We’re please to announce the Easter Sunday Sermon from The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres, Bishop of London is now available. If you have problems watching the video, or are hard of hearing, a transcript is provided below the video.
Christ is risen!
Earlier this morning at dawn the great west doors of St Paul’s opened, as it were on the empty tomb and we celebrated the resurrection. We heard the story of Mary Magdalene. She was weeping when she caught sight of a figure in the garden. She did not at first recognise him as Jesus because the resurrection body is not to be confused with some resuscitated corpse. He said to her “Who are you looking for?”
The very first words spoken by Jesus Christ in the gospel according to John are “What are you looking for?” But now at the climax the question is not what, but who are you looking for. Truth has been embodied in a life and is communicated in a relationship and not just in a message or a philosophy.
It is when Jesus greets her as “Mary” that the truth dawns and she says “Rabboni – which is to say Master”.
Mary speeds off to tell Jesus’s other friends. The event of the resurrection then transformed a group of disciples who were hiding away in a locked room fearful of detection by the authorities into a world converting energy, into people prepared to die rather than deny what they had seen.
The transforming power of the resurrection is not confined to the early days of the Church. I have just returned from a visit to China as President of the Bible Society. I was last in the country over thirty years ago just after the Cultural Revolution. Unsurprisingly the Church had been traumatised by a period of severe persecution and martyrdom. There were about 400,000 Christians then in the early 1980’s. There are at least 40 million now. I visited the presses where the bible is printed. Production is running at 20 million bibles a year in 90 languages but the lion’s share in Chinese. The State has begun to recognise the huge potential for good of the Christian community and the restrictions on Christian charitable work among the poor and minority groups have been eased. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
The thermostat in much contemporary Western Church life is set to comfort and individual feelings. That is not wrong. It is part of the story but our readings at this service this morning point us to a liberation and a transformation flowing from the resurrection which is global and even universal in scope.
The world is still unhealed. Who could forget this Easter morning the suffering of Christians and other Syrians caught up in the cruel civil war which has devastated their beautiful country. The cities and states of the earth are still being built on relationships of dominance rather than compassion; on blood taken rather than blood given. In the Book of Revelation the seer has a vision of those who have conquered the beast and his cult statue; the ruler of the Empire founded on blood taken. The martyrs are singing the song of the Lamb who was sacrificed, who gave his blood to bring a new word into being.
“You alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgements have been revealed.”
We live at a time of great promise and at the same time peril. Shall we develop in time the wisdom to use the power given to the human race as a result of the knowledge we have acquired of how to split the atom and manipulate the genetic code? The tectonic plates of global power are shifting and we need to navigate into a new multi-polar world. In this time of promise and peril the challenge for those who celebrate the resurrection of Christ is to obey his command to love and to pray down the Kingdom into the here and now.
“Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come”
All of us have a contribution to make to a Kingdom which contains the promise of a wider and wider us in a world that is always tempted to divide human beings into us and them. Our fellowship with Chinese Christians is a wonderful foretaste of Christ’s power to bring new hope and unity to the world.
The Kingdom promises a wider and wider us, but also a deeper and deeper now. The era of unchallengeable Western hegemony is passing away and many people are fearful of what the future holds. Christians have rich memories of the faithfulness of God and his power to defeat the powers of evil. We have an understanding of his passion for justice for all people and for the whole creation. We have a memory of resurrection to defend us from despair but also the promise of his coming again as King of the Nations to save us from complacency. A clear vision of the Kingdom can exert a gravitational pull on the present and transform the here and now.
A wider us; a deeper now; and lastly what we can taste and see in the lives of all those who have truly turned to Christ, a better good life. We can rejoice that in our own time so many people have been lifted out of poverty as it is defined by the UN in the Millennium Development Goals. But Christ, who borrowed a donkey to enter Jerusalem; ate his last meal with his friends in a borrowed room and was even laid in someone else’s tomb, teaches us that happiness and the good life does not in the end come from having more and more things but in being richer in relationships with God and with the spirit of God as we see him with one another, in relationships with our neighbours. I very much admire the technique of one shopkeeper who called out to me, “Come into my shop and buy what you didn’t know you needed”. It’s a very good line but it reveals the absurdity of much of our getting and spending when so many others lack basic food and shelter.
So a wider us; a deeper now and a better good life – a Kingdom agenda to which all those who turn to Christ can contribute as we sing together this morning, as we sing together this morning with 40 million Christians in China the song of victory – “Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God Almighty”.
Beloved Christ is risen!
He is risen Indeed!