Looking ahead to a Bright Week

As we approach Advent, we take the long view and remind ourselves, through this Easter sermon by Lynda Taylor, where we are heading in the Christian story.

Preacher: Revd Dr Lynda Taylor
Date: 16 April 2017 (Easter Day)

A Bright Week

At Christmas we celebrated the light that came into the world with the birth of Jesus and we celebrated God coming to be with us. Throughout Lent we travelled on a journey in the desert, learning what it means to grow spiritually and to be shaped into the people of God. On Good Friday we remembered the darkness – and we took it seriously, because Jesus himself took it seriously. And today, on this Resurrection Morning, we celebrate the light of Christ burning even more brightly in the world – not just in the resurrected body of Jesus, but in the lives of all his followers – dispelling the darkness and bringing good news for all creation.

I wonder – were any of you given an Easter egg today?

It’s traditional to celebrate Easter with eggs of various sorts. But do you know why we use this symbol? Any suggestions? Eggs are a sign of new life – the rich treasure inside an egg has the potential to grow into a chick, and baby chicks are a sign of spring and new life – just like the lambs and baby rabbits and spring flowers we see around us at this time of year.

But the shape of an egg is also sometimes thought to resemble the huge stone that covered the entrance to the tomb where Jesus’ body was buried after his crucifixion on Good Friday. On Easter morning God rolled that stone away so that the risen Jesus could be released from the place of death into new life in God’s world. It’s not so common nowadays, but some chocolate eggs are just hollow inside reminding us of that empty tomb that Jesus left behind. He – and we – are no longer held prisoner by sin and death but are free to experience and enjoy God’s life-giving power.

I’ve got some more Easter eggs to show you today – they’re not real eggs or chocolate eggs, but decorated wooden eggs from another country.

Many years ago, in the 1970s, I was a student of Russian at the university of Moscow. At that time Russia was still at the heart of the old Soviet Union and it wasn’t easy to be a Christian there.

Every week I used to go to the local market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and during February and March, I noticed that some of the stallholders were selling traditional painted wooden eggs. So each week during Lent that year I bought a couple, and by Easter I had my own little collection of Russian eggs which you can see here.

Have a look at them more closely. You can take them out of the basket to have a closer look and pass them around. They won’t break because they’re made of wood. But be gentle with them as they’re rather old now and the bright colours are slowly fading.

You can see that some of the eggs are simple – painted in just one colour. And some are brighter – with flowers or patterns.

Who has found an egg showing a cockerel or a hedgehog?

Who has found the eggs that carry a picture of an old Russian church with its onion-shaped domes?

And there is one egg which has a secret inside it. Can you find it?

If you look really carefully, you can see that some eggs have what look like the letters X and B on them. They are the first letters of 2 Russian words:

ХРИСТОС ВОСКРЕС

They are very important words. In English they mean ‘Christ is risen’. In a country where it was for many years it was not only hard but often dangerous to be a Christian, people still decorated little wooden eggs to proclaim their faith in the risen Lord Jesus and to celebrate the promise of new life in and through him.

In Russian orthodox churches on Easter Sunday morning, the priest shouts out Христос Воскрес – meaning ‘Christ is risen!’ and the whole congregation shouts back Во истине воскрес – meaning ‘He certainly has!’, or ‘He is risen indeed!’ Sometimes they do this 3 times, getting louder all the time!

If we were celebrating Easter in a Russian or Greek Orthodox church this morning, we’d be standing before a great wall of icons or pictures, showing pictures of Old Testament stories, events in Jesus’ life, and portraits of Christians down the ages. It’s a bit like a huge wall of individual videoscreens, and in the days when not everyone could read or had their own Bible, it was a great way of teaching people about Christianity, a bit like our own stained glass windows in English churches.

There’d be gates/doors in the centre of the icon-wall or iconostasis leading through to where the altar is positioned. Orthodox church layout is modelled on the Temple in Jerusalem. A curtain (the ‘veil of the temple’) separated the holiest part of the sacred building – the place where the Ark of the Covenant should have been – from the rest of the space where the congregation stands.

Today priests in Orthodox churches all round the world will throw open the gates in the icon-wall to symbolise the stone being rolled away from the tomb in which Jesus was buried on Good Friday. Death was not able to hold Jesus captive in a garden tomb sealed up with a stone. The stone was miraculously rolled away, the seal was broken, so that the resurrected body of Jesus filled with God’s life-giving power could be set free in the world that God loved into being and which he still loves.

Resurrection morning means there is no longer any barrier between God and humankind; the way is clear – as symbolised by the gates in the iconostasis being thrown open, and by the curtain of the temple being torn in two from top to bottom, as the gospel of Matthew tells us. The barrier between heaven and earth, between the Creator God and his creation, has been dismantled forever through Jesus’ death on the cross …

The life-giving power of his Resurrection is one that Jesus invites each of us to share with him, to enjoy with one another and to communicate to those around us. Through the resurrected body of Christ – and that includes us, for we the church are also his body – the light of God’s resurrection power is able to overcome the darkness in our world, including the shadow of death.

At Christmas we celebrated the light that came into the world with the birth of Jesus and we celebrated God coming to be with us. Throughout Lent we travelled on a journey in the desert, learning what it means to grow spiritually and to be shaped into the people of God. On Good Friday we remembered the darkness – and we took it seriously, because Jesus himself took it seriously.

And today, on this Resurrection Morning, we celebrate the light of Christ burning even more brightly in the world – not just in the resurrected body of Jesus, but in the lives of all his followers – dispelling the darkness and bringing good news for all creation.

In the Eastern Orthodox church tradition, the gates in the iconostasis will stay open for 7 days to celebrate the Resurrection. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, today is the start of ‘Bright Week’: tomorrow is Bright Monday, then Bright Tuesday, and so on…. I pray that it will be a ‘Bright Week’ for you as you go out from here into God’s world this coming week.

Risen Lord Jesus, may your love and resurrection power help us to burn brightly for you in this coming week. May we shine in your world just like the light of our Easter candle.  Amen.

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