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Saturday, 4 April 2015

Resurrection: A mystery which continues to fascinate and enthral

Here is my sermon from tonight's Easter Vigil Service at St Stephen Walbrook. It will shortly be added to the London Internet Church website as an audio file.

In recent years a surprising number of Jesus novels have been published. Novels which retell aspects of the life of Jesus have been unexpectedly popular, both with writers and their readers. This fact is a demonstration of the continuing interest that the story of Jesus generates, even in a secularized culture. “Most of the Jesus-centred new fiction retells the familiar story of Christ from an unrecorded viewpoint, whether Mary, Mary Magdalene, Judas (very often) or Jesus himself” (Philip Hensher)

The latest of these, Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard, has as its central character Gallio, who has been assigned the task of minding the corpse of Christ. He finds himself in deep trouble when the body goes missing. Christ’s disciples claim he has come back to life so Gallio is tasked with proving them wrong in order to stop the worrying spread of this new religion. He tracks the disciples around the world, only to find each one murdered in ever more gruesome ways (

Beard contrasts Gallio’s search for a rational explanation with the mystery of Christ’s resurrection and the joyful walk of his disciples towards martyrdom. Reviewing the novel, Philip Hensher wrote that, as a result, we sense that the resurrection narrative is one “that we can only gaze at and realise the inadequacies of our tools for explanation?”

Whatever happened on the first Easter morning it transformed the lives of Jesus’ disciples to the extent that they were willing to die for their belief that Jesus was alive. People simply do not allow themselves to be killed for the sake of something that they know to be a lie. Christ’s disciples were all martyred because of an unwavering, unrelenting claim that Christ rose from the grave. Similarly, through the history of the Church into the present people like us have continued to claim that they have encountered Christ in their lives and that this encounter has transformed us in that we have become people who are seeking to become, however falteringly, Christ-like. Like the disciples our claim, as a result, is that Jesus is alive and at work, by his Spirit, in our lives. While we have not been placed in the position where we have to choose whether or not to die for this belief, many Christians throughout the history of the Church right into the present have, and have maintained their belief that Jesus is alive even when faced with death as a result.

As Beard explores through the character of Gallio, there is no rational explanation for this reality. It is a mystery which continues to fascinate and enthral even those who seek dismiss it with inadequate rational explanations. For those who believe it is Christ, the power of God and wisdom of God.

Why is this so? In the account of the resurrection found in Mark’s Gospel, the angel at the empty tomb instructs Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus has gone ahead of them. This is both a literal statement - that Jesus had gone ahead of them to Galilee and that they would find him there – and a theological statement – that Christ has been raised from the dead as the first fruits of those who have died.

In his incarnation, Christ identified with humanity by becoming one with us and taking on to himself the consequences of our sin. In his resurrection, Christ reveals all that humanity can become if we allow our sinful way of life to be dead and buried and are then brought back to life - awakened and enlivened - by the Spirit of Jesus. It is as we live in this new reality – this new way of being human – that the kingdom of God is seen in our world: lives are transformed; injustice is challenged; diversity is honoured; care is shown to creation; people, communities and cultures are loved into life.

When such signs of the kingdom of God are seen in reality it seems that people increasingly recognise that, at the very least, the resurrection narrative is one “that we can only gaze at and realise the inadequacies of our tools for explanation” and, at the very best, say, with us and the disciples that Jesus is alive, alleluia!


Aradhna - Mukteshwar.

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