The unlived life

This is the sermon I have preached this morning. According to our Statutes it is meant to be the bishop who preaches on Easter Day. But +Christopher is still recovering after some knee surgery – so I was able to enter the pulpit of the Cathedral and preach. As I say in the sermon I am picking up on the theme that Canon Leanne Roberts had chosen for her sermons this Holy Week; she has been our Holy Week Preacher. The title she chose for herself was ‘The Kingdom is Now: fear and the unlived life.’ I couldn’t resist adding to the stream of her thoughts – and she kindly gave me permission to do so. You can listen to all her addresses on our Facebook and YouTube platforms. The lections for today were Isaiah 65.17-25, Acts 10.34-43 and John 20.1-18. Happy Easter!

‘Mary, why are you weeping? Mary, for whom are you looking? Why are you weeping; why are you searching?’

Mary was in deep distress in the garden in the first light of dawn. She’d been there when the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb. She’d seen it with her own eyes, helped with her own hands. But now the tomb was empty, the body gone, the grave clothes left behind and there were these angels and this stranger asking annoying questions. ‘Why was she weeping; who was she looking for?’ It was obvious, or it was to her, she was looking for the one who’d given her back her life, the one who was her life, whose life had been taken from him. She was weeping for Jesus, she was looking for Jesus.

The other gospel writers give us other sets of emotions in this scene on the morning of Easter Day. They speak of fear, of terror, of anxiety. But however they describe it, we’re thrown with the women, with the disciples, with Mary, into a place in which people are in one way or another afraid.

Oscar Wilde’s ‘Selfish Giant’ has a very nice castle and a very nice garden. Having been away for seven years visiting his cousin, a Cornish giant, he comes back and finds that other people are enjoying his home. So he builds a wall, a high one, to keep the outside out, to keep others out, to keep him in. He can sit behind his strong wall and enjoy all that he has.

But the wall keeps everything out, it keeps the children out, it keeps spring out and it even keeps Christ out. Until someone makes a hole in the wall, just big enough to creep through. And spring and Jesus enter into his closed space, making not just the tree in the corner of the garden blossom but his life as well. As the spring petals fall on the dying giant the child

smiled on the Giant, and said to him, “You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.”’

Canon Leanne has been helping us to confront our fears during this Holy Week, the fear of change, of disgrace, of death, to name but three and I want to pick up on her powerful theme and address the Fear of life, the fear of living, living the unlived life.

It’s not just the giant who’s effective at building walls to keep life out. We can all be wall builders in one way or another, to protect the life that we have, the life we enjoy, the life we can cope with, and then spring fails to come and we need God to find that hole in the wall to break into our place of fear.

The prophet Isaiah in our First Reading says something so powerful

No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.

The prophet is speaking of this new heaven, this new earth, that Peter presents to Cornelius and his household, in our Second Reading. He speaks of what we’d want to call the kingdom, of which our Risen Lord is king, he speaks of a place in which we can live life to the full, not a shortened life, not a lessened life, not an unfilled life, but one in which both infant and old person live their full potential.

When I was a teenager we had the most amazing curate in our church. Fr Irving had come to us from Mirfield. He’d been born in Antigua and had come over to study. He had Sidney Poitier good looks and I’d never seen such a handsome priest let alone a black priest before. Like all of us he had basically one text and one sermon. It was this, John 10.10

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’

Abundant life, life in all its fullness, life to be properly lived, life to be embraced, life lived in the fast lane, full-fat life, in which you can be you, truly, fully, as God intended, as God created, outside the walls where Jesus died but where life sprang from the earth.

You may know the Easter hymn which begins like this

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

The final verse says this

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again.

This is what is happening in the garden and whether it evokes tears and frantic searching, whether it evokes fear or terror or anxiety or any of that rag bag of emotions that we see displayed in the Easter stories, it’s all because we sometimes fear the life that he, the risen Jesus, holds out to us, because we are too comfortable, too certain, too safe behind the walls we’ve built for ourselves or that others have built for us to contain us, too easy to live the half-life we’re living.

Am I really prepared to live my unlived life, have you really embraced life in all its fullness, are you living the abundant life that Jesus says he came to bring, is his touch bringing your wintry, grieving, painful self back to life and to a better place?

I want that life myself, I want that life for you, my sister, for you, my brother and I want that life for every person.

We’ve kept Lent, Passiontide and now Easter with the horrors of the events in Ukraine at the forefront of our minds. Lives are being destroyed, futures are being bombed out of existence and life is being lived out in an atmosphere of overwhelming fear. At the same time we’ve seen in the past few days our own government responding to what they call, ‘the People’s priorities’ by proposing to transport to a processing facility in Rwanda, those who arrive on our shores seeking a better life for them and their families. Cruel, cold, inhuman, callous – there are no good ways to describe what the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are proposing. And it needs to be said, this is about people of colour who arrive on our shores, the ones whose needs we’re being encouraged to despise. This is not the abundant life that Mary was confronted with in the garden, this is life denying, not life giving – and it’s shameful.

Instead, what we proclaim today is Jesus, demolishing the walls that divide, breaking into our locked places, dragging us into the light, holding before us the possibility, the reality of life and leading us to live our yet unlived life in the kingdom – if we dare.

Because it means you being fully you, and me being fully me, and can we bear to be whom God loves and the world and the church so often condemns?

‘Mary, why are you weeping? Mary, for whom are you looking? Why are you weeping; why are you searching?’

Mary’s tears ceased, her searching ended as she turned and recognised Jesus and he called her by her name and brought her into the first day of her new life. And he does that for each of us today, he invites us to step with him into the garden of his delight, to blossom and flourish, to bear kingdom fruit, to be fully who we are, fed and nourished as we are in this Eucharist with the fullness of his presence, the fullness of his life.

Do not fear life; embrace it, live it, be it.

Risen Lord Jesus, cast out my fear, that I may fully live, fully love, fully embrace the life that you have given to me. Amen.

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