Eucharist Sermon - 4 April 2021 12pm

Easter Day
Acts 10:34–43, John 20:1–18
The Venerable Jonathan Chaffey, The Archdeacon of Oxford

To preach on the Resurrection of Jesus is a daunting challenge, yet the greatest joy. How can one begin to articulate the scope of its significance, without which, as St Paul writes, our faith is in vain? Yet the Resurrection of Jesus meant everything to the early disciples. And remains so for all Christians since. On my first Easter Day as a Curate I was greeted by an elderly clergyman in a wheelchair, Len Jones. A former servant of the church overseas, he was rarely able to attend church but he made a special effort for Easter Sunday. He touched my arm, wanting to speak. As I leant over he said confidently, “Christ is risen; then with a smile, “and it’s a good job too!” What an encouragement this was. Len’s lifetime of faithful Christian ministry had convinced him that the Resurrection of Jesus was not some historical myth nor mere theological concept but an event of lasting significance and everyday reality.

The Resurrection of Jesus has a redemptive significance that transcends time and space. St John Chrysostum, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4C, articulates a sense of eternal and cosmic triumph in his Easter sermon: ‘Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it...He put Hell into uproar… because it is mocked. It was in uproar, for it is destroyed... It was in uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body and discovered God. It took earth and encountered Heaven; it took what it saw and was overcome by what it did not see.’

Because earth encountered heaven in Jesus, who ate and drank with his disciples, salvation is also deeply personal. Chrysostomus continues: ‘Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave’.

Such restoration, of course, was St Peter’s experience. Peter was supposed to be the rock yet had fallen from grace. Yet in our first reading we learn of him fearlessly sharing the Resurrection news with a Roman Centurion! Clearly his life had been turned around. As he had announced to the Jewish rulers, “he could no longer help but speak of what he had seen and heard!” So Peter gave his personal account to Cornelius of how he had been with Jesus from the beginning, seen what he’d said and done – and then how Jesus had been killed by the religious authorities yet was raised from the dead through the power of God. Now Peter’s own vocation was to be a living testimony to the one who grants forgiveness and is the judge of the living and of the dead. Peter knew, first-hand, that Jesus turns failure into commission and fear into audacity.

He also turns sorrow into joy. Take Mary of Magdala. Rescued it seems from a destitute life, she was the first to arrive at the tomb. The stone had been rolled away, the tomb now empty, and she was so shrouded in grief and confusion that she could not recognise the one who stood before her. What happened next is one of the most precious encounters in the Bible. “Mary”, says Jesus. She had gone in sorrow to attend to the body of the one she loved; instead her eyes were opened to encounter the risen Lord – how beautiful that she became the first evangelist of the resurrection.

Easter is about the extraordinary truth that the Saviour lives. He has destroyed the power of sin and death. This knowledge is immensely comforting – and it seems particularly acute during this period as we witness the suffering of a pandemic and the way it has shone a light on desperate inequalities and inadequacies within our global, political and social life. Easter is also about the changed lives of those who have met with Jesus. In this regard it is rightly disturbing, for Jesus commissions us to be sacraments of his grace to others.

What might this knowledge and experience mean for you? Both Peter and Mary had to let go and move on, the one from failure, the other from just holding Jesus to herself. As individuals let us give to Jesus anything that lingers from our past, so that we may walk freely with him today. And as his church, here in Oxford, across the diocese and wherever we reside. Sacrificial love will always reflect the heart of Jesus. That is substance and allows us to share the truth that lies behind the Resurrection, the eternal grace that springs from it. But if we are to speak and serve more courageously and perhaps unexpectedly, we may just need to sit more lightly to structure and style. Sounds challenging? But Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!