Monday, April 9, 2012

Alleluia, the Lord is risen indeed! An Easter Message

We entered the church in darkness last night at the start of the Saturday vigil - a custom which according to our Rector dates back to the early church. And then the lights came on dispelling the darkness - the essence of Easter. But how does the wonderful and glorious celebration of the Risen Christ, even with the " heavenly " sound of Handel's Halleluiah Chorus, provide answers for the darkness which gripped our nation last week. A week during which the most horrific details of sexual abuse of our children surfaced, and then there was more. A sick mother locked in the bathroom by "savages", who then proceeded to rape her daughter, succumbed to the ordeal and died. How does the death of Christ and His victory over Sin, Death and Evil give succor to a grieving family suffering immeasurably from acts carried out by " children of the darkness". The late Anglican evangelical and highly esteemed theologian John Stott, whose books provided continuous companionship during the Lenten period, suggests that there are no glib or easy answers. But rather to acknowledge the reality that although the devil has been defeated, he has not yet been eliminated, and continues to wield great power. And to acknowledge the God who sent His one and only Son, to die at the hands of wicked men, does in deed care about the affairs of suffering humanity - and cares even to the point of dying on a Cross. We therefore live in a tension between the " already and the " not yet. Already God's kingdom has started, but not yet fully consummated. So we need to be prepared for continuous acts by children of evil and of the darkness, even against, and perhaps especially, if God' s wills it for reasons only he can "tell", God's children. But to rest assured that, the message from the Cross, and from the " empty tomb" is that, in Christ Jesus we have the Victory. Not to be triumphalist about it, but to proceed in faith to know that God is in charge regardless of what takes place. And if God is for us, who can be against us. Similarly Stott points out that the Psalmist is correct when he points to the fact that although, evil men and women seem to flourish and to escape God' wrath - that is only a temporary situation. " Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts come iniquity, the evil conceits of their minds know no limit .... surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence; all day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. .....When I tried to understand all this,'it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. how suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors. Psalm 73:1-19 NIV In fact last night, and again this morning, one of the readings from the book of Exodus reminded us how, when the children of Israel when confronted by the approaching army of the Egyptians, were told by Moses not to be afraid, as God would fight for them. And then came these chilling and reassuring words. " These Egyptians you see, you will never see again". You only need to be still. The same message goes out at Easter for the children of God. Sin, Death and Evil have in fact been conquered, and they cannot hold us in slavery anymore, once we are still and trust God, as Christ has gone on ahead of us, Christ is with us through his Spirit, to guide us into eternal life. But not so the children of darkness. If they persist in " fighting against God", sudden terror awaits them one day. That is the destiny of those " intellectuals" and philosophers and " smart people of this age", who though God's glory and mercy has been revealed on the Cross, choose to be disobedient and ignore the warnings of the church. No doubt it was to validate and reveal more profoundly this wretched condition of mankind why the Lord woke me up early this morning to read the book of Ephesians and then to go to the early morning service at 5:30 am. The reading speaks to the condition of the human heart, locked in darkness until Jesus, who is the light of the world, came and dispelled the darkness. " As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also loved among them at one time, gratifying the craving our our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of his wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions - it is by grace that you have been saved.....though faith, and this is from yourselves, it is from god - not by works so that no one can boast.......... ...remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now you who were far away have been brought near through the blood of the Christ". Ephesians 2: 1-13 NIV Now, if we realize where we are coming from as unbelievers, how we were in the darkness, how then can we not celebrate and sing with joy on this Easter Sunday. Conversely , how must we long for the souls of all we know, all our friends and relatives, and even those we do not know, some of whom write boldly in the newspapers ridiculing Easter and the Christian faith. There is a famous saying in Jamaica. " mout mek fe talk". In the sense that people can say anything until the wrath of God comes upon them suddenly, until the slope becomes slippery. And even then we continue to pray for them, and our souls for mercy from a loving god full of compassion's and slow to anger. But there is more: " So I tell this, and I insist on it, in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of he ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more....... For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live then as children of light ( for the fruits of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. That is why it is said: Wake up, O sleeper rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Be very careful, then how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil". Ephesians 4: 17-5: 16 NIV Finally a favorite line from a hymn loved by a wise old soul - she lived until she was over 100 years old and now gone to glory. And who I had the privilege of transporting to church for many years. We sang the entire hymn in church this morning as we celebrated the once again the fact of the Risen Christ. The Lord is risen indeed! Attending angels, hear! Up to the courts of heaven with speed the joyful tidings bear. We who are Easter people, people who are children of light, need to urgently bear the good tidings to a world still under the power of darkness. Still reeling from murder most foul, iniquity most horrible, and from unimaginable abuse and violence. A world still under the power of sensuality and lusting for more each day. A world, right at our doorsteps crying out for the power and majesty, and justice and mercy and the victory of the risen Christ, who lives in the hearts and minds of the faithful. I pray God that as we experienced the darkness of Lent, and come now into the glorious Light of the resurrection of the Crucified Christ, we may be witnesses to his Light and His mercy. Amen, and we join with millions across the world by in exulting: Alleluia, the Lord is risen indeed.