This is a sermon for Easter day, given in the “church next door.” To my regular readers, I apologise for the delay in posting; I have had a small break, and it seems, was so exhausted after the Easter services that I didn’t even think to post my sermon on the day!
“This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.” That’s what I just sang as part of the exsultet, the joyful and victorious proclamation of the resurrection.
It’s because we remember that – that intimate link between Jesus’ resurrection and our own being washed clean in God’s sight – that Easter is a time for renewing our baptismal promises, which we will come to in a moment.
You might be forgiven for wondering why we do that; after all, we were all baptised; we are part of the community of faith, and we are reminded of that as we gather week by week. Do we really need to go through the process of saying these things again?
But I think that while need might be too strong a word, we can benefit from it. It is very easy for our focus to drift in the Christian life; to treat church – at least subconsciously – as a social outlet or a bit of a club of the like minded, or even just the place where we come to leave behind the stresses and strains of the rest of life.
But on this day, perhaps more than any other day in the Christian year, we remember that there is so much more than that at stake.
Baptism is all about belonging, not just to a social club, but to a spiritual reality which has the power and the potential to totally transform each of us. Christ rose from the dead, and his resurrection redefines the horizons of human potential forever.
Paul put it this way when he wrote to the Colossians: “so if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” If you have been raised with Christ; this isn’t just an event in the past, which happened to someone else; it’s an intimate part of the life story of each one of us. Seek the things which are above, where Christ is.
When we say that we “turn to Christ,” there is so much wrapped up in that phrase. We are saying that we want to live a life in which evil and hatred have no permanent hold on us; a life free of crippling guilt and shame; a life in which we can walk in joy and hope and peace; a life, in short, in which we can experience something of heaven on this earth, and we know the companionship of the creator of the universe.
We are saying that we acknowledge that there is more than one way to be, in this life; that good and evil, light and darkness, are real; and that we want to, as best we can, align ourselves with what is good. And that we want to incorporate ourselves into a community which has made the same commitment; a community which can offer us support, encouragement, teaching and enrichment, and in which we can also make a contribution and play a part in supporting, encouraging, and enriching others in turn.
That’s what we recommit ourselves to this morning. We seek the active involvement of the Holy Spirit in our lives; that God might be at work in our hearts from today, helping us to grow in love and generosity and kindness, and looking outward to how we might be of service to others.
These are not small things. They don’t happen by default. They need to be approached intentionally, carefully. Of course, good people of all faith positions and none will seek to be good and moral people, but this is about more than that. It’s about seeking a life which will be profoundly shaped by the One who created everything that exists, and who so desires intimate, loving relationship with those He created that he was willing to become human, to suffer and die, to make that relationship a living reality.
And part of that relationship with God means knowing and being a part of God’s people, because the Holy Spirit isn’t given to us each individually just for our own benefit, but so that we can be integrated together into a community; a community which looks outward with passion and purpose towards the world which God loves. In baptism, each of us brings something uniquely valuable to that community; each person is irreplaceable, and when one of us is not here, we are all diminished.
(And I don’t mean “not here” just in the sense of “not attending services” as if the sum and point of being a Christian were being in a pew on Sunday morning; but a broader sense of active participation).
This is what it means to fight the good fight; to seek after truth and accept no imitations or substitutes; to have the courage to grasp the vision of what God’s reign can mean for human life, and to work towards that at every opportunity; to learn to embrace the value of human flourishing above self-gratification. To come to the end of life knowing that you’ve lived it with integrity and kindness and finished the race well, open to the glory of God wherever it may be found.
These are big things. Sometimes they are hard things. Sometimes they are costly. But this is the vision and the set of values to which the church is committed and constantly recommits itself, even though we understand that we can never live up to it perfectly.
And that’s why the serious questions and the affirmation of faith. Because they spell out and help us all to understand what it is that we are seeking to be part of. They help us to integrate God’s vision for us more firmly into our own identity. And they help us all to know what is at stake when we come to the font; not just some empty words. Not just a feel good moment (although there is something of that). But our own inheritance in the kingdom of heaven; an inheritance which comes with both blessings and responsibilities, to God and to one another.
This morning, as we celebrate the resurrection, we know that the kingdom of heaven has come near. It opens us up to new horizons of possibility and makes available to us profound reserves of love and hope. And it is to this that we come, open and trusting, and ready for new beginnings with God.