Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
It is our custom when having a drink to offer a kind of greeting or salute: “Cheers” or “Your health.” In other countries they say “Santé” or “Prost” or “Nasdrovie”. In Israel however the greeting is “Lachaim” – which means “To Life”. It comes from the sense that life is short, fragile and uncertain. So for some thinkers it is nasty, brutish and short, while to others, it is there for the living, which normally means having as good a time as you can while you can. (And it implies, that the devil could take the hindermost.)
For John however, the story was about life with a capital L. It was life beyond survival or existence. It was life tied up with the very origins and fabric of the universe, and yet distilled to humanity in the person of Jesus.
In Him, God set out the reality of His being and purpose, of His essential character and His ways of communicating. But more than this, God presented humanity with the opportunity to receive Him, to relate to Him, and indeed to find its own identity and destiny in Him.
All this was also Life with a capital L, and yet it was also fragile enough to be seized, imprisoned, flogged and crucified. God’s revelation of Himself did not demand such ceremony that placed Him beyond the reach of the normal hazards of human life.
So when Jesus was indeed betrayed and tried and killed, in the most degrading manner that Rome could contrive, and in the manner that made Him for the Jews a curse that was beyond redemption, then God indeed acted. Jesus had done all that was possible and all that was needed to provide a living memory of the life of God among His people: and He had received the kind of rejection that had become second nature to the people of the world.
But in Jesus was life and the life was the life of God who was not going to allow it to be abused to no effect, for God is not mocked. Now God would act as mightily in the person of Jesus as he had in the history of the Children of Israel who He had rescued from slavery in Egypt.
Now life was to be reasserted. The blood of the innocent life poured out as a sacrifice for the whole of human sin would be vindicated and the breath that gave Jesus movement and speech would be reasserted.
But there was far more to it than that, for this time the powers of coercion, of false legalism, of abuse of every human custom and institution and social phenomenon did not have to direct the course of human history. There were now alternatives, and they could be proclaimed by those who had been with Jesus and who had received His teaching and observed His methods. They had seen the things that lit the fires of His heart and He had shared them with the disciples freely.
And so Jesus had broken free of the compulsions of power and control, of the motivations of the basest instincts and the desire to dominate and abuse.
Jesus had come to change the world – and He did so then, and still does so now: one soul at a time. He reaches into the deepest parts of our hearts and memories, of our motives and impulses. Perhaps that is why He is so divisive, for He attracts and repels in equal measure, depending on our own most intimate drives.
He does not compel, for that cannot be a relationship of freedom, or love or respect. He is acutely aware of the individuality of each of our lives and the choices that we make in them. That is why it is always for us to choose, whether to seek and to serve Him or whether to follow the currents and undercurrents of the life of society with both its creativeness and its destructiveness: the one undirected and random, the other prone to lashing out in any and every kind of situation or challenge.
Above all however Jesus came to destroy the power of death. This is a power that comes from its own kind of fear: what will come after this life, what will be the manner of our own deaths, how will we approach our final hours and indeed how do we see the meaning and sum of our own lives.
Having faced death Himself, Jesus has already gone before us. Having risen from the grave, He has also shown that we are indeed far more than random and disorganized collections of electrical impulses, holding together random particles and organizing them into cells.
We may ask how we can be certain of all this? I think that the evidence is all around us for either the universe is a collection of random impulses and specks of matter, or it is organized into life and being with aim and purpose.
To deny this reality of course excuses us from moral imperatives except as we choose to accept and live within them. In this, we become our own gods, lords of our own universes, beholden to none except by our own choice. To accept it however is to enter a realm of being and living that can only grow and develop as we commit to it more fully and wholeheartedly.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And this was the life and the truth that Jesus had entrusted, first of all to Mary of Magdala, then to the disciples and latterly, to you and to me.
To say that “He is risen” in this sense is a shorthand for proclaiming that life is that which finds itself in Jesus and not apart from Him. It is indeed a proclamation of life to the uttermost, glorified in Jesus Christ, who has already consecrated Himself for us: for eternity.