Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; St John 20:1-18
Colossians 3:4: When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
The most exciting part of Easter is the way in which positive thoughts and actions suddenly take shape as the blindingly obvious expression of all we have been looking towards – the watching and the waiting and the frustration, all of the energy which has been dissipated by shattered hopes, honest fears and the gnawing brutality of death. Even the four short verses of our Epistle speak of the things which are above and of our revelation with Christ in glory in all that we now do as the people of the resurrection. Something new is here and something different has happened. Lifting our eyes, raising our sights, living above rather than below – this language is very different from what we are accustomed to – and all is set in the recognition that every time Christ is revealed, we are revealed with him in glory. This is the Easter gift God has given to us today, Easter Sunday, and it is the gift of transformation itself.
Easter is about transformation – transformation of Jes us Christ, transformation of people like you and me, of situations, of perceptions and, indeed, of realities themselves. As the Gospel for Easter Day shows quite clearly, some people literally run with it, others set it to one side for the present and return to it later – but the transformation at the heart of Easter does eventually transform the hearts of those who witness it and from whom it draws out a response in love. They are the same people and yet they are radically changed. And so my question is: Can we genuinely embrace transformation on this scale, transformation of this magnitude and greatness on Easter Day 2011? Can we in the church, and moving out from the church into our society, cope with such an invitation to transformation of ourselves? The scope and the extent of this transformation are clearly spoken of with confidence in Colossians Chapter 3. There we are encouraged to concentrate our minds on the things which are above and which are unseen. In this way, we hand over to Christ in God our life – present and future – in trust. That life is preserved and nurtured in him until the same Christ is revealed and we are revealed with him. The transformation from death to glory takes place organically and progressively. In this way, the transformation from old life to new life is such that the shared and inter-penetrative life which is God’s own life makes common cause after the Resurrection with our life and that bond is never shattered. This is a hiddenness not of secrecy but a hiddenness of heavenly reality. It issues in revelation, in abundant being, in mutual belonging. This is the depth and the richness of Easter faith and resurrection life. It is the place to which we are called, in which we are held. It is the fruit of our transformation in Christ.
Today’s Gospel Reading gives us two particular people who are transformed – Mary and Peter – and they were transformed in different ways and at different times. Mary hears what Peter reports in detail from inside the tomb. He and the other disciple simply leave. Mary remains behind and she has the first-ever recorded encounter with the Risen Lord. In Acts, we find that the same Peter who on Easter Day departed and did not remain has himself been transformed. He was the one who simply left the tomb but when we meet him again in Acts he has grown in confidence and he too has a fresh encounter with the Risen Lord. His preaching in Caesarea tells of his assurance of the fulfilment of God’s promise that he is Lord of all. Peter sweeps up into the full-flowing river of his preaching the baptism, healing, teaching and exorcism, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ – all of it is included.
Personal meeting and scriptural finding – these two types of transformation are still very alive at Easter 2011. Mary meets Jesus Risen and Peter presents Christ Risen. There is room for a number of approaches. We need to be open, at all times, to a range of these. Peter’s preaching tells us clearly that God is impartial – he is wide open in every place to those who love, fear and respond to him; God is historical – Peter recounts the things which have happened in the life of Jesus. We are to respond in preaching and testifying as the prophets preached and testified. Our calling is not to congratulate ourselves but to show Christ to others and to offer to others the hiddenness with Christ in God which is the gift of Easter to the world.
The transformation has other sides to it. Often we hear and watch Christians and Anglicans squabbling about who belongs and who doesn’t. The difficulty is that we look just like any other group of people, comfortable enough in our irritation with one another not to have to do anything, just talk, about it. Not only do we fail to make any impact on others. We do not even inspire ourselves. The continuing problem which Easter presents to us is that it is very difficult to transform others if we are resisting transformation ourselves. The personalities at the heart of Easter show us the components of transformation which must always be present and to which we must want to respond. We remain open to being transformed by personal encounter; by recognising God’s freedom to accept those whom God wants to accept; by preaching that what we and others do has consequences in terms of judgement both for the things that are below and the things that are above.
What might such transformation look like? I suggest no more than three things which, I hope, will set you thinking. The first thing such transformation might look like is that other people recognise features of Jesus Christ in our features and in our everyday life. The second is that we speak confidently and honestly about what has happened in history and about why it matters, as you and I listen to one another. This will become abundantly clear as the Decade of Anniversaries unfolds in both parts of Ireland in the decade ahead of us. The third is that it is abundantly clear that all we do has consequences here and hereafter. But often these things are expressed in ways which are entirely instinctive and spontaneous. Let me leave you with a transformation which took place in me on a cold afternoon in early February 2010. I was saying goodbye to Pierre Dumas, the Bishop of Haiti, as he left Europe to go back to his people, his home and his diocese – all of them shattered beyond recognition. He had just told me that in the earthquake he had lost his niece and his brother-in-law. His parting words were: “Pray for me and I will pray for you.” In that encounter, I felt transformed and now, as I continue to hope and to pray for Pierre Dumas and for the people of Haiti whom most of us have forgotten, I realise that on that day I felt deep within me something of what Colossians calls life hidden with Christ in God.
Acts 10:35: I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed – Alleluia! Alleluia!