Sunday, 12 April 2020

Resurrection, again

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
Provoking Faith - Easter Sunday - 12/4/20

Listen to this sermon here:

Mark 16.1-8

This is a very strange Easter Sunday,
            and the least strange thing about it
            is that I’m giving my sermon in my kitchen.

Normally, by this point in our journey from Palm Sunday to Easter Day,
            we have shared the meal in the upper room,
                        waited through Gethsemane,
            wept at the cross,
                        sat through the darkness of Saturday,
            and reached, finally, the moment of resurrection and new life.

Except, today, we are in a strange situation:
            we are proclaiming and celebrating resurrection
            in the midst of a time of fear, death and suffering.

Our usual messages of hope and joyful Eastertide are not the message for today.
            Because today we join with those who, throughout Christian history,
                        have had to work out what it means
            to proclaim resurrection when there is very little good news in sight.

Today we stand with those who have celebrated Easter
            in times of war, in famine, in disaster, and in plague.

And my hope is that as we do so,
            we will discover a fresh revelation of God’s faithfulness,
            that will sustain us over the days, months, and years ahead.

Because, of course, the world is never free from suffering:
            Easter is always celebrated in a world where darkness casts a long shadow.
And for the good news of resurrection to have meaning at any time,
            it has to also have meaning today.

The Good News does not only apply
            when the news is good.

And this is why I’m glad that this year’s Easter Bible reading
            comes to us from Mark’s gospel,
stopping where Mark originally intended his gospel to end:
            at the empty tomb,
            with the women fleeing in terror, amazement, and fear.

These first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ
            experienced it in the midst of grief and fear,
and their discovery that the tomb was empty
            was something that added to, rather than immediately alleviated,
            the intensity of their emotions.

The conviction that the power of places of darkness is broken
            is not easily won,
and the significance of the empty tomb
            is not easily understood.

For the women,
            who had gathered around Jesus at the cross and watched him die,
                        along with all their hopes, dreams, and longings for a better world,
            the tomb was supposed to contain nothing but the evidence of further decay.
The unexpected absence of the evidence of death
            was not, for them, an immediate panacea
            that restored everything they had lost.

What it was, was a disruptive indication
            that the evidence of Death’s power was no longer where it should have been,
            and that in its place was an empty space….

They weren’t immediately confronted with the resurrected Christ,
            just a mysterious young man, sitting where the body should have been,
telling them that the one they sought was no longer there,
            and that they needed now to go and tell Peter and the disciples
            that Jesus would be found in Galilee, back where the whole thing had started.

And so the gospel ends, at least in its original form,
            and it seems that the story is circular.

The disciples encounter Jesus, they hear his call,
            they follow him, and realise that he is the Messiah;
but then death and suffering comes,
            and their misplaced hopes for revolution are nailed to a cross.
And then they have to find him all over again,
            and, I would suggest, again, and again, and again.

T.S. Eliot captures something of this circularity
            of the experience of life lived in faith,
            in his poem Little Gidding,

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.[1]

It turns out that the significance of the resurrection
            is that it is not the end.
Rather, it is that which enables
            the living of life in a new way to begin.

Resurrection is that which brings new life into being
            precisely where it is most needed and least expected.

Resurrection is a journey through suffering,
            which breaks the power of sin and death
            to determine the value of a human life.

Resurrection is not release from suffering,
            nor is it an excuse from mortality.
Rather, it is the invitation to live anew,
            to start again, and again, and again;
to experience freedom and hope
            in the midst of restriction and despair.

Resurrection is the gift of faith
            which is the assurance of things hoped for,
            and the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11.1)
It is the hope of new life,
            and the anticipation of a new start.

Ched Myers says that,
‘the power of Mark’s gospel ultimately lies
            not in what it tells the readers,
            but in what it asks of them’.[2]

The challenge to us of the resurrection
            is for us to start again, and again, and again,
            this path of discipleship that many of us have been treading for so many years.

Just as the disciples had to return to Galilee to find the resurrected Christ,
            so we too have to return to our lives, for our experiences of resurrection.

Like the women, we too lack definitive proof of resurrection,
            and at times like this, the power of death can overwhelm the hope we cling to.
But this is precisely when resurrection breaks in upon us,
            as we look into the darkness of the tomb,
                        expecting to encounter nothing but the stench of death,
            and finding instead an emptiness that points to something beyond.

The open-endedness of Mark’s gospel
            means that, with the first disciples,
            we have to look to the future, and to the community of faith
            for the evidence of resurrection.

We have to look into the tomb,
            and work it out again, and again, and again.
And we will discover our resurrected faith
            as we seek Jesus in the ordinariness of our lives;
waiting, and waiting, and waiting,
            trusting ‘that the message we proclaim is pointing us beyond this moment,
            into God’s ultimate purpose which is life’.[3]

I’d like to close with a quote from a friend of mine,
            who just happens to have been elected as the next President of the Baptist Union.

His name is Geoff Colmer,
            and he wrote an article this week in the Baptist Times
            in which he said:

The counterpoint to waiting is hope.
            Hope isn’t optimism, positive thinking, glass half-full.
                        Hope isn’t wishful thinking.
            It isn’t a fantasy that someday our boat will come in.
                        It isn’t the ability to watch the news
                        and pretend that everything’s ok really.
Hope is a vision of life that is defined by God's promise,
            irrespective of what the situation looks like
and then, without denying the facts or turning away from the news,
            lives out that vision based upon God's promise,
trusting that the God who is love is with us, and for us,
            and intimately involved in our lives,
and relentlessly at work bringing good out of even the most painful situations.[4]

[2] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 403.
[3] Quote from the Narrative Lectionary Podcast.

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