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Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter 2020

19th Apr 2020


 

Sermon for Easter 2     2020

 

 

“But these words are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”     John 20.

 

There is a great eagerness these days to speak of significant events which ought to leave a lasting legacy. The most famous was the plea which came out of the First World War that the remaining soldiers would return to ‘a land fit for heroes’. In this time of Coronavirus there are voices which already give expression to the kind of world which will emerge after the virus. With all the destruction to the economy and to livelihoods, President Macron of France believes that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to the transformation of capitalism — where there will be the opportunity for a new corporate morality to hold sway, but, he reminds us that “…leaders need to act with humility”. This might be wishful thinking but what is certain for now is that the world is navigating ‘unchartered waters’. We must hope and pray that any human crisis like this one has the capacity to hold within it the germ seeds for new understanding and the regeneration of new hope. Most are agreed that things can never be quite the same again. A good crisis can bring about great outcomes. But the legacy can only be made good by concerted human action with an understanding of the possibility and yet also the vulnerability of human existence.

 

These observations lie at the heart of the Easter Gospel. The crucifixion and death of Christ had been experienced by the disciples as the obliteration of their hopes. They made themselves a church not just of shut doors and windows but a church in terminal hiding, a beleaguered church nursing its grief. The Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb provides them with new hope and new direction, and deep joy. It is a joy that must be acted upon. Jesus life and hope has travelled through the locked doors and windows of their minds and hearts with its future providing promise “I am with you always” Matthew 28.20. In his first letter to Peter, Paul, writing less than 20 years after the resurrection describes this new life as “imperishable, undefiled and unfading”.

 

The recognition that ‘Doubting’ Thomas gives to the wounds of Christ makes him for Eastern Christians ‘Believing Thomas’ He acclaims Jesus as both Lord, and for the first recorded time, as God. Not just identifying but personalising his acclamation as ‘My Lord’ and My God’. He is the first example of a converted Christian and his conversion is one of the heart and is a conversion to God the Father’s action. It is also a conversion to a new way of life and action. A waking up to a new world of possibility.

 

Our readings this morning all point to this. In the Easter Sundays to come the Old Testament Reading is replaced by readings from the Acts of the Apostles, which trace the immediacy of the resurrection movement in the life of the very early church.  We  come face to face with the disciples of Christ who are now out in the open, and ready, and  outspoken, with their leader Peter, to proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus (which had happened for them only months before). This Resurrection they claim is radical and experienced in the immediacy of the present. . It was promised by King David of old and involves God’s own direct action in the here and the now. The crisis of faith brought about by the death of Jesus finds its outcome in Thomas’ passionate avowal that Jesus of Nazareth has now become Lord and is God.

 

And what of us? What of our ‘here and now’ as Christ’s Church? Resurrection faith is the one which is lived in the immediacy of the present moment and of present circumstances. At this present time of coronavirus this will mean that the time available for us is a time which is more useless time than we are accustomed to. Many across the nation will be watching much more TV, many will find the long spells of inactivity frustrating and difficult, may will  turn in on themselves and for many this unproductive existence will affect their sense of well-being and even sanity. But for some, perhaps for many who tread a spiritual path, this may be a time of enrichment. Perhaps when things were ‘normal’ we took so much for granted. In our current confined situations life need not atrophy. In the useless time we can rise joyfully and readily to its many challenges.. In my own existence, I now awake, in the middle of King’s Cross to bird song. Though I feel awkward as to what now constitutes the so-called ‘working day’ my useless activity is not as useless as it seems and there are opportunities for lengthy conversations with friends and parishoners that before Coronavirus I was ‘too busy’ to make. I am more aware, too of those lives known to me which in the current set of circumstances, lie vulnerable to the elements. Curiously but obviously these are those who cannot fathom or manage the internet. They may find themselves excluded. This is a time when the hierarchy of important persons in our society has been turned upside down, with healthcare and NHS personnel coming top of the list of those who matter most and whose work exists within our nation’s mind’s eye as selfless, brave and totally invaluable.

 

In all of this comes the message which Christ proffers to Thomas. That he is one of God’s chosen. Jesus holds out his wounded hands. He shows Thomas the wound at his side. “Do not doubt but believe”. The true legacy of the Resurrection is the one which is given in Christ and which today instructs us to open our minds and hearts without prejudice and the fallacies of apathy and self-doubt to the life that is already being given in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead – “the outcome of your faith and the salvation of your souls”

 

Claiming and reclaiming our chosenness is the great spiritual battle of our lives, for in a competitive, power hungry and manipulative world, it is all too easy to forget that God has always known us, and God has chosen us – eve when we slide into self-doubt and self-rejection. Knowing that we have been and are known by God, and that we have been chosen by God, is the first thing we need to claim as we behold what we are and become what we receive in Him.

 

Henri Nouwen..