Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell: fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new day has dawned and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
God of Life, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection have delivered us from the power of our enemy: grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15.19-26
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Sermon on Easter
‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’
Don’t you think that Easter is the day we should really understand what Peter meant by these words? Let’s take this apart and try to comprehend just what the implications are for us today.
The question Peter addresses is this – Who is acceptable to God? Peter gives us an answer in two parts. The first part is obvious – Anyone who “does what is right” is something we can all accept as true.
We can all understand this, can’t we? Morally and ethically right action is acceptable to everyone. Whoever does what is right must be acceptable to everyone. Even a politician who takes the moral high ground as his point of orientation is applauded. It is not about the laws passed that commends our lawmakers, but the quality of individual decisions they make in their lives which are reflected in their words, public and private, in government and at home. These decisions, whether hard or easy to make, compel us to appreciate the person who makes them.
Doing what is right makes that person acceptable to people round about him or her. That person who does right is acclaimed by the whole world. – On earth and, I believe, in heaven they are acclaimed as worthy, and we confess that they must be acceptable to God as well. – Our hope is that anyone who does what is right will be acceptable in the sight of God, just as he or she is acceptable in the sight of all people.
But the other phrase, “In every nation anyone who fears him”, is a bit harder to comprehend, isn’t it? What is this “fear”? We have often heard the phrase “the fear of the Lord”, haven’t we? – and I am sure we have wondered just what it is. This fear is something that we don’t acknowledge in our lives. Fear is not anything we wish, is it? Do we fear our neighbour? What about the dog wandering in our yard? Do you fear what is coming for lunch? Although we are afraid, primordial fear is just not part of our world!
But for “homo religiosus” as described by the historian of religion, this fear is an integral part of life. The forces around him are manifold and extraordinary, so very different from her normal circumstances. Fear delineates where the holy erupts into life. This fear is something far deeper than the being frightened of the unknown, it is part of one’s essential being in the world.
The world in which this model human being lives is one of mystery, divine mystery. The religious person sees the sacred in extraordinary and mundane events. That perception allows a healthy fear of the Other to be part of life. That Otherness of God is what should promote our fear of the Lord, and so should allow us to be worthy of acceptance to God.
However, we don’t want to be frightened in any circumstances, do we? The magical monsters of the horror movies, that gruesome figure hiding in the darkness, is what we usually think of when we talk about being afraid. But is that what this fear of the Lord is? You know how I am going to answer this, don’t you? The fear of the Lord has nothing to do with being afraid. It is standing in awe of what is not ourselves. This fear places us firmly in the world which is beyond our control.
However, we are not under the control of what causes that fear. Our awe of the world allows us to take control of our selves and move in the world. Religion gives us the stories and history of the world about us, so that we can understand. Religion gives us the ways we can deal with those things about us. Religion makes everything meaningful. As the historian of religion says, religious myths, symbols and rituals place the person in the world in which he lives and moves and has being.
That person has the fear appropriate to life in all its fullness. That is why someone is acceptable to God.
But how does all this relate to the Easter Event? How does this relate to our celebrations of the resurrection of the incarnate Lord three days after the Passover of God?
Why do we consider who is acceptable to God when this miracle is the focus of our liturgy today? The mystery of our faith is so far beyond our comprehension, we are at a loss when it comes to speaking about it. We are fearful of that moment of power. We fear in a most appropriate way the manifestation of God’s glory in our lives through the religious recitation of the story of our faith, a story which has nothing whatsoever to do with our ordinary, and (dare I say it?) profane lives.
That is what the fear of the Lord does, it opens us to the sacred power in our lives, that life of fullness, full of mystery and power to live truly, the power to grasp the good and do it.
I think that is why we are asked to consider Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles today of all days.
Any person who is fearful of the sacred power in the world about him or her truly understands their places. They live in an ordered world, a world in which they will do what is right.
That is why I think so many of us have found much to console and to inspire us during this year of lockdown. We have taken control of our lives. We have come to know what is important and stripped away what has been illusory, like all those false gods and idols which the bible proscribes. We have also banished the cant of the crowd from our lives, no longer subject to the fickle fake news in which many are wont to revel.
We have stepped away from the mundane to find a profound source of meaning in the midst of confusion. We have turned in many cases to a sacred fear of the world.
This fear does not immobilise us. We are energised by this fear. That is why we find the resurrection as the source of our faith. We, like Christ, erupt from the tomb in order to live a risen life, a life of fullness as Christ promised us.
We are enabled to do what is right because of our fear of the Lord, because we have experienced the sacred in the midst of the profanity of the world. We are those people whom Peter proclaims acceptable to God. We have stood in the midst of the chaos and created a cosmos of good works and profound fear of the other. We live out our loving care for the other with awe. This is why we keep Easter, to remind ourselves of the profound fear we have experienced and our courage to do what is right, to be sacred in a profane world.