2016 Archbishop of Adelaide Easter Day Sermon

HOPE IN THE PLACE OF EMPTINESS

This week messages of hope were scrawled across the pavements of grief in Brussels.

There is a poignant connection and a powerful contrast between the tragic events there and those we remember in Holy Week.

This week in Brussels fundamentalist terrorism claimed the authority of God to make victims of the innocent.  In Holy Week we see God in Jesus Christ taking the role of the innocent victim. 

This week in Brussels, religious terrorists claimed the mandate of God to inflict suffering. 

In this Holy Week we remember one who preferred to accept suffering than to inflict it.

This week in Brussels people came to grieve the innocent so tragically killed, to be there with their questions, their incomprehension. On the first Easter morn a few shattered disciples came to grieve, to be there with their questions, their incomprehension.

From our Gospel reading:

They looked into the empty tomb and they did not understand what the Scriptures were saying.

For Peter and the other disciple (probably John) those very first hours of Easter were filled with grief and the incomprehension of tragedy.

Jesus, their friend, their teacher, their companion, their inspiration, betrayed and murdered.

And then, even more disturbing news, that something had happened to his grave.

So they ran to the tomb, and when they looked in he was not there.

they looked and they did not understand

Our temptation is to pass on quickly from these grey beginnings of the Easter story, and to rush to the joyful conclusion, to the alleluias and victory anthems, like skipping to the last chapter of a book to get the ending.

But Peter and the other disciples were far from that place of joyful clarity, when Easter began, on that morning when they were disturbed by news of the stone rolled away from the tomb.

Their hopes had been shattered. Their dreams, torn away. Dead and buried, they thought.

And they found themselves in the grey half light of many questions, staring into the place of emptiness.

they looked and they did not understand

As individuals many of us have probably had moments like that, when we have lost someone we have loved, or when life has made a tragic turn, and cherished dreams have turned to ashes, when grief and questions turn our life to grey.

And as a Church it has been our experience as well.

Something approaching 40 years ago I was a young man waiting to be ordained, and the Church had a place in Australian society that had only marginally changed over 200 hundred years, a placed of security and influence, a place of confidence that came from knowing, that a great bulk of people shared our values, even when they did not attend our worship.

And then suddenly, almost quickly it changed profoundly.

Probably the winds of change had been blowing for quite a time, but when the changes came, they came with a rush, and brought much grief, even shame, confronting us with empty spaces and burial things,

and the temptations of denial, or nostalgia, yearning for glory days gone, trying to hold onto things as they were, struggling to face emptiness.

The first disciples had to come to that place, and so have we.

they looked and they did not understand

We need to remember that this is part of the Easter story;

this grey time, this time of uncertainty, of questions and doubt.

One of the challenges for us as a Church today, is actually the challenge of living in this space;

this place of perplexity, this grey place of questions, where the comfort of easy answers disturbingly absent.

The world around us wants the quick fix. Easy answers are pedalled at us in 23 second grabs.

Slogan and spin.  Here it is. Take this. Do that. Quick and easy.

Equally, the religious fundamentalists are sure they have the easy answers, black and white. This or that. God or the devil. Accept our certainties our you are the enemy.

But for Peter and John, Easter began in a grey place where there were no easy answers, where they looked, but simply did not understand, a place of orbing emptiness, confronting perplexities.

It was there that their resurrection experience began.

It was a faithful place for them to be in, and it is a place where we too must be prepared to dwell for a time, if we are to be faithful to each other as the people of God, as we face the hard questions, whether it be in the Anglican Communion’s agonising over issues of human sexuality, or social issues such as those associated with genetic research, cloning and human identity, or the complex balancing of economic development and environmental care.

Yes, we can succumb to the short cuts, cut to the chase, grasp the easy answer, swallow the spin, but when we do that, as a Church, as people, we will probably disenfranchise many along the way and miss the possibility of life-changing depth.

Taking time to be in the grey and uncertain places. It is part of the Easter Story. Peter and John on that first Easter morning.

they looked and they did not understand

 Those first disciples can speak to us today.  

In a world increasingly divided by religious fundamentalisms and absolutist claims, the “faith with questions” of that first Easter has so much to offer.

There is not a doubt that their experience when they came to the tomb changed everything. And yet even in this life changing moment, there is also this frank admission of questions and doubt. Even as they grasped the heart of it, they did not claim to know it all.

In that faith-filled humility there is the basis of the sort of religious dialogue our world desperately needs.

To be in true dialogue as a Christian does not require me to abandon the heart of my faith.  What it does require is a touch of that first Easter morn, and the recognition that even in our strongest conviction,

we too “see in a glass darkly”.

 they looked and they did not understand

That’s how it was for Peter and John.

A grey morning of shattered grief. Doing what friends do in the face of tragedy. Coming to the place of emptiness.

That’s how it was for Mary as well, Coming in her emptiness.  Doing nothing more than what she knew she had to do.

 But it was from this grey place, that Easter began.

Not with every question answered, every doubt resolved, every uncertainty vanquished, but in a moment that broke through the emptiness and grief; to an encounter with the living Christ.

 staring into the place of emptiness

That’s where Easter can begin for you Just where you are. Begin with your questions. Uncertainties.

Love or love lost. Your emptiness, grief, your doubts.

Even in the grey light of your doubt and uncertainty, the journey to Easter is there for you to make.

 

 

The Most Rev’d Dr Jeffrey Driver

Archbishop of Adelaide