possess me, don’t try and pin me down, but enter into the new story where I will beckon you into deeper and wider horizons of surprise and mystery. This new story is not something I grasp so much as a story that now carries me.

And to those disciples in the Upper Room: where the walls and locked doors speak of fear and defense and clinging- the old story writ large, the story that refuses to think outside the square, that builds walls to isolate and shore up a sense of identity-just as Israel had been doing and bore the brunt of Jesus’ challenge and critique: it is into these walls that possibility strikes, a ”small shy truth” emerges, the breath of the Spirit announces itself, and where walls, in a famous image, become a window: a window to see out, to see beyond.

And Thomas, who loved, in his own way, Jesus, could not possibly bear a wounded Jesus, because he could not bear to face and embrace his own wounds and woundedness: in an extraordinary moment, coming to face what is most true in Jesus and in him, picks up the embrace of God Jesus offered at the Supper, and discovered that here, here….and this is a moment for all of us to discover, that here, here in the wounds of our weakness and desertion and denial and betrayal we still are accepted, we are still guests….

And the story of the disciples, Peter in the lead, going fishing, and seeing Jesus on the beach, who says to them, after a night where they caught nothing:” “Cast the net to the right side of the boat….” Always and everywhere, wherever we find ourselves, Jesus as stranger or gardener or neighbour stands among us, and offers us an entirely new way of seeing things, an imaginative jolt, not to see different things, but to see things differently. It’s as if he is saying to us: “What you are in love with, what seizes your imaginations, will affect everything”. And then of course the penny drops: out of our illusions and self-deceptions, our blindness to the way we make victims we wake up to an extraordinary new freedom of seeing the face of God in all the victims in our world.

The theological truth of these stories is not a doctrinal statement: we are not, when we come to the resurrection, trying to fit the doctrine into our mode of understanding. The truth of these stories is a truth of a dispositional kind: telling us how God is with us, and how we are to be with God. These stories are told, we tell them again and again, to arouse our astonishment, preparing us to approach this truth with open heart and mind, to prepare ourselves and make us fit to receive this staggering truth which our minds or hearts cannot grasp, but which can grasp us, and make us fit to live such a truth.: to “practice Resurrection”.

“Jesus has risen from the dead. Now he is going before you into Galilee”. God is indeed a “beckoning word”, always going before us into Galilee, not so much at the centre of power but on the edge, on the margins, in the rough and tumble of everyday life, luring and beckoning us into an unknown that we can trust, encouraging us to loosen our hold on the old stories, and to discover and accept this altogether new way of being human. God is indeed a “beckoning word”, always calling us out of our graves, and the fear of death, so that we can fall in love with love, give ourselves away, and know the power and freedom of his resurrection.

Alleluia. Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Reverend Philip Carter