Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Easter People

From "The Pilot" , the Jersey Anglican Church Magazine, of 1985, comes this piece. In November the Bishop of Winchester made his final official visit to the Channel Islands. Here is Bishop John's final sermon in the Channel Islands delivered at St. Stephen's Church, Guernsey, on Friday, 9th November.

The Easter People
by Bishop John V Taylor

Nearly ten years ago I took as the text of my sermon at the Enthronement Service in Winchester Cathedral the first announcement of the Resurrection as it is recorded in St Matthew's Gospel: "He is going on before you into Galilee, there you will see him, as he told you. " I said then that the importance of this story lies in the contrast between Jerusalem and Galilee.

Jerusalem is the stronghold of traditional faith and orthodox worship, everything that most of us mean by "the Church". The Risen Christ does indeed meet us there in prayer and sacrament, fellowship and festival.

But the Lord intends us to experience the fulness of Easter outside the routine life of the Church. Galilee is the world of work, the commerical arena, the centre of radical politics. When the living Christ meets us there, we can be sure that something utterly new has happened, and Resurrection is not just an item in the Creed but a startling fact of experience.

In my last word to you in the Islands I want to return to St Matthew's account of the Resurrection. The closing words of that Gospel contain the four "alls" - the complete and universal range of the claims of the Risen Christ. All authority in heaven and on earth tells us that his claims are not restricted to the spiritual sphere but encompass the whole earthly realm of business and nationhood, society and politics. All nations are equally the scene in which we can expect to find disciples; so human response to Jesus Christ is not restricted to one culture or history or religion. All the commands which Christ himself has given are to be laid upon us and all other disciples; so we are not free to pick and choose, nor to mould his Kingdom to suit our preferences. All the days are going to be transformed by his abiding Presence; in the bad days as well as the good ones, in all periods of history, in all our varying moods, we may know Emmanuel, God with us.

The supreme responsibility of the Christian is to bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the apostles were looking for someone to fill the gap made by the defection and suicide of poor Judas Iscariot, they looked for someone who could "become with us a witness to his resurrection. "

That is the true basis and the true meaning of anything we can call "the apostolic tradition". It is to enter into the apostles' experience of the Resurrection, in order to join in the apostles' proclamation of the Resurrection. That is the inheritance and the task which we are asked to take into our weak human hands - "With us to become a witness to his Resurrection."

Those apostles had passed through the deepest despair and the most unbearable sense of guilt that any people have suffered.

During all that time when the Lord Jesus was going in and out among them, they had seen how perfectly he had lived out his vision of love and truth, and with what child-like trust he had reliedon God. If his terrible cry of betrayal from the cross was really the last word and all the rest was silence, then this world has neither justice nor meaning. 

But to the hopelessness and anger and loss of faith in those apostles was added an appalling burden of shame. They had abandoned their leader in cowardice. When God lets you down you can ease your pain with rage, but when it is you who have let God down there is no alleviation.

Now no-one who has fallen so deep in bitterness and guilt can recover confidence or a sense of direction without years of struggle. Yet within a few days, those apostles were more certain, more radiantly committed than they had ever been before. Nothing could have lifted them from such a depth to such a height except an overwhelming encounter with all that they thought they had lost.

They knew God was to be trusted because the one thing that could reverse the tragedy of Jesus' crucifixion and heaven's dreadful silence had happened. They knew they were forgiven because they had met the one person who could forgive them whom they had never expected to see again. It was as though they themselves had died and come to life again.

The resurrection of Jesus had given them a kind of resurrection of their own. And that is the evidence of Easter even today. When people see those who have been lifted out of a wreckage of disillusionment and guilt into a sure and certain hope. not by a slow and partial recovery, but in a sudden release that may not necessarily come in religious terms at all, then they cannot deny that some glorious Lord of life is at work. They take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus.

When the present Pope spoke in North America he said, "We are the Easter people and our song is Alleluia. " Never forget that you are an Easter people called to become witnesses of his resurrection. When you bring children or adults for baptism into the dying and rising of Christ, and when you partake in Bread and Wine of the presence of one who has died and is alive for evermore, remember that you are accepting for your own affairs and decisions in the world the eternal pattern of life through death, constantly laying life down, letting something go, in the faith that fuller richer life will follow for yourself or for someone else.

When you are trying to help others in perplexity or trouble, especially the young or the parents of the young, remember you are on the side of life and that God is more concerned that his children should be fully alive than that they should be religious. So in your church life build up the religion that makes people more aware and sensitive and brings them to life, but set your face as Jesus did against the religion that deadens the hearts and the minds of people. When you share in the Church's concern for human society as a spokesman for the Kingdom of God's righteousness, remember that you are the messengers of hopefulness.

In a world of sceptical manipulation keep on affirming that human nature can be changed, and that the future of our nation and our world is not being made by us nor marred by us but is coming to meet us from the hand of God. And, when you meet to discuss the maintenance and mission of your local Church, remember that the tradition of which you are the guardian is not a village pond of stagnant water but a bubbling spring of newness of life, a new wine that will always break the old wineskins generation after generation, and you are guardians of the wine, not the skins. The Church remains true to its past by moving forward, because it is the servant of him who says "Behold, I am making all things new. "

But no-one can become a witness of his resurrection simply by attending to his outward acts and attitudes. Just as the Easter fire can be lit only from the Paschal candle, so a convincing witness to the resurrection can be generated only from contact with the Risen One himself. The serious Christian must take time in whatever way has the greatest reality for him, to keep up that never-ending pursuit of yearning grateful love which St Paul described. "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellow-ship of his sufferings. Not that I have already attained but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own. "

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