Ok so it’s not brilliant but people are finding it hard to celebrate so I hope it will do.
Some of you may be looking around at the damage and feeling a bit grumpy this morning. I am hoping that we can put aside our frustration with the lead thieves so that we can notice some of the signs of the resurrection in our midst. Sometimes I think we sit in our churches each week and we don’t often notice much about our surroundings. For example, shut your eyes for a moment and without cheating could you tell me what is depicted in the East window?
Most churches depict the crucifixion and Jesus hangs there reminding us that the cross is central to the Christian faith. Our window is different. (you can look now)
Each generation has struggled to find ways of presenting the Christian story for their age. In an age when so few had access to education or bibles to read for themselves one way to present the gospel was in the pictures on the walls and in the stainglass. Look around the church. It is full of pictures of our story.
I’ve been reflecting on the stainglass window in here and what it means to how we present the resurrection today and what it means to the way we live our lives.
The first panel shows John baptising Jesus. The second panel has a pastoral scene with Jesus holding a lamb. There are flowers and grass and it all looks lovely until you look closely and you see that there is a crown of thorns on Jesus head. You have to know your Old Testament theology to know what is going on in the picture. Jesus is being represented as the sacrificial lamb. In the OT a lamb was taken in our place to represent our sin and all the stuff that separates us from God and it was sacrificed in the temple for us. (Good old Victorians are showing a sanitised version of the crucifixion here) But what I am most fascinated about is the third panel-it depicts the resurrection. Jesus is bursting forth from the tomb, with light behind him. He is carrying a flag of victory. At Jesus feet are the sleeping Roman soldiers that were supposed to be guarding tomb. (More about them in a moment)
The picture is bursting with life, Jesus is bursting from the tomb. It is saying that God really is on our side. God is on the side of life and goodness and love. He is on the side of everything that Jesus stood for and taught and showed in his life. Death and sin and all the horrible stuff that we face have not had the last say. He is not on the side of oppression and injustice. He is not on the side of authorities that make up trumped up charges to execute an innocent man. Goodness, love and mercy always win. So Jesus is depicted in the window as victorious. It looks like he is doing a dance on the Roman soldiers.
Or is he trying to prod them awake with that stick. I am not sure. Is he saying ‘Wake up, you are missing the best thing ever to happen’- new life, a new start, resurrection!
I first noticed this window when I was feeling particularly tired one day and nothing seemed to be going right. It was as if Jesus was saying, wake up, open your eyes; start noticing those signs of resurrection and new life that are right in front of you. Start recognising me at work in this place.
You see it was the last thing those soldiers expected. They knew Jesus was dead. They had stuck a spear into his side. No one would expect a dead man from inside the tomb to be able to roll the stone away. Sometimes we are like that. We miss the surprise and the joy of this new life in us because we don’t expect to see it there. We don’t really believe that Jesus cold possible be alive in our lives and we just don’t recognise God at work in the world. It was the same for Mary in our gospel reading this morning. She didn’t recognise Jesus at first because she expected to see a gardener not Jesus who she knew was dead. The couple walking on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognise Jesus until he broke bread with them, they were just not expecting to see him working the same way in their lives again.
Mary recognised the living Christ when he called her by her name. She recognised that life back amongst us and with us and it filled her with joy. We have the risen Christ right in front of us. I think what I want to say this morning is open your eyes to the amazing truth that we are part of God’s story, that he has not forgotten us, that we are loved. That he is bursting out of the tomb to fill us with this new life. Open your eyes to all the signs of new life around us, (don’t concentrate on the destruction). Those who expect little receive little. Where do we expect to see Jesus in our lives?
The whole Christian story is built on the joy that God brings. We are and should be people who overflow with joy and expectation of Jesus working in our lives. Realising just how much God loves us should give us thankful hearts. Joy is not escapism. It is more to do with a confidence in God that is deeply held within our guts. We know that things in this life are hard and uncertain. Some of us are having to cope with some difficult stuff right now and it is hard to keep a faith when the world around us is telling us it is foolishness. Easter joy asks us to redraw our lives into a new way of seeing things, a new expectation.
Easter is our second chance to see the life force in our midst. It is our chance to recognise the risen Christ and it is our chance to start again. God is retelling our stories in Jesus. All the bad parts and the all parts we would like to pretend never happen are redeemed. The fact that we are loved, accepted and forgiven despite everything is simply too good to be true so we have a choice, we can trust God’s retelling of our story or we can trust our own. I know who I want to trust.
So when things are getting a bit tough for you or you are simply getting bored or you are simply frustrated that all the money we raised for the tower will now have to go towards a new roof come and look at that picture of Jesus bursting from the tomb with all that new life he longs to give us here.
The resurrection was not a one off event that happened 2000 years ago. The good thing about the church is that we celebrate this victory every Sunday. The disciples had to work out what it meant for them and their generations. The Victorian artists had to work it out when they designed this stain glass window.
If we are to have a living faith then we too need to carry on working out what it means for us today and live hearts that expect to see and recognise God working in our lives