The Oasis

Writings from the ministry team

for your refreshment

 

 

A SERMON

Preached by the Archdeacon of France,

The Venerable Meurig Williams at the

AGM and Eucharist of Christ Church, La Manche

Sunday 23rd April 2017

(The Second Sunday of Easter)

 

During this Easter season, we are given a snapshot of how the first followers of Jesus responded to the breath-taking events of Easter. The Gospels tell us about the personal encounters people had with the risen Lord. The readings from Acts tell us how those first followers responded by becoming a movement, as the early days of (what we now call) the Church developed.

 

Our readings, this morning, offer us two contrasting ways of being the Church. What was true in those first days may prove to be true today.

 

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of Peter and the apostles just after they had been dragged in front of the Jewish council. They had been arrested by the temple police for openly preaching the resurrection of Jesus. Faced with an order banning them from public proclamation, they simply ignore it. 

 

The passage from Johnís Gospel, by contrast, paints a very different picture. Here is the fragile Christian community in the aftermath of Easter, in quiet, secrecy, and even fear. The doors of the upper room are locked.   

 

There is a fascinating contrast in these two readings. On the one hand, the Gospel gives a picture of a church in a building, locked from the inside. The risen Christ comes to his church, but no one lets him in. He simply passes through the doors. And then he brings the fearful Christians within his peace.  He shows them his wounds. The whole experience is very intimate. This is the gathered church of those Christ calls his friends. This is, as we would say, the Church as a Ďsafe space.í  

 

The  reading  from  Acts,  on  the  other  hand,  is  a  picture  of  a church  out  in  the  open. In  the  city, in  public, under  pressure from the authorities, preaching  its  message  boldly, witnessing  to the  risen  Christ, engaging robustly  with  the  hostility  of  the authorities.  Itís far more edgy, risky, restless, even. Itís the church of those who are not content with the way things are; the church which can see the possibility of a different future.

 

So we have here two different ways of being the Church.  But both come with a warning. 

 

Quite a number of people see their Christian  journey  in terms of the locked  room. For them, the Church is purely about an intimate personal relationship  with  the  Lord  in  a  place that is, in  some  way, cut  off from others. They see Jesus coming from outside into that safe space. So the church of the locked room might be for people who expect Christianity to offer rock-solid certainties. They want to belong to a community which gathers people together against the world outside. Or, people might be seeking one big happy family, all singing off the same hymn sheet, keeping ourselves to ourselves, denying that we have any responsibility towards others, often setting ourselves over and against those who are ďnot one of usĒ. Itís safe in here, we tell ourselves, and anyone else wanting to join us must be like us.

 

On  the  other  hand,  the  church  of  Acts  is out  in  the  open  air, saying the kind of things people would rather not hear, inspiring people to see a radically different way to live: sharing resources equally, challenging injustice, never content with the way things are. Itís all about the present moment, and isnít really interested in the traditions and experiences of the past.  

 

But if these two types of church are going to have a future, they need to learn from each other.

 

The  church  of  the  locked room  relates  to  the church  of  the  open air  because we are all to be sent out into the world. You have to unlock the doors and leave the house. You have to risk it all in the market place of  ideas, where God is hidden and the assumptions of secularism hold sway. You  have  to  be changed  by  what  you  see and who  you meet, trusting  that Christ  is  already  there, alive and at large in the world, where people meet and make decisions, where people get hurt and fear for the future.

 

The  open  air  church,  on  the  other  hand,  can  become  so dependent  on  its contemporary message that  it loses touch  with  its origins. The messenger simply becomes another personality Ė a celebrity, even. So faith is all about which style of worship you like, which people will agree with you. The peace of Christ can be taken for granted, but not always lived out.

 

So this kind of church needs a stronger sense of where itís come from, and a keener sense that the journey of faith is shared with people who donít always see things as you see them. It needs to face the truth that faith isnít just about Ďmeí Ė itís about God, who often gets squeezed out by our own little agendas.

 

So, if those are two ways of being the Church, where does that leave you or me, and this community, this Easter?  

 

I hope, during this Eastertide, we can draw strength from our deep roots in both kinds of ways of being the Church. We need to find  a  way  of moving  from  the  locked  room  to  the  open air  and  then  back again, and  out  again. Of  being  deeply engaged  with  the world,  and yet  still  coming back to  the  mystery  of Christís  wounds, his peace, his beauty, his mystery as though  for  the  first  time. If we are faithful to this vision, our mission in this place will be grounded in something deeper than our own insights. Our  prayer  will  be  open  not just  to  our own personal desires, needs and expectations;  but  to  the cries  of  the world. Ultimately, it will make us more open to the call and presence of the risen Christ.