Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Easter (28 April 2019) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

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Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Easter (28 April 2019) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

 

On the second Sunday after Easter, the Canon Pastor reflects on the unfinished work of the resurrection.


The work of resurrection is unfinished.

One week on from our marking of Easter Day, over two thousand years since that first day of resurrection, let me say it again: ‘the work of resurrection is unfinished’.

We want it to be finished, so much easier if everything is sorted, done and dusted.

We capture it succinctly in our creedal statements – and I do believe it – that Christ died, was buried and rose again. 

For us, Easter is a time of celebration, of recalling that in God life will always overcome death. Yet even 2,000 years ago the realisation of the resurrection was a dawning reality not a quick fix. And for the last 2,000 years the impact of the resurrection has been unfolding and is not yet concluded.

That it is not yet concluded is evidenced in our sorrow when we awoke one week ago, on Easter Day itself, to the anguish of our Christian sisters and brothers killed, injured and bereaved in Sri Lanka. And as we have prayed for them and met with Sri Lankan Christians here in the UK over the past week.

Our present sorrow is a reminder that the work of resurrection is still unfolding and that even on that first resurrection dawn broke stutteringly:

For we might recall that Mary Magdalene, with her female companions, had gone to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning that first Easter Day. Though they found the tomb empty they did not immediately believe. Mary didn’t understand until later, when Jesus spoke to her directly.

Peter and John, the two disciples closest to Jesus, also saw the empty tomb but they left it perplexed rather than rejoicing.

When Mary told them and the other disciples about her encounter with Jesus, they dismissed her words as ‘an idle tale’ and locked themselves in a room to hide. 

At that moment their fear was perhaps understandable – a time still of political and religious tension swirling around Jesus’ teaching, his arrest and his crucifixion all in the context of the marking of Passover and all it evoked by way of long for deliverance from oppressive rule. Who knew what the Roman authorities and religious leaders might do next.

I cannot skip over an uncomfortable phrase in our gospel reading today: the gospel writer describes the disciples as gathering with the doors of the house being locked ‘for fear of the Jews’.

‘For fear of the Jews’. 

It is so disquieting because it takes us to the many times over the past two thousand years when our Jewish sisters and brothers have had to be the ones hiding behind locked doors - for fear of the Gentiles – for fear of us.

Not just in the distant, perhaps medieval, past but within reach of living memory, exemplified by the story of Anne Frank’s family and others hidden away in upper rooms, in a secret annex, until taken away to the camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen where all but one, Anne’s father, Otto, died. 

Not just in the furthest reaches of living memory, but in hatred poured out today. Danger is always close by if we fail to give serious attention to our language, sacred and profane, to the way phrases like ‘the Jews’ are used.

For gospel phrases such as this have been used, consciously or unconsciously, to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’, to condemn and to justify passive indifference or active participation in the vilest of atrocities.

So we have to look more closely – who were these disciples hidden behind closed doors that Easter Day evening? They were fishermen, tax collectors, zealots – and all Jews. 

Who was the Risen One who came to them despite the locked doors and, not once but twice, spoke peace to their fears – Jesus, from Nazareth, a Jew.

Through the inclusion of this phrase ‘the Jews’ in our gospel passage we are invited to look into an internal Jewish conversation and disagreement which is an urgent reminder for us to address the impact of our fears. Fear can lead those in power to want to keep the lid on things, to seek to protect what is, rather than risk letting down our community, our heritage and history. And fear can keep us behind locked doors. 

Thomas, one of the Jewish followers of Jesus was not been present when Jesus came to his disciples that first Easter evening. But he was there one week on when Jesus once again disregarded closed doors and spoke to their fear. Now as the ripples of the resurrection reached him it was Thomas’s turn.

The community around Jesus would be shaped for ever by the cross and these dawning encounters with the risen Christ; and so it continues.
The work of the resurrection is, I believe, unfinished, but also unstoppable. It did not undo the crucifixion but it did transform its terror and death.

It will do so unendingly: ripples of resurrection hope, joy and peace emanating from that empty tomb in Jerusalem.

To a room of fearful disciples 2,000 years ago, even in bloodied bombed out churches today, Jesus the Jew from Nazareth comes saying ‘peace be with you’.

Some of us went to sleep last evening, some of us will have awoken this morning, to the news of another fatal attack in a place of worship – learning that a Jewish sister of ours lost her life and 3 others were injured as they shared in a Passover celebration at the Chabad Synagogue in San Diego.                 

Whilst such hatreds continue, the work of resurrection remains unfinished.

May we be those in whom the risen Christ may affirm such life that we,  embraced and called, might give ourselves to the work of resurrection that none of us, none God’s children, our brothers and sisters, need hide in fear.

Amen.