Sermon for Easter 4 2019
12th May 2019
I give them eternal life and they will never perish. John 10. 28
The Sundays following Easter tell us about Christ’s Resurrection through the hearts, the minds and the lives of its first witnesses. Firstly Mary Magdalene and then the disciples, doubting Thomas, and then Peter and Saul, later Paul. Having established their place as chosen and reliable witnesses, the Gospel takes us into new ground. This is the establishment of the resurrection witness as manifested in the life of the early Judaeo-Christian community. Peter is now no longer a quivering figure of the past but manifestly a towering figure, the rock upon which the Church is built. And St Peter, who represents the human power and purposefulness of the Church is himself possessed of Christ-like spiritual gifts, even to the raising of a woman, Tabitha, or Dorcas, from the dead. Masaccio paints a picture of a Peter whose power and presence shouts itself out as he walks down an ordinary street, with his followers behind him. The painter has a local beggar man, crying out for help and being healed as he kisses Peter’s shadow, a reference to Acts 5.15, where beggars are laid before Peter as they found healing in that very same shadow. The painter represents Peter as the leader of a community of unparalleled spiritual power and influence.
The Gospel writer John provides us with three markers then for John’s understanding of the Resurrection of Jesus and what issues out of it, its essential legacy. Firstly, in the person of Peter, a Church is established which possesses extraordinary self-confidence and courage. Secondly, this is a Church possessed of great healing gifts, and thirdly, this is a Church which is beginning to draw the faithful from across national and cultural and linguistic divides. But above all these gifts and attributions there lies the primacy of human compassion. This is the true marker for the presence of God and the outpouring of his life in the life of those who bear witness to his Son. This is the stuff of the Kingdom of God, established from the basis of human compassion and not from that of might or right. Jesus says of those who belong to this kingdom “I give them eternal life and they will never perish. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no-one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one”. John 10.28-30.
As I was thinking about these two ‘C’ words, confidence and compassion so my mind immediately sprung to the London Diocese’s statement for mission up and including the year 2020. It’s called simply ‘Capital Vision’ which sees our churches growing in confidence, compassion and the third ‘c’, creativity over the next few years, in which it is hoped that 10,000 new ambassadors for Christ will be emerge and in which 100 new Christian communities will be established by 2020. It urges churches like ours to consider our own vision for the future under these three ‘C’s. I am going to offer us something of where I think this places us here at Holy Cross.
Firstly, confidence. As we become more ready to express something of our desire to grow and develop our mission so we become more confident. We will offer more opportunities at Holy Cross for us to give witness to what God has done in our own lives and to share something of our Christian journey, not as ‘the finished article’ but as ‘work in progress’, and particularly the sense in which we may have grown in Christ as we have encountered disappointment, failure and sadness as well as when we have felt God’s blessing and bounty. St Peter, the rock on which the church is built is surely the great example of the one who failed but who nonetheless persevered and won through in the example and the confidence which the Saviour had given him.
Secondly, compassion. Written in and through the resurrection narratives is the ‘larger picture’, the one which has established human love and compassion as beyond all else the defining mark of what it is to be a Christian at all. Down below in this church lies a crypt which traditionally would have been a place to store dead bodies. Instead the work of the Holy Cross Centre Trust serves four hundred meals a week to those who find themselves on the margins of our society. Here, upstairs, we show our compassion and love by the way in which we welcome the stranger, building up that sense of oneness and of strength we are given in the Eucharist as God meets us all at our greatest point of need, and then, that the stranger, the visitor, the traveller will leave refreshed renewed in spirit and restored. Prayers are promised those who are sick and in need, the housebound and those in pain are visited, blessed and anointed. Ours is a Christian community which continually looks out for one another and acknowledges that the entire community of Christian faithful is a larger one than we could imagine. Life calls for a Church with a big heart and broad sympathies, but which is also patient, prayerful and joyful. It is capable of a radical inclusivity because rooted and grounded in the faith of Christ crucified and made one in his Holy Spirit in the life of prayer and brought together in the Holy Eucharist.
When Jesus says ‘I and the Father are One’ he is not merely claiming status. Rather, Jesus tells us that in Him, the fuller creative purposes of the Creator God are being made manifest. In this respect the resurrection was experienced by the early Christian in its power to refresh and renew, perhaps daringly, the forms and functions and customs that had hitherto held sway. And so it was that the Church was to be opened to the gentile community, ‘them out there’, the ones who had not hitherto belonged to the faith community. Likewise, old customs of purification and diet were deemed useless in the face of the one and final sacrifice made by Christ. A church like Holy Cross, operates within a traditional frame of reference but not at the expense of responding openly creatively to the challenges that face us. We will find ways not only of extending our existing ministry to our many visitors but also make permanent membership and commitment to our work more accessible and viable.
Confidence, compassion, creativity: three markers for a Church living, as did Peter, Paul, Thomas and Dorcas in the life and the life-giving energy of the resurrection. We pray that, living in the light of Christ and his loving compassion, we may become most truly that Easter community which is His prayer and promise to us:
“I give them eternal life and they will never perish”.