A recent sermon By Rev Neil Gardner. (More sermons can be found below.)
Easter Sunday 2019. Canongate Kirk.
It’s so iconic, you don’t even need to say where it is, everybody knows. Notre-Dame. And whether you’ve been there or not you can’t help but feel sad at the disastrous fire that befell the great Gothic cathedral at the heart of Paris on Monday evening. As night fell it seemed that all might be lost, but as at Easter the morning, the bright light of a new dawn, brought better news. Not as bad as it might have been. Walls and towers still standing. Could have been worse.Which is more than could have been said of the predecessor to St Paul’s Cathedral after the great fire of London in 1666, which reduced the old church to ruins but at the same time paved the way for Sir Christopher’s Wren familiar masterpiece to rise from the ashes. It is said that when the site was at last cleared for work to begin on the new building, the architect asked a mason to bring him a piece of stone from the old building to use as a keystone for the new cathedral, and the workman brought him a piece of an old monument on which just one Latin word of an ancient inscription was still legible – resurgam – I will rise again.
That was what Jesus had said too. I will rise again. And it’s what the terrified and anxious and bewildered women at the tomb needed to be reminded of. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they are asked. “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words.” Then they remembered his words. Resurgam. I will rise again.
A couple of months ago on a flying visit to London I found myself standing not for the first time at the grave of Christopher Wren in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s rather tucked away in a corner, not given a prominent place like Admiral Lord Nelson or the Duke of Wellington whose huge ostentatious sarcophagi dominate the centre of the crypt directly below the floor of the cathedral. And there is just a simple tablet above the architect’s grave, with another short Latin inscription – si monumentum requires, circumspice – if you seek his monument, look around you. Because of course the whole of St Paul’s Cathedral stands as his monument, as his lasting memorial. If you seek his monument, look around you.
I wonder if there is a sense in which the same could be said of Jesus, whose real monument is not after all in great cathedrals like St Paul’s or Notre-Dame or even in our own ancient building, but in the people who fill our churches on Easter Day, in the people who gather in early services on hill-tops and beaches and gardens to hear again the news that Jesus Christ is risen today, in the millions of people all over the world who strive to share his resurrection life every day of their lives. If you seek his monument, look around you. But look too today to the darkened chancel of Notre-Dame where a golden cross still gleams beyond the rubble and Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then they remembered his words. Resurgam. I will rise again.