Thought for the Month April 2024

The most memorable sermon I ever heard? Father Roy went into the pulpit. He proclaimed, “Today is Easter Sunday. Christ the Lord is risen!” The choir sang, “Hallelujah!” Father Roy added, “That is all that needs to be said.” And down he came.

Easter Day is a day of pure joy. St. Paul calls it the time of God’s favour, the day of salvation.

As I was preparing music for Easter, I read through the service booklet we use at Roxwell, and was struck to encounter again only a few pages earlier the set lesson for Ash Wednesday from Paul’s second Epistle to the Corinthians. It was a reminder of how far we have come from the start of Lent, through Jesus’s ministry, culminating in the events of Holy Week and now the Resurrection. Yet this lesson also focuses on the Resurrection as new beginning rather than culmination: as such it demands a response from us beyond celebration and wonder. Paul’s message is an extraordinary one: that we must become the righteousness of God, If we do not, then the sacrifice Jesus made is in vain. So what does Paul mean by this?

The first point he makes in this lesson is to show endurance in the face of persecution. Reading his list of the hardships faced by the early Christians – beatings, imprisonment etc. – we might feel simply relieved that this is not our lot, and see this as an injunction in respect of those Christian communities in the world which do suffer in this way to pray for them and to support charities and international groups which minister both to them and to others experiencing such persecution. Yet is not to become the righteousness of God more than this? Our church has changed. Once the established church as of right, it has experienced declining influence and membership, deplorable leadership and increasing indifference; more recently moreover, Christian belief in our own country has faced greater hostility, at times with ridicule, with outright rejection. Paul reminds us that this was the story of Christianity from the start, and that we need to do more than sadly accept that this is how things are. We are called to be steadfast in our faith, and to challenge openly the empty wokery, the online bile and intellectual dishonesty that characterise the travesty that is “debate” so often in our time.

Paul’s second point, that we must show patience, kindness, genuine love, is the one that perhaps we may read and take for granted. I listened this week, however, to a funeral eulogy for someone who was a friend to many in the Cooksmill congregation: it spoke of her unfailing gentleness and kindness, how she was loved by everyone, especially the children in her family and those she went to talk to in school, how her whole life was filled with the light of her goodness and faith, shared with all. It was a wonderful eulogy; if, like me (alas…), you sense that no one is going to say anything very similar about you, then Paul’s words are a reminder that to bring Christ’s Kingdom in this world closer, each of us needs to seek to emulate this lovely, saintly lady.

Paul’s third point is that, with God’s help, we need to speak with truth and with knowledge, as he himself did. I just wonder how often we actually talk about what we believe in or, after a service, what has been said in it. We see every day examples of people demonstrating their political or religious allegiances with placards, powdered paint and cans of soup, and TV coverage; we are not necessarily called upon to follow suit, yet we can, to family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, each of us bear witness to our faith and beliefs. Otherwise, what point is there in having them?

So, to become the righteousness of God, Paul’s message is that we cannot refrain from action, we cannot keep it to ourselves. Jesus’s resurrection made this possible; without it, we have nothing, we are nothing. So, this Easter Sunday, Christ the Lord is risen. Hallelujah! That is all that needs to be said.