A Strange Story : Easter Day Evensong sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral.

West Doors

“What are we to do with this strange story? This strange story that seems to us to come from another world. A world different from our own. This strange story about a child born of a virgin, conceived of God; a child whose birth is heralded by singing angels, shepherds and kings; a child whose birth is foretold centuries before it happens; this child who in his youth teaches his teaches but is always obedient to his mother and father. What are we to do?

What are we to do with tales of water being turned into wine; of people born blind being given their sight again; of the paralysed being animated; of the lame walking; of the sick being healed; of leper’s being made clean by a touch; of the dead being raised to life again? It seems to us from another world. A world very different from our own. What are we to do?

What are we to do with the claims of this child, now a man, that he was there with God in the beginning; that he is God among us, Immanuel; that it is he that placed the stars in the places they occupy; that it is he who decided the numbers of hairs we would have and at which point some of us might lose a few? In a world with pictures of black holes, science and modern medicine, what are we to do?

My suggestion this day is that we follow the evidence. We start by asking why a fire in an old cathedral is a tragedy? If all we see is all there is then why lament the smoke? Perhaps there is more, perhaps that world from which our story comes isn’t that distant after all.

If the story-teller is the same one in the beginning as is at the end, if He is Alpha and Omega then maybe in the corridors of history he might direct Isaiah – a prophet in exile – to speak of the day when the true rules of this universe would be revealed; to ask whether when that day comes, people would understand the gravity of what they witnessed.

If He is who he says he is, maybe he might allow humanity to throw their best at him. Beat him, force him to carry a log up a hill, nail him to that log and mock him as he dies. Maybe he might allow those who think death is the best weapon to bury him in a tomb and sleep soundly in their success: enjoying the grief written on the faces of his friends, soundly in the knowledge that the rules hadn’t changed. Soundly in the knowledge that might was right; you survived if you were fit or lucky enough; the sword would always win and bombs in churches would silence heaven.

Medicine tells us that blood and water from a pierced side only flow from someone who is dead.

History tells us that A Roman guard would never fall asleep on duty because it would cost him his life.

Science tells us that more than one person can hallucinate at the same time. But for two to have the exact same hallucination is extremely rare.

Where does that leave us when it comes to the three women at the tomb; or the 11 or more in a room they had locked from the inside; or the 500 who saw him alive; or the billions who have since encountered him in person by his spirit.

Today we strongly celebrate the reality that the rules did change. The tomb sealed to keep a dead man thrown wide open by a God who for compassion had come to the dust of the earth to make of them his children. The swords placed in soldiers hands to ensure he stayed dead were scattered by the display of what might really looked like. The earth shook. The way was paved for the women, considered the least, to come and find hope instead of continuing grief.

Death has lost its sting, evil its greatest weapon. Humanity has gained victory.

Ye though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. For our shepherd – the good shepherd – has gone before us. Laying a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Giving us shalom, peace with God – the only sure foundation for joy.

Alas its is indeed a strange story, but not from another world. Granted perhaps it is a collision of two worlds, God’s plan for heaven and earth. A plan so that the eternal song of heaven, the song of the saints persecuted to death is “Sanctus! holy! Holy! Holy!”. For they see the tapestry completed. And the song of the church on earth, “Allelujah, Our Saviour is risen!”; of victory over death is sung with a hope unquenched and a joy everlasting.

Perhaps as we depart this day. Let us in the power of the death conquering spirit, confident in this strange but true story, participate in this seditious and rebellious song of a church united in heaven and militant here on earth.

Sanctus! Sanctus! Allelujah! Allelujah

May God bless his word to us today.”

Psalm 137

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever”

George Orwell

Life can seem unfair. Things can look bad.

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept 
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

 

When the Psalmist writes, Israel is in captivity. The Babylonians have come in and taken them into slavery. This was a situation they knew they would only find themselves in if they were collectively disobedient. Being right with God equaled being In Israel and worshipping in Jerusalem. Being rejected by God equaled captivity.

To be a Jew then meant to be set aside for God. To be chosen away from the rest of the world, to be God’s special people. To be rejected by God meant loosing identity, it meant loosing their sense of significance; and loosing their land. And to make matters worse, the Babylonians mocked them and asked them to sing songs about God.

As Christians – God’s chosen people – living in today’s world, the boot on the human face, it is hard to feel constantly connected to God, Let alone praise him. The sense of God’s absence, or what we perceive to be his passiveness is magnified. With all the power at his disposal, why is it that people die of hunger, children get abandoned, siblings become strangers, and divorces happen. Fathers reject sons, loved ones pass away, heartbreak and loneliness are commonplace even within the church. Meanwhile thieves get away, embezzlers get rich, and power stays with the corrupt. And at times corrupts the true.

 4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

Well first thing is to follow the psalmist and remember Jerusalem.

“They defeated the evil one by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”

Revelations 12:11

Last time I focused on the ‘word of their testimony’ part of this verse as an urge to us for honesty with each other, sharing the moments of God’s blessing and intervention in our lives. This time I focus primarily on the ‘blood of the lamb’ part of this verse. The first thing this speaks to me about is that God didn’t let the evil one prevail. Even from genesis where sin has caused mans separation from Eden (the place of unity with God), within the curses of separation is a promise. Of one whose heel will stamp on the head of the serpent.

The problem of the world is the human beings within it. Adam and eve with the freedom that God out of his love gave them, for pride and selfishness turned away from him. What we see and experience are the accumulated effects of this same pride and selfishness over the span of man’s reign.

The solution to the world comes from the God who made it and them. This is the Good news, that God has not left the world – and us – in the state that we are in. That there will be an End, which will in fact be a beginning for perpetual joy and fellowship, and deep intimacy with Father. In fact with Christ, this end has begun.

 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only begotten son, that whoever believed in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

   may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

Remember that God has a plan. And that there will be an end to injustice – the boot kicking the face will be stopped. There will be an end to pain, to sorrow, to rejection, to insecurity, to sickness and to loneliness. There will be a beginning to life, to joy, to peace, to reconciliation, and to freedom.

The Psalmist says.

“happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.”

But does this mean we can’t complain about how things currently are? At times I’ve found, that being a Christian magnifies the sorrow of the situation. Knowing how good things were or could be, or will be (in our case) makes how things are sometimes more painful. For instance: I pray for the health of my non-Christian friends because the thought of them dying without ever knowing the love of God through Jesus is difficult to deal with. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to actually loose a loved one before they knew God. Or even just loose a loved one. I haven’t spoken to my father in months. Knowing God and his love for me, amplifies the desire to be loved by my father and increases my pain at his silence. These things make some of my conversations with God extremely difficult.

I remember the first time I spoke to one of my friends (he was not a Christian then) about God, he swore at God. Life had been so hard on him that the thought of God loving him didn’t make sense. And a God who seemed to stand by while everything bad took place in his life wasn’t worthy of praise but on the contrary – to my friend – should be cursed. I stepped back because I thought lightning would strike him and was a little shocked when it didn’t. What actually happened was a slow resilient hug from heaven. He was a Christian in the space of months and still is today.

9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

This is the anguish of a true complaint. The sorrow of the situation expressed. We all want some sort of retribution and the psalmist is merely asking for what was done to Jewish children to be done to their captors. The law of an Eye for an Eye. The problem with this law is that if we call for it then we have to live by it. And by the same law that the psalmist condemns he is condemned: the Israelites wouldn’t be in captivity if they hadn’t disobeyed God and the wages of sin – disobeying God – as we all know is death. So having been forgiven, or even praying for forgiveness, we are left to wrestle with forgiving others. Turning the other cheek is difficult.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t complain. Knowing the end, knowing Jesus should usher us into freedom not into bondage. Paul says “there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love” and that God’s “grace is sufficient for us”. This means that we can come boldly before God with our deepest pains’ deepest anguish and darkest laments knowing that the father – thanks to Jesus – understands. And we know this because on the cross, in the darkness, in the loneliness  where he who was perpetually in a relationship was separated from his family and himself, and was being mocked by us; the people he was suffering to save. Jesus, feeling abandoned by his father, complained.

“Elohi, Elohi, Lamma Sabbach thani”

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me”

Jesus more than us, understood God’s plan for humanity. He even knew the glory that he would receive after he resurrected. That didn’t stop him crying out to his father. And when he died, the curtain that meant Jerusalem was the only place where we could find God was split in two. We were given the right by his blood to come before God as sons and not criminals.

So… take a moment.

Be Still and Know!

….

Feel Free to in comment or query.