A Sermon preached at St Martin-in-the-Fields on April 9, 2023 by Revd Sally Hitchiner
Reading for address: 2 Corinthians 1: 18-22
One of the leading lights in the 1960s and 70s theatre improvisation movement was Keith Johnstone and the most famous thing he said was this: “There are people who like to say yes and there are people who like to say no. Those who like to say no are rewarded with safety but those who like to say yes are rewarded with adventure.”
The resurrection is fundamental to the Christian faith but what does it add up to in real life? In a world that so often says No, what does the Yes of resurrection of Jesus mean for our past, our present and our future?
We say No when we want to preserve something. No is a block. It prevents something changing because of something else.
The word Yes is about partnership. To say yes to someone is to hold the space for their idea. But to say No is to set a boundary that sets you apart. In our finite world we sometimes have to say No to preserve who we are and what is important. But No is never ideal. It is always a form of death.
Death itself says a large No to the present. Death makes the present alien. Mary finds herself clinging to the fading embers of the Yes she had found in the past. All that had been Yes about him was now all No. No life. No voice. No smile. No warmth. No presence.
She got up in the darkness, before the sun started to beat down on the tomb and speed up the decomposition, to cover the body in spices and oils… trying to buy a few more hours, one last way to be near what was left of him. Faced with the death of a loved one, most of us struggle to accept the present reality… try to cling to the Yes of yesterday before we have to accept the No of today. When I was a university chaplain I remember the parents of an international student who died telling us to clear their campus room and burn everything. Only to call six months later asking if we had kept anything… a receipt from something they bought? The bottle of hair conditioner that they used? Anything?
Death turns us away from the present and it pulls a layer of bitterness and pain over the past. What was the point of all those miracles, all those sermons, all that promise if the Messiah’s life could be cut short before anything had really changed? Could the Messiah be popped like a balloon by a few nails and a sword?
Death called to the other deaths in their history. The other Nos to their hopes. What was the point of anything Israel had hoped for? What was the point of the arc of the covenant, this box with golden angels at top and bottom that they carried around from place to place and eventually housing it in the greatest temple on earth. What was the point if it could be snatched away from them as easily as a raid by an irritated neighbouring country? What was the point of anything? Why did God bother creating Adam and Eve and putting them in the garden if it could be all over as fast as biting into a piece of fruit?
Death changes how we see the past. What used to stand out as mostly a lovely memory, “Yes’s” from the universe, is now a litany of cruel and hollow “No”s.
Death robs you of the past and present and Death disintegrates your future. Everything you planned to do with the person is now in the negative. The moments in your future where you imagined they would be at your side now feel empty. Everything you believed they would accomplish evaporates before your eyes.
The world is grasping and unfair and we are powerless to stop it.
“They have taken away my Lord” Mary says “and I don’t know where they have laid him.”
The universe has all the negativity of a mindless bureaucrat. “Computer says No”, No you can’t have him anymore. No, you don’t have enough power to challenge that.
But what about…? No
But what if…? No
But then there’s something new. Something we haven’t accounted for.
Suddenly Jesus is here, now. Positively Alive. He’s standing right in front of her.
Resurrection changes her present. She can hold him, kiss him, she can hear his voice out loud. Saying her name. Nothing else matters. This is all she can think of… He’s here now!
Resurrection says yes to the past.
Optimism says no to the suffering of your story “No, it wasn’t that bad.”
Pessimism says no to your hope “Whatever small good has happened it won’t be enough, it’ll never get any better”.
Resurrection says “Yes” Yes it is that bad. You don’t have to minimise it. There is a place for the uncomfortable truth about your life. It also says Yes to your hopes. Yes, the thing that seemed improbable, impossible, is here, now.
Resurrection adds something new to the equation without removing anything… anything at all. The sum total of resources in the universe, resources in God, is more than you know. With the God of Eternity there is more. There is always more.
It wasn’t all in vain. All the good effort. All the people who died hoping for a better world. The past takes on a new light. The scars are made beautiful. All the care and attention and trust and belief in God’s Covenant. Mary peaks into the tomb and sees a stone box with an angel at either end. It would have looked like the Arc of the Covenant come to life. The gold version that they had been so anxious had been lost suddenly looks crass, lifeless, insignificant compared to REAL LIFE angels standing either side of this box that had held not symbols of God’s presence among them but God Godself.
It changes how she sees the Covenant and it changes how she sees the Creation. The story tells us this is the first day of the week, the first day of the new technicolour creation. Like Dorothy arriving in Oz. The anxiety about the woman and the man messing up the garden so long ago, the anxiety about us breaking the planet suddenly is placed in a new context. There is still a garden, and a woman and a man are in it, but this will last forever. All that was lost in the past were just 2D postcards of everything that is to come.
Resurrection changes your future.
Mary realises this isn’t just a moment – this isn’t her mind playing tricks on her. This isn’t just a moment of relief, a vision of the thing she longs for most in the world. Resurrection is a reality that changes everything.
There’s not even a No to Death. Death is given a place in the new creation and it’s negativity is transformed. Instead of a full stop, it becomes a semicolon. Instead of a block, death becomes a gateway, a portal to a new positive life. Something we didn’t have in our imaginations but now we do. He’s here. And if it’s happened to Jesus it can happen to us.
Jesus tells her it’s ok. She doesn’t have to cling to the present. She doesn’t have to cling to him she can run and tell the other disciples. This moment is so positive it can’t be made negative again. It will multiply into the future -exponential growth. Try stopping it.
Mary and the disciples and all of us are now held within Christ. “I am going” Jesus says “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” We’re now blood relatives. We are now in Christ and nothing can take that away.
The greatest partnership in history has happened. Just as a different Mary said yes to holding Jesus as a baby in her body, Jesus now holds all of us within his body within God. Within his body that has suffered and died so there is a yes to you with your experiences of suffering and even when you are dead. Within the body that has loved and hoped and lost. All our experiences are embraced and transformed in the Yes of Christ.
So we can go forward without fear with relief.
In November 1966, John Lennon met Yoko Ono.
He went to an art exhibition and saw a piece that was a step ladder reaching up to a canvas on the ceiling with a magnifying glass hanging down. Lennon climbs the ladder and stretches up to the canvas, peering through the magnifying glass. And in tiny little letters it says ‘yes.’” Lennon told Rolling Stone Magazine, “I felt relieved. It’s a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn’t say ‘no’ or [a swear word] or something, it said ‘yes.’”
The resurrection was the revelation that if a human being is to look closely enough at life, climb the steps and peer through the magnifying glass at God’s world, what is waiting for us, is ultimately not a “No” but a “Yes”.
At the end of time when everything is resurrected, every atom will pop like popcorn and reveal in very tiny letters God’s message to you. Jesus is God’s invitation to make space for partnership with you, partnership with all you bring to the party good and bad. And Jesus’ resurrection is the exclamation mark at the end of that Yes that makes it a complete sentence. Nothing can change this meaning. Nothing can take this away.
The message of Easter is that God’s message to you is
Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.
And the final word in the Bible is Amen.