4th of Easter yr C 2013 Sermon Ruth Martin. Luke 24.36-49
‘Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the scriptures’
The focus on the resurrection for us two thousand years later, in our church worship, is always the events as witnessed by those first century disciples. Yet even in those days following Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus had to also explain his divine identity through scripture.
Today we too need to use scripture to help us to discern our faith and its place in a world which in many ways is so very different to the one of Jesus’ first followers. So first of all what is the evidence from the scriptures, using those three gospels that most resemble each other, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
• I take Mark as the earliest gospel, and his resurrection story is of a piece with his whole book. Mark’s Jesus is riddling, strange and frightening, and his resurrection is – riddling, strange and frightening. There is, in our version at least, no appearance of Jesus, but a young man at the empty tomb saying to the women that Jesus has gone ahead of them to Galilee and they will see him there. As for event, Mark does give us the empty tomb but after that, things are unclear. What happened to the body? Could it have been stolen? What is this meeting in Galilee?
• So to Matthew. Matthew seems to spend a lot of his time in this gospel clearing up puzzles left by Mark, and so it proves in his Easter stories. At his empty tomb we have an angel (a more commanding figure than a young man) who gives the women the news. We are told that the tomb is guarded – that deals with the question about grave-robbing – and Jesus actually appears to them in Galilee. Questions still persist, however. How did Jesus appear? Did his risen body resemble at all his old body (could they be sure it was Jesus?), and how real and solid was it?
• Tonight Luke gives the answers: Yes it was the same Jesus, because you could see his wounds. And, yes, his body was real and solid: you could touch him; and he ate some fish!
In the struggle between the victors and victims, the story of Jesus and the resurrection can be a source of hope to the downtrodden, and a call to everyone to see whom God chooses in that struggle…. For all Christians one distinctive thing for us is this Easter story, the story of a moment when the oppressive world seemed to have won, but when God somehow turned this routine experience of defeat inside out. But what is it about this story that fuels the flame of Christian hope, Christian indignation at the unfairness of things? And how can it empower us today?
If there is one thing which seems to unite the vast majority of people in this country, and which I am definitely ill-equipped to comment on, it is football.
Yet when I was in Liverpool for work last week, it was impossible not to be immersed in football, or rather the scandal of the Hillsborough disaster, at last laid bare .Here we had a tragedy which claimed 96 lives, in 1989, yet the full might of the State was brought to bear in covering up the appalling lack of care for the victims, nearly half of whom, we now know could have survived. In the struggle between victor and victims it seemed as if the full story would never be disclosed. It took one mother, to push for disclosure and to lead others in that community to join her. They were opposed by the judiciary for more than twenty years, including three attorney generals and the European Court of Human Rights; eventually the government agreed to disclose documents and it took an independent panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, to review those documents and then to persuade the government to order fresh inquests.
That brave mother, Anne Williams, died on Thursday from terminal cancer, 24 years after her struggle with the legal establishment of the land started and three days after the 24th anniversary of that event last Monday. She was an unlikely victor, and her death marked not the end, but the start of a new chapter for the families of Hillsborough victims, and for Liverpool, as others feel vindicated and affirmed, and can anticipate justice when the new inquests begin shortly. And our sometimes marginalized church played its full part; the independent panel was chaired by a Bishop; that was the person in whom others trusted, and he, Bishop John James would have been fulfilling the natural obligation of all of us of faith, to do justly, and walk humbly and allow God’s purposes to shine through.
In the struggle between victors and victims, the downtrodden eventually won and people of faith played their full part.
What I am most drawn to in our Resurrection account tonight, is the extraordinary picture of a Risen Lord eating fish; we know from our brief summary of the three gospel accounts that we can’t just claim the resurrection as a spiritual matter, nor can we claim it to be some kind of revivalist from a corpse, as we know His appearance had changed, but His wounds could still be probed and seen, and He came through locked doors.
In 1961was published a revised edition of ‘The Resurrection of Christ’ by Michael Ramsey who was at the time shortly to become Archbishop of Canterbury; he said
‘If the evidence is pointing us towards a Resurrection of an utterly unique sort, we will not be incredulous, for the Christ himself… is a unique fact in history. If the evidence is pointing us towards a miracle we will not be troubled for the miracle will mean… a manifestation of the purpose of the creator of a new world and the redeemer of our own; and if the evidence is pointing us towards an act wherein spirit and body are strangely blended and exalted, our mind will have no terror for the message of the New Testament is pervaded through and through by the belief that the spiritual and material are interwoven in the person of the Word made flesh’
In the middle of our public and our private struggles, we have to live the Easter story as if it is true, put ourselves in the hands of the God who – we trust – not only raises the dead but also breathes life though succeeding generations of people of faith, seeking to weave the spiritual and the material into a place where we can be the Body of Christ in our own lives. For all of us that means the practical as well as the study of scripture and prayer, – and it also means prayer and the study of scripture as well as the practical, so we can allow God to work through us, to be fired up by the unfairness of things, and to give Hope to others searching to be nourished by the food of faith. Amen .