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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter Day, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 27, 2016

Acts 10:34-43; Luke 24:1-12

‘What happens to make Good Friday good?’

On Good Friday, with Jesus, we can seek to be faithful to the God who is love. We can seek to love amid temptations; in the face of opposition, fears and hatred. And when we come to the limit of endurance and understanding, we can, like Jesus, commit our spirits to God. We can let go.

On Holy Saturday, what can we do? Perhaps we do our best to stay together – when forces threaten to scatter and demoralise. We support one another in the power of whatever presence we can muster. A smile, a song, flowers for the altar, cups of tea and coffee … stenciled artworks of lilies and homes at risk of demolition, a “cosmic” guitarist; labours in the vestry, labours atop a ladder with cleaning cloth and paint brush. A silent or reverent presence – the tradition calls it a vigil.

Participating in Good Friday and Holy Saturday – however we attempt to do that – but assuming we make an attempt, assuming we seek to be more than spectators in Holy Week – can bring us to a point of exhaustion. An all-night vigil …

It might even bring us to a point of terror. On Friday I suggested some words for what we might face: temptations to material greed, temptations to entitled dominance over others, and a fascination with magic we readily confuse with religion.

The three little artworks in the gallery represent the temptations faced by Jesus and all. A materialism preoccupied with bread. A pragmatism that treats people, nations and creation itself as objects to be mastered, manipulated, monitised. A spiritualism in thrall to magic; in denial of embodied existence.

We encounter evil (the [disembodied] “devil” as the gospels tell it). We encounter death.

Liberation theologian Jon Sobrino sees in Good Friday faith an element of intimidation, a break with respect to one’s socioeconomic position or conflict with respect to cultural or national or other special interest. He writes: “Now is the time to make a decision.”

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams makes a similar point in underlining the gospel invitations to “recognise one’s victim as one’s hope”.

Who are the victims of my materialism? Who suffers at the hands of my pragmatism? Who pays the price for my wanton spiritualism?

These are deadly questions, in both senses of the word. God be with you

What’s striking about Easter Day, though, is that there’s nothing we can do to make it happen. I can’t move myself through death. I can’t make myself believe in life after death – the “resurrection of the body” or “the life of the world to come” (as the creeds would have us profess).

There’s certainly an impotence I experience in the effort to produce an Easter homily. I can’t help wondering whether I’m not just repeating traditional phrases like “Alleluia! Christ is risen”. It can seem like nonsense.

In this year’s Easter Day Gospel the angels implore the terrified women at the tomb to remember the words of Jesus. And they do remember the words. And they do repeat them to the Eleven, to the men. We are told that the words “seemed like nonsense”. We are told that Peter sees “nothing but the wrappings” of the body of Jesus. And “so he went away, full of amazement at what had occurred”. Terror, amazement. The place of death, the deadly place, now unfamiliar. Is this faith?

Everything so far might be described in terms of attending to another, up to and including attention to the death of another. The death of one at risk. The death of one betrayed. And repeating his life-affirming words seems like nonsense. Attending to the empty space he or she leaves behind is to see “nothing but the wrappings” of a body, of a life. I can choose to love, choose it with all my might – seek to repent, to turn my attention from greedy and foolish pursuits toward the good, toward another – and experience “nothing but the wrappings” – mere words, images, stories.

So what happens on Easter Day? What happens to make Good Friday good? How are my eyes opened to see more than the wrappings of Easter – other than the wrappings of Easter eggs, prayer sheets, song books? What is it that seizes me and turns my fear to courage; my failure to new vision; my despair to hope?

Easter comes as a gift. It is precisely not something we can make happen.

We can share that it has happened, where it has happened, for whom it has happened. We can keep tracing the story (psychologically, liturgically, politically) of the Christ who “went about doing good works and healing all who were in the grip of the devil” as Peter says (Acts 10:38b) – and taking part as best we know in that same story.

Attending to the empty space opened by the three deadly questions is certainly one way of taking part.

Who are the victims of our materialism (our endorsements of consumer culture)? Who suffers at the hands of our pragmatism (our patriarchal-colonial violence)? [In Luke’s Gospel women are frequently portrayed as exemplars of faith and faithfulness. The “nonsense” they speak invites repentance and new understanding on the part of the men. How is it we’ve not always seen that to be so?] And who pays the price for our wanton spiritualism (our disembodying fantasies)?

Even this, though, is grace – to love at all (to love questions like these, and the space opened by them) is a gift – and yet … and yet to believe in love: to become courageous, and to have new vision and hope, to have been moved from despair to joy, from perceiving a human tragedy to perceiving a divine comedy – is sheer gift. It happens within us, and to us, and for us, in spite of us.

I can’t make it happen. Not for me. Not for anyone else. And yet, as a preacher and as a person of faith I can say, with Christ (Victim and Victor) and with all the friends of Christ (fellow victims of consumer culture, patriarchal-colonial violence and disembodying fantasies) whose old selves have been made new: “We give you thanks, O God.”

As a preacher and as a person of faith I can say, with Christ (Victim and Victor) and with all the friends of Christ (fellow victims of consumer culture, patriarchal-colonial violence and disembodying fantasies) whose old selves have been made new: “We give you thanks, O God.”

Let’s complete the homily together. You’re invited to come to the altar-table, to touch a symbol of new life and to say, “I give you thanks, O God”. You might like to add a few words as to why you have chosen a particular symbol … Amen.