Easter 2016

Sermon preached at the Parish Eucharist on Easter Day.

For much of Holy Week, and certainly during the sun-blessed Procession of Witness on Good Friday morning, it seemed that Spring has been springing with a little more urgency!

The new life that we celebrate at Easter has been visible in fresh green shoots and blossoms of various kinds.

But, just for a moment, I want to drag your mind’s eye away from the beauties of nature – and to contemplate instead the twin delights of Redrow Homes and Mary Berry!

Because it seems to me that, here in Wilton, one of the most significant signs of new life, over the last couple of years, has been the transformation from the decaying MOD site to the new and housing at Wilton Hill and Erskine Park.

We felt that at Christmas, when we took our carol singers up there – and were amazed to discover quite how many houses there are tucked away off the main road.

And, a couple of Saturdays ago, as I delivered Easter leaflets to each of the 66 “occupied dwellings”, I was amazed again at how quickly things had changed since December: the rows of sparkling new houses, all looking pretty similar, have now clearly evolved into homes.

Individual name plates, garden ornaments and shrubs are already giving those houses their own individual flavour.

And, (dare I say this?) – some of those houses which, at Christmas, looked SO sparkling and new that we hardly dared press the doorbell, now look – well, like they’ve been lived in for a while!

And if I’ve just mortally offended anyone from Wilton Hill or Erskine Park – let me assure you that they still look wonderful – just not brand new.

And that’s the first blindingly obvious point I want to focus on now – that, by definition, nothing is brand new for ever.

New-ness is NOT a lasting quality: by the time you’ve driven your new car home from the showroom it already has miles on the clock, and quite possibly mud on the tyres and underbody. By the time you’ve had your first house-warming party – the carpets may no longer be quite so pristine.

Nothing is “new” for ever. So how, then, do we make sense, today, of the Easter promise of new life?

What is “new”, or meaningful, about an event that happened a couple of millennia ago?

Can we really believe that Jesus going to his solitary death and rising again, all those years ago, has somehow changed the world for ever?

If we needed reminding that the world is still broken – still imperfect – or that religious bigotry and racial strife are still with us just as powerfully as when Jesus walked the earth – then the terrorists who attacked Belgium on  – right in the middle of Holy Week – have provided that reminder.

If Jesus did in fact restore God’s creation to its original perfection – then certainly the world as we know it seems to have lost its sheen – the newness seems tarnished.

Cue Mary Berry – and her two part series on Easter food!

Along with a variety of Easter traditions, we learned that Mary Berry herself had lost a son – in an accident – when he was 29 years old – not so very far from the age at which Jesus died.

And she said that, for her family, Easter has become an important time for remembering him and learning to live with that loss.

During the second programme, the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, reflected with her that, for most of us, there are times in our lives when situations and circumstances beyond our control may seem unbearable and inescapable – times, as he put it, when we’ve reached the end of the road, when it seems there is no way forward for us.

And it’s then, he said, that God can surprise us – and lead us in a new direction, to find happiness and depth of meaning in our lives that we just couldn’t see for ourselves.

And that is the promise of Easter – that pain and despair can lead on to joy beyond comprehension. The disciples are first plunged into the darkness and then out again into the light – they learn to SEE things in a new way.

Just as our townscape, here, is always evolving – as it did in the 1840s, with the arrival of this “new” church, as it did in the 60s and 70s, as “new” houses erupted from the green fields of Bulbridge, as it is today with the emerging Redrow development and the prospect of more at the Felt Mill site – so the life of the world around us is always evolving.

And, if we find it hard to see the events of Good Friday or Easter morning as single events in history that have for ever changed everything – then perhaps we can look at them a different day.

Perhaps what we are meant to see through Christ’s death and rising again – is not what Jesus DID on a particular day or days – but rather the WAY in which God works.

Perhaps what the events of Easter tell us is not so much that Jesus “made everything new” – but that, then as now, God in Christ is always making things new.

Perhaps we are meant to realise that God is always transforming things – always bringing new possibilities – leading us to new surroundings and experiences – always offering new hope in place of doubt and despair.

Nothing is new for ever – but it is God’s nature to “make new” – to go on renewing the creation that he loves – continually seeking to transform us, until the day when we are made perfect in him.