Read Sermon


Pointing to Resurrection

Easter Day BCP

16 April 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

We are taught very early on that it is rude to point – though, rather dimly, I forget why, and can only think maybe because it is intrusive. Tracy Emin, in a programme called Room 101, during which her job was to persuade Paul Merton to throw out, rather than keep what she had selected, wanted to rid the world of the famous pointing finger of Lord Kitchener in the ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster. The one in which his moustache needed hedge clippers as well. Religious icons contain lots of significant pointing… teachers must point at children…conductors must point to bring people in…and how funny that our modern world is ruled by icons requiring new skills of mastering that little mouse which points at them. Thrilled children seeing the Lord Mayor in all his glorious finery and regalia, I guess will often point excitedly at the chain, and ask questions. All meant politely I’m sure.

Religious imagery is full of pointing, both in iconography and in many statues. It might be Mary, or his disciples pointing at Jesus, who is pointing sometimes to Calvary, at other times to the Father. The liturgical drama of Holy Week is observed by being pointed always towards the next episode in Jesus’ final earthly journey. On Holy Thursday it is the job of the priest to point to Christ – to Jesus’ real presence in the world, in word and sacrament, and in each other. And it is the same vocation for all you baptised, who are not just merely converts to the Christian faith, but who are apostles (can you reflect on the difference?)…co-workers for God’s truth and justice and love.

Holy week has been a journey where the liturgy has pointed us in the direction of the way of the cross…to Jesus’ suffering at the place of the Skull – and to his death, marked during Friday’s Passion by the extinguishing of a single candle. In pointing to his suffering Jesus also invites us to take up our own crosses and follow him…not to make a cross, still less to look for a cross, but take up the cross which is already given to us in our lives. We all have one – everybody.

The story ends (or does it?) with the women pointing to the empty tomb, and although none of the evangelists actually describes the emergence of Jesus from the tomb, they all agree on the absence of his shrouded body. The accounts vary in that, according to Mark and Luke, the women go inside. John’s gospel has Peter going in, with the beloved disciple following…and Matthew describes the scene, taking place just in front of the tomb. The pointing continues…keep going, keep going, he is not here. Surely the message is that if we have followed Jesus to the grave, we need just as swiftly to follow him out of it, and on. The resurrection is not a happy ending but a new beginning. The momentum carries on…Christ goes before them unto Galilee, and to new challenges in old haunts. If ‘It is finished’ is the cry of Good Friday, then ‘It begins’ is the song of Easter. The vista of our human existence now looks different…it is no longer death, but risen life. He lives.

There is lots of running going on in the gospel set for today, as Mary Magdalen discovers the stone moved, and dashes to tell Peter and the other beloved disciple. It all turns into an urgent race…the beloved disciple gets the point first, when he arrives at the tomb – though Peter is first to go in. The mixture of responses to the events at the tomb (fear, urgency, the measuredness of the beloved disciple)…those responses I like comparing with the responses to Christ’s birth…(the wonder of the shepherds urgently announcing his arrival, fear again, and likewise the measured pondering of Mary). There is a parable there. I love too, the beautiful welcome, without reproach, which Jesus gives to those who had fled and denied him, greeted as they were with the assurance of forgiveness. ‘Peace be with you’ – we say those same wonderful words in his name to each other during the Eucharist, though I realise you do not give any outward sign of the peace in this congregation!

I worry that what the world wants of religion is reassurance that things will continue in the old familiar way, even beyond the grave, and such a view would be happy with ‘resuscitation’ rather than resurrection. What is the point of just coming to back to life, if this involves no change, and is simply a return to patterns which amount to a way of death all over again? There remains a ridiculous charade which claims we can delay the reality of death, that potions and surgery can keep back the years (though when the hair dye and botox come out, how their users think they are fooling anybody is somewhat pitiable!) The lie abroad is that ultimately we can be ‘in control’. What a mixed up fantasy vision! Vanity of vanities saith the preacher, ALL IS VANITY. Our faith offers so very much more. How can the outdated fossil fuel of the world’s grey pallid dreams (the resources for which, of course, will run out in any case) possibly be any match for resurrection? To be changed and transformed by the risen life of Christ…by the renewable energy of our all merciful and all loving Creator? Ours is a vision that takes death seriously, and I end with some words from Rowan William’s Easter Sermon last year.

‘It looks as if death means… God ultimately treats us as disposable. But if we see in Jesus’ resurrection the confirmation that God is faithful, we can face death differently - not because it has stopped mattering or even hurting, not because we have assurance that we shall carry on as before (we shan’t), but because God has not finished with us. We have more to receive from him, and he will create the conditions that will make it possible for us to receive’

If I may be so rude as to point (to cross or altar) then this is the way, the truth, and, most important today, the Life…keep going, keep going, it is only just beginning.
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