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A Sermon on

the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord

by Dr. Robert Crouse

Of his own will, he brought us to birth, by the word of truth;

that we should be a kind of first-fruits of all his creation.

James 1.18



Welcome, happy morning!  age to age shall say;

Hell today is vanquished!  Heaven is won today!

Earth today confesses, clothing her for spring,

All good gifts return with her returning King;

Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough,

Speak his sorrows ended, hail his triumph now.

So sang Fortunatus, the great sixth-century Latin hymnographer, linking the feast of Jesus’ Resurrection with the glory of nature’s resurgent springtime.  And that is a connection which we, today, (on this favoured island and in this gloriously decorated church) can hardly fail to make.  Open, then, the eyes of mind and heart, look and see.  Look, and see, and understand.  This is no idle demonstration:  here and all about you is nature’s parable of Jesus’ Resurrection, and nature’s parable of our own new and risen life.


Springtime is the season of new life, after the dormancy and death of winter.  A sleeping world awakens, and rises up with new vitality.  And the Church’s Eastertide is the springtime of the spirit, the rising up from the icy grip of death, to the vibrant warmth and light of Resurrection.  “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”


In the cycle of nature’s seasons, this is the time when we begin to plant our seeds.  We bury them, deep down in the darkness, underground, where the new and tender shoots, nourished by sun and rain, will break through the rotting husks, and reach upward, to spread fresh leaves and blossoms in the light of day.  That is nature’s pattern of death and resurrection.  Nature awakens to newness of life.


In all of this – in “all this juice and all this joy”, the poet Hopkins call it – in all of this the scriptures teach us to read nature’s parable of Easter.  “Unless a seed fall to the ground and die,”  says Jesus, “it abideth alone” – useless, unfruitful – “but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”  And St. Paul, in I Corinthians, expands upon that same parable:  “That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body which shall be, but bare grain; it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:  but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed its own body.”


Nature passes from death to life, in a travail of rebirth, dying, and rising to life again.  It is a miracle, no doubt; it is the gift of God;  but it is nevertheless, at the same time, labour and a struggle.  New birth is always a struggle, always a labour.  T.S. Eliot, in a spending line – now almost hackneyed, I’m afraid, says, “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs from the dead land”, and that thought too has its place in our parable.  No new life, says Jesus, without the pains of travail.  No Easter without Good Friday.  So it was, so it is, and so it must be with our new life in Christ.


It is the gift of God; it is a miracle, yet it is not without the pains of travail.  There must be a dying, a painful sloughing off of an old nature – a rotting husk; the old nature “which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” – there must be a dying to old attitudes, old habits, old perspectives, and a putting on of a new nature, “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”


Holy Baptism is the sign and means and pledge of that new birth in us.  We are baptised into the death of Christ, that we might share his resurrection.  The seed of Christ’s risen life is sown in us. But that miracle of birth is only a beginning, just a starting point.  There must be nutriment and training, a constant seeking of “those things which are above”.  There must be a shaping, a molding, and a pruning – often arduous and painful – of our affections and unruly wills, that “our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.”  “Yea, I die daily,” says St. Paul, “I live, yet not I, but Christ in me.”


There must be a conforming of our minds and hearts to the infinite and everlasting charity of God, shown to us in the dying of our Saviour.  “Be not conformed to this present age,”  says St. Paul – do not be conformed to its standards and its attitudes, its principles and expectations – “but be ye transformed, by the renewing of your mind” as newborn babes…


Easter is transformation:  a transformation far beyond imagining.  “That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body which shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat of or some other grain; but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him.”  The manner of God’s life-giving transformation is beyond all explanation, and we know not what we shall be, but we shall see our Saviour as he is, and we shall be like him.  “Thomas saith unto him, Lord…”  God hath established resurrection in Christ, and what is Christ’s, finally and everlastingly belong to those who are his, for we are sons of God, by grace, and heirs of life eternal.  


“See, beloved, see what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the Sons of God.  And so we are.”  And we look for the fulfillment of our sonship.  “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:  who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.” (Philippians 3.20-21)


The Easter transformation is beyond all explanation, beyond imagining; but, even here, the parable of nature would instruct us with a hint.  As Dante puts it, in the Paradiso,

I have seen the briar, a prickly thing

All winter through;

And on its tip, a rose at close of spring.

One final point:  In the Gospel lesson for this morning’s service, we have the story of St. Mary Magdalene, with St. Peter and St. John, at the sepulchre of Jesus, bewildered because they could not find his body.  The disciples went back home, but many stayed there weeping.  And there she saw the Risen Lord, and in the blindness of her tears mistook him for the gardener. But, you know, there is something strange and wonderful about Mary Magdalene’s mistake.  She thought he was the gardener.  And sure, in a higher and deeper sense, that is precisely what he is:  he is the gardener who sows the seed of new and risen life, deep down within the darkness of our hearts, who shapes and tends and nourishes that life in us with the word of truth, with the everlasting charity of his own body broken and his own blood outpoured, to raise up soul and body unto life eternal.


Mary would cling to the earthly form of Jesus;  but he said no, “do not hold me”.  Do not cling to earthly things.  Rather, rise up, spring up, seek in faith your risen and ascended life in God, the everlasting life which is yours in Jesus Christ.  Let nothing hold you back.  Death is conquered!  Man is free!  Christ hath won the victory!