Sunday 4 April 2021, 11.00, Easter Day
Preacher: The Right Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury
Readings: Acts 10.34-43; John 20.1-18
Please scroll to the bottom of this page for a video of this service.
It has been marvellous to be here this morning, even with restricted numbers and limited movement to keep to the Guidelines. Last year we were not able to celebrate Easter in this cathedral or any churches. The celebration of Easter was a domestic and online. To have had the Easter ceremonies at dawn and two more celebrations of Communion this morning is marvellous, especially with the Mozart Mass and such wonderful music; and for those watching online it’s great you are also here on this joyful Eastertide.
It’s been ‘interesting’ to have to do things differently.
This morning we remember that the Christian Gospel began at an empty tomb. From a distance and with the benefit of hindsight we are able to say that all this was ‘according to the scriptures’ but that took a bit of working out. Remember the fear and amazement of the women who came to the tomb in Mark’s Gospel, or in Luke’s of the need for the disciples on the Emmaus Road to have it explained to them that these events happened according to the scriptures.
In John Mary Magdalene mistakes the risen Lord for the gardener and there’s Jesus response so suitable for these COVID times: “Do not touch me”.
Two sets of resurrection stories are told within the Gospels: one set around Jerusalem – the empty tomb and garden, the Emmaus road, the appearance to the disciples the upper room, and a week late with Thomas. The other in Galilee. Mark says Jesus is going on ahead of the disciples and will meet them there. John’s epilogue is back where it all began on the lake shore where the community of the resurrection is renewed. They were broken and bemused but that was the start of the greatest missionary religion and it changed the way people lived throughout the world.
Tom Holland’s book Dominion gives an account of the influence of Christianity in shaping the way we live, developing change, mostly for the good– the value of each individual, Christian charity and the care of those in need, the creation of hospitals and schools, as a patron of the creative arts and so on. These things are not exclusive to Christianity but in the West their development has depended very much on Christianity. It’s not directly political but is the outworking of our being the Easter people whose creative song in response to beliefs and values is Alleluia!
The hope of Easter is of new life and a new community. However long this pandemic goes on, there is hope.
As with the first disciples, we live in a disorientating time. There is anxiety. We are having to work it out but whatever is going on in our world, the tectonic plates are shifting. After the pandemic things are not going to be the same. It is clear the pandemic is going to have to be managed for years; the economic crisis is on a scale not known except because of war; at last we are beginning to feel the urgency of the environmental and climate crises. If we are serious about wanting to build back better we will have to build back different.
15 months ago no-one would have believed the scale of behavioural change we have undertaken would have been possible. That is good news and if we are going to build on it we will need the energy of those fired by the resurrection of Christ to renew ourselves, one another and our communities.
The political response to the pandemic has been very interesting. For all of my lifetime the political mantra has been, “it’s the economy stupid”. Governments were expected to deliver economic growth and increased prosperity. Come the pandemic and what matters most is health and wellbeing. People matter more than things, and there’s not been much argument about it.
But there is now an economic crisis and sections of society and parts of the world are suffering economically very seriously. In attending to the economic crisis we must develop sustainably and in ways that are fair and just. People love challenge and the creative possibilities of moving from a carbon-based economy to carbon neutral one, of serving and conserving the earth rather than consuming it is a very big challenge but it can be a joyful and creative one.
A level of economic wealth is necessary for people’s wellbeing but what does having enough look like and what is it that make us really happy? Christianity has got something to offer here because our happiness is in using the gifts of creation aright and in our relationships with God and one another. In this Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
At the moment, it is evident that we are struggling to do things in ways that benefit the whole community and for the good of all. Economic fairness matters so those of us on fixed incomes and who have been financially protected through the pandemic are going to have to contribute more.
The environment has had something of a sabbatical and we have all enjoyed the improvements in air quality. We need the same scale of change every year through to 2030 if we are going to stand any chance of being Carbon Neutral by 2050.
It is frustrating not to be able to travel but we have rediscovered the local. I have loved local walks some of which were new to me. Coming back out of lockdown we need to avoid being mesmerised again by the romance of global travel and thinking that somehow our sense of worth and social standing depends on the air miles we can clock up and number of places to which we can go. It has been a scandal for years that aviation and maritime fuel is not taxed to the same extent as motor fuel and we have got develop sensible carbon pricing in relation to air travel.
A strength of Christianity is that it has taken root in every time and every place. Christianity has the capacity to be very helpful because the Church is local and global. We need to focus on being local and think and act globally. We need strong international organisations.
Christianity also helps in providing the motivation for us to care for God’s creation. Prayer and contemplation help us give thanks for all that we have been given in this glorious creation, to value life and care for creation, rather than abuse it and consume it.
Whatever it means to live in the resurrection, in Christ we are a new creation. We are confident about the gift of life, the creativity that is in our God-given nature, the goodness, truth, love, joy, peace by which we seek to live and the grace, mercy and forgiveness that address the realities of our failures and selfishness.
Easter is about resurrection and hope and it has a very big impact on the way we live here and now. We live as people who believe in the resurrection and that is our Easter hope to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song. Amen. Amen. Amen.