Sermon preached by David Shepherd, 8 May 2011. Go to the readings...
The authority of the Resurrection
None of us is born believing in the Resurrection. It is a story we hear, told by others. It may be true to them; but it is not necessarily true for us. And, eventually, if we follow the normal path of spiritual development, we rebel. We say: "It cannot be true."
Like Thomas, we are reasonable, sensible people. We believe only in the things we can see, touch, hear and verify. No one is going to deceive us with pretty fairy tales. So, sadly — probably very sadly — we say goodbye to the Resurrection. Only to discover, a little further down the line, through some strange and mysterious contact with our Lord — that he is indeed alive!
To some people, this comes as a blinding revelation. For others, it comes at some quiet moment when we were not expecting any further information. People suffering from anger, sorrow or bereavement may experience a sense of comfort and peace which seems to come to them from the other side of death.
These Resurrection experiences are convincing and cannot be denied by those who experience them. Each experience is individual — and unique to them. If you are still waiting for your doubts to be removed, ask — and you will receive; knock — and the door of heaven will be opened to you.
Like those early disciples, we too move from doubt to faith. There comes a moment when we too can say: "Rabboni!" or "My Lord and my God!" St Paul responded to his Resurrection experience by saying: "Who are you, Lord?" To which he received a rather chilly reply: "I am Jesus and you are persecuting me..." Some of the most effective Christians are those who move from outright hostility to immediate adoration.
The moment we have our own Resurrection experience, our world changes. God is pleased to show us his Son... Just as he is pleased to give us the gift of his Holy Spirit. As we can see, he does not show us his Son as a perfect, immaculate, shining body, glowing and radiant. The Jesus whom he presents to us still bears the marks of the Cross and the spear in his Resurrection body.
He is someone who — perhaps like us — has suffered horribly. Someone who has lost his faith on a cross. Who also knows what it feels like to be forsaken. Someone who has descended into hell. This man is our Lord. He is my Lord. The experience of the Risen Christ is 100% personal. It creates a bond — a new covenant — with the believer.
Now, of course, it is very nice to have some personal assurance that Jesus is present in our lives. That he is still known to us in the breaking of bread. That where two or three of us are gathered together, he is in the midst of us. It is very comforting... But more is expected!
Jesus did not appear amongst his first disciples just to comfort them — or to satisfy their curiosity. But to get them moving... To get them out into the big, bad world... To proclaim a message of hope for others. Jesus wanted to create a living organism in which He himself would be present. He wanted these disciples to be his Body in the world. God himself would supply the Grace... and the Spirit... He wanted his people not only to proclaim — but also to live — a Resurrection life. A life that was radically different to the selfish, greedy world that men and women had created for themselves.
Christians are often frightened of being Christians. Of putting their heads above the parapet in case they get chopped off! But if your faith is real, don't be frightened! Be bold! Be sure that God will carry you through.
So, like the first disciples, God wants all of us to show some enthusiasm — some concrete results — as a result of this Resurrection experience. He does expect us to proclaim our faith; to live a Resurrection life; to show that we are different. We can speak joyfully — and with some authority. Because this sick, sad little world in which we live, is searching for answers to so many questions — experiencing a very deep spiritual hunger. As I have said so often before, we have the Bread of Life in our hands. We can feed the spiritually hungry. We can supply a Person — a very real person — to fill the emptiness and loneliness in so many people's hearts.
Very frequently, I turn up at the crematorium to take a funeral service. Sometimes I have to compete with a piper playing "Highland Cathedral" or 'Old Blue Eyes' singing "I did it my way". But if I get a chance, I begin the service with some very powerful words:
"I am the Resurrection and the Life.
He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live;
And whosoever lives and believes in me will never die."
This is a blockbuster statement. Either it is a terrible lie — or else it is true. Either we are here to burn grandma — or we are committing her spirit into God's care:
May her rest this day be in peace;
And her dwelling place in the Paradise of God.
This is "make up your mind time" for the congregation! What exactly are we doing?
I have no idea what the people in the congregation believe at that moment. But I know that what I am saying is true. I believe in the Resurrection because of my experience built up over many years. In fact, over sixty years. And I do not keep this belief to myself. I proclaim it very boldly. Almost offensively — against all the evidence of sight and sound.
Because I am a clergyman, I say these things loudly — and publicly. But all my life — at least since the age of fourteen — I have spoken to many thousands of people privately — often complete strangers — about the truth of the Resurrection and the reality of the Risen Christ. I have talked about the strength given to us in the sacraments of bread and wine. His real presence when two or three are gathered together in his name. Not just as a clergyman — it is my responsibility as a Christian person to proclaim the Risen Christ.
Our object is to transform the lives, hopes and destiny of other people. To change them for the better — for ever. And the message is still the same: "Shalom. Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit." So that you too may know that inner peace which comes from living close to God.
Proclaiming our belief in the Resurrection is something we can all do — when the opportunity presents itself. Even a few inadequate words can be of real benefit to other people. It may set them thinking... Do not ask them to read the book. Invite them to meet the person!
So, this Easter season is not a time for quiet self-satisfaction. Our happy little comfort zone after the misery of Lent and Good Friday. Easter joy is not a gift to be gulped down selfishly like a Cadbury's cream egg! Our joy — our unending Alleluyas — are for others. To be shared. To be given — as a free gift. Something far more precious than winning the National Lottery.
Since by man came death;
by man has come also the Resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die;
even so, in Christ, shall all be made alive.
What is £85 million on on the Lottery, when compared with Life itself?
New Testament Reading
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15 vv 12–22
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
St John 20 vv 19–29