Easter Day Sermon – Lord Carey
Easter Day 2017
St.George’s Wash Common
I am holding in my hand a stone from my garden. Stones come in different sizes and weights. A small stone like this can do terrible things. A stone like this was probably used by David to kill Goliath. Multiply them by 100’s and they can murder a person in a ritual killing as a person is stoned to death. But when bigger, stones can create houses, they can be used as mill stones to nourish whole families with food. When even bigger they can be used against graves to stop intruders robbing the graves of dead people.
When Mary came to the tomb, the stone was removed. The stone was gone and opened immense possibilities. Either, the body has been removed or, perhaps, perhaps, the dead person is now alive?
I am sure you are aware that there are many, many stones, that prevent us from encountering the risen Christ.
The stone of honest doubt has my complete sympathy. Who can believe that a dead man could rise again? Pull the other one. But I believe that stone can be dislodged and can start to roll back if we really look at the evidence. It’s certainly what Lord Chief Justice Darling found when he said of the resurrection: ‘In its favour as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in the verdict that the resurrection story is true.’ I believe the resurrection to be true because of the cumulative and indirect evidence that comes from questions such as:
How do you account for the first Christians moving their holy day from Saturday to a Sunday? How was it that fearful disciples that fled from the crucifixion of Jesus were willing a few days later to say he was alive and face death and persecution daily? But if you want to dig further then let C.S.Lewis be your guide.
Then there’s the stone of underestimation; we underestimate the significance of the resurrection and reduce it to manageable religious proportions. As Professor David Ford said: ‘There is no ready made worldview into which [the resurrection] fits. If we think we have a framework that contains it, then we haven’t grasped the sort of event it is.’ Or equally vividly, Rowan Williams wrote: ‘When we celebrate Easter we’re really standing in the middle of a second Big Bang, a tumultuous surge of divine energy as fiery and intense as the very beginning of the universe.’ This stone of underestimation keeps us imprisoned in a tomb of low expectations and safe religion. The resurrection simply isn’t safe. It’s explosive.
Then there’s the stone of pain, rolled over the tomb. Again, I understand why this would keep many trapped inside. When Elie Wiesel saw a child hanged in Auschwitz he wrote: ‘I shall never forget the moments which murdered my God and my soul. I shall never forget the flames which consumed my faith for ever.’ And yet he was not a total unbeliever as I know from conversations with him. He also wrote: ‘We cannot understand it with God. And we cannot understand without him.’ Suffering keeps us locked away from the touch of Christ – or it causes us to turn at last to that irresistible grace and so be enfolded in love.
Then there’s the stone of low hope which lies heavily across the tomb. Our society can’t imagine what Tolkien called the eucatastrophe of joy. Tolkein coined this new word –Eucatastrophe- which is a combination of ‘eu- meaning ‘good’ and catastrophe. He meant it to represent ‘overwhelming joy’, the pinnacle of hope. Tolkien called the Incarnation of Christ the eu-catastrophe of “human history” and the Resurrection the eu-catastrophe of the Incarnation.
He was making a powerful point. We’ve settled for giving everything a cash value rather than a moral and spiritual meaning, so our discourse is impoverished and our hopes are minimised. But the resurrection means that the future is wide open. In a sense we’re just a shadow of our future selves; we’re a tombful of possibilities just waiting to get out.
So there are many stones lying across the tomb, holding back the risen Christ from touching our lives. And yet, if we allow that stone to shift even a bit, the resurrection can ricochet around our lives and the worlds we inhabit. We become an Easter people, even if we live in a Good Friday world.
I heard many years ago of an event in Kiev after the Russian Revolution when the powerful orator Bukharin was sent from Moscow to demolish the Christian faith with argument and ridicule. He spoke with great power in the central cathedral in Kiev. At the end there was silence. Then questions were invited. A man rose and asked to speak. He was a Russian Orthodox priest and he just said three words, the ancient liturgical greeting for Easter Day, ‘Christ is risen!’ And at once the whole assembly stood up and responded ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’ Bukharin was unable no reply.
That’s the power of the empty tomb, when the stone is rolled away.