Sermon podcast: Easter 217 Apr 2017 By Robert Jones
Archdeacon of Worcester, Robert Jones, 23 April 2017
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Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We continue using this ancient greeting for the fifty days of Easter, right up to the feast of Pentecost on Whitsunday. If you remember we kept 40 days of Lent – that’s a long time of penitence. But we keep fifty days of Easter, a longer time for celebration: celebration tops penitence in the Christian faith. So happy Easter to you on this second Sunday of Easter.
I love today’s gospel reading from the last but one chapter of John’s gospel. Its final words address you and me directly. The evangelist is talking to us: ‘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.’
Just before he says this he tells the story of Thomas, who missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples locked in their house for safety. Thomas wanted proof of what he’d missed, and Jesus offers him the chance to touch the wounds of the cross, still evident on his risen body. The disciple called the Doubting One jumps straight to his profession of faith: ‘My Lord and my God’. Jesus goes on to say, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ That’s you and me!
In the closing verses of John’s gospel, with its deep symbolism and rich theology, so different from the parables and stories of the other three gospels, you and I get a mention and look in. The Word has become flesh, and we’re involved too.
When Jesus appears to his disciples after His resurrection there is an element of fear or doubt which is met with some kind of greeting from the Risen Lord himself. In our passage Jesus says to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were afraid, they didn’t believe in the resurrection until Jesus appears to them. These appearances witness to the fact that Jesus is alive.
But as He appears to them Jesus also commissions them for service. They have a job to do, and enabling this to happen Jesus confirms them with the gift of the Holy Spirit. If John is speaking to us all in this passage, we have a job to do: we are to live the life of the risen Jesus.
If you want to know what that might look like, take a look at the book of Acts. We read through that a lot in the church in the season of Easter. For the Acts of the Apostles is the second volume of Luke’s gospel, told from Pentecost onwards. It is the story of the early apostles and the young church trying to keep up with the Spirit of the Risen Lord as the life of Jesus spreads out from the land of his birth over boundaries of race and culture to the whole known world.
So Jews are welcomed in: Samaritans are welcomed in; Gentiles, Greeks and Romans are welcomed in. The movement which began in Bethlehem of Judea spreads as far as the edges of Europe. The gospel comes to us: nothing gets in its way, crucially not even the greatest barrier of all, death. Peter in his great Pentecost speech emphasises Jesus’ death, and that God raised him from the dead, adding, ‘and of that all of us are witnesses.’
And what witnesses they were. Those first frightened disciples we heard about locked in the room out of fear are now out and about doing the very things Jesus did, proclaiming the word and works of God. If you want proof of Resurrection look at the change in those early disciples.
‘My Lord and my God’. Can you say those words and what might that mean to you? The world of those early disciples was every bit as dysfunctional, violent and confusing as our world today. But saying those words and making that allegiance to the God who overcomes the barriers of culture and race, the God who breaks down walls of separation, hope out of fear, light out of darkness, in short the God who brings life out of death, is a real sign of hope for the whole world.
You see John addresses some of those closing words of his gospel directly to you and me. Luke writes his Acts of the Apostles almost as an unfinished, yet to be finished book. And why? Because the story carries on with the likes of people such as you and me proclaiming ‘my Lord and my God’.
Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.