Preacher The Revd Alan Sykes
You could say that the difference between an astronomer and a cosmologist is that an astronomer sits at his or her telescope and stares into space whereas a cosmologist sits at his or her desk and, well, stares into space.
The astronomer stares into space looking at various celestial bodies; the cosmologist stares into space thinking about various very difficult equations that are beyond the comprehension of most ordinary mortals.
They both in their different ways add to the sum of human knowledge.
One of the most celebrated cosmologists of our time is Brian Cox. Here’s how he describes the ultimate fate of the universe:
Nothing happens, and it keeps not happening, forever. It’s what’s known as the heat-death of the universe. An era when the cosmos will remain vast and cold and desolate for the rest of time … the arrow of time has simply ceased to exist. It’s an inescapable fact of the universe written into the fundamental laws of physics, the entire cosmos will die.
So not only will we as individuals die, not only will our civilisation die, not only will the human race die, not only will every living thing on earth die, not only will every alien life form on other planets die but to cap it all the whole universe will one day to all intents and purposes cease to be.
Even idolised television presenters like Professor Cox will not be able to escape.
So maybe it’s not surprising that many of us watch TV, go to the pub, go to the gym, play Monopoly – anything, just so long as we don’t have to think too much about the apparent futility of life.
Well, there we are, perhaps not the cheeriest of facts to present you with but one, I believe, on this day of all days, that faith in God and Christ can confront and transcend.
But how could it possibly be that God might lift this burden of futility from our minds?
I think we all know deep down that the essence of our lives is something to do with love, however imperfectly we embody it. But I think we can go further than that: the essence of everything that exists has something to do with love.
Love is the underlying principle, the underlying, generous energy that creates everything that exists, that sustains everything that exists. Love isn’t just an added extra. It’s the very essence of what makes existence be.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself: do I, dare I, really believe this? But I can’t just help myself. It seems difficult to believe and yet so obvious at the same time.
You may know that phrase of the Italian poet Dante that he uses in the Divine Comedy. He talks of the love that moves the sun and the other stars – the love that is present in the smallest particle of matter and that fires the largest star.
If Dante is right – and I’m convinced he is – then it’s love that in the most literal sense makes the world go round.
Of course we use this word love very freely – even glibly, often almost voiding it of meaning – but it’s still the best word we’ve got what for what God is – which is love at its most generous, its most selfless, its most unconditional, its most universal, its most passionate, its most boundless, at its most indestructible.
God’s love for us doesn’t always express itself in ways that we always want. Otherwise, we would never know suffering. Now, I don’t know why there is so much suffering the world. Even Jesus had to suffer what by any standards was an agonisingly painful death.
God’s love for us, therefore, cannot be about giving us a pleasant or an easy life. Otherwise that’s precisely what he would give us. But no-one’s life is like that. We may try to avoid suffering but none of us can do so for long.
It seems to me that God’s love for us is about transforming us, transforming into saints. That’s what really matters. I can’t make sense of it otherwise. And by saints I mean people – not necessarily perfect people – but people who are actively connected to the life of God.
We are all, simply by virtue of being alive, passive recipients of God’s love. We just wouldn’t be here without it. But God’s will for us is that we should become active participants in his divine life, so that we receive and give love abundantly and always. That’s precisely where the fullness of divine peace and joy reside. And that’s why it’s God’s will for us. God wants the best for us.
And the means he offers us in order to achieve this is Jesus. Jesus was actively connected to the life of God – indestructibly so. In him human love so perfectly echoed divine love that they were indistinguishable.
It’s by love that we approach the divine. It’s then that the road to the divine is opened up so that we, even we, are able to tread it. Obstacles are removed. And those obstacles are nothing other than the lack of love within us.
Today we celebrate the Resurrection, the supreme demonstration of God’s love not only for us but for the whole of creation. The Resurrection therefore becomes a fact that can energise in us the power of love.
The tomb wasn’t able to contain Jesus because love and therefore divinity lay at the very core of his being.
So the Resurrection becomes an invitation for us to take our place in the life of God, something that we are all capable of. Don’t ever think that you’re not capable of taking your place in the life of God.
Because of the Resurrection, the universe becomes a place in which we are given the opportunity to learn how to love, so that we too become fully part of the eternal dance of love that gave us being.
It’s always and forever a question of connection. And if we are actively connected to the love of God, we have everything to look forward to. And we have nothing to fear – not even the death of a universe.