The Lord is Risen
A sermon for Easter Day
20th April, 2014
It’s a privilege to welcome you today to our renewed and re-ordered Cathedral. The work is not finished yet and will go on for some months. But it’s a magnificent symbol this Easter Day to see this ancient building made new, to see what it will be like, to celebrate resurrection in this very ancient church which has been made so wonderfully new and contemporary. And its such a joy to have sound system which works…..
Remember as you come in prayer today that there has been a Church on this site for over a thousand years at the very centre of this city. Down all the centuries the Church building has been knocked down and rebuilt, adapted and improve. But through all those years the people of Sheffield have gathered here to pray to the Risen Lord Sunday by Sunday and day by day, in moments of peril and difficulty, in the crises of their lives, at the great festivals of the year.
A congregation gathered on this site in 1066, in the Wars of the Roses, in the time of Mary Tudor, during the Civil War, when Victoria came to the throne, during the Great War. A congregation proclaimed the resurrection of Christ as we have done this Easter.
In the words of Isaiah, This house is a place of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7). It is not just a place for all people – though it is that. But this house is a place of prayer for all peoples, especially those who do not yet know the living God. And you are truly welcome this day.
Let’s use the Easter acclamation one more time.
The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Jesus rose from the dead. This is what we celebrate today. This is the entire centre of our faith. Jesus rose from the dead and his rising has reshaped history.
Every time you write the date, you are remembering how many years it was since this man lived and died and rose again: 2014. We do not date our lives, our history does not begin from the Norman conquest, or the foundation of Rome, or the accession of the Queen, or the invention of the mobile phone. Our history begins with Jesus.
We date our lives from the year Jesus Christ was born because of his remarkable life and ministry and death and resurrection. We meet for worship on a Sunday to honour the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on this day of the week. The first Christians were all devout Jews. They kept the Sabbath, Saturday as their day of worship as the Jewish people do today. Something remarkable happened to change their day of worship. Christ rose from the dead. Within a generation, the Christian day of worship became Sunday, the Lord’s day, the day he rose.
Walk through any English churchyard and you will see graves packed together. Walk around this Cathedral and look at the monuments and plaques and burial places. Why are they here? People are buried here and around parish churches because Jesus rose from the dead, because of truth of his resurrection, because of the hope it brings to us of new and eternal life with God, because of his promises to those who believe. Where else would you want to be buried but in the place where new life is proclaimed? Because he rose, death is not the end. The shroud of death which casts its shadow over all peoples has been destroyed (Isaiah 25.7).
These are not superstitions. Generations have believed and trusted in the resurrection of Christ in every generation on the earth. Generations who follow us will do the same. This faith we share has been tested in every possible way down two thousand years.
The first three hundred years of the life of the Church were years of intermittent persecution. To profess faith in the risen Christ meant that you suffered discrimination, you could be arrested, you could be killed. We can forget that the early witnesses whose words we read in the New Testament almost all died for their faith, often in terrible ways. St. Paul lived most of his life in danger – yet his life and his writings are full of joy. Why is that? Because of his faith in the risen Jesus. Death is not the end of life. There is hope, there is resurrection, there is meaning, there is a future.
Those early Christians tell us that we should not be surprised by resurrection. We can read the signs in creation. “Day and night declare to us a resurrection”, writes one of them. “The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on” (Clement, First letter to the Corinthians, 24).
The seasons of the year speak of death and resurrection: “The earth receives its instruction from heaven to clothe the trees which had been stripped, to colour the flowers afresh, to spread the grass again, to reproduce the seed” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 22).
The resurrection is written deep in the Scriptures. This pattern, this event was foretold. In the Psalms and in Isaiah, there are prophecies of suffering followed by glory (Psalm22, Isaiah 53). There are deep patterns in the stories of Noah saved from the flood, in the Israelites saved from death in the crossing of the Red Sea, in Jonah who spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish but was given back his life, in Daniel and his friends rescued from the fire and from the mouth of lions.
There are miracles of resurrection in the Scriptures: Enoch and Elijah are snatched into heaven (Genesis 5.24, 2 Kings 2); Elijah and Elisha raise the sons of widows from the dead (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4); Ezekiel sees a vision of a whole army come to life again (Ezekiel 37) and of deserts made new (48).
The early Christians took this pattern of death and resurrection from the Scriptures and wove it into Christian worship. Last night, Bishop Peter and I baptized and confirmed 41 candidates in Rotherham Minster. It was a wonderful occasion. All of them made for themselves the promises made at their baptism. All were confirmed. Eight of them were baptized at the font.
The traditional times for baptism to happen is Easter because of the pattern of death and resurrection. We go down into the water. Our old life dies. We come out of the water. We rise with Christ’s new life to live with him and for him and in him and to live for ever. It was a powerful moment.
Today and every Sunday we celebrate the Eucharist together in this place. In this Eucharist, in the sacrament of bread and wine, we make a living memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection and we celebrate his call to resurrection life. We remember that Jesus is alive, that Christ is with us, as we gather in this place, that we can know him, that he lives in us his people, that he has given us His Spirit.
The pattern of resurrection is there in creation, in history, in testimony, in scripture, in sacrament, in experience, in the shaping of our world.
But that pattern begins with a real, actual, historical event, in a garden, in the darkness, as Mary Magdalene comes weeping to the tomb. She is weeping because Jesus death was a real death, full of pain and anguish, and because Mary loves him, and she is in the chaos of confusion which grief brings.
She sees the empty tomb. The stone is rolled away. His body has gone. The disciples come and see the linen wrappings and the cloth rolled up in a place by itself. This is a resurrection not a robbery.
That resurrection is an historical event. The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to his disciples. One writer says: “The empty tomb alone would have been a puzzle and a tragedy. Sightings of an apparently alive Jesus by themselves would have been classified as visions or hallucinations….However an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together,..” present a powerful reason for faith in the resurrection.
Mary encounters the tomb and then she encounters Jesus. He calls her name: Mary. There is a turning, a returning, a change of direction, a conversion. “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabbouni! (which means my Teacher)”. You cannot believe in the resurrection of Jesus and stay the same. To believe means to turn, to change, to be converted.
Then in a moment, Mary moves from weeping to turning to witnessing. Mary Magdalene becomes the apostle to the apostles. The pattern of resurrection is even written into the story of resurrection. Mary was the one from whom seven demons were driven out, the woman of no reputation, by tradition a camp follower. The one whose life was worse than death, who has already been restored, is the one who carries the message of life to others.
Her story is built in John around three words in the original: weeping, turning, witnessing. They describe the pattern of resurrection in every disciple: mourning: encountering reality without Christ, facing the reality of our own death or that of others; turning: encountering the risen Christ, experiencing the power of his resurrection; and witnessing: sharing with others that we have seen the Lord, that he has risen. Weeping, turning, witnessing: the pattern of Easter.
There is no need to be afraid or shy or lacking in confidence in the heart of our faith or in proclaiming it to the world. This is the great good news in every age and every will be while the world endures. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Our Cathedral will be a sign now in this great city of the renewing power of Christian faith and of the Christian gospel and of confidence in that message in the years to come. Thousands upon thousands of people in this city and region need to hear that great good news.
Let this Easter be the day when your own faith is rekindled and renewed; when you place your trust once again in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again, when you follow Mary and move from weeping to turning to witnessing to his love. Let this Easter be the day when the Church in this places embraces a proper confidence in the gospel, to live it and proclaim it in this city and this diocese now and for many years to come.
The Lord is Risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.