The Oasis

Writings from the ministry team

for your refreshment

 

 

Easter 2 2016 Gratot (3 April 16)                   John 20.19-31

 

Many of you know that this time last year, I was still at theological college (yes, I know I look a bit old to be a student...). One of the most nerve wracking moments for an ordinand is when it's your turn to take responsibility for the college Eucharist. You get your team of helpers together, mildly curse the Church of England's service books for having so many different options, try to think of something creative that will make everyone remember your service - for the right reasons, fail to think of anything, and finally take your draft order of service for checking by whoever it is that's presiding, usually a member of staff, but in my case a characterful member of the community of religious sisters who lived in a house in the college grounds. Nervously I spread out my notes; she glanced over them and said, 'Before we start, may I say something very direct?' I thought I'd done something glaringly inappropriate and wondered what on earth was coming.

 

'Can I try on your boots?' she said.

 

I was wearing cheap and cheerful imitations of those expensive, fleece-lined Ugg boots and she thought they suited her very well. Quickly approving the service, she was eager to get back to the matter of footwear. 'Could you get me some?' she said, 'and if they come in different colours, I'll have two pairs.' 

 

The service passed off with only a couple of gaffes, which, if anyone noticed they were too kind to mention, unlike another Eucharist where the student in charge failed to spot a typo in the service sheet and had us proclaiming,

 

Christ has died

Christ has risen

Christ has come again

 

and everyone wondered, what with always being so busy with tutorials and essays, whether they'd missed something really crucial.

 

What we do of course say,

 

Christ has has died

Christ is risen

Christ will come again

 

seems to run through our readings today and, I think, summarises the whole Easter experience. We heard a different version of the same thing twice in our short reading from the beginning of the book of Revelation, 'I am the Lord who was, who is, and who is to come', and it's repeated again later in that chapter when John is told,

 

'Write down what you have seen, what is happening and will happen afterwards.'

 

The exuberance of Easter can lead us to think that the resurrection of Jesus completes God's work and to expect that everything should be fine from now on. But initial reactions to the resurrection were entirely different. It was so unlike anything that had gone before that the gospel writers use terms like fear, trembling, terror, amazement, disbelief, 'dumbfounded and afraid', 'perplexed', 'like dead men' to describe its effect. At the end of Mark's account, the women who have come to the tomb flee in speechless terror, and today we have the disciples diving for cover under darkness, hiding behind locked doors, a picture of abject misery and fear. You would be forgiven for thinking this is the evening of Good Friday, but it's Easter Day and they have heard that Jesus is risen and has been seen and has spoken to their friend, Mary Magdalene. Thomas was not the only one who was having doubts.

 

Perhaps there's a little bit in all of us that is like those disciples. We truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead, except every day brings reminders that the promises of Easter are not yet fully realized. That family rift still isn't healed and the unwelcome diagnosis the person we love most has received isn't reversed. This year, our Easter songs of triumph were cut drastically short by the news of seventy Christians in Lahore, thirty of them children, blown to pieces by a suicide bomber as they celebrated Easter Sunday afternoon in a park, and seeing their priest, back in the purple of mourning and comforting his people just hours after donning white for Eastertide. On a beautiful spring morning we can look around and see resurrection everywhere, an hour later we can read the newspaper and see nothing but brokenness and hopelessness. Today is called Low Sunday in the Christian tradition and if you're feeling like you've come down to earth with a bump after last Sunday's celebrations, or if life seems to have become one long Good Friday lately, take heart - there is great encouragement in our readings today for you.

 

We think of resurrection as a promise for the future, something that happens after we die, but today's gospel reading tells us it breaks into our lives in the here and now, even if we, like the disciples, are a sorry mess of fear, failure and doubt. For it is precisely into this mess that the risen Jesus comes with a word of peace, healing and renewal: Shalom, in Aramaic, a word that is loaded with all that God longs for his creation. There is no judgement, no 'Why did you all run away when I needed you? Why didn't you listen when I told you all this would happen? What are you all doing here anyway?' just new life in a place where all was death and awfulness. No matter how securely we fasten those locks and bolts, or how thick the walls that imprison us, they are no barrier to the presence of the risen Christ. Resurrection power breaks through to us wherever we are, transforming the pain of our Good Fridays and surprising us with hope when we least expect it.

 

Christ has died

Christ is risen

Alleluia for that, but there is more in store for us disciples.

 

Just as God breathed life into Adam's nostrils, now Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' I wonder what that breath smelled like - was it sweet like a new born baby's, or was it redolent of all those spices from the tomb? We'll never know, but what we do know is that to receive the Holy Spirit is to be filled with - literally 'in-spired' - with the life-breath of the crucified and risen Jesus. This is not just for filling our lungs and sustaining our lives, but we are to use this breath for speaking Christ's words of healing, forgiveness and judgment to a world still locked in Good Friday and longing for the release and freedom of Easter. We are commissioned and empowered to speak as Christ did, so that through our speech he will come again and again and again to change Iives. And Jesus promises that his blessing will accompany us in this endeavour.

 

It took a little while for the disciples to get used to such newness and to learn to speak with that divine voice. John tells us a week later they were still shut away behind closed doors, but just a few weeks after that there they in our reading from Acts boldly standing up for God's truth in the face of the very people they were hiding from in our Gospel reading. Who would have thought it possible? They did this not in their own strength, but in the power of the one 'who was, who is and who is to come.'

 

The promise is that one day the kingdom of God will be fully realized and sin and pain and death will be no more when Christ comes again in glory, but in the meantime if we're not quite as full of the joys of Easter as we'd like to be, take heart. Easter is the beginning of God's triumph, not its end. There is always more new life and more miraculous new hope coming down the track to meet us.

 

Christ has has died

Christ is risen

Christ will come again.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

Christine Smith