Archbishop Philip Freier's Easter Day sermon at the 10am Service, St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne

 

Acts 10.34-43
Easter Anthems
1 Corinthians 15.19-26
John 20.1-18
 
Christ is risen:
  The world below lies desolate.
Christ is risen:  
  The spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen:
  The angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen:
  The tombs of the dead are empty.
Christ is risen from the dead,
  The first of the sleepers.
Glory and power are his forever and ever.  Alleluia, Alleluia!     (Hippolytus of Rome, c190-c236)

There is a sense in which the history of salvation and the history of the incarnation of the Divine Logos and the history of the Son of God and the personal biography of Jesus of Nazareth are one and the same. That they can be described differently is an important clue that we should not rush too quickly to blur every distinction but essentially what is true for what we know about the life of Jesus is also true for the second person of the most Holy Trinity. What we know comes from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Some is biographical - some is outside of what we can strictly call biographical. If the biography of Jesus extends from his birth in Bethlehem through to his death on Calvary it is extra biographical to speak of him as the pre-existent divine word or logos as it is to speak of him as the judge of all at the end of time.

We speak of Christ as Alpha and Omega in that sense as we bracket together his presence in creation and his inauguration of the new creation. He is literally at the beginning of all things and is their true end. Another bracket is Jesus’ incarnation and his ascension – his entering the world of which he is co-creator and his leaving the material world to be in the still created but heavenly realm. Today as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection the Church also brackets this event with baptism. So from the cosmic to the personal we have three pairs of significance in the history of salvation bracketed together. Creation and the final Judgement in the big cosmic picture, Incarnation and Ascension within the created realms of heaven and earth and then Baptism and Resurrection within the strictly biographical life of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan and his rising form the tomb also frame his public ministry.

That is to say that it is no accident that the day of resurrection is also the day of baptism. Easter Day is full of meaning in this sense but so is each Sunday, each in its own way a little Easter, the celebration of the first day of the week as the day of resurrection right throughout the year. The ancient Church brought converts to be baptised on Easter Day and that day alone. Preparation for baptism was long and carefully observed. The people preparing for baptism, the Catechumens as they were called, were required during their period of preparation to leave the service of the Holy Communion before the consecration of the bread and the wine. You can imagine how dramatic it must have been for them to come at last to Easter Day, perhaps after years of preparation, and then to be plunged into the waters of baptism and admitted as communicants on this day of Resurrection. Our disciplines of Lent have something of this same formative character and it is right for us today to soon renew our baptismal promises, it is the day par excellence for this to happen.

We know from Jesus own words in John 11.25 that he is the ‘Resurrection and the Life’. ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.’ This resurrection life is at the centre of the Christian desire to be united with Christ.  St Paul speaks of his longing and how he wants the virtue of Christ’s resurrection to fill his life and to shape his future. ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philippians 3.10,11)

Our responses today in the reaffirmation of baptismal promises express this same desire for us.  You are invited to see this reaffirmation as the chance to step outside of the ordinary and routine existence that so often wears down our spiritual sensitivities in our daily life and emerge from whatever spiritual death threatens you and come into the light and life of Christ’s resurrection. Just as Jesus is changed from the lifeless body that was embalmed buried and entombed was transformed into the resurrection body so we are invited to the constant renewing of our ‘body of death’ that we might become more like Christ. The tomb is opened, new life is there for all, will you receive it and let this new life work its miracle of transformation in you?

Like in any context of liturgical language a framework is provided for us to make a response of faith. Do not think that because our invitation and response is set down in this way that it is any less meaningful to us who say these words or to God who hears them. All of these words call us to a response of commitment, a commitment of our wills, our own yes our individual Amen.

For some here today this will involve the journey of preparation for baptism of desiring with all of your heart to be united with Christ in his baptism, death and resurrection. For others it will involve shaking off the world weariness which has dulled your gladness and thanksgiving for the new life you have received in Christ. For each it is the opportunity to proceed with new resolve as Christ’s disciple, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith, in all things.

It is proper that we look today at the cosmic significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Our faith tells us that his death and resurrection are pivotal events in the history of a world so easily estranged from its creator. God has reached out to us in Christ and from his example of love we are called to live in the world in such a way that it extends his loving purposes in all of the places where we live and work. Amazingly given all we know about the capacity of human beings like us to get things wrong and go in directions contrary to God we are entrusted with the divine mission of love and redemption.

People like you and me must live out of the new reality that is forever entrusted to those who believe in Christ. We can never be content with a self-centred vision of life our horizons will always be stretched by the love of God in Christ.

How we live in all of the small things of life matters; I think that is why there is so much teaching on the details of Christians living a life of mutual love in the New Testament writings to the young Churches of the Christian era. The First Letter of John emphasises the primacy of love in these words; ‘Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.’ (1 Jn 4.7-9).

The good news of the Gospel remains a surprise for many people when they first hear it and accept its message in their lives. Freedom from sin and its effects, the cleansing of a guilty conscience and the liberation to be a co-worker of Christ are all dimensions of that surprise that remains as fresh today for a struggling humanity weighed down by the heaviness of life as it ever was.

There is no question that the disciples were weighed down with heavy hearts after Jesus death and little doubt that they were the most surprised people in the world as they received the knowledge of his Resurrection. The likelihood of Jesus death had gradually grasped their understanding but thought of resurrection must have been unknown to them. All of their efforts after Jesus’ death spoke of their certainty that he was dead and that was all there was to it. The deposition of his body from the cross, the preparation of the grave, the wrapping of his body and the visit of the women to complete the burial procedures were done with no expectation of anything other than his death was the final reality, the last word about him.

Even the way the news of his resurrection was received from the women showed a reluctance to accept that something new had taken place. The apostle Thomas is the most poignant example of this gap between expectation and what took place.
Of course we know that they are wrenched back from their despair and futility and all of them sooner or later come to know the truth that Jesus is risen from the grave. At this most apparent intersection of the human and divine natures of Christ he ministers to the disciples with compassion and tenderness. His ministry and mission is to equip them to continue what he had begun. They learn through their encounter that because of who Jesus is, the son of God, one with the Father and the Spirit in the undivided Trinity, their life has taken on an entirely new meaning.

They learn too that what Jesus wants them to do will make its claim over the whole of their life. He even leaves for them a symbolic action; the sacrament of baptism, to show how total is the renewal that he has made possible for each person who accepts him by faith.

I think that both of these dimensions are relevant for us. The gospel always comes as refreshing news that God seeks our participation in the divine plan. As much as we can often be overcome by an awareness of the transcendent holiness of God, in Jesus we have been assured that God wants to encounter us with the same gentleness with which he meets the eleven even as they doubted. We can be content with the revelation of God that Jesus alone has given. Even though our culture calls us to novelty and new ways of looking at everything, proposes the comparability of many different religious traditions and teachings, I take assurance that what God has revealed in Jesus is all that I need to know for salvation and peace with God into eternity. ‘Remember’ he says, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

The church does get it right as it holds baptism and resurrection together in the way I earlier described. For those of you who have been moved to respond with your Yes to God in Christ for the first time I give thanks, come and talk to any of us among the clergy after this service and we can direct you to the next steps to take. Be prepared to be surprised by the graciousness of God and the extent of his gift to you.

If you have come here today weighed down by one or even many things let the resurrection power of God change your life and give you peace. There is much beauty, the beauty of creation and human ability that feeds our senses in this place today and every day. Rocks hewn from the earth and arranged with inspired design and expert skill, windows that were once grains of sand but now transformed into brilliant glass to tell the story of salvation, flowers to dazzle our eyes and sweeten our smell, human voices brought into such harmony that the music we sing and hear lifts our souls towards God. These are all great tributes to the significance we place on God’s presence in creation and as the source of our human abilities. But consider the things you cannot see or hear or smell that carry their own echoes of the joy of resurrection - the intensity of first believing, the joy of constancy in faith and the gladness from being part of the body of Christ. Your personal experience will add others for which to be thankful I’m sure.

Two things are pertinent for us as we reflect on this appearance of the risen Christ. Firstly the response of Jesus when the disciples were overcome by doubt. They had worshipped him, probably like Moses generations before them they had fallen to the ground in response to seeing the Lord alive before their eyes. But Jesus comes and tells them the basis of what he is soon to reveal as their mission. ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’  At this most apparent intersection of the human and divine natures of Christ he ministers to the disciples with compassion and tenderness. His ministry and mission is to equip them to continue what he had begun. They learn through this encounter that because of who Jesus is, the Son of God, one with the Father and the Spirit in the undivided Trinity, their life has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Secondly, they learn that what Jesus wants them to do is about the whole of life. He even leaves for them a symbolic action; the sacrament of baptism, to show how total is the renewal that he has made possible for each person who accepts him by faith.

I think that both of these dimensions are relevant for us. The gospel always comes as refreshing news that God seeks our participation in the divine plan. As much as we can often be overcome by an awareness of the transcendent holiness of God, in Jesus we have been assured that God wants to encounter us with the same gentleness with which he meets the eleven even as they doubted.

The second point of reassurance I take from the appearance of Jesus to these, his remaining disciples is that we can be content with the revelation of God that Jesus alone has given. Even though our culture calls us to novelty and new ways of looking at everything, proposes the comparability of many different religious traditions and teachings, I take assurance that what God has revealed in Jesus is all that I need to know for salvation and peace with God into eternity. ‘Remember’ he says, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

How blessed is this day, when earth and heaven are joined and humankind is reconciled to God!
May the light of Jesus shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find his light ever burning in our hearts—he who gives his light to all creation, and who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit  one God now and for ever. Amen.
(adapted from the Book of Common Prayer -1979, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.)
 

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