Easter Day Breaks in Durham and Bishop Talks Pace and Drama, Today as Then. The coming of new light was celebrated today Sunday 16th April 2017 at Durham Cathedral at the Dawn Vigil when 2 people were baptised, 25 confirmed as Christians and 1 person was received into the Church of England. This was followed by the Rt Revd Paul Butler Bishop of Durham giving a very poignant sermon at the later morning service, where he talked about the pace and drama of Easter and the very real fears felt in our world today.
The Dawn Vigil service signifies the point that Jesus was risen from the dead and the new light of the world comes amongst us. The dawn service that starts in complete darkness before dawn, leads through the Cathedral and candidates are baptised before the risen Jesus bringing new light to the world is celebrated at day break. Candidates are then baptised and this year one candidate was received as communicant in to the Church of England from the Catholic Church. The service then leads into the first Eucharist (Communion) of Easter Day.
Later in the day at the 11am Service Bishop Paul gave his sermon talking about the Drama and Pace of the Easter story that shakes up and changes lives. He used his sermon to talk about pace and drama of contemporary times with the fear of escalating conflicts and talk of nuclear war, but offers that there is a glimmer of hope in the failed missile launch in North Korea on this very day. He concluded by saying: “Whatever may disturb and worry us, let us trust the risen Jesus, and like those first witnesses to the resurrection may we go quickly and tell others that Jesus is truly alive.”
The Full Transcript of the sermon is below.
Easter Sunday 2017
Drama and pace fill the Easter story, especially as Matthew tells it. A great earthquake, an angel with appearance like lightning, trembling guards, instructions to the women to ‘go quickly’ and they do. Then the risen Jesus meeting them with initially just one word, ‘Greetings’.
Easter – full of drama and pace that shakes up and changes lives.
This Easter weekend feels rather full of drama and pace that we would rather not have. News headlines are ones that I hoped never to see or hear again in my lifetime. They might be over the top but that events are such that headline writers feel able to write them at all suggests the world is in an uncertain situation.
The tragedy of Syria has filled our news for the past five years and the horrors simply do not stop; the latest killing of people being evacuated to safety is yet one more terror. We must beware of becoming inured from this suffering. It may quickly pass as another news story for us; but it is people’s lives being taken, families being ripped apart and another wrong step if peace is the journey that is wanted.
Then there are the headlines that talk of nuclear strikes, and even war. These are even more disturbing, although perhaps today’s news of a failed launch by North Korea is a mini glimmer of hope.
Let us be clear nuclear war is essentially madness. There can only be horrific consequences for huge numbers of people, and potentially for the planet. We must pray for wisdom and restraint on the part of all parties concerned. We have to cry out to the God who holds all history in his hands for human pride and foolishness to be restrained. We must pray that the wellbeing of the planet and of the poor will be held as more important than the powerful confronting one another.
It is into this world that the Easter story speaks to us again. For the risen Jesus is still alive. He is still the Lord of all things.
THE ONE WHO SHAKES US
I have only experienced one earthquake in my life. Well I say ‘experienced’ in fact I slept through an earth tremor in Uganda. Rosemary and I were camping with our 4 children in the southern part of the Queen Elizabeth Safari Park, Uganda. Apparently during the night Rosemary and Caroline lay awake in the tent feeling the earth move; whilst I, David, Andrew and Sarah all slept.
What we all know is that earthquakes shake things. They can be devastating; just think of this that have struck Italy over past months. In the Easter story the earthquake rolls the stone away but it is not an earth tremor. Matthew says it is caused by the angel descending from heaven. It is certainly all very dramatic.
But perhaps the real earthquake was happening in the people who experienced it. The soldiers were fearful of what they were experiencing. The women coming to the tomb to complete the anointing of the dead Jesus have their lives shaken. Actually their lives had been shaken over the past three years, or in Mary, Jesus’ mother’s, case thirty three years. For Jesus was always shaking things up. He shook the authorities, and they disliked it so much they plotted to get rid of him. On what we now call Good Friday they thought they had succeeded. Jesus shook the sick whom he healed, and the outcast whom he welcomed in. He shook the women because he treated them as equals in a world where they were not. He shook the life of a child by welcoming him/her into the midst of the disciples. He shook the fishermen by calling them to be fishers of men. He shook everything and turned it upside down.
Jesus, the risen Jesus, shakes up our lives.
Events in life can certainly shake us; bereavement, an unexpected illness, becoming parents, or grandparents, a loss or change of job, moving house, losing a home, meeting someone knew with whom we fall in love, wars and rumours of wars – so many different events can shake and disturb us.
But this is the greatest earthquake in human history for Jesus of Nazareth rises from death, never to die again. The whole way we understand life and death; the way we understand God is absolutely shaken into a whole new order.
Jesus is the one who shakes us up.
THE ONE WHO MEETS US
But the women whose lives have been shaken by the message of the angel and the empty tomb quickly find that the risen Jesus is the one who not only shakes them but meets them.
He is the one who meets us.
He knows that everything that is unfolding before them is disturbing. So his first word to them, after ‘Greetings’, is to reiterate the message of the angel, ‘Do not be afraid’.
All the events that I mentioned, like loss and bereavement, can shake us and lead us to fear. We can fear the future; fear how we can cope in a new situation; fear where we will find the strength. We might look beyond our own lives at the situation around North Korea, or the ongoing questions around Brexit and fear.
If we ask many children and young people what they think about the world and the future many speak of fear; fear of violence, fear of the environment being unable to sustain us, fear of war.
But whatever age we are if we allow our lives to be driven or determined by fear we will miss the whole point of God’s love revealed in Jesus, and supremely at the cross and in the resurrection. The risen Jesus word to us is, ‘Do not be afraid.’
The risen Jesus shows us that love wins. As years later St John would write, ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ Or as St Paul could write, ‘The love of Christ constrains us.’
Whether it be as individuals, as a church, as a community or nation we need to learn to live by love not fear. For this is the way the risen Jesus meets us.
THE ONE WHO GOES AHEAD OF US
Jesus sends the women to tell the men, hiding away, what they have seen and heard. But he also tells them to travel to Galilee where they will meet him; for as the angel says, ‘he is going before you to Galilee.’
Now John tells us that he will meet with them in Jerusalem later that day; but the message here is clear they are to return to Galilee and Jesus goes before them.
The disciples had to learn that the risen Jesus is the one who goes before them. They will travel to where he is already.
In our lives we too have to learn that the risen Lord goes before us. One of the aspects of life that most concerns people is the uncertainty of the future. We allow worries about the future to build fear within us. This can lead us to make mistaken decisions.
There is a growing concern about the cost of care for people in their final years. This can lead to unwise decisions about the use of money and property. Parents worry about their children’s schooling so move house to get into a catchment area for a perceived better education. Parishes and charities hold on to unrealistic reserves rather than use the resources wisely to invest in the present for future growth and development.
Of course wise planning is reasonable enough but too often we allow worry and fear to restrict us in the present. This sometimes demonstrates a lack of conviction that the Lord truly goes before us. We live as if he has to catch us up because he lags behind us. When the reality is that he is always ahead of us and offers to meet us there. If we will trust him.
We can look at the world and worry it is becoming out of control, or that those in control may not act wisely. Jesus reminds us that he goes before us. His resurrection points us to the end of all things being resurrection. The resurrection of the body; the new heaven and new earth. God goes before us and we face the future knowing it is ultimately in his hands.
Easter is a time of celebration. God raised Jesus from the dead thus affirming that at the Cross Jesus really did deal with all our sins and bring about our forgiveness. Here evil is overcome. Here death is defeated and the life of God flows out to all people. The raising of Jesus is God’s guarantee to us of eternal life and being in God’s family for ever.
We are called to live in the light and power of the resurrection whilst we look for its complete and final outworking in the renewal of all things. This message should truly shake us up and change us. It assures us that the risen Jesus meets us, saying ‘Do not be afraid.’ He promises to go before us at all times.
Whatever may disturb and worry us, let us trust the risen Jesus, and like those first witnesses to the resurrection may we go quickly and tell others that Jesus is truly alive.
Pictures from the Dawn Vigil Service