Sermon: Easter Vigil – 5th April 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 5.30 am

The angel said: “He has been raised from the dead. Now he is going before you into Galilee”.

Jesus, the risen Jesus, speaks into the space between our clinging, and our longing: the old stories, that we have clung onto, which we have constructed, where we have tried to find some meaning and some hope, have, in the face of Good Friday, collapsed. “We had hoped….” we say, with the bewildered and disillusioned disciples on the road to Emmaus, but these hopes that have centred around the old ways of seeing things, have gone. And this collapse has helped us face up to the fragility of all our stories: how we have defended ourselves, protected ourselves from pain, and insulated ourselves from being hurt, fed ourselves with illusions and false promises. And all these strategies haven’t worked. “We had hoped…” we say. We have tried to make something of ourselves: we have tried to overcome our insecurities; we have tried to form our identities through rivalry and competition, through exclusion and the making of boundaries, making sure about “us” because we have made sure about “them”. And all the while, the peace and communion we have craved has eluded us. “We had hoped…”we say, like so many before us, putting our hopes in a particular way of being religious: thinking that lasting peace can be had in endless compromise and negotiation: even thinking that violence will achieve what we most want.

But all the old securities and certainties have vanished. Everything we hold dear, life itself, we realize, can be snatched away in an instant. And as we face that appalling reality we falter on the brink of a crippling anxiety, fear and even despair: and into this place, a word comes , “a small shy truth”, a word that touches us, and releases something in us, a word that speaks into our longing, that Jesus is raised from the dead and will go before us to Galilee. A word comes, a word of energy and promise that helps us begin to see that faith is not and can never be an assured possession, a tightly held set of certainties. A word comes , telling us that nothing we have learned in life can explain that Jesus has been raised: because the resurrection breaks and erupts into our lives and now waits to be received and affirmed , celebrated and above all else, lived: that an entirely new history has dawned, open to everyone, and peculiarly received by those who are on the edge, marginalized by the old stories and the old ways of doing things

“Now he is going before you to Galilee” opening us up to the realization that God is truly a “beckoning word”: that God always goes before us, always ahead of us, luring and wooing and beckoning us into an unknown that we can trust: encouraging us to loosen our hold on the old stories, to discover an altogether new way of relating and living. “Now he is going before you to Galilee” says to us, thatour future, is far, far greater even than our past, however important and sacred that past is: that our future reaches out to shape and ready us, steady us, calls us, and releases us from all those ways we defend and protect our fragile selves through control and manipulation, and allows us to live more lightly with our vulnerabilities, to see that who we are and what we have is all gift, telling me that simply to say “I believe” is never enough, unless it’s another way of saying “I am”, with all the dignity and freedom that that “I am” captures! “ Now he is going before you to Galilee” This is no fantasy, nor is it magic: but a reality that is tangible and real. Yes: the loss and the grief is real: something has happened: something has died: Jesus has handed himself over: he has moved from action to passion, and as a consequence he has died. And now he invites us into all our losses and little deaths that occur on the way, and discover that all these dark places are in fact the very place of grace: his whole life including his death has been caught up in the resurrection, so that we can say that the new life he offers us is bigger than death and is not ruled by death. As St Paul would say: “Death has no dominion over him”.

So Jesus is the free One, continually going before us to Galilee, speaking into our lives a word of real hope, speaking our “early-morning name”: and offering us this same freedom. As I dare to let this new story become my story, I realize it will be completely different from before: that this new story and this new life is not a solid possession or a fixed meaning, a set of certainties that shield or protect me from the realities of life, but a truth, a truth of a dispositional kind, telling me how God is with me day by day, and telling me how I can be with God. Jesus gives himself away, and offers us that same freedom, so that we too, day by day, can give ourselves away, undergoing a kind of dying-in-advance, so that we never need be driven by death again.

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

 

 Acknowledgements

We stand on the shoulders of others. In particular: I am grateful to W.H. Vanstone, in The Stature of Waiting, for his shifting of the focus from the death of Jesus to the way Jesus moves from action to passion, culminating in his handing himself over: to Timothy Radcliffe, in Why Go to Church? and What is the Point of being a Christian?, for his insight into how Jesus frustrates and disarms those who betray, deny and desert him, and how he turns his betrayers into guests: to James Alison, who sees so clearly how God doesn’t make victims, but how we need to make victims, which is why Jesus died: to Peter Carnley, in The Structure of Resurrection Belief, for why we keep on telling and re-telling the stories of the resurrection, and for his felicitous phrase, “ a theological truth of a dispositional kind”: and to Rowan Williams, who sees the sacrifice of Jesus, not as a sacrifice that changes God’s mind or makes anything happen, so much as a sacrifice in the sense of something handed over, which affirms and renews what is already true.

Reverend Philip Carter