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 – June 13

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ch 16-17; Rev 17-18; Psalm 55

At the heart of the Old Testament is the theme of ‘right worship’. From the strange story of the Offerings of Cain and Abel, through the stories of the Patriarchs and coming to a focus in the Monarchy of the People of God – Right Worship – Worship in accordance with the God who makes himself known to us is central and the key interpretative element on which so much of the narrative hinges.

Thus David of course desires to make a house for the ark of the covenant – he seeks to to right in his worship of God.

At the heart of the story of course is the fundamental question, Who Is God? Right worship needs to be directed aright. Right Worship is a reflection of Divine Glory – it is that for which we are made, to make visible the Life of the God in whose image we are created. Thus worship of anyone or anything else is prohibited not in an arbitrary way, but because it denies who we are. It is death dealing.

Thus in our reading from Revelation, we see the bitter fruit of wrong worship. ‘Babylon the Great’ has made herself great; she has made herself an object of worship. She has made herself the great provider – she has traded to exalt herself, to make of herself a great and mighty nation. As for Babylon, be she Rome or Jerusalem, or be she any other nation, there is only one fate

Only One is great upon the Earth, the one who offers right worship to God. What is Any nation in comparison with Christ, the one who in himself is the Tabernacle of God.

Through the Bible in a Year – April 4

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Deut 1-2; Eph 6; Psalm 118

Both our OT and NT readings have a common theme – that of remembering – coming to our senses.

In Deuteronomy, the context is the preparation to enter the Promised Land. To do this we must needs remember. It is in forgetting from whence we have come, what a great Salvation the Lord has worked for his people, that our faith goes to sleep. This if nothing else is why weekly Eucharistic worship is so central to the working out of our salvation. Week by week the people of god assemble to recall God’s mighty acts – to feats with Christ, and thus to go out into the world, fed with the bread of heaven, strong in the Lord and the strength of his power.

What is more, in this apparently ‘other worldly’ activity which we call worship – we remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, rather that we are caught up in something of Cosmic dimensions.

Worship which seeks to be relevant to ‘our everyday lives’ does us Grave disservice. It keeps us asleep. It is no act of remembering.

Through the Bible in a Year – March 31

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 29-30; Eph 1; Psalm 110-111

Psalm 110 is THE Royal Psalm – the one which Jesus himself quotes in effect to sign his own death warrant as he speaks with the Crowds in Mark 12.

This wonderful Psalm we read today in association with Ephesians 1. Where Paul is enraptured in his exaltation of Christ. All his grammar falls to pieces in vs 3-14 as he is caught up in praise of Christ in perhaps the single longest sentance of all of Scripture. I wonder, how long is it since we were so enraptured in our worship of Christ?

Those of us, including myself, who revel in the mind, who love nothing more than to ponder ‘truths’, need perhaps more than most to ‘Learn Christ’ – to Know deep within ourselves that the person who may have little or no grasp of any doctrine, may worship Christ in truth far more than we ever will.

Oh for that liberated heart

Through the Bible in a Year – February 27

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 35-36; Romans 6-7; Psalm 75

Moses comes out from the presence of the LORD and his face shines. [As one mentor of mine once said – ‘you can always tell when someone has spent time with God, there is a quality in their very being’]

And Moses declares “these are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do. . .” He then gives them two Commands, one the observance of the Sabbath, and then the instructions for the tabernacle. Thus we are reminded that all we are commanded to do is Worship the LORD our God, and that this is our Life.

The Sabbath – a day of solemn rest to the LORD – God rested on the seventh day, and made it holy – it is set apart. Like the priests, like the holy things, it is consecrated time – it is of another quality, and an essential quality. Whoever works on the Sabbath cuts themselves off from the life of God. It is that simple. In many respects the Sabbath command is the quintissential command of faith – the Absolute recognition that our life comes from God, that we do not live by bread alone. To fail to recognise this is to live in unbelief, sin, the wages of which are death.

In our anthopocentric culture we have no ears for this word of life. We think little of observing this Command of God. 24/7 is the way we are told to live and even within the company of God’s people, there are few who observe Holy Leisure. We find every way possible to avoid it, even to the point of saying, it doesn’t matter when you rest as long as you get some, ‘spread your Sabbath through the week!’

As we have previously reflected, the heart of our dis-ease is the loss of the sense of the Holy amongst us. Worship is directed to our tastes, be they ever so refined, or no. And the command to rest on the Seventh Day – to consecrate a day every week as Holy to the Lord similarly is mangled into a convenient and ugly caricature.

Perhaps it is no surprise that there are so few shining faces amongst us

Through the Bible in a Year – February 23

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 27-28; Romans 1; Psalm 70-71

As we read yesterday of the devotion of Paul’s life – so today our Psalm speaks of this lifelong devotion. The Psalms, much neglected in the contemporary church which has in many places lost any sense of continuity with the Communion of the Saints – the faithful upon another shore, amongst whom we worship if only we could see.

The mark of Secularism is the powerful tendency to live for the present moment. Whilst we are called to live in the present moment, this is not the same thing. To live for the present is to announce our own illusory triumph over time. To live In the present is to live with an apprehension of all that is past and all that is to come, Present to us now in the one who is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the End, in whom all things hold together.

So the Psalmist looks back and sees God – ‘O God, from my youth you have taught me’ into the present ‘and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds’ – and on into the future ‘so even to my old age and gray hairs do not forsake me’. God is his life.

It is this Eternal perspective in which past and future are apprehended, that Moses walks and talks with God upon Sinai, in the eternal symbols of Worship and Priesthood. Christ we are reminded is a High Priest forever – who Ever lives to make intercession for us. Our dimmed eyes only see wood and cloth – yet in this lying out of the design of the Tabernacle, we are called to look to the One who is the Tabernacle of God and who is also the Sacrifice . . . ‘It shall be a perpetual ordinance . . .’

It is this gospel which Paul announces – it is nothing new – it has been promised beforehand – prefigured in Everything that has gone before and in its scope embracing all of history – the gospel of Christ, descended [through many generations] from David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead – God’s judgement on History – and his renewal of all things.

[There is no art work with this post. Who can represent such things???]

Through the Bible in a Year – February 22

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Exodus 25-26; Acts 28; Psalm 69

To our mind – attuned to neat endings, with a sharp desire to Know, and an ultimately deadly curiosity, the end of the book of Acts is most unsatisfactory. Indeed both of our readings in a sense leave us unsatisfied. We want to know what Paul did next! And why oh why does the book of Exodus go into such detail over what seem to our eyes to be nothing more than the religious ephemera which ‘we all know’ are meant to be destroyed – to be replaced by the ‘true worship of God’?

Both readings I suggest challenge this demand for closure. We are not told what Paul did next – all we know is that for two years he continues in the ministry that he has been given – life goes on for him – we are presented in the form of the text something which perhaps we might read as the fruition of the words of Jesus – ‘whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die’. There is a real sense that the Christian Life can be expressed as walking with Jesus, until such time as we Are walking with Him. If it is Life then it never dies . . . and so Paul’s physical death, his onward journey is perfectly expressed in this continuation, the End is hidden in the Present moment.

As for Exodus – again we might perhaps think of Paul, or at least the man of whom he boasts – who is caught up ‘whether in the body or not, I do not know’ – to see things which cannot be expressed.

Moses has moved beyond the boundary. He is in the presence of the Living God upon Sinai – we forget. We lack any sense of the Holy, of Awe, of the numinous. He has sat down with the elders of Israel and eaten and drunk in the presence of God and Lived. Then he ascends further up the mountain and is shown things. How can we begin to imagine that these are mere ‘religious trappings’ – is he not rather shown in terms he can understand and translate into physical form that which somehow expressed the Life that is the worship of the Living God? That in worship there is a need to be shown how – that it is not a form of our untrammelled self expression, but rather that it is the Self shaped by the experience of the Holy communicated through Lampstand and tabernacle – as we are shaped walking in obedience with the One who Tabernacles amongst us, til in his grace ‘we are no more . . .’

Through the Bible in a Year – January 26

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 4-5; Acts 1; Psalm 35

As modern readers, that is those who read texts primarily for their usefulness to us, the book of Job is a profound disappointment. We think that the text is there to answer our proud questions – but rather it exists to question us, to call our very existence into question and cause us to call out in faith ‘Save us!’

In our unbelief many of us it seems are consumed by the question of theodicy, that is ‘How can a God who is omnipotent and loving allow suffering?’. [Although moral philosophers have shown quite clearly that there is no contradiction and moved on] Job is not interested in answering this question for us. Rather here we see a suffering man for whom the one undeniable reality is God. Job will not curse God and die. He realises that there is far more at stake here than the answer to philosophical, for him his suffering is real, but as we read through the dialogue with his friends, we realise that for Job, God is far more real.

In a deep sense, the theme of the book of Job is not suffering at all, but the primacy of God, and of Worship as the fundamental disposition of the soul, in and through everything. It is not a text which gives us answers, rather it is one that redirects our gaze. As we have recently read in John, Jesus does not answer Pilate, rather he confronts him with the Truth in his very being. So God does not give us answers, rather he redirects our gaze from ourselves to Him. In Worship and Adoration our lives find their true meaning – everything else is secondary.