Sermon on Easter Day 2020
The Revd Canon Chris Newlands, Vicar of Lancaster
HOLY WEEK 2020 ADDRESS 6 – EASTER DAY
It is Easter Day and none of us thought we would be spending it like this!
We are not in church, as many of us long to be. Instead we are in our own homes, some of us with those we love – some of us are alone, and some of us are in challenging environments, whilst others are isolated in care homes, hospitals, or in their own homes.
But despite all of that, we are connected – perhaps even more closely together than if we had been in church, because we are all united in these unusual and challenging times.
We have spent the last three weeks in each others’ company, joined in prayer, taking advantage of the connectivity offered to us by the internet and social media. Together we have been reading the Holy Scriptures, we have walked the way of the cross with our Lord Jesus.
It has not been easy. The words have been challenging – and the pictures I have tried to reflect on have also been challenging – especially the image for Good Friday, with its unapologetic portrayal of a crucifixion.
Today’s picture of the Resurrection is so different, and it is truly extraordinary. The face of Jesus is barely recognizable from the image we saw yesterday. This is not a mortal face we see, but the Risen, Glorious Son of God! Whereas the crucifixion scene was blackness representing the day that men put the Son of God to death in what was earth’s darkest hour – today Christ is depicted as Light, pure, true, almost unbearable light, like the light of the Sun we cannot look upon because it is too much for our human eyes to comprehend. And Jesus is the himself the source of light, which radiates from him out through the entire cosmos. Even the wound in his side from which had poured the blood and water is now a source of light.
The radiance which comes from Christ fills the whole universe, so bright are the beams which come from our Risen Lord! This is the light at the end of the long journey which Jesus made, and the end of the painful journey which so many people make. In this portrait, there is light, there is joy, and there is hope expressed, all stemming from the beautiful face of Jesus, shining so brightly that it completely overwhelms all trace of darkness.
Yet, there is darkness still in the world above which he is set – risen, but not yet ascended to the Father, transfigured for the whole world to see his true divine nature revealed.
This is the Christ in whom we can put our trust – this is the Christ who can lead us from the darkness of despair to the light of faith, hope, and love.
Sad to say, there are still dark days ahead of us as we are not yet close to the peak of the impact of this pandemic which has been devastating in so many places around the world, and we have no reason to expect a different trajectory to the graph of casualties here. That, I am afraid, is not in doubt.
But – there is light in the midst of all of this. There is love, and there is hope.
Why? Because we are not meeting in our churches.
And – I never thought I would be saying this – that is a good thing! (Though I long for the day to come when we will be able to return SAFELY to our beloved Priory Church!) Our refraining from gathering together on this Day of days – is a gift in itself. It is the most loving thing we can do for each other, and our neighbours. In love, we are protecting people from contracting this virus which – we know all too well – can have fatal consequences for some. We began this process by withholding the shared chalice, then refraining from shaking hands at the Peace; and finally by closing our churches; and now by refraining from social contact, the hugs and kisses and embraces and handshakes which mark us out as social creatures, and which we long to resume (when we are assured it is really safe to do so, of course!)
For those things we are still in Lent, and will be until it is truly safe for us all to reunite. (That doesn’t mean you have to continue your Lenten discipline; you can resume your chocolate, alcohol, sweet treats whatever you may have given up. Only cigarettes are the exception to that rule. If you’ve stopped smoking well done – don’t think of starting that again!)
That is why we, along with many churches, have taken the decision NOT to have the Easter ceremonies just yet; for that is when we light the Paschal candle, we renew our baptismal promises, sing an anthem of praise, and make a joyful noise to the Lord.
It is not that we are minimising our Easter celebration at the Lord’s Resurrection – not at all!
But when we are told it is safe to return to public worship in our churches – what joy will be ours! That will be a cause of great joy for us all, though it will be tinged with sadness as we will all know of many who will not be able to rejoice with us on that day.
But when we fling wide the gates to our churchyards and the doors of our churches, we will celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection with such joy and hymns of praise that it will make the rafters ring! That will be a true Easter as the church, the people of God is re-assembled in these buildings which have such meaning for us all.
These are places which hold our collective memories, they are the places where we celebrate our births and marriages, and we mourn our dead.
Our Priory, here for over a thousand years has witnessed innumerable occasions of that type in its long history.
In the not too distant future, it will celebrate a Sunday like no other in recent memory. That day when, God willing, we reunite with our friends and neighbours and our fellow-worshippers. Our extended Lent will be over and we will rejoice together and sing Alleluias of thanks and praise.
May that day come quickly, and may we all be able to share it all together as we say:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!