Risen Within Us!

Sunday 4th April 2010
Year C, Easter Day
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Parish Eucharist
John 20:1-9

Compared with the bulk of the Gospels, by any common standards the accounts at the beginning and end are near literary and theological failures.

God 'chose' to enter the human history that creation set in motion and Luke characteristically provides colour, movement and a sense of wonder to his Nativity account but only John grasps the central point of the story, "The word made flesh",  the Incarnation. As for the accounts of the Resurrection, these are full of doubt and muddle. Again, Luke's version, which includes the critical walk to and meal at Emmaus, is full of colour, movement and wonder; but, again, on this occasion, it is John who really grasps what is going on when he says that the "(beloved) Disciple ... saw and believed"; not surprisingly if you accept some current scholarship (Bauckham) which says that the beloved disciple is the author of the Fourth Gospel. Mary finds the tomb empty and tells Peter and he and the Beloved Disciple take part in a race that is almost farcical; and he does not understand that the Scriptures have been fulfilled; and, except Mary, they all go home.

There are some human factors here. For the Disciples, the days from Palm Sunday to Good Friday were hectic and ultimately harrowing; they must have been drained after their apparent triumph, failure and humiliation. Then, there was the very understandable theological failure; they had not grasped the pattern of the testimony of Jesus about himself. They were not, to put it in simple language, looking for the Resurrection, so they didn't see it. It was only when Jesus revealed himself first to Mary, then to the men, that the truth began to emerge. And in spite of what Jesus told them himself, it was only after the "Coming of the Holy Spirit" at Pentecost that they really understood the significance of the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

In spite of two thousand years of theological enterprise we have not got much further on. Our experience of babies being more or less ubiquitous, we have a deep empathy with Christmas and we even have a fair grasp of a doctrine of incarnation; but I get the impression that Easter does not strike us with the same direct force; we know we ought to be joyful but we are not moved in the same direct way. Why not?

In essence we have the same problem as the Disciples; we don't really know what we're looking for. We look at the dazzling angels and the empty tomb and this is overlaid with spring flowers and a special quality in the morning light. It's like coming out of a chamber of hell with the torture and the blood and the jeering and the screaming in the dark, out into a light that makes us blink and shade our eyes; and we are exhausted and elated at the same time.

But what are we looking for? We're not looking for Jesus because we saw him on the Cross and we saw him laid in the tomb. We are not looking for angels because we have seen them and they have given us a message. And we are not looking for some wraith or apparition because we know, with blessed hindsight, that the disciples knew something that was recognisably Jesus on Easter day.

The trouble with this kind of narrative is that we tend to look outwards, to try to follow the plot, to read faster than we should in order to find out what happens at the end. But although the promise of eternal life is irreversibly under-written by the Resurrection, as Karl Rahner puts it in a brilliant synthesis of Saint Paul, the point of today is in ourselves. We don't say "Christ rose again, alleluia!" We say "Christ is Risen!" because he is risen within us. The Christ that has been tortured and killed at our hands, the Christ that has lain dead in our hearts, has risen within us so that we are renewed.

This is not an easy message if we think of the story of God's dealings with us as purely sequential, if we think that we are born, die and then enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We will better understand today if our starting point is the recognition that we are here to build God's Kingdom, right now. Yes, the Resurrection of Jesus surely points towards our ultimate destiny as creatures of the Creator; but, still, the key point is The Kingdom on earth. When Jesus died, God could have 'chosen' to cease direct, concrete, contact with us and perhaps made known the significance of the death of his son through visions; but that wasn't good enough; the Incarnation had to be completed with a Resurrection experience that the disciples, our predecessors, could grasp to underline the purpose of creation which we often forget. The reason that we are here is that god, who is love, wanted his creatures freely to establish his kingdom on earth as a tribute to him. That is why we should be rejoicing today. We are not spectators of a spectacular escape; after our part in the death of Jesus, we have been set free to preach the Gospel; and every time that we falter and fall we will be set free again.

It might be charged against us that this is synthetic joy that we manufacture in much the same way that actors take part in a play, that we follow the events of the Church's year as players; but such a charge is invalid. We are only players if we are proud; but our humility prompts us to remember that the story is not a prop to encourage us in our own efforts; we are in the story of self enslavement and divine liberation.

Look at the Paschal candle. It's a pleasant light and in the gloom of the Easter Vigil it is the most lovely thing you will ever, ever see; but its purpose is to light other candles, to light other lights that are carried out of this place into the world. But who is to carry these candles? Who is to carry these lights?

We are to carry them. That is what we are for.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!