Sunday 14 April 2024

He rose from the dead on the 3rd day


Peace be with you!

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan Church on Sunday 14th April 2024, the 3rd of Easter

We believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the 3rd day.

We profess this faith every Sunday, whether we say the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed. 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, Luke clearly draws on earlier sources and traditions, derived from the first disciples.

The scene is 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. His disciples know that Jesus has been executed. They fear they will be too. Now they are gathered together, anxious, but mulling over the amazing reports that Jesus, has appeared alive 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 - “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 their presence.

It is all rather mysterious. Jesus appears 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. 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 looking inward – instead they are to go out into the wide world to proclaim to everyone the call to repentance and forgiveness which was always at the centre of his teaching.

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

The rabble of disciples who deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the bewildered, terrified disciples of that first Easter day, will be transformed by the Holy Spirit 50 days later at Pentecost into a body of believers, a church, a church which proclaims Jesus’s message of repentance and forgiveness, and continues his mission.

In today’s 1st reading (Acts 3:12-19), 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 is transformed into a church. A tiny church at first, it grows rapidly. Despite persecution and internal bickering, over the centuries it extends and multiplies across the world to all peoples. It carries on Jesus’s mission and preaches his message of hope. This congregation and our parish today, 2000 years on, is one tiny part of it.

For me this transformation of Jesus’s disciples from a rabble into a church is another, perhaps stronger reason to believe in the reality of the resurrection.

St Paul had the insight to see that the Church is like the body of Christ, who is its head.

We Christians are the flesh and bones and sinews of Jesus Christ.

We meet him when we come together as a Christian congregation - not just in this Nenagh Union of parishes, but in every gathering of Christians, of every tradition, everywhere.

He calls us to go out into the world to proclaim his message of repentance and forgiveness.

He calls us to continue his saving, healing mission to all we encounter, wherever we find ourselves, and throughout the world.

Like the first disciples, we need to abandon our fears and answer Jesus’s call!

I shall finish in prayer with the Collect of the Word set for today.

Lord of life,
by submitting to death, you conquered the grave:
by being lifted upon the cross, you draw all peoples to you;
by being raised from the dead, you restore to humanity all that was lost through sin:
be with us in your risen power,
that in word and deed we may proclaim
the marvellous mystery of death and resurrection:
for all praise is yours, now and throughout eternity. Amen

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Reflecting on the Annunciation


Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Reflection for Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator, Monday 8 April 2024, the Feast of the Annunciation (transferred)

The reading from Luke (1:26-38) we have just heard is the one set for the Feast of the Annunciation.  At the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary is surprised by the angel Gabriel with a message from God, saying that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, whom she will name Jesus.

I know I’m treading on somewhat dangerous ground here! I’m part of the 50% of the human race that is less qualified to say anything about pregnancy and childbirth than the other 50%. But I’ve been closely associated with two pregnancies and three births, so I know that pregnancy is a time of expectation, great expectation. So much so, that when we say a woman is ‘expecting’, it is a euphemism for her being pregnant – ‘a baby’ is simply understood.

Mary was probably quite a young girl - a teenager even – and unmarried, when the angel came to tell her that she will be pregnant by the action of the Holy Spirit. How shocked she must have been. But nevertheless, she says to the angel, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’. She willingly accepts the unimaginable privilege of forming her son Jesus in her body. Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the eternal Word of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, takes human flesh in and from Mary. Jesus will quite literally be formed in her. While she is ‘expecting’, Christ is forming in her.

Our vocation as Christian disciples is to be ‘expecting’ just as Mary was. You might say we are all called to be pregnant! Whether we are young or old, male or female, single or married, we are called to let Christ be formed in us, just as he was formed in the womb of Mary.

All pregnancies end in the fullness of time. In around 9 months Mary gave birth to Jesus. Which is why we celebrate the Annunciation now, around 9 months before we celebrate his birth at Christmas. But as disciples in whom Christ is being formed, our pregnancy will last a lifetime. Stretching the analogy, it is on our deathbed that we will be finally delivered of the Christ we have nurtured within us, as an example to others of a Christian life, well lived, in the hope of resurrection to eternal life.

So, on this Feast of the Annunciation, let each one of us accept the call to be disciples. Let us be ‘expecting’ as Christ takes form within us. And let us pray that the Christ-seed the Holy Spirit has planted in us will grow to full term, perfectly formed in every way.

I shall finish with St Paul’s prayer for Christ to dwell in us, from his letter to the Ephesians 3:14-21:

Loving Father,

from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name,

According to the riches of your glory

grant that we may be strengthened in our inner being

with power through your Spirit,

that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith,

as we are being rooted and grounded in love.

May we have the power to comprehend, with all the saints,

what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,

so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

By your power at work within us

you accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,

to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations,

for ever and ever. Amen.