A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Colossians 3:1-4 on Easter 2020
Without its hole, a donut is just dough. In the same way, without Easter, Christianity is meaningless. Without Easter, our faith is nothing, our faith means nothing. Without Easter, the preacher’s words are just hot air. Without Easter, the Bible is a waste of paper and ink. Without Easter, all the martyrs gave the only life they had for a lie. Without Easter, our Christian values set an impossible standard, teaching rules that no one can live up to, that are just as damaging as they are meant to be beneficial. Without Easter, Jesus is dead, his bones are crumbling to dust in an unmarked grave, and his claim to be the Son of God is foolish, dangerous nonsense.
Easter is the heartbeat of Christianity. Easter not only keeps Christianity alive, it makes it alive. For example, Easter means that Jesus is Lord. Not just some famous dead guy from long ago who said nice things that some people try to live by. Like a philosopher who is only as useful as the wise words that people remember. But Lord, like Lord of all. Lord of you and Lord of me. Lord of my living and dying. Lord of my failure and my success. Lord of my beginning and end and everything in between. Knowing him is more valuable than winning the lottery. Serving him achieves more than the most expensive education. Trusting him is wiser than washing your hands.
Secondly, Easter means the triumph of life over death. Easter means that death will not have the last word to say about me. It means that my life will not be defined by the four numbers that are just waiting to be filled in. And my legacy will not be confined to the best parts of me that people will remember and cherish, but my legacy will be all of me, the whole of me. Not just the best parts of me, but even the worst parts redeemed and made new. I tell you now, that I refuse to live on in the hearts of my children. I insist on living on in the safe hands of the Father of Jesus.
Easter means that God’s light shines in the darkness. It opens inward turned self-absorbed people to the possibility of a life lived for their creator and for their fellow creatures. It doesn’t set an impossible standard, but calls us to live a life that is powered by the Spirit who raised Jesus to life. A life that is holy as the Spirit is holy.
And Easter provides a hope that is better than optimism. Now, this may sound a little patronising but I’m fond of optimists. Really, I am. Optimists mean well. They like to look on the bright side of things. And they look for the best in people. When life gives them lemons they turn it into lemonade. When life pours manure onto them they turn it into a vegetable garden. I bet there are optimists right now who are looking at the opportunities, like right now people are thinking what I want are things made in Australia, not made in China. Optimists are going to turn that into a way of making money when a lot of other people are losing their jobs.
The weakness of optimism, its Achilles heel is that it is fuelled by the belief that things are going to get better soon. It is, in fact, a kind of denial. It is a refusal to accept the present. But hope means that we can live today not in some future day, that we can accept the present with all its trials and challenges, because we trust in a Lord who created the world out of nothing and raises the dead to life. Hope does not need things to get better, but trusts instead that all things will be made perfect. With hope we can dare to weep while things aren’t getting better in hope that one day every tear will be wiped away and every wrong will be made right.
What I mean is that what many of us are struggling with right now is a kind of grief. We have lost the year we had planned. We’ve lost travel plans. We’ve lost freedom. We’ve lost intimacy. We’ve lost the Easter we’re used to. Maybe we’ve lost a normal that we may never go back to. And what you need not just to endure grief, but to actually bring it to healing, to find peace when you are staring into the abyss and you can’t help feeling that the abyss is staring back, what you need is more than optimism. What you need is hope. The hope that whatever we give is never lost, but is safe in my Lord’s hands.
In Colossians chapter 3, the apostle Paul reminds us that Easter is the mould that shapes Christian faith and life.
Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. for you died, and your life is no hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
This short paragraph challenges every stereotype about Christianity. Because following Jesus isn’t about doing our best and crossing our fingers. It’s about taking up our cross. It not about doing the wrong thing and being forgiven so we can do the wrong and be forgiven again, it’s a kind of death and resurrection that means that we are no longer who we used to be, and that our past will no longer control our fate. Just as Jesus rose to life we can become new people and begin a life now that will endure forever.
Christianity is not about improving ourselves. It’s not a self-help gimmick. It’s about being transformed, dying to an old way of life filled with greed and malice and slander and rage and lust and impurity, being raised by the Spirit to a new life that is being renewed in the image of God with compassion and kindness and patience, forgiving because we’ve been forgiven, loving because in Christ we have been loved.
Paul reminds us that Christ, the risen Lord, is seated at the right hand of God. And our destiny, our future, is to be with him and like him. Our life is now hidden, it’s not obvious, you can’t read my future in my palms, because it is hidden in Christ with God. He is my life, and when he appears in glory, I will be there and I will share it.
To me, in our present trials, this means three things. Firstly, I’m not afraid of catching coronavirus. And secondly, I’m not afraid of dying. But what I am afraid of is giving it to someone else. When I walk down the street on one of those few genuine excuses I have for leaving my home, I don’t treat people like they could give it to me. I treat them like I could give it to them. Which is why to me, staying home is not an act of fear. It is not a lack of faith in God. But it is an act of love.
We have just finished week three of the stay at home order. And we are going to need a lot more than optimism to get through. What we need is the hope that Easter provides. Easter is the heartbeat of Christianity, the thing that makes our faith live and keeps it alive. And may the faith, hope and love of Easter be with you and may its light shine in your darkness.