Pictures from the Easter Vigil at Northampton Cathedral can be viewed here 

Bishop David shared the following words at the Easter Vigil at Northampton Cathedral.

The story is familiar. And whichever evangelist we listen to, the elements are similar. When the women arrive at the tomb, they find it is empty. They are definitely not expecting this. And then they hear the amazing news, ‘you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here.’ Soon enough, they will encounter the risen Jesus himself.

The story we are hearing about, just like the events of the crucifixion on Good Friday, is an historical moment. This, in itself, is challenging to many. In our time, truth is a relative commodity. The idea of truth, is tarnished by deceit and scandal, by confusion and doubt, by mistrust and a somewhat personal subjective perspective.

Fr Simon shared with us yesterday, the fundamental theological mystery of what happened on Good Friday. Through the sacrificial blood of Christ, shed upon the Cross, we have been redeemed. But he also testified what this meant for him, how his life was changed.

This is the mystery of Easter at work in us through faith. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then his crucifixion would be a footnote in history and we would not be gathering here today to remember it. We only remember Jesus’ suffering and death, because the power of this cross is at work in our lives today, precisely because Jesus rose from the dead.

No one puts this better than the apostle Paul,

‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.’

I know, when we are baptised as infants, this is not so easy to understand. But in my experience, the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter, has the potential for us to appreciate what the apostle is talking about. The dying and rising of Jesus is not meant to be only doctrinal teaching. Even if we could grasp the height and the depth, the length and the breadth of this teaching, it would mean nothing to us until it had taken root in our lives, until it had changed our experience.

And I think we will discover, our belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus has the capacity to turn our lives around so that we are facing in a different direction. So let’s consider now what it mean to renew our baptism promises.

For all sorts of reasons, we do not always feel good about ourselves. But we are made in God’s image and likeness. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.

And then the most catastrophic event in the history of our created world. We turned our back on this gift of being made in the divine image. We were disobedient to God’s word and the relationship between ourselves and the Lord was broken. We can certainly see the fruit of this across our world today. But more importantly, I invite you to see this brokenness within ourselves. It may look different to each one of us. But it’s there and perhaps even more challenging, we grow used to it. We come to imagine this is how things are, our default position. There’s not much I can do about it.

But the Lord had other ideas. He never gave up on us. Throughout history, as we heard in the Vigil readings, he planned and prepared, he sowed seeds of hope. It’s probably true to say, not even the prophets could see exactly what this plan would look like when it came to fulfilment.

But then, one still night, when the human race was busy with its own affairs, the beloved Son of God slipped into our world. Now you know all this. And you will tell me that you believe it. But let me ask you this question, what does all this mean for you right here and now?

Through Jesus’ dying and rising, the pathway is cleared. Once again, the gates of heaven are flung open. The fears of sin and death are destroyed. And this is not just something about the future, the next life. Easter has the potential to touch every moment of our lives right here and now. We too, have received the Spirit by which Jesus’ dead body was raised to new life. And that is how I personally want to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, raising the living death in my thinking and feeling, my imagining and behaving, to new Easter life.

We have a whole Easter Season to consider what all this looks like. But this evening, let the journey begin with the surprise experienced by the women when they arrived at the empty tomb. May we too be surprised by joy as the scriptures we have shared together this night, come alive for us in a manner that touches our hearts and minds. May the desire for holiness be born within us. For this is Easter’s agenda, that we all become saints.

And of course, there is one thing we have not yet mentioned about the Easter Gospel. The women heard these words, ‘you must go and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you to Galilee, it is there you will see him, just as he told you.”’ The mission imperative. To share with others what we have received. I would go this far, if you are not involved in mission, within the family, within the parish, within the different movements and communities to which you belong, you have not really experienced Easter. Baptised into the dying and rising of Christ Jesus, may we live out that baptism as missionary disciples. If Jesus has died to save all people. If Jesus has risen to a glorious new life. What are we doing about it? It’s quite clear from the New Testament, and from what the Holy Spirit has been saying to the Church in the past century or so, we are called to redouble our efforts to evangelise our world today. This is what being an Easter Church look like.