The meaning is in the living

Easter Day Sermon

9:30am Eucharist

                              ©Suzanne Grimmett

There was a famously talented and innovative ballet dancer who, when asked to explain what her dance meant, answered simply, “If I could have said it, I wouldn’t have had to dance it.”

How do we convey a story as big as the one we are celebrating today?

Well maybe it would need something as big as forty days of preparation, reading, writing, fasting, prayer, music, and the symbols of water, earth and fire creating rites of release and new beginnings. We do, after all, have a long tradition to draw on!

Many people not well acquainted with the church would be surprised to hear our journey through Lent to the cross and the empty tomb described in those terms. Unfortunately, the public impression of Christianity is quite frequently of people who subscribe via groupthink to a whole lot of doctrines and feel compelled through their own fears to believe in impossible things. When such is the impression at large, it is not surprising that there are many voices forecasting the death of the church. What is somewhat surprising is that so many of us Christians whose central story is found in resurrection, should be so troubled by the same anxieties.

A refreshment of vision, a renewal of Spirit and a rebirth of the Church are always needed, and something that has happened at various times in particular ways through our history. In each epoch of history, those who follow the way of Jesus have been telling this story of the first Easter Day. We recount how the women ran with fear and joy to share the good news with Jesus’s friends, only to be found and greeted by the resurrected Christ. We tell of how this beginning grew from a small group of Jewish believers to a Church that spread across the globe; an infectious movement that drew together people from every nation and class, ethnicity and gender to become one family, one people, one beloved community. We will continue to proclaim the victory of life over death throughout Eastertide in the weeks to come, culminating in the great Feast of Pentecost where we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit on the diverse people of God.

This story of death, resurrection and the shared life in the Spirit continues to be told, but more than that, it continues to be lived in different contexts and peoples in time and place. I am reminded of the prophet and martyr, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who said in the face of death threats from the military forces who eventually murdered him, “If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.” John Philip Newell reflects on the way resurrection is our lived reality saying, “Nothing can prevent the personal beauty and particular passions that are deep within those whom we have loved, as well as deep within each one of us, from rising again in new form in the unfolding story of the universe. Nothing.”[1]

But while resurrection is a lived truth as well as a future hope, our telling of the story has faltered as we have moved from modernity to post-modernity.  What we have now is generally known (rather unimaginatively) as post-postmodernism or more recently, metamodernism, referring to the digitized, postindustrial, global age. Modernity had given the West, in particular, a burgeoning confidence in the idea of progress and self-betterment; if you work hard and contribute to society, all would be well. It also brought with it certain assurances about the way things are and the way they would always be, forming a metanarrative based on the idea of objective truths. The Christian narrative and story of the Church found itself conveniently subsumed into this way of seeing and reasoning.

The disruption of postmodernism came from scepticism of grand narratives and suspicion of reason. The over confidence of those who sought to claim objective truth has been unsettled by postmodern suspicion of all absolutes.  In a world that is constantly creating its own new reality, whether real or artificial, and focused on the forging of individual identities, it is hardly surprising that a Christianity enmeshed in a modernist metanarrative of objective certitudes, fixed social norms and guaranteed progress would be seen as irrelevant by many.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that the resurrection of Christ is a not a past story to be remembered but a present reality to be lived. To live as resurrection people is to hear the pain behind the suspicion of worldviews that have supported inequitable systems or a loss of capacity to access basic needs. To be aware, for example, of the rising cost of living and the present struggle for many to access even basic housing reveals why metanarratives about progress and self-advancement are being so soundly rejected. Suspicion can be healthy when it leads to unmasking abuse or exposing social structures which are inequitable and unfair. However, it can be a fine line between wise suspicion and debilitating cynicism or toxic nihilism. Wariness of ideologies and tribal beliefs has been a necessary social corrective, but hyper-individualism has robbed us of one another.  The catch cry of metamodernism- “You be you!” – has at its heart a generous spirit which seeks to allow the other the freedom and space to be themselves. The problem though, is that billions of yous being yous can lead to a lonely and disconnected universe.

When there are a dizzying array of options and self and society are radically deconstructed, what even matters anymore? On Easter Sunday morning, Christians everywhere proclaim the answer, and it has been the answer that has always been proclaimed through every age. The answer is found not in objective truths, nor in ideological worldviews and not even in becoming the most ideally self-aware and enlightened individual. The truth of Easter morning is that self-giving love is a power that is eternally creative and healing. The self that gives itself away in love for others is the self that finds life and freedom in relationship and shared responsibility. Easter morning proclaims that we are not solitary individuals caught in an accidental coincidence of life, but known, beloved and called to share with the crucified and risen one in the work of recreating the world.

How do we tell the story of resurrection today? Certainly we gather, we pray, we make music, observe rites and break bread together. But more than that, where there is cynicism and loneliness, the people of God live a witness of life together. We are known, and the hope of Christ is made known, by the way we love one another.

What does resurrection mean? Like the dancer whose meaning was made clear in the dancing, so too it is with the meaning of this wondrous mystery of Easter Day. The meaning is in the living. As we commit to one another in the beloved community, forgiving one another, embracing difference and sharing our lives together, the beauty and meaning of the presence of the resurrected Jesus is revealed. Through the healing power of self-giving love we can break down the walls that divide us, find ourselves seated at a bigger table, and live into the eternal story as resurrection people.

Let us commit ourselves again to one another and to the joyful work of Easter. +Amen

[1] John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, Skylight Paths Publishing, 2015, p 102