"He showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind's eye and I thought, "What can this be?" And answer came, "It is all that is made". I marvelled that it could last, for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind, "It lasts and ever shall because God loves it". And all things have being through the love of God."
Some words of Julian of Norwich. We don't know her real name, but we know that she was an anchoress (a hermit living in a cell attached to a church) at St. Julian's in Norwich - hence the name she is known by. She was born in 1342, and on May 8th 1373, during a severe and life-threatening illness, she received a series of 16 "shewings". For 20 years she meditated on what she had been shown, and eventually recorded these visions and her understanding of them as "The Revelations of Divine Love" - the first book known to have been written by a woman in English.
As Julian pondered the meaning of her visions, she was told: "What, do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning."
The true meaning of "this thing", this hazelnut-sized thing, the true meaning of everything, is love.
The true meaning of the Resurrection from the dead of Our Lord Jesus Christ is love. When confronted with and apparently crushed by all that is evil in our world, God's meaning is love. In other words, at the very core of everything we know and don't know about the strange story of Easter, there is love.
I can tell you something about this love. (And you know this already, somewhere in you, but it's still worth spelling it out.) This love is what we were made from and what we will return to. It is always there, always with us, though often we're not aware of it. This love is the gentle touch of a parent, the warm smile of a friend, the passionate embrace of a lover, the patient presence of a carer. In its truest form, it is entirely free from fear - and in its truest form, it is self-forgetful and seeks only the welfare of the other.
This love, we learn from the story of Jesus Christ, is endlessly forgiving. And this love, Easter shows us, is stronger, more real, more enduring than death. This love gives birth to the true life that has no limit.
God is this love - Jesus is the expression of this love. And the only real purpose of our funny little lives is to receive this love, become aware of this love, and learn how to show this love. Nothing else matters at all, really.
And once you start looking, you notice this love everywhere.
At a funeral service, for example, what I notice (standing at the front) is how much love there is for the person who has died. Occasionally, very occasionally, there is a terrible, stony, hard quality to people's faces, and the words don't seem to mean much, and I struggle to conduct the service in a warm and hopeful way, because I've realised that nobody really cared for the person who died. There's a telling scene in "The Sopranos" (an everyday tale of Mafia life in New Jersey) in which mourners at a Jewish funeral are asked if there is anyone who would like to say a good word about the deceased. A long and increasingly uncomfortable silence ensues, until someone at the back pipes up: "His brother was worse." Even when it's as bad as that, I pronounce the words of the service with conviction, because - unlikely as it seems - I am convinced that God loves this apparently unloveable person.
But more often, in fact almost always, I am heartened, when I visit and talk to the family, and in leading the service, by how much love there is for the one who has gone. You could say - how much love we are capable of, and how much love, without always being spoken of as such, is woven into every part of the fabric of our lives. Arguably, we only become fully aware of how much we love others when they are ill or when they die. But perhaps, rather than bemoaning this irony, we need simply to be glad at every sign of love, and to seek to become more aware of the presence of love in our ordinary, undramatic lives. In the immortal words of Wet, Wet, Wet - "Love is all around"!
Of course, what the Resurrection doesn't mean is that love reigns unhindered, everywhere, always. We know that this isn't true. Pick a week, pick a day, even - there will be some atrocity, hammering home again the everyday reality of evil and its power to wound and to destroy. We know that the opposite of love is at large in the world. And Julian of Norwich knew this as well as we do. Her life was far from being a bed of roses: she endured great physical suffering, and she lived in the time of the Black Death. And yet she wrote, in words which have comforted and inspired countless Christians: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
I imagine her glimpsing,in an instant of absolute clarity, an ultimate reality in which all evil and sin and suffering have been wiped away, obliterated as if they had never existed: "…and all manner of thing shall be well."
This is the reality which Jesus unveils by rising from the dead. And it's not just that this is what awaits us beyond death. This new life, defined and ruled entirely by love, starts now. Not fully, of course: we have to grow into it - our eyes, as it were, have to grow accustomed to a new and different kind of light. And, of course, we keep getting dragged back into our old ways of selfishness and greed and fear. But our God doesn't give up. His Holy Spirit will keep on poking and prodding us, determined to show us, again and again and again, in every corner of our lives, that this great vision of the risen life, this all-encompassing finality of love, is no fantasy. It is the real thing, it is the only thing that matters.
"Know it well, love was his meaning." Can we believe it?