Pentecost 18 – Awaiting the Resurrection of the people of God

Pentecost 2018
Ezekiel 37
Acts 2

Awaiting The Resurrection of the people of God

At Easter, reflecting on the experience of the women at the tomb who ‘fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ we were reminded that the Resurrection of Jesus dismantles, shatters and devastates all our ways of understanding the world in which we believe we live. But we should be very careful of merely reflecting, of pondering and wondering, of casual day dreaming . . . before we, getting on with our lives, before getting back to what we have become accustomed to calling ‘the real world’, and move onto the next thing. Of course we are quick to dismiss the Resurrection of Jesus, to infantilize it into a vague wish for the future and ‘a better world’ for it calls into question nothing less than our very existence
Rather we need to sit with it, to Wait on this Word of life which was from the beginning – to ask, ‘what does this mean?’ – to allow it to do its work in us. This isn’t our work – it is God’s work and we must allow that space, or ignore the Resurrection, to our eternal loss. And we have been commanded to this waiting.

Last week we considered the Lord’s command to us, to Wait! To Wait for the promise of the Father – to stay put, until we were clothed with power from on high and in the Church Year we see what happens when we are thus obedient to the LORD – the Day of Pentecost – a Day equally marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment

‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’.

Only the most casual amongst us would pretend that we understand what this means . . . indeed if we dare face the Truth, we find ourselves not amongst the disciple community, but in and amongst the crowds. Even we who unthinkingly bear the name of Christ find this beyond our Knowledge . . .

We are in the crowds who see this disciple community, declaring the mighty acts of God, each of us hearing it without any need of translation, and with the crowd we ask ’What does this mean?’

Perhaps the greatest distortion of the Christian message is to transform it into something about ‘what happens when we die’. In a sense it is, but not in the sense we have comfortably taken into our lives. Treating out faith as a pass for a nice future ‘after this life’ causes us to dismiss it entirely – it is literally a ‘grave’ deception.

If we truly seek an answer to the question ‘what does this mean’? We must go with the disciples on the Emmaus Road, and allow the Risen Christ to ‘open [our] minds to understand the scriptures’. We by baptism the people of God, have been given the Scriptures that we might know what this means. How quick we are to turn to anything except the Scriptures to come us with an explanation for ‘these things that have happened’ Perhaps we find the question all but impossible to answer from the Scriptures, for they like these things that have happened are alien to ‘life in the real world’

Of course if we are to turn to the Scriptures, we must of course first recognise who we are, the people of God, baptised into His name. That apart form Him we can do nothing, that apart from what he reveals we know nothing. That the Scriptures are not just ‘another source of wisdom we can dwell on,’ but that they are God’s gift, they are our very life support. For the answer to the question, ‘what does this mean?’ is found in the Scriptures, over and over again.

We might say, well Peter explains from the prophet Joel . . . as we have heard so many times, and become accustomed to it, yet not questioned why this Pentecost outpouring is so alien to ‘our own lives’ – so perhaps another Scripture might wake us once more. And here we come to our OT reading from Ezekiel. ‘What does this mean’?
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ Before we respond from either naive acquaintance ‘Yes of Course!, or from the cave of ‘life in the real world’ ‘no’ – we ought to pause – If the strangeness of Easter and Pentecost has taught us anything, at the very least it ought to teach us humility in the face of existence – so perhaps in humility we may respond with the Son of Man – ‘O Lord God, you know.’

Why the dry bones? What are they? Who are they? ‘Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

We are cut off completely. We have been captivated, enthralled, literally been enslaved by the lives we have made for ourselves, lives which can only wither for their source is in themselves. They are not trees by streams drawing life from beyond them. Indeed perhaps in this age unlike no other we have lost sense of life beyond us which we may draw upon

Who are they? As we have pondered often, what do we see of the church in these days? Would we not also cry out “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

It is of note that this reading is used in the Easter dawn vigil – as we wait on the resurrection of Jesus ‘early on the first day of the week’, for it concerns mot the resurrection f an individual, but that of a whole people . . . what is the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the King of God’s people the Jews, if it is not the Resurrection of the whole people?

They lie in the dust of death, through ‘ignorance and unbelief’ – choosing ‘life on their own terms’ they have not listened to the voice of the one who addresses them from heaven, that Life, and so they are dead. Dead in trespasses and sin.

‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive – together with Christ’

The disciples Wait – because they know they are dead in trespasses and sin. Dry bones do not live of their own accord – they must Wait!

There is a clue to this in what we have come to call Jesus’ restoration of Peter. Actually it is better to call it Jesus confronting Peter with his sin. Why is Peter distressed because jesus asked him the third times ‘do you love me?’ because Jesus is confronting him with his sin. Peter wants to forget, wants to think that it never happened, that he really can do it on his own, if only he is given a second chance. Jesus reveals to him that he cannot. It is the Word of Jesus to Peter – so he has nothing but the command of Jesus to rest on now, to Wait till Life comes ‘from above’, till he is norm again. That Life is the source of the tongues of flame, of the proclamation of the mighty acts of God, and of Peter’s boldness in preaching, in answering the question ‘what does this mean?’ because he himself has known what it is to be raised from the Dead. He has been there, and the Lord has lifted him up

This is the meaning of these things – the disciple community, knowing themselves to have no hope apart from Christ, knowing themselves to be dead in trespasses and sin, began the journey of obedience, Waiting for the promise of the Father, and God made them alive – together with Christ. Easter and Pentecost are one. Jesus the Obedient one is raised to life in triumph, so to his people – those who show themselves to be his people by Waiting on him

Here is the dilemma we face. A problem created by the Church year – which is a gift, but can be a hindrance. For if we are not careful, we will just move on, in part we will listen to the voice which sees the Apostles clothes in power and subtly suggests, ‘move along, nothing to see here. this is nothing to do with you . . .’

But if we are the people of God, then it is EVERYTHING to do with us.

Maybe it is precisely because this Day of Pentecost is such a day marked by terror, amazement and bewilderment,  demolishing our impoverished way of understanding, that we move so swiftly on . . .

May we be a people who WAIT. Wait like Lazarus for that voice that calls us from beyond ourselves and our the live we have made for ourselves, that calls us out of the illusion we have come to call ‘The Real World’, which is never more than our vain imaginings . . May we be a people who Know that apart from that Word we can do nothing. May we like Peter Know our condition and wait for the voice until it summons us forth until it Raises us.

The Voice of Jesus to Lazarus is also the voice of Jesus to all those called by His name in this day. A Loud Voice crying out to us from beyond the grave, the sleep of death which is the life we have made for ourselves, summoning us to something beyond our understanding, a world where Christ is all and is in all.


The Resurrection of our bodies – if we still believe in them . . . Easter 3 Yr B 2018

Sermon for Easter 2

Acts 3:12-19
Luke 24:36-48

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

Through the Bible in a Year – May 13

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ch 4-5; Mark 16; Psalm 18:31-50

Three things to say about the Resurrection in Mark’s gospel

Firstly – its not the ending we want – the church has tried over and again to write a ‘better’ ending. We’re not meant to add to the words of the book.

Secondly – it is clear why. Imagine arguing your case with non-believers, and saying – ‘you are pinning your argument on an empty tomb and some terrified women?’ Like our burning desire to abandon the Cross , to fail to see there the Son of God, to turn it into a neat doctrine or an example (except of course we never do use it truly as an example) – see yesterday’s post – so also we can’t bear the starkness of mark’s account. We demand more, we think we need more, more than a crucified God, more than an empty tomb. ‘They fled from the tomb . . .’ Mark tells us – how strange that we have turned Easter into a festival of joy, when the true apprehension of the Resurrection brings terror.  Perhaps we have domesticated it . . . Perhaps therefore it has lost its power amongst us?

Thirdly – the hope is in the words of the angels. You cannot see, Trust – believe – go to Galilee – you will see him there. And yes there is hope for us all ‘tell his disciples . . . and Peter’ – Yes even Peter is invited to faith. To step into the darkness of this death and resurrection account and therein to find the hand of God [Isaiah 50:10].

Sermon Easter 2013

Easter 2013


So we come to Easter, and I wonder by what path we have come. How have we prepared ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus? For this is the purpose of Lent and Holy Week – by prayer and fasting together, by study and sharing in worship together all the last  seven and a half weeks have been leading up to today. Our celebration today is the Culmination of all of that.

Week by week through Lent we have looked back to Ash Wednesday – to those words spoken over us all at the Imposition of Ashes – Dust you are and to Dust you shall return – Repent of your sin – Believe the Good News. We were confronted with our mortality, the reality of our lives and called to re-orient ourselves. As I said a few weeks ago, re-orient is a very pertinent way of putting it – we turn to face East, more specifically we turn to face Jerusalem and the Resurrection of Christ. In terms of Ash Wednesday, we prepare for today by Repenting and Believing the Good News. Thus we are ready for Easter. But . . . even the most diligent of us is only ever partly ready – how can we be ready for something which is so outside of our experience of anything we have ever known?

This winter, as many of you know, one of our daughters will be married back in England – there is a lot to do in order to get ready, but it’s not the same. We know what happens at weddings, and so we know what has to be arranged. No one is saying ‘What is a wedding?’. Thinking of Hannah’s wedding made me think of my own. Actually for one young man there, it was something unknown. It was only on the morning of the wedding that I realised that my best man had never been to a wedding! He was a little nervous, I had to eat his breakfast as well as my own 🙂 But at least my friend Mike had lots of folks around him to point him in the right direction and tell him what to do – we all know what weddings are about. But the Resurrection of Jesus? How do you get ready for something which everything around you tells you cannot happen??

Part of our preparation for today is to enter as fully as we can into the experience of Holy Week – in particular Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We accompany Jesus to his death. In an hour at the cross we confront our own complicity in his death – we face the fact that We called out crucify, We abandoned him, We betrayed him, We killed him. And we have to face that to begin to in any meaningful way celebrate Easter. We have to Know that Jesus is Dead in order for Easter to do its work. For we are not speaking resuscitation – our annual cycle of lent and Holy Week, if we do not take the medicine it offers, if we only partly enter in, leaves us in effect waiting for Jesus to come round from a nasty accident. If we have not faced our mortality, and seen it plain as day in Christ crucified, if we have not entered into the utter blackness of Good Friday, then we cannot see the light. For we are not talking shades of Grey here, we are talking Light and Dark, Black and White, Life and Death. No, without the preparation of Lent, the Catastrophe of the Resurrection cannot do its work. Yes, the Catastrophe of Resurrection.

Why Catastrophe?? Surely it is the very opposite of a catastrophe? Believe the Good News? No? Yes! The Good News, but the Good News is catastrophic. The Resurrection of Jesus calls Everything else into question. If Christ was not raised from the dead then our lives can go on pretty much as before – indeed as St Paul reminds us, If Christ is not raised from the dead, then we are wasting our time. But if he is . . . then we are called to a life like no other, for there is nothing in all Creation as we know it that is Like the Resurrection of Jesus.

As I said in an article I had to write for the Star, the gift of Easter here in New Zealand is that it goes completely against the flow of life in the created world. Here there are no spring flowers – here we are headed towards winter – here everything around us proclaims death. So here we are confronted with the Fact that the Resurrection of Jesus goes completely against the grain. We cannot make it fit into our lives, it either completely changes the course of our lives, or we must needs let it go by – there is no middle way. The resurrection of Jesus is not something which we assimilate, a fact we either believe or do not – we do not ‘take is on board’ the ship of our lives, Rather the Resurrection is that Ship which sails in completely the opposite direction to the World’s story about itself, and we must choose, whether or not to jump ship. To live out our lives as best we can, or to give up on them and to live out of the Resurrection.

To make of the Resurrection of Jesus some mere metaphor for the cycle of life, even something on which we pin our faint hopes for life after the death of our mortal bodies, is actually to choose to deny it, for it requires nothing of us. The world hasn’t changed. the flowers will still come up next spring, life will go on as usual. There is no middle way.

Funnily enough, I call in my defence Bishop David Jenkins who some years ago caused quite a stir in the Church of England by declaring that ‘The Resurrection of Jesus is no mere conjouring trick with bones’. Now Bp David did not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, so he might seem an odd ally here, but his words were right on the money, so to speak. For the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, was not something which happened in a vacuum. It was a Unique happening, but it was not Isolated. In other words, when God raised Jesus from the dead he opened the door to a totally New way of living and a transformed Cosmos. What we call Real, Real Life, The Real World, everything about our lives and indeed all of Creation is challenged by the Resurrection of Jesus.

And we see that Catastrophic nature of the Resurrection Very clearly in the gospel accounts – especially in the synoptics, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three gospels in particular reveal how the Resurrection of Jesus shatters everything.

For up to that point in the story, each of the evangelists has told pretty much the same story – up to this point the narrative follows the same path – parables, healings, challenging sayings – in many many places word for word the same . . . until the Resurrection – and then it is as if Everything has fallen apart – all four accounts are to all intents and purposes completely different, all four struggling to make sense of what has happened – the Old Story has come crashing to a halt and from nowhere, without Any prior warning a New Story has broken forth, A New Reality. And like those first disciples we are left groping around, afraid, dismayed, perplexed, doubting, yes even terrified . . . the World is Not as we thought

‘Why are you looking for the Living amongst the Dead?’ asks the angel in the tomb. You have followed the narrative of the story of Jesus to what everything in you tells you Must be its logical conclusion – you Know he died, you have come to the tomb. And you are completely wrong!! Wrong about Sin and righteousness and Judgement. Wrong about everything.

The Resurrection of Jesus proclaims we have got everything Wrong. We cannot make it neatly fit into our lives – and that is why it is so hard to prepare for it – that is why despite our best efforts we keep skimming over Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, because the message of Easter is too shattering to our understanding of the world to face so square on. in a sense, to Celebrate Easter – and We must Celebrate Easter – is almost impossible, for it is to celebrate the end of our world.

At Easter we Celebrate that our world has come to an end. All to often we focus on the end of the disciples hopes and dreams on Good Friday, as if their world has come to an end. No it hasn’t, we know it hasn’t – where does the Risen Jesus find them but fishing – their world has carried on. No it is the Resurrection of Jesus that announces the end of the world as we know it – all nations will see him whom they have pierced, and mourn. He is Risen, the End of the world has come upon us – as one of the early Christians, Hippolytus of Rome expresses it –

Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen. Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty. Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,the first of the sleepers,

 Glory and power are his forever and ever.

If we are ready for Easter, we are ready for the end of the world as we know it. We prepare for Easter as we would prepare for our death, to say with Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Perhaps that is the best metaphor for how we prepare for Easter. Indeed it is what Lent is given us for – You are Dead in Sin – New Life is available. Lent teaches us to say no to our life – that we might say Yes to the Life of the Risen One
The Resurrection of Jesus proclaims we have got everything Wrong. We cannot make it neatly fit into our lives – no – We have to conform our Lives to the New Reality – The Life of the Risen one who fills everything in Every way.

Behold, the End of the World has come – Believe the Good News
Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed. Alleluia

Through the Bible in a Year – January 24

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 48-50; John 20; Psalm 33

And so we come once more to the beginning. A Man and a Woman in the garden – deep archetypes of Life and also Life giving. The Church with her ‘Rabboni’. But there is far more. Christian faith is often reduced to ‘a second chance’, a ‘new start’ – we tend in the words of the author Dallas Willard, towards ‘a gospel of sin management’ – but something of far greater significance is revealed here. This is no New beginning, starting over. If it were then what cause now two thousand years later would we have for any hope?
In our culture, dominated by the clock, we understand time ‘like an ever rolling stream’, progressing from ‘The Beginning’ and moving towards ‘The End?’. So talk of new beginnings are just that, of always going back to the beginning, in seemingly endless and increasingly hopeless cycles. (In a horrible irony, our culturally unique understanding of human progress is based on this assumption of how time works).
But ours is not the only way of Knowing time and this gospel reveals something far more profound. That the Life which is in Christ is Eternal. Christ in the garden with Mary Reveals all of our Chronological time in a moment. In the deep ‘past’ of Eden, the distant ‘future’ of The New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God is Now – Present.
And we are invited to Life in that Present – Knowing God – Loving and Loved – One with each other and Him, Now. Eternally. The Life of Worship and prayer that we enjoy together, One in Him, is to inhabit that Life.

In a sense what this reveals is shown in the Parable of the Prodigal, where the younger son ‘came to his senses’ – to See things as they are, if dimly. When we inhabit the Eternal we come to Know as we are fully Known – our Home is Always with the Father. To Live in this moment is to come Home.