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Easter Sunday Sermon

For Sunday 17th March 2024, the Fifth Sunday in Lent Mark 16 1-8


Words matter but they also weigh us down. We love words, we need words, but we get caught in them, trapped in them. The resurrection of Christ is where our words fail, and so they should. We should delight in the failure of our words. Those three women who discover the empty tomb in Mark’s account, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, find their words fail. ‘For terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone.’


Saying nothing to anyone is a true spiritual practice but we say too much. Who has not gone thirsty and hungry to church on Easter day, hoping to sense just something of the sheer transcendent mystery of the resurrection, only to be met with a well-meaning person at the pulpit telling you something rather lovely about daffodils springing up or trees coming into leaf? Words can be so very disappointing.


Christ is risen, the words have their primal power as a formula. But the religious salesperson at your door, or at the front of your church, or in wastelands of the internet, is often atheism’s strongest recruiting officer.


A preacher should not seek to persuade. If you are attempting to persuade people about the reality of the risen Christ your argument, on some fundamental level, has already been lost. The words we hear and read in the Bible are not exercises in persuasion, they are incantation, they are depth mystery, they are poetry, they are miracle, they are history and myth woven together to show a greater truth. The Bible is selling nothing. All Biblical salespeople should retire forthwith and find an honest job.


What we can do together, in Church, is find ways to enter the mystery of the resurrection, to find ways to experience the reality of a transcendent love at the heart of each of us and among us as a gathering. Christ is to be experienced in the difficult tangle of our suffering lives and if Christ is not met there Christ will not be found in Church either. I have been reading a book called The Undistorted Image, which is about a holy man dedicated to prayer, Staretz Silouan. There is this paragraph.


‘The ascetic learns the great mysteries of the spirit through pure mental prayer. They descend into their inmost heart, into their natural heart first, and thence into those depths that are no longer of the flesh. They thus find their deep heart and reach the profound spiritual, metaphysical core of their being; and looking into it they see that the existence of humankind is not something alien and extraneous to them, but is inextricably bound up with their own existence.’


The challenge for us is to descend from our heads (those little mind-prisons where we feel we are confined) down into the depths of our hearts, and by hearts here we mean the centre of who we are. We are descending into our depths to meet the risen Christ and share in Christ’s love for all.


In The Undistorted Image, the holy man, Staretz Silouan was a monk at Mount Athos in Greece. In Mount Athos there is a long tradition of monasteries dedicated to the work of pure prayer. Pure prayer is not a practice in opposition to words. The reading of the Bible, praying with words, the words spoken during communion, all have their place in the eco system of worship. But pure prayer is a time when we can learn to meet God on God’s own terms rather than on our terms. When we let our words fail us in the face of the risen Lord.


Staretz Silouan was a monk who prayed The Jesus Prayer. Its full form is Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy upon me, a sinner. But it is silently prayed in many versions and there is no set form. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy. Or Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy. Or Jesus. Or Christ. Praying with the name of God. Sounding the name of God. Descending from the mind and into the heart, into the deep heart. Sounding the depths of prayer.


As we gently practice this form of pure prayer we turn from our ideas and our images and our words and our worries and we turn to the presence of God. We silently pray, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy. Worries, words, images, fantasies, they all come. We silently pray, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy.

What happens when we encounter the presence of Christ rather than the idea of Christ? We become more tender hearted. We can draw in a deep breath of love and feel our soul expand. We may say a lot less while being much more present. We might listen at a new level of luminous focus. When Christ rises in our hearts and our minds the daily task becomes the work of love.


You might be stuck in an airport. You might be caught in a quarrel. You might be lost in the Badlands of a Zoom meeting which is stretching on into infinity. You might be caught in traffic. You might be rammed into a corner on a quaking train. Remember God is found in the depths of the heart. Christ is encountered in the depths of your being. You can raise His presence with the silent work of prayer. You could be alone in a room or at the centre of a crowd. You silently pray, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy.

 

The Reverend Ben Brown

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