The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Choral Evensong      21st April 2019
Because we are all one: Easter Resurrection and Extinction Rebellion
Ayla Lepine

READINGS:

Isaiah 43. 1 – 21

1 Corinthians 15. 1 – 11

Christ is risen! Alleluia! 

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Death and birth. Generation after generation. St Paul’s imperative is to teach the Corinthians about Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection, and its meaning for our birth, rebirth, and constant daily dyings and risings. Paul has one precious thing to communicate in this passage: Christ really lived, really died, and really lived again. Paul describes himself as ‘untimely born’, invoking an ache of deepest longing that he could have, had things only been different, been amongst those first 12 Apostles. From a situation of radical opposition, through the trauma and radiant urgency of repentance, towards an internal revolution, Paul found his real purpose.
His purpose is also our purpose: to proclaim the reality of Christ to those who had never met him, but now, through the glory of resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit, have Christ fully alive within them. Christ dwells in us. We dwell in him. We know the story. We must share it. The whole of human experience, everything, the brutal cruelty, rejection of self and others, the joy of friendship, the sigh of contentment, the euphoria that can suddenly grab us and remind us that life is so, so precious – all of the all too human – is suffused with the light of Christ’s mysterious and utterly, bodily, physically real resurrection. We will rise. Because he has risen. The resurrection is real. If you hear nothing else today, hear this and dare to believe it. 

Today over 200 people have died in terrorist violence in Sri Lanka. Christians are targets. People have died for their faith today. Somehow, there will be shreds of peace and hope, somehow. For now, there is shock and pain. Somehow, there will be hope amidst the mourning.

In recent months, and intensively over the past days and hours, much closer to home, people have been chaining themselves to vehicles, camping in the middle of bridges, praying, singing, and actively, sacrificially, putting their bodies, minds, and souls to work against environmental disaster. Extinction Rebellion, a global movement pleading for all creation, deploy the simplest human act possible to articulately demand change, so that we all survive. They are simply present. Why? “I’m here because I love you and fear for your future and my future,” said Oscar Idle, 17, as he protested at Heathrow. “It’s that love and that fear that gives me courage.” Teenagers cluster around a banner that starkly asks, ‘Are We the Last Generation?’ Are millennials, facing planetary disaster, in the words of St Paul, ‘untimely born’? No. They have been, in the words of Paul Simon, ‘born at the right time.’ Because they are prepared to transform the world. God tells us that all creation is precious. It’s time to behave, together, in ways that honour its preciousness.

Extinction Rebellion is a non-violent movement. The only right response to the violence done to creation in the name of greed is non-violent. Unlike sanctioned marches, these protests have caused significant and controversial disruption. The theology of this movement is grounded in the unity of all life. There have been nearly 1000 arrests. Nick, a 56-year-old civil servant who chained himself at Oxford Circus, observed in an interview: this is ‘an unusual way to spend my annual leave.’ He said he was not happy to be there. He said he did not take the possibility of being arrested lightly ‘but I’m going to be here as long as it takes.’

Subverting a broken system not through weapons and military tactics, but through a loving presence, confounds that system and can bewilder its enforcers. No matter one’s view on the protest’s methods, the message is clear: everyone’s survival depends on radical change.

Theologian Howard Thurman’s position on worshipping Jesus and the path of non-violent resistance came, remarkably, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and all of its unspeakable mass-scale horror. Thurman wrote, ‘“the religion of Jesus says to the disinherited: ‘Love your enemy. Take the initiative in seeking ways by which you can have the experience of a common sharing of mutual worth and value. It may be hazardous, but you must do it.’” 

Responding to Jesus’ resurrection means committing to a worldview where everyone’s life is of equal and infinite value. Living in the light of Jesus’ resurrection on a fragile planet weighed down by the pain and harm of flaws and failure needs this loving response. Because, and I say this without any saccharine Cadbury’s Crème Egg cliche, but with the boldness of someone who would lie down in the road rather than pick up a weapon: we are all one. The damage we do to ourselves and our world is damage done, in one way or another, to everyone.

We are made in the image of God, and we are united inherently because, as Isaiah teaches, 

[God is]

   he who created you…

   he who formed you…

God speaks directly into every cell of our bodies, and every aspect of our character:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

   I have called you by name, you are mine. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

   and the flame shall not consume you.

Could we believe that in a world so fragile? Yes. We must. Why? Because Jesus has been raised from the dead. And he brought us with him. Because he lives, we live, and we walk in this resurrection light. We are one. The 16th-century Spanish saint and Doctor of the Church, Teresa of Avila, knew that we are all one, united with God, and she puts it like this:

In total Union, no separation is possible. The soul remains perpetually in that centre…It is like rain falling into a river or pool; there is nothing but water…When a little stream enters the sea, who could separate its waters back out again? Think of a bright light pouring into a room from two large windows: it enters from different places but becomes one light.’

St Paul’s proclaims the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus at the same time that he proclaims his own ‘untimely’ birth. But he knows that nostalgia for a fantasy past, what ‘could have been’, has no value. Christ is alive now. Christ invites us to unite to transform the world through the light of his resurrection now. When people too young to vote or drive, who too often find their voices are dismissed, ask the pressing question ‘Are we the last generation?’ we cannot dismiss this. Because we are one. Because that which harms our world in all its frailty and diversity is a collective and systemic injustice. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we resist, as Christ did, trustng that, like him, we will rise.

Christ is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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