Sermon for Easter 5 2019
19th May 2019
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 comes for the to allow for a distinctly Christian practice based on mutual love rather than a religion of law 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’ or in and of itself, good. The old religion had separated 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.
The witness to Jesus Christ in God is not to be sectarian. 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 prospects. But the importance for Peter and for the emerging Christian community is that it begins to question and re-examine itself in the light of its Jewish past and in its experience 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 and made manifest in the visit to the believers in Joppa as a message of salvation:
“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 society is one of radical inclusiveness, where all who have come to God, of whatever kind, are incorporated.
The message of all our three readings this morning is the message of new life. John’s revelation is one of ‘new heavens and a new earth’, John the Gospeller speaks of the glorified Christ, and it is this glory which is the transforming agent.
“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.
The 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 an 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 undergoes change and development, not for its own sake, but in the light of the ancient faith and witness to the Resurrection joy. If we experience that joy which is Christ risen from the dead, how do we best become a church which is bold and imaginative in establishing new understandings, new partnerships and new ways of becoming more of a joyful and effective Christian presence in King’s Cross? To work for a church which is a living rather than a merely existing presence?
Two stories that happened to me in the past year, both relating to food outlets. The first the French boulangerie Aux Pains de Papi in the Grays Inn Road, which started life in Provence. The entirely French staff 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 some 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, are now being offered what the reviewers call ‘The best croissants this side of Paris’! The other 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. In such ways 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 has the vision and the courage to achieve these things in ordinary lives and maybe ordinary ways, but which is in fact and in deed proves transformative:
And let us not be complacent in these things. 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.