Bishop Anne’s Easter Sermon
Bishop Anne’s sermon, delivered at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen. A PDF copy is available here.
No more Single-use
(Some things the Resurrection teaches us…)
Language changes, year on year, and the new words appearing in our vocabulary say something about our values.
The word of the year last year, 2018, was single-use. We know why this is.
Single-use refers to products that are made to be used once and then thrown away.
It turns out that there are many more such items than we were aware of. Most of them end up in land-fill, and if they are plastic, turn up in increasing amounts in our seas and rivers.
‘Single-use’ appears now because of concern for the impact on the ecological systems of planet earth, for most of us use single-use items every day, we seemingly cannot help ourselves.
Behind this consumer habit is a view of the world that sees all that is as a commodity, something to be developed and exploited for ease of life and our betterment. We are the generations buying and consuming the most in the history of the world. We see such choice as our right, and we are negligent of the consequences.
Sadly, it is not just the physical world that is a commodity, but also increasing numbers of human beings.
They are sold and trafficked, exploited and abused. Many of them women and children, used as goods, by others. These people too are ‘single-use’, for sex, as workers, as slaves. Commonly they live short and pain-filled lives.
It is a terrible thing when the life of a human is reduced, diminished so that when a person is looked upon the purpose of their life is to be of use to another.
So ‘single-use’ refers to one of the great sins of our age. Who then can deliver us from such habits of life that are destroying other humans and the world which is our home?
What has the death and resurrection of Jesus to do with this? How can God help us with this sin of ‘single-use’?
Through Holy Week and Easter, we ask the question – why did Jesus die, why was this necessary?
There are different answers to these questions, depending on the perspective.
For those present in the events of Holy Week and Good Friday, Jesus was a threat and a disturber.
For some he was simply a challenge to their influence and power, someone to be removed.
For others he was a bargaining chip, one who could be disposed of to restore harmony between the Jews and Romans in Jerusalem.
So when given the choice on Good Friday, kill him or set him free, they swapped Jesus for a bandit.
They had found a use for him, and then they threw him away. They discarded this man from Nazareth. Single-use Jesus!
If Jesus is considered from a reductionist viewpoint, then he too becomes a commodity, and it is easy to miss the significance of his life and death and resurrection.
In his death Jesus enters into the consequences of our sin, into the sins of every age, in all of their nuance and destructiveness. So for us he choose to be the one disposed of and discarded, to enter the darkness of our destructive behaviour, and so to die.
And through his resurrection, all of life is turned around, and the possibility of us living in a different way is revealed. The first signs of this are those who God chooses with the message that Jesus is risen.
The resurrection – some called it ‘an idle tale’, the kind that women tell each other and anyone else who is listening.
An idle tale – nonsensical, confused, irrational.
The women who had been to the tomb of Jesus – getting up at the crack of the day, taking with them ointment for his body – returned saying that he was not there, that he was risen. Not dead, alive.
Who will believe them? Well not the rest – as it was common knowledge, in fact it was in the law – women could not be trusted to be witnesses of anything.
An idle tale – dismissed and disbelieved.
Who would trust a message such as this to a group of women.
Well it seems, God would.
Now when it comes to the story of Jesus’ death, there are names that are well known.
You know the name of the man who betrayed him – Judas, of course.
You know the name of the name who denied him – Peter, of course.
You know the name of the man who ordered his crucifixion – Pilate, of course.
But when it comes to these women, their names are less well known – Mary the wife of Clopas, Joanna, wife of Chuza, manager of Herod’s household, Suzanna, and some more Marys, including one from Magdala (who was never a prostitute although history so reduced her story and purpose that it has made her one).
But these women, these witnesses, are vital to the telling of the story of Jesus.
The women had met Jesus in Galilee. They had been healed from various illnesses. They had heard his teaching, and they decided to follow him – this meant more to them than trailing after him on the road. They were wealthy women, women with resources, and it was their money that was used to pay Jesus expenses.
And on Good Friday they were the only disciples that stood and watched the crucifixion, the only ones present – Luke says – when Jesus died. They saw his body taken down from the cross, they saw he was really dead, gone from them, and they watched as his body was wrapped and placed into a tomb, with the stone rolled over the entrance to seal it shut. They were the only ones that have seen it all – from Galilee to the tomb.
So on the day after the Sabbath (these were holy women, they had spent the Sabbath praying) they knew where the tomb was, and they made no mistakes.
When they returned saying the tomb was empty, that his body was not there, and that he was risen – here we have witnesses that knew what they were talking about. Such a shame, the others think, that this is the testimony of women.
But their tale was more than this. They came with the message of what was spoken to them:
‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.’
At the tomb they were reminded of all that they have heard Jesus say. It is not just that he returned to life. He is life – life itself, because of who he is, because he is the Son of God.
If we, like them, want to find him, there is no point looking for him among dead things, among things discarded and thrown away. Rather look to where there is life, emerging life, life against all odds, life even when things are dark and frightening – and there Jesus will be found.
Jesus could not be defeated or held by death, could not be made something to serve other people’s purposes.
The Resurrection of the Son gives dignity to every person, rejects reductionism, and re-asserts the full dimensions of humanity.
In him and through him, we all find life in its fullness, and can resist the spirit of our age – the spirit of consumerism, the spirit that leads to single-uses for people and the planet.
As he identified fully with us, so we with him – first through our baptism, and then in the life we live filled with the Spirit of God, through which we are adopted to become children of God.
And the resurrection not only changes our lives, but that of all creation. As St Paul says:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God”
“in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8)
The message of the resurrection is that all that God has made, humans and creation is to be redeemed.
Which brings us back to single-use.
There are many who have much to say, critically, about the habits of our lives and the impact on the planet. Some of the most articulate are children. They have no votes, and not many rights, but they are the ones who will be most affected by the sins of this generation, so they call us to change.
On the day of resurrection God choose women as the first witnesses. The most important message in human history entrusted to those with no legal rights.
Could it be that it will be through the voices and lives of children that God leads us out of our single-use culture to a respect for all that God has made?
So the message for today might be this – no more single-use.
No more single-use for Jesus – who is risen, our Lord and our God.
No more single-use for people – who are called to be the children of God.
No more single-use for our planet – which longs to be set free to experience freedom in God.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!