College of the Resurrection Easter Day 2012

Do not be afraid, stand firm... The Lord will fight for you and you have only to keep still. (Exod 14.13,14)

We have heard a good deal of scripture today already - and I daresay each of us has been struck by different bits but, for me, it was those two verses which stuck in the mind. Why? Well, just reconstruct the scene for a moment. Here are the Israelites: they have finally escaped from Egypt but they can hardly be in good shape. They have had years of exploitation, years of increasing discrimination. They have come to loathe and dread the Egyptians. At last, they are escaping but now, just as there seemed to be a measure of hope, they see the Egyptians charging after them in their chariots. If, in such a situation, you were told to stand still, you might manage some hysterical laughter but you would hardly stop. Yet Moses urges the people to have confidence in God - against all the odds: “Do not be afraid, stand firm: you have only to keep still.”

Of course it is significant that it is Moses who dares to say this, the same Moses who has himself already turned aside and stood still before the burning bush, the same Moses who has encountered the Lord and heard his promises. However, it is a lesson we have to learn, for it is a characteristic too of the risen Lord. Think of the accounts of the resurrection appearances in the Gospels: ‘and she saw Jesus standing there but did not know that it was Jesus’ - Jesus standing still beside Mary; or Jesus standing there patiently in the upper room inviting Thomas to reach out and touch the marks of his passion; or Jesus standing waiting on the lake shore as the disciples return from their fishing expedition.

This ability to stand still is a fruit of being loved, a fruit of that proper self-confidence that is a gift brought into being by friendship and love. So it is that we begin to see that resurrection life is something that we bring into being for each other. As we grow in love and trust of the risen Lord, so we become more able to offer true love and friendship to others - thus freeing them to stand still and bear witness to the truth. As we can be agents of such growth in others, so they are for us. There are, of course, days when I wish that some people were somewhere else and not here being sources of grace for me - and I daresay I’m not alone in such feelings - but being able to acknowledge the gift that we are to each other is a crucial part of beginning to be able to stand still and recognise the Risen Lord.

As Jennifer put it this morning, things have not changed but, at the same time, they can never be the same again. The mysterious good news of the Resurrection is that the route has been reconfigured. It is not a matter of success lying with the strong, or the clever, or the wealthy. It is not about a few as opposed to the many. It is about us, all of us, realising the new community of the Resurrection that God brought into being when he raised Jesus from the dead. We do this, not out of a position of strength. Rather, as we ourselves are searching, we are unwittingly giving a helping hand to others to draw near to the Lord of life. This new community begins in sharing good news, fun, celebration together.

As someone once put it: Hoc convivium est convivium quia aliquis aliquid fecit, et nobis omnibus notum est qui fuerit et est convivium eius, eius actionibus causa et habeo donum pro eo et ecce donum. It sounds plausible enough: surely it could be found in the Fathers but it  is not Augustine, nor Bernard, nor even Thomas Aquinas. Rather, it comes from the last chapter of Winnie the Pooh - entitled ‘In which Christopher Robin gives a party and we all say goodbye’. The text itself: This party is a party because of something someone did and we all know who it was who did it and it is his party, because of what he did and I have a gift for him and here it is.

That text marvellously picks up Fr George’s powerful picture of those moments when something needs to be done - ‘a party because of something someone did’. It also draws attention to the fact that the deed needs to be acknowledged - ‘we all know who it was who did it’. Now, what a motley crew gathered at that party. What a marvellously encouraging sign of the inclusive grace of the Gospel. There were Kanga and Roo, Piglet and Pooh, Christopher Robin, Wol and Eeyore and all the rest: such diversity, such different stories of pride, low self-esteem, disengagement, selfish indifference but yet a willingness to pool their common resources for one another. This is not a Christian parable but there are some poignant hints. Although the chapter is entitled “In which Christopher Robin gives a party and we all say goodbye” no-one does in fact say goodbye. That is a proper insight into the Resurrection mystery. All who have been befriended by Christ in his dying and rising are inextricably bound to him and to one another. We may, either deliberately or accidentally, lose all contact with one another but yet a part of ourselves remains embedded in each other, those of us who have shared the gifts of the crucified and risen Lord.

Then it is a party. Christians are most characteristically themselves when they make visible the new society. God himself gives us the gift that creates the new society in the Eucharist and every celebration is both a confirmation of God’s gifts and promises and a challenge to our reluctance to let his new world break in. From now on, our whole lives are to be a party because of something someone did - first, simply as thanksgiving and response to the saving action of God but also because of our hope and expectation of what is to be, of our being fully taken into the mystery of the Resurrection after our own death.

Then there is talk of a gift: there is nothing that we have to offer, except our lives. What a challenge it is: to live each day with the freshness (the wilting, alcohol muddied freshness, now) of today, with the same vigorous confidence and faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Feeble though we are, dubious about the promises of the Lord though we are, there is nothing else to give but ourselves and we want to give all we are and all we have to the Lord of life.

Peter Allan CR