Monday, 9 April 2012

Leading Church in England Easter Messages

Easter Sermon by Archbishop Rowan Tree
Clapham Cathedral, Sunday 8th April 2012

Note: the congregation is noisy and starts to heckle.

Let's see if I can express myself. You're walking along and the secular gangs go 'la la la' against us, we Christians, but we walk on further: their high point or is it low point has perhaps passed and if only we would have a good debate and less publicity and hysterics. But I like Richard Darwins and the debates I've had with him. Yes, the dark alley is past and there's a bit more visibility or light and, indeed, the crowds aren't exactly filling the churches but no longer do we get the blame...

Pardon? What am I going on about? I'll get there. I was trying to set the scene but we have Sandles and Skidlesticks valuing the religious input to economics, and then Alan de la Bottom and his Religion for Atheists who thinks he knows the best bits of religion - not those embarrassing beliefs that I am about to address. It's not that...

What? No, I am not saying the beliefs are embarrassing. I am being ironic, I hope, in my run-in to make a point. If I may continue. It's not the crowds returning to church but a change in how serious and liberal-minded people are discussing faith.

Sorry? Well 'liberal-minded' is not necessarily necessary to be serious. It's a turn of phrase, I think. I suppose I was liberal-minded once, and may be again. We believers are not "brainless" any more - OK they never quite said that; but after all I have been defending the religion, and we are not "oppressive"...

What? Have I really been oppressive while Archbishop of All England? Tut tut. Rather I have been - we are - an ally against the insane limiting nature of current economic life.

It may be that the young don't know there is a Lord's Prayer or can't say it, but even if they are deeply deeply unlikely to cross the threshold of a church, they do agree with my chosen authors that... Yes I know they'll not have heard of them. The schoolchildren will know there is something about us and now is not the time for schools to stop doing what we would be doing if they didn't - that is teaching RE. There are a few RE teachers that treat the subject seriously rather than the lesson giving the pupils of this country an hour off with a bit of colouring in. But I could wander off at this point. I have to do fifteen minutes. Yes I am sure but it's a lot less than my predecessors did.

So no longer does the alleyway go on and on, and perhaps the aesthetic of Easter has a chance. But that's not good enough, really, is it, because up and down the land people are asking, or dodging, the question, is it really true. Maybe - all right - they are not and have something else to do. The clergy then, up and down the country. They are asking. Yes we are a dogmatic religion and we must face up to those embarrassing questions.

So many liberals want to wriggle out of this. So let's list what is not the case. You'll like this.

The story we are told isn't that the message of Jesus lives on; the story we are told is not that the empty tomb is a piece of the imagination to inspire; the story we are told is not that Jesus survived death, but the story we are told is like a metaphor that the wall became a window - to borrow from Robert Knox - that we see behind all these things that people say the story is. In other words, it is that God willed and did something, through the fabric of things, opening things out, that the women and men witnessed on that one day, so that Jesus could be with us and we be with Jesus living together that God has done and reconciles love between us.

What do you mean you are lost? Doesn't this make sense? I'm saying that this reconciling love might be what attracts these more liberal-minded commentators now, even if Alan de la Bottom was making more of an aesthetic and cultural argument, or John Rutting composes for cultural reasons because he doesn't believe either, or that German chap Reverend Professor Der Mutt who opposed me on the Covenant and who said we have here a cult of the individual.

You want me to spit it out? It's hardly the relevant expression, is it. Say it simply? Humm. Well, that which is no longer toxic, that vision to attract if a little, is so only because we are told God raised Jesus. There you are, I said it.

We don't have a brilliant set of story writers, dramatists, playwrights - I mean, you could not get the staff. Not from the disciples available, that bunch of mediocre mistake makers. Not compared with the boss.

What do you mean is it true? Aren't you satisfied? Of course it is, but I can't give some sort of knock-down scientific proof. It is how it works through the community and through us, by living it. No I am not compromising again. No, I am not dodging. I'm not jogging round the embarrassing bits again. We say to the cultured not quite despisers, these days, you have to stop just observing and live it, live in it.

See, if God exists and is active, if his will raised Jesus from the dead, then we the population do what we can but the future isn't only about our efforts. Well, I'm saying 'if' not because I doubt it, but as a means to affirm it aren't I. I've never been heckled so much in all my life. No I haven't stepped back from affirming it. I am saying we have full responsibility about our efforts too. No, I said it isn't only about our efforts, but Pascal says we can't sleep while Jesus is in pain. Well he is still in pain even if raised because there is still suffering. What? What - there shouldn't be any? Well we might be tempted to make some futile gesture, but that's no good, or become consumed with guilt that we haven't acted enough and that's no good. Be like that and it'll make us unattractive again. Yes, I know it is in our liturgy, what we have left undone and done a futile gesture. What have you lot been eating this morning?

Think of how we are trapped by irreconcilables, like the Jews should have Israel given what happened to them but they should stop duffing up the Palestinians as false security and both sides should be peaceful. What do you mean you want me to stick to whether I believe it or not?

I'm talking about a God who acts, aren't I, to support reconcilers who also believe in a God that acts. Do they believe in a God who acts, with empathy for one side and the other? That's the question you should be asking, not if I do. That's just being trivial.

In fact, in the end, it is not about a God who endorses your own version of reality. So the cultural not quite despisers might be right. God is not just on our side. And you extend the hand to the other in situations of human conflict.

I'm not wriggling. What I'm trying to say - I know that I am always trying to say - is that believing what we are told that God did raise Jesus is no excuse for hanging back for God to also do something about conflict. That would be just trivial. Or maybe not. Perhaps God has got his priorities wrong. Perhaps he is busy and we don't see it.

I mean we believe this God acts as a kind of foundational thing, or I seem to need to do - I mean deism is so unsatisfactory - so to give us space in a world where God creates a future. Because if God didn't give us a future we'd only have a future. But resurrection is like a space-maker with a kind of spontaneity making space, producing that window. So whilst some are warming to religion a bit, and has social value at last, with less of the Richard Darwins, we are doing the embarrassing part and going beyond saying it is nice but actually believing in God doing things even when we have run out of puff, I think you'd call it down there.

You can stop heckling now because the window has become a wall again. Except I suppose I am saying that shouldn't happen.

Does this happen in most cathedrals?

Meanwhile, John Sendmehome wrote a column in The Stunner, much against continuing advice.

I wanna tell you a story. Back in the USSR in early Commie days this Nilolai Bukharin went to Kiev to ridicule the beliefs that today the Archbishop of England admits are embarrassing. But as Bukky did this, and did a demo job, this priest knew a trick or two for the questions and said, CHRISTOS ANESTE- EK NEKRO-N. That wasn't some code words for a space ship, or writing for your next tattoo, but an ancient greeting of 'Christ is risen from the dead' and the whole crowd did what they used to do and rose like Cliff Richard crashing and singing "He is risen indeed." Wow.

Bukky didn't realise that these embarrassing bits are not an ideology to argue about, but a liturgy for repetition. They still had the habit.

You won't find that response in the grave of past experience, ha ha, or what you reckon is so, but in surprises and new life like a Jack in the Box. Now you and me, like, we might be crying, but would we recognise Jesus if he turned up with a hanky to dry our eyes? Like a chap on the London Underground, he can break through barriers, like put up by the fightened disciples. By the way, do not dodge fares. Or he might come for a walk alongside us but would we know who we were walking with? I'm not saying you should walk with strangers.

But Jesus is the one who created all the good things you like to buy in the shops. He is the big factory man. Ha ha, I really mean he's the nice man behind all the good feelings you have for one another, and your hopes and dreams (and if you're on the dole) - and that's how you recognise him because he is there and Rowan Tree would refer to this as metaphor and say it is also real, that the story of our lives is as real as it gets. I'll miss him.

Let me reassure my mate Rowan, before he goes. Kids in school do know about the crucifixion and resurrection, because I asked them in Brum a long time ago. A lad told me that Jesus in his back garden said they are going to kill him but added "Oy you sleepy lot don't eat my easter eggs because I'll be back in less than three days." Wow. Brill.

Now easter is in the egg. Take a real boiled egg for breakfast. When you slice the top of the chucky egg off with a knife, doesn't that remind you of the door to the tomb being rolled away? Wow! When you put your bread strip soldiers in the runny yellow bit, isn't that like the Roman soldiers on guard getting a bit messy? And where did Jesus go? I like my chucky eggs for breakfast. And when I go to work on an egg, that's like resurrection as if I have a new body. Wow, just thinking about it.

But if you have a chocolate one, buy it fair trade to help others, and remember children that are missing and can't be given an easter egg. But whatever you do, don't forget to buy the hope you can read about in your super, soaraway Stunner ever day, seven days a week. Wow!

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