“How do you write an Easter sermon when your eyes are full of tears”. These were the words, posted by a good friend on Facebook, that greeted me as I squinted at my phone first thing on Wednesday morning.
I’d gone to bed without hearing any news the night before, so I wasn’t aware of the bombings that had taken place. Those words, that question, were the first indication I had that another terrorist attack had joined the growing list: Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Paris, and now Brussels. That another group of innocent lives had been taken, more families bereaved, more children left without a parent.
“How do you write an Easter sermon when your eyes are full of tears”. That question hasn’t left me over the days that have passed since Wednesday.
But as I write these words, on the evening of Good Friday, having just presided at three services; on Wednesday, at a funeral, saying farewell with a family to a much loved grandmother; on Thursday night remembering the events of the last supper and the hours thereafter, as Jesus was taken, tried, and sentenced to death; and then on Friday morning hearing the choir sing Jesus’s words from the cross, and reflecting upon them, I began to wonder.
Perhaps that is the only way to write an Easter sermon.
Perhaps the miracle that lies at the heart of the great mystery of Easter, the miracle of the resurrection only makes any sense at all when we come to it with tears in our eyes, fear in our belly, pain in our heart.
Perhaps resurrection only means anything because it comes out of death.
Twice in the last ten days I’ve stood in this place and looked at a coffin, as I prepared to lead those who mourn the death of a loved one. And as I’ve looked I reflected how small a coffin looks. How small a thing, to hold so much. So many memories, so many hopes and dreams, so many regrets, so many goodbyes.
And yet there is a moment in the funeral service, when I say the words “this is the hope of resurrection: that it is love, and not death, that writes the final act in the great drama of our lives”.
At a funeral we a brought face to face with the reality of death, and it is then that the promise that we hear in the resurrection of Jesus really starts to mean something.
The reality of resurrection has no meaning except for the reality that we fear death – our deaths, and perhaps more, the deaths of those we love.
The promise of hope in the resurrection has no meaning except for the reality that we face situations of despair, situations in which we can see no way forwards.
The ministry of reconciliation created by the resurrection has no meaning except for the reality that in our lives and the lives of those around us we face intractable conflict between people who simply cannot see a possibility of change.
God’s words of peace spoken by the resurrection have no meaning, except that our lives are distorted, perverted, by the absence of peace; by fear, by conflict, by enmity, by envy, by pain.
The resurrection is nothing except that we come to it in tears. Tears for ourselves; tears for the victims of terrorism in Europe, Syria, Turkey, Iraq; tears for the refugees fleeing those horrors; tears for those we know facing hardship, sickness, relationship breakdown; tears for the children abused in our institutions whose stories are only now being told; tears for those parents who watch their children go hungry to bed in a world that produces enough for all.
The resurrection of Jesus is not, as an archbishop once controversially said, just a conjuring trick with bones; it’s not something to be recorded in “believe it or not” and wondered at before moving on to the next show.
It might be that, if our lives were perfect, if everything was just hunky dory, if the “good” we offer up to the question “how ya doin’?” was the whole truth.
The resurrection mattered to the first followers of Jesus because their situation was hopeless, because they had given up, because the violence of the powers of the world had won. It mattered to them because everything that they had pinned their hopes and lives and futures upon had been torn away.
And the resurrection matters to us, really, for the same reasons.
New life has meaning because of death.
New hope has meaning because of despair.
New faith has meaning because of doubt.
New peace has meaning because of conflict.
And I say those words and I think, “yeah, but you know what? My life’s actually pretty good.” And it is, seriously. It really does not suck to be me. I have a job that, for all its frustrations, I love. I have a great family, good schools, high speed internet. I live in a free society, with free healthcare and rights and privileges of a functional democracy. And I happen to be in one of the most amazing cities in the world. Sure, some people have more. But really, most don’t. I am so much one of the lucky ones.
But then I think, I’ve got two kids, eight and twelve going on eighteen. And I really don’t know whether the threat of militant Islamist terrorism, or the slow motion train wreck of climate change, or the terrifying rise of demagoguery in our democratic systems, especially, at present, in the United States, gives me more cause for fear for their future.
Or perhaps what frightens me most of all is the possibility that my kids might do well enough, be smart enough and lucky enough, to rise above it, to be part of the 1% of the 1% who can fiddle while Rome burns, gaining the world, but losing themselves.
And those fears drive me back to Good Friday, to Jesus’ cry from the cross “it is accomplished”, to the silent tears of Easter Saturday.
And then, only then, do I dare go with women, to the tomb, to anoint the body of the one who I hoped was the answer.
And only then, can I draw near to the great mystery, the unfathomable miracle, that is the resurrection.
So I don’t know if you come to worship today with tears or with fears; but this I do know: that it is to those tears or fears that the resurrection speaks.
Because that is what the resurrection is. New life out of death.
On Good Friday Jesus had accepted, into himself, the final reality of being human. He had faced with unswerving, unconditional love everything that this broken world could throw at him; injustice, betrayal, deceit, mockery, brutality, contempt, hatred, execution.
His life had asked the question: what if we believed that God was love? What if we lived as if that were true? What if we had the faith to treat others, whoever they were, as worthy of respect, deserving of honour? What if we offered hospitality to the stranger, love to the enemy, forgiveness to all? What if we lived with the naivety and hopefulness of love?
And Good Friday gave the answer that every cynical – or realistic – observer would have offered: live like that, open to others, and they’ll take advantage of you, abuse your trust, and, in the end, they’ll kill you.
It might be by a nail bomb in a railway station. It might be on a cross outside the city. But if you let your guard up for long enough to love the enemy, to welcome the stranger, you will suffer for it.
And all those who had bought into his mission, his vision of a Kingdom in which this wasn’t the way it ended, were defeated. Broken. Hopeless.
And then comes Easter morning.
When God says “you want to know what happens when you choose to live the life I created you for? The life of love and self giving, the life of welcoming the outsider, embracing the other, speaking for the voiceless and fighting for the powerless?”
“This is what happens – pain, and tears, and the darkness of the valley.”
“But then… something new. New life. New hope. New relationships. New opportunities. New directions.”
“Because God is love. And whatever the cynics may say, love wins. And it is never too late to write another chapter.”
So don’t come to Easter Sunday just looking for the celebration. That’s as hollow as a chocolate egg. Come to Easter Sunday through the tears, with the doubts. Come to Easter Sunday as people who have sought to live God’s way and know what it costs; or come as people who have understood what it costs, and shied away.
Come with the pain of Good Friday and the doubt and fear of Saturday.
Come with whatever death it is you bear, because it is only out of death that resurrection has anything to offer.
The flowers are in the shape of a cross.
But from the cross come the flowers.