- Christ Church - https://christchurchwindsor.ca -

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter, 10:30am Morning Prayer

“Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

It is, we might say, the promise of the Resurrection. But it is not just  ‘pie in the sky by and by’; it speaks to a profound Christian reality here and now. We “mourn and rejoice at once and at the same time in this world,” T.S Eliot suggests in his play Murder in the Cathedral. It is the very nature of the life of the Church; the life of prayer and praise is about our communion with God. And yet, we are allowed to look beyond mourning, beyond sorrow and lament to joy and delight as being the true hope and reality of our humanity. Only so can we both mourn and rejoice at one and the same time.

We live, the French Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf argues in a “disordered world.” In one way, that is not new. It belongs to the human condition, to what is the reality of the Fall. But how to live in a disordered world is the far more interesting question. I want to suggest that the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection speaks directly to the situation and reality of our living in a disordered world.

What do we mean by the disordered world? We can no longer deceive ourselves about being “assured of certain certainties” (T.S. Eliot, Preludes IV), it seems to me. We live in the ruins of a revolution. We live, certainly, in the failure and collapse of certain assumptions about material prosperity and about scientific progress. We are beset by the prophets of apocalyptic doom and, no, they are not religious fanatics so much as doomsday environmentalists. And yet, even that is being challenged. In short, without giving a full blown chronicle of the contradictions, confusions and complexities of our contemporary world, disordered seems to fit the bill rather nicely and to capture our present sense of uncertainty and unease.

How to deal with it? I think this is where an openness to what we have forgotten and dismissed and even denied is required. What is it? Simply what we are being given to see in these remarkable lessons which belong to the season of Easter. They offer nothing less than a new and radical way of looking at our humanity. The doctrine of the Resurrection, I wish to argue, speaks wonderfully and profoundly to the disorders of our world and day.

My text is taken from the Eucharistic Gospel read today. It is the first of a series of Gospel readings for the next three Sundays that are taken from what is sometimes called the farewell discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel. Profoundly theological, they emphasise the importance and the centrality of John’s Gospel for our understanding of the most significant Christian doctrines; in this case, the doctrine of the Resurrection and its completion in the Ascension of Christ. What does John teach us? Well, this morning it is about the resurrection as accomplishing a radical transformation of our humanity. “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy” even though “a little while and ye shall not see me; and again a little while and ye shall see me;” remarks that perplex and bewilder and yet are explained in the mystery of revelation that lies at the heart of human redemption. It is “because I go to the Father.” Jesus is teaching us about the fundamental reality of the life of God, the self-giving nature of the divine life made visible in his sacrifice on the Cross which opens us out to the inner life of God himself. It belongs to the strong Christian message captured in last week’s image of Christ the Good Shepherd: the message that God alone can make something good out of human evil, and that the power of the good always outweighs the power of evil which remains always perversely derivative and destructive. Evil has no power, no truth in itself. It remains entirely dependent upon what already is and which is said, and this can only be said philosophically and theologically, to be good, indeed, very good (Genesis 1.4,12,18,21,25, and 31). The Resurrection is about the redemption of our humanity and of creation itself from the folly of the Fall, our disorder.

It is precisely this insight that helps us to understand our second lesson [1] from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, a passage familiar at one time from the Burial Office in the Prayer Book. It is a passage which explains the application of Christ’s resurrection to us and to the hope of the resurrection. It is about the mystery of God into which mystery are gathered up all of the mysteries of sin and evil, of death and sorrow, of suffering and loss, and the mystery of creation itself. In a way, the doctrine of the Resurrection, as Paul indicates, is the fullest possible witness to the spiritual nature of all reality to which the physical and the material belong. It recalls us to the greater dignity and purpose of our humanity. Somehow we live for God whose power and truth and mercy are greater than the follies of our sinful lives.

And, of course, that aspect is explored in the first lesson [2] from Exodus. It reveals graphically and convincingly something of the nature of sin and evil. It is altogether derivative; a parody of the good. Such is all and every form of idolatry. For Jews and Christians and Muslims, idolatry is a fundamental sin. It means nothing less than the substitution of the things of this world and of things made by human hands for God. We turn away from God and we turn towards the things of the world and to the works of our hands instead. The story is beautifully told. The gold that was given to the Hebrews by the Egyptians on the terrible night of the Passover – literally take this and go, as it were – is melted down to shape a golden calf. As if what delivered the Hebrews was not the mighty hand of God but mere oxen pulling carts! There are a host of ways of explaining this. The oxen are, of course, the proximate cause but that is almost completely meaningless with respect to the real cause and one which is not so remote but quite direct. God is the author of the Passover. God is the liberator of the Hebrews. They had only to be faithful. And so do we.

The reality is that we fail to be faithful. As soon as Moses is gone, we turn to our old and familiar ways, to the idolatries of our hearts. God in his majesty and truth is forgotten, the Ten Commandments are dismissed as nothing. But the truth is that we are nothing. We make a lie. A lie has no power apart from the truth; evil no power apart from the good.

In a way this story serves as eloquent commentary on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It illustrates so powerfully the ways of death which are our choosing and which stand in such stark contrast to the mystery of redemption shown to us in Christ, the mystery which redeems the material and gathers it into the perfecting love of God. “Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”

We may not find answers exactly but at the very least I pray that we will find a way of thinking about the questions of good and evil that are so manifestly before us in our disordered world whether it is the sad story of Rehtaeh Parsons or the mad carnage of the Boston Marathon bombings. Jesus speaks directly to the human reality of sin and sorrow, of grief and loss, and, more profoundly, of evil and destruction. All of it – and this is the radical message of Easter – has been borne already in the Crucifixion of Christ. All of it – and this is the radical message of Easter – has been overcome in the Resurrection of Christ. We have only to live it which means to let Christ’s life and love triumph in us over and against the terror of our fears and desires for revenge. The radical teaching of the Gospel is that we have a way to face the harshest and the hardest things; sorrow and joy are intermingled and mixed in this vale of tears, but joy will triumph over sorrow and good over evil, always. If we forget or deny this then we are most to be pitied.

“Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

Fr. David Curry
Easter III, 2013
10:30am MP