Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
15th Apr 2018
EASTER 3 YEAR B
“They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate it in their presence” Luke 24.40
We are still in the season of Easter, and will remain so for some weeks. This is The Church’s deliberate intention. We experience and re-experience the Resurrection and its aftermath so that we may come to realise its profound meaning for ourselves. The Resurrection is never to be seen as the simple end-point of the life of the Jesus. It exists dynamically in time. It is for the Christian Church its own past, present and future life. It exists for the changing and the maturing of lives. It is deeply relational. The apostles had already shown the emotional freedom and courage to set aside their existing attachments and follow Jesus, and they now had to grasp the far more unsettling message that their lives, and the life of the whole world, would now be utterly changed.
We can’t avoid the fact that the gospel writers found the resurrection of Jesus quite puzzling. Except, that is, in one point: in different ways, all the gospels labour the point that Jesus was no ghostly apparition. He appeared to them after his own resurrection from the dead. The tomb was empty; but Jesus had gone on ahead and had appeared to Mary Magdalen and spoken to her. The risen Christ ate, broke bread, spoke, and even allowed Thomas and others to put their fingers in his wounds. He was very much an embodied presence. Jesus was actual and present to the disciples. On the road to Emmaus we are told that Jesus’ friends walked along in conversation with him for several miles without recognising him. He appeared to them and he entered locked rooms, and then suddenly disappeared from their sight – all things which sound much more like the ways we think of disembodied ghosts. But it is not Jesus as ghost but Jesus as physically present that is emphasized. And his presence is one which challenges the disciples and their perception of him, and who challenges them to ‘move on’ from this.
The focus is on the reality of Jesus. His being very present. Why, at this moment of resurrection vision, do we come to the frankly mundane sounding sentence: ‘They gave him a piece of broiled fish’?
One of the real dangers for people of faith is that we fail to recognise the importance of the physical, tangible world of which we are part – that we make our faith ‘other worldly’. This has always been a danger – right back in the early centuries of the church when Gnostics denied that God had made the physical world, believed that it was evil, and taught that we had to be saved out of it. But Christians have always believed that the physical world of everything is in fact and deed, God’s creation, and that it is to be loved. We, like him, are both of the body and of the spirit; the resurrection tells us that the true life is one which does not oppose the physical, but reaches beyond it. With our whole hearts and minds and bodies, we are called to behold and proclaim God’s glory in the very real present, in the very cold light of day, and to proclaim ourselves as a church which is for human flourishing:
The grave clothes of winter
are still here, but the sepulchre
is empty. A messenger
from the tomb tells us
how a stone has been rolled
from the mind, and a tree lightens
the darkness with its blossom.
There are travellers upon the road
who have heard music blown
from a bare bough, and a child
tells us how the accident
of last year, a machine stranded
beside the way for lack
of petrol, is crowned with flowers.
R S Thomas
The Resurrection brings the Church into new birth as the wellspring of its life. It is not isolated in history but an ever-present fact for the Church and its present and forward momentum. We can’t ‘do’ the resurrection on Easter day and then get on with the rest of life: The Church is called to stay in the resurrection so as to be able to live as Jesus lived. The French word for ‘resurrection’ is resussité, resuscitation, which powerfully asserts the grace of life giving refreshment renewal in the Christian life.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
The Resurrection stands in contrast to life that is fossilised and atomised and turned in on itself. It is the perpetual declaration if new life in the immediate present. It is also RS Thomas’ “…stone being rolled from the mind”.
A Resurrection church is one which, like ours, has understood our Diocesan command to become one more caring, creative and compassionate, and it is most recently that we as a church must make decisions, following the departure of the Holy Cross Centre Trust. We are pledged to continue as a church offering broad and warm welcome and care to those in need at the local level and at the point of need. We must set the need to maintain a building (which costs money) alongside the overriding need to be most fully a Church. The Church which emerged out of the Resurrection was a people resuscitated, given new life from its source. A Church which continued to be oxygenated by the Holy Spirit and whose influence powerfully and prayerfully informed the church’s every move. A church too, not only understood through sound bites and mission statements but actually found in the authentic lives of men Christian men women and children who have dedicated their lives to Christ.
Pope Francis’ March Encyclical ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’:
I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”.
Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, spreading abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity”.
When the resurrected Jesus ‘eats the bread in their presence’ he is calling us all to make him and to make his Church more real as we embrace more fully and activate more passionately His call holiness.