Sermon preached by Fr Andrew Wilson
on Sunday 19th April 2020 (Second Sunday of Easter)
Acts 2.14a,22–32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.3–9; John 20.19–end
In the readings this week we begin to see the impact of the resurrection of Jesus on his followers. Luke describes the daily life of the infant church. Their days were marked out by public worship and by more intimate gatherings to celebrate the Eucharist. There was a regular daily meeting in the Temple, for the traditional hours of prayer, at noon, and morning and evening. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that Peter and John certainly kept up this discipline, walking daily to the Court of the Gentiles where Jesus himself had taught the crowds daily, where women and men could gather together, and where now they could attempt to share their joy and the message of the risen Lord with their fellow countrymen. Then they would also meet in smaller groups in each other’s houses, to share in the breaking of bread and prayer. This fellowship was also strengthened by a radical re-ordering of their personal finances, as they supported each other in this time of waiting, as they expected the imminent arrival of the reign of God, and the resurrection of the dead.
So worship and witness were undergirded by a practical and commitment to each other; love of God and love of neighbour inextricably bound up together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, speaking in another time of crisis, sees how our breaking and sharing of Christ the Bread of Life must flow out in daily practical care. Despite living in the deepest darkness of the Nazi regime he still expects there to be that same commitment and generosity.
“The table fellowship of Christians implies obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread. Thus we are firmly bound to one another, not only in the Spirit, but in our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our fellowship links us together in a firm covenant. Now none dares go hungry as long as another has bread, and anyone who breaks this fellowship of the physical life also breaks the fellowship of the Spirit.”
This lack of any separation between the worship owed to God, and the everyday life of body, and our relationship with the world at large, is at the heart of the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection. This present life and the eternal life we already begin to share in, are bound up together. On that first Easter evening Luke reminds us that the disciples were convinced they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus reassures them that there is a direct link between life here, and the life of the world to come that he has opened out to us.
Jesus said, “Why are you frightened, and who do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” “And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet.” Luke 24:36-43.
Then he shares food with his disciples. Again in this morning’s Gospel Jesus encourages Thomas to thrust his fingers into his wounded side.
This knitting together of a fragile present and a full-blooded eternity only encouraged the early church to believe that within months, if not days, the promised general resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment and the triumph of the people of God would take place. Even years later Paul, in his letters still expects the end of all things within the foreseeable future. Only gradually the church began to realise that the outpouring of the Spirit of the Risen Christ was to be lived out more thoroughly, organically and historically, so that in this morning’s Epistle, newly baptised Christians (by now facing persecution by Imperial Rome, even arrest, the confiscation of all property, and martyrdom) are assured that they are already being filled with the inexpressible joy and power of Christ risen, baptized and anointed as kings and priests of the new creation.
They are to be ‘sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:9.
Finally the Gospel affirms that we are to see beyond the doubts, uncertainties and contradictions of the present to a greater hope.
He confronts Thomas, confronts his doubts and unbelief.
In what is likely to have been the original ending of the fourth Gospel, we hear Thomas utter that most explicit act of faith to his Master.
“You are my Lord, and my God.”
We are not told if Thomas then lifted his hands towards the wounds, It was no longer relevant or necessary. Now he would witness and give testimony to all who came after him that not only was Jesus raised from the dead, but that his true identity had been laid bare. It is none other than our Lord and God who has come to share the profundities and pains of human history with us, and to redeem them from within – thoroughly, organically, historically through his crucified and risen body, but in a way that comes to meet us, as he did on that evening when Thomas and the apostles were gathered with mixed feelings. He comes, and he confronts in his risen power and mercy, forgiving our past, enlivening our future.
Rowan Williams in a series of lectures about Resurrection talks about this ‘here and now’ activity of Resurrection:
“The risen Christ is not a resuscitated human individual – he is encountered as a particular historical subject – certainly in a record of past events. He never belongs to the past in the sense that what he does, or is, is over, completed and sealed off. And he does not act in the present simply by influence and example; it is in confrontation with his presence that human lives are restored and reshaped. And the Church is part of what that confrontation implies.”
We are the face of the risen Lord today. Or, in words often attributed to Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks in compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks in compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Bishop Rowan concludes, “What the believer says is ‘I live because of Jesus, in Jesus. I cannot be understood apart from Jesus. I am baptized, I received my name, my identity, in the process of immersion in the Easter event.’ ”
With Thomas we exclaim “My Lord and my God” and reveal him in our daily living.