Sermon preached by Rev David Walsh on Easter Day, Sunday 16th April 2017
Making all things new
On Good Friday one of the church’s prayers asks God to:
let the whole world feel and see
that things which were cast down are being raised up
and things which had grown old are being made new
and that all things are returning to perfection through him from whom they took their origin.
It may be a Good Friday prayer, but for me it sums up what Easter is all about. Actually, for me it sums up the central hope of Christian faith: things which were cast down being raised up; things which had grown old being made new.
It’s a theme woven through the pages of the Bible.
Right towards the very end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, God says ‘Behold I make all things new’.
And the apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, describes the hope at the heart of his faith: ‘that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay.’ (Romans 8.21)
The resurrection story we’ve just heard isn’t describing a one-off event in the past. It provides a foretaste, a glimpse, of how things will one day be. That day is in the future. But we – now – can taste for ourselves something of the new life God promises. God wants to make all things new. And he wants to start now. With me. And with you. With this church. And with this town of Kettering.
Twenty centuries on our main witness to the resurrection are the changed lives of those touched by it.
Let me tell you just one such story, set 20 years ago, on Easter Day 1997. A man walked into a church for the first time in many years. In some ways, this man wasn’t so unusual in his relationship to Christian faith. When he was younger, he’d been a committed church member. But at some point, he started asking serious questions about the rather narrow, unimaginative flavour of Christianity he’d experienced. Increasingly he became unconvinced by the answers he was getting. Eventually he lost his faith and had little contact with any church for around 15 years. This is not an unusual story. Many of us might know people like this. Possibly there are people like this living in the same street as us. Perhaps even someone here this morning.
But in other ways this man’s story is not quite so ordinary. His faith and his religious experiences as a teenager had been remarkably intense, at times giving him a sense of intimacy with God. He never forgot this, even when he lost his faith. All this had led to him training for the ordained Anglican ministry. So, his loss of faith was also a loss of vocation. The intervening years had not been entirely fruitless. He’d met his soul partner and married her. And he’d had interesting jobs. But something vital was missing. Later, as he looked back, he realised these years had been wilderness years. His closest friends pointed out he’d become more selfish. His heart was less open that it had been before.
But on Easter Day 1997 he happened to find himself in church at an all-age service and heard the gospel story just read to us. Afterwards the Vicar talked to the children about the two disciples in this morning’s gospel reading. Their friend and leader Jesus had died. It must have been, said the Vicar, as if everything they knew about God had died. The former ordinand thought back to the time he’d lost faith and said to himself ’15 years ago God died in me.’ And immediately he realised he was not alone, that others before him had had a similar experience, and they included the two men in our gospel story, founders and rocks of the early church. Maybe there was space in the church for someone like him after all.
The Vicar continued to tell the children the story of the two disciples on their way to the tomb. But now as the former ordinand listened, he found himself walking alongside the two disciples, sharing the journey. And suddenly he was brought up short by the realisation he knew how this story ended. He was now on a journey towards the tomb of Jesus, and it was Easter Day.
Suddenly an image flashed into his mind, of green shoots pushing up through concrete. At the same time, he experienced what felt like a movement in his chest, as if the green shoots were actually sprouting inside him. Overcome with emotion, he left the church and spent the rest of the service trying to come to terms with what had happened. This was the moment of his reconversion to Christian faith.
Twenty years on, his life is completely changed, his faith has blossomed and continues to do so.
This is just one of countless stories which could be told of lives transformed by encountering, experiencing the new life at the heart of the Easter story. I just happen to know this story rather well. Because that man was me.
And that’s why I’m standing here today.
Not just because of something that happened twenty years ago. I’m here because I believe the Easter vision of new life is possible not only for individuals, but for communities: for a town like Kettering, for a church like this one.
The resurrection was not the resuscitation of a dead man, restoring to him the life he had just lost.
No, what is depicted is the breaking into the world of a completely different order of reality, one in which life and not death has the last say, the ultimate reality.
The Christian vision is that this completely different reality is in fact our future, our destiny. That what happened to the man Jesus will one day happen to us, will one day happen to our world, our universe.
But this new life is not just in the future. In the meantime, those of us who follow Jesus are summoned to invest in that which brings life, rather than death.
‘Why do we continue to put time and energy into parts of our lives that belong to the past, that are no longer fruitful if they ever were? Why do we not put our energy and our time into life, into God’s kingdom, since this is where our true treasure is?
Ask yourself where the genuine life is in your world.
Ask yourself where the genuine life is in our society. The creative, the risky, the unpredictable, the life-enhancing, challenging.
These are the signs of God’s kingdom.
But too often we allow ourselves to get fobbed off with the easy option: the well-ordered, the predictable and certain; the option which minimises our risks.
But these are not the places where the risen Christ is to be found. And these are not the places for we his followers to be looking.
We are an Easter people; and our joy is the vision of the risen Christ, who reveals to us that death need not have the last word, that God has greater things in store for us, for the whole of his creation.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!