Homily – Easter Sunday – The Ven. Grant Rodgers
St Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, wrote: “All will be made alive in Christ” or as the old King James Version puts it: “In Christ shall all be made alive.” Either way, what we are talking about is life. We gather today to celebrate this promise, this hope, this reality; to embrace the life we share in Christ and to re-enter it through the sacrament of the Eucharist; to worship the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not even exist” (Romans 4).
We are not just expressing a belief or remembering an historical event; in some real way, we are celebrating the life that is in us. And Jesus is the first expression of this life, this new creation; Jesus is life. As theologian N.T. Wright puts it: “Easter was the moment when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”
My theme at Christmas was a bit of ancient wisdom: “Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is.” Today, let us celebrate the fact that “All will be made alive in Christ” – another phrase worth remembering.
The bulb in the ground, the child in the womb, the bear hibernating deep in its cave; the husband who has languished on the couch all winter – all feel this inexorable pull toward life – and amazingly, spring to life. It is in all of us to know that we are constantly being summoned toward transformation and renewal and evolution, as compellingly as Jesus summoned Lazarus out of his tomb.
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
In the Resurrection we see clearly that God is about life, and on this day we are reminded of something essential about God, a clue about what God is: “God did not make death, and God does not delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1). Again, “All will be made alive in Christ.” Even what we think of as death becomes an avenue, a means, of entering into life. It was Jesus after all who said that a seed must fall into the ground and die before it can come to fullness of life, and Jesus who said that we need to lose our existing life in order to be open to our new life. And it was Jesus who did this improbable thing of embracing death, even in the form of execution, in order to be born again into the full life of the Spirit of God. In Christ, God summons all creation into a new creation, a new way of being.
The Book of Wisdom makes it clear that this is a choice, not something simply imposed or automatic. This is an essential aspect of our humanity, one of the key ways in which we bear the image or character of God – that we are free to make choices. So especially at Easter, we could say “Choose to be dead if you wish, but why on earth would you do that? Instead, choose life, choose to be fully alive. That’s the real reason why we are here.”
In Christ, we are constantly offered new birth. St Paul says in Romans: “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells within you.”
Having just had a Facetime visit with one of our grandchildren, I am very conscious of how animated and dynamic children are.
Children typically can’t sit still – they are constantly impelled to motion. So Avery was sometimes in our view and often bouncing off in another direction. Have you noticed how children emphasize what they say with a jump or a spin or by singing what they’re saying? Their reactions to things are immediate and uncontrived. She’d say something like “I love you Grandad,” and then go off and fling herself on the couch. And children’s punctuation is physical – “I know!!” can be punctuated with a stomp of the foot or hands shooting toward the ceiling, or arms clamped around their little bodies – or a laugh, which to me is always a giveaway that they are close to God. In no uncertain terms, you know there is an exclamation mark on what they are saying. When there is music, they dance; when there is singing, they sing. Children are unguarded and curious — this openness and spontaneity is part of what Jesus pointed to when he suggested we all need to be like children – the clue to the way to find the kingdom of life within ourselves. “Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened” Jesus said, but if you just sit there, maybe you never realize that what you thought of as noise, or as an interruption or a nuisance was actually Christ knocking at the door of your life, maybe in the form of a child, or perhaps a bird, or a song, or maybe even a sermon, trying to get you to open the door that leads you out of the tomb and into life.
An insatiable desire for life – enthusiasm – hopefulness – joy – these are sure signs of the life of God within you. Of course we can’t be bouncing around like 3yr olds at 40 or 50 or 80 (or can we?). Maybe it gets more subtle as we age but it should never disappear. The analogy or metaphor of children is meant to be a reminder that being in Christ means being fully and emphatically and unapologetically alive. There’s a reason why Jesus said “leave the dead to bury the dead.”
You really have to work at being dead. We could choose death but it would be difficult because life is our true nature and it vibrates and pulses in every fibre of our being because that is how God created us. You really have to work hard deaden those impulses within yourself; you really have to persist in telling yourself some other story than the one that is before us this morning.
What exactly happens to us at death – where exactly we go – even the apostle John acknowledges he doesn’t know. But as he says: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
Paul, in 1 Corinthians, wants to make it clear that death is not of God. Death is an enemy, something foreign and abhorrent to who we truly are, and that enemy is ultimately overcome in Christ. So being dead, or acting dead, or even overly solemn, or pompous or pretentious, is no way of honouring God.
The Gospel today contains one of my favourite lines from the entire Bible, as the men in white (angels?) ask the women who have come to tend to Jesus’ body: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here.”
The women going dutifully to the tomb to do the honours to Jesus’ corpse symbolize the fact that we often persist in going to those places where life used to be, driven by the power of habit and custom, embracing the shadows and the memories that once made that real and vital, but we are not very likely to find life there any more.
We look to the past and we can understand much. The Big Bang; Tyrannosaurus Rex; primitive humankind — all are aspects, momentary expressions of God’s being – in process, evolving — but in Christ we see the new creation; we see the future. We see who we are meant to be and what we are becoming. Christ is not a figure of the past and not an anomaly – Christ is the future and Christ is the norm. And we are being summoned into that future – the Omega point as Teilhard de Chardin called it.
The Gospel warns us not to be looking for life in places where death is the norm. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” This is a question so pertinent to real Christian life that it should be posted on the doors of our churches as a question that must be asked by all who come there. This is not a museum. This is not a mausoleum. If all we are about is old habits, nostalgia, memories, dreams of what used to be, we are more to be pitied than any other human beings on the planet.
But in fact, as St Paul says, Christ has been raised from the dead – death has no more dominion over him – death is no longer where we look for him. Having read St Paul for many years now, I am certain he was not the sort to base his life on something he did not believe was true, or “factual.” For Paul, this had not only happened but it had been experienced and witnessed by many, including himself. Paul knew what he was talking about not because he had some vital bit of information, like a scoop from the TV news. Paul knew what he was talking about because he was living it; he was already in Christ, as Christ was already united with God, right in the context of this earthly life.
Jesus is supposed to have said to Mary “I AM the resurrection.” He didn’t say “I WILL become something in the future” – the Resurrection was already present and he was already abiding in it, and sharing it with others. That is the life we are called to in Christ; in essence, that is what Christ means.
In today’s Collect we prayed: “God of Life, through the resurrection of your Son Jesus, you have overcome the old order of sin and death . . .” With Jesus’ death and resurrection, an old paradigm had passed away – life is now to be interpreted and experienced in an entirely different way. Jesus contrasts those who are wedded to the old paradigm and those who have embraced the new reality: “they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection” Lk 20).
We are always left with a choice about Easter and Resurrection, even though we have known of its pull and its power from before we were even in the womb and certainly during it. There are so many negative factors that dissuade us and urge us to doubt and dismiss what we know in our deepest self, something we did know and experience as children.
But we lose touch with that and in all those places where we stop connecting with life we start to experience death, as the Book of Wisdom suggests – negativity, unhappiness, cynicism, inactivity, loss of interest and curiosity, deadening of relationships, illness, disease that begin to characterize our lives.
As the Book of Wisdom says: “perverse thoughts separate people from God.” One of my seminary professors said that sin is separation – from God; from others; from our true self. So Wisdom says emphatically: “Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your own hands; because God did not make death, and takes no delight in the death of the living.”
Whatever story we may tell ourselves, whatever we may believe about ourselves, the Gospel proclaims that God’s desire for us, God’s intention for us, is life. Jesus says: “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.” My hope is that you leave here today convinced that you are a child of the light, a child of the resurrection.
The women did not comprehend what they saw at the tomb – they did not understand it – they could not really explain it. Initially they simply experienced it. In the beginning it was simply an experience of life being where it was not expected, an experience that reversed their expectations and plans, an experience that filled them with hope and joy and sent them running in excitement to share what had just happened to them.
I hope that you will experience at least something of the reality of the resurrection – the new life – with the hope, enthusiasm, joy and new directions that that Life always brings.
“All will be made alive in Christ” – even you! Even us! Today, let us like children feel that life force pulsating and resonating within us and know that it is God. If the glory of God is human beings fully alive, as St Irenaeus said, some1800 years ago, then let us feel free to feel it and show it and share it, in the name of Christ who is our life.
The Ven. Grant Rodgers+
Readings for Easter Day
Wisdom 1: 12—2:5; Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your hands; 13 because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls; for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
I Corinthians 15: 19—26 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Luke 24: 1—12 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.