Sermon for Easter 2
The Resurrection of the Body
One of the ‘unusual’ delights of my work is conversation with undertakers. Many a book could be written in the occasional series ‘travels with a coffin’, for perhaps not surprisingly, all of life is present in those journeys to a cemetery.
Undertakers know the human body better than any of us – and above all, they realise that our bodies tell the story of our lives. Not so very long ago, one undertaker told me, they had discovered a new crease. Creases of course can reveal many things and as it were they were well mapped out, but as the way we live out our lives change, so do our creases. So a new crease has come to light, created as we now pay homage not to the gods, but bow in humble adoration of our mirrors, or cell phones as they are commonly described.
A new crease, and under the chin tells of this ‘development’. Facebook and Google – who benefit greatly from our cell phone addictions claim to know their users better than they known themselves – and anyone who has had an uncanny advert pop up must realise some of the truth of this – but they don’t know anything about your body . . .
The idea that we can know someone apart from their body is novel, and like novels we should perhaps be alert and questioning. For can we truly be known apart from our bodies?
The multitalented stage director, Dr Jonathan Miller is an atheist. Like all atheists he reveals his misunderstanding of Faith by his critique of it. He says ‘I cannot believe in life after death, for how would we know each other without our bodies? It is a very good question and of course for many Modern Christians it may be problematic. But Modern Christians are barely (pun intended) Christian at all.
I vividly remember arguing with some church people about the resurrection. Someone telling me that he could not believe in ‘the resurrection of the body for’- revealing some knowledge the source of which was obscure – except it is a popular perception, – ‘Life beyond the grave is a matter of pure spirit’ (pun not intended). We ‘left our bodies behind’ And I had to ask, ‘how do you know?’
The Resurrection is no mere matter of ‘Life after death’ it is a New Creation, and it is bodily. The Truly shocking thing about the Christian message is the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, that having assumed mortal flesh in being born of a woman, God in Christ takes the Body through death, and raises IT!
Jesus Appears to his disciples. Although in some regards, say the Emmaus road narrative and Mary’s encounter with Jesus in the Garden, there is a strong element of not recognising Him, we must not leap to the conclusion that he was unrecognisable, for indeed who WOULD expect to see him, and we are very much trained in seeing only what we expect to see. Human beings for their own well being in some regards are adept at filtering out anything that doesn’t make sense to us, as otherwise we’d go mad! But as all the gospel writers are at pains to point out, the disciples See Jesus. He invites them to examine his body, his wounds. He makes a fire and cooks fish – he eats food in their presence.
Whilst St Paul scolds the Corinthians for getting all tangled up and probably falling out over questions about ‘the resurrection body’, what he does not in any sense deny is that the Resurrection IS about the body. That God when he created us with bodies did not regard them as mere temporary shells, separate from who we truly were. To be human is to be embodied. And so if our humanity is buried with Christ in our baptism, it is bodily raised in the resurrection. Everything that the Lord made he declared Good – our bodies as much as anything else, and though they are subject to the fall, to change and decay, having forfeited their eternal character by ‘one man’s disobedience’, ‘by the one man’s obedience’, they are taken into the ground to die, to bear the fruit of the Resurrected body.
We see this again in the emphasis on bodily healings in the gospels. The story for example of the paralysed man to which I referred last week beautiful illustrates this. The man’s friends cannot get to Jesus, because the house is too crowded, so they have to dig a hole in the roof, and lower the paralysed, immobile body down . . . he is being buried. Jesus Heals him – forgives his sins, and then restored to Life – he takes up his mat and walks! Death and Resurrection, of the body!
Today , our reading from Acts shows this same power at work in the body of Christ, the Church as Peter responds to the shock of the healing of the paralysed mann at the gat Beautiful who must be carried everywhere.
Well it may well seem that I make too much of this. ‘Of course’ people might say, ‘we believe in the resurrection of the body – of the significance of our bodies’, but we live in an age where bodily significance is seemingly everywhere denied.
The Modern World is in flight from the body, or at war with the body. Insofar as many of us ‘actively participate in the world’, it is by no more than moving our hands over keyboards
The roots of this go way back in history, but Rene Descartes famously is involved for he withdrew the human from the body. ‘I think therefore I am!’ How did he come to this conclusion? Because he distrusted his bodily senses! Literally he lost his senses in an effort to discover what was true about existence he posited a thinking thing . . . something that does not need a body . . . and so we move on and on into an age now where for example whether we are male or female is apparently nothing to do with our bodies, its about how we think about ourselves And this has not left vast swathes of the people of God unaffected
In many denominations people sit in comfy chairs, which hide our bodies from us, increasingly ‘worship’ is bodily passive. Bands sing and we watch. Preachers preach and we listen. Then we go home. Given the highly passive nature of so much contemporary so called worship – it is hardly surprising that people think that they can do it al online. You don’t even need to get out of bed, just lie there inert, plugged into your electronic device which will convey worship to you.
But orthodox Christianity requires us to stand, to kneel, to face the gospel reader, to walk to the Altar. Bodily movement is something apart from which you cannot know Worship in the Church. Speaking the liturgy requires a voice which requires a body – We even Eat and drink as part of our worship. And what is it we eat and drink – but the blood of Jesus, and his Body. For we do all these things, speaking, singing, moving, standing and kneeling, together, as one body
Jonathan Miller in a sense touches on something very important to us. We cannot be known apart from our bodies, for if in any meaningful sense we have a Life, and existence, it can only be known by others because of our bodies, and any experience we have of the world is bodily.
The true Value of our bodies is however revealed in the True Human, Jesus Christ, whom God raised BODILY from the dead. He takes all of our Life, all of who we are through the healing of Death, to the Life of Resurrection. When this Life is revealed, bodies are healed, and the dead are raised
Sermon for Easter 2 – 2018
1 John 1:1-2:2
‘truly our fellowship is with The Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’
1 Jn 1:3
As I was reminded vividly last week – words change their meanings over time. We were reading the collect for Easter Day from the Book of Common prayer and it includes these words ‘We humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires’ Grace preventing us? Puts into our minds good ideas? So is God’s grace trying to stop good ideas?? Very confusing – until you realise that prevent used to mean – ‘go in front of’
Well our epistle from our beloved John, has a similar issue – or rather a word that’s meaning has weekened. When he says ‘truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’ he is pointing to something much richer and deeper than ‘we can now hang out with God as we would with a friend’ – or as a cartoon strip used to put it, ‘Coffee with Jesus’. The Deep meaning of this word is Shared Life, Participation in Life.
This is the deep meaning of the Easter mystery, that through it, we may become participants in the very life of God, or become His Children as John has it at the beginning of his gospel – we may share in his Life, the Life of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit which he has breathed upon us.
As of old God breathed into Adam in the act of Creation, so as St Paul puts it, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new Creation.’
And unless we begin to understand this and take hold of it, we never get off first base in Christian Life, for Christian Life IS the Life of Christ, crucified and risen. We are baptised into his death and raised to new life with him. Again, St Paul, ‘since you have been raised with Christ, set your minds on thing above.’ As I have been at pains to point out as we have expired the Lord’s prayer in our evening gatherings, this prayer is not as it were a firing a dart into the unknown heavens in the vague hope someone might hear it, rather it is the Expression of Christian Life.
Well, this may well be news to some of us. Certainly it is not the prevalent understanding of Christianity which is that Christians are people who ‘believe certain things to be true, and then try and live by their beliefs – more or less successfully and if unsuccessfully can be set up as ‘hypocrites’’.
Just this past weekend I read the annual article on ‘how can anyone believe what Christians believe’ – as if it was assent to a set of facts that made you Christian – rather than that to be Christian is to be born anew, to be a participant in the Life of God, to have a share in this Life of God manifested in Jesus. But then, maybe it is just easier to believe in the fact of the resurrection, and get on with your life . . .
This Life we see manifested in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles ‘Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ in other words, they had but One Life – the Life of the Risen Christ – breathed into them. We may well be struck by what follows ‘no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common’. And we might read that as ‘they thought sharing what they had was a good idea’ which of course it is, but that is missing the point. This is simply the same thing – they had one life. Not one of them had part of their life which was separated out from the other. The Life was Shared – there was just one life amongst them – that of the Risen Jesus.
And look at what happened! ‘With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’ Well of course their testimony had power – that Life was evident to anyone who looked at the Church – they had fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ – one in heart and soul – just One Life – the Life of the Risen Lord. In looking at the church you saw the Risen Christ!
This episode is followed by one of the least preached on passages in the New Testament. The story of Ananias and Sapphira – where they both drop dead! Why? Well they sell a field to help out with things, but keep some of the proceeds back. They act as if they have a life separate from the Life of the Church, separate from the Life of the Risen Jesus. And so it comes to pass. They don’t participate in this new life, and to cap it all, they lie about it. The Life isn’t evident – it isn’t manifested in them, for they have cut themselves off from Fellowship, from sharing in the Life of God in the Church. They cut themselves off from Life – they die.
All of which brings us to Thomas – whom I dare to call a model disciple. Again – we have a problem with words – for we are so drilled in the way of understanding ‘belief’ in terms of ‘facts’ and doubt in those terms also.
As if they were something separate from Jesus’ We believe these things ‘about Jesus’ we might say . . . but that is not ‘belief’ in Jesus – for Belief in Jesus is to identify ourselves with Him, with His Life.
Thomas does not need to touch and feel – he purely needs an encounter with The Life . . . which was from the beginning.
And he moves in true terms from ‘unbelief’ or Death – that is ‘not identifying his life with that of Jesus’ – to Belief, to Life – ‘My Lord and My God’. He declares Jesus to be His Life – for this is the meaning of those words. Our Lord – the One whom we take our direction from – our God – that is The Very centre of our existence. He has passed from darkness of unbelief, to the lIght of Life in Christ – and let us never forget that it is this same Thomas who goes out into the World to spread the message of Christ -and establishes perhaps the oldest still existing manifestation of that Life -the Church which bears his name in India – where he is eventually martyred. I
t is in many regards a travesty that Thomas bears the moniker ‘doubting’ – rather we might say he is the first true convert to this Life of Christ.
Like the other disciples he has been in the presence of Jesus but not seen. He says to Jesus ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus answers ‘I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except they come through me’ – no one can know the Life of the Father unless they share in my life for I AM the Way. Not ideas about me, or facts about me, I AM.
And again Philip goes on ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘all this time I AM with you, Philip, and you do not know me?’ To become a disciple of Jesus is to move from unbelief to belief, from not knowing him (as Peter declares three times) that is not sharing in his Death and Life – to Knowing Him. To sharing in his death and Life.
Briefly to digress – these words Jesus to Philip might be addressed to the Church today. I think of our young people who told me that ‘being a Christian’ we knowing someone was there for them. But that is not it at all – rather we are for God. Does not Jesus perhaps say to us – ‘all this time I AM with you, and you do not Know me?’ Do not share in my life, because you still think it is all about your life?
Thomas moves from not Knowing Jesus, to Knowing Him and as he himself prophesied before Jesus raised Lazarus, ‘let us go with Him, that we might die with Him’
Thomas I think is very like the two women who went to the tomb on Easter morning. They had pinned their lives on him and he had taken their lives to the Cross. So Thomas seemed to know that following Jesus would lead to his death. What he did not see, what he could not believe, was that following Jesus to his death would eventuate in being raised with Jesus to newness of Life – to sharing in the Life of Jesus, to Knowing Him, in the deepest sense . . . Life with Him is all that is Left –
Yet – Knowing Jesus in this sense is not a message about having ‘a personal relationship with God in Jesus’. As if it is about ‘knowing he is there for us’. No, It is about becoming part of His body in which his life resides. It is about knowing that Life which is shared around HIs body, for we do not have it for ourselves. We can only know it in fellowship with God and with one another – loving him with all we have and are AND our neighbour as ourselves. There is no such thing as an unchurched Christian. We only Know Jesus, His Life as part of His body
Note how often John uses the first person plural . . .
this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and [we have] heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship [our life, our very existence] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Our readings leave us with the question – ‘Do we Know this Life, amongst us?’ ‘Do We Know God in Christ – not you or you or you, or me – but do we know this life amongst us?’ Is an encounter with us an encounter with the Living God for in truth his Life is Ours? Can we speak in truth about our life? Can we proclaim with confidence the resurrection of Jesus, because this Life is manifested amongst us?
This is what our beloved patron Saint, John, calls us to, as Thomas is called – from unbelief to belief, from death to Life – from lives in separation, calling things our own – to Life shared and flowing between us, manifesting the very lIfe of God in our midst . . .
. . . for ‘these things written so that [we] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in his name.
May we in Truth say ‘‘truly our fellowship is with The Father, and with his son Jesus Christ’
May we with Thomas declare ‘My Lord and My God’