Tuesday 10 April 2012

Easter Vigil at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town

The following sermon was preached at the Easter Vigil Service at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, on 7 April 2012.

Romans 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sisters and Brothers in Christ, may all the fullness of Easter resurrection life be yours!

I was reflecting earlier that this is my fifth Easter with you, and I realise that I am more than well settled, because I am now finding that the sort of questions I get from journalists at this time of year are beginning to sound all too familiar.

So, for example, I’ve had one journalist asking what my Easter message would be to MTN, given the accusations that they are undermining South Africa’s values, in their relationships in Iran; and another asked me what I thought of the Red Bull advert; and then there was the question about ‘halaal’ hot cross buns – where, perhaps a little flippantly, I answered that Christians should take this as encouragement to share them with their Muslim neighbours!

And then came the Sunday Times, asking for my response to the news that Pastor Ray McCauley’s Rhema Church is planting a congregation at Silverstar Casino on the West Rand. Well, I hope they carry that part of my answer in which I say that the Holy Spirit leads God’s people to proclaim the gospel anywhere and everywhere, and so if the Holy Spirit has led Rhema to open a church at the casino, well, I hope they won’t gamble, but I also hope they will persevere in preaching the good news of Jesus Christ as I’m sure people there need to hear it!

For this is our Easter good news: Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised! And we who have been united with his death in baptism, are united within him also in his risen life! Yet what does it mean for you to be united with him in his risen life? What does it mean for me, and in my responding to the sort of questions I’ve just outlined?

The gospel of St Mark, probably the oldest account we have in Scripture, tells us of how the women learnt that Jesus had been raised; a whole new way of life has begun – but it does not tell us what happened next. There is a lesson here for us. We know Jesus has been raised, and so we have been raised too. Yet it is for us to find out what this resurrection means for us, here and now.

The young man points us in the right direction. He says to the women at the tomb ‘He is going ahead of you.’ Jesus leads us on, on whatever life’s journey has in store for us. All of us must be ready to be led onwards in our spiritual pilgrimage. Some of us will do that through actual physical pilgrimages, for example to the Holy Land. Perhaps coming to the Cathedral tonight is a step on your journey of faith.

Outer journeying is often accompanied by inner journeying. It may just be to a quiet day with the Centre of Christian Spirituality, or for a weekend away. Some go on longer retreats. Perhaps earlier this week you walked the ‘Stations of the city’ in the company of others – from other churches, even from other faiths. Companions on the journey are often important in helping us seek the face of God – as the two disciples found on the road to Emmaus, when they realised that it was Jesus with whom they had walked.

Our gospel reading reminds us that Easter has come to us all – and yet we are also called forwards, into new life, by Jesus who goes ahead of us. What might this mean for you, together, as the Cathedral family. You too are at a point where a whole new way of life has begun. It is less than a year since I installed your Dean, and here is he now with a completely fresh clergy team. A new way of life has begun for the Cathedral and its people – but, like the first disciples, we too are still finding out what this will mean for us.

Some of you may know the group development model described as ‘Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing’. This lays out helpfully the sort of stages that people go through, when some new chapter is begun. Let me explain. First comes ‘forming’ – when a new reality is created, with all its exciting hopes and expectations! People get to know one another, but are all still on best behaviour as we start to consider the challenges ahead from our new perspectives!

And there are certainly plenty of challenges – not least, the roof! But there are also questions about what it means to be at the heart of the city, at a time of so many political and socio-economic changes. And what of our role in the Diocese, the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, and within the world-wide Anglican Communion, where we have so many friends, such strong ties – and yet where there are also many changes happening. We must not forget what is perhaps the primary calling – as a Christian community, which must be nurtured in its life of worship, witness and service.

You may have noticed that I am using the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ rather a lot! For I too have a spiritual home here – not only on festivals, but also often at the 8am Sunday service, when, if I am not busy elsewhere, it is a joy to slide quietly into my seat, and be fed through being part of this family of God. And therefore it is my commitment to help you in discovering and living out God’s vision for your lives. So I share with you, in this process of wrestling with the questions of the Cathedral’s new calling.

And alongside all these challenges come the other questions, of what new beginnings come with this new Dean, to whom God has given many different gifts, different experiences and skills, a different personality and character, to his predecessor – and the same is true of the full time clergy team.

There is much promise of newness of life – but such change can be very unsettling, once the honeymoon period is over. And so then comes the storming! All the different ideas about who we are and what we should be doing come into the open, where they compete for consideration. This needs to happen, if we are to go forwards. At best it is constructive brainstorming – but sometimes it can be more tempestuous, as it stirs up unspoken assumptions, and forces us to look more radically at who we are and where we should be going.

Yet we should not be afraid. As the young man at the tomb said to the women, ‘Do not be alarmed.’ For the risen Christ may well be deliberately leading us on a more profound journey of reflection and discovery than we had anticipated. We can be confident that – by his grace, and holy trust, tolerance and patience growing among us – God will help us take on this deeper task of discernment, and find his way forward for us together.

As we seek the face of God himself, we will come to see in him a shared vision and common goals, and so develop shared understandings of how we should pursue these. This is called the ‘norming’ stage. We establish a ‘new norm’, a common view of our vocation and how we will give expression to it, within our walls and in engagement with the community around.

And the better we can establish such a new norm, the better we are likely then to do in ‘performing’ – in actually achieving this vision – in living it out in fruitful lives. For we know that our ultimate calling, in following Jesus, is to abide in him and ‘bear the fruit that will last’.

Yet following Jesus can be demanding – for, as he tells us, this means taking up our crosses. As we go forward, there may be aspects of our old life that we have to leave behind: which we have, so to speak, to put to death. When this happens, we should not be surprised to find ourselves grieving. This is natural. But God comforts those who bring their griefs to him – as Jesus promised in the beatitudes. The sorrow of Good Friday gives way to the joy of Easter. And the joy of Easter flows through us to the world – it is the basis of our ‘performing’, bearing fruit wherever we are called.

So let us share in reflecting on how to make the Easter message tangible within and beyond these walls. Please pray with and for me too, as I consider how to share the good news that Christ is risen in concrete ways some of the areas to which I am called. Easter people, like the Old Testament prophets, are to be a prophetic and consistent voice in our land: a voice of prayer to God, and of conscience to our leaders. We are both to intercede, and to demand justice and mercy for all. Informal settlements are especially on my heart – from Khayelitsha’s water and sanitation needs, to the people of Langa, or Kennedy Road near Durban, following devastating fires last month, last week. Therefore let us pray, and work, for proper housing, safety, sanitation and water for everyone, as part of the abundant life which the Risen Jesus Christ offers.

So, finally, dear people of God of St George’s Cathedral – may all the fullness of Christ’s resurrection life be yours! And do not be alarmed, if new life is unsettling. Know that the risen Christ is going ahead of you – and as you follow him, you will find that all he has told you, all his promises, are true.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!