Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon for Easter Day – Sunday 31st March 2024

Christ is risen – we are set free!

Christ is risen – we are set free! Today is our liberation day when God raises Jesus to life and in so doing, calls us to new life in Him. But from what and how are we set free?  What does it mean?

Each of us here will have had some experience of being trapped. When we’re children this can be when we first lock ourselves in the toilet or bathroom and had that terrible feeling of panic until someone was able to let us out.

As we get older, feelings of being trapped or even imprisoned, take different forms. We can feel trapped under pressure of our studies or our job.  We can feel trapped in difficult relationships.  But above all, we feel trapped by the things we do wrong, make a mess of things, hurt other people. And the more we feel trapped, the more we try to find ways out, often by blaming others. As we so, instead of getting free, we become more and more entrapped in lies and muddles of our own making.

This is true of us and also true of the world in which we live. When we look at our world today, we see with enormous sadness, the ways in which we have spoilt the world, which is intrinsically good, through our greed and our conflicts. Every time we look at the news, this hits us afresh.  But we cannot see the way out.

And we are also frightened by our own mortality. What will happen when I die? At a recent course here at Holy Trinity this Lent, looking at our life and death in the light of eternity, we started by recognising that death is the great taboo word in the 21st century.  We’re scared of it; we pretend if we don’t speak about it, it will go away.  It doesn’t and we become more scared and feel more trapped.

This is true too of Jesus’ disciples. They had followed Jesus for three whole years, recognising him as their Rabbi, their teacher. They saw in him someone whom they believed would help them and give their lives meaning, within the context of the humiliating Roman occupation of Galilee where they lived. Some of them hoped Jesus might even lead a revolt against the Romans and set them free in that way.

And yet it all seemed to go horribly wrong. Instead of bringing them the freedom they had hoped for, Jesus spoke to them, particularly in the last few months of his ministry, about the need for him to die. He told them about the importance of a seed falling to the ground and dying if it was to then grow and flourish.

Worst of all came at the Passover when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, tried first by the Jewish and then the Roman authorities, tortured and crucified. For his disciples and all who followed him, it felt like the bitter end of all their hopes. What made it hardest for the disciples was, as they looked back on what Jesus had taught them, they realised that they too were guilty.  They had denied him; they had engaged in power politics to try and get control; they had run away just at the time he needed them more.  Now they were trapped in fear.

But on Easter Day, everything changes. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early – finds it empty and rushes to tell Peter and John.  They see the folded grave clothes and like Mary, believe his body has been stolen. In despair, they return to their own homes leaving Mary distraught in her grief. Even when she encounters the angels in Jesus’ tomb who ask her why she is weeping, she cannot grasp what has happened. It is only when she then turns round and questions the man she takes to be the gardener, who then greets her by her name, that she realises with joy that Jesus is alive. God has raised him from the dead and set him free and, as Mary is about to discover, has thereby set her and each one of us free.

For in raising Jesus from the dead, God has flung open, not only the tomb which held Jesus, but the prisons in which each one of is entrapped through our own sin.  The prophet Isaiah has a lovely image to describe the freedom which God brings us. He describes it in terms of a wonderful feast which God provides for us on the mountain top with the finest foods and wines.  During this feast, the shroud which has separated us from God is shattered.

So in raising Jesus from the dead, God has shattered, once and for all, the shroud by which we had cut ourselves off from God and become trapped in our prisons.  By shattering that shroud, Jesus brings us, with him, to take part on the new life with God.  He sets us free, accepting us just as we are despite our failures, to join with him in his risen life.

As he sets us free, Jesus also commissions us. Remember that Jesus told Mary Magdalene – do not cling to me for I am not yet ascended to my Father.  Instead, he tells her to go and tell the other disciples so that they too may believe and come and greet him and themselves be transformed, just as Mary herself is being. Quite rightly Mary Magdalene is often called ‘the First Apostle’ for she carries this wonderful message of joy to the others.

Mary has to let go of all the fears that had trapped her, so that she could be open to receive the risen Christ into her life and bring Him alive in others. In the days after his resurrection, Jesus will also call his other disciples, from the prisons of fear and guilt in which they were trapped, setting them free to be his hands and feet on earth

Today – on Easter Day – the Risen Christ invites us to let the joy of His resurrection, shatter a hole in the prisons of our guilt, feat and pride and to enter into the joy of new life with him. He is also commissioning us, just as he did Mary Magdalene, to carry that joy to others. But this involves us, like him, being willing to let our selfish selves shatter to the ground and die so we can receive this commission and carry it out faithfully.

To understand how we might do this, I’d like to tell you a story.  It’s a lovely story, told by a Chilean author called Luis Sepúlveda, of a seagull and a cat who teaches a baby seagull to fly (‘Histoire d’une Mouette et du chat qui lui apprit à voler’). It starts with a female seagull called Kengah, who is flying with a flock of fellow gulls towards the North Sea. They descend to eat of the rich herring in the sea only to find to their horror, that they have become embroiled in an oil slick which traps their wings. Most die immediately – a few manage a few strokes with their wings before collapsing into the ocean.  Only Kingah manages to fly, against the odds towards Hamburg where she collapses exhausted on the roof top of a house.

It’s the house occupied by a large black cat, called Zorbas whose owners are away for the summer. He is astonished to encounter this oily, exhausted seabird on his roof.  Realising that she is dying, Kengah, makes him promise to do three things. The first is that is that if she lays an egg, he is not to eat it. Second that he must look after the egg. Third, he must teach the gull which will be born from this egg to fly. Zorbas finds himself, to his utter amazement, promising to fulfil these promises.

He rushes away to find help for her, amongst the other cats of Hamburg. They think he’s crazy but are also bound by a strict rule of conduct that a promise made by one of them, must be upheld and each of them has a duty to enable it to be fulfilled. They return with him to the house where he lives to find Kengah has died, but before dying, she has laid an egg.  I won’t tell you the rest of the story, but it is both sad and uplifting – as the cats battle with the consequences of human greed which has led to this environmental disaster and seek to protect and raise this offspring she has left to survive.  The final stage when they enable, Kengah’s daughter, the young seagull which they have nurtured to fly, is a moment of pure resurrection.

But although a story – it’s a reminder to us of the promises we have made to Jesus.  Promises, made in many cases for us at our Baptism and which we are about to renew around the font.  A promise that as Jesus has set us free by dying to us and has shown that new life is involves us in laying down what we want to help others. So we are being called to live that new life he offers us today.  Zorbas and the other cats in the story experience joy when the young seagull they have nurtured finally takes the flight to freedom.  In a similar way, we know that our deepest joy will be joining with the risen Christ in helping to set others free and to be a witness in the world that there is a better and new way to live together based on love, which flings open the doors of our prejudices, fears and hatred.

As you leave church today, do take a chocolate egg as a sign of Jesus’ resurrection who sets us free.  But take it also remember that we now have a sacred task to set others free in his name. If a cat can teach a seagull to fly, what might we do for Christ today?

Jesus Christ is risen.

He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!