A Sermon from Sherborne
An Easter Day sermon for the Parish Eucharist at Sherborne Abbey, preached on 1 April 2018 by Canon Tim Biles
Easter Day brings Alleluias a plenty but for some of us (and I am one) a little unease as well. So here are two things to share today: the alleluia and the unease.
First the alleluia. That’s easy. In the 40 days of Easter we will be surrounded by signs of new life and new hope as the old grave clothes of winter fall away: grey days will give way to sunshine; birds, silent two weeks ago, will begin to sing; buds, hidden two weeks ago, will pop up their heads. Some creatures have been hibernating: how wise they are. Now they emerge from their tombs, ready to join the alleluias.
We are lucky in England, where Easter gospel and springtime hope coincide, and every hedgerow proclaims it more eloquently than anything you will hear from most pulpits. That’s the Alleluia, the hope and the reality of new life, bursting out of the tomb in Jerusalem and out of our hearts here.
Now, the unease. We declare ‘the strife is o’er, the battle done’ when for many people that is evidently not the case. Those in pain with arthritis or worse yesterday, will still be in pain tomorrow. Those who suffer that greater pain, a love lost, will still be grieving tomorrow. And further afield there will still be the same number of refugees wandering the world, seeking shelter from tyranny; and finding rejection as borders close against them. Don’t tell them the strife is o’er. It isn’t – and alleluias are a bit thin.
Our Lord wants his kingdom built here on earth. He taught us to pray exactly that ‘thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven’ and we plainly haven’t managed it yet. Jesus’ Holy Week tears over Jerusalem are still a more suitable response to the state of the world than our alleluias.
So some people conclude that the Easter hope must be about the next life, not this one. Well, yes, we do believe in eternal blessings, though we have little idea what form they will take. But the Easter message is not to be reduced to ‘pie in the sky when we die’ or a magic wand to wave when we are desperate.
So what is it we celebrate today in the midst of a world of so much trouble, amidst so many tormented people? Here’s the resurrection truth:
The resurrection is the outward and visible sign to the world of the inward and spiritual truth that God brings good out of ill. That is God’s nature. That is God’s way. That is God’s work from Alpha to Omega, from beginning to end. That is the nature of love and our job is to share the process.
Man will bring ill out of good … hence the crucifixion. God will bring good out of ill … hence the resurrection.
It is not a new truth which began the day after the resurrection. It is the way God has always been, from the beginning. The resurrection reveals, for all to see, the nature of God.
And in the resurrection body the scars are there. Remember Jesus to Thomas ‘put your hand in my side’ and Thomas, feeling the wounds, believes. Our scars of pain, grief, disappointment, failure, brokenness of many types, remain. They are what John Bunyan in ‘Pilgrims Progress’ calls “our trophies”. They do not disappear on Easter Day or any other day. The scars have their place in the risen body and their place in our life. But good will be brought out of them. That is the way and the work of the Divine, which we share, however many scars we carry. The scars are no barrier. They are a passport to the Kingdom we seek. And that is the real alleluia.
The human lot is to bring ill out of good, hence the crucifixion. The divine work is to bring good out of ill, hence the resurrection. The resurrection reveals this divine work from Alpha to Omega and the joy is that we are invited to share his work, bringing good out of ill. That’s worth a lot of Alleluias.
I end with a story, because that is how Jesus taught deepest truths.
A rich man went hunting and took with him his guru or holy man. When a deer came in sight, the rich man shot his arrow but it misfired and damaged his own hand. “Help! Help me!” called the hunter. The guru looked at the wound and said “Good will come of it”. This made the rich man, who was in pain, very angry. “You are not a guru at all. For this I will have you thrown down the pit.” So he threw him down and as he rode away he could hear him calling from the pit “Something good will come of this”. “Stupid boy”, he thought.
A little later a horde of tribesmen came down from the hills and captured the hunter and bound him and took him to their chief, for it was the season of sacrifices. The chief examined him and said “Look, this man is unclean, there is blood on his hand! A sacrifice must be pure. Release him!”
So the rich man rode back to the pit to apologise because great good had come of it. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have thrown you down the pit.” “Oh” said the guru from the bottom of the pit “great good has come of it!” “No, no, I am sorry” insisted the hunter.
“Yes, yes” said the guru from the pit. “Great good has come of it. Just think if I had been riding with you, what would they have done to me?”
I hope you can imagine Jesus finishing his story and saying to the listeners “Now which of these two understood the ways of God?”
The human condition brings ill out of good, hence the mess the world is in. God wills good out of ill and that is the loving divine work we are asked to share, here and now. Alleluia to that! Amen.