s026g02 Lockleys 14/4/02 Easter 3
"suddenly Jesus met them ..." Matthew 28.8
I confess I find it somewhat unbelievable that I can read what is such a familiar passage and still find new insights. In other words, this sermon is a bit of a "hotchpotch" of ideas - and rather disorganised :-)
Our gospel reading for today is an overlapping continuation of the gospel reading for Easter Day. You may recall that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had gone to see the tomb on that first Easter morning, only to meet an angel who told them to tell the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead and that they would see Jesus in Galilee. It is as they were rushing off to do this that they met Jesus himself, who repeats the message of the angel.
Now I've often thought this was a bit strange - to have had these two encounters. I suppose it is my perverse mind again, but wasn't the vision of the angel sufficient? I mean - the women were going to do what the angel said - there is no suggestion that they were going to "do a Jonah" - go in precisely the opposite direction and to not do what they were told. That Jesus met them on the way seems superfluous - for the directions Jesus gave were identical to those of the angel.
I suppose that at least the risen Jesus didn't give a different message to the women - of course that would be far worse. I recall my time in cadets and the classic conundrum when a corporal and a lieutenant order a private to do different things. The private has to live with the corporal but the lieutenant greatly outranks the corporal.
So I find it odd that not only is the same message given to these women twice, but the lectionary bids us look twice at the message. If we didn't get the message at Easter, we are given this "second bite of the cherry" today. In fact from today we leave Matthew's gospel for John's and it will not be until Trinity Sunday that we again read from Matthew on a Sunday morning.
I think that the first message I would take from this is that when we do do what we are bidden, we are very likely to find that we too meet the risen Jesus. And I believe that these words assure us that people other than Christians, as they do act charitably towards others, will also find their good intentions rewarded.
In the light of my words from last week's sermon about seeking for ourselves and not believing on the evidence of the experiences of others, I think that the encounters these women had show that the message even of an angel is no substitute to our own experience of the risen Jesus. So, we as the Church should not expect others to believe on our testimony alone.
It reinforces my Easter message that when we "get off our buts" and do something, we are blessed by further experience.
I also think that it is highly significant that Jesus chose to reveal himself to women first. The male disciples were bidden to believe that the risen Jesus had been seen by others, and women at that, before them. If there was any more startling evidence that we too should be looking to hear the testimony of how the risen Jesus is seen by others, and by the surprising others, then this must be it.
But as I reflect further, the women encountered both the angel and the risen Jesus, while the male disciples encountered nothing. The close companions of Jesus had to see and acknowledge the experiences of the risen Christ others had had. Their turn would come, but first they had to realise that they were not "it". If the hierarchy means anything it is not that they are "it", but that they are called and enabled to recognise the grace of God - in others.
This has an impact not just on how we look at those "outside" but on the discernment of gifts within the community. Ordination is not a dispensing of divine grace, from God through the Bishop, to the ordinand. Ordination is the recognition, acknowledgement and proclamation by the Church of the grace of God already present in the ordinand.
So the Church does not proclaim how powerful and real are the experiences of the risen Christ, the members of the Church have had, but trusts and acknowledges that the experiences others have of the risen Christ are as real, if not more real. Even Jesus was heard to say "greater things will you see, because I go to the Father".
Peter, James, John and the rest of the eleven had to put aside any chagrin they may have felt because it was these women had been first to see him - and not them.
It is the frequent experience of participants in ecumenical environments that people suddenly realise that people of other denominations actually have had experiences similar to their own, and that other people in fact believe in terms not particularly different to their own. It does make one wonder how much of our "Anglican" belief is personal belief and how much is quiet agnosticism. There are many things in our formularies which I don't find it necessary to come to a particular conclusion about.
For me, I suppose that Bishops come in this category. They are there and I don't have any difficulty accepting the discipline and if one didn't have bishops, one would have to have someone else. I also believe that it is good that there is an apostolic succession to link us with the early Church - but it is not a core belief, central to my existence. I readily and gratefully acknowledge the pastoral care I have received from bishops and other members of the "hierarchy" over many years. But I also recognise that other traditions don't place the same emphasis on bishops and on apostolic succession as we do and that God works through them as well as us.
In the renewal of ordination vows, I do "firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic faith ... and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons; I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God ..." - but I don't believe that God does not work just as effectively through others as well.
And I think our reading also tells us that God does not just give us jobs to do. Yes, God gives us tasks, but the first message is about God's love for us and for all - the risen Christ's presence and blessing in lives other than our own.
I was grateful to be caused to revisit the words of my sermon of last week again. It is significant that Thomas, for all the importance he placed on his personal experience of the risen Jesus, he was immediately called to realise that his experience didn't make him any more special than others. Others who hadn't seen were also blessed.
As I reflect on the Christian faith, it seems that central to this core is the belief that God accepts the experience and contributions of others as well as our own. I think that it is here that I find some of the reasons why Jesus seemed to heal some unbidden, but at other times questioned the person asking for healing.
Fundamental to our faith is that God blesses people other than ourselves. It is this broadness, this prodigal-ness, that is clear. No one earns the right to a blessing, either by good works, by a particular form of creed, or by a particular form of worship - for God loves all.
Indeed the Easter message for the disciples was not that Jesus had risen, but that others had already seen him and as they travelled through life and through different experiences they would see him also.
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