April 11, 2021

Practicing Resurrection

A sermon preached by the Revd Aaron Kennedy in the second week of Easter

Acts 4.32–35, John 20.19–31

I confess that I didn’t know much about His Royal Highness

the Duke of Edinburgh

during his lifetime.

I participated in his awards scheme

which I found highly valuable and for which I am grateful.

But as a person he was a remote, distant figure.

I have read some of the coverage of his death, and several obituaries, however,

and am surprised that I begin to feel

that I would have enjoyed much of his irreverence.

Stephen Bates in the Guardian says that

He brought a relaxed, mostly affable,

peppery, outspoken – and occasionally brusque – style

to a ceremonial monarchy

that would have been more hidebound,

introverted, insipid

and decidedly stuffy

without him.

He sounds like a breath of fresh air, to me.

 

We will never know the full story of his contribution to Royal and national life,

but it strikes me that we would have been the poorer as a nation

without all that he contributed,

even though we may never be able to fully quantify what he has given us.

 

Someone else who was not content to keep his controversial thoughts to himself,

who may well have been described as peppery and outspoken,

was St Thomas.

When the disciples gathered around in excitement

to tell him that they had seen the risen Lord,

Thomas did not hold back from expressing his disbelief.

And he didn’t just raise his eyebrows in disbelieving, mock surprise,

but spelled out in detail what it would take to convince him.

 

I for one am very grateful for St Thomas,

and I’m not entirely sure I would be here today

were it not for a sermon I heard preached about him

at a friend’s ordination to the priesthood.

It affirmed the need for intellectual honesty and rigour,

and charged the about-to-be-ordained priests

to take seriously the concerns of all who found belief in the risen Christ impossible.

Thank God that Thomas spoke out,

went against the crowd and voiced his uncertainties,

if only so that people like me would find encouragement enough

to stick it out in the church when it seemed we didn’t fit.

 

Prince Philip, incidentally, it seems to me,

had an extremely challenging upbringing, despite his obvious privileges.

His mother was committed to an asylum for many years,

and his father was mostly absent,

gambling away his little remaining money in Monte Carlo.

Philip, moved around from school to school,

was practically an orphan

and during school holidays

was regularly farmed out to family friends, aunts and uncles.

 

Stephen Bates sympathetically described

the somewhat contemptuous persona he projected

as a carapace to cover the insecurities of childhood.

Well, we all have had knocks in life,

the effects of living in a fallen world;

and we are all defended, and distorted, in different ways.

 

And St Thomas, like every other member of the human race,

also had distortions of character,

had also erected protective defences.

Although he knew Jesus as well as anyone,

having been a member of his inner circle for years,

his first reaction to the disciples’ news is still mistrust and scepticism.

However, as we know, St Thomas’ story does not stop there,

bottlenecked through lack of trust

because of the insecurities of childhood,

or whatever it was.

 

Because Thomas encountered the risen Christ,

and in that moment, something shifted for him.

His mistrust, his scepticism, melted away.

His defences lowered.

 

The image of Christ in which he was created,

looked out and saw clearly, as if for the first time,

his creator returning his gaze.

His Lord and his God.

 

When we encounter the resurrected Christ

we too, like Thomas, are enabled to let go

of the distortion of sin, our defences,

so that the image of God in us is gradually restored.

As St John says in his first epistle:

when he is revealed, we will be like him,

for we will see him as he is.

 

But this is only part of the difference resurrection can make.

Although we’ve heard the Acts reading first this morning,

chronologically speaking, it follows the Gospel reading.

And in the time that lapsed between event of the Gospel reading

when the resurrection has really just happened

and the events of the Acts reading,

the effects of the resurrection become dramatic and clear.

 

No longer are the disciples huddled and hiding indoors

for fear of the Jewish authorities.

They had now faced down their fears,

and taken to the streets to give powerful testimony to the resurrection.

 

And most remarkably,

the community around Jesus’ inner circle was utterly transformed

– quantitatively, there were many more of them,

and qualitatively, in that there was a clear commitment to those in need.

There were no needy people,

for those who had, sold their possessions and donated the proceeds.

The community of early church

had all the hallmarks of the sacrificial love

of the Christ they were following.

 

Which is appropriate, for we now think of the Church

as the resurrected body of Christ in the world.

 

And that story, of the resurrected and ascended Christ,

represented now by his body – the Church,

which makes the reality of the resurrection available to the world,

so that people encounter the Christ for themselves,

and are healed, restored and forgiven,

lowering their defences,

losing the distortions of sin,

and revealing the image of their Creator Christ more clearly –

that story continues to this day,

and indeed, we are caught up in it at this very moment.

 

We, the church, are called to be the embodiment of love in a desecrated world.

Called to participate, as Christ’s hands, his feet, his heart,

in nothing less than God’s remaking of the world.

We are called to uphold and help recover,

the dignity of the image of God in every person.

We are called to protect the sacred inheritance of mother earth

from those who see her as a commodity to be exploited.

We are called to practice resurrection,

to make the deathless effervescent life of available to others.

 

Because the forces of darkness and death that saw Jesus

the image of the unseen God,

and the source of all goodness, truth and beauty,

a lamb without spot or stain,

arrested, sentenced in a show trial,

tortured and crucified,

are still at work.

 

I’m not saying we must sell our possessions and give the money to the poor.

I’m certain that those who did so in our reading from the Acts

would not have dreamed of doing so

until they had a transformative encounter with the resurrected Christ.

 

My friends, just as the disciples

gathered behind closed doors in fear,

so many of us lack the confidence and boldness

of the resurrected Christ in our hearts.

We, like Thomas, are defended and mistrustful,

protected and closed – however understandably –

so that we cannot enter into the joy and freedom

of those who have encountered their Lord and their God.

 

And yet, Christ stands among us this morning,

as he stood among his fearful disciples

and he says to us, Peace be with you.

As the father has sent me so I send you.

And he moves around, stopping in front of each one of us,

and breathes his life into us,

saying Receive the Holy Spirit.

 

Let us pray for the grace to be open

to such an encounter with the risen Christ.

So that, like Thomas, God can touch our hearts,

leaving our heads racing to catch up

with the reality before our eyes.

Let us pray for the grace to receive the Holy Spirit which is given to us.

To not offer any obstruction,

to not resist, defend, mistrust,

but to open our eyes

and behold our maker and creator gazing right back at us.

So that we can say with the same confidence as Thomas,

My Lord and my God.

 

AMEN.

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