The Rector's Easter Day Sermon 2017

EASTER DAY 2017

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Some of my best friends are accountants. One of them is a churchwarden. He, for reasons I don’t fully understand, was not one of the two accountants chosen to sort the envelopes for the Oscars . . .

St Matthew, should such a prize be available, would win the Oscar for best resurrection. Lots of thunder, lots of earthquakes, angels who can perch smugly on stones having rolled them away. The guards have a fit, followed by some form of rigor mortis. Not to mention the fact that dead people have broken out of their tombs and are wandering about Jerusalem. What’s more, unlike in John’s Gospel, our very own Mary Magdalene gets to clasp Jesus’ feet, and worship him. It’s physical, and it’s real. Matthew wants us to know just how physical and real – it’s a dazzling account in every sense.

So the Academy Award for Best Resurrection goes to – Saint Matthew! 

Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection are not block-buster movies. They are not the final episode in the boxset. They are not screenplays. They are theology. God-talk. And theology is a way of speaking that is different. It provides a way of seeing that is different. And to the wise, it is worth learning – for it is life-changing for all who believe it.

That’s why we can say

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Bishop Lightfoot of Durham was not an eloquent preacher, but he was a fabulous new Testament scholar. He became Bishop of Durham at the age of 47, where he was apt to preach exactly the same Easter day sermon each year in the cathedral. Once, asked by a daring member of the congregation why this should be the case, he replied that he had not changed his mind on the subject since the previous year.

Tempting as it is, I can’t do that – I find that the Gospel, read thoughtfully, prayerfully, slowly, theologically, time and time again, always has something new to reveal. This year, something has struck me afresh; something that I have simply never noticed before, and yet it seems to me to be of vital importance in the story, an Easter message for, I hope an Easter people; a people who cry

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Here’s the thing. Those who went to the tomb were those who stood at the cross. What, really, that’s the big revelation? Yes, it is. The women who had the love, the guts, the passion, the strength to stand there and watch him die – they had the love, the guts, the passion, the strength, to go to the grave.

We now know a lot about trauma. These women had experienced trauma. The formal study of trauma, especially in war veterans, has taught us much about how human beings react when they have been exposed to extreme violence and distress. We speak these days of post-traumatic stress disorder. If anyone would have qualified for that diagnosis, they did. They had watched the man they had followed, cared for, risked everything for, die. And die horrifically. They would have been traumatized. 

A theologian at Yale, Shelly Rambo, has specialized in the field of theology and trauma. She teaches that there is a danger in our rush to get to the resurrection in missing the trauma experienced by each of the women. The trauma they had experienced would have been very real. Not for nothing has the church understood Christ’s experience between Friday afternoon and Easter morning as ‘the descent into hell’. Yes, that’s theology. But it also describes the experience of those women. They were in hell when they went to that tomb.

Now, on top of all that, they have the earthquake, the angel and all that to cope with too. The Greek text has it even more strongly than our English version: ἰδοὺ σεισμὸς ἐγένετο μέγας· behold an earthquake there was, mega!

Their reaction is mixed, not surprisingly, we are told they are φόβου (afraid) and yet they are, amazingly, filled with χαρᾶς μεγάλης. Their joy is as big as the earthquake – mega.

We have traumas in our lives. Our husbands, wives, parents, children, friends, die; or they are ill; or they have problems we can’t solve. We have money worries. We’re depressed. We’re nervous about Brexit, or Trump, or whatever it is that fidgets us as we watch a world we thought we understood and were a part of passing us by. 

Matthew’s account of the resurrection teaches us not to brush our traumas under an Easter carpet. It teaches us that our trauma is part of our Easter experience. We take our traumas to the tomb with us. It’s not that one thing changes into another – clouds become sunshine, sad become happy, night becomes day. We know that life is more complicated than that. New life is too. 

If you come to church today with parts of your life, your heart, your soul, damaged, beaten up, broken down – you’ve come to the right place. You, says today’s Gospel, are in just the right place to witness an amazing truth. The tomb is empty. The angel tells them it is. He shows them that it is. Jesus meets them to prove that it is. Who gets to see all this? The faithful, broken, traumatized ones. The Risen Christ is, first of all, for them. I think that’s amazing. I think it’s so amazing I, we, can cry

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In a moment, Cressida will be baptized, the newest member of this church. I shall anoint her with oil that was blessed by the Bishop of Oxford on Thursday. I shall drench her with fresh water from an ancient font, the sign of resurrection from the deep waters of depth. I shall give her a candle lit from the new Easter candle, burning with bright confidence as a sign of hope and joy. Simple signs, small symbols. No earthquakes. No angels. No trauma. This is a day of gentle celebration, and we are glad in it. 

Whether your days are full of gentle joys, or deep sadnesses, of great griefs, or happy freedoms, rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is life-changing for the broken, and the healed, for the traumatized, and the merry. It is life-changing for Cressida, for you, and for me. It is mega!

It is true.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

_____________________________________

 

The Reverend Canon ADRIAN DAFFERN
April 16th 2017