CHRIST IS RISEN. ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!
I always struggle to write a homily for Easter Sunday. So I adopt the Micawber principle. I start preparation early in Lent and hope something will turn up. I have by now a collection and I have selected two. I hope they will suggest ideas that you can use or discard as you break God’s holy words. That we will have people going out of church on Easter Sunday proclaiming that their hearts burned within as we opened for them the Scriptures, is a consummation devoutly to be wished
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When I was a child I learned from my Penny Catechism that God made us to know, love, and serve him in this life. Now that I am old and grey, I think that what I learned as a child was beside the point. For I now believe that God made us because God loves stories. Each of us is unique, wonderfully different, each a new story, unfolding every day, full of surprises, full of joys and sorrows, of achievements and disappointments, full of good and bad. We are ordinary people in whom God delights - for God sees our potential, sees the extraordinary people that we will become. God sees the end of our story and God loves happy endings.
This is what the Easter story shouts at us. Let me tell you of the joy of Easter in a bundle of Bible stories. There was a man called Abraham who believed in God and had a son called Isaac. God tested him: Take you son, put him on an altar, and offer him to me in sacrifice. So Abraham bound Isaac his son and laid him on an altar. Just as Abraham raised his knife, God intervened and said, “Stop!” – for God did not intend the death of the boy but to test Abraham’s obedience. This was the tenth and last test that Abraham had to endure in order to show his total obedience to God’s will. And Jewish tradition celebrates this story everyday. Religious Jews call it the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac, but celebrate because the story does not end in the death of the child but in the unbinding of the child.
Years later Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, a friend who had died, and called him out of the tomb, bound up as he was in burial clothes and Jesus told mourners standing around, “Unbind him and let him go free!”
On Good Friday, we learned that Jesus was captured in the garden, and we are told that he was bound up and rushed off to Annas, one of the chief priests. Annas sent him on, still bound, we are told, to his son-in-law, the High Priest, Caiaphas. And, finally, Jesus was bound up in linen burial clothes according to Jewish custom and laid in a tomb.
This blessed Easter morning we read what happened to those burial clothes which bound the dead Jesus. There they are before the eyes of the beloved disciple, neatly folded and laid to one side: he saw the linen cloths lying [there], and the burial cloth which covered his face, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up separately in a place by itself (John 20:7-8). For God would not leave his Son bound and tied up by death. God shouts: “Unbind him, and let him go free!”
What God says to Abraham, to Lazarus, to Jesus, God will say to each of us when we are tied up in death: “Unbind her! Unbind him! Let them go free!” That is the heart and soul of our faith. We have nothing to fear from God. You, me, all of us, are destined to be safe in God’s hands. There is nothing you can do to prevent God from keeping you safe, from bringing you safely home. That is what Easter says to us and that is what we should have learned at our mother’s knee. That is what we must teach our children: “Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!”
Do you know that the sentence “Do not be afraid!” occurs 365 times in the Bible – one for every day of the year? Each day God says to you “Do not be afraid!” Not that you will not have to face worries, disappointments, upsets, even tragedies. But you are safe in God’s hands.
We are gathered about this altar. This is not the altar on which Isaac was bound up ready for the slaughter. This is the table of the Lord’s Supper to which all of us are called to receive Communion with our Lord. In that Communion we are bound forever to the God who sets us free from all other bindings. Whatever you may think binds you and keeps you from receiving the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Year of Mercy lay your worries, your concerns, your fears, and your guilt, on the altar of God’s mercy. You will be unbound as Jesus was unbound. Jesus says to you, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
So leave the old catechism behind. Your story is the story God loves to hear. Whatever binds you, whatever troubles and woes, disappointments and fears, tie up your heart in anxiety and fear, remember that God knows the end of your story. God knows that you will be unbound you and set free. As God unbound Isaac, and Lazarus, and his Son Jesus, so God will unbind us and let us go free into an eternity of love.
May you have a blessed and joyful Easter.
How often do we hear, when a tragedy has happened, that the bereaved family seek ‘closure’ and wish to ‘move on’? I don’t understand what ‘closure’ means and I don’t know how you move on from the death of a father, a mother, a brother, a sister. How do you have closure and move on from the death of a child? When we come to bury our dead, we mourn and our hearts grieve. When I buried my father, when I buried my mother, when I buried my brother, when I buried my nephew who committed suicide, when I buried my grandparents and all my uncles and aunts, I grieved. I still do. I cannot call ‘closure’ and ‘move on’. I moved them to another place in my heart, to another kind of loving, to another way of talking to them, certain that a life-long conversation has not ended. Our Christian word is ‘remember’, not ‘closure’; our instinct is to keep them in our hearts, not to ‘move on’.
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, a declaration that God did not settle for closure, that God did not move on. Can you imagine God seeking closure on what happened on Calvary? Can you imagine God moving on from the death of His Son?
Today, Easter Sunday, Christians proclaim to the world that God did not move on. God took his stand at the empty tomb and shouted to all who have ears to hear: ‘He is not here. He is risen!’
But what we proclaim today about Jesus, we proclaim everyday about ourselves. When we inscribe In Loving Memory on tombstones, we remind ourselves that our remembering of those gone before is a sharing in God’s everlasting remembering. Our God standing at the empty tomb of Jesus is the God who stands at the tomb of all who have gone before us, the God who will stand at your tomb and mine and the God who will shout, “She is not here! He is not here! They have risen!"
God does not do closure. God does not move on. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord is the creed of Christian mourning and the proclamation of Christian burial. What we declare is that God reaches into the hearts of every human being to declare that steadfast love is indeed steadfast: it alone endures forever.
It is important that all of us – regular churchgoers or not – to remember that just as God does not give up on Jesus, he does not give up on us. The God who reached into the dark place of the death of Jesus, is the same God who reaches into the dark places of our death, to tell us, if we listen, all will be well, all manner of thing will be well.
On Easter Day, on every day, God says to all of us, to those who are here every Sunday, and to those who are here occasionally, and, indeed, to all people of the world, “You are safe in my hands”. The God who called Jesus from the tomb of death will call you and everyone from the coldness of the grave.
Whatever turmoil is in your life, please believe that you are safe in God’s hands. Just as the future of Jesus was safe in God’s hands, so your life and my life is safe in God’s hands. God does not do closure on you. God never moves on from the death of any of us. Easter Day shouts to us that God’s responsibility for each and every one of us stretches beyond the grave into eternity and that every lost sheep will be found. Easter Day cries out to us that it is not how good we are that brings us to safety. It is how good God is that sees us safely home.
So on this glorious Easter Day, and every day, whether your heart is full of joy or whether you carry burdens that you can scarcely bear, know that you are loved, know that you are safe, and not just today, but for every day. All will be well; all manner of thing will be well.
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May the Blessings of Easter be with you all.