Easter: living into the story

Easter Sunday

April 17 2022

St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Indooroopilly

Fr Richard Browning

Introduction

This is the day. 

This is the day.

This is the day that makes sense of all the others. Easter is the story that makes sense of all our stories.

The women who left the tomb that morning with fear, awe, and trembling, did not have a polished theology or even a complete picture. All they had was what they saw, and they told it. It would take time to form and the eruption they witnessed that first Sunday morning would become what we know as ‘resurrection’. 

As these first women and men undergo resurrection, we find at the heart of it a God who utterly refuses to be God without human beings [1], even when we are ugly, conniving, deceptive, unfaithful, murderous. This story reveals God’s true character:

God will love and keep loving, no matter how ugly human beings prove to be.

Homo-Narrans – the story people

We are a storied people – we are the living characters of what is the story of our days.

But we are more than this. We are a people shaped by and for story.

Each of us are woven into a narrative, 

a pattern from which we are formed, 

through which sense is made 

into which we act and move.

These stories have many threads that commonly relate to family, place, history, religion, faith, nation. These stories are big enough to point us 

towards building and nurturing families;

to work and grind;

to enter the natural world as members of it or rulers over it;

to value some living things and abuse others;

Story has the power to turn one nation against another, bringing invasion and brutality. I do speak of Putin’s Russia. But this also marks Australia’s colonial history.

Story also has the power to turn people towards others, even enemies with kindness and love. The question is not ‘do we or do we not live out of a story?’ The question is what is the story we belong to, are shaped by, and live into?

Story: the Forest Maker

May I offer a story that might dare to explain why you are here this morning.

Once

in a time

There lived a man who planted trees.

Far far away from home, in Africa, 

where desert had swallowed forest 

And pastoralists now farmed sand,

Rin’do planted trees with great devotion. 

He poured out much time and energy and water 

And despite it all, they all died.

Everyone of them.

Rin’do joined the locals who had already sat down in despair.

He sat down on a small fribrous lump topped with green which he picked at while he prayed in desperation.

He dug at the clump and around it and found it belonged to a stump – the original stump. He looked around and then raced around: there were small green clumps in every direction. Then he saw it, hidden but right before him. 

He returned to the first and using a knife he trimmed away the thinner stems and left the tallest and straightest. He did the same with a handful of others. He put a small fence guard around them and returned in a month to find each stem had shot up to knee height, and a month later to his hip.

He smiled and kicked the dirt and yelled at the sky with a loud exclamation ‘you bah yeutie!’ Rin’do was no longer the man who planted trees, he was the forest … shaper!

Rin’do didn’t plant, he trimmed, each time leaving a strong, straight, single stem.

He trained local pastoralists and they copied. And the practice spread.

And the desert was pushed back as the earth 

and the forest beneath the earth did its thing.

Forest after forest reappeared.

And a beautiful thing happened. Water and insects and birds and animals then rain and livelihoods returned.

People remembered to treat the land not as a basket but as a mother. So as the earth and the trees beneath the earth did their thing, the people received forests. As they did they also received their future – and the sounds of harvest festivals was the sound of hope reborn. 

After eighteen years, Rin’do looked at the forests that had swallowed deserts: over a million hectares of them.

Rin’do’s forest making is an Easter story. But I didn’t just make it up. Rin’do is a person, Tony Rinaudo. He is an Australian agronomist. He is the Forest Maker as the movie calls him. You can go to Niger now and see those living faces, the green covered hills and the climate that has changed. It wasn’t a million hectares. It is six million hectares! [2]

I propose this story about forest making may help draw out what we are doing here today:

care deeply about the world;

and be brought to the edge of despair;

recognise the forces that turn our hands against each other, and earth our Mother;

abundant life is present, hidden, waiting, bursting.

Join this life, for life.

The Easter Story

On this day of all days we are drawn by a work that is already done, ‘finished’ as Jesus said on Friday. Sunday’s empty tomb reveals what was wrought in Friday’s crucifixion. And this is the story:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

We are the body of this Christ.

And the wild, untameable, irrepressible, fecund Spirit of Life is with us.

So care about the world.

Be brought to the edge of despair but don’t be overcome.

Recognise our hand in the pattern of destructive forces;

in Christ is resurrection life, present, waiting, bursting.

Join this life for life.

Living into the story [3]

This is the story: Friday marks the death that is the end of all death.

And if this is our story we will hold lightly to material wealth, and invest in relationships and relating. Released from fear we will find ourselves freed to give and receive love.

This is the story: God stands in unmistakeable solidarity with human suffering.

Live into this story and we will be drawn alongside the longings, moans and sufferings of others, bringing our tender compassion.

This is the story: the life of God is light, and this light has shone into the heart of darkness, and no darkness can put it out.

Live into this story and be not afraid, carry this light into any place and with it let your light shine.

This is the story: God hears us. In Jesus we encounter God’s full bodied non-judgmental loving presence: We. Are. Heard. 

Living into this story means that in receipt of God’s loving attention we are sent into company with others to give our own full bodied, non-judgmental loving presence.

This is the story: God risks everything in love. Jesus is not saving us from an angry God, Jesus reveals the eternal nature of God: and it is love.

Living into this story means we are released into the beautiful life of love.

This is the story: God pays the ransom to Satan. There is no debt. Our bondage to death making habits is broken.

Living into this story is to receive forgiveness as a gift and live a life long in gratitude through every living moment. 

This is the story: 

Jesus Christ is the innocent victim, breaks open the mechanism of scapegoating and kills forever the need for sacrifice.

Live into this story and never ever join the mob, or make another anything less than yourself; live into this story and forever break down dividing walls and build tables of welcome.

This is the story:

There is no violence in God and the story of the redemptive power of violence is a lie. 

Live into this story and never, ever consider violence is God’s solution.

This is the story:

Jesus and the cross reveal the eternal moment of forgiveness.

Living into this story calls us into the art and practice of forgiveness. 

This is the story:

God has become truly human, even into death; being truly human is God’s glory.

Living into this story calls us into our bodies, integrated in mind and heart and soul, to live the most authentic, true life that only we can live.

Conclusion

The story of Jesus’ dying and rising invites us to examine the story we live by. Across the last few days, Rev’d Sue’s sermons have articulated for us the dream of God, and in particular, if we are to eat the bread Jesus offers and drink his cup, we will receive God’s dream which, if swallowed, will kill our dreams that kill. The Easter story has made plain God’s dream.

Any story we live by that requires the hurt, rejection, abuse of any other, can and must die.

So come, with loud Alleluias

Christ has died and is risen

We are the body of this Christ, 

and the fecund Spirit of this Life is with us.

Care, deeply.

Despair will be near, but not overwhelming.

Receive the life of Christ and live into our story. 

And in Christ join life for life.

Footnotes

1. This phrase comes from William Willimon’s seven word sermon: “God refuses to be God without us.”

2.  https://www.worldvision.com.au/global-issues/work-we-do/poverty/forest-maker

3.  This portion of the sermon was shared across the two Easter Sunday services. The text of this is drawn from an essay written by Richard Browning on the work of the cross and can be found at: https://www.blog.ascmission.org/2021/05/27/at-one-ment-and-the-cross/

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