The Agenda of the Resurrection

Text of Bishop Paul's Easter sermon at Liverpool Cathedral

On this day, the highest festival day of the Church, we’re rejoicing that the powers of the age to come have broken in to this crippled world, and have given us a hope eternal, so that we can taste what the writer to Hebrews calls the powers of the coming age, the joy and hope and love that breaks in from the future.

These are mysteries and glories beyond our understanding, that life will conquer death in the end, that the entropy that brings chaos will one day be defeated. And we place our hope in these mysteries and glories, and they form and transform our lives if we are people of faith.

And then like the three disciples who gazed on the glory of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, we come down from the mountain and we grapple once again with the  everyday world, the world God hallowed when he was born into it as a child, the world God hallowed when at the resurrection Jesus appeared in the flesh, and Thomas saw and believed because of the hallowed flesh.

We come down and we grapple as people of faith with the things of the hallowed and broken world, and God sets an agenda for us, and we see aspects of this agenda in the readings chosen for today.

So the first aspect, the Isaiah agenda, as we heard it read today.

Isaiah sets out a vision of new heavens and a new earth where the lion and the lamb will live in peace and no one will build a wall between them and force the lamb to pay for it. This is an exalted and inspiring vision. But the reading also contains a more modest vision, and it’s this that I commend to you as an agenda of the resurrection, where the writer says:

No more shall there be in [the new Jerusalem]
   an infant that lives but a few days,
   or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
   and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
   they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.


In other words a world:
  • Where children do not die
  • Where old people live in dignity
  • Where those who build houses live in them
  • Where those who plant vineyards eat the fruit

The great Asian writer on evangelism, Raymond Fung, calls this the Isaiah agenda. He describes it as  a minimum social vision. In it, he says, there is no reference to higher worldly benefits – to education, career, democracy, culture.This agenda describes the least that is acceptable to God. A basis for a greater richness. It’s minimal, but as we know it can take a lifetime.

But it’s easy to contextualise and it’s easy to address: it can be fulfilled by simple acts, by corporate efforts, by political action. And I believe God speaks to us in scripture and says, “What then will you do to make this vision real in your life, to build this world, where the powers of the age to come break in to the minimum, where you can say to your neighbours of all faiths and no faith, “The God we believe in is One who protects the children, empowers the elderly, and walks with working men and women. As Christians, we want to act accordingly. We believe you share in similar concerns. Let us join hands.”

That’s the Isaiah agenda, and each one of us can bring it closer, and can give our time and our resource to bringing it closer, and can see the power of the age to come breaking in, in simple acts of kindness, or community organisation, or political action.

And then we heard read the Acts Agenda, where the Apostle Peter sees in a dream that God loves all and excludes none for being unclean, and that as Peter says, “in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him”. This is indeed the Isaiah agenda rephrased, for all people. And then Peter  goes on to speak of Jesus who went about doing good and who was hanged on a tree and who was raised to life by the power of the age to come, and then Peter goes on to say: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.”

We are called to speak of the One who is alive, to testify and not to take for granted, always to be ready, as Peter says again in his first letter, always to be ready with an explanation is anyone asks us why we are hopeful. And if we speak of hope, perhaps to one who is working with us to make that world
  • Where children do not die
  • Where old people live in dignity
  • Where those who build houses live in them
  • Where those who plant vineyards eat the fruit

If we speak of hope then we speak of the future, and of Jesus who comes to us from the future and who completes the present, with the powers of the age to come, and we are not afraid or ashamed to speak of him, since he called us to testify as we work.

And all this is summed up in the Luke agenda, the agenda rolled into the story of the resurrection as Luke tells it and as we heard it read, that a group of women, a group of the dispossessed and the ignored, a group whose testimony would not be admitted in a court of law because they were women, that this group met the voice of the age to come and were called to testify, and were asked “Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ and were told “He is not here, he is risen”. This voice of those on the edge, speaking of the power of the age to come, this is our voice, and like these women we are called to speak of it, even if the ones we address do not believe us, until provoked by curiosity they come and see for themselves.

In our Diocese of Liverpool in these days we speak of asking God for a bigger church to make a bigger difference, and we say, More people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world. We don’t do that because we want a mission statement or a strapline; we do it because we want to be faithful Bible people. It seems to me from today’s scriptures that this is the agenda of the resurrection. To work alongside all for a world where people flourish, and to name the name of our God. This is our agenda. And all of it is enabled by the powers of the age to come, because from the future God’s life broke in to a tomb, and raised a man from the dead, and taught us ever after to look for the living among the living, and to bless them in Hs name, and to cascade to all the life we have received from Him, the life that we taste again in this bread and wine, the life of God unfailing, the resurrection life.

If we speak of hope then we speak of the future, and of Jesus who comes to us from the future and who completes the present, with the powers of the age to come, and we are not afraid or ashamed to speak of him, since he called us to testify as we work.

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The texts for the sermon

Bishop Paul used the following texts

Isaiah 65:17-end

Acts 10:34-43

Luke 24:1-12

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