Sermon preached at Evensong on Easter Day (1 April 2018) by Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

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Sermon preached at Evensong on Easter Day (1 April 2018) by Revd Helen O'Sullivan, Chaplain

The Chaplain reflects on the desolation of Holy Saturday in contrast to the celebration of Easter Sunday, and that Christ has walked the same path as us, wherever we are in our lives. 

Are you one of those people who, like me, has emerged punch drunk from a back-to-back binge on a TV drama, having taken advantage of the relatively recent innovation of the box set on iPlayer or Netflix? 

Well, many of us will know that feeling today - having just emerged from the religious equivalent of it, overdosing on church through our Holy Week and Easter services. 

This time last week we had a kind of series preview, a synopsis of what was to come with the celebration of Palm Sunday, when we heard the Passion read in dramatic form; from Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, via the Last Supper, to the trial, crucifixion and death of Christ; a drama which would then unfold in individual episodes, day by day, each complete with its own cliff-hanger. 

We gathered, as it were, on Thursday evening in the upper room and imagined struggling to make sense of Jesus’ predictions of betrayal, denial, torture and death. 

Exhausted from the thrilling high of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with their crowds hailing their Messiah, and the intense emotional and intimate gathering for the Passover, we cannot help but doze off in the garden of Gethsemane whilst our best and truest friend struggles with the dawning realisation of the imminent danger that he is in; and then we experience the horror of betrayal and powerlessness, with Judas’ kiss and Jesus’ arrest.

Next we find Jesus deserted by his friends and surrounded by dangerous enemies, and at the centre of a struggle for power in which he is an unwelcome agitator. An easy target, as he offers no defence and has no one to defend him, he is condemned and put to death on the cross. 

Derided now by the crowds, deserted by most of his friends with his mother and the beloved disciple watching helpless as he dies.

But the desolation of the cross is nothing in comparison to the utter despair of Holy Saturday. Jesus’ death has a terrible majesty but the emptiness that Saturday brings once Jesus is laid in the tomb, is the hard and painful reality of bereavement that many of us will know only too well. 

There is no going back to how things were, our loved one is gone, lost to us, and we are alone. And yet…and yet, the dawn of a new day brings the most incomprehensible news, ‘I have seen the Lord’. Mary’s astonishing claim is still ringing in our ears together with the glory of the Easter Alleluias…Well that was the final episode of series two. 

If you missed series one you can catch up with that through a rediscovery of the stories of Creation and the temptation of Adam and Eve, of Noah and the flood, the account of the Moses bringing the people out of Egypt across the Red Sea, the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones. Stories we returned to in the desolation of Holy Saturday to give us hope to cling to in the darkness.

And series three….well that’s the story that will unfold over the coming weeks, as the risen Christ appears to the disciples. 

In the hours after they receive the news of the resurrection whilst they are still in hiding, on the road to Emmaus, at Bethany, on the shore of the sea of Tiberius when he shares breakfast with them and asks Peter to declare his love for him not once, not twice but three times to undo the damage of his earlier denial, and on the mountain in Galilee when Jesus commissions his disciples to share the good news and the hope they have in Christ - just as Bishop Pete here yesterday commissioned new disciples at their Confirmation to share the Gospel and the hope and inspiration they have found in Christ. And the story continues wherever we see the Spirit of God bringing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control into play in ways that breathe new life into the lifeless.

The journey that we have made as a church worldwide over the course of this last week has taken us through the whole range of human experience: joy and excitement, confusion and doubt, fear and pain, loss and helplessness, wonder and incredulity. I wonder which bit of the journey, which episode of series two, felt most familiar to you.

Perhaps it’s my age, perhaps it’s my job, I’m not sure why, but I find myself more and more familiar and at home with the loss and the desolation of Holy Saturday. 

There was a time when I was in my twenties when I really didn’t get Holy Saturday at all. It just made me restless because I guess I still believed that with enough effort and planning things always turn out the way you expect them to. I was young enough, and lucky enough, to have avoided the harsher realities of human experience when our lives are turned upside down in a minute and we find ourselves having to face, and struggling to come to terms with, life as it is rather than how we imagined it would be.

But as I have got older, Holy Saturday has become more familiar, it is, after all, the place that many if not most of us spend much of our lives. 

Perhaps you recall your first Holy Saturday experience, the loss of love, of a job, our health, the breakdown of a marriage, the death of a loved one - whatever it was that first disturbed what we believed to be our world. For some people, perhaps millions who struggle with poverty, neglect, ill health, conflict, they may never have had anything to lose, and hopelessness of Holy Saturday is the place they are born into.

Now let’s remember where we are. Before my colleagues start to wonder if I am ever going to mention the Resurrection! It is Easter Day after all. Yes Christ is risen, this I believe with my whole heart and yet, the world, our lives, are still troubled, far from perfect, and it’s often and most annoyingly just when we think we see light at the end of the tunnel… that the wheels come off again. 

And it is in that place of desolation, that the risen Christ greets us as he greeted Mary and speaks our name. Recognising us for who we are and what we are, and breathing into us his life giving Spirit to revive us. 

To revive us, and to enable us, through faith in his love, to carry that love with us, within us, into another Holy Saturday, hallowed by the outpouring of his life for us and yet still to come to perfection at the end of time.

Easter Day changes nothing in that we still live with the world as it is rather than as we would want it to be, and it changes everything as God’s love for us has been poured into creation, was manifest if the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and is present in the power of the Spirit. 

This new version of reality viewed through the lens of Easter, allows us to discover surprising signs of life and of the potential for life in its fullness. 

Real stories rarely end ‘and they lived happily ever after’. The risen Christ bears his wounds, as we do our own battle scars. You may find yourself this Easter reeling from a betrayal or disappointment, you may be stuck at the foot of the cross, or you may be searching for answers at an empty tomb, or you may have been met unexpectedly along the journey by the risen Christ. 

Wherever you find yourself this Easter may you know that Christ himself has walked that same path before you, and that in the Spirit God is with you now and will be with you every step of the way to continue to bring life from death.