Bishop Clogher’s Easter Sermon 2010
Bishop Clogher’s Easter Sermon 2010

Easter is about transformation – transformation of Jesus, transformation of people, of situations, of perceptions and, indeed, of realities themselves. As the Gospel for Easter Day shows quite clearly, some people run with it, others set it to one side for the immediate present and return to it later – but the transformation at the heart of Easter does eventually transform the hearts of those who witness it. They are the same people and yet they are radically different. Can we embrace transformation on this scale, transformation of this magnitude and greatness on Easter Day 2010? The reach of this transformation is clearly spoken of with confidence in Colossians chapter 3. There we are encouraged to concentrate our minds on the things which are above and which are unseen. In this way, we hand over to Christ in God our life and that life is preserved and nurtured in him until Christ is revealed and we are revealed with him. In this way, the transformation from death to glory takes place organically. In this way, the transformation from old life to new life happens by symbiosis, the shared and inter-penetrative life which if God’s own life. This is a hiddenness not of secrecy but a hiddenness of heavenly reality. It issues in revelation, in abundant being, in mutual belonging. This is the depth and the richness of Easter faith and resurrection life. It is the place to which we are called. It is the fruit of our transformation in Christ.

Today’s Gospel Reading gives us two particular people who are transformed – Mary and Peter – and they were transformed in different ways and at different times. Mary hears what Peter reports in detail from inside the tomb. He and the other disciple simply leave. Mary remains behind and she has the first-ever recorded encounter with the Risen Lord. In Acts we find that the same Peter who on Easter Day departed has himself been transformed. He was the one who simply left the tomb but when we meet him again in Acts has grown in confidence and he too has a fresh encounter with the Risen Lord. This encounter and this transformation occur in the Scriptures themselves. His preaching in Caesarea tells of his assurance of the fulfilment of the promise of God that he is Lord of all. Peter sweeps up into the full-flowing river of his preaching the baptism, healing, teaching and exorcism; the crucifixion and resurrection – all of it is included.

Personal meeting and scriptural finding - these two types of transformation are still very alive at Easter 2010. Mary meets Jesus Risen and Peter presents Christ Risen. There is room for a variety of approaches and we need to be open, at all times, to both of these. Peter’s preaching tells us clearly that God is impartial – he is wide open in every place to those who love, fear and respond to him; God is historical – Peter recounts the things which have happened in the life of Jesus. We are to respond in preaching and testifying as the prophets testified. We need to do this in straightforward ways which are relevant and uplifting of others. Our calling is not to congratulate ourselves but to show Christ to others and to offer to others the hiddenness with Christ in God which is the gift of Easter to the world.

The transformation has other sides to it. Often we hear and watch Christians and Anglicans squabbling about who belongs and who doesn’t. The difficulty is that we look just like any other group of people, comfortable enough in our irritation with one another not to have to do anything, just talk about it. Not only do we fail to make any impact on others. We do not even inspire ourselves. The continuing problem which Easter presents is that it is very difficult to transform others if we are resisting transformation ourselves. The personalities at the heart of Easter show us the components of transformation which must always be present and to which we must want to respond. We remain open to being transformed by personal encounter; by recognizing God’s freedom to accept those whom God wants to accept; by preaching that what happens has consequences in terms of judgement both for the things that are below and the things that are above.

What might such transformation look like? I suggest no more than three things which, I hope, will set you thinking. The first thing such transformation might look like is that other people recognize features of Jesus Christ in our features and in our everyday life. The second is that we speak confidently about what has happened in history and about why it matters to you, as you and I listen to one another. The third is that it is abundantly clear that all we do has consequences here and hereafter. But often these things are expressed in ways which are entirely instinctive and spontaneous. Let me leave you with a transformation which took place in me on a cold afternoon in early February. I was saying goodbye to Pierre Dumas, the bishop of Haiti, as he left Europe to go back to his people, his home and his diocese. He had just told me that in the earthquake he had lost his niece and his brother-in-law. His parting words were: ‘Pray for me and I will pray for you.’ In that encounter, I felt transformed and now on Easter Day, as I continue to hope and to pray for Pierre Dumas and for the people of Haiti, I realize that on that day in February I felt deep within me something of what Colossians calls life hidden with Christ in God.

Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed – alleluia! alleluia!