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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


11th April 2004

Easter Day

Resurrection by Piero Della Francesca c. 1458

If you go to Greece or Russia for Easter you will find it goes with a bang. The Easter vigil is kept through the night. With the dawn the cry 'Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed!' issues forth to be greeted with cannon fire, fireworks, clanging bells and cheers to be followed by a day of feasting and celebration. The nearest we get in England to anything like that is the cacophony of New Year's Eve. It is not in our tradition to make so much of Easter. The Western Church has always put much more emphasis on the Crucifixion, with Easter as a rather muted finale to the story.

As a young man I was often disappointed with Easter. It seemed low key and often rained. I wanted an emotional high and sunshine. As I have grown older I have come to realise that Easter Day as it is described in the Gospels was not a day of great joy. That came later and gradually. At first there was shock, grief and bewilderment. The discovery of the empty tomb added to that. Had Jesus' body been stolen? The disciples were incredulous when they heard rumours of Jesus appearing to their colleagues and struggled to make sense of it all when Jesus appeared to them. Thus the proper exuberance of an Orthodox Easter comes out of the maturation of faith, of long years of reflection, something for which the Orthodox Church is particularly noted.

Behind my adolescent disappointment lay the question,' Was it true, did Jesus really rise from the dead?' Doubts added to that sense of disappointment and anti-climax. Well, I believed and still do, that Jesus did rise from the dead. Why? To answer that I always turn to chapter 15 of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. Most scholars date this letter to c54AD. Thus Paul was writing only two decades after the Resurrection of Jesus, setting down what was already commonplace in the churches. He reminded them of the Gospel he had already proclaimed to them. In their receiving of it they were being saved through it. Some though were denying the core message, hence the need to repeat it, then and now. So let's look at Paul's letter more closely. We can pick out his key points.

Our celebration of Easter with its movement from sorrow to joy takes us forward from such discussion. As the Paschal Candle reminds us, the Risen Christ leads us from darkness to light. In the renewal of our Baptismal vows we are reminded of our baptism into Christ, of our own passage with him from death to life and of the gift of the Holy Spirit who assures us of the presence of the Risen Christ in our lives. In the Eucharist we know him in the scriptures, in the breaking of the bread and in our fellowship with him and with one another.

Fired-up Mediterranean excitement would do our Easter celebrations no harm but the joyful truth of the Easter Gospel is no less true at the heart of our more reticent and understated Church of England keeping of the feast.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

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Last updated 11/04/04 09:00:00 Author: David Shepherd