April Fool: Easter Vigil, 2018.

IMG_3268Fairacres Convent, Easter Sunday, 1 April, 2018, 4:30am. Picture: The Risen Christ, 2017. Maxim Kantor, Cathédrale, Paris.

Getting up and leaving the house at around 3:30am this morning means that no one – at home at least – has pulled an April fool prank on me yet. This morning, we celebrate something amazing, where one who appeared to be creation’s fool fooled the deceiver of humanity. He also shows us how often we are still fooled, and breathes his own presence enabling us to be fools for Christ.

When we stood here on Friday and looked upon, touched, or kissed the cross, it was its dryness, its lack of life, its depiction of naked agony that seemed unbearable. But today we know that, for all its reality and horror, that was not just an unmitigated human tragedy, but a spark – a lightning strike. Seamus Heaney’s poem in ‘Seeing things’ puts it thus:

And lightning? One meaning of that

(Beyond the usual sense of alleviation,

Illumination, and so on), is this:

A phenomenal instant when the spirit flares

With pure exhilaration before death

The good thief in us harking to the promise![1]

We see the fruit this morning of ‘A phenomenal instant when the Spirit flares with pure exhilaration’ in death. The enlightening spark, even in the lap of horror, has set creation aflame with eternal life. He shows us how we have been, and still so readily are, fooled. That lightening spark from the dry cross, from the blooded and naked God enfleshed in our death, has set the entire Cosmos aflame, making it all one vast burning bush, permeated by the fire of divine power, glory, and love.

quote-the-entire-cosmos-is-one-vast-burning-bush-permeated-by-the-fire-of-the-divine-power-kallistos-ware-64-30-38

When we rang bells before the Gloria a few moments ago, I think we work the birds up! They have certainly responded loudly. But somehow that noise does not disturb the deep stillness of this morning. This is creative silence, this stillness does not drown the many sounds of this morning – the wind the birds the bells the chanting – but they stand out and make us listen to the silence, silence that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware describes as ‘not an emptiness but a fullness, not an absence but a personal presence.’

And that divine glory, and light, and stillness floods us so that we know that we have been fooled. It’s so deeply ingrained in our human nature to be seduced by nonsense and falsehood, and unwittingly we peddle it and promote fake news ourselves. We judge according to appearance, Beauty – or rather attractiveness! – intelligence, money, and we are so seduced by power. Our processes of making judgements are corrupted by our ego, our self-justification, and our deepest sense of inadequacy and worthlessness. Well, April fool! At his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury what now feels like a lifetime ago, Rowan Williams said: ‘if someone came up to us on the street and said ‘They’ve found out! Run!’ Most of us would [if we still could!]’

Well, the Lord has found us out, and knows us, and bears in his own risen body, the wounds of our nature. And the good news, the richest truth of endless scope, is unfurled in life and power this Easter dawn.

‘If God, even in death, is for us, who can be against us? He did not withhold his only son… who can bring any charge against us? What can separate us from the love of God? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, all nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No… I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, more things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, we’ll be able to separate us from the love of God’[2] in the risen Christ Jesus our Lord.

More fool us if we think otherwise: the tyranny of falsehood and fear is broken and fatally injured. A friend of mine, Revd Andrew Lightbown, remarked on social media this week how utterly tiring Maundy Thursday felt. Especially the stripping of the sanctuary. Not that it’s a massive physical feat, but it is exhausting and chilling to take away the signs of sacramental hope and leave the space as if it is a ruin. Of course, everything isn’t yet sorted. We hear that Christian culture is doomed, and that the civilization of faith is collapsed. Christians today to stand far closer to the early church than did our grandparents. Christianity began as the faith of a small minority existing in a non-Christian society, and such it is becoming once more in the west, where the traditional alliance between church and state is coming to an end. That is certainly a part of the picture, but without unnecessary vitriol, let’s not lose sight of the number of people alive today who have found in Christ, crucified and raised, life, and faith, and hope. Arranging for speakers for the rest of this year at Pembroke College I notice that there are key leaders from Christian denominations, archbishops, key ordained and leading lay figures, representing one billion, 677 million members. That’s 24% of the world’s population. I’m not saying might is right, or that numbers prove that it is true; just more fool us if we think Christian faith is spent. If we include denominations not represented by their leaders at Pembroke this year, the total number is about 2.2 billion, that’s about 31% of all people on the planet. That would indeed be a bit of a squash and our chapel!

So we have been fooled long enough! God has held before us judgement and salvation, and he shows us that he holds both together with love and justice even though it killed him: in stillness and agony pinned, to hold everything to his embrace. April fools! Because after Good Friday and the death of hope, the Lord is here.

So with our mind in our heart, thrilled with life and love – our hearts like the empty tomb – we can be fools indeed. It’s one thing to believe in God, but he wants more than that – he wants us to know him, to fall in love with him like a fool!

In the vast sea which is the life of the church, the Spirit flows like a thin pure stream, and whoever would be in this stream must lay aside human argument and cleverness. When anything of self is introduced, but waters no longer run clear, for God’s supreme Wisdom and Truth are the opposite of human cleverness and argument. Such renunciation appears intolerable, insane even, to the self-willed, but those who are not afraid to become a fool for Christ (cf. 1 Cor.3:18-19) have found Resurrection life, and the Wisdom of Love.[3]

Rejoice, because you are, truly, God’s April Fools!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Notes

[1] I am grateful to Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley, for drawing attention to this in her Holy Week Compline reflection. https://bishophelenann.wordpress.com/2018/03/27/holy-week-compline-address-monday/

[2] Cf. Romans 8:31f.

[3] Archmandrite Sophrony Sakharov, St Silouan, p.48.

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[Revd Dr] Andrew Teal Chaplain, Fellow, Lecturer in Patristic & Modern Theology, Pembroke College, Oxford. Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford Warden, Community of the Sisters of the Love of God. ADVANCE NOTICE: Inspiring Service. November 23rd 2018 The Pichette Auditorium, Pembroke College Oxford. A panel of speakers to inspire adventurous and fulfilling service. Speakers: Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a leading lay British Catholic; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; Revd Prof Frances Young, leading British Methodist; and The Most Revd & Rt Hon Prof Rowan Williams (Baron Williams of Oystermouth), formerly Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the world-wide Anglican Church.

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