Easter Sermon

‘And the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Corinthians 15: 26)

This will be the first Easter since my Dad died.  In some ways, this has made the themes of Lent and Easter – dying, death and resurrection – more resonant and relevant for me this year.  What shall we say about death?  What shall we say about those who have died? 

Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, in John’s gospel we read the event of the raising of Lazarus from the dead – this is portrayed by John Reilly’s painting (see http://methodist.org.uk/static/artcollection/image22.htm).  Before Jesus calls Lazarus forth from his tomb, we have the shortest verse in the Bible: ‘Jesus wept’.  Jesus weeps for the death of a friend; but I think there’s more.  Jesus weeps for the power that death has over those he knows and loves; the power of death to destroy hope, relationships, confidence, joy; death as separation, death sapping colour from life. 

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians describes death as the last enemy – the greatest enemy.  There are other enemies in our lives – greed, selfishness, injustice, cruelty, poverty of experience, lack of hope, loss of love.  These enemies (and others) could be given the collective name ‘sin’.  Sin is the power which seeks to control us in place of God and God’s love; sin isn’t just a description of human wrongdoing.  Sin is a force which seeks to separate us from God; this is why Paul describes death as the ultimate consequence of sin, or to use his words, ‘the wages of sin is death’.  This is why death is the last and greatest enemy.

So when Christ rises from the dead, his resurrection defeats death, the ‘sting’ of sin).  Death no longer has the power to ultimately separate us from God and God’s love; death no longer has the power to separate us from the love of one another.  Sin loses all power to control us and separate us from God.  These are the enemies destroyed by Christ’s resurrection.  Dylan Thomas puts it more poetically than I can:

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon; 
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot; 
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; 
Though lovers be lost love shall not; 
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily; 
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break; 
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through; 
Split all ends up they shan't crack; 
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores; 
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain; 
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies; 
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion. 

Dylan Thomas

Yet resurrection is not just about Christ’s resurrection – the first and most important though it is.  Christ’s resurrection is the foreshadowing of the resurrection of all at the end of time.  Jesus speaks of this to Lazarus’ sister, Martha, as he tells her: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11: 25).  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he is speaking to those who had begun to question the resurrection of all people at the end of time; Paul says if you doubt that resurrection then you’re denying that Jesus was resurrected.  And if you’re denying that, then what’s the point? What’s it all about? What is your faith based upon?  We have to believe the resurrection both of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection of all people. 

If we consider John Reilly’s painting ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ we get a sense of the now-and-not-yet-ness of the resurrection.  Christ is risen, Christ will come again and will draw all people to himself.  In the painting, the resurrection is represented by the rising sun at the centre of the painting.  All things, all creation seems to be drawn into the spiralling light – the opposite of a black hole.  To the left of the painting we see a before-and-after of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary.  Jesus is in bright white, like the dazzling light of his transfiguration and ascension.  This painting says that we will all – in time – be drawn into the resurrection.  It may be that we feel that we are on the outer reaches, still in the darker areas, but eventually we shall be drawn utterly into the light of resurrection. 

So, what shall we say about death? Life, victory, hope, light and love. That's what we can say, because in Christ’s resurrection we have something positive to say about death. The resurrection is real – even if it is a mystery to us as well.  Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ in the garden has that dream-like but real quality.  John doesn’t try to explain how it happens – it just is!  Mary doesn’t respond to a long theoretical explanation – she responds to her master calling her name.  Although we still live with the shadow, the light we are being drawn into is stronger than the darkness.  We are part of that big story, that big picture of resurrection.    Christ is the resurrection and the life – this is what we believe.  Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! Amen.


Rev Liz


Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike

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