Sunday, April 19, 2015

the importance of the Resurrection

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Lord was, it would seem, ferociously busy on the day of his Resurrection. The account of his appearance to the disciples which we have in our Gospel reading for today is, in fact, only the last of many such appearances that he made that day.

The first, as all know, was to the women who had come bearing spices to finish the burial customs, who having found the tomb empty and encountered angels, next met with our Lord himself. Mary Magdalene must have gone on ahead of them; for she gets back to the disciples and tells them of the empty tomb and then follows them back; and it is only after Peter and the others have left the garden that she encounters the Risen Lord. Later on that same day, perhaps in the afternoon, Cleopas and another disciple meet with the Lord on the road to Emmaus and spend many hours in his company, walking, talking, and finally sitting down at table with him, only recognising who he is in the breaking of the bread. They rush back to Jerusalem to tell the others that the Lord really is risen – having doubted what the women have told them – only to be told that they already know, because the Lord has also shown himself to Peter. Whether that meeting took place before the meeting on the road to Emmaus or after we do not know; we have no details of that meeting, other than the fact that it is also mentioned by St Paul in first Corinthians. (St Paul also mentions a further private appearance to St James, but it is unclear whether that took place on this day). And then, as they are all talking so excitedly, our Lord appears to them again; this, it would seem, is the appearance we talked about last week that is also mentioned in John's gospel, the one where St Thomas is so famously absent from.

So, many meetings with the Lord on that first day; and these are only the beginning of a long series of post-resurrection appearances that are to take place between the discovery of the Empty tomb and the Ascension forty days later. This was not mere busy-ness on the part of our Lord; nor was it simply his going round to all his old friends to let them know he was now alive and in that way relieve their grief; the Resurrection stands at the heart of our faith and its importance can not be over-emphasised. It is as St Paul says: if Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain. This is, of course, why so many have tried to claim that he did not rise. But they have never been able, in nearly 2000 years of trying, to put together a coherent argument as to why the tomb was empty, or who had rolled the stone away from it. Indeed, they have largely stopped trying. We don't know, they say; but it could not have happened because such things do not happen. Men do not rise from the dead. Men might not; but Jesus did. And that means that he is exactly who he claimed he was – the Son of God, who is one with the Father, God himself.

And this is why our Lord showed himself to so many, on that day and on the days to follow; that they might see and believe. He talks with them, eats with them, breathes on them, touches them, even cooks for them so that they might truly know that he is not some kind of hallucination or ghost, but that he is really standing there before them, he is the master whom they followed, and he has risen from the dead. Small wonder that St Thomas, as we read last week, realising the enormity of this, confessed 'my lord and my God'; my lord – recognising him for the the man he had followed for so long; and my God recognising that he was who he had so long claimed to be, God himself made man.

And in the wonder of understanding that not only did God become man for us , but he died for us, and then rose from the dead, thereby giving us the promise of eternal life, let us not forget what else Jesus did on that first day: he told them the actions that they must take as a result knowing that he had risen. He 'opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.'

They were to be witnesses proclaiming to all the world that the Messiah had come, that he had died for us, and had risen also, and that now all people were called to turn their back on their old worldly lives and be forgiven of their sins in the name of the one who had risen. And just as they were called to be witnesses to this, so too are we; witnesses to all the world, proclaiming the truth of our risen Lord and God, by the words of our mouths and the way in which we live. I pray that the joy of this Easter season, the joy of the risen Christ, will give you the strength to do as he commanded us on that first day, and everyday since: Amen

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