COCU31B.Easter Day Year B.2021

See also Year A and Year C

“Christian hope is resurrection hope, and it proves its truth in the contradiction of the future prospects thereby offered and guaranteed for righteousness as opposed to sin, life as opposed to death, glory as opposed to suffering, peace as opposed to dissension” – Jurgen Moltmann

Without You
Without You, Lord Jesus,
we would be lost in a dark and despairing world,
without joy and without life.
Without You, Lord Jesus,
we would be frozen in a cold and meaningless existence,
without hope and without a future.
But, You are the Risen and Living One
Who leads us out of our tombs of despondency and fear
and fills our lives with rejoicing.
And so, we give You our gratitude – in the words we speak,
in the songs we sing
and in the lives we live,
wholly filled with You. Amen.
(Source: John van de Laar, Sacredise)

Call to worship
(Janet Morley, based on Mark 16:1-8)
When we are despairing; when the world is full of grief;
when we see no way ahead, and hope has gone away.
Roll back the stone.
Although we fear change; although we are not ready;
although we’d rather weep and run away.
Roll back the stone.
because we hope where hope is in vain;
because you call us from the grave
and show they way.
Roll back the stone.

Hymn: Lord, turn our grieving into grace
Words: Shirley Murray. Music: Ian Render

Lord, turn our grieving into grace:
another way of being,
learning what others have to face,
another way of seeing;
Lord, by the sharing of the pain,
lift up the stone,
lift up the stone,
lift up the stone
that weights us down.

Grow in these dark resistant fears
the seedlings of compassion,
draw from this spring of helpless tears
a love that you would fashion,
till, through the anguish of today,
hope takes us on,
hopes takes us on,
hope takes us on
another way.

A reflection by N.T. Wright – Only Love Believes: The Resurrection of Jesus and the Constraints of History.

A reflection by April Fiet on Mark 16:1-8, Where do we go from here.

Holy Provider,
Sometimes it is not enough to open a window,
When a door has been closed.
Some of us have experienced too many closed doors-
Closed by the forces that oppose the Divine will of Love
Closed by people with racist, patriarchal, colonist, X-phobic tendencies,
Closed by people who are complicit with the above, intentionally and unintentionally.
Sometimes it is not enough to open a window,
Because the transom is too high,
Because there are thorns on the other side,
Because we are expected to “help ourselves” out the window.
Sometimes it is not enough to open a window.
We need walls torn down.
We need doors ripped from hinges.
We need to be transported by the Spirit, like Elijah,
Into a place where Your will is done
By a beloved community
For the sake of all.
Sometimes it is not enough to open a window, God.
We are braced, then, to tear down the walls.
Guide us. Transport us. Work through us
And keep the work of love standing. Amen.
(Source: RevGalBlogPals)

Words of mission/Sending/Blessing
The God we worship is never confined to this holy place.
So go and travel with the God who is found
in ordinary and surprising places.
Go out and live as citizens of God’s realm.
Into God’s hands, we commit our spirits.
You are a chosen people.
Through you, the family of faith may grow.
Others will know they are God’s beloved through us.
Be empowered as you tell of the wonderful deeds of God in your life.
We will share the love we have received, with others.
(Rex AE Hunt)
God’s blessing be yours and well may it keep you.
Christ’s blessing be yours and well may it heal you.
Spirit’s blessing be yours and well may it warm you.
Now and ever more.
Amen! May it be so! (Celtic blessing, adapted)

What has Jesus done for us? A sermon by Joan Wright Howie
There one was an English vicar driving along a country lane on her way to lead a church service in a neighboring parish on Easter Sunday morning. As she came around a turn in the road the rising sun blinded her eyes and she crashed into a rabbit that was crossing the road. She stopped the car and got out to find Easter eggs scattered everywhere and a dead bunny in the middle of the road. ‘What have I done’ – she cried!
Soon enough a man drove up behind her and got out of his car to look at the dead bunny. ‘Oh dear!’ He said and rushed back to his car, grabbed a tin of spray and sprayed it on the bunny.
The bunny popped up it’s head, sat up then bounced off – turned and waved…
‘How did that work? – What happened?’ Asked the vicar. The man picked up the spray can and pointed to the writing on the side ‘resurrects all types of hair – restoring wave and bounce’.
If it were only that easy. A quick spray and back to life.
But do we really want bunnies hoping around the countryside in Australia? Do we really want the Easter Bunny proselytizing it’s chocolate eating mythology of consumerism? Do we really want to resurrect the Easter Bunny?
Here in Australia, rabbits are a pest. They destroy the landscape by digging hold in river banks and undermine the native vegetation. There have been whole campaigns to rid the country of the plague of rabbits.
In the northern hemisphere, rabbits are a great symbol for Easter. There, Easter arrives accompanying Spring. The Christian story of new live and freedom emerging from the darkness of human suffering is echoed as buds spring from the seemingly dead deciduous trees. Bulbs shoot from the cold earth.
Of course the Easter celebrations overlay the deeper pagan springtime rituals of welcoming the warming of the earth and the passing of the dark nights of deathly winter. Spring is a time of fertility and new life. The rabbit with its prolific cycle of pregnancy and lots of little bunnies is a great symbol for those worshiping Gods of fertility and the cycling of the seasons.
In the year 312 the Roman empire with its tentacles throughout Europe became Christian when the Emperor Constantine was converted. The old ways and rituals, old gods and goddess were overlayed with worship of the one Christian God with its rituals, symbols and the story of Jesus life, ministry.
Spring time is the perfect season to remember the story of Jesus death and resurrection when the old rituals point to new life after the dead of winter. The themes are the same. From death new life is born. From suffering under the hand of oppression, freedom comes. Form the cold earth, spring time hope emerges and the seasons take their cycle again and again.
And yet, the story is not quite the same. In fact, the Christian faith proclaims something quite new. Unlike other religious systems where the Divine resides in the sphere of the transcendent, in Jesus, God becomes human, immanent and present. This is the unique gift of the Christian faith. This is a shift of cosmic proportion. God does not remain separate from humanity. God becomes human and experiences human living, human loving and human suffering. Here in the small details of life, God is with us.
Does the power of this statements resonate for you? Can you hear how radical this is, how transformational? The energy that set the universe in motion exists alongside and within us. This is not just good news; this is amazing news. The gate between heaven and earth is open, the veil between the three dimensional human sphere and the multi dimensional universe remains open, God is present in human living and human beings live into the Divine life.
Celtic spirituality declares that heaven and earth are just three feet apart, but in the ‘thin places’, that distance is even smaller. These ‘thin places’ exist where the veil separating heaven and earth is pulled back, revealing the glory of God. Sitting there, you reach out your hand and expect to feel God, it’s that palpable. These are not simply places where God’s presence is felt, but hallowed ground where heaven and earth are one, giving us glimpses of God’s kingdom, regenerating creation all around us. Not with a spray can for resurrecting hair, but the life giving energy of divine power.
On Easter Sunday morning, we read from Mark’s gospel and hear about women coming to the tomb and walking into a very thin place. Reality is unmasked, the tomb stone is rolled away and they hear the voice of an angel saying their beloved Jesus has been raised, no longer underground in darkness, but gone ahead of them to Galilee, back into their reality.
Eric Weiner in an article about thin places says that ‘If God is everywhere and “everywhen,” as the Australian aboriginals put it so wonderfully, then why are some places thin and others not? Why isn’t the whole world thin? Maybe it is, but we are too thick to recognize it. Maybe thin places offer glimpses not of heaven but of earth as it really is, unencumbered. Unmasked.
The women are quite rightly filled with terror, they have stumbled into the ‘eveywhen’ of God’s presence and their mouths are caked with silence. But they are not silent for long. Their encounter at the tomb begins the revolution calling together a community of people whose very lives point to the nearness of God through their commitment to God’s redemptive work of justice, peace, compassion and liberation.
By living according to the rules of this new kingdom, Christ’s community reveals the glory of the living God right here, right now. Mark’s gospel demands a redefinition of our view of power, the role of government and geopolitical conflicts, class struggle, family dynamics, economic principals and sexuality by taking a fresh look at life through the lens of God’s Kingdom.
The veil between heaven and earth is torn asunder when wealth is redistributed through tithing, when third world debts are cancelled with the celebration of Jubilee, when broken hearts are healed, when liberty is proclaimed to the captives, when evangelism spreads through love and not coercion, when governments exalt the good and punish evil, when the old are not left alone, and the strong learn to care for the weak, when paternalism and hierarchy are replaced with egalitarianism, when justice reigns and truth finally wins, when there is no poverty or crime, when work is rewarding and rest is sweet, when the colour of our skin won’t get you in or keep you out, when children are safe in their homes and the cult of narcissism is replaced by self-sacrifice. Scattered throughout the four corners of this world, individuals and Christ-following communities reveal thin places daily; they are a small glimpse into the new heaven and new earth.
At Easter time in Christian circles, we hear lots of talk about what Jesus has done for us on the cross. To be honest, I find this a confusing statement. What has Jesus done for us? The answer is often something like: ‘Jesus has taken upon himself the sins of the world’. But what does this mean? Well, I think the answer is not so much in Jesus death and resurrection, but in Jesus life.
In Jesus, God is Present, not absent and only attainable by performing ritual sacrifices, but present and living amongst and within us. Jesus is the cosmic Christ, the Sophia wisdom present with God in creation bringing all things into being. This is the energy that enters human history and is living with us, in us and through us. This is the energy that saves us.
His death is no surprise, down through the ages people like Jesus get killed or locked up for stirring up trouble. Down through history, the radical reformers are silenced and often put to death by the authorities. There is nothing particularly new in that. We should not be surprised that Jesus ended up crucified.
God did not need his son to die in order to love the world. God loved the world and became human to help humanity learn how to live in God’s love.
The curtain in the temple separating the ark of the holy covenant from the people is torn in two, the barriers in relationship with God are no longer there (if they every where, for barriers are human constructs). God is with us, God is for us, God’s vision for humanity is open to us.
This is different. This is a different message from that which was the dominant view of religion in Jesus day, where God was considered separate and people had to sacrifice animals to atone from sins and be make right with God. It’s different from the pagan view where rituals revolve around the endless cycle of seasons.
This is different from the world view of modern western culture where we are encouraged to worship the god of consumerism in shopping mall temples and stock market halls.
So, if the Easter bunny gets run over by a vicar on her way to lead worship on Easter morning, should we reach for the quick fix resurrection hair spray? Or should we just let that bunny lie and look to a different symbol for this season.
Perhaps we could look to the Australian landscape for an Easter symbol.
In Melbourne it is the Waring season from April to June. This is one of the seven seasons recognised by the Kulin nation where the changing patterns of rainfall, animal and plant life guide the turning of the seasons.
We are now entering a time of long nights when Wombats come out to graze and bask when there is sun. Wombats are generally nocturnal, sleeping by day and feeding by night. In this Easter season, surprisingly, the wombat can be seen enjoying the sun.
The wombat is a gentle symbol for this season when we recall the promise of new life emerging from the underground tomb. Like Jesus, the Easter Wombat rises from the darkness and the thin place of the everywhere and everywhen of God’s presence is revealed.
(Source: Rev Joan Wright Howie, Habitat UC, Hawthorn, Melbourne)

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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