Talk by Clive Atkinson given at St. Peter’s on 21 April 2019
In the opening chapters of the Bible, Genesis one, two, and three paints a picture of a perfect place. I wonder, can you imagine a perfect world, a perfect world, a perfect place? Women and men lived side by side with God in a perfect relationship, perfect relationship with God and women and men lived side by side with each other in perfect friendship. And not only did women and men live side by side with God and with each other in perfect friendship, but they lived in a world, planet earth, which was itself perfect. In this perfect world there was no need for teenagers to go protesting about climate change. There was no need for David Attenborough to give inspirational talks. There was no need to glue yourself to Jeremy Corbyn’s front door. It was a perfect world. And then it all went horribly wrong. Women and, and men decided that they could do better than God, that they could improve on God, and they decided that they were the best place to decide what was right and wrong.
And that decision, the consequences of that decision were devastating, absolutely devastating. No longer would they live side by side with God because that friendship was now spoilt and and, and that friendship with God would feel cold. It would feel distant, it would feel broken. Even their relationship with each other. They began to be wary of each other. They’d be in competition with each other and not only did their decision impact their relationship with God and with each other, but it impacted the the world that they lived in and and one of the consequences of that, and these are the words of, of Genesis 3, was that they would start to experience thorns and thistles. But part of the consequence of a broken relationship with God was a broken relationship with the earth. That something decision about breaking relationship with God, twisted planet earth and Genesis 3 uses the word thorns to describe that.
This is not a trick question. What day is it today? Easter Sunday. See, it wasn’t a trick question you thought it was! It wasn’t a trick question. Today is Easter Sunday. Does anybody know what day tomorrow is? And the answer’s not Monday. Does anyone know what special day tomorrow is. So today’s Easter Sunday, tomorrow is Earth Day, tomorrow is Earth Day. The 22nd of April, every year since 1970 has been Earth Day. The day that we are encouraged to think about how we live on earth. How our decisions, our choices shape the earth that we live in. You may have come across an environmentalist her name was Rachel Carson. She was way back in the 1960s. And, and the sorts of things that we’re experiencing today, she was talking about way back in the 1960s and she said this. In nature, nothing exists alone. In other words, my decisions today impact you and impact this world that we live in.
So here’s my question. What does Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, Easter Sunday, the day that we celebrate that Jesus has risen and Earth Day have in common? How are those connected?
On Wednesday I flew to Paris and I had a meeting there and I arrived really early. The flight from Geneva was at 06.35 in the morning. I had to get up at 3.30. I would not recommend doing that too often. And so I was in Paris by 9.30. And can you guess where I went to? I went to see Notre Dame. I’ve got a confession, I have to say I’ve got a confession to make the metro station, at Notre Dame was closed. And so I had to get off at the metro station after it. So I came up and was completely disorientated. I had no idea where I was and I saw what I thought was Notre Dame.
And so I stood there and I looked up at it and there were other people looking up looking up at it as well. So I thought to myself, and this has to be Notre Dame. And then I thought you know what There’s not much fire damage to that church. And it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t Notre Dame and it was 500 meters over there. So I made my way over to Notre Dame. It’s just a tragedy to see it, a 950 year old cathedral, thankfully not destroyed, but in a real mess. One of the things that Notre Dame held was an ancient Christian relic. It was the, It was the crown of thorns and I don’t believe it was the real one, but they held a, a crown of thorns that certainly was knocking on the door of a thousand years old. Anybody from a royal family around Europe that came to Notre Dame was given a thorn from the crown of Thorns.
But it was, it was saved, thankfully from the fire. I found myself thinking about the crown of thorns. Jesus is being tried and the Roman soldiers aren’t being particularly nice to him. And they, they create this crown of thorns and the thorns and the, they put it on his head and, and uh, they place this crown of thorns on his head. And I began to reflect upon that and I began to think about Genesis 3 and how thorns, were a, a consequence of a broken world, consequence of my decisions, my rebellion against God. And here is Jesus, on the cross wearing what? Crown of thorns. And I find that quite, quite profound. And, and it made me think about what was Jesus doing as he was hanging on the cross and, and I think think Jesus was wanting to say, there’s something along these lines. These are my words, by the way. Do you remember the choice that was made in the garden? This is Jesus speaking the way I think Jesus might speak. Do you remember the, the choice that was made in the garden? Do you remember how it changed everything? Even your relationship with God, your relationship with each other, even your relationship with the planet? Do you remember how as a consequence of your choices thorns appeared? Well, today I’m going to take the consequences of your decisions upon myself. And he wears the crown of thorns.
Any any CS Lewis fans here? And Any CS Lewis fans? Do you remember the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe? So the children are in Narnia they’ve come through the wardrobe they’re in Narnia and they find it’s winter. It’s always winter and never Christmas. Imagine living in a land like that. But then Aslan comes and what begins to happen to winter, it begins to melt. And it becomes what exactly? Spring and summer. Aslan comes and creation begins to be restored. Jesus is on the cross. He’s dying. He’s dying for me that I might be forgiven. He’s dying, that I would be restored, but not only me and not only you, but in fact the whole of creation, the whole of creation. Of course Good Friday isn’t the end of the story. You fast forward to Sunday and the tomb’s empty. Jesus has stepped out of the tomb.
He was dead, but he’s now alive. It’s as if the, the curse way back in the garden is beginning to be reversed and he steps out into what? He steps out into a garden. Mary actually mistook Jesus for a gardener. Isn’t it interesting? He steps out into a garden and the power of the resurrection, the Cross and the resurrection begins to take effect. So there’s Mary thinking that Jesus is dead, overcome with grief, meets the resurrected Jesus and her grief is transformed. About a couple of hours later, Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, is on the road to Emmaus. There are two disciples. They’re completely consumed by despair. They think Jesus is dead. It’s all over. Jesus meets them and their despair is transformed to hope. About a week later, Thomas is in the upper room. Thomas has said if I need to stick my finger in a side and my finger in the wounds and then I’ll believe and Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, meets Thomas in the upper room and his skepticism and his doubt, is transformed into vibrant faith. The resurrection is beginning to have an effect. I just wonder whether you’re here tonight and maybe you’re struggling with grief or maybe you’re here tonight and you’re struggling with despair or maybe you’re here tonight and you’re struggling with doubt.
What we need is the resurrected Jesus to meet us. There was Peter, of course, wasn’t there? Peter who denied Jesus. Peter who said, Jesus, I’m going to follow you wherever you go. And then ends up denying him, the broken Peter, the Peter who was struggling with guilt and remorse. And Peter meets Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, on a lake shore. And Jesus takes that guilt and that brokenness and that sin and forgives Peter. And maybe you’re here tonight and you’re wrestling with those issues. Well, the resurrected Jesus is here tonight with mercy and grace and forgiveness.
But that’s about us, because I want to suggest to you this evening that in this day when we are wrestling with the issues of a planet warming up, plastic everywhere, I want to suggest to you that there’s a profound connection between Easter Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus and Earth Day tomorrow.
I want to suggest to you that actually Jesus didn’t just simply come and save me – and I’m so glad he did, but he’s actually come to save the whole of creation, the whole of creation. And I hope that as we leave Easter Sunday and enter tomorrow, that as we think about Earth Monday, that we think about it, through the lens of the resurrection and the Cross that actually Christ has come into our world to transform not only me, but that one day, one day he will usher in a new heaven and a new earth. A perfect place, Eden coming back and in this place there will be no more of these thorns. And I hope that inspires you to live today in a different way. That actually you would live in such a way that reflects the new heaven and the new earth that’s coming, that the choices that you make and the impact of those choices have upon the environment. Those choices would be shaped by that vision of the Cross and the resurrection and the new heaven and the new earth.