Sermon for Easter 2 Yr B 2018
There has been a tension within the Christian Faith between what we might describe as heaven and earth, body and soul, flesh and spirit.
It is possible that the tension has always been present and I think I can discern it in the writings of Paul, where he questions whether life with God is to be desired above life now, and in Matthews Gospel we clearly get the tension in chapter 26 when we read the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
I also believe the tension comes through from early Jewish writings and the way in which a life after death was discussed and a gradual emergence in Judaism after the exiles had returned to Jerusalem, in a resurrection.
Today we are most likely to believe in a resurrection, a life after death, though we may vary in how each individual sees this working out.
When John wrote his gospel at the end of the first century, the idea of resurrection was well established. Yet the relationship between this world and the world to come was still puzzling.
Thomas speaks for many of us when he says he needs to see proof, even to feel proof, that this world and the world of the resurrection are connected.
It was all very well to speak of Jesus being raised to life again, but was this world and the next connected…. Did the life of heaven have anything to do with the life of earth?
Needless to say the Christian Church has continued this debate and people still sit on many fences.
Where does the body/flesh lie in the grand scheme of things?
It seems to me that our bodies do indeed play a huge part of what I am and what God has created in me, or formed in me. I also experience God through this flesh too. There is no great divorce or great divide, and it is one exciting thing about talking of incarnation… God becomes human.
The Christian Church sees incarnation focused in Jesus, it also sees resurrection focused in Jesus.
Richard Rohr reflects,
We must begin by trusting what God has done in Jesus. We cannot return to a healthy view of our own bodies until we accept that God has forever made human flesh the privileged place of the divine encounter. We have had enough of dualism, enough of the separation of body and spirit, enough over-emphasis on the body’s excesses and addictions. We must reclaim the incarnation as the beginning point of the Christian experience of God. (Rohr)
This week saw the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King. Hearing his last address this week made me realise what a prophet of his time he was and that a more fuller understanding of resurrection means seeing the life of this world as part of it.
Hope in both this world and the world to come was crucial to him. He famously said:
“If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.
—Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
Thomas was able to witness that the life of God and the life of earth were vitally connected, and in seeing this he was the first disciple to be able to declare “my Lord and my God”
Various hymns have been able to express this
Now is eternal life if risen with Christ we stand..
Christ is risen, we are risen!
Shed upon us heavenly grace,
Rain and dew and gleams of glory
From the brightness of Thy face;
That we, with our hearts in Heaven,
Here on earth may fruitful be,
And by angel hands be gathered,
And be ever, Lord, with Thee.
Christopher Wordsworth, Hearts to heaven and voices raise
Sermon for Easter 2018
It is to the gospel of John which we turn for the Easter proclamation this year, or should we perhaps say the Easter unveiling.
A few weeks ago, just after Christmas, we had a run of John’s gospel but in reverse order and you may remember I commented on this and on how important it was to see John’s account very differently than the other gospels, especially Luke and Matthew.
John as we know does not have a birth narrative, and starts very differently seeing Jesus as a cosmic character, the one through who the creative word of God spoke. Life was found in him and without him not anything has come into being. The Word became flesh in Jesus and we have seen his glory full of grace and truth.
Having started his gospel stating the case, we are then taken on a journey of guesses puzzles and concealment.
We the reader know who this person of Jesus is, but time and time again the characters of the gospel do not seem to recognize what we already know.
John takes us through seven signs as he calls them, signs of God’s activity in Christ, starting with the wine at Cana and ending with the moment Jesus is raised on the cross… John’s seventh and completing sign… when I am lifted up I will draw the whole world to myself.
Time and time again in John we are told in Joh that the hour has not yet come… but as the cross looms on the horizon it is declared by Jesus “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
The business of concealment and gradual realization on the part of the characters in the story, comes to a dramatic racy conclusion in today’s gospel reading, when John masterly takes three “seeings” before the truth of the matter finally dawns.
Three different word in Greek for seeing are used, each one intended to unpick the idea that seeing what has happened here means more than just a casual notice, or even a closer look…. Until the penny drops and literally seeing becomes believing.
As we read this we are also invited to ask ourselves how indeed do we see Jesus, how deep does our seeing actually go?
John began his unveiling, quite literally by giving us the full image as clear as you like… In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God……The Light shines on in the dark and all that was brought into being is filled with this light and life.
Now as his gospel ends, and Easter has dawned it is for us to see that life even in ourselves. The life of God indeed even in us… don’t forget he has already told us nothing has come into being without this life this Word being active… and that also means even us.
Easter for John then becomes much more than Jesus being raised from the dead…. It becomes the moment that believers can see for themselves the promise of this life. That moment when we “see and believe.”
This search and realization of this “Life” is often described as a life of Faith. The Christian Church also describes this discovery as a journey or even a pilgrimage.
Other gospels describe this journey as one of loosing and finding… Loosing your life for my sake and finding it again, were words we heard recently as Jesus prepared his disciples for the journey to Jerusalem and the cross.
Most Christians, it seems to me, would describe moments of loosing in order to find, and this may even be described as dying in order to live.
Baptism for the Christian literally maps this process out as we are buried with Christ in Baptism so that we may live with Christ in our world.
Who would ever say this was easy…. I wouldn’t.
Barbara Brown Taylor has wonderfully written,
“I thought that being faithful was about becoming someone other than who I was” She had experienced huge setbacks and challenges which some might have described or experiences as failure……she speaks about how exhausting it had been to try to be good and realised that her human wholeness was actually more useful to God.. .
“Committing myself to the task of becoming fully human is saving my life now. This is not the same as the job of being human, which came with my birth certificate. To become fully human is something extra, a conscious choice that not everyone makes.”
Jesus asks Mary why she is weeping. She herself has not yet realized what we know Peter and the other disciple has seen.
She appears to speak with Jesus without realizing who he is… thinking him to be a stranger…
But for Mary and perhaps for us that moment of realization who it is that stands before us comes when we hear our own name … Mary, Neil, John, Margaret etc being used as he calls us to fully recognize who it is that invite us to share his life, the life of the Easter gospel.
Mary too is then able to say “I have seen the Lord”
And we are brought back to the opening words of the gospel and see that life surging, in even us.
It was noticed on the on line Bible Study Group the other day that last Sunday’s gospel and today’s gospel both from Mark, contain very similar proclamations reputed to come from heaven or from God.
It is also interesting to note who it is who hears these proclamations, today it might appear that only Jesus heard the heavenly voice and last week it would appear the voice spoke to the three specially chosen disciples.
“You are my son the beloved, in you I am well pleased” (today) and “This is my son the beloved, listen to him” last week.
It is important to remind ourselves that we have heard these heavenly proclamations in reverse order, as they actually open up something important for Mark as he unfolds his announcement of the Good news about Jesus the Son of God. He has stated his agenda in the opening of his account and so this week’s heavenly voice followed by last week’s heavenly voice and crucially followed later by the centurion speaking from the cross no less complete the revelation.
“Truly this man was the son of God”
There is no coincidence in the way Mark unwraps his story, it is precise and it is intriguing and exciting.
Mark, in a similar but different way to John, begins with the point clearly understood that Jesus is the Son of God.
Mark however sees this in a more narrative and earthly setting, a way that may appear to us like a traditional biography of events.
Within this biography there are these celestial proclamations but the rest is left to the Disciples to learn mark and inwardly digest (as one of our famous collects neatly puts it.)
By the time Mark (a gentile convert to Christianity and not a Jew), wrote his gospel the church was well established and information and belief about who Jesus was well held amongst the company. He casts back into the life of Jesus an exciting web of intrigue into the story set off by these heavenly proclamations.
All the other recognizers of Jesus in Mark are the possessed and “of the other world”
Mark has Jesus “hidden(though in plain sight)” throughout the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to keep things secret, not to tell anyone who he is, and he commands the evil spirits who recognize him to be silent.
Mark writes a good mystery story. All will be revealed at the end.
Some other interesting observations are that after today’s gospel reading Jesus finds himself in the wilderness undergoing a time of testing for his mission, and after last week’s heavenly proclamation on the mount of Transfiguration it is the disciples who find themselves in a state of testing confusion when they come down from their “spiritual high” to be confronted by apparent failure and weakness. (“why what has happened?”)
As we journey through Lent let us be aware of the precious gift that we carry within us, that life of Jesus which we hold to be important to us.
It may not always be apparent; we sometimes even want to keep quiet about it. There are times when it will even confound us (why what has happened?).
We have heard and read heavenly proclamations and still it sometimes seems less than fully clear.
We will continue along with Jesus and experience the ups and downs of the disciples in the story, for sure it was not an easy ride even for them.
We will even at times in our journey deny and forsake our Lord.
But the road to the cross standing at the head of Lent beckons us on and with the centurion we can proclaim “Truly this was the Son of God”