Methodist President reflects on the contradictions of Easter

The President of the Methodist Conference, the Rev IanWhite, yesterday preached at Palm Sunday Evensong at WestminsterAbbey. His sermon included the following Easter message:

"Easter is a time of great contradictions. If we look at thegospel of Mark, we see these contradictions in the message behindJesus' parable of the stewards in the vineyard.

In the days of Jesus, it was not unusual for owners to be absentlandlords. But in the parable there is a new element - a twistwhereby the owner sends his heir rather than more slaves. In thecurrency of the day, slaves were expendable, but the son was not.Here the owner's act was unusual - a contradiction of normalpractice. Jesus makes a link with his own story as the son of God.Imagine the minds of the leaders of the day as the point of thestory begins to dawn on them.

Jesus brought three types of contradiction - those ofexpectation, understanding and outcome. These are challenges thatbecome an apparent firston Palm Sunday and grow during the weekleading to Easter.

First, expectation: - imagine a welcome guest who begins toraise issues that you would prefer to be left unmentioned. This iswhat it was like for the leaders of the day in how they saw Jesus.He did not fit what they had in mind - he turned out to be aMessiah of a different kind. He would change all and challenge allthey stood for. This is the contradiction of expectation.

Next, understanding: - in the parable of the stewards, the owneracted unexpectedly in sending his son. The tenants thought they hadthe upper hand - now all would belong to them. Yet theirunderstanding would be turned on its head. Scripture is full ofsuch incidents - contradiction between the sovereignty of God andthe freedom of humanity. This is the contradiction ofunderstanding.

Finally, outcome: - the vineyard owner risks all by sending hisson, but even then changes the anticipated outcome. The tenantslost their tenancy. The very concept they rejected became the basisfor a new beginning - the cornerstone of the future, the newkingdom. This is the contradiction of outcome.

So Easter is the heart of the story about God's interaction withhumankind. It is rife with the contradictions of expectation,understanding and outcome. Palm Sunday and the following daysleading toward the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus challengeus as we reflect on God's action through Christ. And then, ofcourse, arrives the final and greatest contradiction on the morningof Easter day.

These are contradictions that are replayed even today. In themidst of a violent world, we seek signs of hope where peace andjustice can emerge as speedily as possible. Out of the conflict inIraq, especially, we must pray earnestly that new life will emergeout of death, that order will come out of chaos, that the hungrywill be fed and that world leaders will exercise theirresponsibilities to heal and rebuild communities caught in themidst of conflict.

This rightly is our response to the Christ who comes to us. ForEaster is a contradiction turning despair to hope, death to life,ending into a new beginning. This is the gospel of Christ."