Easter Sunday, 17 Apr 22
How big would a lifetime supply of chocolate need to be for you? My problem would be that if I had to access to all this chocolate then I’d eat much more than I would otherwise. In fiction, Willy Wonka promises that those who find the golden tickets in their chocolate bars will get such a lifetime supply as well as the tour of his chocolate factory with all the scrumdiliumptuous and chocolate rivers you can imagine. What a treasure trove of goodies! Maybe if chocolate or sweeties are not your thing you might imagine what such a treasure store would involve for you: books, computer games, shoes, gin, cheese, football. You might be enjoying some of these things for the first time in a while with the end of Lent!
I was struck by the word “unlocked” in our Collect at Mass. But first let me say what a Collect is. The Collect is the fancy word given to the Opening Prayer which each Mass has. It draws together the people in a single purpose such is befitting when we gather together in worship. We don’t just bring our own petitions but those which affect the whole of our community. Indeed, our own requests and thanksgivings are not to be seen in isolation from those which others make. We can have confidence that by drawing us all to this place these petitions are brought to fruition in part through the encounter we have here with God and our fellow sisters and brothers.
The Collects sometimes are admittedly rather clunky in their language. They have a set format beginning with an invocation of who God is, “O God … Almighty God” or some such and then there is a description of something God has done or who He is. In today’s we heard: “who on this day, through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death.” Yes, Jesus is risen! The power of death is squashed and we have hope eternal. In Collects there is normally then a request and in our Collect today it ends: “may we rise up in the light of life.” The benefit of these Collects being a bit formal and opaque in what they’re saying is that we ponder them. We read them over again, I hope, as they’re on the front of the Mass Sheets and we delve deeper in to their meaning.
What then does this image of unlocking hold before us? Perhaps ancient doors with an old key which is too big to go in your pocket? Anything could be behind them! We see the doors opening, slowly, because they’re so heavy. And as they open, all that is behind them comes flowing out. We might think of towels or bedding that have been shoved in to a cupboard all falling out on to us. We might think of immense treasures, like the chocolate bars, or computer games or whatever. Be covered in them, surrounded by them, wallowing in them, swimming in them. But obviously “such treasures that moth and rust consume and which thieves break in and steal” to quote our Lord (St Matthew 16:19) such treasures are not what the Collect has in mind.
“O God who has unlocked the path to eternity.” Our celebrations today are in many sense the end of a journey which we began on Ash Wednesday. Our denials and our sufferings in Lent give us I hope joy and hope and light today. Having seen the great weight of the Cross weighing heavily down on our Lord, we now see it raised up, shining victoriously for Satan and Hell have been vanquished by it. Having cleared some space in our lives through fasting we have seen where the cobwebs in our soul are and where they need cleaning away.
But today is also the beginning of a journey for God has unlocked the path to eternity. The Church celebrates Easter for fifty days now until the great feast of Pentecost on Sunday 5th June, when we’ll also commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. For the first forty days until the Ascension we remember that the Risen Jesus spent time with His Apostles and others of his followers. At first He needed to reassure them that it was actually Him. Mary Magdalene confuses him with the gardener (St John 20:15) and St Thomas, as we’ll hear next Sunday, wants to see the wounds for Himself. A big part of this revelation is eating. Jesus eats with Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple having travelled with them to Emmaus (St Luke 24:13-35). He has breakfast with seven of His disciples by the Sea of Tiberius having caught 153 fish in a net (St John 21:1-13). And in our first reading we heard Peter refer to such meals: “we have eaten and drunk with Him after His Resurrection from the dead,” he proudly proclaims. My brothers and sisters, it is through a meal that Jesus wants His followers to continue to have fellowship with Him, hence we gather for Mass and not solely to sing or read or chat or serve or speak or pray though all these are important too.
And journeying with Jesus is a wonderful thing to do. We need only consider how many people have in their home a picture of the footprints in the sand with the caption “When I looked back on my life I saw two sets of foot prints as you walked alongside me and when there was only one set I knew it was because you were carrying me.” God sets the course, the direction and the destination. And this is not new for God’s people for we read of God going before Moses and the Israelites like a pillar of fire during the the night and a pillar of cloud during the day. The Paschal Candle, which we blessed [last night at the Easter Vigil at St Mary’s/at the start of Mass at the Good Shepherd,] has much symbolism but it leading God’s people is part of what it teaches us.
The Death and Resurrection of our Lord has unlocked a new set of doors for us, ancient doors long closed shut through our sin and through the transgressing of old by Adam and Eve, our first parents, but now they have now been thrown open. One word the Church uses to describe what flows from behind these closed doors is merit. We might be familiar with the word when it comes to awards in schools, colleges or universities. It has an association with achieving something which indicates success or calibre or talent.
When it comes to our relationship with God thought we can merit nothing. Psalm 143:2 reminds us, as we looked at in our Lent Study series: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for no man living is righteous before thee.” We give hours of our time in His service, we use our intellect, our strength, our money, our ability to care for others and it’s good and right that we do so. But it’s only what God has given us in the first place. How reasonable is it for us to expect God to be grateful for us giving back to Him that which He gave us in the first place? And yet we do have to make decisions that are good and wholesome and which put us back on this path to eternal life. St Paul sums it up beautifully in Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” This isn’t some form of fatalism but it is a recognition that when we make bad decisions things will start spiralling to be more and more wrong and it becomes harder and harder to get ourselves out of the mess.
These two facts, the spiral of sin we tumble down and that all of what we enjoy is a result of God’s generosity hopefully means we begin to get a sense of how much grace is needed. First, those graces that create us and form us, giving us life. Then also that gift of justification which God gives us through baptism: becoming His children by adoption. Then there’s the stuff to keep us on course and the stuff we merit because of the attempts we make to live in union with Christ Jesus. Well, this flood of mercy, compassion and tenderness comes to us through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. This is what’s behind those great doors that the events of this weekend unlock for us.
We let it wash over us when we gather for Mass. I love the image of worship being like sunbathing. When you’re sunbathing you lie there and marvel at how wonderful the sun is and there’s nothing we can do to make it stronger or to dull its rays (though do make sure you put sun tan lotion on!). Well, when we gather for worship we do no less. The Son of God, the sun which enlightens all the Heavens, becomes present on the altar through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the words spoken by the priest in memory of what we celebrated on Maundy Thursday. And we sing hymns, we kneel in quiet adoration, we join in the prayers the Church bids us say, and while doing all that we simply marvel at how warm it is here in the light of the Son of God. How beautiful it is to see God being worshipped by His people.
We might have another image of this before us the in life of Ezekiel, who in chapter 47 of the book that bears his name, receives a vision of the Temple in Jerusalem. From the side of the Temple flows water. He needs to go up to his ankles, then up to his knees, then up to his waist in it, then so deep the prophet has to swim in it. Picture, if you will, him bobbing up and down in the waters. He’s immersed in God’s grace and knows this and this alone is keeping Him afloat. This same impetus means we cannot imagine our life without the grace God gives us.
A couple of years ago there was a minor media storm when a mum apparently asked on one of these parenting forums whether it was alright ever to eat her child’s Easter eggs as the child was going to be given plenty anyway. Much shock followed that she could countenance such a selfish act! Brothers and sisters, we live in a parched land, one where people are lost in their own commitments and pursuit of money and worldly security, overwhelmed by fear and a nervousness about the life they’re living. There’s much dissatisfaction with what we’ve been given. But what with chocolate factories, sun bathing and bouncing in water I hope I’ve given three analogies of the inestimable amount and value of the divine grace that has been unlocked by the Resurrection of Jesus. Immerse yourself in it and may the rivers of grace flood this land with the merit of our Risen Lord.