Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Sunday homily Yr A

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Just before we moved here, my son Giles and I spent three days staying in Rekjavik. It was February, there was snow everywhere and our hopes of seeing the northern lights were dashed because of the extensive cloud cover each night....Nonetheless, it was a wonderful and memorable visit – not largely because the peculiar geology of the place, based as it is on a series of volcanoes, make its presence felt in many ways...There were the plumes of steam that shot unexpectedly out of the ground, even out of the pavement, at regular intervals; there was the inescapable smell of sulphur whenever we had a shower, reminding us that the water on the island is heated geothermically...and of course there were the famous geysirs – hot springs named after the father and mother of them all, at Geysir itself. But the thing that made the greatest impression on me was, quite simply, a crack in the ground...You see, Iceland lies on the geologic rift between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate...and só, at a place called Tingvelir (close to where the world's first parliament was ever held) you can see one end of the fault that runs beneath the Atlantic and across America, emerging thousands of miles away in California as the San Andreas fault. I was fascinated to actually see this evidence of the shifting nature of the earth...and slightly disappointed that we didn't actually feel its influence directly, in the form of an earthquake.
Remember, this was three years ago. In the light of recent events in Haiti, New Zealand and Japan, I can instead be wholeheartedly thankful that we escaped direct experience of what happens when the plates of the earth shift or collide. The raw power unleashed in those events is incredible...changing lives and landscapes in a few moments, for all time.

Matthew is the only gospel writer who mentions an earthquake on Easter morning. Matthew tends to include the big things like that – he’s the one who tells us about the star and the magi coming to Bethlehem too. Matthew understands that Jesus’ presence in the world is a cosmic event, after which nothing will ever be the same. And so he tells us about an earthquake.
Earthquakes are measured by seismographs and studied by seismologists. Both of those words come from the Greek verb seismo. And that verb, which means to shake or to quake is all over the place in the end of Matthew’s gospel. Last week, we had the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem in Matthew 21:10 and heard that the whole city was in uproar, or in the Greek, the whole city was shaking Then again, on Good Friday as Jesus gave up his spirit, the earth shook. And now, in today's short gospel, it happens twice. The earth shakes while an angel rolls back the stone.  And then the Romans guards shake and become like dead men.

What’s all the shaking about? The world has changed. Just as an physical earthquake releases the tension built up beneath the earth's crust, só the tension between God's way and that chosen by fallen humanity has built up over centuries....The pressure mounts as Jesus both lives and preaches another route – challenging the powers that be, personally, socially, politically, religiously. Small wonder that they need to silence him...That's the story of Good Friday. The powerful take on and defeat the powerless...The vulnerable are wounded...Might trumps right.

That's Friday – the day when the sky turns black and hope seems lost forever....but on Sunday comes another earthquake – God's way of rearranging things, restoring the fullness of life to his world.
In the resurrection, God says Yes to Jesus and No to the powers who killed him.
God says Yes to the way of loving self sacrifice and No to a world set on domination, hierarchy, exploitation and greed.
That earthquake is the force of God's love, changing everything forever. It is the fault line running through history and through our lives, altering the landscape of both beyond recognition. We can't be sure that we'll stay safe – if by safe you mean, comfortable, secure, in an environment that you can control. I don't think that has ever been part of the deal when, through baptism, you begin to share Christ's risen life...
Not for nothing do the angels of the resurrection greet the women
Do not be afraid”.
This is scary stuff, not a picnic in the park, or a quiet visit to a cherished monument.
This is an encounter with the life changing God, breaking into his world with all his recreative power – power enough to bring down the mighty, power that can, and does, make all things new....

This Easter we meet to celebrate a world turned upside down ...Can we, as we do só, invite the risen Christ to turn our lives upside down too.
Of course it is a risk.
It involves giving up control, shifting out of the driving seat forever.
Nonetheless, do not be afraid...
This is the God who transforms death to life, not just for his own beloved Son but for all who put their trust in Him.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Homily for Palm Sunday Yr A

How do you feel about crowds?

I'd guess that as you've chosen to come to this quieter and more reflective service you may be someone who finds them a bit uncongenial...not always easy to negotiate?

We've seen so many crowds in the news already this year – protesting against tyranny and campaigning for democracy in the Arab Spring that began first in Egypt
attempting peaceful protest but highjacked by those with a different agenda in our own capital,
standing silently as Ronan Kerr's coffin was carried through the streets of Omagh.

Crowds have a real power for good or ill – power beyond the sum of the parts.

Perhaps its wise to steer clear of them, in case we lose track of ourselves.

But in this Holy Week there is really no escape.

As we are swept up once again in the events that changed history, the voice of the crowd is rarely silent – and we are part of it.
Today we celebrate
We shout Hosanna as we greet our king with joy – though we may well be disappointed at the manner of his coming.
Still, we recognise our need for rescue and that lends urgency to our voices as we join in
We look about us and see so much that remains bound in our world and in our own lives.

Pause for a moment and think of those things from which you long to be free....habits of mind or behaviour, wounds from the past or fears for the future...
It is those, or things like them, that give breath to the great cry
HOSANNA and to the outpouring of blessings that carpet the route as thoroughly as do the palm branches scattered that day...

But we know, even as we share that great cry of excited welcome, that there is trouble ahead.

The way of the cross beckons, and it does not look much like the way of life and peace – but rather a place of broken friendship and betrayal, of injustice and wanton violence, of bullying and cruelty.

It would be good to step aside, if we could. To fast-forward without more ado to Easter Sunday morning – though to do so would be to deprive the resurrection of its impact, since without death and disappointment the revelation of new life has little value.

But since we know that we cannot altogether escape the cross – perhaps it is best to hide in the crowd once rely on the majority to give us protective lose our own voice in the sound of the mob.

For it is a mob now.....a mob hungry for blood......a mob unable to bear the silent dignity of the man from Nazareth, angered by his weakness, enraged by his pacifism
There can be no salvation here.
Better to get rid of all false hopes, all broken dreams as rapidly as possible
Let him be CRUCIFIED”

Can you hear your own voice? Are you surprised to discover that you are joining in here too?
Because, you know, it was people like us – ordinary people with no history of violence, no blood lust in everyday life, who joined in the chanting

Humanity has always needed scapegoats – people who will carry the blame for collective dis-ease, collective guilt
Watch children in a playground, see who they choose to be their victims – the outsiders, different because of something as simple as the wrong trainers, the wrong skin colour or body shape...The crowd delights to exclude them and also to blame them if anything goes wrong – and it's this, taken to extremes, that motivates the Passiontide crowds.

Do you remember Caiaphas? 
It is expedient that one man should die for the people....
We are the people – the people then and now who seek our own salvation through the suffering of another, the people who hope to divert attention from our own shortcomings by attack, however unjustified and unjustifiable...

But, incredibly, because God is God......because the message of the cross is that loving self sacrifice is written into the very core of life itself....because we can look forward, even on Palm Sunday, to the events of Easter....because of all that, mob rule does not win the day.

Jesus hangs there, alone – but that solitary vulnerable figure draws all to himself and invites us to join him in choosing that way of self sacrifice
The joy of resurrection may be hidden for the moment, but as we dare to step out from the crowd and to follow the path that Jesus sets before us, we will find that the pain and struggle are in truth transformed.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen