Bishop Stephen's Easter Sunday sermon, preached at Sherborne Abbey/ Salisbury Cathedral:
Revelation 1: 17-18
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever.”
Listen for a moment, listen to the sound of the resurrection. (Silence………….)
The greatest event in history, was in silence. This is in sharp contrast to the noise we like to make about just about anything, especially when it is about our own human power. But the resurrection of the dead God in Jesus Christ was silent. I often wonder what Jesus thought in that silence, as he sat up and waited for the stone to roll away. Well, his first word and first act was to meet Mary Magdalene, the first apostle and witness of the resurrection. His first action was to meet in person, to rebuild the relationship, to share the good news. And Mary’s job, once she had recognised him, was to make him known.
This is the first Easter since 2020 when we have met without restrictions. Last year, we could gather, but it was masks for interaction and the common cup was restricted. In 2021 I remember gathering in tiny number, anxious about singing and everything feeling like a damp squib as most watched from home. And in 2020, I shall never forget our then neighbours gathering on their doorsteps not clapping but singing Thine be the glory to each other from afar. What a time we have been through. But now our Alleluias ring out and we are silenced no more. We are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song.
The meaning of the resurrection is life without restrictions. In this life this means living in the light and knowledge of God that we are loved whoever we are and that we can live in joy, whatever our problems because we can be sure that in our baptism Jesus has made us complete and one with him. Our task as witnesses of the resurrection is to make him known and to bring his Kingdom here and now.
But the resurrection, when it comes to you and me, will also be about life with no restrictions. Each one of us will die. And at Easter, we are bound to remember those we have loved and lost. But too often we compare eternal life with the nature of this life. It will not be like this when we die. We will rise to a new life, a life without the restrictions of physicality, of age or infirmity or loneliness. The resurrection life is life without pain, life without hunger or thirst; it is life without the restrictions of disability or suffering, it is wholly new, which is why Jesus returned to the Father rather than stay here – he had to return to the ultimate relationship of the Trinity, the Trinity in which we will find meaning without restriction and rest in limitless love.
Imagine yourself if you will for a moment, in the tomb of Jesus. You have died, and then slowly but suddenly, incredibly, you realise that the ultimate restriction placed upon you, our mortality has no power, and cannot hold you back, and a new realisation that your soul is cherished in a way that we could never comprehend or describe in this life. In silence, we will wonder. And then, in ways that we cannot yet know, all the restrictions we see in our world will be gone, the bands that tie us down will fall away, and we will be able to say ‘I have seen the Lord’ because he will be there beside you and me.
It is in following Jesus in this life that we have connection with the only true life, the life of the creator, which is about unity and sharing in the utterly real life of God. God’s loving desire to share his life with us is implicit in everything he does, from creating us to redeeming us. Life seems ‘natural’ to us, but it is a gift, reflecting the giver. We are loved into existence, and our continued existence is not our own doing but a demonstration of God’s enduring relationship with us.
Knowing about the resurrection changes our world view, but then we have to turn back to the world which is devastatingly the same as it was. Restrictions are everywhere, holding back the poor, refusing the refugee, not helping the hurt, ignoring the sad. So as witnesses, we need to live lives now that reflect the resurrection, that make those changes, that reject the injustice and the exclusive noise we make and replace them with relationship. As Christians, we are called by name to help others hear Jesus calling their name and recognise the vast, free, unchanging, faithful love of God.
Listen for a moment to the sound of the unrestricted resurrection.
and then deafened by its beauty we can sing with one voice, Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
+ Stephen Sarum