The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s105g09 Second Sunday of Easter 19/4/2009
'As the Father has sent me, so I send you'. John 20.21
After calming the disciple's alarm with his trademark: 'Peace' the risen Jesus immediately sends them away. He didn't command them to believe, he sent them out to others. They were not to remain in a 'holy huddle' but they were sent with a mission to the world. And they were to go - as we are to go - in love: 'for God so loved the world that he sent his only son'. We are to be incarnated in the world, just as Jesus became flesh and blood for us and for all. The issue of belief was something that Thomas raised.
During Holy Week I spoke about making the cross and resurrection effective in our daily life, and again, the message of Easter will be essentially hollow while we remain in our holy huddle, until we do as the risen Jesus says, and go as we are sent.
And the essence of the incarnation was that Jesus came amongst ordinary people - to the chagrin of the religious and we are to do likewise.
The showing of Jesus' hands and side to Thomas tells us that Jesus hadn't graduated to some supra-physical existence, but was, and is still, flesh and blood. So we, as disciples of Jesus too, remain creatures of flesh and blood. We haven't graduated from real life into some theological or metaphysical stratosphere. Our physical existence, emotion, intimacy, pain, love, disappointment, fantasies, all were, and are, the realm of the sacred.
So we are not risen with Christ out of this world, we are to be incarnated into the world. We are to become flesh and blood - the same - as others.
After Jesus commands them to go, he gives them authority, or rather more likely a warning: 'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'. Awful authority when one is dealing with real people and speaking in the name of God. I once heard a parishioner speak disparagingly about the consecration of Bishops in these words: 'You know why all the Bishops crowd around the person to be consecrated, it's when they remove the person's spine!' How easy it is to have all the answers to life and the authority to tell others off! How much harder it is to care for and accept others who don't think like us, worship like us, or live life the way we believe God has ordered!
Hans Küng writes: 'In theory and in practice not only do the incarnation and resurrection very often supplant the cross, but the divine life often supplants the earthly, the deification of man supplants his humanization, the calling back of the world to God replaces the transformation of the world and society.' (p442) I hope that my words about the incarnation of Jesus and his resurrection do not do this. It is our humanization that is the object of the exercise. This humanization comes about by us being human amongst humanity, not apart from it.
Indeed until we go into the world, we will not see the risen Jesus in all his physicality so inevitably we may well come to the conclusion that the resurrection was a myth, and of no real earthly importance.
We make the risen Jesus into what we want. If we think he is confined to our own little holy huddle, concerned with the purity of our worship, the orthodoxy of our belief or that we can justify our actions biblically, then guess what? That is where we will believe him to be. But is we do as the risen Christ commands and go into that world he loves, guess what? It is there we will find him and rather more really than before.
We cannot proclaim the risen Christ who loves the world by keeping apart from it. Indeed of course, if we do keep apart from the world, we are actually implying that God doesn't love the world unless and until it becomes like us. Millions are damned for all eternity and the proclamation of a God who loves the world does indeed sound distinctly hollow. We find ourselves 'believing' in an idol whose whole reason for being is to condemn others.
On Maundy Thursday I noticed the words of that final prayer of Jesus before his arrest, trial and death. He prayed for all disciples: 'That they may be one as we are one'. John 17.21,22 It is interesting that after the resurrection, the disciples were to disperse that they were to go out into the world. They somehow were to remain one, even while they were dispersed.
And really the apostles did disperse. To take the list in Acts 1.13 Peter disappears from the scene after the stoush with Paul at Antioch, John went to Ephesus and later exiled on Patmos, James stayed in Jerusalem and was the first Apostle martyred. Tradition has it that Andrew went to Scythia and Thomas is believe to have founded the church in India, but little is known definitively about Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon the Zealot, James son of Alphaeus or Judas son of James. Matthias, who was elected in place of Judas, was never heard of again! They really live lives of almost complete obscurity. The focus of the action departs from Jerusalem and the Temple to Paul and the gentile mission. It really is a mission to all to all peoples who inevitably thought differently, believed differently, who may have even called God by a different name.
The important thing is not that we believe the same things but that we know God in the real humanity of our existence. We find the risen Christ, not when we go to church, but as we mix with others who are different from us, in their physical existence, emotion, intimacy, pain, love, disappointment, fantasies, whatever. We find also the risen Christ again, not when we go to church, but in our own lives, in our physical existence, emotion, intimacy, pain, love, disappointment, fantasies, whatever. The flesh and blood of the resurrection is an invitation to find God, not elsewhere, but in ourselves and in all.
And again in my reading I was struck by these words of St Paul: 'For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.' Romans 5.19. It is our flesh and blood, and the flesh and blood of all, that is transformed. I recently heard one of those old sayings, where parents chastised their children, lest they get 'too big for their britches (or boots)'. How sad! How many have been made to feel small and insignificant. The cross and resurrection is there to make us and all people 'live fully and love wastefully, and be all that they can be, and show them God and Christ in the process' - in the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong. (http://www.abc.net.au/compass/intervs/spong2001.htm)
So I would find myself at odds with the words of Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali who recently resigned as Bishop of Rochester when he wrote: 'Instead of the spiritual and moral framework provided by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, we have been led to expect, and even to celebrate, mere diversity. Not surprisingly, this has had the result of loosening the ties of law, customs and values, and led to a gradual loss of identity and of cohesiveness.' (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/5109443/Ignore-our-Christian-values-and-the-nation-will-drift-apart.html)
This Easter we too are invited to a pilgrimage of faith, finding Jesus in the intimacy of our lives, and in the intimacy of the lives of everyone else. In this journey we will have much need for forgiveness, for ourselves as much as for anyone else, and especially for thinking that God is wrapped up in what we do on Sunday mornings! And it is a pilgrimage that I am on, just as much as anyone else. I have not come to the end of that journey either.
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