Sermon for Easter 2
The Community of the Resurrection
The Church in her wisdom keeps us in the season of Easter for just as long as we participated in Lent, that is seven weeks, separated by Holy Week, the week in which the Work of God in Christ comes to its fulfillment, in the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.
Unlike Lent however, I think we have quite a lot of difficulty answering the question, ‘Why?’ The reason for the Season of Easter, as opposed to the celebration of Easter Sunday itself is not clear. In Lent, it is at least fairly obvious, that it is a season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter Sunday, but what of the season of Easter?
Well, its immediate referent is the forty days Jesus spent coming to the disciples over and again before his Ascension, and then the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But what was he doing in this time? Well the simple answer was that he was teaching them. Primarily he was teaching him about Himself, then and now The Focus of all of our teaching.
The gospels prior to the resurrection find the disciples failing over and again to comprehend who Jesus is. Certainly they do not depart from the Cross on Good Friday with Any expectation of the Resurrection. They are sorrowful, they are ashamed, and in summary their lives have come to an end. They had invested their all in Jesus of Nazareth. As those disciples said on the road to Emmaus, ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’, and so poorly had they learnt Jesus (and I use the words advisedly) that they did not even recognise that they were making this confession TO Jesus . . . who rebukes them thus ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’ And here we find the core of Jesus’ teaching over those 40 days – opening the eyes of his disciples to Who He Is. But, like an apple, the core has a body. The Essence of the teaching, needs a container. The Resurrection life needs a vessel. And that is The Church.
In teaching the disciples about who He Is – Jesus Christ, the Risen One is also teaching us about who we are . . . about what it means to BE the body of Christ.
Last week I said that ‘if the Resurrection is ‘beyond belief’, then surely its consequences also lie beyond categories that we can simply lay hold of.’ If the Resurrection of Jesus is announced with Earthquakes utterly re-ordering the geography, not only of our lives but of the entire Cosmos, then its consequences for those who hear and respond to this Good News – cannot be less than staggering to those amongst whom we live. As St Paul puts it, ‘If anyone is in Christ, THERE is the New Creation. The Old has Gone, the New has come.’
Last week I quoted the writer Baxter Kruger on what God was doing in and through the death and the resurrection of Jesus and I repeat that today. Kruger says that God was doing nothing less than ‘recreating the human race through death and resurrection’ Recreating the human race. But that recreation, like the earthquakes that announced it is utterly disruptive of our lives – which of course it was meant to. The Cross announced The End. The End of Our story of Sin and Death. The Resurrection announces God’s Life, freely available now for the only story going, that is His Life. So now one is either dead in sin, or alive to God in Jesus Christ. There is no other reality . . .
. . . but as I said, that Gospel, that Good News also supremely disrupts our plans for our lives. And so the twisted genius of Christendom was to suggest – ‘you can have it all’ – Life on your own terms for now, and Life on God’s terms after you die. It as it were defused the Resurrection of Jesus, undoing its disruption of a world where we called the shots, and turned it into a story about hope for after we die. It turned the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ into ‘just another god’, one who looked more or less benignly upon our life struggles, to whom we might appeal, with greater or lesser effect, for a change in our circumstances. For all our denials and words to the contrary, faith became radically focussed on us and our lives. ‘Jesus’ is reduced to a kindly friend who was there to help us live our lives – and as peripheral to our everyday existence as the Risen Jesus became, so also became the church became peripheral to faith. In our Consumer culture, the church is understood as a resource on My Journey – the church is more or less helpful in regards to My Faith.
For all our attempts to explain it otherwise, the parlous state of the church is solely down to one thing – our abandonment of the utterly disruptive Life of the Risen Jesus. Of course this wasn’t immediately apparent, for life for so many was so poor for so many years that the ‘religious’ understanding of Jesus and ‘God’ as one to whom we went to seek help for our lives pertained for many many years – but it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. So as we in the West have become increasingly wealthy and comfortable, our need for that kindly old figure on a cloud has vanished as readily as the illusion that it was . . .
We stand in the last death throes of the Christendom church. All around we see signs of people in desperation trying to keep the corpse alive. Endless conferences – new patterns for ministry, new models for church . . . just this week I received an email from the UK from clergy wishing to study ‘Local shared ministry’ and ‘Enablers’ to try and help them in their context. I haven’t yet had the heart to tell them that these things have all but expired at least in our context. Yet what is lacking in all of this is one question ‘What Exactly IS the church?’ In other words all of this flailing around singularly refuses to ask whether our understanding of church is right – and it isn’t for in almost all regards the understanding of church that pertains is that of the Christendom Church – which relied on anything EXCEPT the Spirit of the Risen Christ
John in his gospel is of course Utterly focussed on the Person of Jesus – we struggle to read John and come away with a sense of Jesus as ‘just another decent human being going around trying to be kind to people and ‘doing good’’. Instead Our John’s gospel is Apocalyptic, revealing Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of the Living God – who announces from the Cross ‘It is finished’ – declaring God’s gracious judgement on life on our terms – and, being raised from the Dead ‘Sends’ his Life upon his church. The vessel of the Life of the Living God. The Body of the Risen Christ.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” [Once more we note – Fear is Not part of the Life Jesus announces] 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
As the Father has sent me, so I send you . . . all through Lent and Holy Week our theme has been ‘Participation in the Life of Jesus’ – We walk with him through Lent – through prayer and fasting stripping away all that is not of him in humbling ourselves – laying aside our pretensions. Then through Holy Week we walk in that humility, with our Donkey riding King – Glad to acclaim him as Our Lord in happy denial of the world’s story that we need power to achieve things. Washing one anothers feet as participating in the humble service of one another, that love which is the outworking of our life in Jesus – to the Cross. Saying farewell to our lives – waiting through Holy Saturday to receive Christ Our New Life – the Everlasting One. So now as He, the eternal LAmb of God is sent – So he sends us – to continue to live out His Risen Life.
As God in Christ was reconciling the World to himself – so we enter into that work of reconcilaition. As Christ forgives eevryone for everything, in forgiving those who Crucify him – so that now is our life. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any they are retained. Still the choice – still you can us you wish deny the life of Jesus – the Holy Spirit in and amongst you, is what he says. God is Gentle and humble of heart – he will not coerce us to be vessels for his life.
This matter of forgiveness is the essence of Christ’s work, and thus his life in us. Thus it is also the focus of the difference between Christendom faith and Christian faith. Christendom faith leaves us in our old lives, where we were – children of God only in name but not in lived reality -for Children of God turn the world upside down and we don’t want that. So endless sermons on how difficult it is to forgive, for we deny that God in Christ has forgiven everyone for everything, and that we have laid down the old self willed life. We did not participate in Jesus’ death, so we are unable to participate in his resurrection life.
If the Gospel is True, then we, the Church are nothing more nor less than the Community of the Resurrection – this is where the Life of God is encountered, this is where Everyone is forgiven for Everything, for here we meet, not the chaplain God of Christendom, but the Living God who raises the Christ and gives power to his Body to forgive everyone for everything. Here we are trained to See everyone through the pitying eyes of Jesus Christ – with the Love of the Father.
Through Lent – a good number of us gathered to consider what it meant to be the church and what it might possibly mean for us as we face the future together. +Kelvin in his latest blog said that following the Hikoi it was clear that we couldn’t go on as we are – indeed that is the message of Good Friday. But the message of Easter which we continue to walk through for five more weeks, is not only that we cannot, but that we do not have to. As I said earlier, the question that we think we do not need to answer needs urgently to be addressed – that is ‘What is the Church?’ Jesus in revealing who he was to his disciples was also revealing the nature of the Church, in truth His Body. We are the BOdy of Christ – His Holy Spirit indwells us – for the sake of the reconciliation of the whole world with God.
When our ancient forbears, the Hebrews were brought out of Egypt, as one writer I saw put it this week, God was saying to Pharoah – ‘They are not yours, they are mine’ – So on the Cross God says to ‘Sin and Death’ – ‘They are not yours, they are mine’ We are no longer our own – in the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is only one life, that of limitless forgiveness reconciliation and Love. We are the Community of that Life – The Life of The Resurrection. To say otherwise is to deny our faith, it is to desire to return to captivity, it is to deny who we are, and thus to deny the Holy Spirit. May God give us Grace to Live in the Reality of what in Christ He has done – for His Glory and the Healing of the entire cosmos.