Sermon for Easter Day – Sunday, 31 March 2024

By Revd Helen Cameron

Chair of the Northampton District of the Methodist Church; Moderator of the Free Churches Group; President of Churches Together in England; President designate of Methodist Conference 2024–25

Luke 24: 1 NRSV

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.

This Eastertide we rejoice in the light and glory of the risen Christ, the Prince of Peace, in a world marked by darkness and continued conflict. For some churches throughout the world, Easter has long been celebrated in the shadow of war and instability. We think of the Church in Sri Lanka. who experienced bombings on Easter Sunday and of Christians in Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Ukraine, where the resurrection of Christ is celebrated in the midst of the cruel reality of the killing of civilians, displacement of millions of people and the struggle against cold, hunger and want.

Even as we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus, we hold before God the countless places across the world where such deep suffering is seen and grieved by God, who shares our life in Christ and knows our pain, just as he knew the pain of the passion and crucifixion. In this season we also remember the sufferings of our brothers and sisters across the world who face the grave and present threat of the climate crisis denied, contested, or ignored by many.

In this season of hope we give thanks to God for all those who have reached out to refugees and spoken out against evil, for those who wish to be more welcoming than our government is being. Generous love, welcome and hospitality gives hope and transforms, and contrasts with military might or the creation of fear. The light of Christ shines in the darkness and it cannot be extinguished.

For all these signs of great hope, we give thanks. We must celebrate life conquering death, wherever and whenever we see it. We must be vigilant in order to be people of faith who see “the bright field’, as the poet R.S. Thomas describes it, rather than miss it by rushing on to the next thing, the next task, or look back on ‘what was’. Another poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning declared in Aurora Leigh:

… Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only they who see take off their shoes;
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries’

The power of the love of God which raises Jesus is available to us and all the world and we are given a great gift of being set ‘afire” with the victorious love of God which raised Jesus from death and will transform us and all the world.

But are we attentive, are we attending to the presence and the power of God in the risen Jesu?

‘At early dawn’ is a very significant phrase in this account of the resurrection of Jesus. The light levels would be low, perhaps the first disciples rose in the dark to prepare for their visit. Those who went first to the tomb of Jesus expected to see a dead body and so brought oils and spices to anoint it. They were expecting death but instead met resurrection.

Our calling this Easter remains the same as Christ’s call to his disciples: to be people who witness to the resurrection. When we, too, see and believe (Luke 24 records that the women remembered what the angels said and told others). We can be bringers of new life wherever we are. We too are called to stand with the oppressed, the marginalised and the forgotten. We too are called to cry out for God’s justice and mercy to prevail, to denounce injustice and reject inequality in all the ways they appear in our world. The resurrection of Jesus is not a private event, it is a promise that we too will rise with him.

God’s promise of new life, of death overcome and hope for the world. is made known through the risen Jesus and through us, his witnesses and friends to the wounded, the grieving, the confused, and the rejected.

We have a Saviour, who overcomes evil, not with might and strength, but is a pain bearer who does not turn his back on darkness, suffering and scarring, but bears it all for us, and so transforms it and us. The prophet Isaiah sees a time in the promises of God when the wolf and the lamb will lie down together in peace. We long for peace, we pray for peace, and we must work for peace. We must remember that there is no place, situation, or conflict too difficult to resolve by all people of good will working for peace

We must also remember that while it was still dark and all seemed hopeless on the first Easter Sunday, and the women went with heavy hearts to a tomb to anoint a dead body, Jesus had already risen.

On that first day of Easter death had already been defeated. The first day of God’s new creation, the new heaven and the new earth had already begun. While much seems dark and difficult for us and for the world, the work of God goes on, loving this creation and loving us, and through God’s work of love we are redeemed and transformed and can know joy.

Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Don’t hesitate’ reminds us that when we encounter joy we should not hesitate to recognize it, live it. She says, ‘whatever it is [that brings you joy], don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.’

We are offered more than a crumb of joy in the risen Christ, we are offered abundant life, in all its fullness by God.

My prayer this day is this:

Don’t hesitate to accept this joy, be transformed by it and be witnesses to it.

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed

Alleluia! Amen!