The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      26th May 2019
Live the Resurrection
Jeremy Fletcher

Matthew 28. 1 - 10, 16 - end

Julia and I have known each other for two thirds of our lives. My sons have known me for all their lives. It ought not to surprise them, you would think, but it always does, that if there is something written on a wall, I will read it. All. Carefully. This usually manifests itself in museums or art galleries. They are in the café having raided the shop while I have just made it to the end of the first room.

I am at my worst in a graveyard, or a church with lots of memorials. I hope you’ve noticed that Hampstead Parish Church has sprouted two new graves: Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge. They are already attracting interest, though they’ll be gone by Thursday. I also like reading obituaries, and these two interests are combined on a good memorial, the best of which ever, officially, is John Harrison the clock maker’s on the south side of our church. I loved the memorials in York Minster too. One describes its distinguished subject as holding the ‘Order of the Elephant’. Another says that the lady’s accomplishments were so numerous that it referred you to an edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine, and gave you the date. 

Perhaps you, and certainly my family, would want to ask whether this interest in the exploits of the dead is wholly healthy. The women who come to the tomb on the first Easter morning are – in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s account - challenged by the men in dazzling clothes. Why are you looking for someone who is alive in a graveyard? If all you are doing is making an ending, looking back, remembering rather than anticipating, then your life has ended now and a graveyard is all you deserve. If all we do with a memorial, or an obituary, or a memory of the one we have loved, is to reminisce and to look back, then there is no hope.

There are countless ways in which we look for life and purpose in the wrong place. Human beings need worth and love and value and community and belonging and purpose. To look for those things in memory alone, or in shopping and food and sport and even patriotism and love of country – yes, there’s some politics going on, and it was love of country which finally made Theresa May cry publicly – to look towards these things is to look for life where there is ultimately only death. Goods wear out. Dinner parties end. Countries, and Prime Minsters, even monarchies, rise and fall.

It is not that these things are bad, only that they will not give us a purpose which will last beyond the grave. Look elsewhere, say the dazzling men in the tomb. Jesus now lives a life which leads to forgiveness, healing, a new community, and glory. Take time to understand it – you will find it is prefigured in the prophecies on the Scriptures, and in what Jesus said of himself. Think it through, and begin to believe that something amazing has happened. Let that belief lead to faith, to a complete change of life, to a commitment to see that new life at work even as this old one wears out. And let the risen life of Christ transform your shopping and thinking and relationships and your citizenship.

Tonight’s reading adds the verses at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. The disciples have heard what Mary Magdalene and the other women have told them. Jesus has appeared to them in person. Gathered in Galilee they are still not sure whether to remember the dead or do something new. Jesus makes it clear. This is about newness and hope and transformation and glory. Look for life where there is life, and let that life bring life to things which can’t provide that life themselves. ‘Make disciples’, says Jesus. You followed me when I was with you in the flesh. Now everyone can follow, and life the new life I promise. Go!

 If I’m interested in memorials and graveyards it is really because there is inspiration in lives lived in that hope. And that way we become a living notice, a memorial come to life, for the risen life of Christ. It is a long way from the empty tomb to a life so committed to Christ that even death cannot quench it. It’s a long way from the end of hope to the new life of proclamation. But that is the journey the disciples made, and is a journey which the church makes each Eastertide, and indeed each Sunday and each day as we remind ourselves again and again that Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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