Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Easter Sunday


Easter Sunday
21 April 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

One of the strikingly different things about my ministry in the Falkland Islands was funerals

In the Falkland Islands, coffins were brought into the Cathedral the day before the day of the service itself

The body would repose at the Chancel steps overnight

Families would sometimes come in and visit their loved ones or stay with them into the darkness

When this has happened, I instinctively thought of the women preparing the body of our Lord for burial (John 19:40)

In a sense, the Church was like the tomb in which the body of our Lord was laid

Imagine for a moment that a hypothetical coffin was placed in the Priory on Friday

The Church was locked as usual but, when Matt arrived early on Sunday morning, he found the Church door open

The body gone – the burial clothes neatly folded up on the Chancel steps

What on earth has happened?

He would of course, immediately, think of rural theft and probably ring the police

But instead of finding the body, reports start filtering in instead

  • The deceased was seen by a gardener early in the morning outside the Duke’s residence
  • The deceased appeared to members of the congregation in Addingham
  • He was seen having breakfast with some fishermen down by the river
  • Walking on the road to Harrogate
  • And then appeared during a parish lunch, before vanishing after the breaking of bread

This would indeed be the greatest mystery of our time

There is no doubt that we would all struggle

But what would we make of it?

  • Would we hold to the theory of the stolen body?
  • Or would we proclaim the Resurrection of the dead?

In other words, what is the truth of the matter?

A few years ago, I read a book by the philosopher Peter Vardy – called “what is truth” – echoing the words of Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ trial

The book tries to explain the basis on which Christians claim something is true

Broadly speaking, Vardy suggests there are three different position

Realism – something is true because it corresponds to a specific fact or is understandable through reason. (Bolton Abbey)

Anti-realism – something is only true because it is held as true within a specific community. (Holy Spirit/prayer)

Scripture – The Bible reveals certain truths which don’t need independent verification 

As a Christian, you may reasonably hold to one or more of these positions

But as Vardy points out, all such approaches are flawed

To claim a fact is true or can be understood through reason– does not prove something is beautiful or the existence of God

To claim that something is true within a faith community – does not mean it is true for other faiths 

And as far as Scripture is concerned, as he points out, the Bible is full of contradictions and verses which have either been shown to be wrong or which have been abandoned because they are untenable

Vardy, as a philosopher, quite rightly questions truth claims and, in so doing, tries to get to the heart of an issue

But

  • Where does that leave us with the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
  • Where does that leave me with my proclamation of the resurrection this morning?

Like many priests, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of my faith  

I was at University in 1982 reading the Passion narrative – in Greek – during Holy Week

During my study of the text I was suddenly consumed with an intense feeling of joy. I don’t know why, or exactly which part of the narrative I had been reading – but at that point I felt knew the truth – I understood

My experience is something that will stay with me all my life

It was, perhaps, God revealing himself in Scripture

But on the basis of that experience alone, I am happy to proclaim joy of the Risen Christ this morning

However, for me, it is not just experience but reason as well

I subsequently spent twenty-five years of my life as a lawyer, assessing witness evidence

I became quite good (I thought) at judging whether a something happened or not

But I found that the truth, is rarely neat and tidy – more often than not it is messy, inconsistent and contradictory – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Indeed, if a story had been contrived it was normally pretty obvious

I was struck, as to the force of the evidence of in the Bible

  • Why does the account refer to the story of the gardener?
  • Why did John refer to the neat strips of linen and the head cloth neatly folded – was this a fabrication?
  • Why did the Gospel writers have women as the first witnesses to the empty tomb in a society where their evidence would count for less than that of a man?
  • What about the locked room or the Road to Emmaus

Why present the risen Christ in this way?

To me it didn’t make sense unless, of course, it was true

But of course, I could be wrong in both instances

  • I could be misinterpreting my experiences
  • And my judgement of the evidence could also be flawed

But Vardy comes to the rescue by changing the paradigm through which we view religious truth

And in doing so he makes great play of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant – born nearly three hundred years ago

Kant, he points out, divides the world into two realms

  • The phenomenal
  • The noumenal

Whereas, the phenomenal – the physical – is capable, to a degree, of being known, explored and explained

The noumenal – the world of the senses, experience – is not accessible in the same way

And it seems to me/this morning/ in this Easter Service that Kant’s observations are as valid now as they were two hundred and fifty years ago

The Dean of Christ Church Oxford said this about Easter morning

“The Resurrection breaks all frames of reference, bursting our perceptual boundaries, leaving the Gospel writers with the unenviable task of trying to piece together shards of information that exceed any prevailing [social] construction of reality”

We hear the account of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection from the dead, yet again, this morning

Something outside of the physical world – as we know it – and with which everyone struggles to make sense

 But if the disciples struggle to make sense of the resurrection – of the noumenal – then we should not be worried by our own struggles this morning or at all

They may have struggled but, nevertheless, they were so certain in what they had seen that they were prepared to die for it

Imagine for a moment if we were prepared to die for what we had experienced on the hypothetical morning I have just described?

St Paul says

If Christ has not been raised from the dead

Then our proclamation has been in vain

And so has our faith (1 Cor 15)

But if Christ rose from the dead, then this is an astonishing moment

  • In our lives
  • In our faith
  • In our world

This is, quite simply, the Day that changes the world forever

Today we all proclaim our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ along with 1/3 of the planet

We see our lives through an entirely l different lens

A world where we know that death has been conquered and that heaven awaits

And that changes everything

If like the disciples we too struggle – worry not, we are in good company

Like them, we can share their struggles but also share their conviction

We can proclaim the same truth together and say with confidence today and throughout the year

 “Our Redeemer lives”

Nicholas