Sermon preached at Evensong, Christ the Servant, Stockwood, Bristol on Easter Day, 18 April 1976
[This sermon is unusually long and declamatory for my father’s style. I have omitted a couple of phrases which are in parentheses in the manuscript, as if he had edited the sermon and cut them. They add nothing of substance to what is reproduced here. – SJC]
Ring the bells! Sing the hymns! All is joy and praise today! Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Look at the spring flowers, the bubbles and sun. Death has been swallowed up into life!
All this is fantastic! Great! Fabulous!
But how long will it last? Why does it seem that by the time you get to Low Sunday (next week) you are feeling low yourself, a bit flat. Bit of an anti-climax; like the moment after the big bang at the end of the firework display.
You can be deeply moved by the Easter hymns, get caught up with the rush and excitement of Easter (after all, this is no stately walking occasion – the disciples ran away from the tomb), but when you get home, you find that life is much the same humdrum affair as it was before.
Some people find that Easter is something that the churches get all excited about, and feel they ought to join in; but are really untouched by it. That’s the Martha way. No less true, not lacking in faith, looking forward with anticipation to that promise.
Then Jesus speaks.
Look. Resurrection is for today and every day. It is for you and for everybody. Look. Look. Open up your heavenly eyes and see me.
I AM THE RESURRECTION. I AM LIFE.
All these mind-exploding contortions you get into – trying to imagine what sort of resurrection may one day happen. What happens when you die? Where will you go? What will you do in heaven all day? How on earth, on earth, will you be able to appreciate heaven, and joy, and new life?
Wherever Jesus is there is heaven and new life, the joy that no man can take away from you.
If you open your heavenly eyes, the whole world oozes and reeks of God at work. The whole world is full of parables of God.
We are compelled, dragged in by the love of God, to do and to say and to be things which, if left to our devices, we’d rather not.
But God has got you in his grasp, and he takes hold of you and is zooming you forward; not gently, I know, but with the strong arm of love.
God will not sit back and watch you ruin your life. Up he jumps and wades into the mud of your world, to be there.
You are his. Child of God, do you realise how deeply privileged, how deeply blessed you are?
You he has bathed with his resurrection, and recharged, reclothed you with his Spirit.
Did you think for one minute, that somehow it didn’t take? Have you rubbed it off? Did it fall from you through being insecurely fastened? Pick it up again, this cloak of resurrection. Clothe yourself again with this risen Christ. Rise, rise again.
Don’t be fooled. Don’t let the world fool you into thinking that the world is the same, that nothing has happened, that everything is as it was. What? Has Christ lived and died and risen in vain?
What’s more: not only the world, but you have been changed. You are a new You. Don’t worry if you’ve never before realised it. Don’t worry if you’ve never felt it before, or even if you cannot feel it now.
If Christ is the Resurrection, if Christ is Life, it cannot possibly mean business as usual. See the sun arise, open up your eyes, for today is the very first day. You have the opportunity to walk out of here this morning, taller, fuller, in more joy than when you came in.
Resurrection means being vulnerable, about being thin-skinned, able to be hurt, but also knowing that it will not kill you, that you will always be alive. Perhaps, if you are vulnerable, other people will be able to see it, to get through, to draw strength from you. As you draw strength from Christ, for such is his gift and his joy. Christ changes everything.
“I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to myself.” Not only lifted up on the Cross, but lifted up in resurrection. Things are transformed. No longer is there a need to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. There are far more colours to be seen if you look with heavenly eyes.
Where is this risen Christ living today, if not at the base of where we are living? Where is he that gives men life and allows them to be free-living, but living with us in newspapers, television, in a novel, in the street?
This new life, that is capable of transforming people, even the most foul and evil and wicked – the umbrella of the love and life of Christ covers all these people, and allows them to be themselves, instead of in a little box labelled RULES. CONFORMITY. CONVENTION. DO AS I SAY AND NOT AS I DO.
Even if you, like Lazarus, have been in the box of the grave for four days, four years of winter and sin, and now you stink! The message is the same, the gift still as powerful.
For Jesus commanded in that story: “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out. And Jesus said, “unbind him and let him go.” To you, he says, “unbind him and let him go.”
If you are sickened with hearing resurrection being shouted with trumpets and loud hosannas; that you are deafened by the noise and thunder of it all; if rich, coloured images come tumbling from the preacher’s mouth and you can’t stand it, “No, stop, stop! Too much!” – look elsewhere. But you cannot look away. Mankind cannot stand too much reality.
I hold this flower to say not that the resurrection is like blooming as a flower, but the fact that this flower blooms is a resurrection. This flower has its prize of new life because it struggled from the seed, because it struggled through the darkness of the soil and the winter’s chill. And this is the flower’s reward, that it brings joy to others, that it is bedecked with glory and colour.
The fact that I can smile, albeit after a long time at someone who has hurt me deeply, is for me a resurrection. The fact that families can quarrel bitterly and still make it up is a resurrection. The fact that you can walk here this morning because the sun shines and you feel great is a resurrection.
The fact that you can struggle with a dead faith and with stifling prayers and emerge at last, if only with a glimpse, to see God is a resurrection.
See the sun arise, open up your eyes, for today is the very first day.
Let me not deal so much in symbols that you cannot see the truth. With your heavenly eyes open, it is all around you. It stares you in the face and smiles and laughs with tears of joy and bags and bags of energy.
The Risen Christ who looks into your heavenly eyes, saying: “Oh, you fond old silly, you took so long to notice.” Warm and loving arms surround you. “Welcome home. Here is your heaven. On earth. In our world. And world without end. Amen.”