Precis of Sermon preached Sunday 19 April 2015 Easter 3 at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin


Precis of Sermon preached Sunday 19 April 2015 Easter 3 at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

“Why are you afraid… and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

We are frightened by what we don’t know. The tabloid press in the UK conducts a constant campaign against ‘immigrants’ , spreading fear and mistrust of those we do not know.

My daughter recently moved home to the East End of London, where the only reliable help she found came from a Pakistani electrician, a Lithuanian kitchen fitter and a Rumanian joiner. They were honest and hardworking and never let her down. For her, the ‘it’ became a ‘you’ (W.H.Auden).

We shy away from the Resurrection because we cannot understand it.  Preachers gabble on about Thomas, or Mary, or Peter and John because we want to avoid the bare facts at the heart of the story. We dodge the awkward questions.

If Jesus really did die, was buried, in what form did he rise again? Was he a ghost  (he walked through walls), or a resurrected earthly body (he showed his wounds and asked for food and drink). Did Jesus defy the law of the universe, and if so, does that make him a freak? And if he is a one-off, is he any earthly use to us? Can he be our rescuer if he has separated himself from our human condition?

“Why are you afraid… and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”

The Church of the East – the Orthodox tradition – faces up to these questions in a far better way. Whereas in the West we strive to define, nail down and box in, the Orthodox remind us always that we grapple with a great Mystery, before which we can but bow down in awe and wonder.

Luke has a beautiful gift of story-telling, but in today’s gospel gets bogged down in the detail – his pointed emphasis on hands and feet, and on Jesus’ need for food – as if engaged in a polemical dispute with nay-sayers. Mark on the other hand had the better idea of ending his story on note of  confusion and fear, for the inexplicable cannot be explained.

We try too hard to explain the resurrection.  ‘Who Moved the Stone’ was a popular book when I was first ordained , one of several attempting to pin things down, but David Jenkins was right to declare that “the resurrection cannot be reduced to a conjuring trick with bones.”

Would it matter if archaeologists next week stumbled on the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea with the body of Jesus in it? No! And why not?  Because of you and me, because of the Church.

Today’s gospel ends with “And you are witnesses of these things”. Luke’s ‘Part Two’ – the Acts of the Apostles – is nothing but an account of the ever-expanding dynamic of the presence of the Risen Christ, unstoppable, unquenchable, amidst his holy people, the Church.

But it’s not enough for us simply to exist, to hang on, to hang around churches hopefully, perpetuating our fears and feuds, and clinging onto the wreckage of our pews, our privilege and our special seats. No, the only final proof of the Resurrection is God’s people transformed, embracing change, embracing life.

Whenever I feel drawn to a merely rationalistic interpretation of all that Jesus said and did, I remember there is one huge stumbling block to such a notion, and that is the total transformation of that bunch of losers called the Eleven, from traitors to heroes. What in heaven or on earth happened to them that first Easter?

The proof of the Resurrection is not an empty tomb but a full church, a bursting-at- the -seams community of life, and love, of hope and power, living to the full the life of the Risen Lord by the power of God’s Spirit.  This is the reality, this is the joy of God’s Easter people, hopeful yet triumphant, journeying home to God.

We need no longer be afraid, no longer doubt, because we see in each other, in this community, in this moment of time, all the proof we ever need that Jesus lives, that love is stronger than death.

For you  “are witnesses of these things”.

 

 

Richard Giles