Christchurch response – Luke 24:1-12, Acts 10:34-43

Last Easter Sunday, in the afternoon, Grace’s best friend came over to hang out and she said to me, “Belinda, you know about this stuff. Is Easter Sunday a really sad day for Christians?” Now I assumed the question came from her limited knowledge of Christian faith and I said, “Oh no! No, not at all! Sunday is a happy day in the Christian calendar. It’s the day Christians remember Jesus was raised from the dead. It’s Good Friday when people are more reflective and sombre. That’s the sad day if you’re thinking about a sad day.” But then, thankfully, I had the sense to say, “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” she said, “My great grandma came for lunch, and she said she was always sad now on Easter Sunday. That she’d been to visit grandma’s grave this morning; that Easter made her sad.”

And as we continued to talk, I thought, this is what Jeanette had preached about that morning; that sometimes, in our Easter exuberance and joy, we forget that people continue to grieve for those they have lost, and we forget the pain, the confusion, the fear and the scepticism of that first group of believers as they mourned the one they had lost.

For that is how Luke tells the story. The women have waited and wept through the long hours of the Sabbath and they now go to the tomb, expecting to find a body – a body they can prepare for a proper burial. Instead what they find is the tomb open and empty. As scholar William Loader says, “The emptiness makes space in the story for their distress.” “They were perplexed about this,” the text says, and then they encounter angels, “two men in dazzling clothes,” who offer them no comfort, as in the other gospels; no “Do not be afraid.” Rather, they rebuke the women with their question, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” And when the women rush to tell the eleven and all the rest, their message is dismissed as an idle tale. ‘Idle tale’ is a fairly generous translation of the Greek word leros, the root of our word ‘delirious’. What they thought was that these women had gone mad.

And this is where the story of the Christian church begins. Our story begins with this group of Jesus’ followers who experienced the devastating loss of the one they had followed and who struggled to comprehend what his resurrection might mean. How were they to go on? What did life after death look like? What did discipleship after death and resurrection look like? It was like fire had razed their cathedral roof and left them exposed and vulnerable. It was like the ground had shaken beneath their feet, shaking their foundations, demolishing the landmarks they had known.

My daughter Grace keeps changing the radio station in my car – not to hit104.7 as you might expect – but to ABC classic fm and so it was, a few weeks ago, that I heard Russell Torrance and Ed Ayres talking about an article Ed had posted, about Christchurch would respond to the recent traumatic events there, specifically about how the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra had responded to trauma before.

After the big earthquake in September 2010 and the really big earthquake in February 2011, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra lost all of its performance and all its rehearsal space. They were not alone – 85% of the city was destroyed by the earthquake or had to be demolished afterward. To most orchestras it would have appeared that there was nowhere to play, that the orchestra could not continue, but the CSO is not like most orchestras.

What they did, according to the CEO of the orchestra, Gretchen La Roche, in the months and years after the earthquake, was to seek to find “the essence of the orchestral art form”.

Ed writes:

In other words — [they asked] what was completely necessary for the orchestra to continue, and what could they do without?

The first thing to do without was a dedicated concert space. Within weeks the orchestra was giving concerts in a variety of places, including an aircraft hangar. One still in use. Three aeroplanes and two helicopters had to be removed every time they did a concert. And Gretchen had to check the weather report for each gig, as the hangar has a tin roof.

Another thing that wasn’t completely necessary — [was] standard repertoire. In the months after the earthquake the whole CSO or smaller groups went to schools, old people’s homes, special needs centres, prisons, and responded to what people wanted to hear, what people wanted to play. And they still do, but it is rarely traditional classical repertoire. A school student writes a poem, the musicians help them turn it into rhythm and music, often with found objects as instruments. Prisoners guide a workshop with the music and words and movement they want to make, not what has been prescribed for them… the orchestra now gives half their time to community work, half to concerts…[which] is a rare thing in the orchestral world.

They didn’t just find a way to survive after the earthquake, but they increased their audience four-fold. As Gretchen La Roche says, “We bring people together. We provide opportunities …for people to find their own ways to process what has happened. We love our community. We want to serve it in any way we can.”

And it seems to me that this is the story of the early church as well. They did not remain devastated, but in the months and years after Jesus’ death and resurrection they sought to find “the essence of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.” As Peter’s sermon in the house of Cornelius the Roman centurion reveals! Now, Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him….”

And they found new venues, new forms, non-standard repertoire to respond to what people needed to hear, to what people needed to be part of. As Acts chapter two tells us they shared things in common, they sold possessions and goods and were generous with the proceeds, they spent time together, they spent time in the temple, they broke bread in their homes and they ate with glad and generous hearts…and verse fortyseven says, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Is this our story as well? Over the last few years we have been reflected on how the place of the church in our society has changed; how the numbers of those who identify as Christian, at least on census night, has been gradually declining over the past fifty years in Australia. In 1966 it was 88% and in the 2016 census, 52%, and how the category that has increased noticeably, is those who report having ‘no religion’, 30% in 2016. It is like fire has razed our cathedral roof and left us exposed and vulnerable. It is like the ground has shaken beneath our feet, shaking our foundations, demolishing the landmarks we have known. As Phyllis Tickles writes in The Great Emergence we are currently undergoing one of our every-500-year upheavals in “culture and worldview that will inevitably reshape our faith interpretations and institutions as surely as the great Schism of the eleventh century and the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century.”.

We too need to find new venues, new forms, non-standard repertoire – not so we can engage in strategic evangelism simply to swell our numbers – but because we, too, want to bring people together. We, too, want to provide opportunities …for people to find their own ways to process what is happening in their lives, where God is happening in their lives. We, too, want to release people, to set people free; to help them create the music and words and movement they want to make, not what has been prescribed for them… We want to enable people to sing hymns they didn’t remember they knew…hymns that express their pain and their love and their hope and faith.

We, too, want to find the essence of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In other words, we, too, love our community and want to serve it in any way we can.

Let me leave you with this…