Category Archives: Easter

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

———————-

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

———————-

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)

———————-

‘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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A ‘New Testament Resurrection’

Reading
Luke 24.36b–48

 

Easter ‘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 D. Robinette,. Grammars of Resurrection: A Christian Theology of Presence and Absence (Herder & Herder Books) (p. 7). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

_____________________

Years ago now, I was in a conversation with a man who was a follower of Sai Baba, an Indian religious leader who died in 2011.

He told me that he believed without a doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead; but it wasn’t of any importance to him personally.

It didn’t matter to him, it didn’t change his life at all. It proved that Jesus was a holy man, but my friend had his own holy man, Sai Baba. 

The conversation went on for some time, but I have to say I was a bit dumbfounded. Lost for words. I couldn’t get how someone could say they believe in the resurrection yet brush it aside, as though it were unimportant. 

Thinking about it, my friend didn’t believe in the Resurrection as the New Testament describes it. Let me explain.

It seems to me that my friend believed that Jesus had returned from the dead. He had come back to life. He had re-entered life and was subject to all its conditions, including fatigue, hunger, thirst, and death. That’s not a New Testament resurrection. 

It seems to me that my friend believed that Jesus had risen from the death because of his immense spiritual power, a power available to anyone who has the knowledge to tap into it. That’s not a New Testament resurrection.

What do I mean by ‘New Testament Resurrection’?

Most people of Jesus’ time looked for a resurrection in the future. A general resurrection of the dead, when everyone would be reunited with their physical bodies and face the judgement of God. Some would be judged as righteous, others would be condemned. 

What they didn’t expect was that anyone would face that judgement before the very end of time.

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No other God has wounds

Reading
John 20.19–31

Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not all that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God we have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy out of them—not from a distance but right close up. — Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain, kindle edition, 1998, p.118

If I were writing the Easter story, I wouldn’t write it like John.

For example: in the Gospel According to John, the risen Jesus greets the disciples with ‘Peace be with you!’ Shalom! 

My Jesus would be still a bit angry with them, you know? He’d rebuke them. He’d tell them he expected better next time, they’d better pull their socks up or gird their loins or whatever they did back then. 

And what’s more, my Jesus wouldn’t have wounds. He’d be pristine perfect.

I mean, whoever heard of a resurrected Lord with wounds? 

The very thought is bizarre. Yet there it is.

Shall we try to make some sense out of this risen but wounded Lord? 

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Called by our name

Reading
John 20.1–18

Though fully “present” to [Mary Magdalene] in his transfigured corporeality, the risen Christ appears in the mode of “absence,” in a way that at once communicates his identity and person while overwhelming her wildest expectations and capacities for comprehension. — Robinette, Brian D.. Grammars of Resurrection: A Christian Theology of Presence and Absence (Herder & Herder Books) (p. 4). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

———————-

When Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb, she wasn’t expecting what happened. She found the tomb empty; the body missing. It sounds like the beginning of an Agatha Christie mystery, but there’s a plot twist that even Agatha would not have written.

The body was missing because Jesus had been raised from the grave.

Mary wasn’t expecting that to happen, but we shouldn’t criticise her for that. When my father died over 27 years ago, I wanted to spend some quiet time at his grave the day after the funeral. On my way there, I wondered what I’d think if his grave was empty. I’d react just as Mary did, I’d think someone had taken the body. I wouldn’t think my dad had risen from the dead; I’d have called the police.

Back to Mary. Later, she is weeping outside the tomb. Mary has not only lost Jesus her teacher, but now she cannot make sure he is laid to rest. People need that; we need to have a body to reverently lay to rest. Those who lose someone and can’t find the body experience a double loss. This was Mary’s sad reality, but it was about to change.

Things are starting to happen; now, there are two angels in the tomb. Then Mary realises there is someone else, you know how you sometimes just know someone is looking at you? She turns, and sees … the gardener. After all, they’re in a garden.

We know it’s Jesus; she doesn’t. What keeps him from Mary’s eyes? We don’t know, but we can guess. We can guess that the risen One is more than he was before, much more. Mary cannot take it in, she is overwhelmed by a resurrected Person standing in front of her. Mary doesn’t quite grasp who he is. But you know, neither do we, today.

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The risen crucified One among us

Or, What on earth is the Resurrection?

 

…where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them.                             Matthew 18.20

Then I saw…a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered….
Revelation 5.6

The Church preaches Christ the risen crucified One and confesses him as Lord to the glory of God the Father.
from the Basis of Union, Para.3

 

Today, I want to ask a question I can’t answer, not this Sunday and not even in a month of Sundays. But even so, it’s still a very good question to ask.

The question is this: What is the Resurrection?

It’s a deceptively simple question. Only one word has more than one syllable. But ‘Resurrection’ is a big word.

How can we think about the Resurrection of Jesus?

Is the Resurrection a happy ending to a sad story? It could easily look that way; and the story has been told that way. Everyone was sad on Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday they were happy once more because Jesus was alive again. But the Resurrection is no happy ending. Most of those first witnesses lost their lives because of the Resurrection.

Well, maybe the Resurrection a proof of life after death? Again, the story has been told that way. But that’s not how the Gospels tell it. The risen Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven. He instructs his people to make disciples of all nations, baptise and teach them. He forgives Peter, telling him to feed his sheep. He gives his peace to disciples who had let him down big time. He makes them breakfast. He helps them to be unafraid of death. He points them towards a transformed life here and now on earth.

Well, the empty tomb may be the clue we need. Does the empty tomb prove the Resurrection? No, it does not. I realised this with a big thump the day after my father’s funeral. I had returned to his grave to make a quiet space to pray. It struck me then that had my dad’s grave been empty, I would not have immediately concluded that he had risen from the dead. I would have made the ghastly assumption that someone had stolen his body, and called for the police.

The Easter stories in the Gospels are exactly the same. When the women see the empty tomb, they do not immediately assume that Jesus has been raised from death. They have to be told the news. Told by an Angel of the Lord (Matthew), a young man in white (Mark), two men in dazzling clothes (Luke) or a ‘gardener’ who was Jesus himself (John).

The women didn’t believe that Jesus was risen because the tomb was empty. They believed because they had a life-changing encounter with the Christ who had been crucified and who is now risen.

And there were other encounters.

Remember the two who were joined by a stranger on their miserable way to Emmaus? He made their hearts burn as he opened the scriptures on the way, showing how the Messiah should suffer; and then, at the table they knew him in the breaking of the bread. Today, we may encounter the Lord in the same way, in these means of grace he has given us, the scriptures and the eucharist.

Remember Thomas? Thomas wasn’t convinced that Jesus had been raised from the grave—but he was fully convinced when he saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon Jesus. I too have met people who have responded to the wounds that life has brought by allowing themselves to be transformed into being more Christlike. I have seen the risen crucified Lord in them.

Remember the disciples by the lake? Jesus made them breakfast. There are people who the Lord shines through because they know how to gladly serve others.

The Uniting Church’s Basis of Union calls the Lord ‘the risen crucified One’ (Para.3). When we speak of the risen Lord, we must always remember what the empty tomb does tell us: that it is the crucified One who is risen. The risen Lord hasn’t set the cross aside. He hasn’t put it in a cupboard somewhere. The body of Jesus is not something separate from his living presence. Jesus is the risen crucified One.

Jesus once said ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’. He is here as the risen crucified One.

You may wonder why I’m labouring the point so much.

Jesus is the risen crucified One. Everything that brought Jesus to the Cross is risen with him. Everything that caused him to be crucified is raised with him:

  • his preaching of God’s coming kingdom
  • his healing of the sick and the oppressed, which pointed to the kingdom
  • his parables, that shattered human expectations of God and caused those who could hear to open their hearts to God
  • his compassion for the poor and those on the margins of society
  • his forgiving of sins
  • his opposition to religious hypocrisy
  • his intimate knowledge of God his Father—and now, through him, our Father

All of this is raised in Jesus. It’s not just a happy ending, or the resuscitation of a corpse. It is eternal life itself embodied in the risen crucified Lord Jesus Christ.

That is who is in our midst today, and wherever two or three gather in his name.

And Jesus brings his friends along. Remember the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25? The nations are arrayed before the King. They are judged on one thing: did they act with compassion towards the poor? Did they

  • feed the hungry
  • give water to the thirsty
  • welcome the stranger
  • clothe the the naked
  • take care of the sick
  • visit the prisoner

Because, Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

When Jesus the risen crucified One is in the midst of the two or three who gather in his name, he brings his family along. He brings the poor, the sick, the detained and the starving. He bears their wounds in his risen crucified body and calls his church to share the work.

And he also bears our wounds. We are not yet what we shall be. We still die. In 1 Corinthians (15.25–26), the Apostle Paul says Christ

must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

We still look for the fullness, the completion of Christ’s work. In the meantime, by faith we share in the overcoming of death as we look to God for eternal life.

Some Christians are embarrassed by their wounds, or even put to shame. They think that God will bless them so much that nothing bad should happen to them. That is not right. We know Jesus as the risen crucified One. He bears our wounds in his.

We belong to the risen crucified Lord, and he will complete the work he has begun in us. But right now, we walk with him by faith; we look to him for help and for strength, and as the Funeral Service says, we live

in sure and certain hope
of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To God be glory forever.

Amen.

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