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Sermon: Easter Day Evensong

 
Preacher:
Julie Gittoes
Date:
Sunday 27th March 2016
Service:
Easter Day Evensong
Readings:
Isaiah 43: 1-13
John 20: 19-23
Listen:
Download Recording (MP3, 14.3M) Download

Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel is guaranteed to make me cry.

My eyes begin to well up in the opening bars.  Is it a kind of dream?

The words and melody of the refrain are really gut-wrenching:

Bright eyes, burning like fire
Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
How can the light that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale?
Bright eyes.

It's a favourite song for my sister too. Most of us probably associate it with the film for which it was written - Watership Down.  As eleven year old, it was the book which gripped my imagination - exciting, beautiful, sad, terrifying and hopeful. My copy is dog eared and held together with sellotape.

Watership Down begins with the decision to leave a comfortable warren behind when safety is compromised by a vision of its destruction. Hazel leads them on along and dangerous journey. Snares and threats surround them; the viability of their peaceful habitat is established as a result of courage, loyalty and ingenuity.

The places are real; as are the animal instincts. Yet, the addition of a rabbit 'culture' with its own language and mythology perhaps touch our own hopes and fears. That includes the reality of death.

In the epilogue, Hazel dozes. He dreams. He senses the nearness of a mythical rabbit. It seemed to him that 'he would not be needing his body anymore, so he left it'. He's told not to worry. He slips away - 'running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom'.

Bright Eyes is a fitting evocation of our mortality: how can eyes that burn so brightly close and fail?

 

Whether or not we read it as a child or discovered it as an adult; whether we're captivated by Richard Adams' words or Martin Rosen's film adaptation: this saga about a motley band of rabbits poses stark questions about life and death. It does so more effectively than the Kinder chocolate bunnies wrapped in gold with neat red bows around their necks!  But it's our scriptures - not rabbits - which speak truthfully about life, death and resurrection.

Our life span is a fleeting breath. For the disciples, caught up in what was a catastrophic cycle of violence, perhaps they too asked, how could one whose life had burned to brightly suddenly burn so pale?  Jesus, the one who'd proclaimed the nearness of God's Kingdom, burned like fire: words of forgiveness and challenge; acts of healing and nourishment.

It seemed to them that all this was undone by their acts of betrayal, denial and misunderstanding. All that might have been was brought to a hideous end by the corrosive combination of power, fear and weakness. They fled and waited; they watched and prepared spices.

Like us, they had words and rituals for grief. Even if death didn't make sense there was a body to tend with love and dignity.  Grief has its own emptiness: the shadows reaching into the night; the habits of relating and quirks of character; the things left unsaid and undone.

The emptiness of a tomb is of a different order. 

The very absence of a body points to a presence that is more real. Resurrection is an expression of abundance not lack. It reveals the transfigured, incorruptible embodiment, to which we move; as we are transformed from one degree of glory to another.

Bright Eyes speaks of a fog on the horizon and a strange glow in the sky; it asks 'what does it mean?'

Locked doors were for the disciples a response to that question. It meant something risky; it meant something new; something that would change them and us, and the cosmos.

Resurrection reveals the fullness of God breaking into our lives. It is something that we cannot contain; but something in which we can trust.

Resurrection declares that God is with us from first cry to final breath: with us with such love that death is overcome; with us to such an extent that forgiveness and peace pour forth. 

Resurrection fulfils the words of the prophet Isaiah: the one who created us says 'do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you my name you are mine'.

To believe in the risen Jesus is to trust that the transformative power of God is active in the sphere of human life; it empowers us in the present. More than that, that transformation and recreative activity is at work in the whole created order.

The disciples in that upper room encounter resurrection in the intimacy of known relationships and in the honesty of their despair and disappointment.

Fears are named in the Gospel of John - in an exhaled breath if you like.
And in response a word peace is expressed - it is breathed out.

They are shown their Lord's wounded hands and pierced side. He has not left his body behind, like the rabbit Hazel. Rather it is transformed in power and glory. The disciples' outward sight kindles in them their inner joy.

The refrain is not: is this a dream?
The refrain of resurrection is: Peace be with you!

Today is not the end of something. It is but the beginning - they are commissioned.

The Son was sent by the Father - to draw the whole world to himself.
The Son now sends the disciples - in the power of the Spirit.

The mission they receive - the calling we share - is to reveal the compassionate, liberating and forgiving love of God.

Oftentimes, as human beings - alone and together - we feel just as frightened and confused as those locked behind physical doors. Perhaps our constraints are the fears of our hearts; the memories of hurt and failure we lock down inside ourselves.

Our risen Lord stands alongside us - just as he stood alongside those first disciples, without reproach for their shortcomings. He breaths his Spirit on us. Our life is but a breath; but it is to be a breath of peace.

In Watership Down, the rabbits were motivated by their fears and hopes - and by trust in a dream of a better place. In Christ, we are motivated by hopes and new realities - and by trust in God, working his purpose out in and through us, by the power of his Spirit.  

Fictional rabbits journeyed across a real landscape. In the reality of our lives, across the tangible landscapes of work, relationships, places and circumstances, we are to show the same courage and perseverance; the same hope and resilience.

That means we are to live love; that means we are live forgiveness.

Sometimes that means naming, challenging and freeing others from the human equivalents of 'snares' or 'dictator-state warrens'.

Love and forgiveness of the Spirit's work within us. As Rowan Williams puts it in his book Resurrection: 'Forgiveness is precisely the deep and abiding sense of what relation - with God or with other human beings - can and should be; and so it is itself a stimulus, an irritant, necessarily provoking protest at impoverished versions of social and personal relationships'.

The one who died has risen in love.
That power is at work in us enabling us to rise in hope.
This is our faith: to witness in the power of the Spirit, to the compassionate and liberating love of God.

Resurrection light that burns brightly, does not burn pale; it burns brighter still.
Resurrection is cosmic in scope: with deeply personal impact.

God's Kingdom embraces non-human animals: God's Spirit refines our smallest gestures. 
As the psalmist puts is: be joyful in God, all the earth... say to God, 'how awesome are your deeds'.

Christ is risen: flame of love burns within us!
Christ sheds his peaceful light in all the world!
Live that love; share that peace.