St Mary and St Chad and Longton
Holy Saturday 1992 Triduum III
As a framework for these addresses I have been using an imaginary Staffordshire Secular Man. He thought he knew what the Christian faith was all about - he supposed it to be a programme for a mild sort of social reform, politically pale pink with strips of green in it, with a bit of other-worldly piety thrown in on the side. A form of Recreation if you like; the choice to be made on Sundays between playing golf, going to the seaside or attending Church. Take your pick!
Poor fellow! We invited him to come to the services on these three days at Saint Mary's and Saint Chad and as a result his preconceptions about the Christian faith all got turned upside down.
Thursday was S-day, Friday was A-day. Easter I shall call R-day.
The letter 'R' are stands for Radiance or Radiation. When we lit that fire a few minutes ago each of us was aware of two things which came from it - light and heat. And if you remember your physics at school you will know that the principal way that light and heat are communicated is by Radiation.
Now light means is what enbles us to see things, and heat means energy or being able to get things working. So Radiance is a convenient term for the enlightenment and power that comes to one us from the Resurrection.
It is a great mistake to suppose that we are helping Staffordshire Secular Man by saying that it doesn't matter if the Resurrection happened or not. On the contrary it makes all the difference. What Restored the faith of the first Apostles was not the conviction that they were meant to be good boys and build a new world fit for other good boys to live in - that idea simply didn't occur to anyone for another 1900 years (when it caught on like wildfire with the arrival and spread of the Railways). I have, as it happens, a certain respect for British Rail – but I certainly don't imagine that they hold the key to man's salvation. One Man who Rose from the dead gives me far more grounds for hope than any number of, Inter-City trains running to schedule.
Because they saw and handled the Risen Christ, the apostles' faith was Restored. But they had to be taught to Recognise him in another form - the Bread and the Wine. For reasons we can only guess at, it was essential that his bodily presence should only be with us until the Ascension.
It seems to have had something to do with what is called Reach-out. To have had a resurrected body of Jesus appearing here and there in the world would have been a handicap to the work the apostles were called to do. Everyone would have started arguing as to whether a particular appearance was the Real Jesus or not, and human nature being what it is, people would have started claiming that their sighting of Jesus was superior to someone else's. You can just imagine how the local newspapers having a field-day pointing out that "The Staffordshire siting lasted for twenty minutes whereas the Shropshire one only lasted eight; and whereas the Sheffield appearance was only witnessed by a handful of people, the Somerset one was seen by more than five-hundred at one time!
You see now perhaps why the Reach-out could never have happened in this way. It had to begin as individual personal witness, which is symbolised for us by the lighting of many candles from the single flame.
A living flame is the one thing you can share without having any less of it as a result. From one source the whole building can be full of light. And this brings us to the final R-word, Recreation.
Staffordshire Secular Man has probably never thought what the word Recreation really means and implies. He thinks it's just what people do with their leisure time: play golf, or football, or build model aeroplanes or climb mountains.
But the word Recreation refers in the first place not to these activities themselves but to the effect they have on those who take part in them: they are Re-created.
Now think back to the very first verse of the Bible which reads, "in the beginning God created...". Well, in the Second Beginning which started with the Incarnation he began a New Creation. For the Old Creation he first made the light, in the New Creation God became incarnate as the Light of the World.
So the Staffordshire are Secular man is not wholly wrong in seeing the Christian faith as a form of Recreation. Where he is quite, quite wrong is in supposing that it is no more than something we choose to do with our leisure time.
In the power of the Risen Christ, by his Radiance which he bestows upon us, we have been accepted by God as fellow workers in the process of the Re-creation of the Universe. Let me end by reading again the Collect which comes after the second reading today for it sums up what our Faith is really all about.
Almighty and eternal God, you created all things in wonderful beauty and order. Help us now to perceive how still more wonderful is the new creation by which in the fullness of time you redeemed your people through the sacrifice of our Passover, Jesus Christ who lives on reigns for ever and ever Amen.
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