Easter 3, 2021 – Sermon

(Modified 2021-04-18: Added audio recording.)

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Second Sunday after Easter, April 18, 2021 Canon Claude Schroeder

Lectionary: Acts 3. 12-19, 1 John 3. 1-7, Luke 24. 36-48

Audio recording of sermon.

Today we are continuing our celebration of Easter, which is a 50-day celebration, leading up to the Feast of Pentecost and the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.

It’s clear from the Gospels that when Jesus appears to the apostles to manifest His resurrection, the initial reaction in each case was not one of faith, but rather of fear, of doubt, and un-belief. There is something comforting in this, because ever since the apostles went to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a common and predictable response has been fear, doubt, and unbelief!

 “You don’t expect me to believe that, do you?”

It’s one thing to say you believe in God, but it’s quite another to say you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. And St Paul wrote his letter to the unbelieving Christians in Corinth, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. You are still in your sins, and those who have died in Christ have perished! (1 Corinthians 15. 17-18). The stakes could not be higher. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the whole structure of the Christian faith, life and hope comes crashing down.

And so, in our Gospel lesson today from St. Luke, when the Lord appears to the apostles, far from welcoming Him with high fives, and “Thank God, you’re alive,” Luke tells us that they were startled, and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost. (Luke 24. 37) 

Has Jesus come to haunt us? God knows He would have good reason to…

This idea that when you die your spirit lives on, and makes good it’s escape from the body in which it has been imprisoned, is universal one found in religions and philosophies all around the world.

I am reminded of the poem that often gets read by a family member during the eulogy at the funeral.  It goes something like this, 

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry, 
I am not there; I did not die.

This is the religion of pagan spiritualism which is nothing more than a silly sentiment, which is what a lot of funerals, but not all, amount to these days.  What the poem is also saying is that when we die we basically get absorbed into the world of nature, and become part of the energy of the universe. 

This person whose dead body you are going to put into the ground, or cremate, you will never see again. 

This is a far cry from what the Gospels tells us about our Lord Jesus Christ. He suffered, died, and was buried. Make no mistake about it. And on the third day rose again. The apostles saw him, talked to him, touched him, and ate and drank with him. That sounds to me a lot like a party!

In his resurrection, Jesus is not in “the thousand winds that blow, or the diamond glints on snow.” He is the Incarnate God who has united Himself in His divinity to our fleshly humanity. He is the Risen Lord, who by His death has conquered Satan, sin, and death, and makes us partakers of that victory.

Then other thing that we sometimes hear comes from the materialists who don’t believe in anything “spiritual” beyond the grave. During the eulogy, they will say something like, “she will live on forever in our hearts and in our memories.” 

How nice. But then again maybe it’s not so nice, because of the unresolved nature of the relationship, and the sins, the hurts, the failures, and the sadness accumulated over a lifetime. Time does not heal all wounds. As someone once said, “Time wounds all heels” and the wounds live on in our memories.

But Jesus, as we read ins the prophet Malachi, is “sun of righteousness, who rises with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4.2) for the sins, the hurts, the failures, and the sadnesses of life. This is why Jesus’ first words to his apostles was, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24. 36)

So, the resurrection was not a matter of Jesus’ spirit escaping from his body, or living on in the memory of his apostles. In the resurrection, Jesus rises in a body, the body that was knit together in the womb and from the flesh of the Virgin Mary His Mother; the body that was constantly reaching out to touch, heal, comfort, feed, and forgive; the body which was tortured, nailed to a cross, died and was laid in a tomb. That is the body that Jesus rose in, which is why Jesus said to his disbelieving apostles, “Look at my hands and feet; see it is myself. Touch and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have!”  The point here is that the risen Jesus is not a ghost, not even a friendly one.

But this body that was raised from the dead, was miraculously and mysteriously transformed, no longer subject to the limitations of our current bodies, and sometimes difficult to recognize. This is something we really cannot explain what happened but neither should we try. Jesus did not say, “You are explainers of these things, but rather, “You are witnesses of these things.”

And so “while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, He said to them then “Have you anything to eat?” (Luke 24. 41) Nothing like a little levity to break the tension!  They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took and ate it in their presence.” (Luke 24.42) It was just like old times! And at this point all their disbelief and all their wonder melted away, and all that was left…was joy!

Jesus then said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24. 44,45) Time for a little bible study!

This is important for us because how can we continue in the apostolic mission of bearing witness to the Resurrection when we were not there to see it? What is our point of contact with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? As Jesus explains it is the Scriptures, understood as the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms which witness to us of the truth that “the Messiah was to suffer, and rise again on the third day so that repentance and forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24. 46,47). So, you want to encounter and come to know Jesus Christ, and become a witness to His resurrection? Dive into the Scriptures, that is the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, read through the lens of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, and He will open your mind and show Himself to you.

So, what difference does the Resurrection make to our lives here and now? Because if it doesn’t make any difference, why bother?

In our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John have miraculously healed a man who was lame, enabling him to walk. And they said to the astounded crowd, ‘Why do you wonder at this, or stare at us, as if by our own power or piety we made him to walk? You killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and by the faith that is through Jesus has given him perfect health in the presence of you all. Repent therefor, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” (Acts 3. 12-19) 

In the Resurrection, a power has been unleashed upon the earth that brings healing to our souls and our bodies

What a thing for us to contemplate in this time of pandemic when not only are people getting sick and dying like never before, but where people are sick with worry, sick with fear, sick with anxiety, sick with depression and despondency.  According to a recent report, 1 in 3 Covid survivors have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within six months of getting sick. A medical doctor declared on national radio this week that “our souls are battered” by the pandemic. Because human beings are a psycho-somatic unity of soul and body, when the soul gets battered, there are consequences for the body, just as when the body is battered, there are consequences for the soul, which is why we pray that God would be “pleased to make his ways known unto men, his saving health unto all nations.” (BCP p.14)

So, what’s the plan? I am not talking here about washing hands, wearing a mask, keeping distance, and getting a vaccine.

The plan is outlines for us in The Order of Service to the Ministry of the Sick in our prayer book where it says, “Forasmuch as our Lord Jesus Christ is the Saviour both of the souls and of the bodies of men, the Curate (my pastoral assistant) shall exhort those who are sick and infirm to the often receiving of the holy Communion.” (BCP p. 582)

The Holy Communion. It’s the great healing service of the Church. It’s the place where we come into contract with the power of the Risen Lord to heal our souls and bodies. St. Ignatius, the second century Bishop, described the Holy Communion, as” the medicine of immortality, and the antidote which wards off death but yields continuous life in union with Jesus Christ. “(St. Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 20). It is in our communion with Jesus Christ, and our communion with one another in Him, that is going to see us through this crisis, which makes what we are doing at St. Mary’s this morning, truly a matter of life and death.

To which some might say, “Do you really expect me to believe that?”

My reply is, “Every Sunday!”

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your Body and Soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving. Having received the Holy and Life Giving Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood we “offer ourselves and souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to thee” and like the lame man who Peter healed, rise up and walk out of the church, to love and serve the Lord!

The Holy Communion, with laying on of hands, anointing of the sick, together with the reading of the Scripture, prayer, repentance, confession, fasting, and alms-giving are the basic healing practices of the church, and form the basis of the Church’s response to our physical and mental health care crisis.

Our Prayer Book tells us that  “if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness… or any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood: he shall be instructed that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and steadfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefor; he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul’s health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth. (BCP, p 584)

For those not receiving Communion with me this morning, consider yourself instructed!

I have included special prayers for you to pray through during the administration of Communion.

Finally, it is not only our sin sick souls and bodies that need healing. What we are witnessing today is an infection of the mind that is introducing all manner of conflict, chaos, disorder and sickness into our social relationships.  For those with a philosophical turn of mind, it’s called “Post-Modernism.” This infection has entered into our governments, universities, and churches. It’s the idea that my identity, who I am, is something I choose and construct for myself, and in some cases, make up based on things like race, ethnicity, class, occupation, sexual orientation, and now, alas, even gender. It’s all up for grabs. What we need to grab onto something, and fight for it and hold onto to it lest anybody take it away, hence the identity politics which is tearing society apart.

But what does the Gospel say? 

The Gospel says that my identity is something that is given to me as a gift through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Since this identity is something given to me by God, it is something that I don’t have to fight for, and something that no one can ever take away.

Here the healing words from the Letter of St. John, who in in today’s lesson writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, for that is what we are….Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as He is. (1 John 3.1-3)

In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been given a rock-solid identity, as children of God and a wonderful hope, that in our resurrection from the dead, our bodies will not only be transformed to reflect His glory, but so will our characters. Herein is where peace is to be found between us.

And all who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure. 

This is the power of the Resurrection at work in our lives. Amen.