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The Easter Hymn – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

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Title: The Easter Hymn

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Date: 31 March 2024, Easter Sunday

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Luke 24:13-35


The Easter Hymn

They say you’re not meant to clap in church!

But today, of all days, I’m doing what I like! This simple expression of joy, gladness and thanksgiving is surely allowed? Who made that rule anyway? Telling the us that we cannot express joy and delight in Church!

Who said that joy- like perhaps opera music, was only allowed outside of the church, and within the church we would remain glum and straight-faced. O Clap your hands, all ye peoples, the psalmist writes, O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.

The piece we have just enjoyed was not written directly as a piece of sacred music to be sung in church even though it expresses the joy of the resurrection. It was written as a vignette, a little sacred anthem within a secular opera- it’s meant to represent the sound of a rural village erupting in joy on Easter Morning: Rejoice for the Lord has arisen! Alleluia!

It appears in the midst of a plot-line which would not be out of place on Coronation Street or Eastenders, including jealousy, betrayal, murder. But human drama wherever it is, is always punctuated with a divine song. God’s grace transforms even the worst of us and brings us to praise and thanksgiving. God’s love reaches into the forgotten and forsaken places of this world and wrings from them hope and possibility. We are all called to sing an Easter Hymn.

The bleeding of the sacred into the secular and the secular into the sacred is an appropriate theme on this Easter Day- because if we think that the resurrection does not affect our day to day lives beyond the walls of the church, we are not really appreciating the reality of what God has done in Jesus Christ, or what God can do in Jesus Christ. If we think we can’t bring all that we are into this place, and offer ourselves to the God who loves us, then we are also not really appreciating the reality of what God has done in Jesus Christ and what good God can work within us.

If we do not think that God can find a way into opera houses, pubs, museums, laboratories, hospitals, schools, universities, suburbs, cities, villages, farms, prisons, high-rise flats, foodbanks, the houses of parliament- then we are not appreciating the reality of what God can do.

The deepest kind of divine joy- is always in the midst of our dramas, our reality, whether we acknowledge it or not. Bidden or not bidden, God is present. God,who is not put off by our disobedience, nor confined by our walls, our conventions.

God in Christ is not even confined by a tomb with a heavy stone rolled across the door. Christ will bring joy out of all that seemed lost, he will bring life from all that seemed to be without hope, he will bring life, where all seemed dead and bare. Wherever we go, wherever we are, Christ is there going ahead of us.  Where there are endings, the risen Christ shows us the way to a new beginning, even weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia.

The joy of the resurrection, has the power to permeate every aspect of our lives, it can navigate the sadnesses, the disappointments, and the sorrows of this world with a love which bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things, believes all things, for the Risen Christ is over all, and through all, and in all.

The story we celebrate and the song we sing today emerge from the events of holy week, bursting from an empty tomb, emerging from betrayal, loss, darkness and death and exploding into every corner of our lives, rippling out into the farthest corners of the universe, whispering life into the forgotten corners of our world, reaching down into the depths of hell and waking up the dead from their long sleep, breathing new life into dry bones, reaching into the places of war and conflict and demanding peace. The joy of the resurrection causes us to relinquish anger and embrace compassion, exposing corruption, prejudice and hatred, putting into perspective the petty grievances and little setbacks we face whilst holding the hand of those who are weary, grieving or in pain, and speaking into their hearts and ours these words: Have faith. You are not alone.

The joy of the resurrection is too wonderful to be contained within our church walls and kept to ourselves, it goes with us on all our journeys, as we walk along whatever roads we are called to travel, the joy of the resurrection comes with us into our homes and sits at table with us.

For those who watch us now from the four corners of this earth, wherever you are, the joy of the resurrection is with you too coursing through cables and ethernet and WiFi-there is nowhere that the joy of the resurrection will not go.

The joy of the resurrection is there as we break bread and cherish the company of friends and family, the joy of the resurrection is there in the midst of all our dramas, the tragedy and the comedy are no boundary for the resurrection.

The joy of the resurrection is there in our acts of kindness and in the demands of love, it is there in the green shoots that are springing up all around us, it is there in the tears we shed as we say our goodbyes, and in the cry of new born babies.

Unless we are looking for the resurrection every day, in every place, in every moment of our lives in the so-called ‘sacred’ and in the so-called ‘secular’, in everything that we do, and in everything that we are, then we have missed the point of all this and as St Paul says, our faith has been in vain.

If it’s ok to clap in church, and I can assure you that it is, it’s also ok to take the church’s joy out with you into the world, and know that the risen Christ will not let you go, it will warm-up your hearts, and the sound of the resurrection will be singing in your ears as you navigate life, the universe and everything else.

No loss will be beyond us, no disappointment will define us, no goodbye will be the end.

So, my final words to my friends at York Minster, and all who celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ today: Rejoice- for the Lord has arisen.

And please don’t let it stop here.

Alleluia Christ is risen, he is risen indeed, Alleluia.

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