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Easter Day, Year C, PAAT Training Course, Dieppe , France , 12.4.1998

Theme: Resurrection = Church, empowered to live in the Jesus style.

Isa 65.17-25
            (Ps 118.21-3, 14-24 – omitted at Dieppe )
            Acts 10.34-43
            Luke 24.1-12  

            “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118.24.  Psalm 118 is part of the Hallel, the “Praise” psalms, Pss 113-118, which the Jews always used at Passover, and today is our Passover, the Paschal feast.  

            So what are we singing the praises of today?  We are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified under Pontius Pilate.  

            It is in the last two centuries before Christ that the notion of resurrection of the body arose among the Jews.  Completely fundamental to the concept is that resurrection is God’s sovereign action: there is nothing remotely automatic about it.  Thus Jesus did not rise from the dead; Jesus was raised.  

            There are at least three ideas concerning who would be raised.  One notion was that there would be a general resurrection of everyone who would then be sorted out according to their deserts.  A more restricted notion was that only the best of the best and the worst of the worst would be raised, with the best rewarded and the worst punished.  But the understanding that Luke uses, both in the Gospel and in Acts, is that it is the righteous who will be raised, and for this he quotes in Acts (13.35) from Psalm 16.10, “You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.”  This is why in Luke’s gospel the centurion at the cross says of Jesus, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”; that is, he ought to be raised.  Thus the raising of Jesus is his vindication; it is God’s seal of approval that all that Jesus had said and done was in accord with God’s will.  

            So part of what we are celebrating today is our conviction and confession shared with the early Christian community that in Jesus of Nazareth we know the very nature of God’s righteousness, namely, his steadfast and unbreakable love.  

            We have just heard the opening section of Luke’s witness to the events of Easter Day.  Luke’s is one of five resurrection narratives that we have in the New Testament, namely, the accounts in our four gospels plus 1 Cor 15.  No two of them are the same.  However, there is one very important and central feature that they all share, and that is that in every case, including this morning’s gospel, the resurrection is announced before any appearance of Jesus, or, as in Mark’s case, before the prospective appearance in Galilee .  And that is also true of our reading from the Book of Acts this morning.  

            When one takes this with the fact that the writers of the New Testament only talk of Jesus appearing to believers, it becomes reasonable to conclude that the risen Lord appeared to those who already knew on others grounds that he had been raised.  That is, the appearances are a fruit of the resurrection experience, not the cause of it.  

            To view the appearances as the proof of the resurrection is, I would submit, akin to end-gaming [i.e., putting the cart before the horse].  For the resurrection event is much more than appearances of the risen Lord.  It is much more than the raising up of a physical body.  When one turns to  St Paul writing on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, he says, the “Last Adam became a life-making Spirit”.  This is very akin  to the outlook of the Fourth Gospel, where the Word, the Logos, came unto his own as Jesus and then “the Word became Spirit and dwelt among us”, as in “the Spirit will bring to mind all that I have taught you”.  That is, the resurrection experience includes and centrally consists of the new-found freedom to live in the Jesus-style by a strength not one’s own.  

            This is what St Paul means when he speaks again and again about our being “in Christ”.  He even inverts it when he writes to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2.19b-20).  This experience marks such a radical change that Paul writes in 2 Cor (5.17) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  It is a sense of radical change akin to the new creation pointed to by our reading from Isaiah.   To use an American idiom, it is a whole new ballgame.  It is this, experienced corporately, that lies behind Paul’s speaking of the believing community as “the Body of Christ”; that is, we corporately are Christ.  

            And this is how Luke, in the Book of Acts, presents the encounter of Paul on the Damascus road.  To the question, “Who are you, Lord?” the answer is “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” – not “I am Jesus, whose church you are persecuting”, but “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”.  

            Just as to say “God is love” is an oxymoron unless safeguarded by the defining nature of that love in terms of Christ crucified, so, with sufficient caveats we may nearly say that the resurrection if the Church.  Or, to put it a bit more conventionally, any laying out of the resurrection event that dies not include the Spirit-empowering of the community of believers is quite inadequate and misses the whole point.  Paul ties the resurrection directly and intimately with the gift of the Spirit, as does St John’s Gospel.  It is Luke, in the Book of Acts, that moves the empowerment to the Jewish feast of Pentecost, and he does so for good evangelical reasons.  For the traditions associated with the feast of Pentecost meant that it was a feast with a number of outreach features that made it potentially a missionary feast.  So Luke shifts the giving of the Spirit from Passover to Pentecost to make sure that the Church remembers that it has been empowered for mission to all people, not for sitting on its laurels in self-satisfaction.  

            Those of you who would say that you know Christ to be alive to you in your lives join with the saints and all the members of the Church down through the centuries in knowing that you have been empowered to live in the Jesus-style by a strength not your own, and this is for us the ongoing experiential proof that Christ has been raised.  

            This is why we celebrate the Resurrection not simply as a past event but as a present experience, so that at the acclamation in the Eucharistic prayer we proclaim the past event as “Christ has died”, the present as “Christ is risen”, and our future hope as “Christ will come gain”.  

            So, what is the Jesus style?  As some of you have heard me say before, the witness of the writings of the New Testament makes three things stand out as unique to Jesus.  Our Lord was a first century Palestinian Jew, and almost everything that he taught can be paralleled in purely Jewish sources.  But three things set him apart.  One is his uniquely close relation to God which he in turn imparted to others, so that he addresses God as Abba, Father, and Abba is roughly equivalent in intensity and depth to the small child’s “Daddy.  He taught his followers to do the same, as both the Lord’s Prayer and St Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians bear witness.  That is, we are to live in total dependence upon God and in the security of his love which frees us to have a go without worrying about ourselves.  The second thing that is unique to Jesus is the positive injunction to do unto others that which we would have them do unto us.  It is not enough simply to abstain from harming others; one must positively help them.  And the third point has to do with the boundaries of concern.  The Old Testament and Judaism were much concerned with relations with the neighbour, but the neighbour was the fellow-Israelite or Jew.  When the Jewish lawyer asks Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, who is the neighbour whom he is to love, Jesus replies with what we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It is the Samaritan, whose guts he hates, who not only is the neighbour, but who has shown what it is to be a neighbour.  

            These  three things: the Abba-closeness, the positive doing unto others, and no boundaries to who is the neighbour – these are the marks of the Jesus-style, these are the marks of following Jesus, summed up in one word as agape, summed up in the startling statement in the first letter of John as “God is love”.  In following Jesus we know the freedom to love because we are loved with an unbreakable love.  If we truly follow Jesus, then the fellowship must follow as the night the day.  It will be a deep, supportive fellowship that reaches out to others.  It will have to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church .  One in unity of fellowship, and unwilling to rest until that unity is achieved; Holy in knowing itself as set apart by God for his will and way; Catholic in terms of being for all people everywhere, and Apostolic as a community sent out to bring God’s love in Christ to all.  

            We know that we are deeply loved, as Jesus knew the all-sustaining love of God his Father, and thereby we know ourselves freed to love without limit, as Jesus did.  This is a freedom and a desire to reach out and share with others. This freedom is expressed by and fed by our gathering together for the Eucharist and sharing with one another as members of the Body of Christ in Holy Communion together.  

            It is striking that it is Luke, both in chapter 24 of the Gospel and in Acts chapter 1, who specifies that the risen Lord ate with his disciples, and this is also mentioned in this morning’s reading from Acts.  In Luke the disciples on the road to Emmaus know the risen Lord in the Breaking of the Bread, the Eucharist, and all through the book of Acts the disciples gather for the Breaking of the Bread, continuing in the fellowship of the risen Lord, just as we have gathered here on this Easter Day to Break the Bread of the Lord and to share his cup that we may be sent out to continue to follow Jesus, our risen Lord, in the week ahead.  

            “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!”

            Alleluia! Christ is risen!