Sermon – 16 April 2017 (Easter Sunday)
GLORY (New Church Logo sermon series: IV)
Matthew 28:1-10 The Resurrection of Jesus
Good morning and a very happy Easter to you all!
The very best day for a sermon on glory. And our fourth and last sermon in the series introducing our new church logo, offering just one of the many ways into this open , welcoming Christian image for us as St Peter’s. So we’ve been through these colours: starting with the deep green of creation, God’s love as the source of all good things; then the mid-green of work, everyday, ordinary, but also special and different for each one of us; last week, with some grey in the green, the sorrow that sometimes flows from love and work; and today – Easter Day – gold – glory.
Let’s start with our own experiences of glory. For me: 10 May 1980. Any offers? An early memory of West Ham winning the Cup, jumping around in my full kit like a little jack in the box. Botham’s Ashes. Singing Brahms ‘How lovely are thy dwellings fair’ as a choirboy (with a rather severe but very good choirmaster!). My grandad holding my hand just before he died. Being in New College Chapel for the first time. The romantic summer of 98 in Grays Inn. Meeting our children for the first time. Wilkinson’s drop-goal going over. Being with my dad at the top of Ben Lomond, his last Munro, on a beautiful day. The sacramental beer and curry that begins my regular times with three other clergy brothers. The arrival of the specially carved nave altar at St Mary’s Sanderstead.
As for the personal endeavours that led to various achievements, perhaps their glory was more on the way, and felt less glorious after a short bask, than those things which bring us together with others in something bigger than ourselves. So take a bit of time for your glorious memories this Easter.
The risk, though, is that these become the fond echo of past glories. And if we spend too much time listening to them then we might miss the glories with us right now. However we come today: in the face of a loved one or a stranger. In the healing of something wounded or broken. In the laughter of a child or an older person. In the helping hand to a neighbour in the face of grief. In the emerging new life of the earth.
And we don’t have to strain for them. They are around us, among us, in us. It is God who makes you holy – you don’t earn it. These glories are part of the overflow of divine love. And our font is going to be full to the brim of holy water every Sunday for 7 weeks of Eastertide, all the way to Pentecost at the beginning of June.
Where though is the glory of Easter? We are surrounded by it here in flowers and colours and music and joy today. But these past days of Holy Week have seen a mixture of betrayal and cowardice, of private agony and public misuse of power, of the everyday suffering of an everyday execution. Most of Jesus’ friends, including Peter who proudly boasted that he wouldn’t – have fled in denial and fear. Not surprisingly.
Do not be afraid, Mary and Joseph are told: from the angel, and from Jesus. It’s a regular refrain in the bible, and especially from Jesus. Yet we have things to be afraid of in the world, don’t we? I studied the Cuban missile crisis of 1961 in history; some of you will remember that time when the long ‘cold-war’ between the United States and the USSR came close to erupting. The rhetoric this week between North Korea and the United States is frightening. Most days, hearing most of what we are given as ‘news’ is arduous and depressing. That’s usually on a national and international scale. Before we think of those quiet fears we live with, whether it is coping without loved ones, the strain of difficult relationships, our own health problems, fears for the future, or nagging concerns for others.
To not be afraid, some hardened sceptics say, is wishful thinking, and Easter can only be a moment of lovely refuge from reality. But this is wrong. Actually, the church’s truth – our faith in Christ, God with us, crucified and risen – far from being escapist, gives us and invites us to live in a bigger reality. It’s not a happy ever after story, or a pie in the sky story. It faces the reality that evil can and does cast a long dark shadow, [as in the crucifix above our ancient pulpit here] but it will not ultimately succeed – because it has already been defeated in Jesus Christ. Whatever our sins, darknesses, losses, sorrows – that defeat is once for all. All our days are lived in the eternal light of God’s reality, which is our reality too – the day of resurrection, which is with us always.
It is ancient and still true Christian wisdom that the glory of God is a human being fully alive [Irenaeus]. But each one of us shows and shares only a small part of God’s glory. That’s why we need each other as the church, the body of Christ. So if you are part of the once or twice a year brigade – it’s good to see you. And please if St Peter’s is your church, and if you possibly can, join in and bring the special gifts and glory that only you can bring. Because there is plenty of darkness about, and the will to turn away sometimes is in each one of us.
So we need each other to sustain and nurture us in the way we are made for – the way of Christ. And to bear that light for others, as we today are transforming our cruel, bleak cross of Jesus from Good Friday with the flowers of new life, new hope, new love, and renewed faith. May we go out with the transforming love and new life of Christ in us.
James Percival, Team Rector