Easter Vigil - What is your story of resurrection?

A sermon preached at the First Eucharist of Easter by Martin Carr in St George's

What is your story of resurrection? Back in 2003 I was depressed. Nothing seemed to be going right in my work or relationships, and every day was a struggle to keep going. From that bleak place of suffering, I cried out to God. And then I did something which changed my life completely, though perhaps I didn’t know it at the time. I bought a pair of running shoes. A friend took me on a run in Richmond Park. It was hard work, as I hadn’t run since I was at school. I signed up for the Great South Run, knowing that a clear goal would help me keep going. The big day came; I got on the train from Waterloo, surrounded by others making their way to the run. I chatted with a woman who told me that she too had started running during a difficult time in her life. And that day I came home with my first medal around my neck. Despite everything, I had achieved my goal and proved myself. It was a good feeling. As many of you already know, last week I completed my eighth London Marathon. God has achieved something amazing in me. From a place of darkness and death, life started afresh.

What is your story of resurrection? Each of us has a story to tell, perhaps many stories, of how God has brought new life out of the bleakest of circumstances – the story of overcoming an illness, of restoring a broken relationship, of passing an exam, of succeeding when others thought we would fail. The truth of the resurrection rests not so much on whether we can verify the historical truth of the empty tomb, rather on the reality of new life experienced time and time again by men and women of faith through the ages. Sometimes that new life is dramatic and can affect whole nations – look at how the United States was brought to new life by the ministry of Martin Luther King, or South Africa through that of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. But at other times new life can be far less dramatic but is no less important for that: a word of encouragement that enables a friend to get through a tough time, a gift to a charity that enables it to continue its good work, time spent volunteering to give dignity back to those most neglected by society. In my short time working in Holland Park I have heard many such stories, of how Christians here are transforming the lives of individuals and communities through the new life God is making possible through them.

In his important book of the mid twentieth century, Christus Victor, the Swedish theologian Gustav Aulen draws our attention to a neglected yet primitive interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus – the theme of victory. In the great hymn which we heard sung so beautifully at the beginning of our service, the Exsultet, we hear of the conquest of sin and death by Christ – darkness vanishes forever as new light dawns. In our vigil readings order triumphs over chaos in creation, and Israel is victorious over the Egyptians at the Red Sea. An earthquake in Matthew’s gospel heralds the victory of the risen Christ as an angel announces the resurrection to the two Marys – ‘Do not be afraid: I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples.’ The women are not only told of Christ’s victory, they are empowered to move beyond fear and become the first witnesses to the resurrection. Their lives have been changed forever.

What is your story of resurrection? What tale of victory over death or adversity can you tell? In John’s gospel Jesus assures his followers that he has come to bring life in its fullness. The great second century father St Irenaeus wrote, ‘The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.’ This is the work of resurrection. If Jesus had remained dead, he would just be one more man killed in tragic circumstances. But today we witness that Jesus lives, and that his life empowers us to live lives of truth, beauty and compassion. Through us, just as through the first disciples, God is bringing new life, new hope, into a world in which we are already assured that sin and death will not have the last word.

This evening is not a time for long sermons, so I shall end with a challenge. Can we, as individuals and as a Church, be more courageous in celebrating the new life of Easter? The resurrection of Jesus is the best news of all, but will it be in the newspapers tomorrow, and will you be talking about it over coffee with your friends? As Christians we need to offer life in its fullness to those around us, through lives of confident and compassionate love. The resurrection is not a special gift we should keep for ourselves, it is God’s gift to the entire world. ‘Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples.’ The message of the angel to the women is God’s message to us too – go and tell the world the good news, Jesus Christ is risen. Alleluia!
Holland Park Benefice