Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Easter (15 April 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

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Sermon preached at Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Easter (15 April 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

On the Third Sunday of Easter, the Canon Pastor reflects on what we can learn from the resurrection appearances of Jesus. 


It’s about time. Last month’s New Scientist featured an article on the search for the beginnings of time:

“First hints are emerging of a universe that existed before our own: an alien world of chaos where time, space and geometry were yet to form” it said, going on…

“In this view, the essence of space and time can exist beyond the confines of the cosmos, but in a state of roiling chaos we would not recognise. The big bang is not a hard-and-fast beginning, but a moment of profound transformation.”

These weeks after our celebrations of Easter Day seem like the expansive what-came-next, following the moment of profound transformation which was the resurrection of Jesus.

We see these ripples of resurrection in our readings today. The first, an incident in the life of the early church, the second, one of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. 

Peter’s message, in the reading from Acts, requires careful handling. Over two millennia, such words have been too easily misappropriated, wrongly used to accuse our Jewish brothers and sisters. As we hear them we must remember that Peter, himself a Jew, leader of a Jewish movement, was speaking to fellow Jews. And the One whom Peter preached as crucified and resurrected was Jesus, a Jew from Nazareth, child of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Peter and his companions had undergone profound transformation so he challenges his listeners then, and now, to ask: who is this Jesus?

But Peter’s inextricable setting of Jesus within his historical, religious and cultural roots challenges those of us who are gentiles in a particular way– a reminder that we fall into grave error when we try to sever Jesus from his Jewish roots. An especial concern when studies reported this week that the realities of the Holocaust are fading from our collective memories.

This time last Sunday I was arriving at the Gare du Nord station in Paris. Towards the end of our short stay we visited the Memorial de la Shoah, memorial to 76,000 French Jews, 11,000 of whom were children, deported, with the collaboration of the Vichy government, as part of the nazi plan to eradicate Judaism in Europe. Most were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1942 and 1944. Only around 2,500 survived.

A snaking wall at the memorial preserves the names of the children, women and men that evil sought to wipe from the face of the earth.

Leaving Paris by train we arrived back late in the evening of Tuesday. Disembarking, we looked up to see, a new artwork by Tracey Emin which had been unveiled just that day.

With the backdrop of the large station clock, ticking amidst the ironwork of the 19th century station, a 20-metre sentence composed of giant glowing neon pink letters in Emin’s so-human handwriting declared: “I want my time with you.”

She has spoken of this being a response to the United Kingdom’s changing relationship with Europe. Other travellers brought to it more personal meanings.

“It made me think of one of my friends, mainly because his mum passed away and it just made me think of that for some reason, I don’t know why,” said Alice, a 21-year-old estate agent. “It’s quite emotional.”

“I think it’s appropriate for a station and for life in general, if you think about your priorities and who you want to be with.” said Jasmine, an acupuncturist.

We had been in Paris to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. In the mix of music, food, culture and art, the visit to the Memorial de la Shoah had been disturbingly weighty.
                                              
After our visit we talked of the individuals, the children, the families, the couples just like us, whose stories we’d heard and images we’d seen. Pressed into train carriages and at their destination, separated, most never to see each other in this life again. 

I wondered if we had been among them, would I have taken charge of what to pack, as I always do; my husband organising our getting to the station as he always does? But what would the packing and fussing have mattered when on arrival lovers, spouses, parents, children, siblings, would be torn apart. 

Tired from the lateness of the hour and the fullness of the day, Emin’s words met us as we disembarked from our train in London: 

‘I want my time with you’ 

It seemed that they spoke for all whose names and images we had seen, whose time, days, months, years together had been cruelly wrenched away.

The accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus always strike me as precious encounters, for the time was short. The scriptures describe how over a period of weeks, the risen Christ came to individuals, couples and groups. 

These encounters seem to run on a different timescale altogether, Jesus is present, then gone again. There is an urgency and a timelessness. They won’t have him with them physically for much longer, but when he is with them their hearts leap and fears subside. 

What do you do when time is short? 

He had lived just 33 years; he’d spent just three years with these followers. 

Now Jesus uses this time to assure them that he lives, to encourage them to put their fear and doubts into God’s hands, and inviting them to take hold of him, he places himself into their hands. Eating and talking with them he opens their understanding of the scriptures, preparing and then commissioning them for the what-comes-next. 

So, as we live amidst these ever expanding ripples of the resurrection and as the world convulses and shudders, maybe it’s about time:

  • If the time given to us to love and to live is so precious, how will we use it?
  • And if we recognise our own time as precious – can the time allotted to others be any less precious in our eyes? 

What of the years snatched away from people in our own age, stolen by poverty, prejudice, displacement from home, education and livelihood, by violence and war?  

Shall we be indifferent to their life-time slipping away? 

  • And then, what if those words hung in St Pancras station are not simply our words, but God’s?                                                                                          

What if everywhere you turned, not in pink neon letters perhaps, but in more subtle ways, Love was saying: ‘I want my time with you?’

What would your heart want to say back? To the One who is Alpha and Omega, beginning and the End, who is, was and is still to come?

Maybe it is about time….