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An Easter sermon from Bishop Olivia

There is a traditional folk story about three trees growing together on a mountain top.  As they grow strong and tall, they each dream of being something wonderful as they grow up. The first wants to be the most beautiful treasure box in the world and hold the world’s greatest treasure. The second dreams of being a beautiful ship. The third want to be the tallest tree in the world and point people towards God.

One day, they hear the tramp of feet and the sharpening of an axe, and as they are cut down, they are sad for the loss of their dreams, and wonder what has gone wrong. And then the first is made into an animal feed box; the second is made into a humble fishing boat; the third is cut into beams and left, forgotten in a lumberyard.  

But then later, the first tree finds itself being used as cradle for a newborn baby. The second is nearly shipwrecked in a violent storm, but carries someone who is able to quiet the wind and the waves with a command. The third is used to make the cross on which Jesus is crucified. And they all recognise what they hadn’t understood before: that Jesus’ presence changes everything.

Three women crept silently to the tomb early in the morning, their faces covered, their shoes wet from the dew. They walked quickly and carried with them jars and cloths. It was women’s work to prepare a body for burial, to wash it, lay it out, anoint and wrap it. They were fearful. The rest of Jesus’ followers were in hiding; the Romans were out to crush the remnant of his following, and in spite of their brave words, crucifixion was not something any of them wanted to face.  

But these women are reckless. They’re motivated by something more powerful than their fear. Their plan is forged in fierce love, bravery and despair. Whatever has happened, they will treat Jesus as their beloved, right up to the end.

John tells of how Mary Magdalene met Jesus, and recognised him, and learnt who he was, and learnt, like the trees in the story that Jesus’ presence changes everything.

But resurrection cannot happen unless there is death. The trees in the folktale had to be cut down before they could be re-shaped. The death of Jesus was real and painful. It left behind shattered lives and hopes, fear, loss, bereavement. But out of it came something more unexpected and more glorious than anyone could have imagined. 

In our lives, resurrection can’t happen unless there is death. Sometimes we have to be willing for death to happen. The images in the baptism service speak powerfully of this – of dying to self and being re-born with Christ. And it is no accident that baptisms used to only happen once a year on Easter Day. The candidates prepared during the long season of Lent, and much was made of the dying and re-birth.

As we turn towards the Cross, we turn towards Jesus, with the weight of all we are carrying;  the times when we have hurt or damaged others, or the natural world, our distress and sorrow at the violence, cruelty and destruction which we see around us.   We bring all this with us, and we leave it with Jesus, who carries it for us.  

And of course we face our own death. ‘It’s not that I’m afraid to die, it’s just that I don’t want to be there at the time’. Woody Allen said.  One out of one people die – it’s the ultimate statistic. We can swerve to avoid many things, but the only way to cope with death is to face it, go through with it and through it.

Christians believe that in this meeting with death, we’re not alone. We can follow in the wake of Jesus, who has gone before us and come out the other side, transformed. It’s like being a cyclist tucked in behind a colleague, following in the slipstream. Or a group of people walking down a footpath behind a leader who has slashed away the nettles. Or a boat cutting through the water, leaving an arrow shape behind it. We go through it, behind him, into resurrection. Jesus’ presence changes everything.

So Jesus takes and absorbs all the ill of the world and all the ill in our lives, caused by our weakness and failure to love. Takes it all into his heart of love. He shows us the way through death into life. And the more we know our  need of his presence, the more he is there, and the more deeply we understand Good Friday and Easter Day.

If we haven’t felt the crushing power of destructive human emotion, then we can’t really understand the meaning of new life. If we’ve never felt despair, and wept at the state of the world, or the state of ourselves, we can’t really understand hope. If we’ve never done wrong, we can’t know what forgiveness is; and if we’ve never been wronged, we can’t know what it is to forgive. If in our lives we haven’t experienced Good Friday, then we can have no real sense of what Easter is about.

Jesus brings us into a new relationship with God and with each other. And as we wake up on Easter Day, and find that his tomb is empty, we find that our hearts are light; and in them is a deep well of hope and joy.  And we know that we are enfolded with the love of God forever.

Easter morning is a morning of new beginnings, of new life. However inadequate we are, however much we fail in our good intentions, and miss opportunities to live out our faith, we are all equally forgiven, accepted, and loved by the risen Lord. Easter teaches us again, through our risen Lord, of God’s presence and God’s grace. Whatever our fears and anxieties, our joys and passions, whoever and wherever we are, God is God, Jesus is Lord, Death is defeated, Our God reigns for ever.

Lord Jesus Christ, we follow in your trail, blazing through life;
We sail in your wake, surging through death.
We are your body;  you are our Head,
Ablaze with life, awake from the dead.
Alleluia!  Amen.

Page last updated: Wednesday 3rd April 2024 7:14 PM
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