HOMILY at the 9h and 10h30 MASSES for EASTER DAY (A) 2017
The Lamb who is victorious
Out of interest, I Googled Lamb and Flag the other day – thinking about the ancient symbol of the resurrection. (Here it is – and if you look at the East window in the church at the top right you will see it also!)
My Googling was not very helpful for the true enquirer. After nine pages of pubs and restaurants, I finally came to a single reference to a roof boss in Canterbury cathedral, executed in 1198, and whose designer was left incapacitated afterwards as he fell from the wooden scaffolding which had been erected. Had I wished from my Googling to find out the meaning of this ancient Christian symbol, I would have had to refine my search.
The Lamb and Flag, of course, is the Christian symbol for the Resurrection. But it perhaps isn’t that surprising that it doesn’t figure much in the Googlesphere. For at least two reasons.
First, it’s a more than slightly comic idea. Think of it for a moment. If you want to create a hero, you might have a lion, you might even have (if you were me) a dog, I could even think of having a pig as a hero – or even, if you absolutely must, a teenage mutant ninja turtle. But not a lamb. Lambs are woolly cuddly cute creatures that gambol around. (Interesting, nothing else to my knowledge gambols in that sense, although French and Italian speakers can correct me on this!) We see lots of them (too many in my view) at this time in the Highlands of Scotland, though rather fewer in Switzerland. What the Lamb is not is the hero character.
Except this one. The Agnus Dei – the Lamb who, according to the vision of Revelation, has been found worthy to break the seven seals and open the scroll of the Book of Life. This Lamb challenges our ideas of what it is to be a hero.
And of course we know that the Lamb featured very much in the story of Israel, in the yearly anamnesis (calling of past into present) that was the Passover Sacrifice. The blood of that lamb had preserved the Israelites as they left behind slavery in Egypt. Now, in a new way, God’s pilgrim people are saved by the Blood of the Lamb of God.
But this is still not the stuff of modern day heroism. After all, the Lamb was killed. Put to death – and in the 21st century, that’s just about the worst possible thing that can happen to you.
Which brings me to the second reason for the obscurity in some places of the Lamb and Flag nowadays. A survey of Christians last week seemed to suggest that a quarter of us don’t believe in the resurrection anyway. With or without a Lamb and Flag! Mind you, the survey was of only about 2000 people, only some of whom were described as ‘regular churchgoers’, and it was commissioned by the BBC – so it has to be said it is immediately biased with a strongly secularist agenda.
In a way, I am not surprised by this result. Partly because I suspect that the question was framed in such a form as to trivialise the resurrection. To make it – as Bishop David Jenkins so famously put it – a conjuring trick with bones, or an exceptional kind of resuscitation.
Now I don’t believe in that kind of resurrection, because that is not what the New Testament says about it. What do I believe, what does the Church believe about the resurrection that we so happily celebrate on this day?
Now you could be in for a very long homily – and your roast lamb lunches will be burnt oblations instead! But fortunately, we have a whole fifty days now to think about the answer to that question! Fifty days of Eastertide. So I promise to be brief for now!
What does the New Testament say about the Resurrection? Well an awful lot. In fact, it is just unthinkable to even consider having the New Testament without the Resurrection. Unthinkable.
But let’s consider just a couple of things for now.
First, the empty tomb. This is quite obviously a startling and totally unexpected fact that is central to all the Gospel accounts. And yes, as a scientist, I believe the tomb was empty. How it was empty I don’t know. But then, I don’t know – pardon me if you do know – how the initial big bang that set the whole shebang of the Universe going in the first place, how that happened either. Science hasn’t answered that particular how question yet. One day it might. One day it might answer the how question of the resurrection. But a completely different set of questions is appropriate for both of these events at the level of meaning and signification. We speak of God creating from nothing. And we speak of God creating anew in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus did not ‘survive’ death. He died. Just as we shall. But there was then a new creation.
God creating anew, because quite clearly – and again from the New Testament – Jesus was not immediately recognisable. And had he been immediately recognisable, then I think that the witness of the New Testament to him would have been suspect. It could have been the kind of thing that frequently happens to people after a bereavement. They see the deceased person still from time to time. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s normal and it helps people to begin a new kind of relationship with their loved ones. But it is not absolutely not resurrection. And it’s not what we believe happened to Jesus the Christ, who was crucified at around the Passover in 30 AD (or as the BBC would have it 30 CE) under the governorship of Pontius Pilate.
The women and the apostles did not immediately recognise. But they did know that the tomb was empty. That something more profound and wonderful than had ever been expected had happened. Here is the God of surprises – God acts in a new way to raise up to a new being and dimension of being, one in which the old constraints of time, space, and matter no longer are significant.
And so, twenty centuries on, the followers of the Lamb still come together to worship. To celebrate his victory. And above all else, to know his presence with us through Word and Sacrament. To experience his life-changing power, by the gift of the Spirit.
A power that takes away every fear and dread that life can hold as we know that the Lamb waves a victory flag. That nothing in life, no powers or principalities, nor even death itself, has any power over the Lamb.
And because we are made one with him and his victory through baptism and eucharist, we need have no fears either.
Easter is about allowing once more the fifty days of celebration to enable us to move further away from fear towards faith. Faith in a true resurrection. Not the secularists’ silly versions. But the kind that we know here in Word and Sacrament and through each other. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, alleluia!
I wish you all a very happy Eastertide.