14 April 2024 - Easter Week 3

In todays Gospel reading we heard from St Luke. So far this Easter we have read John – I’m sure it will strike you that the atmosphere of the accounts is very similar.

Luke doesn’t mention the locked doors, but the disciples were ‘startled and terrified’ when Jesus appeared among then. John tells us they were in fear of their lives; Luke suggests the fear is due to Jesus’s appearance. As in John his first words are “Peace be with you.” Then he questions their fear. Do you think I am a ghost? Perhaps they did, perhaps they did not, but they knew Jesus was dead. Again, as in John, Jesus shows them his hands and his feet – that is, the wounds of the nails. The one who has risen is the one who was crucified.

The result, Luke tells us is both joy and disbelief – confusion. And well it might have been. We, today, know that Jesus rose from the dead – the disciples were discovering something that was beyond all human comprehension, now and then. How would you have felt? What did this mean?

Jesus then asked them for something to eat and they gave broiled fish – was the risen Lord hungry? – did he need food? – or was he demonstrating that this was a physical resurrection. Ghosts do not eat.

[Broiling, by the way, means cooking by radiant heat over, perhaps, charcoal…]

In Luke’s account Jesus has already appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. On that journey he explained how the scriptures had been fulfilled – “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the tings concerning himself.” I often wish Luke had written some of that teaching down! Now for the second time in the same chapter, speaking to the eleven with the Emmaus two Luke tells us that Jesus said: “everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” Again Luke might have told us more – but clearly the scriptures – all the scriptures, the Law, the psalms and the Prophets, point to the fact that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.

Luke is telling us two important things here. First: the resurrection was a physical event – not a psychological happening in his friends – not wishful thinking in the early church. His body still bore the scars. Yes it was different – it came and went seemingly at will – it was new. Resurrection is not mere resuscitation. Like the few in that upper room that evening we cannot understand. God’s new creation has burst in on the world.

Second: Jesus is the culmination, the fulfillment, of all God’s promises to his people in the scriptures. The story of Jesus is not a new story; it is the climax of the old story. Risen Life is offered to all – but perhaps especially to God’s own people the Jews.

“Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations – beginning from Jerusalem.”

We might also notice that, just as in John, there is an emphasis on the forgiveness of sins.

If we were doing a bible study we might looks at various old manuscripts of Luke and wonder if copyists have added little bits from John – or vice versa – to harmonize the accounts. That is an activity for a Lent course, not an Easter Sermon.

For us it is enough to be able to rejoice, without the disciples’ terror, that the Lord is risen, that he has defeated death, and that his offering of himself on the cross, where those wounds were inflicted, deals with all sin. So we may each know forgiveness and share the life of the resurrection.

Again this week the set passage from The Acts shows the disciples, who have just healed a Lame Man at the Gate Beautiful of the Temple, boldly preaching this good news . The people are amazed by the miracle and Peter has to insist that this healing is the action of God – the one God – your God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – who has now raised Jesus from the dead. One God, one story. And again there is the link to forgiveness – “repent therefore and turn to God so your sins may be wiped out.” The Peter we see is the same yet different – Peter, his sins, including those denials, forgiven, now sharing the risen life of the Lord.

I will now confess that I find parts of the letters of John difficult. In today’s passage he says “No one who abides in Jesus sins.” Elsewhere he says “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.” Surely the fact is that all Christians still tend to sin. We are all works in progress – not yet perfect or anywhere near – the Spirit abiding in us helps us not to sin and assures us of God’s forgiveness when we do – but to think we do not sin would be as wrong as for Peter to think he had healed the lame man. Jesus dealt with sin on the Cross, death is defeate. One day – as John says – ‘we shall see him as he is’ –until then we struggle.

Christians are not above being difficult and factious. We can be judgmental, we can be hurtful, we gossip, we scheme, we covet. And no doubt all of us have special sins we find hard to relinquish. Purity of heart is hard. But the Love and forgiveness of the Cross is limitless, and the New Life is freely offered to all who will turn to Jesus.

If you find John in his letters too much an idealist – look to the Apostles in the Acts. Peter did not get everything right. He was, for example, slow to accept that it was all right to mix freely with foreigners, and Paul would accuse him of backsliding on the issue. But he was still a powerful Apostle – a great evangelist. Was Paul himself without fault? Both knew they could draw on that infinite forgiveness and unlimited New Life offered by Jesus. They gave him the glory.

It must be the same for us. We try to lead a good life, we fail, but God picks us up and continues to love us. The great danger is that we think we can improve on our own – no! God gives us endless loving forgiveness and new life. Bit by bit we grow in Him- until the day when we see him as he is. The message of Easter is love and life. Christ is risen! We are risen! Alleuia!