The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s024g98 Somerton Park Easter Day 12/4/98

"It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." Luke 24:10-11.

There are a couple of things about the accounts of the resurrection, which I want to draw your attention to today.

The first thing is that the general agreement in the reporting of the events of Holy Week between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - that is between the final entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, the trails, his death on the cross, his eventual burial, up to and including the accounts of the empty tomb - this agreement vanishes completely when the risen Jesus is seen. Even within each of the accounts we see fragments of different stories of the experiences that the disciples had of the risen Jesus, put together with little or no attempt to link them chronologically or theologically.

So Matthew has Jesus appearing first to the women and then to the eleven disciples on the mountain.

Originally Mark had no appearances at all, but a later editor has added the appearance to Mary Magdalene, then to two and lastly to the eleven which ends in Jesus' ascension into heaven.

Luke has the appearance to the two on the road to Emmaus at the same time as he appeared to Simon back in Jerusalem, then to the eleven ending with the ascension from Bethany.

John has Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene in the garden, then to the disciples in the upper room twice, then to seven disciples by the sea.

So it is not just in the gospel of Mark for which the resurrection experiences of the disciples seems an afterthought. In each of them we find what can only be described as fragmentary accounts.

It is therefore very difficult to "pin the risen Jesus down". As he came to different people in different ways then, he continues to come to different people in different ways today.

The second theme which I want to draw your attention to is the general skepticism and amazement of the women and the disciples, of which my text today is but one example.

Matthew recounts the fear and joy of the women at the message of the angel and the doubt of some among the eleven on the mountain.

The original ending of Mark records the fear of the women, their trembling and astonishment. The additions record the disbelief of the disciples at the report of Mary Magdalene and the two disciples, so much so that Jesus himself upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.

Luke, in our passage for today, speaks of the terror of the women at the vision, the amazement of Peter at the empty tomb. Later we find disciples failing to recognise Jesus as he walked and talked with them. Even after they heard report the disciples were startled and terrified when Jesus came among them.

John records Jesus first coming to Mary Magdalene who thinks he is the gardener. He records the skepticism of Thomas, later again the seven fail to recognise Jesus on the shore.

So not only can we not pin the risen Jesus down, the consistent witness of the Bible is that the closest companions to him throughout his early ministry failed to recognise the Jesus they knew and loved in the person who stood before them. Even after the disciples meet the risen Jesus once, it is no guarantee that they will recognise him again, in a different setting.

You will by now realise that I do try hard to remember names, and I have sometimes said how difficult it is, when one meets a variety of people in different circumstances, to instantly place people, particularly walking down the shopping mall thinking about what to cook for tea that night. But the disciples were failing to recognise someone who had been their focus for (perhaps) three years, called "Rabbi", literally hung on his every word, and who had been taken so recently and dramatically from them.

Surely this ought to indicate to us that those who find the gospel proclamation of the resurrection of Christ beyond belief are only continuing a venerable tradition of ordinary human reactions to this extra-ordinary event.

How often we assume that the risen Jesus has plainly and unambiguously made himself known to each and every person we meet, and therefore they are culpable for not recognising the risen Jesus for whom he is, and turning to Christ to be saved?

More seriously, we, as the Church expect people to believe because "the Bible tells me so" rather than because they themselves have had an opportunity to recognise Jesus in an experience they have had.

And deep within our psyche we believe that God loves us more because we believe.

Everything depends on Jesus. We need to look at other people with a measure of compassion if they confide that they find the resurrection beyond what they have found in the normal course of events in their lives. If they haven't recognised Jesus, it may be that they haven't had an opportunity, or like the disciples, failed to see someone so familiar.

All the preaching in the world, or quoting all the relevant biblical texts, will neither serve to change another's mind about something so basic, or in the end do what God wants.

For God loves those who believe and those who don't quite equally.

Many, many people in our society do have religious experiences, this fact has not changed over the centuries. Proportionally less people can specifically recognise Jesus in their experiences. This is hardly surprising, even St Paul on the road to Damascus has to ask of the speaker: "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9.5) He failed to see Jesus, either in the vision or in the members of the Church whom he was persecuting.

Whatever people's religious experience, it is the Church's task to encourage and help people to see Jesus in that experience, and, most importantly, thence to link that with the work and words of Jesus who said and did particular things and in the end was crucified on a Cross.

However if we only see Jesus operating in one particular way - how he has dealt with us - we are failing to appreciate the Gospel diversity - and we will fail to see Jesus anywhere but in those like - minded to ourselves.

If we see Jesus operating in a plethora of ways we are likely to see Jesus in a plethora of people. We will honour and appreciate the gospel diversity. We can honour and empathise with those who are skeptical. And we can appreciate the probable presence of Jesus, even when we might fail to recognise one so much loved.

Indeed we may be skeptical that the risen Jesus might be found in so many different ways amongst so many different people, but that too is characteristic of the experiences of the risen Jesus. He is not plain and unambiguous, even to those who know and love him. We may indeed have to look to really see and hear Jesus calling us through others. If we have to put this effort in, it will be proportionally harder for those who know not his words and works. That is why we need to have eyes to see and be encouraging. Even if our own eyes are veiled we can proclaim to one and to all that God loves each and every individual.


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