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The Bishop of Lincoln delivers Easter sermon

16 April 2017

The Bishop of Lincoln has delivered his Easter sermon in Lincoln Cathedral...

Some verses from today’s epistle from St. Paul, from his letter to the Colossians:

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.

We live in a painful and confused world and the question any preacher might ask on Easter Day is what hope can the resurrection of Jesus Christ bring to us as individuals and offer to such a world?

We have travelled through Lent and Holy Week in order to be able to declare today with all the joy and enthusiasm that we can muster that ‘Christ is risen’.

We have looked forward to this day for some time – particularly those of us who made sacrifices in Lent like giving up alcohol or luxuries or who made special efforts to live a little more simply.

Today we can celebrate because we believe that the resurrection of Jesus was the ‘defining moment’ of Christianity. ‘We are the Easter people’ said St. Augustine ‘and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.’

But what are the consequences of the resurrection for us as twenty-first century Christians?

First, we can have confidence that our faith is based in history and real events.

Today, as every Easter Day, we can declare, with joy and confidence, that on the first Easter morning Jesus was raised from the dead by his heavenly Father: it was such a startling event to those who discovered it that they were transformed from being people of unhappiness and fear into being women and men of joy and courage.

Yes, the biblical accounts are mysterious – particularly those resurrection appearances when Jesus is not recognised at first. We can’t understand it all – this side of heaven – but we know enough, that something wonderful happened which transformed everything everywhere and that since that first Easter millions of Christians have witnessed to this event – many by giving their lives.

Secondly, we can have hope for the future because we believe – and this is not some optional extra part of Christianity but at its heart – that when we die because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God will raise us to new life.

We have no proof, we take it on faith – but it is a central tenet of Christianity that after death we shall be raised again to be with God in glory.

This is not some kind of ‘pie in the sky’ view of Christianity. Our hope is not just about future glory with God in heaven. It is about that – but not only that.

We should not pose a false polarity between life here and now and the life to come.

C.S. Lewis said that in history the people who were and are most effective in this world are the ones who have their minds fixed on the life of the world to come. He cites as examples:

The Apostles themselves, who set foot on the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

He said, rather crisply ‘aim at heaven we get earth thrown in’ and aim at earth and you will get neither. God’s love, shown to us in the death of Jesus on the cross and revealed in the empty tomb, is also about the here and now.

We can know God’s salvation today in terms of the love and forgiveness, kindness and compassion that can be found in the world and we are called to show to the world.

This is perfected in heaven – as St Paul says now we can only see as in a glass dimly but then we shall see face to face, but the point is that we can see dimly now. We can find love and forgiveness, kindness and compassion and we too can show that in the world.

These are things which our world desperately needs at every level and on every scale: the light of the resurrection can penetrate into the darkest of places, from the depths of the inner being of each one of us, to the fractured relationships between peoples and nations causing untold and unimaginable suffering to so many in our world today.

This brings me to my third and final point, which is that the resurrection impels us directly to lead lives of love today.

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.

The crucial truth is: that God’s love – perfectly expressed in Jesus of Nazareth and in him crucified and risen – always takes the initiative in inviting us into a healing relationship with himself. And that the opportunity given to us is: to stop the struggle by which we try to sort ourselves out, give in and accept his love and forgiveness even though we do not deserve it.

The discovery of salvation is humbly to recognise that God loves us and that his gracious love will heal us.

To discover that, to accept that invitation from God, is the beginning of the process of resurrection, as – responding to the love of God for us – we begin to discern that love within ourselves and commence a new and risen life.

St. Paul spells it out:

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.

And later St Paul tells what it actually means in our day to day lives:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

All the ingredients are here for a fulfilling and mature human life – compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and love.

If we live in this way and measure success in these terms we would become the people God has made us to be and our nation and our world – with all their difficulties at this time – will become closer to the world God intends, ‘…on earth as it is in heaven.’

So we have faith in the resurrection of Jesus, hope in life after death, and love for and in the world. Faith, hope and love: these three things were shown by Jesus; all were shown by the resurrection; and all can be shown by us in response to this morning’s world-changing good news:

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!