Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Sermon Easter Day 2016

Mary Magdalene
about 1535-40, Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo. The National Gallery.

Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15.1-11
John 20:1-18

Why do we celebrate today? Why is this the greatest festival, the reason why Christians get out of bed in the morning, even when the clocks have gone forward?
Christ is risen, and that changes everything. It changed everything for Mary Magdalene and the disciples in today’s gospel reading. It changed everything for Paul who spoke to us of his resurrection faith. It changed everything for Cornelius, the first Gentile who didn’t have to accept the Jewish law before becoming a Christian.
It changes everything for us, and in just the same way. By meeting the risen Lord, the living person who is both the heart and head of his church, the Lord of creation who walks in the world to make all things new.
Christ is risen. He is alive, today. Anyone can meet him and be changed by him. But do we recognise him? Mary Magdalene didn’t, at first. Her eyes were fixed on the tomb. Of course they were. Because, as humanity has known from the beginning, death ends everything. And now even the dead body of Jesus, the object of her grief, is gone. No wonder she stares into the darkness of the tomb. She sees a vision of angels, who ask her why she is weeping. But even this does not move her from her grief. She replies as if this were an everyday occurrence, as though they were strangers passing in the street. “They have taken my Lord away.”
She turns round – very significant, that, she turns away from the tomb, the place of death. She sees Jesus, but does not recognise him, speaks to him as though he were the gardener. Her mind is still in the place of death. She turns back to the tomb. We know she does, because when Jesus calls her by name, she turns round again. And finally, now, she knows him.
Turning round is repentance. That is what the word repentance means in the Bible. To see Jesus, to see who he really is, Mary needs to turn around. She needs to turn away from the tomb, the place of death, to the risen Lord, the Lord of life, the victor over death.
The tomb is where our sins are. Christ died for our sins, says St Paul. And in another place he says that in dying Christ died to sin, once for all, and in living he lives to God.
Sin and death go together. Humanity’s fixation on its own limited resources, our failure to depend on God who is infinite goodness, leads to tragedy. Rivalry, violence, accusation, casting out, hatred and envy all lead to death. So in the death of Christ our sins are placed where they should be, dead, in the tomb. That’s the first part of the good news of Jesus Christ, the reason why we celebrate today. But without the second part it means nothing.
The second part of the good news is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. In living, he lives to God. He is the representative human, the “Son of Man” as he calls himself in the gospels. He is the new Adam, the new human nature redeemed from sin. In him all humanity dies to sin, and rises to God. In him all who believe are adopted as children of God, and can then say, truly, in him, that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. St Paul says, as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
This is the meaning of our baptism, which we are called to make our own through faith as we follow Jesus in our lives. In the waters of the font we were baptised into Christ’s death, so that, emerging from the font, we rise with him to new and eternal life.
The resurrection of Christ is the heart of the good news. It is how we are saved and come to share the life of God, which is eternal life.
Jesus says to Mary Magdalene today, “Go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. The resurrection proves that God is Jesus’ loving Father, the creator who will never give up on his creation, continually bringing new things to birth. And in Christ we too can call his God our God, his Father our Father.
If the death of Christ is how our sins die, his resurrection is how we enter eternal life, the life that God lives. Without the resurrection there is no good news.
There are some interpretations of Christianity which seem to regard the death of Jesus as the most important part of the gospel, seeing it as Jesus being punished for our sins in our place, so that we get acquitted. Now that is one metaphor used by St Paul, a piece of courtroom imagery, but there are many other scriptural metaphors that also seek to describe the mystery of salvation. We shouldn’t read just one. And it is a metaphor in a minor key: the major key is that of Christ the triumphant victor, the mighty warrior who has fought with and defeated death, and rescued humanity which had been held captive by death.
We are not to stay looking into the tomb, as Mary Magdalene did. We are to turn around. That is to say, we are to repent. Because when we turn around from our sins and leave them behind we find ourselves facing the one who all along has been calling us by name, waiting for us. Jesus, risen from the dead, the triumphant victor over all of humanity’s sin and death. My God is your God, he says. My Father is your Father. Jesus opens to us the eternal life of bliss and love that he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity which is God.
So we are to turn around, to repent. Don’t look any longer into the tomb, the place where our dead sins have been disposed of. Turn instead to Jesus, who calls us all by name, and waits for us. Believe in him as Saviour and Lord, because, in him, we are adopted as children of God. In him we die to sin and rise to new and eternal life.

That is the good news, that is why we celebrate today, that is why this is the greatest festival. This is what gets Christians out of bed in the morning, even when the clocks have gone forward.

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