Sermon for Easter 2 High Mass Sermon Sunday 15 April 2012
Sermon preached by Fr. Julian Browning at High Mass on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, 15 April 2012.
Alleluia is the song of the Resurrection. Ordinary hearing does not catch the note of hope in Allelluia. Ordinary seeing does not perceive the mysteries of the Christian faith. Ordinary thinking, thinking things through logically, does not explain the Resurrection. We don’t need an explanation. We don’t need a narrative which works for us. We don’t need a fudged account which says that the Resurrection kind of happened, but sort of didn’t. We have the Resurrection itself, the sight of, and the full awareness of, the Risen Jesus. Instead of an explanation, we have the experience itself, the awareness of God raising Jesus so that we can recognise Him wherever we look, and that includes within ourselves, and that awareness is that freshness of an Easter morning which we just know to be so.
This awareness takes us by surprise; risen life is always new, inexplicable in human terms. If we try and collate the Gospel accounts – and that’s an impossible task – the one emotion which is common to all of them is shock; and these were clever writers skilled in making connections in Scripture between past and present, seeing a pattern, but the only way they can find to describe resurrection is as something which God has done for us, and done for us on our terms. The most outrageous Christian claim for Resurrection – and one which irritates our critics – is that this transformed life, this risen life, knowing the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, being filled with the utter fullness of God, living in the light as the people of the Resurrection that we know ourselves to be, living together a resurrection life which takes us over the bridge between time and eternity, – is entirely normal. Godliness, or whatever we call it, is the normal and natural state of human life. God, through the medium of Christ awareness, has restored us to where we should be. When we lock out that awareness of divine love, we reject human life as it can be lived. Resurrection life is not some superior state of being to which we might aspire. Resurrection life is not about perfection. Resurrection life is our reality, a fully human life, with all its ambiguities and uncertainty and change. That is why there is such emphasis in the gospels on bodies and wounds, and bread and wine, and eating fish on the beach, and on Jesus’s full humanity, Jesus Christ true man and true God. Less earthy language would devalue the experience of resurrection.
Still, it takes some getting used to. I often wonder about the disciples in today’s Gospel. On the very day of Resurrection, where are they? They’ve locked themselves in a room. Fear now controls them. That’s us, of course, because although we are sure of the emotional draw of Christianity, yet we are not nearly so sure about the consequences of the Resurrection for ourselves. And it is to those who are fearful that Jesus now comes, through the doors, into the tombs we have made for ourselves, wherever we think He won’t be, and there, in his Risen Body, he looks at each of us with the love that casts out fear, and says Peace be with you. It is all right. Living with God’s life is normal. You do not have to live behind locked doors, hiding this new awareness which has been given to you. Your life has been given back to you. And you were right, all of you, about the shock of it all, because when we see resurrection as something which happens to us, it is the dawn of a new and thrilling day, the hour when Mary Magdalene found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and the light streams in and we are free, rising to the full liberty of the children of God. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. In St John’s Gospel, as I am sure you know, there is no separate event for Pentecost, it happens here and now on the first day of Easter in that locked upper room. To that frightened little group, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit. We will find, we, the people of the Resurrection, will now find that the doors in our compartmented lives are now unlocked. The boundaries we’ve placed round life have been removed. In place of the divided self, we are offered divine union, and nothing less. It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me [Gal. 2.20]. The early Fathers of the Church called this union, “dancing with God”, as in Psalm 30: You changed my mourning into dancing. We live a properly joyful life, when we quicken our steps to match those of God. The glory of the Resurrection is that there are no second class Christians, those who don’t know Christ properly or those who don’t believe as much as we do. Salvation is now, for everyone; salvation is a present reality, we don’t make it happen by believing more and more, we just join the dance.
And on the edge of this scene stands St. Thomas. I’ve changed my mind about St. Thomas. I used to think that St. Thomas wasn’t going to believe in the Resurrection, until he was able to put his hands where the nails were, and into the wound in Jesus’s side, and then he would believe. I think we should look at him a little closer. He had been with Jesus for as long as we have, well, for three years, the whole of Jesus’s ministry. He’d had the same training, the same experiences, as the others. St Thomas’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t believe, it was that he’d missed the Jesus appearing to those frightened disciples in that locked room. He wasn’t there. And he wanted something special for himself, a spiritual experience, his needs attended to. His story is that of all of us expecting a Resurrection for one, a Resurrection for me, a sort of private patients’ plan. Resurrection is about more than me. At the Resurrection of Christ you and I become part of something greater than ourselves; we enter into our inheritance, we are part of the New Creation. The new awareness common to us all, and the story as brought to us through our tradition, these are enough. Blessed are those, happy are those, joyful are those, who, without the need for tortuous human explanations, yet believe.
And how did Thomas receive that wisdom? He said, My Lord and my God, perhaps the most significant expression of faith in the New Testament. People had called Jesus Lord before, but not My Lord and My God. So the man with the personal reservations about the Resurrection became the man with the greater faith. The man who was honest about his suspicion and fear was the man who saw God plain, face to face. The first shock of the Resurrection is its surprise, its newness, its strangeness. The second shock is that no betrayal, not even the betrayal of Calvary in which we all play a part, no amount of doubting and running away or fearful locking of doors, can separate us from the love of God in Christ, and from Christ’s assurance to all people of His total acceptance and forgiveness and trust. And he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit.