Because Jesus has risen from the dead, dying is just a portal now into a greater life

Liz Stuart and Mary Copping, 17 April 2022

Acts 10: 34–43; John 20: 1–18

LS: Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Alleluia, alleluia.

I want to begin our sermon this morning with a joke, because in some parts of the Christian world down the centuries it was common for the Easter sermon to consist entirely of jokes. It’s called risus paschalis, Easter laughter. And what other response is there really to the news that death is defeated but to laugh? I love the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh’s description of the resurrection as ‘a laugh freed for ever and ever’.

Now I was going to tell you a particular joke about a parrot, but Will Ridpath, much to my angst, told that joke a few weeks ago. So I went in search of a new joke, and this one was told to me by Lady Joan Appleyard, so you can tell it’s going to be a quality joke, and it just so happens to also be about a parrot.

So, a priest goes to a pet shop in search of a parrot and sees a lovely green parrot and asks how much it costs. ‘Mother’, says the pet shop owner (now, you weren’t expecting it to be a female priest, were you?), ‘Mother, this parrot costs £5,000’. ‘£5,000 for a parrot’, exclaims the priest. ‘But Mother’, says the pet shop owner, ‘This parrot is amazing: it’s a fully trained altar server. It will set up the altar. It’ll serve you. It’ll anticipate every need that you might have. It won’t fall asleep during your sermons. It will wash and clear everything away at the end. It’s brilliant.’ And the priest thinks, ‘Impressive, but £5,000 … no’. Then she notices a red parrot and asks how much that costs. ‘Mother, that parrot costs £10,000.’ ‘£10,000 for a parrot!’ ‘But Mother, this parrot is amazing. It’s a fully trained curate. It will do all your baptisms and funerals. It will visit the people that you don’t want to. It’ll do the 8 o’clock Holy Communion and preach every Sunday.’ And the priest thinks, ‘Hmm, that sounds like a good curate – much better than mine (remember, this priest is not Peter Seal) – but £10,000 … too much’. So there’s one parrot left, this lovely white parrot, so the priest says to the pet shop owner, ‘How much for that parrot?’ ‘Mother, that parrot is £50,000.’ ‘£50,000!’ says the priest. ‘Go on, tell me what wonders this parrot does then.’ And the pet shop owner says, ‘Mother, to be honest I don’t know. That parrot has never lifted a feather. But if it’s any help, the other two parrots call it “Bishop”.’

Parrots are often the subject of jokes, aren’t they? You may remember the Monty Python sketch about the dead parrot. ‘It’s stone dead.’ ‘No, it’s just resting.’

I think as Christians we often have the opposite problem to that dead parrot. Because of today, because Jesus has risen from the dead, death has no power over us. Dying is just a portal now into a greater life, a life with and of God. Because of today and what Jesus has done, nothing can ever keep us from God. Yet for some reason we continue to play dead. We continue to be afraid and to live our lives out of fear. We continue to try to cocoon ourselves against death by accumulating ‘stuff’, by putting ourselves first to the detriment of others and everything around us, by living life as if this is all there is and I am all that matters. We keep playing dead, choked by cares and anxieties. We allow fear to stop us from challenging evil, from reaching out to those who need us.

We continue to try to cocoon ourselves against death by accumulating ‘stuff’, by putting ourselves first to the detriment of others and everything around us, by living life as if this is all there is and I am all that matters.

But today we remind ourselves that no one is dead, no one who has ever lived or who will ever live is dead. Christ has broken the bonds of death and cleared death out. His presence has obliterated absence. We are alive, alive in God. We shall never die and therefore we can live free, free of fear. Alleluia.

MC: So, what is the meaning of life? I am sometimes asked that question and challenged by it – just catch me later! We often try to find some kind of meaning in life through our work, our relationships, our family, trying to become a certain kind of person. But this life is not the end, as the resurrection of Jesus shows us.

God raised Jesus from the dead that first Easter Sunday morning to bring new life, and God says to us, ‘I will make a new heaven and a new earth. I will one day restore all to its original intention.’ If that’s true, then everything we do matters. If it’s true, then as N. T. Wright — a theologian — puts it, ‘We’re not just oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. We’re not just restoring a great painting that will shortly be thrown into a fire.’

If the resurrection actually happened — and we know that’s true from all the witnesses named in the Bible — we know that God will one day renew the Earth (however we might understand that); then every prayer, every act of love and kindness, every act of listening to someone in need, every work of art or music inspired by God, will somehow find its way into the new creation that God will one day bring about. The smallest acts of kindness become important and valuable as a continuation of the new creation that God promises.

So on this Easter Day, as we rejoice at Christ’s resurrection from the dead and also pray for those in need, especially for Ukraine at this time, as we help where we can, we thank God for his presence with us now and his promise of eternal life for all with a new heaven and new earth.

My thoughts on the meaning of life? Being the best we can possibly be and doing what we can to alleviate suffering. And our response? ‘With the help of God, we will.’