Easter 3 – April 22, 2018

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder.

Lectionary: Acts 4. 5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3. 16-24, John 10. 11-18

Well, the Easter lilies packed it in in this week. It’s always a little sad to see them go. But our celebration of Easter continues. Today on the Third Sunday after Easter we are still wanting to grapple with the implication of the Resurrection of Jesus for our lives on this earth.

The way in which the Christian faith sometimes gets presented, it’s as if the Resurrection of Jesus was all about life after death, about going to heaven to be with Jesus after you die. But what, if any thing does the Resurrection of Jesus have to say about life before death?

The word “Gospel,” which means “Good News” originally referred to a public announcement of a changed stated of affairs on this earth, as when a king won a victory over his enemy on the battlefield.

When applied to the Resurrection of Jesus how is this to be understood? How has the Resurrection brought about a changed state of affairs on this earth? I don’t know about you, but looks as messy and mixed up as it ever was.

In our lesson this morning from Acts, Peter and John have been hauled before the religious authorities who were annoyed on account of their having healed a crippled man. This should strike us as a little odd. Why were they annoyed? What was their problem? Why were they not celebrating?

What was at issue was not the healing, but rather it’s source. Peter declares, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man was healed, Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man standing before you is in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”

It’s an astonishing claim which Peter makes, that the power of God which raised Jesus from the dead, continues to be at work on this earth, raising people up to new life. So the name of Jesus isn’t just a secret password we use to get into heaven. It’s the power of God for the ongoing healing of every sort of human brokenness here and now, whether it’s a brokenness of the body, brokenness of heart, or brokenness ofa relationship. Jesus continues to heal. Jesus continues to save. Although I have been crippled by my many sins, God raises me up to new life through the forgiveness of my sins and the gift of the Spirit. This is part of the changed stated of affairs which has been brought about by the Resurrection of Jesus. If this not Good News, I don’t know what is.

Now for people in positions of power and authority who would use the power of death to snuff out the living presence of the power of God on this earth, the resurrection of Jesus is not Good News. It’s an annoyance. And so we see also how the Gospel also sets up a confrontation between the death dealing powers of this world, and the power of God. It’s a confrontation that continues to this day.

In a secular culture such as ours, it is understood that we live in a world from which God is absent. It’s not that God doesn’t exist, but that He doesn’t matter. The most we can say is, “God helps those who help themselves.” Translation: there is no help for you in your god. It’s up to you to make it happen.”

Today we are bold to proclaim the continued loving, shepherding presence and power of God in the lives of men and women on this earth through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

I have a little card that I give to the children as part of their preparation for their First Holy Communion here at St. Mary’s. On one side of the card is an image of Jesus with a sheep wrapped around his shoulders. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes in search of his lost sheep. It’s very comforting for children who know the terror associated with being lost. It’s an image that might also speak to us who find that we have lost our way in life.

But just how far is this Good Shepherd willing to go in search of his lost sheep?

If you were to go to the city of Rome today, and tour the catacombs, the tunnels beneath the streets of city which served as the burial chambers for the early Christians, you would see painted on the walls of the catacombs images of a young man carrying a sheep on his shoulders. What those early Christians understood was that even in death, which is the place of ultimate lostness, Jesus the good Shepherd comes in search of his lost sheep, and brings them home. This is what we proclaim and this celebrate at every funeral service which is such a far cry from the sentimentality of the modern, secular “celebration of life.” I just don’t get it. What is the point of celebrating a life that has been lost in death? But Jesus comes looking for us.

On the back of the card I give to the children are the words of Psalm 23, which I ask them to and learn and memorize and pray when they come to the Holy Communion,

In studying it this week I was so very struck by all the verbs, the action words, in this Psalm.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths

And then all of a sudden we find the Psalmist not speaking about the Lord, but to the Lord.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me, Your rod and staff comfort me. You prepare a table. You anoint my head… you fill my cup. Your goodness and mercy shall follow me.

This doesn’t sound to me like an absent, uninvolved God. This is a good God who loves mankind.

Modern secular man will ask us to prove it, and that is something we cannot do. That’s because “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want” is not argument which you can prove, but an awareness, a perception to be cultivated. This is what we mean by having faith.

How do we do this? One way obviously is through prayer. Psalm 23 and all the other Psalms in which we acknowledge the presence and power of God in all the circumstances of life, the good and the bad and the ugly.

Another way of cultivating faith is by participating in the Holy Communion. In the Holy Communion we perceive how God sets a table before us in the presence of our enemies. In the Holy Communion we offer up bread and wine in thanksgiving and praise for the mighty act whereby through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has redeemed us. The bread and wine that is offered up is returned to us and placed in our mouths as the Broken Body and Spilled Blood of Christ.

Really? Yes. Really.

The modern secular man sees no difference between the bread and wine that is offered up, and the bread and wine that is shared. It is what it is. It is bread and it is wine.

But the Christian discerns in the Holy Communion a revelation of Divine reality: that which we offer up and that which we receive receive in our mouths are gifts of the very life of God, a self emptying in love which we understand to be the Body and Blood of His Incarnate Son. The Holy Communion is not just a revelation about God. It is a revelation about bread.

Some people think bread is what you get when you mix flour, salt, water and yeast and bake in the oven in order to have something to eat.

But when we hold a loaf of bread in our hands, we perceive that what we are holding in our hands, is the Universe which God has made, and has been given to us as means of Communion. For the Incarnate Christ is the Lord of all creation who is gathering all things into Himself.

“Lord you gave us golden fields of wheat whose many grains we have gathered into this one bread. So may your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.”

So it is that through the sharing of the Eucharistic bread and wine we come to this place of mutual indwelling where Jesus Christ lives in us, and we live in Him. The Holy Communion is for us is not just a moment to be had at the Communion rail. It’s a mode of existence. It’s a way of life, defined by faith on the hand, and love on the other. As John wrote, in our second lesson, “This is the commandment, that we should believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love another. All who obey his commandments, abide in Jesus, and Jesus abides in them.”

A communion in love. Talk about a changed state of affairs! That which was broken by sin, Christ has restored.

And yet, we are so very aware are we not, of the wolf that comes to snatch, devour and scatter the sheep. At every moment of ours lives we are faced with powers which threaten to diminish and destroy our lives, and the lives of our children.

What are we to do in the face of the death dealing powers of this world? Well, we do what Jesus did. Jesus said to the disciples, “ N0 one is taking my life away from me, but I am laying it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Jesus willingly lays down his life in self-emptying love in obedience to the Father. We who claim to be his followers must do likewise: willingly lay down our lives in self emptying love in obedience to the Father, who will in his own good time and in his own good way give back the free gift of eternal life through which death is defeated.

This is path of Christian discipleship, as well as Christian leadership. It is the path of Christian marriage, and Christian parenting. This is the Christian path of salvation.

There really is no other way for a person to overcome the power of sin and death apart from this self emptying in love in faith and obedience to the Father which Jesus has opened up for us through his death and resurrection.

I saw a wonderful little video this week where the Archbishop of Canterbury was telling the story of how he became a Christian. He had spent the day talking and sharing with a friend of his, and he sensed that he was at a decision point in his life, that his life could go one of two ways. He said, “I prayed a very simple prayer,

“Lord, Jesus come into my life. I don’t know anything about you but come into my life. And he came in. Something changed and has stayed changed from then on with all the ups and downs and me trying to run away, and good times in my life and really bad ones.”

Isn’t that wonderful.’? The Archbishop Canterbury bearing witness to the Gospel, the changed state of affairs brought about the Resurrection of Jesus, and the steady loving presence of the Good Shepherd in his life.

He says,

“ I later leaned there was a was a person who had prayed for me every week. What an extraordinary faithful and loving gift that was. But that is a gift we can all afford. It is not a gift any of us is unable to give…”

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched an initiative that has been taken up by Anglicans and Christians around the world for the 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost to pray for more people to come to know Jesus. At St. Mary’s we are going to be part of this initiative. This is part of the changed state of affairs where through prayer we participate in the shepherding minlstry of Jesus who said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd. ”