The Resurrection makes Christians an Optimistic People
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
It is not hard to preach on Good Friday really. Most people by the time they are of any age have understood disappointment, heartache, betrayals, doubts and worries. We have suffered bereavements the loss of friends or family. We can draw congregations on and enable them to understand the words of Jesus when he said
'my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.'
It is not difficult to put across the message of darkness, of pain and suffering, because it is all around. It is relatively easy to identify with a Jesus who is maligned, tortured troubled and in pain. A legal process which convicts the innocent and displays miscarriages of justice. Suffering, passion and death, these are common messages in our world and Jesus shared in that human lot which we know all too well.
A theology which said that -
- 'God was not around,'
- 'that we were living in a hostile place governed by the forces of evil'
would find many believers.
Doctrines which speak of
- 'the corruption of humankind and of paradise lost'
resonate with many who have given up hope.
In this our generation the spirit of cynicism and criticism is perhaps at an all time high. There is little respect for our leaders either in church or state and we clamour for evidence to confirm to us that all are corrupt. Oh yes, our television and especially our newspapers are always telling us how bad everything is, but sadly it is this that sells newspapers. We all dislike Beds on Sunday but we read it because it dishes the dirt. We do not read stories which are upbeat and promising and tell of good people living ordinary good lives in undramatic ways every day. We seem to have a perverse pleasure in reading bad news. If the definition of pornography is 'that which is likely to deprave or corrupt,' then I suggest that we need to look afresh at what we consider to be pornographic.
Most daily newspapers feed the reader on a diet of depression, which emphasises bad news, and largely ignores the good news which just goes on day by day in the very ordinary lives of most people. The truth is that most people are basically decent and honest. But there is no copy in telling stories of the men and women in their ordinary unremarkable ways. What sells is bad news and it corrupts and depraves us too. It makes us believe bad things about one another and about God's world. We are surrounded by this pornography and it is freely delivered into our homes and our minds on a daily basis.
Let me give you a simple example, Bishop Christopher came to Putnoe recently and he had spoken in the House of Lords about the miracle which had taken place at Putnoe Heights Church with the rebuilding scheme and all the community groups which now meet there. He could just as easily have spoken about the role of St Mark's Church as well. Is this given coverage in our newspapers? No, even the Church Times reported it wrongly.
I know this to be true from personal experience. Whenever I ring the newspapers or TV with good stories about our church or the wider community they don't want to know, they will not spend valuable column inches on good news. They want to tell us about the bad things, the people who have been dishonest, the crimes and trouble in our community. I could fill a newspaper every week with good stories about decent people who live their lives serving others, but these are seldom reported.
But I am not attacking newspapers or the media. This sadly is our fault. We are all too willing to listen to messages of doom and gloom. That is why today is a more difficult day on which to preach. Today we remember that Jesus having taken upon himself all of the pains of humanity, having died on that cross, rose again. How do I as preacher go about breaking good news! Its hard! How do I break through from Good Friday with the message that Christians are now people who live in a time of joy and hope and encouragement. We are a people who have been given the assurance of peace, confidence, excitement and joy!
Ask yourself, 'to what extent do I share among those around me messages of hope?' Is your language the language of Easter, bringing the joy of Christ? Or is it pornographic, does it share in the general depravity, part of the great cynical and critical tide which depraves and corrupts even more a generation which has few messages of hope? And so today I think it is the task of the preacher to remind you to stop listening to those who would crush your Christian hope and tell you to look to the empty tomb of Jesus.
With many surrounding us with bad news it is easy to develop a permanent attitude of negativity and cynicism about life. Swamped by a stream of misfortune and setbacks we can become hardened in the present and pessimistic about the future. Christians should not be a pessimistic people, they are by nature an optimistic people because Christ has risen from the dead! Alleluia!
Now it is interesting how hollow the word 'Alleluia' sounds on the lips of many people. It means of course 'Praise God.' But to say it implies that we have something to be thankful for and upbeat about. Of course therein lies the problem for the doom mongers! They will do all that they can to convince us that this is not so. They tell us that there is no assurance, there is no proof, that there is just such a lot we do not know. No wonder that the Apostle said,
'If Christ is not risen from the dead then our faith is futile.'
He knew that it was the Easter story which was meant to sustain us all year round. Today of all days we must be optimistic and positive about life. We must not become so acquainted with passion of Good Friday that we forget to be happy. Just as we in our generation can work so hard at being successful that we are too exhausted to enjoy its fruits, so our acquaintance with sorrow can be so relentless that we forget how to be happy.
'All will be well and all manner of things will be well,'
That is authentic Christian theology. The blinding reality of Easter is this, that just as day follows night, so too Good Friday is inevitably followed by Easter Sunday. The two are inseparable. It is true that we must never be so caught up in the joy of the resurrection that we forget the pain of the cross, and forget that we live daily on this side of heavens gate. Yet neither must we forget that it is not Black Friday, it is Good Friday because of today - Easter Sunday. When we are down and miserable and think that the world is such a bad place 'turn the page' turn it over from Friday to Sunday and see that with Christ even the bad days are 'GOOD'
We cannot experience joy without having known sorrow. Victory cannot be tasted as sweet, unless we are aware of the bitterness of defeat. We cannot rejoice in good times unless we have known bad times. However the point of today is that there is joy and victory, there are good times, we need and deserve to fully experience them too. Easter blossoms out of Good Friday as surely as beautiful flowers grow in dirt. So too there is no affliction or pain or reversal of fortune that cannot be a stage for something positive and wonderful.
Jesus went through Good Friday to Easter to reveal to us that there is no defeat, even death itself, which may not be stepping stone to victory. I am not going to say that glibly because I know the pain that many people go through and the reality of real blackness, not just that drummed up by the peddlers of doom. And yet
- it is perhaps those who go through the most terrible difficulties - in faith,
- those who walk through the very valley of the shadow of death itself - in faith,
who speak most powerfully of the presence of the resurrected Jesus.
What is it that distinguishes us as people? It is not circumstances. We all experience sorrow and joy, admittedly in different measure it is our shared experience. We all have to live with love and loss. This is by virtue of being born human. So what does distinguish us from one another? What distinguishes those who are hard and complaining from those who are able to live and be at peace with God and his world? It is attitude.
If we are to be able to live the risen life of Christ then we have to have 'attitude' the 'mind' of Christ. A mind which did not become corrupted and hard, which did not resent and complain. It was a mind capable of forgiving even those who crucified him, so full it was of purity and love. Remember the headlines from God's Easter Story. They are not about how awful everything is, even when the story is told of the killing of Jesus the son of God, the messages are those of comfort and of hope! What stands out about the Easter story?
- Jesus goes willingly to his death, God is in control
- Jesus speaks forgiveness even to those who put him to death, now there's hope for all people
- Jesus promises the thief that he is going to paradise, yes heaven is a reality
- Roman soldier shouts out that Jesus was the Son of God, the power of God turns hatred to love
We could go on and on but we can't forget the big one
- Jesus raised from dead, now we know that not even death can separate us from God's love.
I started by saying that a theology which said that 'God was not around,' 'that we were living in a hostile place governed by the forces of evil' would find many believers. There was a wonderful line in a liturgy which Sam prepared for the leadership team, it said simply
'God who is making the heavens and the earth.'
We normally say maker of heaven and earth, or even who made (past tense) heaven and earth. Just that simple change of tense makes all the difference between a God who has cleared off and left the world to its own devices and a God who is here still making and upholding this world. This God who is making the world is a God who makes every Sunday a Sunday of the Risen Lord. That is why for the rest of this year we must be a 'risen people' and we must share our gift of a 'risen Christ' To experience this transformation, to know the victory of the cross, our hearts need to be freed from negativity, emptied of cynicism. To experience happiness we need to be open to joy. We Christians are an Easter people and at Easter we must examine the state of our minds. Are you celebrating this Easter? No matter what befalls us, no matter what obstacles lie ahead, the risen Lord bids us on to discover and share the joyous good news of Easter.