Easter 3 April 26, 2009

Acts 3:12-19                                                                        

1 John 3:1-7                                                                        

Luke 24:36b-48


It would have been very easy for the first followers of Jesus to have spoken of him simply as a great teacher, a holy man who exemplified everything we should be in our lives. That would have gone down more smoothly in their day, as it certainly does in ours, where many people believe just that. But this is not the Jesus to whom the earliest witnesses testify. They give us this risen Christ—a human being crucified, wounded in hands and feet and side, but a human being raised from the dead, a physical presence who ate physical food and whose physical body could be touched, particularly his wounds. A human being who was thus also the Son of God. This resurrection reality is what the first followers insisted upon, what they were persecuted and died for.


What does this mean for us? Well, it means that you and I, and indeed all reality, are also shot through with divinity; that we are called to become what we really are, children of God. “Beloved,” says St. John, “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” It means that in our very physicality, especially in the wounds which we suffer as disciples, we are heirs of Christ and citizens of his Kingdom. It means that we are to be witnesses of this news—witnesses in how we shape and live our lives. To quote again Cardinal Josef Suenens, one of the great figures of the Second Vatican Council, we are to live as though our lives make sense only if these things—the resurrection of Christ, his incarnation of the Virgin Mary, his sending of the Holy Spirit to be with us—if these things are true. Truth, as Jesus taught us, is not an abstraction. Truth is embodied in human lives—Christ’s life, your life, my life.


I have been meditating on these things while on vacation—well, not all the time, but a lot! “You’re somewhere else,” Anne said to me at one point. This is where I was, with these thoughts. I have been thinking of how fragile and threatened this Gospel of Jesus Christ is in our world today. I have been thinking of how fragile and improbable our little church of Holy Cross is, struggling forward in the midst of a culture that really pays us little attention, that is busy with a million other things, all of us weighted with cares and distracted with the false promises of this world. I have been thinking of myself, of feeling old and tired and perhaps not up to the challenges we face. And I have been thinking of you, who are asked to do so much and who are also stretched so thin.


These thoughts come, but then there come also readings like these today. Then also Jesus comes to us in prayer. And through Scripture and prayer we are reminded that none of our worries and doubts in the end count. We are called to go forward, as others have before us, to speak and live the reality of resurrection and incarnation that Jesus gave us, we who bear his mark in baptism and his name. We “are witnesses of these things.”


Several themes weave through these Easter readings. The physicality of the resurrection is first, and particularly the emphasis Jesus puts on his wounds. Resurrection does not wipe away suffering; it vindicates it, it is a victory over, but also through, suffering and death. We cannot walk around our problems or be raptured out of them; we can only be saved by courageously living through them, overcoming and redeeming them.


Complementing this theme is that of the opening of possibility. Resurrection is a new life, a new beginning—sacramentalized in Holy Baptism. Integral to this opening of possibility is forgiveness. The past—our mistakes, our failures, our sins—is truly wiped away, in the sense that God does not hold it against us, in the sense also that we cannot use it as an excuse for future cowardice or nonperformance. We hear this message particularly clearly at this moment in the world’s history. From Pakistan to Wall Street, Washington to Jerusalem, nowhere can we move forward unless we accept, repent and forgive our past. But if we repent and forgive, incredible new possibilities will open before us. And surely that is true also in our personal lives.


Let me bring all this home to what we here in Holy Cross will be doing next month. During May we are going to be engaged in a collective study of our worship, our liturgy. Worship is the most important thing we do. It forms us as Christians. At its heart, worship is about resurrection and incarnation. It is where we recall the stories and doctrines through which we understand life and ourselves. It is where we act out and make present, in the Eucharist, the mystery of Christ; where we take that mystery into our own lives. So we will be reflecting on how we do this, and how we might do it better—better in the sense of more effectively accomplishing its purposes.


 Our process, as we discussed this morning after breakfast, will involve some learning, some focus group conversation, collecting information from every member of the congregation through questionnaires, evaluation and discussion, and then making plans for where we go in the future. We will need to get beyond the level of “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” We will need to reflect together on what best incarnates the Gospel in our time, our place, our culture here in Weare. We will need to examine our individual preferences: what simply protects and comforts us, what transforms us and calls us forward as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?


This process is important to our life as a congregation. It can also be important to the personal lives of each of us participating in it. It can be, indeed, a great way to lift up and live into the reality of Easter. I hope each of you will be a full part of it.

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