Second Sunday of Easter (2), 2008

A death and resurrection to break the cycle of sin and suffering

Sermons year A

“Rise, heart; thy Lord is risen, Sing his praise without delays, who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise with him may'st rise: that, as his death calcinèd thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, Just”.
     George Herbert, 1593 – 1633

This one verse from the poet George Herbert brings together so much of what Easter means ..

- we are to praise God with all our heart

- Jesus has risen .. and takes us by the hand so that we too may rise .. death has been overcome .. its power, its sting, should cause us no more fear ..

- “His death calcined us to dust … “   meaning?? “calcined’ = dried out … normally the Bible traces sin and death back to Adam .. is it perhaps that we all share in the sin which was committed   in the execution of Christ ..?

- but ‘his life makes us gold’ … ie kings .. or pure … ‘and much more, just’ …

meaning? .. remember the collect said earlier .. Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification” …

- ie rising again so that we may be ‘justified’ .. reconciled to God … made righteous in God’s sight …

All this is rather complicated .. !!!

I’d like to tell you a story - from Rohinton Mistry, “Family Matters” .. An Indian author who now lives in Canada.

- Nariman is a young man living in Bombay ..a Parsee … falls in love with a girl called Lucy, who is not a Parsee ..both families object to the relationship and try to stop it .. eventually Nariman’s parents find his a Parsee woman to marry, Yasmin … Nariman yields to their pressure and marries her .. Yasmin is a widow and brings two children from her previous marriage, Jal and Cooney.   Yasmin and Nariman have a girl of their own, Roxanna.   The marriage isn’t a happy one – Nariman continues a secret relationship with Lucy, who has got herself a job as a maid with a family who in fact lives in the same block.  

All this has happened many years before the time during which the main action of the novel takes place.   Nariman is now old .. widowed … living with Jal and Cooney, his step children, who care for him.   Roxanna, his daughter, is now married – to Yezad – and they live nearby with their two boys.   The turning point comes when Nariman has a bad fall in the street outside his home.   He breaks his leg .. when he comes out of hospital and returns home, it soon becomes clear to Jan and Cooney that they either can’t or won’t look after him.   He needs constant care .. much of this care is not easy, and indeed very messy .. and he, after all, is only their step father, not their real father.   So Jal and Cooney decide to dump him on Roxanna and Yezad – almost literally .. they hire an ambulance and take him there without telling Roxanna and Yezad in advance .. so they can’t say no..   Roxanna and Yezad have a much smaller flat than Jal and Cooney .. and are only just surviving financially.  

Roxanna sincerely wants to do all she can for her father, who is virtually bed ridden .. his bones are now becoming weaker and he is not very continent.   The boys do what they can . in fact are quite excited about having to sleep on the balcony to make room for granddad.   Yezad, Roxanna’s husband, tries his best but refuses to do the dirty jobs.   Things start to get very strained.   Roxanna and Yezad not only don’t have room for Nariman, living in a two roomed flat .. but can’t afford to keep him .. they don’t have enough money for his medicine .. they have to cut down on food for themselves and the children.

This, then, is the situation .. and so what do the various characters do when faced with this difficulty?   Nariman himself is the epitome of courtesy and apologises for being so much trouble.   Roxanna, however, begins to get stressed and has more and more angry outbursts … Nariman’s presence begins to drive her and her husband apart, as they argue.   Yezad begins to gamble in an attempt to get more money to pay the bills.   Jal and Cooney now try to find ways of not having Nariman back .. so they in fact knock down the plaster from the ceiling in his room, to make it impossible for him to return.   But it is what the youngest boy, Jehangir, does, which is particularly touching .. but also saddening .. He has been doing well in class, and so his teacher, Miss Alvarez, makes him a homework monitor.   It is his job to test other boys on their homework, and award marks.   One day, he is testing a boy who is notorious for being lazy.   He can’t remember the poem he is supposed to have learned.   He offers Jehangir 20 rupees if he will give him a good mark .. Jehangir is torn in two ... he wants the money, so that he can help his parents, but he knows it’s wrong.   He takes it .. and the following week takes another 20 rupees .. and then gets sucked into taking money from other boys who haven’t done their homework either.   He’s now trapped by threats and fear.   He quietly puts the money into the envelopes which his mother keeps for household expenses.  

One day, however, Miss Alvarez calls Roxanna and Yezad into school, along with Jehangir.   Jehangir fears the worst .. and yes, he has been found out .. He expects the worst .. but what could he have done?    He was only taking the money so that he could help out his parents, moreover.   But Miss Alvarez surprises them all … she says that she feels that she is the one who has failed .. she had tried so hard to instil good moral values in her school children.   And now even one of her best pupils had fallen into dishonest ways.   She isn’t sure that she can continue teaching.   Jehangir starts sobbing.    “I’m sorry, teacher”, he stutters.   Miss Alvarez smiles, “I think I will continue teaching .. and I hope you will learn from this big mistake”.

There’s old saying in the Old Testament about the sins of the fathers being visited on the children .. See how in this story something which was done decades earlier - Nariman’s father forcing him to marry someone he didn’t love - had repercussions down through the generations.   Jal and Cooney resent the burden of caring for their step father;   Roxanna and Yezad don’t have enough money, after Nariman has been dumped on them by Jal and Cooney, which not only drives Yezad to gamble, but even their youngest boy to take money dishonestly …

But notice the response of Miss Alvarez .. and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she is a Christian .. (the school is Catholic) .. Who does she blame for what Jehangir had done .. ? not him, but herself .. Indeed she takes his sin so personally that it almost makes her give up teaching, because she thinks she has failed .. In other words, Miss Alvarez took the blame .. she bore the guilt .. She didn’t even know that Jehangir was only trying to get money, rather naively, to help out his struggling parents .. but she still took the blame herself .. What she was doing, of course, was forgiving him .. although of course she did not ignore the fact that he had done wrong, as she told him to learn a lesson from the incident, and not to do the same again ..

And so she gave Jehangir a fresh start, rather than punishing him .. by not rushing to judgement she helped him to see where he had gone wrong without making him feel resentful.   See, then, how Miss Alvarez was unknowingly able to break into the chain of sin which had been handed down right from Jehangir’s grandparents, Nariman’s father, who forced him to marry Yasmin .. but her forgiveness was like a light of hope which had suddenly been switched on in the family.

Why have I told this story?   because it helps us to understand what Jesus did on the cross.   Generation after generation had handed down the consequences of their sin … the cycle had gone on and on unbroken.   But now came one – Jesus – who, like Miss Alvarez with Jehangir, took the consequences of the sin of others on his shoulders   - but in Jesus’ case it was the sin of the whole world .. he bore the price of that sin and took the guilt upon him, and so brought humanity back into favour in the sight of God.  

And that is what the collect means when it says – as did St. Paul – that Jesus rose again ‘for our justification’ … which means ‘made righteous in God’s eyes’   Jesus’ resurrection was proof that Jesus was the Son of God … it was also proof that his act of supreme self-sacrifice on behalf of all people was successful .. that it had achieved its aim.

  This may all have become rather complicated for some here today … but if that is the case, think about the way in which all over the world people bear the consequences of other people’s sin, just as Miss Alvarez did … and that at the heart of this lies forgiveness, breaking the cycle of sin and punishment.. But of course in Jesus’ case this was no ordinary forgiveness .. for he was no less than the Son of God, and so his mission was to reconcile the whole world to God – in other words, making us ‘justified’ – or, as George Herbert put it, ‘just’ in God’s sight.

“Rise, heart; thy Lord is risen, Sing his praise without delays, who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise with him may'st rise: that, as his death calcinèd thee to dust, His life may make thee gold, and much more, Just”.     

Christopher Harrison