Easter Day Sermon 2024 – It is started

It comes in waves, grief does.

It is not a constant thing. And when you think that you are moving on another wave can hit you by surprise and leave you right back in the place you were trying to crawl out of.

A big part of my life over the last 18 months has been adjusting to a world in which two of my friends are no longer present. Unexpected deaths, relatively young. Lives cut short. Ministries in the church unfinished. And friends left behind.

I am a friend left behind.

And so I find as I approach the Easter story this year, that my eye is drawn very strongly to those who make their way to the tomb to anoint the body of the Lord. Those who were grieving.

The gospels tell of a number of people who make their way to the tomb in the first light of the day. Women first and foremost in their love. And in their grief.

What are they thinking as they make their way to the tomb? Well, I don’t just know what they are thinking, I can feel it.

Waves of grief, numbness and despair.

Grief comes in waves.

And in those depths, grief is a most bitter companion.

I will admit to not having always been myself when I have felt those waves of grief. I have not been the person I’d want to be.

And this year I have found myself not living in the kind of world that I want to live in either. There is much that leaves me grieving for a better world that we glimpsed and then saw snatched away.

The continuing Russian war directed against Ukraine has destabilised a Europe which seemed to have found the way of peace.

The ongoing horror in the Middle East has not simply destabilised the world, it has disturbed our minds and made peace – salaam and shalom feel agonisingly out of reach.

Warmongering, terrorism and the weaponizing of civilians leave me grieving for the world I had hoped for. For too many months, gross injustice in Gaza has been played out on our newscreens, For too many months kidnapped hostages have been away from all whom they love.

It is easy to feel that hope has been killed, and has been buried forever in a cold, stone-sealed tomb.

But comes the dawn and come the women to the tomb.

They come weeping. They return rejoicing.

The news that they proclaim on Easter Day is that death never has the last word. And hope triumphs when all seems lost.

Have we ever needed to hear the news of Easter more – that Jesus is risen from the grave, that despair doesn’t win, that green blades of growth rise from all that seemed buried and gone.

Grief comes in waves. But so does love.

And the waves of love that spread out from what those women shared in the first light of the first Easter Day changed their world, change our world and will go on changing the world as we spread it ever further.

  • God has not forgotten the broken hearted.
  • God has not forgotten the grief-stricken.
  • God has not forgotten those for whom despair has become almost who they are.

That wave of God’s love did not begin on Easter Day, for it is as old as time, but Christ risen from the grave is when we witness its greatest triumph.

Love, hope and belief in new life are not optional extras for Christian people. They are the reason we are who we are and do what we do.

Despair and grief are real, even the bitter grief of hopes dashed. But the story of who we are doesn’t conclude by the side of a grave. Our story begins at an empty tomb.

Yes, the world is a mess.

But it has you and I in it and we know by the story that we preach and proclaim that new life is our inheritance and our hope. Things never have to remain the way they are.

This year will be a year of great change in this world. Momentous change. This is the year in which more people will vote in elections than have ever done since the democratic era began.

Every part of the world needs people in it who believe in a better world, a world where justice for the poor, integrity for those who govern and kindness for the troubled are the building blocks of the world we wish to see.

This year our election process in this country could well be a painful and hurtful time.

It demeans us all when an election is portrayed in the simplistic banality of a phrase such as stop the boats. Such language threatens those who need help most and diminishes us all. It is the language of the tomb. We need to move the conversation away from Stop the Boats towards Stop the Hatred.  Xenophobia, fear of foreigners and naked racism are already dancing behind the words of too much electioneering.

But ultimately it will not win.

Good people believe in better things.

God’s people believe in better things.

Sometimes hope feels like something you have determinedly try to drag out of yourself. Sometimes though it bursts forth from no-where. A wave of love joy, hope and peace bursts unexpectedly from our inner tomb.

The promise of Easter is not that new life is possible it is the promise that it is inevitable.

And I believe it.

Christians believe in a better world than we already have. We believe in a world where the poor are fed, the lonely are comforted and the sound of war is heard no more in any land. We believe in salvation – the healing of the world.

The story that we are caught up in as Christian people on Easter Day is the story of salvation. And salvation is not the church bobbing around on the waves of this world plucking a few lucky souls to safety. Salvation is the great wave of God’s love that will sweep us all home.

Early this morning, we baptised people into this story, confident that they will bring new life into this world and confident that they will rise with Christ.

Early this morning we lit a fire and brought candlelight into this church to proclaim that gloom will not win. Light and glory will cast every shadow away.

Early this morning, Christ rose from the grave. Not only is death not the end but new life is real. The wave of God’s love has reached all the world. It has even reached us here. It has come to you.

I believe in things worth believing in.

New life for all. Love, joy and peace in abundance.

And I believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the grave. For if Christ were not risen from the grave then we would not be gathered here, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Good Friday Sermon 2024 – It is finished

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I remember some years ago hearing someone speaking about what made people compatible.

I think that it was someone who was a statistician who was making quite a living by advising people who were designing dating apps on what questions to ask people which would give the greatest likelihood of a match working out.

And they reported that there were two questions which were way ahead of other questions in predicting people’s compatibility. And they were rather odd.

The first one was about how long you had ever lived abroad. His statistics seemed to show that couples were more likely to get together and last if their experience of living abroad was similar. Someone who had lived away from their own country for a year or so was surprisingly likely to find someone who had done the same thing attractive enough to form a relationship with them.

And the other indicator was a simple question but which is the focus of what I’m thinking about this afternoon.

It was – how much you liked horror films.

Somehow there was a greater possibility of compatibility amongst people who had a shared tolerance of horror movies.

Well, I don’t know whether I’m giving away all my secrets this afternoon, but I’ve lived abroad a few times for three months each.

And I can’t stand horror.

Put me in a room with a horror movie and all I can long for is for it to be over.

When will it be finished is the only thing I can think about.

Good Friday does not come to me easily.

Some people within the Christian faith believe very strongly that there is meaning in suffering. I tend towards the view that suffering means that meaning is stripped from life.

I don’t think that suffering and pain are righteous, holy, necessary or God willed.

No God I believe in could will the suffering of anyone.

And so there’s a lot of the theology around the cross and around Good Friday that I find rather hard to stomach.

Indeed, I find Good Friday rather hard to stomach.

The images from Scripture are horrific. The emotional abandonment of the end of the Maundy Thursday service I find considerably easier. Our Lord ends up alone, betrayed and with the crowd baying for his death. Clearly the popularity of the mob last Sunday when he entered Jerusalem turned rather quickly into something rather frightening. A reminder of how easily any of us can be swayed by the mentality of a mob.

But the abandonment and loneliness of the Saviour on the Thursday evokes pity in me.

The experience of today, I experience as horror. Stomach turning horror.

And it is hard to know what to do with it except for allow that horror to tell its truths to me.

For Christ is crucified when unjust systems condemn people to death for their beliefs.

Christ is crucified when war is seen as a pathway to peace.

Christ is crucified when children starve of hunger.

Christ is crucified when people are abused.

Christ is crucified when inequality triumphs and ruins human potential.

Christ is crucified when patriarchy has its all too familiar way.

I can see the crucifixion in all these things when human action and inaction cause suffering, pain and despair.

But I can see the experience of Christ on the cross too in things which don’t have human action behind them. Tragic heath conditions lead sometimes to unimaginable pain.

My fear of horror movies makes me want to look anywhere you see but look at the cross on Good Friday.

I’d rather relate to horror that I can explain or horror that I can pity than simply look at the horror that is played out on the crosses on the hill as Christ and the others crucified with him are put to death.

Some see his words, “It is finished” as marking some moment of triumph but I’ve never been able to hear them that way.

The absurdity of the death penalty wasn’t finished by this. It carried on killing and carries on killing in many part of the world still.

The tragedy of those who think that a sharp violent death surge can keep the people in order has its obvious echoes in many countries today.

The pity of an unsettled world where violence seems so often to have the upper hand seems to go on and on and on. That wasn’t finished by any of this.

I watch as civilian populations in Israel and Gaza have been weaponized over the last few months and I feel utter despair. The reality of apparent war crimes being carried out in Gaza is on screens we all carry in our pockets. The brutal cruelty of terrorist acts is played out in our time lines on every device we look at.

Who needs horror movies anyway these days?

But there I go taking my attention away again – seeing it all through the lens of what we see happening in the news. And what we forget is happening too – the things we don’t get to see in the news – forgotten wars, forgotten injustices.

The horror is in front of us today on Good Friday.

A young man strung up and all for what?

For telling us we were loved?

For sharing wise stories and pithy sayings to live by?

For not being the leader of the militant faction that so many hoped for?

What was the point in his death.

What is the point of the horror.

And what does he mean when he says it is finished?

Dear Lord Jesus on the cross, believe me when I look back at you and shake my head. It isn’t finished at all.

The horror movie goes on playing. The violence goes on being justified. The pain goes on being felt.

The horror is too awful to bear.

We make it more palatable with our silences and with our music this day. And we sit in a relatively safe and beautiful space to think about these things.

And here we abide, with the story of a crucifixion playing out in our inner souls.

And here we stay and here we think about the dear young saviour on the cross for whom it is now finished.

And here we stay and here we think about those places and those people whom we know for whom it is not.