Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on Easter Day 2023
Every broken fragment can now know healing in the light of Easter.
The Reverend Dr James Hawkey Canon Theologian and Almoner
Sunday, 9th April 2023 at 10.30 AM
The Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has a new show at the Design Museum here in London. At its heart are five so-called fields of objects amassed by the artist over the last thirty years. One of these is a huge spread out collection of thousands of fragments of porcelain sculptures which were destroyed when the Chinese state demolished his studio in Beijing in 2018. Jagged edges, random sizes, Limoges-like blue chunks with a beautiful sheen, sit together in many thousands of broken pieces. An attack on artistic creativity and free expression, intended to intimidate and destroy, has itself resulted in a piece of art which speaks louder than it otherwise might have done about creativity and beauty.
St John’s account of the resurrection which we heard proclaimed a moment ago is the centre of the Christian faith. Christ is not dead, but alive. And that life has broken open for us a fountain of endless truth, beauty and light. Christ’s victory is a real victory over sin and death. That is the earliest proclamation of the Christian Gospel, it is the fundamental message of the earliest years of the Christian faith, and that is what the whole New Testament seeks and sometimes struggles to articulate. It is not principally a set of teachings or, far less, rules; it is certainly not primarily a tale about a good man and his followers. It is the proclamation that Christ is Risen, and therefore that the world, its potential and its future have changed finally and irrevocably. ‘Love sounds the alarm, and fear is a’flying’, as John Gay writes for Handel’s Acis and Galatea. Love sounds the alarm. That alarm is final. Christ’s love is the final truth about creation, and it emerges from a scene of devastating collapse.
St John’s Gospel sparkles with the uncreated light which comes from Christ’s empty tomb. When the weeping Mary Magdalene leans over to peer into the tomb, she sees two angels sitting, we are told where the dead body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet. Now, we have seen this image before in scripture, in the Book of Exodus, when two cherubim overshadow the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant from either end, forming a throne for the Lord Himself. These angels marked out a site of intense distilled holiness. The Ark was the physical guarantor of the Lord’s presence with the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness. In this Gospel story, taking up this powerful imagery, a staggering thing happens. This space between the angels – a place where a corpse has lain, the space of death – is now the site of God’s eternally creative faithfulness and indestructible holiness. What was only shattered decay is now the place of new life. Christ’s death, in the words of the Byzantine liturgy has trampled down death, bestowing life on those in the tombs. In a world which was made from nothing, the new creation emerges from amidst death itself.
Mary turns, and sees someone she believes at first to be the gardener. Of course, on one level she is absolutely right. There is an abundance of meaning here. Creation began in a garden, the Garden of Eden, and this is the Garden of the New Creation. Not a graveyard littered with the rubble of death, but the place of eternal spring; not just the dawning of a new day, but rather, eternity’s sunrise, where death itself is holy ground, the hallowed gate to newness of life. The last and final barrier overcome. Adam’s fall finally healed, as the second Adam, the one who in the earliest verses of John’s Gospel is acclaimed as the Word Made Flesh shows us how far God will go in the flesh, for us, and for our salvation. Love has sounded the final alarm, and those two angels hold open a space for us, for our death, for our sorrows.
When we began our Holy Week journey, Fr Mark reminded us that in this drama we are participants, not observers. Christians throughout the world, in a huge variety of cultures and circumstances have recommitted themselves to such participation this last week. Our Orthodox sisters and brothers begin this journey a week later, today. We hold them in our prayers in this liturgy. During Holy Week, we have come with Jesus from the Mount of Olives, through his Last Supper and hearing afresh his commandment to love one another, to the foot of the cross, and to this Garden of the Resurrection. From here place, we now become witnesses as well as participants, as Mary Magdalen’s testimony echoes down the centuries to our own. Witnesses that from the broken rubble of failure, destruction and sin, God’s limitless, indestructible love reweaves and reframes everything we have to say about ultimate reality.
The Christian faith does not allow us to pretend that pain, decay and violence are not real. There is no escapism here. Who could look at unprovoked violence in Ukraine, at the squandering of a delicate status quo in Jerusalem, at the ongoing degradation of minority people and the good earth and not take seriously the effects of human sin. The violence, suspicion and jealousies which led to Calvary are real and they are deadly. We are witnesses to that, too. But on that, we must blow the whistle, if we are to take seriously the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The debris of the world’s violence and greed, the rubble of death can become the place of new life, if we unclench our hands, release our hearts and risk the journey of discipleship, the journey of participation and witness. We witness to Christ’s resurrection in every act of forgiveness, in every small gesture of reconciliation, every time we work for peace or justice in situations where they seem afar off. We witness to Christ’s resurrection whenever we allow little deaths for our own destructive tendencies and selfishness. But we do not do this in our own strength – but rather because Christ’s death and resurrection have shared with us the ultimate truth of the world’s destiny. This is a meta-narrative which embraces all our little stories, all our experience, all our encounters.
In all our individual particular situations, we must not lose site of the cosmic scope of this truth which emerges from the strangest place possible. Actual sin. Actual violence. Actual death. The comfort for those who mourn this Easter is not a shallow comfort, but an encounter with Christ’s reworking of ultimate reality. From real death, real tragedy, life emerges victorious because the wounded Christ has conquered hell through his own death, and offered the rich possibilities of life transformed to all those who count themselves as witnesses. In Christ’s death, the final frontier has been breached, the final limit of all that would lead to decay has been shattered like those porcelain pots. And what we now glimpse in Christ’s resurrection is so much more than any human could ever have imagined or dreamed. A reconciled creation where death is not the end. A promise of final consummation and harmony, itself emerging from the wreckage of betrayal, torture, mob violence, and execution on a rough hill outside Jerusalem. Every death now shimmers with the promise of new life. Every sorrow can now be transposed into a new key when located between those two angels. Every broken fragment can now know healing in the light of Easter.
Christ is Risen!