The Resurrection is the ultimate Big Bang of God’s love and justice
25th April 2022
Matt 28. 1-10
St Albans Cathedral 17.4.2022
Just over two years ago, a few weeks before Covid first hit, I paid a visit to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It is a 17 miles long tunnel, deep underground beneath the border of France and Switzerland. We were taken down into the bowels of the earth to see the largest piece of scientific equipment ever made in the history of humankind.
I learnt about the time line of the cosmos, starting with the Big Bang and then the events which took place in the first picosecond (10−12) of cosmic time, leading to the emergence of the four known fundamental forces of nature: gravitational force, electromagnetic interactions; the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force.
It was inspiring to hear of the amazing advances in our human understanding about the origins of the universe. The difficulty was that the physics was so complex and so abstract that I didn’t really understand much of it. What I did appreciate was the film representation of the Big Bang – the most awesome and beautiful explosion of energy and light. But, of course, that was simply a filmmaker’s educated guess of what it might have been like.
As I flew home I was struck that no one was there to observe the Big Bang as it happened. Scientists posit what happened by looking at phenomenon that we can see today and working backwards – and in particular the way that universe is still expanding. And more than that, a physicist friend of mine explained that the Big Bang is still only a theory – the best theory we have to make sense of what we observe. Interestingly, it’s a theory which was first posited by a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium, Georges Lemaître, who died in 1966.
I also learnt that the world’s leading scientists are still unable to reconcile various scientific theories with the Big Bang, such as the Standard Model which describes the subatomic world but which is totally incompatible with gravity and cannot explain dark matter. A scientist friend told me that that didn’t worry him in the least. He was quite content to say he couldn’t explain everything, that there were still contradictions, and he was happy to live with what he called ‘provisionality’, confident that our understanding will continue to grow.
Well, my visit to CERN came flooding back to me as I was preparing this sermon. In recent years I’ve tended to preach on the resurrection accounts in St Luke and St John. But his year I’d turned to Matthew’s telling of the resurrection, which tells us that resurrection is about more than life after death. For Matthew it was an event with global implications. Both when Jesus dies on the cross and when the angel appears at the tomb there were earthquakes. Matthew is telling us that something significant is happening, affecting the entire world.
As you know, there was no one in the tomb to witness Christ’s resurrection. The gospel writers tell us that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. John makes a special point of explaining that the grave clothes lay in position as if the body of Jesus had been taken away. What’s the best explanation of these phenomena?
Then there were the resurrection appearances. Sometimes Jesus was immediately recognisable; on other occasions, such as on the road to Emmaus, the disciples did not recognise him until later.
Sometimes the disciples realised that something incredible had happened which stretched their understanding; at other times they needed persuading, such as Thomas wanting to put his hands into the wounds of Jesus.
What they all agree on is that something quite unprecedented had happened that none of them expected. Initially they are confused and fearful; they struggle to understand and to make sense of what they’ve seen. But then it begins to dawn. The resurrection is the ultimate Big Bang of God’s love and justice, spreading rapidly out across the face of the ancient world. In Matthew’s telling of the resurrection it is a message of good news which ripples out in ever increasing circles, from Galilee to the ends of the earth (Matt 28. 18-20).
All four gospels convey the extraordinary power that the resurrection released in Jesus’ followers. From being a small band of timid disciples who’d locked themselves away for fear of persecution, they became an unstoppable force, proclaiming that God has defeated evil; that death was not the end; that God’s justice had prevailed; that there is nothing in the world of which we should be afraid; that in God’s own good time, the entire cosmos will be caught up in the resurrection and He will reveal a new heaven and a new earth. There were many things the disciples could not understand, they too had to learn to live with ‘provisonality’ but they understood enough to set off with a message of a God who’s love and justice had triumphed.
Those first Christians celebrated that death was not the end and we are promised eternal life after death. Equally importantly they came to see that the resurrection of Christ was about a new way of living in the here and now – and those Christians practiced what they preached. Rodney Stark, the American academic described how Christianity took the ancient world by storm. He wrote:
The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of other-worldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been proposed. No, the crucial change that took place in the third century was the rapidly spreading awareness of a faith that delivered potent antidotes to life’s miseries here and now! The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as ‘Love one’s neighbour as oneself’ … and ‘when you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me’. These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slave”.
Such costly love was not only impressive but also profoundly evangelistic.
You see resurrection is not just an abstract belief but a new way of seeing the world and living in it. It spills over into every part of our lives, whether it’s offering welcome and accommodation to Ukrainians fleeing the war; sending aid to the famine in Yemen; working with food banks here in the UK; or supporting prisoners when they are released from prison to help them get a new start.
So today, as we celebrate Easter, we give thanks for God’s promise that death is not the end, and reaffirm our commitment to live as people of resurrection; part of the Big Bang of God’s love and justice which is still rippling out across His world today.
My brothers, my sisters:
‘The Lord is Risen!
He is risen indeed!’