Easter Sermon

Here's the preaching of the resurrection from this morning's Great High Mass.

If Christ were not risen, we would not be gathered here. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A number of years ago, before I came to St Mary’s, I was engaged in the business of celebrating Easter. There I was trying to get people excited about the Easter Vigil – that’s the service that we celebrated early this morning here at St Mary’s. Its full of drama – of that there is no doubt. You get a fire lit in the middle of it, from which we light the Pascal Candle which burns so bright and clearly amongst us now. The other thing you do is take some coal from the fire, slip it into the thurible, the brass thing on chains that Beth came in with at the front of the procession this morning. You put on a teaspoon or two of incense, waft it about and the whole church smells of heaven.

Anyway there was I trying to enthuse some young people about coming to this exotic service. One particular teenager I remember. He had an interest in serving at the altar in church and I did the obvious thing and did a deal. You come to the Vigil, I said, and I’ll put you in charge of the incense.

So he did. He carried the thurible dutifully. Followed me out. Watched me bless the fire. Watched me light the candle and watched me forget about him altogether and wander off into church without doing the incense.

The next thing I could see was sad eyes. “Off you go”, I said, “Nip out with your dad, get put a bit of coal into the thurible and add some incense and come back in.”

I carried on with the service. We sang a hymn. I had my back to the door at the key moment, but I knew instinctively that something was wrong. The choir faltered in their efforts. I turned and instead of a young lad bringing a thurible, I saw a cloud of smoke walking towards me rather like the pillar of smoke which we are told followed the wanderers with Moses in the desert.

In the midst of it was a red glow. Instead of a brass thurible, I appeared now to have one made out of molten lava.

It seems that what they had done was to almost fill the thurible with blazing coals. Then on top of they had poured not simply a teaspoon full of incense, not simply a tablespoon of incense, but the whole bag. A year’s supply.

Whenever any choir member has tentatively coughed at the sight of a thurible since, I’ve tended to think that they should be glad to have got off as lightly as they do.

Incense filled the place. Indeed, incense seemed to fill the whole town. Indeed, I suspect that if I was to go back 10 years later and take a sniff, the smell of heaven would still linger.

There is something of Easter Day about that extravagance. And there is something of the smell of heaven about Easter Day.

There have been various smells to ponder during Holy Week. The sweet smell of the oils the Bishop blessed last weekend to use for healing in churches through the diocese for example. And then the smells in the stories. The smell of the crowd crying hosanna. The smell of the donkey carrying him into Jerusalem. (I could tell other stories about real live donkeys in church but we’ll leave that for another time). The smell of freshly washed feet but also the whiff of betrayal at that last supper. And the stench of death on the Friday. The smell of vinegar and bitter herbs with which we washed down the altars here remembering them laying Him out for burial then.

The shear physicality of the stories that we enact in Holy Week ensures that they are a feast for the senses.

As you came into church this morning, my guess is that your senses were assaulted all over again.

The church yesterday was full of people cleaning, polishing, decorating. On Holy Saturday we beat the blazes out of the kneelers, made the brass work shine, washed and scrubbed, covered the church in flowers and hid more eggs than ever.

The church smells clean and pure. The holy smell of hard work and people getting on with one another, determined that should there be a resurrection then all would be ready.

Well there is no question. There has been a resurrection, for if Christ were not risen we would not be gathered here. If Christ were not risen we would not have any message of hope worth sharing with the world. If Christ were not risen there would be no-one to recognise the smell of heaven as it seeps throughout the world.

The stench of death has been unable to hold him.

Nothing has been able to hold him.

No tomb can hold him. No closet. No grave.

Nor the various betrayals and evils that we have contemplated this week.

Not the duplicity of Pilate, nor the complicity of Caiphas.

Not the betrayal of Judas nor the mob rule of the crowd.

Not the terror of his friends, nor the violence of the soldiers.

Not the pain of human suffering, nor the agony of death.

No tomb can hold him.

Nothing could hold him. Pain, death, loss, grief, betrayal, violence – all are beaten.

For the Lord of life is risen from the grave.

The smell of heaven is seeping into the world. Lillies. Polish. Incense. Justice. Healing. New life. New hope. New opportunities to love and be loved in return.

For Christ is risen this April day. And with him rise our hopes, our dreams, our prayers and petitions.

Christ is risen this Easter day. The smell of heaven is abroad in the world.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Comments

  1. Richard says:

    Thank you for sharing this part of your service to a wider audience.

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