Easter Day 2019
"Let every man and woman count themselves immortal. Let them catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let them say not merely ‘Christ is risen’, but 'I shall rise'.’’
Today is the best day in the church’s year. It is, of course, the day when we sing and proclaim loudly that ‘Jesus Christ is risen’ and that ‘death has lost its sting.’ It’s the day when we are invited to believe again in the triumph of good over evil, love over hate, life over death. It’s the day that invites us to believe in and inhabit a new story; a better story. Easter day is the day which beckons us to live lives characterised by faith, hope and love, and what better virtues are there to live by?
Let’s firstly consider hope: I think it is fair to say that all of us, each and every one of us, sometimes feels a huge sense of despair; despair for ourselves and the world around us. Like Jesus we know that we humans are capable of doing appalling things, like Jesus we know that those we think of as friends, family and neighbours don’t always live up to their best intentions. We, again like Jesus, know that all can sometimes appear bleak.
As with Mary Magdalene we all experience the sense of loss and the burden of confusion, asking ourselves ‘how has it come to this?’ But, alongside Mary Magdalene on that first Easter morning we too must allow ourselves to be surprised and hear the voice of love calling us by name; that voice that tells us that all is not as it seems. This Easter, can you hear the voice of Jesus calling you by name, gently beckoning you to enter into a different, better and more Godly story, a story animated and interpreted through faith, hope and love?
To hear Jesus calling you by name, to hear him beckoning you to step forward to allow yourselves to feed on him in your hearts with thanksgiving, by faith is to know that you are loved; loved in the here and now, and loved into all eternity, for the resurrection is an invitation to broaden our horizons and to believe in the eternal story. The resurrection invites us to believe in a story beyond ourselves and the limits of both our reasoning and our imagination. The resurrection brokers no limits. Through the resurrection Jesus calls us by name and offers us the hope that our own deaths aren’t sudden full stops, but small punctuation marks on the way to our eternal destiny.
But what of faith? Well faith is a virtue worked out in the here and now. Faith is the decision to live in the light of the resurrection. Faith takes shape when we, like Mary Magdalene, feel compelled to tell the Jesus story. Faith is made real and obvious to others when we live as Jesus would have us live, when we become the sort of people committed to bringing something of the Kingdom of God to ‘earth as in heaven.’
Over the next few weeks we are going to hear lots of accounts from the Acts of the Apostles testifying to what it looks like to live loving, hopeful, faith-shaped lives in the light of the resurrection. If we wish to, with integrity, affirm our belief in the ‘one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ we need to take these accounts seriously, replicating them in the here and now.
Can I invite you this Easter morn to recommit to living your lives in the light of the resurrection, for if you do, you will play your part in telling the Jesus story just as Mary Magdalene did all those years ago. If we dare to live in the power and authority of the resurrection we will become agents of faith, hope and love; we will live up to our highest, noblest, most Godly calling, we will make a difference both in the here and now and for all time; we will, when our time comes, be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us all this Easter morning "say not merely ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I (too) shall rise.’’
Palm Sunday: Luke 19, 28-40 Pomp and circumstance
We Brits love pomp and ceremony, marches and processions, and we are good at them. Think of the Trooping of the Colour or any great state occasion and its easy to be swept along by the pomp and pageantry. We like pomp and pageantry at the local level as well: weddings normally begin and end with a procession or march, at funerals the deceased is normally processed in with dignity and reverence, and of course, most Sundays we process the cross into church, lifting it high for all to see and reverence. Pomp, ceremony, pageantry are all important in so far as they lead us into a spirit of reverence and respect capturing a sense of either joy or sadness. Of course when they are performed uncritically for their own sake they run the risk of being mere pomp but without the sense of circumstance.
Today, Palm Sunday, the gospel reading describes Jesus’ triumphant procession into the City of Jerusalem; the Holy City. And its a funny old procession that we are asked to consider and reflect on. The pageantry is of an unusual and earthly sort. The only flags that the great multitude have to wave are their own clothes; their cloaks. This is, for me, deeply symbolic, for what we too are asked to give back to Jesus, above all else, is our very selves, our ordinary selves. Our marches and processions should, amidst their pomp, also have an earthiness about them.
Like the original Palm Sunday congregation we too are called on to reverence and acclaim Jesus. The crowd, we are told, chanted ‘blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ These words are so important that we are asked to repeat them each and every Sunday before we make our weekly ceremonial procession to receive and share in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Do we come to the Eucharist with that sense of Hosanna pounding in our hearts? If we don’t perhaps we have succumbed to the temptation to engage with the pomp but without any sense of circumstance?
The story of the Palm Sunday Procession, I think, needs to be read in the light of, and alongside, Jesus’ other great procession: the Good Friday Procession. The procession he makes to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, the rubbish mound outside Jerusalem where he is to be cruelly crucified alongside two bandits, one who asks for and receives mercy, and the other who doesn't. The Palm Sunday crowd, with their folk pageantry, are right to acclaim Jesus, but in a sense they do so without any real sense of circumstance. The Palm Sunday crowd want a Messiah, for sure, but a very limited Messiah, and a Messiah of their own making. They want and desire a Messiah that will deliver them from Roman rule, but that’s all. Their definition of freedom and liberty is restricted; sort out the politics and everything else will be okay, we will be free to live as we want to live (and aren’t we still tempted by this most mythical of propositions?). But they, or we, are wrong for true freedom, real liberty, real truth is to be won at the climax of Jesus’ second Holy Procession; the procession to the cross. But, we mustn’t be too harsh because although Jesus has provided lots of hints as to his final destiny, all has not yet been revealed.
But, we do know. We do know that Jesus had to lead two very different processions in Holy Week. We also know that it was ‘on the Cross as Jesus died that the love of God was glorified,’ and it is because we know this that we are able to either say or sing that great processional anthem ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest,’ as we prepare to make our own Eucharistic procession. The events of Palm Sunday, as I have already suggested, need I think, to be read in the light of Good Friday. Both processions included their own distinct pomp and pageantry. On Palm Sunday Jesus was hailed as the Messiah, but on Good Friday he was dismissed as a failure. The crowd, including the apostles and disciples, proved to be fickle, scared, self-interested. Jesus' second procession was made largely alone, but it was a no less glorious procession.
Can I finish by inviting you to stay close to Jesus this week. Do come on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to the Eucharists, the harrowing, haunting Eucharists, so that come next Sunday we can all sing together with true gladness in our hearts that great song of reverence and praise:
‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.’
Over the coming Holy Week let’s enter into the pomp and pageantry of the church, but always with a sense of circumstance,
Mothering Sunday – it’s not mother’s day
Mothering Sunday, also known as Easement Sunday, is an interesting day in the church’s year, or at least I think it is! Well, come on, it is far more interesting than, say, the 17th Sunday of Trinity! Historically it was the day that domestic servants were given the day off (after making sure they had prepared enough food for the big house to cope whilst they took their short break) so that they could visit their own families and their own ‘mother church'; the church in which they were baptised.
The concept of Mother’s Day is a much later, secular, invention. Mothering Sunday, whilst of course allowing us to celebrate and give thanks for our own mothers, does however allow us a rare opportunity to think of God in the feminine, and this is important when so much of our God talk, our religious discourse, is highly masculine. God, we should remember, can only be described within the confines of language and should not be reduced by the limitations of language. God also transcends all human binaries; the bible makes this abundantly clear. In an increasingly high octane, alpha male-dominated environment it is good to reflect on the nature of the ‘divine feminine', allowing ourselves to be nurtured by the ‘divine feminine'. The church perhaps needs to recapture the essence of the ‘divine feminine’ for, as Augustine of Hippo said, perhaps in a challenge to the male of the species because Augustine was nurtured into the faith by his mother Monica, ‘he who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his father.’
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus also had an incredibly high regard of his mother; the mother who was literally the God bearer and who raised Jesus and whose fidelity led her to stand at the foot of the cross. If we as 21st century Christians desire to see a bigger and better church, we must like Mary be prepared to give birth to Christ, to make Jesus real, by walking the way of the cross, for it is on the cross that Jesus exemplifies the essence of motherhood through his final act of compassion: his care for his mother and the beloved disciple. It is in this moment that the tradition of ‘mother church’ is born.
So what is this mother church to look like? Or perhaps the better question is how is this mother church to relate and behave? St. Paul provides the answer: we are to be holy, beloved (that is to know that we are truly loved just as Mary knew through Jesus’ words from the cross and that she was truly loved), compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient. And here’s the paradox: when we are all of these things then we are truly strong; strong and resilient, just like Mary, just like the Mary who was there at Jesus’ birth and at his death. When we commit to allowing these virtues to take shape in our hearts under the ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit,’ then we become the sort of people who love as God would have us love, we become the sort of people who again like Mary can hold all things, even life and death, together in harmony. We become the sort of people who live by a better, grander, more Godly story. We become the sort of people who enable, reconcile and build up. We become wise.
So today let us reflect on the life and ministry of Mary and countless women through the ages, on notions of the ‘divine feminine’ and ‘mother church’. Let us, as St. Paul encourages us, ‘be thankful;’ thankful for all who have nurtured, encouraged and mothered us, and for the example of Blessed Mary, that incredible mother who gave birth to Jesus and remained faithful to him even to the cross. Let us recommit this Mothering Sunday to being compassionate, kind, humble and meek so that we, the Church, can mother a deeply fractured and disjointed world, a world which seems to lack any sense of ‘harmony;’ a world that desperately needs to know that it is ‘beloved;’ a world desperate to live within ‘the peace of Christ.’
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