Sunday 22 April 2012

Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd day

Address given at Templederry, Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 22nd April 2012, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B

We believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the 3rd day.
We profess this faith every Sunday, when we say the Apostles’ Creed, or the Nicene Creed at Holy Communion. But why do we believe it?

Luke gives us one reason in today’s reading from his Gospel (Luke 24:36-48). It is the testimony of the disciples. While scholars tell us he was writing some 45-50 years after the events he describes, he is clearly drawing on earlier sources and traditions, reaching back to the first disciples.

The scene is the upper room. The upper room in which the disciples shared the Last Supper with Jesus. It is the night of the first Easter Sunday, the 3rd day after Jesus’s crucifixion, death and burial. Jesus’s disciples are gathered together. They are discussing excitedly the amazing reports that Jesus, who they saw on the cross and know to be dead, has appeared to Simon, and to Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. Then, ‘Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you”.

Luke is at pains to report that this is no spirit or ghost, but Jesus in the flesh. “Look at my hands and my feet”, says Jesus, – the disciples would have seen the wounds of his crucifixion, the marks of the nails hammered through his wrists and through his ankles - “see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”. And Jesus goes on to eat a piece of grilled fish in front of them.

 It is rather mysterious. Jesus seems to appear suddenly out of nowhere, just as he does in the other accounts of people meeting him after the resurrection. But these accounts are a powerful testimony to the first disciples’ certainty, not just that Jesus rose from the dead, but that this was how it had to be, this was what God had ordained. Luke reports the risen Jesus teaching them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day”.

Jesus the risen Messiah goes on, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things”.

Notice that Jesus does not want his disciples to remain in the upper room - within those four walls, safe behind a closed door, looking inward. Instead he commissions them to go out into the wide world beyond, to proclaim to everyone the call to repentance and forgiveness which was from the start at the centre of Jesus’s teaching.

And proclaim that call is just what Jesus’s disciples did, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles.

Those frightened disciples who deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, those bewildered, doubting disciples of that first Easter day, are transformed. They are transformed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost into a body of believers – a church – which proclaims Jesus’s message of repentance and forgiveness, and carries on his healing mission.

In today’s 1st reading (Acts ), Peter has just healed a man lame from birth, in the name of Jesus Christ, to the astonishment of the crowd of bystanders at the gate of the Temple. And he uses this as an opportunity to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

‘Why do you wonder at this’, he says, ‘or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? … The faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you… Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.’

A rabble of disciples - rabble is the only word for it - is transformed. Transformed at first into one small church, it spreads rapidly, throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Despite persecution and internal bickering, over the centuries it extends and multiplies right across the world, to all peoples, carrying on Jesus’s mission and preaching his message of hope. Our parish today, 2000 years on, in the Nenagh Union, in the Diocese of Killaloe in the Church of Ireland, is one small part of it.

For me this transformation is another, perhaps a stronger, reason to believe in the reality of the resurrection.

With St Paul's insight we see the Church as like the body of Christ, who is its head.

We are Jesus’s flesh and bones and sinews - you and I - to do his will until he comes again.

Let us pray that in the life of our church community here we may meet him together, and go out into the world together, to proclaim his message of repentance and forgiveness, and continue his healing mission, just as the first disciples did.

Jesus rises again from the dead, when we come together as a Christian community.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Remove this cup from me

Short reflection given at Portumna, Eyrecourt and Banagher on the 6th Sunday of Lent, 1st April 2012 - Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday.

After that long Passion Sunday reading from the Gospel of Mark (14:1-15:47), I feel sure you’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to preach a long sermon too!

Instead I ask you to reflect with me for just a moment on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:

‘Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’

Jesus is distressed and agitated, we are told. He is certain - quite certain - that what he is doing is the will of God, his loving Father. He knows what is likely to happen next – his execution as a dangerous agitator, perhaps even the agonising death of crucifixion.

And Jesus does not want to die. He is a man in the full strength and vigour of his early 30s. He loves life, he loves his friends, and he loves his ministry to those who need healing and forgiveness. So he prays to his loving Father for himself, that his death may be averted - ‘remove this cup from me’.

But that is only half his prayer. Even more important for Jesus than his own distress at the prospect of death is that his loving Father’s will should be done. So he finishes his prayer with ‘yet, not what I want, but what you want’.

This prayer of Jesus should be a model, I think, of any prayer we pray for something for our selves.

When I desperately want something, it is right and proper for me to pray to God for it. If I cannot ask God for it, who can I ask? But I must never forget how much more important it is for God’s will to be done, than for my human wish to be granted. So I should always finish a prayer for myself with Jesus’s words, ‘yet, not what I want, but what you want’.

In the end, like Jesus, we must trust that our loving Father knows what is best for us.