45 candidates are gathering tonight to be confirmed at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. It’s going to be an amazing time as we celebrate the fiery light of Christ shining unconquered in our lives today. Here’s what I’ll be saying to them:
Tonight we look into the heart of the darkness, and see the light. Tonight a dead man lives, never to die again, to live a life that death cannot destroy, and because of him every death, everything that is deathly, every person who is subject to death, can live that life as well. Tonight, an astonishing 45 of you are claiming this life for yourselves, out loud, before a cathedral-full of people. And the angels are singing alleluia for what you are doing and inviting you, even while your life is still here on earth, to take your place at the banquet of heaven.
The great candle we light tonight is the sign of this dead man living, of Jesus Christ, because he is the one who really died publicly and in great agony on a Cross on the first Good Friday, and equally publicly and equally really rose to new life with great joy on the first Easter Day, a life he shares with us when we put our trust in him.
This is not airy-fairy, make-believe stuff. The historical evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is as good as it gets. And this really matters, because we need real good news for a real world in need. We are consuming ourselves and our world to death. We are locked into a system which sees the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We are living life the wrong way up.
This Easter, will you join our magnificent candidates, will you join me, will you join Jesus, in saying yes to turning the world the right way up again? Will you follow his example and ask his help to put giving not getting at the heart of your life, to live for others not yourself?
We take Jesus for-granted. Far too much. Great minds like C S Lewis were turned round by his teaching. Great writers like Tolkein found their inspiration in his story. Great campaigners like Wilberforce found the strength to change society through faith in him.
Here in Suffolk, now, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things in the strength Jesus gives to run foodbanks and nightshelters, launching charities and ethical businesses, serving in caring professions and public life, just being good neighbours down their street.
So what’s the plan? How do we actually start living the new life.
Let’s go back to our great Easter Candle. Until it was lit it, it was full of potential and possibility – all those hydrocarbons – but deathly to the touch in its waxiness and dead without any light to shine. It needed ignition, the Spirit of God coming like fire at Pentecost to join with the Spirit of God already in us to make us fully alive. Tonight we pray that this same fiery Spirit will rest on each of our candidates and rest on each of us afresh; for without it we are dead, but with it we are alive and on the move.
Then, then we can start to shine with a light that we could never have managed on our own. Then a power is released, the very same power in fact that raised Jesus from the dead, the power that flung the stars into space and pulsed inside the first living things. Through this power we are enabled to fulfil God’s purposes for us, and so we pray tonight, for our candidates and for ourselves, that not only will we born again into God’s new life but that we will be graced with the gifts and fruits of his Spirit, equipped for every ministry and every good work to which he calls us, enabled to grow in the character of Christ and become the fully-grown children of God that we are called to be. This is what it means to be the body of Christ, the church, the first fruits of a new sort of society, the kingdom of God. And even if we feel our candle is small, the light it gives is powerful to illuminate the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it.
But there is also a third prayer to pray. We are ignited by the light of Christ. God willing we will shine with the light of Christ. But only if we also have the grace to let ourselves be spent in letting that light shine, just as the candle in the end will be totally spent in its witness to the risen Christ. The only way we can find the commitment and strength to be spent in such a way is by looking to Christ himself. To whom shall we turn if not to him, the Man for Others, and what sort of game are we playing if we do not indeed turn to him, the one whose life and death, whose words and deeds, shone as a beacon in the world, and whose mighty resurrection and presence with us now has echoed down the ages and inspired generations on their way. In his light we see light. It is not we but Christ in us who is our hope of glory. It is Christ who is our Truth, our Way and our Life.
Join his movement. Live his light. Be his Easter people of today.