Sermon preached at Mattins on Easter Day (21 April 2019) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

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12:30pm Eucharist
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5:00pm Evening Prayer
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Sermon preached at Mattins on Easter Day (21 April 2019) by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean

On Easter Day, the Dean reflects on the damage or destruction of churches in recent weeks and that they, like us, might rise again, 'as witnesses to the enduring power of the love of God in Jesus to bring resurrection and hope out of the power of death and destruction'.

​​​Six days ago, millions of people saw the ancient cathedral church of Notre Dame de Paris burning after it caught fire during building works. People wept, sang, prayed in Paris; those of us watching from afar prayed and grieved with them. The French President spoke of rebuilding this wonderful Gothic church, which holds so much of France’s history and imagination; and much money has already been pledged for its restoration.

Just over a month ago, a new church, St George’s Beira, was destroyed by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, which is linked with the Diocese of London. Nobody in this country noticed. Over 90% of buildings in Beira were damaged or destroyed, and millions in the region are homeless and at risk of disease. The loss and suffering are immense. 

And on this Easter day over 200 people have been killed by bombs at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka; as before, many Christians in Egypt and Pakistan and Iraq and Nigeria and the United States and around the world have died at worship in their church buildings, as members of other faiths have been killed because of the hatred of others.

Church buildings like Notre Dame de Paris and St George’s Beira and the churches of Sri Lanka express the hopes and longings of their people, and they stand for something much greater than themselves. They were built, not for history, but for people at worship, built out of a vision of our humanity renewed, our world reimagined into the image of God seen in Jesus Christ. In Paris and Beira, churches have been badly damaged; in Sri Lanka damage has yet to be assessed, and we pray for all those caught up in this latest round of violence. 

Easter Day comes each year to remind us that we live in-between suffering and hope, sorrow and joy. We see it in our two bible readings this morning.
When Ezekiel wrote his prophecy, the temple in Jerusalem had been defiled and torn down by invaders, and the Jewish people were in exile. All was in ruins. 

But Ezekiel reimagines a renewed Holy Land, focused on a new Temple from which God's life flows into the most desolate places. There will be trees in the dry desert, and fish in the Dead Sea, says Ezekiel. And this will happen because God will be at the heart of it: the Temple will be renewed, and through it God’s presence will fill the land.

Jesus picks up the theme of the Temple in our second reading. 

His radical challenge to the way worship was done in the Jerusalem Temple was a call for social as well as spiritual renewal. 

When challenged, Jesus radically redefines what the Temple is. 'What sign justifies this?' ask the authorities; and Jesus replies with the sign that the Temple will be destroyed and built again in three days – which, following the resurrection which we celebrate today, his disciples understood to mean the Temple of his own body.

Jesus says that the source of human holiness and hope will not be God's presence in Ezekiel’s new Temple, but God's presence in Jesus himself. The renewed vision for our future is found, not in the grandeur of a building, but in the wonder of a resurrected Jesus Christ.

Here is the amazing power of God's love: the hopelessness of a cruel and unjust death is turned on its head by the resurrection of Jesus, the cosmic event in which the love of God proves itself greater than the sorrows and evils of humanity...

Last July, a man called Jonathan Aitken was ordained a deacon in this cathedral at the age of 75. His life has been eventful: a journalist, a controversial politician, who resigned from government office in 1995 after being accused of unethical behaviour, who ended up bankrupt and going to prison for perjury. In the collapse of his apparently successful life, he was drawn to Christian faith, and has become involved in work to help those in jail. His ordination here was to enable him to minister to others in prison, to share with them the love and hope which he has found in Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Aitken built a way of life which he thought would bring achievement and security and honour, and had to endure the loss of it all. 

And we do the same: we build a life full of hope and good intentions, and then, in our weakness or our wilfulness, we damage what we love, or lose what we hope for.

All of us in our own way build temples, our emblems of achievement and security. What’s the temple you’re building?... maybe it’s your relationships, your career, money, family, home – the things we invest in, our temples which sometime will burn down or have the floods sweep them away, and which time will crumble to dust. 

Many people think that if we’re good, God will keep us from harm, and nothing will go wrong. But the story of Jesus Christ tells us that God keeps us safe, not from harm but through harm: that our hope and security come, not from the temples we build, not from our own goodness or cleverness, but by putting our trust in our Saviour Jesus Christ. 

It’s not temples that take us through sorrow and death into new life, but Jesus himself, with us holding his hand as he leads us through death and resurrection, where he has gone before. 

The good news of Easter is that God through Jesus Christ is in the resurrection business; that the damage and destruction that we do, or that happens to us and others, isn’t beyond renewal or hope. 

We can’t change what’s happened in the past: but God’s love can transform the power of the past, so that instead of our sins and sorrows holding us captive, we can begin to live in hope renewed and find a new future.

Jonathan Aitken was disgraced and ruined, and that doesn’t change; but he has been changed by finding new life in Christ, and going out to share hope with others whose lives have fallen apart. It’s never too late to be renewed.

So may Notre Dame de Paris and St George’s Beira and other churches damaged or destroyed by disaster or malice, rise again: not for their own sake, but as witnesses to the enduring power of the love of God in Jesus to bring resurrection and hope out of the power of death and destruction.

And may we too rise again, as we turn to Christ, and put our trust in him, put our life and death into his hands, as he leads us through the gate of death to a joyful resurrection.