BARBARA DASS'S PRAYER on FITZROY'S BBC RADIO ULSTER MORNING SERVICE
LITERARY SPRING IN FITZROY - BOOK LAUNCHES, READINGS AND CONVERSATIONS

THE NEW LIFE STARTS HERE - MY SERMON FROM TH EBBC RADIO ULSTER MORNING SERVICE

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Resurrection

 

When the most torturous darkest darkness dawns

In the most soothing healing light

And the mind so rattled settles

In slow aftershock realignment of perspective

When the eyes refocus

To peer through the hours of looking away

To be envisioned with the revelation

Of more than a gardener

And the soul stops tossing, turning, churning up

From its sickly desperation

And hopeless heartache

To waken up

To take it in

As the earth re-knits after tremoring

And on this firmer under, standing

We reach for shimmers, like dust caught in sunrise

To catch the splinters flying

And piece the fragments of debris

Into everything new

Never the same again

The dreams dead, revived

The hope buried, reborn

The vision of a future, redeemed 

It is the peace after the warzone

It is a resurrection dance after the wake

It is a whole new Kingdom come

The new life starts here.

 

The new life starts here. I stole that from Mike Scott, the main man in The Waterboys. Somebody pointed that out this week on Twitter. Scott himself joined the conversation. I was concerned for a moment and then he said that he stole it from Dante!

Whoever it was in the long long line before I stole it, it describes for me post Resurrection life. 

I remember a Saturday night when I was 17. I was sitting in the back of a mini bus on the way back from a Youth Club night out in Portrush. We went up to visit the GB Weekend but let’s move on! I spent the whole 30 miles back to Ballymena, gazing at the stars, asking if God existed or not. 

If there was no God I’d look elsewhere for the meaning of life but if God did exist then surely that was the best source to scoop life in all its fulness. When I wrote these words I didn’t see their close connection to Nick Cave’s There Is A Kingdom that Dave sang earlier:

 

The starry heavens above me

The moral law within

So the world appears

So the world appears

 

My world appeared that night. At least it was reconfigured, realigned, redeemed, resurrected if you like! Wherever my life was heading life before that May evening 40 years ago it was completely redirected after it. 

So, with Thomas. The last three years has already been a life he had never expected. If he thought that these 3 years was something then he’d seen nothing yet. After this meeting with the risen Jesus, a whole new world appeared. The New Life Starts here.

If we scour our eyes across the Gospel According To John, John writes a lot about this word  life. Life appears 47 times in John’s account of Jesus life. It is there at the very beginning:

 

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

 

Then, as we near the end of the Gospel, in the passage Jane read today, John’s declaring that the whole point of this whole thing is about LIFE… 

 

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

If we look right bang in the middle of this Gospel we find Fitzroy’s motto verse:

 

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 

John was trying to say something about this word life. It can easily be translated eternal life but also abundant life. I am no Greek scholar, indeed any one at College with me listening on the radio are having a good laugh right now, but I have come to believe as I look at contexts of its use that John is talking about a life full in quantity and quality. There is an eternal life dimension but Jesus is never about a life that doesn’t begin until we’re dead.

The new life starts here. 

Jesus came among us to show us this life, to give us this life and then send us on our way to live that life,

It was a life based in Jesus - who said in another part of John’s Gospel he was “the way, the truth and the life” - 

It was the life of the original design. The life we humans were supposed to live but somehow in our own arrogance lost.

That story in Genesis puts it well. In an idyllic garden humans were tempted to be God. We reached to be more than we were supposed to be and ended up less than the humans we were created to be. In trying to be God, we became God-less. I don’t mean Godless in some life of debauchery and sin though that often came with it. I mean life minus God’s input, minus God’s infusion. 

We had lost God. We has lost meaning. We lost life in all its fulness. 

Jesus incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension are all about putting that to rights. When Thomas cries “My Lord and my God!” he’s no longer without God. The God-life, the new life, the resurrected life starts here.

So, let us ask ourselves what that life looks like.

And let us not look at how it looks in some ethereal place.

How does it look after the Easter we have had. Sri Lanka and Lyra McKee but two contemporary events that seem to fly in the face of all this resurrection talk.

Jesus never said that everything would be neat and tidy and clean with lots of Shloer and Battenburg cake post resurrection. The Resurrection life was vital to be able to live in a world that would have wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes. 

It is into such a world that the resurrection life needs to kick in. As Peter Greig put it in his book God on Mute, Whenever life gets tough and we cry out to God for help, our desire is always to be airlifted out of the theatre of war.  But more often than not, instead of airlifting us to safety, God parachutes down to join us in the muck and chaos of our situation.” 

It is in kinds of these places that the new life needs to start!

14 years ago this week I was interviewing songwriter Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue for the Rhythm and Soul show I hosted at the time. He had his brand new record Pale Rider with him and told me I would like the track Calvary and that it was about Christmas! 

Ricky went on to explain that when he was growing up he noticed in his Church that as soon as Jesus was born they had him on the cross. 

Immediately I was thinking of the difference between a road a route. Novelist Milan Kundera says of roads and routes:

 

“A route differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line that connects one point with another. A route has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points that it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop.”

 

I realised that if we have Jesus on a route to the cross then we miss the road of his teaching and life. The destination therefore becomes meaningless as we have no idea what to do when we arrive there!

My take on it is that we need to follow Jesus as he invited his disciples to do. As we follow him down the roads of Galilee, Samaria and Jerusalem we can pick up all his insights. Like fruit off a tree we should put them in the baskets of our souls

What goes in the basket? All those lessons…

  • The last will be first
  • give up your life to find your life
  • store up treasure in heaven, not on earth
  • wash each other’s feet
  • touch lepers
  • eat with tax collectors
  • befriend prostitutes
  • sitting down with Samaritan women
  • Love God
  • Love neighbour
  • Love even Your Enemies

Baskets full, we then follow Jesus through the cross… through the resurrection… to live the fruit of his ministry on the other side of that. 

The new life starts here… The Resurrection life.    

How then should we live?

There are marks, values, energies of this new life.

The new life…

 

1.  RE- IMAGINES

 

“on earth as it is in in heaven” Jesus put it in his prayer. That takes some imagining!

 

2. GRACE INTERRUPTS

 

“when you do it to the least of these you do it to me” he told them of service. Serving those least deserving. Unmerited favour. God like love.

 

3. HOPE BREATHES

 

Empty tombs, resurrections and rumours of a glory to come…

Let me finish with a story of one man who reimagined, grace interrupted and breathed hope into our own Northern Irish Troubles.

In March 1988, tensions in Belfast were higher than maybe ever before. In the midst of the darkness, one man was not prepared to let the killing go on. He re-imagined, grace interrupted and breathed hope onto the streets. That man was Fr Alec Reid, a Redemptorist Brother based in Clonard Monastery just off the Falls Road.

When Michael Stone opened fire and threw grenades into a crowd of mourners at an IRA Funeral, Fr Reid was standing there, wanting to get between Stone and the crowd intent in murdering him. The new life can lead us into some dangerous places.

A few days later he was back in the funeral cortege of those whom Stone had murdered. During this funeral, two members of the British army found themselves in the midst of a tense crowd and when a gun appeared the crowd thought that another Stone incident was about to go down and dragged the soldiers from the car. 

Fr Alec tried to get between the angry crowd and the soldiers, at one point on his knees with his arms around them. He was threatened with his own life if he didn’t move. A short time later, Fr Alec ended up in a back alley giving one of the dying men the kiss of life and last rites. 

In the dark despair Fr Reid’s imagination was working out how to interrupt all this senseless bloodshed. Though he failed to give a soldier the kiss of life he was kissing life into our country. 

He was at the funerals to receive a letter. It was now covered in the blood of British soldiers BUT it was the conditions by which Sinn Fein would go into talks with John Hume to begin the peace process that we benefit from today. 

Fr Alec went back to Clonard, changed the envelope and drove the letter up to Derry and handed it to John Hume. The rest is history. A history re-imagined, grace interrupted and hope breathed by a man living the resurrected life of Jesus, bringing in the Kingdom, God’s will on earth as it is in heaven!

All of us need to live that new God infused, Resurrected life. The darkness is crying out for us to particles of Jesus light across our land. In a country divided by how we see the past and trapped in the open wounds of what we have done to one another we all need to conduits of God’s love in the troubled placed.

At this landmark that I call the Lyra McKee Crossroads we need to live life in all its fulness.

Jesus has risen.

Thomas believes it.

"My Lord and my God."

The New Life Starts Here.

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