Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday 28th April 2019, 2nd Sunday of Easter (year C)
Acts 5: 27-32 & St John 20:19-32
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
This time last week on Easter Sunday, as Christians around the world celebrated the joy of the resurrection; unspeakable terror was unleashed on our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka, when Islamist extremists blew themselves up in churches across the city. Worshippers gathering to celebrate one of the most important days of the church calendar, only to be met with brutal and indiscriminate violence, at the hands of those who were intent of causing as much suffering as possible, and of sowing fear.
The terrible events of last week, like so many others down through the violence of human history, remind us that the forces of death and destruction are ever at work in our world.
When seeds of hatred and violence are nurtured and watered; when dehumanisation and cruelty are allowed free reign; evil coalesces and horror is unleashed.
During this season of Easter, we are reminded that the God we worship is not so much an all-powerful God looking down from heaven at his suffering world from a safe distance; but is the suffering God down here; for it was into this world that our God came, to become the wounded and crucified God, who refused to return violence with violence, and calls us his followers to do the same.
Some of Christ’s last words were a call to not fight the empire with the weapons of war: “put down your sword” Christ had said to Peter, and then he healed the soldier’s ear. And now, after the resurrection, Christ comes back to his disciples, and three times in our gospel reading he utters the words ‘peace be with you’.
God the Son, whose whole life had embodied compassion, refuses to meet violence with violence when he is crucified, and when he comes back from the dead he does not come seeking revenge. He does not come with words of accusation directed at his disciples who had forsaken him, he comes in humility and in peace.
In our reading from Acts, the disciples who had fled the scene of the crucifixion in fear for their lives, are now boldly proclaiming the good news of the gospel, after having been released from prison.
The resurrection transformed a fearful group of men, into those who were to be imprisoned and eventually killed as they followed in the footsteps of their Lord, boldly saying to the authorities who had imprisoned them: ‘The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree’ (Acts 5:30).
The kingdom of God has always been a force of resurrection in our troubled world.
Many have walked in Christ’s footsteps, boldly standing up for justice in a world which kills its prophets and peacemakers.
God calls us his church, to be His body here on earth. A body that will need to go where suffering is, a body that will need to be prepared to be wounded, as is stands alongside those who are suffering, to bring hope and compassion; embody resurrection amongst those locked in the tombs of fear.G
Some years ago, I met a Pilipino priest by the name of Father Benigno Beltran. He had spent his life identifying with those on the very margins of society. He had embodied resurrection in the community where he went to minister as a priest.
He moved to Smokey Mountain, a huge rubbish dump on the outskirts of Manila, where 25,000 scavengers eek out a meagrely existence, finding and re-selling scraps of metal and rubbish.
Here is an extract from his book Faith and Struggle on Smokey Moutain: Hope for a Planet in Peril:
Millions of flies and cockroaches and mutant rats competed with 25,000 scavengers for survival–25,000 men, women and children who had been trampled upon, squashed, obliterated, condemned without trial to be a stinking class of human beings, carrying their rattan baskets like beasts of burden: people who had been lied to, deceived, duped, and spat upon all their lives. Hundreds of scavengers were figuratively crucified in the garbage dump, their hands and feet pierced by rusty nails and broken bottles while they searched for tin cans, scraps of paper and plastic bags, and climbed their own Calvary. (Beltran: 2012, 2)
In our gospel reading Jesus appears to his disciples in his resurrected body. The resurrected body is still a wounded body.
Note that they are locked behind doors in fear; which is understandable given what they had witnessed.
Jesus crosses the threshold and barrier of their fear and says ‘Peace be with you’. He then shows them his hands and his side, and then in verse 21 he says once again ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’.
A little later in the passage is the well- known account of how doubting Thomas needs to put his hand in the wounds of Jesus before he can truly believe, and in verse 27 Jesus says: ‘ Peace be with you (…) put your finger here and see my hands; and put your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing’
God is calling us, his church, to be his body here on earth. It is a body that will not run away from the wounds and pain of those we encounter. It will not be a body that is unafraid to touch the wounds and pain of others, for as it says in Matthew 25:40 ‘as you did it to the least of these my brethren you did it unto me’.
If resurrection is to happen in this church, in this city, in this land, in our world, it will be when the Church, Christ’s body here on earth, is willing to pick up its cross and walk in the footsteps of our Saviour. It will be when the church is moved to go where the hungry, the persecuted, the oppressed and occupied are, with the healing compassion and love of our Saviour, that resurrection life will happen, for, as Teresa of Ávila once said:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
― Teresa of Avila
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning was now, and ever shall be. Amen.