Sermon Easter 2 2016
I must confess to have looked at the readings for this week in a new light.
I had been reading some of the readings set for the Christology seminars with the Scottish Episcopal Institute and here I had been given an insight as to how the Cross of Christ had been seen as a tool to keep the workers working (by creating a well-disciplined work force) in the early 19th century, and also how Pope Urban 2 had used the cross as a tool for going into battle with the assurance that “death in battle for the Holy Land would mean absolution and remission of sins”
Oh dear what have we done to the teaching and example of Jesus, all in the name of the church??
Our Gospel reading today invites us into the upper room with the disciples, and we are encouraged to feel the Peace which the risen Christ bestows on those gathered there.
This is an intimate gathering and we are pleased to feel part of it…. And indeed to hear the words we need to hear giving us Peace and blessing.
But let us remember that Johns Gospel was written a very long time after the events it talks about had happened, and John certainly had other things on his mind as he wrote the story down.
The upper room may have been the backdrop, the blessing of Peace was important… a peace which followers of Jesus had received and lived with even by the end of the first century… but the important message for John was the believing and the doubt of Thomas.
By the end of the first century new philosophies and ways of seeing the world were growing fast. Something called Docetism had emerged onto the scene and Docetist among other things doubted the humanity of Jesus. (Docetist Christians could it be said had over egged the cake on Jesus Divinity?)
Broadly Docetism is taken as the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion.
Put that into the picture and you see why Thomas was invited to put his hands into the humanity of Christ and then become a “proper believer” as to an improper doubter.
While it is important to set the documents of the New Testamant properly in their context and to recognise what they are commenting on in their particular way, it is also important to see them as a vehicle of faith and belief for us today… as John rightly pens, “ Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”
When the Temple police had arrested the disciples in our first reading we hear the High Priest saying to them “we gave you strict orders not to teach in his name” …. And yet you are doing this and still blaming us for crucifying him.
The issue here it seems to me was “who was responsible for the death of Jesus? Every one wanted to see the blame land on someone else’s head… especially if it was a Roman head…. After all Jesus was crucified and only Romans crucified people.
By the time John had penned his gospel and Luke had written Acts many crucifixions had been brutally witnessed, and indeed many more were to happen too!! Rome crucified slaves and rebels.
Even before Jesus (71 BC )Rome had crucified 6,000 slaves and rebels on the Via Appia in Rome as an example to any who might feel like rising up against authority.
There seems to be little doubt that Jesus and his teaching had become a very significant movement, one that had clearly burst out of it original Jewish origins, It moved in the times and philosophies of the day and has always done so. It changes and evolves and this I think is inevitable.
Whether you could argue that one particular age has priority over another I am not so sure.
I am however sure that persecuting, or looking indifferently upon another’s Christian belief is not the way we should be. It has always been so tempting to think that someone who believes differently from me is simple wrong and live from that perspective.
The Christian Church alone is littered with historical mistakes of this nature, and of course it is also the means by which we have gained so many “versions” of “the truth” (I wonder what Pilate would say today…. “what is truth…. Which one is right?)
It may also be possible to argue this point across all the worlds faiths…. Our own types of divisions are reflected around the globe
This faith we call Christian has shaped who we are. We are privileged to be part of the line of belief going back to the upper room and being blessed with the Peace of Christ Risen from death.
Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first born of the dead and ruler of the kings (the powers) of the earth… this Jesus who has made us all a kingdom, priests, serving his God and Father. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever… Amen.