Messages of Hope

Easter Sunday

Published / posted by Sandy

Spirit, lead us, light up the truth in these stories of faith we retell.
Spirit, lead us, as we become the next chapter ourselves.
(words: Paul Somerville)

The late Marcus Borg describes Easter as a sacred time during which its primordial and primal narrative is remembered and ultimately celebrated.

It is a narrative that feels at once familiar and strange to modern ears – God taking on flesh, dying on a cross, and then, astonishingly, resurrected. Simon Smart, director of the Centre for Public Christianity, says: Believers understand this as an event of cosmic significance – the core event of human history when God enters the human struggle and overcomes death. It is about divine action that opens up the possibility of redemption and the restoration of broken things; the triumph of good over evil; of a future beyond the grave that also imbues the present with grace and meaning.

Journalist and author Peter Hitchens, once an atheist and now a committed Christian, appeared on the ABC’s Q&A a few years ago at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. He said of the Easter story: “The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that that Jesus Christ is the son of God and rose from the dead … that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.” Asked to elaborate by host Tony Jones, Hitchens continued, “[It’s dangerous] because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and therefore we all have the duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope.”

Easter week tells the account of  Jesus’ death and risen life. And his followers somehow continued to feel his presence in their midst. Jesus’ story would not have been told and re-told if his earliest followers had not had some sense that his death would not mark the end of their movement. They recognized the risen life of Christ, and that the vision survived the visionary.

The characters we met in today’s reading – Peter and Mary – would not have expected to become a chapter in the ongoing narrative of those who followed Jesus. By the time John’s gospel was actually written down they would have died. And yet their stories were told and re-told by the early followers of Jesus’ Way, so that they had become embedded in the narrative of Jesus Christ. There are also many unlikely characters who take up their place in this narrative. And of course, many whose lives have since become the next chapters in the ongoing narrative of faith – our spiritual ancestors, our spiritual forebears, our contemporaries. John Wesley, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero, Pope Francis. But many closer to home – Rev Thomas Quinton Stow, who left the green fields of England bound for Australia as a clerical missionary in the earliest day of colonial settlement in South Australia, and in whose memory the church in which we gather today was first built. And many others in our current context who are already part of the draft of the next chapter in the making.

Mark’s account of the empty tomb ends abruptly. The women are bewildered, and frightened. And the text says they tell no-one what they have seen. And then the story ends. But what will become of the women’s story? Clearly, they do tell others. They become the next chapter in the narrative. And so the story goes on and their story told, and re-told.

We tell their story – and their stories nurture our faith.

And our stories? In what ways might our stories become the next chapter – for a new generation, for contemporaries, for family and friends. You see, here’s the thing. We are not ultimately consumers of Good News, or interpreters or mouthpieces of the opinions of others. Or mere recipients and consumers of God’s grace and love. It makes not a jot of difference whether you find this witness I give today emotionally or intellectually satisfying as an interested observer. Because we are not bystanders, nor are we offering descriptors of faith like we might describe water – because we are swimming in it. We are immersed in faith that requires more from us than being by-standers and observers. We need to ‘take the plunge’. And then find ways to describe our experiences as we encounter God. who we name in many ways – Mystery, Presence; and the risen life of Jesus, and the weaving of God’s Holy Spirit? In what ways will our lives and actions then reflect these encounters with the divine? In what ways will our experiences contribute to the next chapter of faith?

Hebrews 11 has a long list of stories, of exemplary biblical heroes, and then concludes with this: ‘that their faith and our faith comes together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours’ (The Message).

‘Their lives of faith not complete apart from ours’. This is quite extraordinary. Our lives connected with our spiritual forebears, to make one completed whole.

So, what will be the form and shape and content of our chapter, your chapter?

Our story of faith will take into account the changing circumstances and challenges in our global village. How do we live our story with integrity in a religiously pluralistic context? A world of violence and tragedy? How do we live out our faith in a world where violence and threats erupt at a rally about the very identity of who we are as Australians together. On Saturday, a group calling themselves ‘Reclaim Australia’ (not sure if they’ve informed Aboriginal people that they are reclaiming Australia!) staged rallies around Australia that claimed to be about religious extremism, but were really anti-Islam. A young Muslim woman Manal Yuonus handed out flowers as a counter-protest, and she was joined by many others including Meredith from our community. Meredith, you are helping us all write the next chapter of faith, by your faithful actions of solidarity and compassion.

manal yuonus
Manal Yuonus

Canadian theologian Douglas Hall suggests that for the last 16 centuries, Christians have seen themselves to be the sole bearers of truth, the natural rulers over people, and the sole upholders of the good life. We now know that we share this planet with other faith communities who also believe with intensity and who have cultural values and styles of living with their own integrity and beauty.

What is our story that we tell among many stories of faith? How will our faith story be shaped into a new chapter? Our story is not a repeat of another’s experience, like cookie cutters or clones, but will be responsive to the immediate context in which we find ourselves in our local and global village. Indeed, I can see the way Pilgrim Church is writing a new chapter in the story, in the way it engages with the community and contemporary issues.

The memory of Jesus lived with his followers, and was written and gathered into what we know as the New Testament, the Christian Scriptures. But resurrection is not something that happened years ago in a Judean garden, resurrection is action taken now. Christ is risen when those who follow his example refuse to surrender to violence, Christ is risen when the suffering feel the divine presence with them, Christ is risen when we hold fast to our own humanity and the humanity of others in the face of the violence that denies human blessedness. The resurrection does not erase suffering: it teaches us to live in a world torn by injustice. It gives us hope that God is present in the ugliest violence of human life, and that God engages human history to create meaning on the other side of tragedy and injustice.

So let us embrace the stories of faith we have received and retell. Let us embrace the presence of the divine in our lives. And may our lives be part of framing the next chapter. Please join with me in the following words that have framed our service:

Spirit, lead us, light up the truth in these stories of faith we retell.
Spirit, lead us, as we become the next chapter ourselves.