3rd Sunday of Easter
St Barbara’s 19.04.15
I hope over the last couple of weeks many of you have managed to have an Easter break.
Holidays, rest periods, can be enormously important, can’t they.
I remember after a particularly busy Easter period in my previous parish getting to Easter Monday and being totally exhausted, almost unable to get out my armchair, or string a coherent sentence together. I’m sure many of you can identify with that situation. It took a few days of rest and recuperation to return to normal.
Sometimes those changes can be quite marked. After a refreshing break people often say: “You look like a different person.” The stress and strain have fallen away; you look healthier and happier.
But it is not just the result of holidays where we see that change. Shedding pounds of weight or finally returning to full health after a long illness can leave us looking quite different, more alive, more full of life. Or our whole appearance can change if we move from a job or situation that we hated to one where we are thriving. People can change quite visibly too if relationships around them change for the better or they fall in love.
People’s physical appearance can change quite dramatically, can’t they.
Such changes give us perhaps a tiny glimpse into the extraordinary changes that must have occurred in the appearance of the resurrected Jesus. When he appears in the upper room, the disciples are startled and frightened. He is recognisably Jesus, and yet different.
This is not like Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus, brought back from the dead, but to face death again at some time in the future. This is Jesus resurrected, having gone through death to the other side, showing what life beyond death is like.
He is showing us a life where all potential for decay and disease is removed – a person who is brimming with health, fully alive.
He is showing us a life where all potential for sin and selfishness is removed – a person almost glowing with holiness and love. (If you’ve ever been in the presence of someone remarkably kind, loving, holy, you may have caught a glimpse of what that can be like).
He is showing us a life where all weakness and shortcomings have been removed – a person strong and at ease.
A life where all limitations to the Spirit’s indwelling have been removed – a person overflowing with the grace, love and forgiveness of God’s Spirit.
If a reduction in stress, or the joy of a relationship, or a recovery from illness, can change our appearance, how much more these changes of a profound and eternal nature. Here is the risen Jesus before his disciples – still Jesus, but transformed.
For some of us, we may be all too aware of our decaying and fragile bodies, whether through illness or age; we may be aware of our weakening minds, our inability to think as fast or as clearly as we once did. And for some of us, we may be all too aware of our emotional struggles, our susceptibility to stress, to worry. Our bodies, our lives, may feel a long way from a resurrected body.
The appearance of the risen Christ, eating broiled fish, showing his hands and feet, to the disciples, can give us immense hope for the future. For he is the first-fruits of the new creation. He points the way to what we will all become. A time will come when we too will have new resurrected bodies, freed from decay, freed from our propensity to selfishness and sin, freed from worry and self-doubt. When we will be overflowing with the Spirit of God within us. A time when, possibly for the very first time, we will be free to be fully the person we were always meant to be.
Easter is a time to renew our hope. In the midst of the very real struggles we have with our ageing
bodies and minds, our emotional struggles and spiritual doubts, we are reminded that the risen Christ shows us what is to come, a life of fullness, freed to be fully the people we were always meant to be, for all eternity.
With that hope for the future also comes an encouragement for the here and now. We are to root our lives in Scripture, and we are to be active in God’s mission.
In all of Luke’s accounts of the risen Jesus meeting with his friends and disciples, a common theme is that of Scripture being fulfilled. The angel at the empty tomb tells the women to remember that isn’t this what Jesus had foretold; the stranger on the road to Emmaus explains how Jesus rising from the dead is in line with all the teachings of the Old Testament, and here too, Jesus reminds them of what is written in the Scriptures. An experience of Jesus was not enough. For the hope and confidence in his resurrection to hold firm, it needed to be grounded in God’s Word.
It is a good challenge for all of us too. To not simply rest on our experiences of God, but to put the foundations of our faith on reading and studying God’s Word. It is what can give us the hope and confidence for the future.
So let’s be practical. There are lots of different ways of doing that. You may like to aim to read a passage of Scripture for 5 or 10 minutes each day. Starting with a gospel or one of the shorter epistles (Ephesians or Philippians, for example) may be a good way to start. There are lots of different bible reading notes available which give brief reflections on a passage each day. And if you have access on-line, then there are some excellent apps and websites. I use one which gives me the Church of England’s bible readings for every day. And if you miss a Sunday, or if you found a sermon particularly helpful, most of our Sunday sermons can now be found on our website.
But for many of us, the best way we find to engage with Scripture is to read it with others and discuss it. Since September, we have had four home groups running in the church. The response from those who go is overwhelmingly positive. No theological knowledge is required. People can simply sit and listen. Please do seriously think about coming along – even if just for a taste and see session with no commitment. The two groups at the vicarage start again this week, and do talk to Ian about his daytime group and Liz about her monthly group.
Rooted in Scripture. Active in mission. The disciples, having encountered the risen Jesus, are now called to be witnesses, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all people. And that is what they do, as our reading from the Acts of the Apostles makes clear. As Peter proclaims to the crowds in Jerusalem: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this… Repent then, and turn to God.”
Having received this extraordinary good news, the hope of God in Jesus Christ, we are to share it with others. For many of us we can find that difficult, awkward. A simple first step maybe when talking with family or friends about our weekend is to mention what we did Sunday morning as well as what you may have done Saturday afternoon. Church going is unusual enough now that even the mention of church is enough to prompt interest, especially if we mention it in a positive way. I know some of you are great at inviting people along to church – more of us can learn from you.
And of course, for each of us, witnessing to Christ’s love and forgiveness also involves living it out, living lives that are marked by love for others, by a willingness to forgive, a willingness to serve.
We have been given an amazing hope – a life beyond death that is freed from the physical decay and the spiritual and emotional burdens we bear now. A life to be fully the people we have been made to be.
So let’s ground that hope in God’s word, and let’s share it with others.
For Christ is risen!