Category Archives: Easter

That they may have Life

Reading
John 10.1–10

… our practice of Holy Communion is an enactment and a reenactment of God’s super abundance in the world, a super abundance that defies all our notions of scarcity, all of our temptations to hunker down and hoard, all of our fear about running short … ― Walter Brueggemann, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann

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Friends, today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. In our three-year lectionary cycle, the Psalm is always Psalm 23; the Gospel Reading always comes from John 10, in which Jesus says [v.11] ‘I am the Good Shepherd’. 

Our reading today stops just short of Jesus saying ‘I am the Good Shepherd’; it ends at verse 10 with these words:

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The Gospel According to John talks a lot about life. It mentions ‘life’ right at the beginning: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

According to John, life came into being through the eternal Word of God, the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ. 

So, in John’s Gospel words like these come from the lips of Jesus:

I am the bread of life;
I am the resurrection and the life;
I am the way, the truth and the life.  

Jesus is the creative Word, the Source of life, made human flesh. 

In John’s Gospel, this life is most often called eternal life. And why not? It comes from the eternal Word, who is one with God the Father. And since the resurrection of Jesus, life that is shared with him cannot be interrupted by death. It is eternal life because it is sharing the life of God. 

So when Jesus says, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’; this is the life of God, which Jesus shares with us. It’s the Life at the root of all other life, it’s the Energy that powers all Creation. Jesus came that we may have this life within us, a life that brings faith, hope and love, a life that ignites joy and peace in the very depths of our souls. 

Jesus came that we may know this Life which is the Source of all the life we know. This Life connects us to the Source of Life, which is God. We are plugged in to God, if you like. 

To have this Life is to show it, it is to share of ourselves and the things we have with generosity. Yet too many of us live with a sense of scarcity. We think to ourselves, I don’t have enough! If I have to share, I’ll have even less. 

Time for a confession: I often have this sense of scarcity. I can’t do that! I think. I’m not good enough! 

These are the times I need to remember that I share in the life that Jesus has brought into being. It is an inexhaustible supply. It is eternal. It is bottomless. 

The Apostle Paul once wrote that we have a treasure in clay vessels. The treasure is the life God gives us, the vessels are our flesh. We can let the treasure shine through. 

Some of us may struggle in this time of isolation. We wonder if we’re getting the job done, and what ‘the job’ even is right now. Perhaps you can identify with that. 

If that’s you, plug in again, listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd — who in the words of Psalm 23 leads us beside still waters and green pastures, who is with us in the darkest valley, who anoints our head with oil. 

And who spreads a table before us. At this Table we meet Jesus, the Good Shepherd who is the risen crucified One. Here, we reconnect with him and with one another. Here, we receive his life, and here we are strengthened for a life that is truly abundant. 

Soon, we shall share in this Holy Meal. Come, receive again the Life, the eternal Life, Jesus gives to us. Amen.

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‘… their eyes were opened’

Reading
Luke 24.13–35

The Uniting Church acknowledges that Christ has commanded his Church to proclaim the Gospel both in words and in the two visible acts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Christ himself acts in and through everything that the Church does in obedience to his commandment: it is Christ who by the gift of the Spirit confers the forgiveness, the fellowship, the new life and the freedom which the proclamation and actions promise; and it is Christ who awakens, purifies and advances in people the faith and hope in which alone such benefits can be accepted.

The Uniting Church acknowledges that the continuing presence of Christ with his people is signified and sealed by Christ in the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion, constantly repeated in the life of the Church. In this sacrament of his broken body and outpoured blood the risen Lord feeds his baptised people on their way to the final inheritance of the Kingdom. Thus the people of God, through faith and the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, have communion with their Saviour, make their sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, proclaim the Lord’s death, grow together into Christ, are strengthened for their participation in the mission of Christ in the world, and rejoice in the foretaste of the Kingdom which Christ will bring to consummation. ― Paragraphs 6 & 8, Basis of Union, Uniting Church Press, 1992 

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Two dispirited disciples are trudging their weary way to Emmaus, presumably their home. They are joined by a third, a stranger. This stranger seems not to know the latest and most tragic news concerning the death of Jesus, who they thought had been sent by God to deliver them. It was the third day since Jesus had been executed; there was some more news, but it was scarcely credible: 

… some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.

In the Gospel According to Luke, the women believe when they see a vision of angels. Peter also goes, but sees only an empty tomb. 

The testimony of the women was not enough to convince the men. The women, including Mary Magdalene, 

told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to [the men] an idle tale, and they did not believe them. [Luke 24.11]

The women’s report was not sufficient for the men to put their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. 

So, that evening, the ‘Emmaus Two’ are leaving Jerusalem for the familiarity of home, their dreams shattered, the empty tomb meaning nothing to them. 

We know their new companion is the risen Jesus, but they don’t know it yet. 

There’s something here about how the risen Jesus comes to us in a hidden way. He doesn’t jump in front of these two as they’re walking and shout ‘Ta-dah! It’s me!’ He is hidden from them; perhaps he is also hidden from us. Maybe we too encounter him sometimes, and we don’t realise it. 

Perhaps our eyes are closed to Jesus, or even our minds. The Emmaus Two’s eyes were opened — let’s see how. 

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The risen One is the crucified One

Reading
John 20.19–31

 

Thomas is not likely to be skeptical about a resurrection appearance the way a modern person might reject claims of the miraculous. He is more likely to be asking for proof that it is really Jesus of Nazareth, rather than some other heavenly being, who has appeared. The stark evidence of how Jesus died is what Thomas needs to persuade him that Jesus has been raised. What is at stake is not a miracle or a wonder or even the power of God. What is at stake for Thomas is continuity between the Jesus they have known and this one standing before them. The question is not so much ‘Has Jesus been raised?’ but ‘Has Jesus been raised?’ ― E. Elizabeth Johnson in Feasting on the Gospels, Year A, Vol. 2

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
― Edward Shillito, ‘He showed them His hands and His side’

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There are figures in the Bible’s story that are still widely known even in an age of biblical illiteracy. Jesus, of course. Mary, his mother. Pilate, who washed his hands, very relevant now. The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son. And Doubting Thomas. Lots of folk have heard of Doubting Thomas.

Though Thomas wasn’t really a doubter. Not really. 

The thing about Thomas was that he had to see things for himself: was this strange figure the others had seen Jesus, or another? The others said Jesus had appeared to them, but Thomas needed to see it with his own eyes. 

Maybe Thomas wondered How could it be Jesus? You see, anyone who was killed on a cross was deemed to be under God’s curse. Why would God raise someone from the grave if he’d only just cursed them? It made no sense.  

So Thomas wanted to see the wounds of crucifixion for himself. That would convince him it really was Jesus. 

For some reason Thomas hadn’t been with the others on the evening of the Day of Resurrection, but he was there in the upper room a week later. 

The wounds did convince Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them, and not some other kind of heavenly visitor. And Thomas declared Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God!’

Now, we’re reading this in 2020, we know the story. We already know it’s Jesus; so what do these wounds mean — if anything — for us today? 

I want to look at three things the wounds of Jesus can mean for us, very briefly. 

Firstly, the risen One is the crucified One. Why is that important? Sometimes, you’ll hear preachers say that Jesus came first to die on a cross; the second coming will be to punish his enemies. It may seem as though the risen One is someone other than the crucified One. 

No: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ [Hebrews 13.8] 

Jesus came 2000 years ago as our Saviour; Jesus comes to us today as our Saviour still. His purposes toward us never change. The wounds in his hands and side are the guarantee of that. 

So, we have a Saviour who can sympathise with us. Jesus doesn’t stand afar off from us; he is with us in our struggles, our weaknesses, in our failing and falling lives. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, and he will never fail us. The crucified One is our living Saviour. 

Secondly: if Jesus has wounds, we don’t need  to be ashamed of our wounds. We can be open with God in prayer about our woundedness. The God who knows what it is to suffer will sit with us in our difficulties, our tears, our fears. God walks with us and brings healing to us this way. 

By the way: are you impatient with wounded people? Part of the reason may be that you haven’t yet paid enough attention to your own wounds. Perhaps you’ve been impatient with others because you haven’t been patient enough with yourself. 

The risen Jesus was patient with the disciples. Did you see in this story today how he greets the disciples, each time he appears amongst them? Both times, we read

Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

They had all deserted Jesus in his hour of need. They left him alone to be arrested, tried, convicted and executed. Yet Jesus, the risen One still bearing the wounds of the cross, speaks ‘Peace’ to them. 

The way of God among us is to bring forgiveness and hope and grace into our midst. To make this the basis of our life together. To show us that God’s heart towards us is peace. 

Thirdly and lastly: The church has wounds. After all, it is the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ — if Christ has wounds, how can his body not be wounded? 

The wounds the church should bear are wounds that come from serving others. Wounds arising from acts of humility, of grace, of putting others first, of forgiving and being forgiven. Blows to our pride, prompts to humility, reminders that not everything is about us. These are the wounds we are meant to bear. They are inevitable consequences of serving Jesus in a world that turns its back on him. 

Regrettably, the church also bears other wounds, some of them self-inflicted. Sadly, Christian churches are wounded by those who abuse others, including children. More than that, we have a strong reputation for rejecting LGBTIQ people and for failing women in so many ways. 

It’s not enough for us to say, We’re not like that. We must show we’re not like that, and become a community in which all kinds of people may flourish. 

As we begin our services, we declare that we name West End Uniting Church as ‘a safe place for all to worship, regardless of age, ability, gender, race, sexuality, or cultural background’. 

This is who we are at our heart; we may attract some criticism, but this is our mission in West End. It’s who we are, when we can once more gather each Sunday or whether we meet in this technologically-mediated way. 

It’s ok for a church to be wounded for Christ; the wounds we bear in Jesus’ name are his wounds too. 

Jesus is the risen One. His scars assure us of his love for us for ever. He is patient with us, his wounded people. He is present with us, his church, as we strive to serve the world for which he died and rose again. Amen. 

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Easter is God’s ‘Yes’ to those who die

Reading
John 20.1–18

 

One reason [why we cannot seem to learn to die], of course, is that death is the one great adventure of which there are no surviving accounts; death, by definition, is what happens to somebody else. Empiricism falters before death. Yet [death] is more certain than love and more reliable than health. Pico Iyer, ‘Death, Be Not a Stranger’, Time Magazine, August 8, 1994, 68 ― in Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary

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Last Sunday, I told you a story about my dad and me. Let me refresh your memory. This is what I said:

At fourteen, I accepted Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham rally — in fact, it was 52 years ago to this very day (5 April 1968). When I told my dad what had happened, his first reaction was displeasure. He said that Billy Graham had come to Brisbane in a luxury jet; therefore he wouldn’t listed to him. (You have to remember that jet travel was much less common in 1968 — there was even less than there is in 2020!) Dad went on to say that if Billy had come into town on a donkey, then he would’ve believed him. 

You have to unpack that statement a bit. At fourteen, I didn’t and couldn’t. My dad was confessing deep respect for Jesus, while at the same time he held in contempt Christians who didn’t live as Jesus lived. 

Dad’s story didn’t end there. And — of course — it didn’t start there either. At fourteen, I didn’t know the beginning of dad’s story well, and the end was still a long way off. 

A few words about dad’s early years, which I learned about after I was fourteen. 

Dad was raised as a member of the Methodist Church. He must have been a keen youngster, and he decided he’d like to be a minister when he grew up. 

Now, to be a minister you had to have completed secondary schooling, which many were not able to do around the early years of Word War Two. Dad would have gone on to secondary school, but his own dad had died and his mum, my gran, needed him to leave school as soon as possible so he could start earning money for the family. 

When my dad mentioned his sense of a vocation to his minister, he was brushed off because he didn’t have the education to enter the ministry.

Dad never went back to that church. 

By the time I came along, dad was a cultural Christian at best. 

That was dad’s beginning. 

So, what about his end? Dad died of cancer at the age of 59. 

In his last weeks, I got to know him better than I had for a long time. 

In particular, I saw his boyhood faith rise from the grave where he had laid it years before. 

As his body wasted away, I saw his eyes come to life. I witnessed his dawning, renewed and life-transforming realisation that Christ, the risen One, was with him. Even walking through The Valley of the shadow of death. 

Dad became aware that he had a share in the new life; he was being raised with Jesus. 

I heard recently (on the By the Well podcast) that Easter is God’s ‘Yes!’ to those who die. 

It’s often been said that Easter is God’s ‘No’ to death. But dad died! We all die, and people across the globe are dying today from COVID-19. Yet Easter is God’s ‘Yes’ to us who will die. 

Easter is God’s assurance that we can live without fear of death. 

Christ is present with us. Alleluia!

Christ is risen indeed. 

 

 

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The Lord of second chances

Reading
John 21.1–19

 

In contrast to Adam, Peter does not allow his shame to stop him from moving toward the one he loves. Peter does not hide any longer in shame but leaps toward the risen one in joyful desire. — Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol.3 

At dawn and for the third time, the disciples travel the path from ignorance to knowledge, belief, and fellowship with the Lord. Believers yet to come will share this path, despite their geographical and chronological distance from the disciples’ experience. At first Jesus is seen, but not known; the disciples hear him, but do not know the voice of their shepherd—yet (10: 27). — Feasting on the Gospels, John Vol.2

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Did you notice how today‘s Gospel Reading began? 

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias [Galilee]…

It was early dawn. Seven disciples, led by Peter, had gone back fishing. They’d had a fruitless night. In the half light, they see someone asking if they’d caught anything, and suggesting they throw out the net on the other side of the boat. They do so, and catch a massive haul of fish. 

Does that ring a bell? 

Think back to the early days of Jesus’ ministry, when it was all starting out. Luke tells us that Jesus was standing by the Sea of Galilee, and saw two boats:

[Jesus] got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets’. When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken… (Luke 5.3–9)

Does it ring a bell now?

Jesus first calls Peter to discipleship on an ordinary day that became very extraordinary. Maybe this time, Peter needs to do something ordinary to get his head around what had happened, this whole resurrection thing… But now, again, something extraordinary happens. Jesus, the risen One is there, once more. 

And he’s grilled some fish for breakfast! Breakfast is such an ordinary thing, but—Jesus is the cook. 

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The Wounded God is the Risen God

Reading
John 20.19–31

The gospels invite the reader to inhabit a narrative space so as to be reformed in imagination and desire. ‘Written so that you may believe’ (John 20: 31), they extend to the reader an invitation that, whether it elicits a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, is radically self-involving. Its proclamation demands much more than an intellectual consideration. It is a summons to participate in a particular form of life, to become a ‘new creation’ in Christ. — Brian Robinette, Grammars of Resurrection 

The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and the mythological hope is that the former sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way which is even more sharply defined than it is in the Old Testament. The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal, but, like Christ himself (‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’), he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

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On Anzac Day, I began to reflect on wounds and woundedness. And a memory from my childhood surfaced.

In the bible’s famous ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13, St Paul says:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

I’m going to tell you a story from when I was a child, and thought like a child. I was born in 1953, and the adults around me were nowhere near over the Second World War. Rationing hadn’t completely finished in England when I was born, but I’m speaking of course about the psychological effects on ‘my’ adults. 

My dad used to talk about being in the Royal Navy. When I asked him what he did in the Navy, he told me he was a gunner. So I would ask him how many German planes he’d shot down, and every time he would give me this one-word answer: ‘None’. 

I couldn’t believe it. My dad must have shot down hundreds of German planes! He was being modest, I thought. 

When I was old enough, I realised that since my dad was born in 1931, he wasn’t old enough to have fought in World War Two. He joined the Navy as soon as he could, but it was after the war. Dad was telling the truth: he didn’t shoot down one single German plane.

As I thought like a child, my first reaction was disappointment. Thank goodness we are given the opportunity to think as adults. 

Yet as a child, and because I thought as a child, I wanted my dad to have shot down German planes. I didn’t even realise that may have meant German airmen being wounded, or dying. 

Today’s Gospel Reading is about a perennial favourite of mine, Thomas. ‘Doubting’ Thomas. 

(Let’s get one thing out of the way; it’s ok to doubt and even better to open up to someone about it, but Doubting Thomas wasn’t doubting. The thing is, when Thomas committed himself to something he threw himself right in there. So he wasn’t going to commit to what the others had said about Jesus being raised from death unless he saw for himself.)

So I don’t want to talk about his so-called doubts, but about him and his God. This is the amazing thing: Thomas’ God was wounded. 

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Called by Name

Reading
John 20.1–18

 

Mine is a personal story of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert: a blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian; a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism.… as well as an intimate memoir of personal conversion, mine is a political story. At a moment when right-wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalism and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centred on sacraments and action.… 

I still can’t explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening—I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening—the piece of bread was the ‘body’ of ‘Christ’, a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening—God, named ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’, was real, and in my mouth—utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry. — Sara Miles, Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion

Mary’s announcement to the disciples of what she experienced in the garden has great significance for this Gospel and for preaching. She does not offer the disciples a third-person, impersonal, doctrinal statement about Jesus’ resurrection, much like our liturgical responses at Easter, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Rather, it is a first-person testimony, a witness to what she has experienced. She gives voice again to that which is so critical for this Gospel, one’s own experience and encounter with Jesus so as to recognise who Jesus is. Mary’s proclamation is not only a witness to her encounter with the resurrected Jesus but also an interpretation of it. She realises that for Jesus to be raised from the dead is also an assertion about her own resurrection, her own future. — Karoline Lewis, John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries)

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‘Christ is risen indeed!’ I sincerely believe it. Let me tell you why. 

I was living here in West End, thirty six years ago, working and studying, and also living as part of the House of Freedom, a Christian community that some of you will remember and some others may have heard of.

I had first made a decision to follow Jesus at the age of fourteen. And I had stayed the course. I had remained a person of faith, even though what I believed had taken some twists and turns along the way. 

You see, I had started my regular church life by going to my best friend at school’s church, which turned out to be a bit of a fundamentalist hothouse. I often felt inadequate there, like I wasn’t doing enough to please God. 

So it may not sound so strange that when I was living here in West End, thirty six years ago, fifteen years after I had first decided to become a Christian, I was losing my sense of being a person of faith. 

What is faith? Christian Wiman says 

Faith is nothing more—but how much this is—than a motion of the soul toward God.

‘Faith is nothing more…than a motion of the soul toward God.’ (Or, he wonders, is it a motion of God toward the soul? Who knows?)

Whatever; my soul was no longer being moved by God. My faith was tired and my focus was elsewhere, in my work. In the evangelical hothouse that had been my church, I’d had difficulties with my faith a few times. But this time, it was different. 

Before, I had been distressed when I was doubting my faith. This time, here in West End in 1983, I realised that I didn’t much care that my faith was slipping away. 

I told one or two friends, but really I thought: if faith was that easy to lose, what’s the point? I might as well lose it. 

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