John 20:9 Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Sermon Preached at S Mary Paddington Green Easter Day 2018
The resurrection is not described in the Gospel. What is described is the way that the followers of Jesus came to realise it had happened. Peter and John running to the tomb and finding it empty, with that wonderful human detail that makes it so real: John is younger and can run faster, but Peter, the elder, impetuous Peter, he is the one who goes into the tomb first. The women meeting the angels but, “do not look for the living among the dead.” Mary of Magdala does not recognize Him, but supposed Him to be the gardener. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
If they hadn’t how can we – how can we understand the teaching of scripture that He has risen from the dead? Because He has – this our whole purpose in being here today, and it is our whole purpose in being here every week. After all the complicated liturgy of the last few days, today seems normal. That is because every Sunday is Easter Day. It is not that Easter Day is like an ordinary Sunday but that every Sunday is like Easter Day.
Well, we could explore all kinds of good arguments. For me I have found that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the whole understanding of the world that is built upon it makes the best sense of what scientists continue to gather about the structure and nature of the universe. Christian philosophy makes the most sense of all philosophical systems, is built on the firmest foundations and hangs together most clearly. The consistency credibility and elegance of Christian theology is beyond compare. And Christianity has been professed by vast numbers of the cleverest people that human history and intellectual endeavour have ever seen.
But as John Henry Newman famously said, syllogisms, clever arguments, do not convert. Nor, when push comes to shove do I believe for these reasons, though I hold them all to be true. And I do believe that Jesus is risen from the dead – alleluia!
Actually I believe, and I suspect you believe, because I have lived the faith in the community of the church. Look what happened on that first Easter morning. Mary of Magdala was weeping outside the tomb. She looked full on the face of the risen Lord and supposed him to be a gardener. The resurrection was so completely alien to all experience and expectation that it was not visible to her. And then, He called her name. “Mary”. And in that moment at last she saw and believed.
It is not that we can work out who Jesus is, but that He reveals himself to us. At the supper at Emmaus in the breaking of bread, and at breakfast on the seashore after they had been fishing, and again in the upper room to Thomas, the Lord reveals Himself. And He does so through relationship, in the community of the church. Though it is a bit hackneyed perhaps it is true: we are an Easter people, an Easter community, and alleluia is our song!
So we come to faith not through hard study but in and through our life together. Peter’s sermon which we heard as our first reading was pretty rotten as an intellectual exposition or a persuasive talk. But what the Apostle did was to teach Cornelius and all his household, including the slaves and the children and the poorest in it, of the need for community with God and to invite them into that community by baptism. Our role as evangelists is to do the same.
We are to be vigorous in study and the grammar of prayer and the work of devotion and the joyful duty of sharing the faith. We have the church to support us with this – use the resources available. And share the faith as you share your taste in coffee or music or football teams, naturally and because it is part of who and what you are: may the good news bubble up from our life as we show that we believe Christ is Risen .
One final thought. To live in a community means to bear with the discipline of that community. We sometimes have to put ourselves aside and put our neighbour first. That is what being part of any community requires of us, and it is why we follow the disciplines of the church even when they may feel they against our personal understanding or desire. Remember on their own they had not understood what the Scriptures said that he should rise from the dead. It is not our own ideas, nor the ideas of our parish or even of the Church of England that count: He has called us into something much bigger than these small things. It is in the community of the universal church extended in time and space that we can flourish in true knowledge of God and his ways. God reveals himself to us most fully in Jesus Christ, who is The Head of the Church. Paradoxically to live by that discipline is to enable ourselves to flourish better as individuals. Lent was a time when we focused on the discipline; we did not do so in order that we can set it aside now that Easter is upon us. We no longer now focus on it, but its benefits and its duties are still there. It makes us fit and strong for our celebration.
Until that moment they had not understood. But what a wonderful, joyful thing: Jesus has revealed His resurrection to us in the life of the church; here we may know and live it, and so here we may come together to say: alleluia.