Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Sermon Easter 2 2016

Acts 5.27-32
Revelation 1.4-8
John 20:19-31

Here we are, Christians, meeting for worship on the first day of the week, as Christians do throughout the world. But why? The first Christians were Jews whose day of worship was the Sabbath, that is, Saturday, the seventh day. When and how did Christians start worshipping on the first day?
According to the New Testament, this seems to have happened straight away, as soon as Jesus had risen from the dead. The first Christians, being Jews, didn’t stop going to the synagogue or the Temple on the Sabbath, but they also started meeting in their homes to “break bread”, that is to celebrate the Eucharist, on the first day of the week as well. The Acts of the Apostles mentions this a number of times.
This practice was new, and yet it was at once accepted by all the believers, without question, and has persisted ever since, in all branches of Christianity throughout the world, even now that most Christians are not Jews and do not observe the Sabbath. Meeting for the Eucharist on the first day of the week is our weekly memorial of the resurrection, and testifies to the life-changing impact that the resurrection had on the first Christians.
The significance of the first day of the week is underlined in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus appears to the disciples on the first day of the week, the day his tomb was found empty, and a second time, exactly a week later.
The Gospels were written, primarily, not for private study, but to be read aloud in the assembly of the faithful, gathered for the Eucharist on the first day of the week. So the passage we heard today must have had a particular resonance with the community of disciples for whom this gospel was first written. It’s as though John is showing them the start of the weekly pattern that they were continuing.
Four things are drawn together in this reading: Sunday, the weekly memorial of the resurrection; the Eucharist, which is implied through the setting in the upper room; a life changing encounter with the risen Lord; and the sending of the disciples on their mission. And at the heart of that all is Jesus himself, risen from the dead.
It is meeting the risen Lord that enables the disciples to believe. The object of our faith is not an event in the past, however strong the evidence for it, but a living person, Jesus Christ, risen today, present in his church today, bringing people to faith today, changing lives today. That is why arguing from evidence doesn’t tend to lead people to faith. The disciples had tried that on Thomas and he hadn’t believed them. It was meeting the risen Lord that brought him to faith. Faith is a living relationship with the living Lord.
What the risen Lord says and does changes everything. “Peace be with you”, he says. Peace! Would the disciples have expected that greeting from the one they had betrayed and abandoned to death? But that is what he says.
And Jesus shows them his wounds. He does this, first of all, to show that it really is him. This is not a ghost, or a lookalike, or an illusion.
But his showing of his wounds means more than that. The wounds of Jesus are the marks both of our sin and of our forgiveness. Our sin, which put Jesus on the cross, is imprinted on his risen body for ever. But now he is risen from the dead those wounds have become the marks of love. Our sin has been turned round by the resurrection, transformed into love and forgiveness. Through the resurrection God gives us back our sins as grace.
See how this changes the story, for those first disciples and for us! They had thought that the end of the story was death, defeat, failure. Sin had fought with Jesus and won – apparently. That indeed has been the story of humanity from the beginning, sin and death have always had the final word.
But the resurrection of Jesus blows all that open, turns it completely around. Now, the end of the story is not death, but glorious new life. Now, the story of our sins is turned on its head and told in our favour, every sin forgiven a new story of Divine love and mercy triumphant, every wound on the risen body of Jesus a glorious trophy adored by the angels and destined to be the wonder and praise of redeemed humanity for ever.
But not content with forgiving the disciples, great as that gift is, Jesus breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now even his dying breath on the cross is transformed by the resurrection into a new gift, the living breath of God himself to raise humanity to share in the life of God.
And he sends them. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This group of sinners, transformed and turned around by the creative love of God, now becomes part of the movement of God into the world that was begun in Jesus. A movement sent into all the world to spread God’s forgiveness, mercy and love to all.
On the first day of the week, Jesus came and stood among them. And through that living encounter with the risen Lord the disciples were transformed, forgiven, caught up into the life of God and sent into the world.
This was the start of the weekly pattern in which we now live, meeting the risen Lord on the first day of the week. As for that first group of disciples, so with us and with all Christians throughout the world.
The Eucharist which we celebrate Sunday by Sunday is both the memorial of Christ’s death and the breaking through of his risen life. Under the forms of bread and wine we too touch his wounds, the marks of our sin, the evidence against us turned round by the resurrection into the evidence of God’s love for us. This is my body given for you. In the breaking of the bread Christ once more stands among us, gives us his peace, and sends us into the world to continue his movement of mercy, forgiveness and love.
The resurrection has erupted into the world, and every Mass we celebrate is part of that continuing transformation. Today we meet Jesus, and he sends us, as he sent his first disciples, to bring his love and forgiveness to the world.
The word “Mass” actually means “sending”, from the dismissal at the end. Here, in the Eucharist, is the life and heart of our mission, our sending. This is the summit and source of the Church’s life. This is our weekly meeting with the risen Lord at which he raises us from death, gives us his forgiveness and peace, and catches us up into his movement of love into the world.

This is indeed the first day of the week, for meeting Jesus at the beginning of the week enables us to live the rest of the week for Jesus, in Jesus, bearing the good news of his love, forgiveness and mercy to all whom we meet.

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