Sermon by David Shervington 13.02.2022

Reading – 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts bring glory to you Lord God.

I wonder if you’ve ever watched a film with a plot twist. In some ways it feels a bit like we’re actually living through a big one at the moment, doesn’t it – twists and turns every day in a news cycle that feels more strange than fiction. But I wonder if you’ve read a book or seen a film which has a twist so dramatic, so out-of-the blue, that it caught you completely by surprise and changes your whole perspective on everything that has gone before. I remember when I lived in Exeter my housemate had on DVD the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’. The story of the mathematician John Nash who suffered from schizophrenia. If you’ve not seen it, do but also I’m afraid I’m about to slightly ruin it for you so if you do intend to watch it, maybe cover your ears for a second. In that film Nash, the brilliant academic, gradually appears to get sucked in to the extraordinary cloak and daggers world of espionage. Eventually, however – plot twist – it transpires that much of that particular part of the plot, including three fairly central characters, don’t exist. They are all in Nash’s head. Suddenly what might have been a spy thriller is found to be something quite different – the rather tragic story of a man at war with his own brilliant but troubled mind. Plot twist.

In a couple of month’s time we’ll again be reminded how the gospel writers take us towards the cross, into court rooms, on the road leading us slowly to Golgotha, to the foot of the cross where we see a mother weeping for her son, see the sky turn black, feel the absolute hopelessness of it all, we might assume this is a tragedy. A hopeless story of a good man torn down by the authorities.

But after a day of silence, regret, empty hopelessness – plot twist. Resurrection.

It’s quite the plot twist, too. It makes a big difference, not just to all that’s gone before, but equally to everything that followers. That’s Paul’s point in our Corinthian’s passage this morning. The resurrection reverberates, like the ripples from a stone in a pool.

Paul’s approach, of course, is to come at this the other way. ‘if there is no resurrection of the dead’ is his thought exercise. What are the implications? Far-reaching, he says. Me, standing up here, preaching. If there is no resurrection it is completely pointless. Our witness to the world – a great big lie. Our hymn singing – useless. Our meeting together – a waste of time. Our social action – pointless. Nothing about the life of the church makes any sense without resurrection at its heart. Why? Because without resurrection there is no hope. We can feed a town through a foodbank, but, as Jesus says, the poor you will always have with you. We can stand for justice, seek to address climate change, offer debt advice and all the other things Christians but if there is no resurrection, if ultimately death wins, then what is the point?

Today is Racial Justice Sunday, a day where we’re encouraged to acknowledge and repent of the ways in which our society, and even our churches, may have been implicated in perpetuating racism. It’s a day where we pray for a better world. But without the resurrection there is no better world. As Desmond Tutu once put it ‘Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness’. But only because of Easter. Only because of the resurrection.

The good news is only good news because of the resurrection. That crazy topsey turvey statement in our gospel reading today - “Blessed are those who mourn” - only makes sense because of the resurrection. See the thing is, for Paul, sin and death are inextricably linked. One exists because of the other. If resurrection is impossible then death has won, and nothing was defeated on the cross, sin, the sin in our hearts and which corrupts and distorts our society, wins. As Paul says, our faith is futile. ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’. What an absolute waste of our time. What an absolute waste of resources. What an absolute waste of emotional energy if the resurrection is a sham.

But, says, Paul. Plot twist. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. And not only that, but Christ’s resurrection is like the first faint tentative blueberry on my bushes at home. Each year I think – I’ve killed it. This is surely it. The kids have overwatered it. Or spent too long digging around its roots, or somehow managed to kill it in one of the myriad different ways that children seem to find to kill plants in the garden. But each year, there’s a moment as I’m wondering past to put the compost out when I spot the tiniest little flower bud. And then one day the tiniest little green ball. The first fruits. A sign that things are on the turn. A sign, as CS Lewis puts it in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe that ‘the table would crack and death itself would start working backward.”

And suddenly everything unravels. Those of us who preach have a gospel to proclaim. As we witness, we speak of a God who has undone death itself. As we sing, we join with creation in worshipping the risen Jesus. As we meet we spur one another on, and encourage one another in light of the hope of resurrection. As we seek to make a difference to our society, to envision a just world we do so energised and inspired by an eternal resurrection hope.

Plot twist.

But actually, and here’s a real plot twist for you – the resurrection is not a plot twist at all. It isn’t unexpected. It couldn’t have happened any other way. The author of life cannot be beaten by death. ‘Death could not hold him’ says Peter to the crowd at Pentecost. God wins. Love wins. Life wins. 

And the reverberations continue. Jesus is the first fruits, but he is not the last. As we go from this place into the week to come, wherever we find ourselves, we go as people who are raised, who live and move and laugh and cry and rejoice and suffer in the hope of resurrection. Plot twist.