They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 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 them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, 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 the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, 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. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 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 have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
I was looking for a story to launch this sermon, and I came across this, from an American Conservative Christian website:
One lady wrote in to a question and answer forum. “Dear Sirs, Our preacher said on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered.”
“Dear Bewildered, Beat your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear thru his side…put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens. Sincerely, Charles.”
I am not so confident in a literal Jesus-gets-up-after-three-days-of-being-dead type of resurrection. But I hope none of you will want to crucify me in response to my theology…
The resurrection is the one Biblical miracle that I am tempted to take literally – I’m tempted, but I’m not quite there.
Whatever happened to the defeated, disillusioned, disciples of an executed leader must have been truly extraordinary. To go from hiding from the authorities to shouting about Jesus in the market square is remarkable. To go from betrayal before the cock crows to being prepared to die for their faith in the risen Christ is truly miraculous.
There are only two things I can say with absolute certainty: firstly, you do not have to believe in a literal, physical resurrection to be a good Christian; second, you do not have to disbelieve in the resurrection to be intellectually and theologically sound. There is certainly room for both perspectives.
It’s almost easier to believe in a literal, physical resurrection than it is to imagine what else could cause this turn around…
The sightings of Jesus after the resurrection are strange and dream-like:
- He appears in locked rooms…
- He shows his wounds…
- He eats fish…
- He mysteriously vanishes…
- He is mistaken for the gardener…
- He walks with some of his disciples for a day before they realise it is him…
It is clear there is some note of uncertainty in how Jesus appears: Thomas doesn’t believe it, and we know that Thomas wasn’t alone – in Matthew 28 we read that: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
If Jesus rose from the dead in a straightforward, literal way, surely no one would doubt him? A physical resurrection would be a certain, utterly convincing end to the argument.
The resurrection seems to have split Jesus’ followers, some didn’t accept it; but others, including the original disciples, we so passionate about continuing to preach the message of Christ that they were prepared to give their lives for it.
The resurrection, whatever it was, was not a trick or a lie. People who built their lives around a message of love and truth would not die for a lie. It was a profound reality that changed lives and continues to change lives today.
In our reading from Acts we hear what kind of new community was created in memory of Jesus: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
But it was not just about practicalities – they were awe-struck: “Awe came upon everyone… …they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts”
This new life led to a community where everyone shared their possessions: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Christ lived on because the Church became the body of Christ.
Perhaps Mary discovered a love a presence in the sympathy of a gardener by the graves in Jerusalem and realised that the Spirit of Jesus was not constrained by the single person of Christ.
Perhaps the disciples on the Emmaus Road realised that there was still wisdom in the world even after their dead teacher was buried – that the wisdom of Jesus lived on, no longer confined by the single person of Christ.
If the resurrection is the traditional view of a physical body reanimated after death – that is amazing and gives us hope that God can fix the world’s ills because sometimes God steps in to sort things out.
However, if the resurrection is about finding the presence of Christ in the disciples – that is a challenge. We have to find Christ’s presence in us. We have to be the resurrection in the world today.
The resurrection is not some two thousand year old magic trick – the resurrection is something that we are called to make real in the world.
We are the resurrection. We are the Body of Christ. Without us there is no resurrection hope, without us there is no Easter.
The great prayer of Teresa of Avila expresses this profound truth:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Jesus’ message of radical, inclusive love was too strong to be contained by the grave. He calls us to be his resurrection in the world today. To prove that love and hope are stronger hate and fear. We are the resurrection, and we can resurrect Christ today. I close with the even older words of the Song of Songs, which we have been reading this week at Morning Prayer:
Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, passion is as fierce as the Grave; It’s flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised.