Sermon for he Fifth Sunday of Easter
24th Apr 2016
Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified”. John 13.31.
In the Sundays following Easter our first reading is taken not from the Old Testament, as is customary, but from the Acts of the Apostles. This underlines that the Resurrection of Jesus is the means by which the Christian Church comes to birth and draws new life. It allows for a Christian practice based on mutual love. This counters a religion of law and writ which could easily be blighted by petty infractions. God speaks to Peter to establish a new order. In the re-telling of a vivid dream he is able to see that the old religious practices with their animal sacrifices and rigid customs undermine the sense in which God has declared his Creation to be ‘clean’ and good in itself. The old religion had prevented the believer from seeing God’s world and his humanity as one. Now, in Jesus Christ, the Word of God is expressed as inclusive both of Jews, and the whole gentile world. It does not breed sectarianism.
What God has made clean, his creation, we are not to lessen or undermine in any way, nor are we to be cynical about its being or its destiny. The early Christian (really Judaeo-Christian) community is that it begins to question and re-examine itself in the light of its Jewish past and in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The world stage is set for Saul, later Paul, to bring Jews and Gentiles together in the one Christian fold. He is to verbalise what for Peter had been apparent in the dream as a message for the world's salvation: the ultimate Good News story.
“From now on… There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”. Galatians 3.26-28
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey was to speak of the Church of God on earth as “A divine society, with Christ as the glory in the midst of it and the Holy Spirit as work within it”. In this new environment, an understanding of God does not proceed merely out of our minds. As Tolstoy once said, ‘It is not the mind which helps us to understand God – it is life’. And this transformed society is one of radical inclusiveness, where all who have come to God, of whatever kind, are accepted and incorporated.
The message of all our three readings this morning is one of new life. It is John’s revelation of ‘new heavens and a new earth’, John the Gospeller speaks of the glorified Christ, and it is this glory which is the proof for the existence of the new order:
“The life of man is the vision of God. The glory of God is the living man”.
St Irenaeus, inscribed on Archbishop Ramsey’s gravestone.
This idea of glory is difficult if it is not earthed in the lives of men and women. Michael Ramsey knew this. God’s glory is to be revealed in his Church in lives which have been transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. And how I wonder is this glory to be manifest here at Holy Cross Church? At this Easter time of renewal and reinvigoration we will vote in a new parish council and re-elect churchwardens. At a very flat level you might call this ‘more of the same’, aware of a church which needs to be organised and maintained. But something else is here, too. That something else is the Church which is, like the infant Church of Peter’s dream, continually undergoing change and development, not for its own sake, but in the light of the ancient faith and witness to the Resurrection joy we have in the rpesent. If we experience that joy which is Christ risen from the dead, how then do we become a church which is bold and imaginative in establishing new understandings, new partnerships and new ways of becoming an effective Christian presence in King’s Cross? To work for a church which is a living one?
Two stories that happened to me in the past year, relate to two of our local food outlets! The first the new(ish) French boulangerie 'Aux Pains de Papi' on the Grays Inn Road.It started life in Provence. The entirely French staff there always offer me a free croissant and call me ‘mon père’ and they seem to have a natural affinity for the priest and the church. One day they asked me whether I could help donate all their excellent unsold bread to a good cause. I walked around to The Women at the Well, a local charity run by the RC Sisters of Mercy for vulnerable young women and street girls, who, thanks to the French bakers, are now being offered what the newspaper reviewers call ‘The best croissants this side of Paris’ The second food outlet is our own ‘Casa Tua’ across the road in Cromer Street. The partners managing this splendid new Italian Café are from Puglia in Southern Italy. We met on several occasions before the opening, and I manage to suggest coming over on their opening night to bless the place with Holy Water, which they joyfully accepted. It felt so good to be there with the Church’s blessing of the café and the joy it brought to everyone, especially the liebral splashing of Holy Water all over the place. New lfe.. In such a way does the Church express itself as alive to the present moment and fully engaged with the world around it. “The life of man is the vision of God. The glory of God is the living man.”
The message of Christ resurrected and glorified, is in every respect a complete and sufficient one. The charge written into today’s account in the Acts of the Apostles is the one which does not limit the scope of the Christian witness. It is radically inclusive and expressive. Here is the call to bring about that ‘divine society’ which brings us all together, and which bids us summon the vision and the courage to achieve these things in ordinary lives and ordinary ways, but which is in fact and in deed prove extraordinary and transformative:
May God achieve in us those things which transform his Church and may we in turn respond to him with open, joyful and generous hearts and so make real that glory which was his from the beginning. Amen.