Acts 10:34-4 ; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18 Oremus Bible Browser Photos

April 16th 2006 010

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Easter raises all sorts of questions for us: what came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s a good question. But let’s hold it in the context of today: what came first, Easter or Christmas? Now the obvious answer is Christmas, because birth generally precedes dying, even dying and rising. But in reality we can be pretty certain that it was the Easter event which caused or was causal in Luke and Matthew writing the birth narratives that underwrite Christmas. It’s interesting isn’t it? So Easter came first and then, in light of Easter, we wrote the story of Christmas. Easter caused a writing or a rewriting of the birth of Christ, so perhaps it has the potential to rewrite our own birth narratives: the story that you have lived from your birth may be rewritten in this event.

Now understanding the Easter event is determined and shaped by many things, principally by the Gospel, the good news. There is a secular appreciation of the good news and in my studies for the sermon I’ve been reading up on it. It tells me that Easter is special and some of these are worth reading. This one here for example, you can get prawns at $18.99 a kilo. There are some stunning Easter specials - the ones I like are the ones where you get 20% off wine if you buy six or more bottles. Where’s one of the quilters – here’s a Janome sewing machine. This’ll be good for someone - Easter madness – look, you get a woman in a chair. ‘Best of the West six-pack offer’, there you are. Hang on, Greg, got another one for you. There’s something special for everybody, even Christabel here, look - there you are, there’s a mobile phone special, for when you lose yours. Some of these gospels are even given to us with a little child of Bethlehem - have a look at this one, it’s a child of Bethlehem with little bunny ears. That’s a secular version of the baby Jesus, that is – they’re great. Now I’ll leave these at the back, because some people - I’ll leave some of them at the back - I’ve kept this one because it’s obviously for me – it’s got the Good Guys on it.

So we’ve got a secular appreciation of Easter - it talks in terms of holidays. It’s interesting - nearly every one of those colourful gospels mentions saving! The saving - which is what Easter’s about! It does! [Congregation claps]. I even pushed it a little further and thought of the sacrifice and the fact that we’re all on double demerits.

Now there’s also, as well as the secular good news, we also get the good news in a religious variety. And the interesting thing is, just as with all those brochures, if you travel round the churches and the denominations you will find probably just as many different versions of the religious gospel. And what they tend to do is, as an indicator of whether their gospel is real or not, they measure church numbers. So we’ll have articles in the paper: how many people attended Easter services, as if, ‘Yes! That’s great - more came this Sunday than last Sunday. Easter has actually worked!’

Now there’s another way of interpreting Easter and that’s in a more theological way - to actually think and wrestle with Easter and see what one can find in terms of the God-language of Easter: what does it reveal to us about the Divine? And again what we’ll find is, just as many different versions of what Easter is about. I just want to spend a couple of moments doing a simple unpacking.

Let’s begin with Jesus. Jesus never, ever sought to create Christianity. It’s got nothing - there’s nothing - couldn’t have been further from his mind. I think, if he was still there, he would turn in his grave, if he could really see where it had gone. Jesus never ever sought to create Christianity and he never, ever thought that his Word revealed would create an institutional church. I think that’s clear. The other thing that we find is that Jesus was and is a divine revelation; we hear it over and over again - the Word made flesh, the Divine as human - and you can bracket and/or there - the human as Divine. We have the link, the obvious link between Easter and Christmas and that I think holds a wonderful clue: we need Christmas to complete Easter, because the whole emphasis is on birth. Jesus came - death, resurrection, ascension: in his coming he came to bring about change and it is a change that has an orientation towards birth, for birth is the orientation of creation and creation is the divine activity. The activity of God is birth.

Now what about sacrifice, atonement and forgiveness? So far we can unpack Easter and not even find them in the picture. They do all have a part and a place, but generally I think though, the theologies that stay with sacrifice, atonement and forgiveness have been emphasised in order to excite our guilt. Rather than emphasise the gospel of birth, it is much easier for an institutional religion to emphasise a gospel of guilt and fear, because fear and guilt enable us to be controlled. But as any woman in labour will attest, birth is not something that one can hold in control and so it offers a threat to the institution.

The doctrines of sacrifice, atonement and forgiveness also require an amazing degree of separation between Father and Son, and we naturally, I naturally, fall into the language of talking about the Father and the Son as if they were two, yet we know, clearly, even in the simplicity of the creeds, that ‘I and the Father are one’. It therefore makes no sense: the Father cannot sacrifice his own son - they are one. The son does not die so that the father is atoned for the sin of humanity, for they are one; the son does not elicit forgiveness from the father by his own blind obedience - they are one. Rather the son reveals the divine activity within humanity. Amazing! The outworking of God within humanity: Christ is a revelation of life in the fullness of the Divine, creature in full accord with Creator. We are creatures of divine origin; we are made in the image of the divine, and our wholeness, our path, our way, our orientation, our journey, is one of dying and rising.

There’s a lovely simple phrase that I came across in reading Thomas Traherne - it so simply reduces everything: ‘Live to give’. The giving up of self-interest that we see revealed in the passion of the cross is the door to life - life in all its fullness. The tomb becomes the womb, the dark becomes the light.

And so our choice - and let’s not put it onto anyone else, but hold it as our choice - is to select from the Easter specials. We can take our pick from the religious Easter specials, the theological Easter specials, the secular Easter specials. Or we can realise our divine specialness this Easter: realise ourselves as children of God. Recognise that Easter is really nothing to do with Jesus - nothing at all, he’s a vehicle - Easter’s actually about us. In our hands, the whole of creation has been given, entrusted. We’re children of God, we’ve been given the gift of Life and the opportunity to bring creation into its fullness.

May we live as children of the resurrection. Amen

The Lord be with you

Peter Humphris

Textweek Easter Day