Friday 1 April 2016

Easter Sermon 2016

I don't need to tell you that the hour changed last night - The fact you are here means that either you changed your clocks or alternatively you were so eager to come to church today that you came an hour early to make sure you got a seat!
I used to get confused as to which way the clocks went until I heard the little memory jogging phrase – spring forward and fall back (Fall as in the American word for the Autumn).

It seems to me that that is not only a useful reminder as to which way the clocks go but also a pointer towards the meaning of Easter – It is a time when we can spring forward in our faith because of the wonderful event that we celebrate at this time. After the pain and suffering of Holy week, now in the light of the Resurrection we have a new hope and a new sense of purpose which allows us to go out with a spring in our step, or at least it should do.....

Very often however we find it hard to do this – perhaps the drudgery of the past has taken its toll and sapped our energy and taken away our self-confidence. Perhaps rather than springing forward we feel like falling back (I know I did when the alarm went off this morning for the dawn ecumenical service in Castletown)! Falling back or retreating is something that we do when the future is too difficult to face.

There are a lot of people who find the future a difficult place - I am sure like me you are still thinking of the McGrotty family involved in the Buncrana drowning tragedy and that little baby and her mother (Louise Daniels) who has to come to terms with a future without her children, her husband, her sister and her mother - She would be forgiven for feeling like falling back and retreating.
Or indeed the families of those murdered last week in the Brussels bombings and those who will carry lifelong and life altering injuries - they too must feel like falling back and retreating.

During a visit to New York a few years ago I came upon an unusual sign mounted on the wall of a Church. It read ‘Fallout Shelter’ and was a legacy of the Cold war days when certain buildings were identified throughout the United States as appropriate places to seek safety in case of nuclear war. On one level it was quite consistent with the role of church buildings through the ages where they have been used as sanctuaries for those fleeing persecution and danger of various kinds. However it did strike me that even in times of no overt persecution or danger we Christians are far too comfortable sheltering inside our church buildings. What was once meant to be a base from which to go out into the world has become a very comfortable home in which we all have our favourite seats, a place in which to fall back

After Easter we will find the disciples also sheltering in their ‘fallout shelter’ as they come to terms with the traumatic events of Holy Week and Easter. However it is only a temporary shelter as when Pentecost comes they go out into the world, filled with the Spirit and respond to the call to make disciples of all nations.
I wonder sometimes are we in the institutional churches, like spiritual couch potatoes, stuck in our fallout shelters in that space between Easter and Pentecost?
It is alright to fall back for a time to replenish our energy and to take stock but the message of Easter is that we should now be preparing to Spring Forward again – We are a Church with a Mission, and Mission means Motion! The Apostolic commission talks about GOING OUT, not falling back but reaching out into our world and sharing God's love and compassion and healing with everyone we meet.

There will be times of retreat, times to fall back and recharge the batteries but we need a balance. If all we do is fall back then our clocks will soon be so far behind that we will find ourselves totally out of step with Gods purpose for our lives.
God knows that we struggle – God knows that sometimes we do need to fall back for a while but God in Christ has come to tell us that we have a sure ground for hope – for moving forward – for sharing the Good News – Let us this Easter overcome all that is holding us back and enter the future prepared for us with a spring in our step.......

I could end the sermon there - perhaps you thought I was about to but that would be too easy and tidy and life isn't like that. Things get in the way and sometimes even though we know what the right thing to do is we find ourselves unable to act - unable to spring forward - It is as if we are in chains!

And sometimes the Church doesn't help - sometimes the Church is part of the problem! There is a mistaken impression which we in the Church do not do enough to dispel that to come close to God and to be a follower of Jesus we have to jump through lots of hoops and live lives that are righteous and pure.
John Hill Aughey,  a clergyman who fought against slavery and was imprisoned for his beliefs twice during the American Civil war knew better when he wrote these words:
'The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm's-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together."
In the Resurrection Jesus broke the chains of death and offered us a new Hope and a new future. He is inviting us all to partake in this new reality but to do so we must bring not just us all, but all of us to the Table, not just the good bits, the attractive bits but the bad and the broken and the hurt for it is here in his fellowship that we can find that healing and hope for the future.
And there is good news - we don't have to do it by ourselves - Jesus has gone ahead and shines his resurrection light back into the darkness that sometimes overwhelms us - That light comes to us in many forms and invites us to share in the Resurrection - For Louise Daniels it came in the form of a young man who saved her infant child from certain death and gave her something to hold onto - a cause for hope and the possibility of new life and for those caught up in the Brussels atrocity it came in the form of total strangers who helped the wounded to safety without considering the possibility of further explosions or attack.
The power and meaning of the Resurrection comes from its ability to transform our darkness into light. It comes from the historical reality of the Crucifixion in which God in Jesus entered into the darkest place of all: Death - and in his Resurrection transformed the reality of death and made for us to a life beyond, a new dawn, a new Hope, a new life with God, a reason to Spring Forward!