Easter Sunday 2020

Easter Sermon 2020

This is probably the strangest Easter we have experienced. No flower displays in church. No Easter bonnets to wear out for others to see. No chance of physical contact with fellow Christians shouting “Christ is Risen”. All thanks to what someone called ‘this pesky virus which gets everywhere’. It is unseen but no respecter of persons – young and old alike – in all parts of society – although the cases admitted to hospital indicate that men are more affected than women!

Strange times make for strange measures. These we have been experiencing over the last few weeks – services in which we are connected through Zoom – meditations and daily thoughts and prayers transmitted by email. In these strange times I want to introduce you to what might seem a strange word for Easter day – the word vicariousness. The concept of doing something for others, or instead of others!

This morning I was up at 5.30am doing something vicariously for you. Something present restrictions stopped you doing. Sandra and I walked up to the Knapp to witness the rising of the sun over the Wrekin. (photos taken this morning) It was a glorious morning and a beautiful sight. When we arrived the sky to the East was crimson. Immediately I thought of the passion of Jesus and the grief of the relatives of all those who have died across the world. We went there because it has become our tradition as a benefice to start off Easter celebrations in this way. We did it because we could without breaking the government’s rules about safe distancing and not travelling to other places for exercise. But we didn’t just do it for our own satisfaction or gratification we did it for others. Our quiet prayer there on the Knapp as the sun rose was vicarious – we did it for all of you who otherwise would have been there if circumstances were different. I can give you hope, as the orb of the sun rose above the horizon it bathed the whole landscape in a golden glow. A sign that the light does indeed triumph over the darkness. And afterwards it was good to maintain the other part of our tradition – by having a bacon butty in our kitchen afterwards!

Now we have moved to stage 2 of our festivities. Again, vicariousness is the name of the activity. Graham and Emma are not only celebrating Holy Communion on our behalf. We are used to the priest consecrating the elements of communion – that is one of the tasks laid on priests in their ordination. The uniqueness of this occasion is that for a major festival they will also be consuming the elements vicariously on our behalf. We are unable to come together physically to receive bread and wine from their hands. But we can receive the power of the sacrament spiritually as they receive it physically while we participate using elements we have to hand. Ours is a bit of Hot Cross bun and a small glass of red wine! This is more than the Agape which we experienced on Maundy Thursday. This is nothing less than the “Do this in remembrance of me” which is what Jesus commanded, at the Last Supper, we should do as his disciples.

As we celebrate the glory of Easter in these extra-ordinary circumstances, there are two aspects which we should have uppermost in our minds. The first is to remember in prayerful gratitude all those who are doing things for us, and for the country and the worldwide community, in a vicarious way. In this country we pray for all the selfless sacrifice being made by members of the NHS - doctors, nurses, specialists and ancillary workers. But we also need to give thanks for all those who have given and are giving their lives in health facilities across the world. We also need to be thankful for all those who are offering their lives in acts of ‘uncommon kindness’ – our neighbours and families getting groceries and prescriptions – firms retooling to make the equipment needed by the health service – the staff of care homes and those who care for others in their own homes. The list is almost endless – we need to be thankful to God for each and every one of them. The clap for NHS and essential workers each Thursday evening has helped communities come together.

The other aspect we need to have uppermost in our minds is the centre point of all our worship – God acting through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. God’s Son who gave us the extreme example of vicariousness. The Son who did not snatch at equality with God, but gave his life as a sacrifice for all. In the Orthodox tradition it is known as “the vicarious sacrifice”. The suffering and death of Christ to be accepted by God in lieu of punishment for the guilt of sinful humankind. It is the story of Good Friday which we viewed through the eyes of the women who witnessed to it. Or to put it another way, God’s Son was in the words of Sydney Evans, Dean of King’s College, London, “supremely the man for others”.

But Good Friday was not the end of the story. As St John’s words witness it was followed by the wonder, the emotion, and the joy of the first Easter morning. An empty tomb, the entrance clear, no body, disbelief by the disciples, rushing to the tomb to see for themselves. And then the recognition of a remade relationship. Never has there been a more poignant and important calling of a name. “Mary” was not just important to Mary Madgalene. It has cosmic importance. It is about the relationship each of us, even all humanity and the universe, can have with its saviour and redeemer.

We meet through the wonders of modern science and technology in difficult and bewildering times. But the Christ, risen and ascended is with us as he has always been. He is in us. He is beside us. He is with all those for whom we gave thanks earlier in this sermon. He will be with us through the coming days in whatever happens. And he will be with us as we help to rebuild our world in the months ahead. It will not be the same world. It will be changed by the Covid-19 experience. We need to pray that it will be changed for the better – that we will care more for God’s creation – that we will do more to bring justice and peace to all parts of the globe – and that more people will recognise how important God is to the future of that world, just as we know that we are precious in his sight.

We may not be physically close to one another to shout “Christ is Risen”. That does not mean we can’t still shout it:

                  “Christ is Risen

        He is risen indeed.”