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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Easter Sunday, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 20, 2014

Psalm 118; Matthew 28:1-10

‘Rushing to share Good News’

There is a story, familiar to Eastern Orthodox Christians, of Mary Magdalene preaching Christ crucified and risen. She preaches before Tiberius Caesar. Caesar scoffs and says that he no more believes in a crucified criminal rising to life than the egg in Mary’s hand turning red. At which point, the egg in Mary’s hand turns red. The story speaks of Mary’s boldness and effectiveness as a preacher and witness (in all likelihood it understates her role as a full and leading member of a messianic community of equals). Hence, we have our own red eggs to share today. God be with you ...

Matthew's account of the resurrection is distinctive in several ways. It depicts Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (probably Mother Mary) as contemplatives (they come to "see the tomb") in frightening proximity to armed Roman guards/soldiers.

It is the guards who tremble, however, as the earth shakes and the tombstone is rolled aside by an angel who assures the women of Good News, and invites them to see the empty tomb in which the body of Jesus had been laid.

These experiences - the earthquake, the angelic appearance, the emptiness of the tomb (the New Testament presents no witness to resurrection as such) - are interpreted as signs and traces of divine activity.

And the women rush to share with others the Good News of God's vindication of the life and teaching of Jesus ...

It is in their enthusiasm (with "fear and great joy"), their passionate concern for others who are hurt and grieving, that the women encounter the Risen Christ. They are greeted by Jesus who, like the angel, calms their fears; making intimate reference to those male disciples who had fled the scene of crucifixion. The women are commissioned to bring Good News of new life, indomitable love and forgiveness/reconciliation to the "brothers". "The scattered and terrified flock is to be reconstituted as the family of God" (Brendan Byrne).

It's no doubt important that the gospel writers give diverse accounts of resurrection appearances (there are 12 accounts in all). The common theme, though, speaks of nonviolence and love. There's not a hint of bitterness or retribution. In the cemetery garden, on the road to Emmaus, in Jerusalem, in Galilee, on the mountain-top, by the lake, in a locked room ... the Risen Christ calms fears, speaks of love, forgiveness, reconstitution, family, community ... in the context of persecution, danger, scapegoating, hating.

Matthew's account, then, is distinctive (coloured in apocalyptic tones and touched by a certain political awareness), highlighting concern for broken relationships and resistance to oppression, while at the same time helping to constitute a bigger picture of resurrection in terms of a love that will "never die", as we have prayed this morning.

I am reminded of Dorothee Soelle's understanding of resurrection. Soelle writes: "For me it is still the simplest ... formulation of the resurrection to say that they could not do away with [Jesus]. They simply could not succeed in destroying him. That is resurrection. What his life meant, what his spirit was, what his disciples did, this 'yes' to God's will lived, and lives today, and this life appears in the cross" (Thinking About God, p. 132).

Sometimes the church expresses anxiety over a proliferation of Easter stories and symbols. But it's right to speak richly and wildly of indomitable love - by way of magical bunnies/bilbies and chocolate eggs, eggs turned red and angels atop tombstones, apparitions, appearances, scarred hands and feet, commands and kind words recounted in Holy Spirit. As Sister Anne said on Good Friday, forgiveness leads to chaos, which opens all manner of possibility ...

It's not that there is one right and proper way to understand resurrection but that orthodoxy (right thinking and right praising) affirms kaleidoscopic expressions of faith, hope and love.

Heresy tends to limit understanding - focusing, for example, merely on spirit or merely on the body. Orthodoxy affirms bodily-spiritual hopes and actions.

To love like Jesus - at the risk of rushing forward in mad enthusiasm - is to love the bodies and spirits of neighbours and creatures with whom we share this world in all its immanent and transcendent glory.

To love like Jesus is to love the body and spirit (the matter and meaning) of history, politics, art, science - to care diligently for texts and interpretations; to share accountability for texts and interpretations.

To love like Jesus is to love the body and spirit (the gritty realities and imaginative flights) of our faith tradition - which means loving beyond even time-honoured binaries like body and spirit. Loving is always and already in excess of reason, common sense, one or other philosophy, one or other theology.

If, like Mary Magdalene, you have ever known love like this, you have believed in resurrection.

If, like Mary, you love another, willing the good and the new in and for another, you believe in resurrection - to the fully Christian extent that qualities of goodness and newness repeat the words and actions of God in Jesus, friend to the poor and broken, the persecuted, punished and detained/imprisoned.

It is faithful to pray for a word that challenges and exceeds the binary: "compassion for refugees/responsible border protection". It's faithful to call for a policy that constructs a new compassionate and responsible nation around those fleeing persecution who seek asylum on our shores. This is precisely the kind of ethical (having to do with love) impossibility or impasse susceptible to the tremors of resurrection power and faith. At yesterday's Holy Saturday Vigil outside the office of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Christians of various traditions prayed and called for a new way forward, together. Bipartisan, regional, humane, lawful, hopeful.

To love like Jesus is to enter into love - respect, reverence, compassion. To submit to the reign of love. The humanity and divinity of Christ is a place we can go, a place - Jesus calls it the kingdom or kindom of heaven - we can inherit, become, cultivate, cherish. In the name of what we see and touch and think; in the name of a life and a world to come; in the name of a promise that even now, keenly now, draws us to this place of singing and praying.

Christ is risen. Zie is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.