Sermon preached at the Sung Eucharist on Easter Day 2024

Easter Day and Christ is risen. Easter Day and the whole gospel of God.

The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle KCVO MBE

Sunday, 31st March 2024 at 10.30 AM

Easter Day and Christ is risen. Easter Day and the whole gospel of God. William Tyndale, translator of the Bible, wrote,

Evangelion (that we call gospel) is a greke word and signifieth good and merry, glad and joyful tidings that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh him synge, daunce and leape for joye.

We should be merry and glad this morning and, when we go home, there should be singing and there should be dancing. Let’s think about that.

It is St John who is trying to explain this merry and the glad gospel, it is St John that we have just heard. Did you notice that it did not start merry and glad?

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

That is a dark beginning, in the dark, before dawn; we stand at a tomb. Let’s be clear about these gospel tidings—Easter is not a good news bulletin. This is not good news of the kind that declare the English have just beaten the Australians by an innings and two hundred runs. Good news, but more matches to play. It is not the birth of a grandchild news, the beginning of something new and different. Nor is it even the news that the man who fell off the fishing boat at sea has been discovered alive and well. It is not the happy ending to what looked like a sad tale.

No, John does not think Easter is an interruption to normal proceedings. It is not good tidings that cheer you for a while. Easter is good news for all time, we really should be merry and glad, the choir should dance and the Sub Dean should leap for joy.

Why? Well precisely because we are not talking about breaking news, a bulletin, a brief change in the weather. We are talking about the beginnings and endings of everything. We are talking about the story.

It is John remember, with the tidings. You may remember that John’s gospel is the one that begins with creation.

In the beginning was the Word… All things came into being through him… John 1: 1–3

Only John begins the Evangelion, the good news, by telling us that he is writing about everything, everywhere and forever—‘without him not one thing came into being’. (John 1: 3). In this story, from the very beginning God gives himself, pours himself out fully, forgivingly. God’s love pours out and the consequence—the outcome—is creation, but above all it is the utterly glorious human being, the man Jesus Christ. ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory’, (John 1: 14). God creates glory and it is human.

We need to hurry on to Easter, I know, but this bit is important. We need to avoid a couple of very basic mistakes that we keep making in church. Our problem is that we get pious and we set Jesus apart. We think that Jesus is rather marvellous indeed so marvellous that he is different, not really like us. And then we start telling ourselves that the more like God someone becomes then the less human they must be. Jesus is so special, that he was not one of us. Not so, absolutely not so. John knows that we, you and me, humans, are what was made when God issued out in love. Divine and human life are not at odds with another. It is not one or the other. Actually, the more like God we become the more we human are. Put another way saints are more human than sinners and Jesus is the only person who was completely human. He is what we were made to be. We were made for glory. The Choristers, the Receiver General, the Sacrist, you, her, him, all of us, made for glory.

You may have a small theological headache coming on by now, but I still think you will have to go home dancing. Just hang on hard to the idea that Jesus is fully human, he is the one human really human being. Jesus is human the way we are supposed to be.

That is why we find ourselves this morning beginning in the dark and standing at a tomb, because that is the human story that we know. The news yesterday was dark indeed, the human, heart-twisting story of the baby Finley Boden murdered by his parents, abuse in a Scottish school, sewage tipping into rivers. The news was not good news, the bulletins were bad. The story of being human leads us all to a tomb. The human story is a story of life, but it is a story that leads to death. And that is the life that Jesus himself lived.

From the beginning of the gospel John tells us that Jesus is the Lamb of God—the lamb who will die on Friday. From the beginning there was darkness, from the beginning there were people who would not have the glory, refused to accept him. From the beginning people refuse to be human. ‘He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him’. (John 1: 11). It is our life that Jesus, lives, with us, and our death that he dies.

Jesus lives what we live, lives the darkness and dies the death. Of course, he also lives, as we can live in the light, lives the joy and gladness. He lives, like us, a life that knows darkness but is also shot through with grace and glory.

He lives life fully and dies. And notice, that according to John, he dies saying, ‘It is accomplished’. He lives this life so fully that he completes it. Jesus lives the human story and fulfils it. Jesus is the human story; he is what we are supposed to be. This is what it looks like to be really human. A life lived in hope, grace and goodness, that ends in death.

Except, of course, it doesn’t end in death. And that is why the Sub-Dean has to leap and the Choir has to dance.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.

She came looking for the story she knew it the story she assumed must always be lived and died. She came for a dead body. But the tomb was empty. What follows is a rapid sequence of scenes from something like a Keystones Cops movie—one of those silent movies with people rushing hither and thither and bumping into things, without really knowing why, or where they are going. There is a lot of clever word play too with seeing and not seeing. There is also a heart-breaking moment when Mary wants to cling to Jesus, to hold on to what she had. She has to be told that this is not more of the same. Easter is not a happy ending, the old story with applause at the end.

No, Easter is the whole story, the real story. Jesus has lived our life, died our death; and now lives. The grace and glory triumph. The grace and glory will never end.

John is a very stylish story teller. The story of the cross ended with Jesus laid to rest in the tomb. He died on a Friday night, rested on Saturday and Easter falls on Sunday. So, John takes us back to where we started, back to the creation. God completes creation on a Friday, rests on the sabbath and Sunday is a new week. Today, this Easter day, is a new creation, not the story as we keep telling it ending in death, but a story where it is the grace and the glory and the light that provide the ending. These are the good tidings of this day. Life not death, light not darkness, grace not betrayal, glory not shame. And I, for one, will celebrate.

I might even dance.