SERMON: ‘A completely new order of how things are!’

SERMON: ‘A completely new order of how things are!’

A completely new order of how things are!’

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Andrew McKearney on 15 April 2018

Two weeks ago on Easter Day we heard from Mark’s gospel how the women went to the tomb of Jesus early on Sunday morning to discover that it was empty. Alone of the four gospels, Mark simply gives us this story as his account of Easter. We noted that for Mark there is no rounding off, no drawing to a conclusion, no appearances of the risen Lord. Simply an empty tomb from which the women flee – and Mark ends his account of Easter saying:

‘they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

It’s a strange way for Mark to end his gospel! People have wondered whether he fell ill at this point? Or perhaps he died before he was able to finish writing his gospel? Or perhaps the last page of his gospel got torn off and lost? All sorts of ideas have been suggested, but the one favoured by most scholars is that Mark meant his gospel to end as it does:

‘they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

Last week we heard from John’s gospel and we noticed that one of the distinctive things about his account of Easter is the intensely personal appearances of Christ.

There’s the story of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Christ in the garden near the tomb. The moment of recognition brings a shiver to many-a-spine when Christ simply speaks her name:

‘Mary!’

A few verses on from that story and we hear of the risen Christ appearing to Thomas. Christ stands in front of him and invites him to touch his wounds, to which Thomas responds by saying:

‘My Lord and my God!’

Peter we all remember as the disciple who passionately protested his devotion to Christ:

‘Lord, I am ready to go with you, to prison

and to death!’

But Peter had then denied knowing him three times. Peter’s restoration by the risen Christ, the forgiveness he’s offered, enables Peter to acknowledge:

‘Lord, you know everything; you know

that I love you.’

Three intensely personal encounters that John gives us of the risen Christ appearing to Mary, Thomas and Peter.

Today it’s the turn of Luke’s gospel. He’s different again!

Luke has everything happen in or around Jerusalem – there’s no mention of the risen Lord going to Galilee that you get in Mark.

And it all happens on one day for Luke. The women find the tomb empty, two disciples journey to Emmaus, Jesus appears to all the disciples that we read about just now, and finally Jesus ascends to heaven.

Easter is quite a day for Luke!

What is so striking to us about the passage that we’ve just read is the stress on the physical nature of the risen Lord in Luke’s gospel.

The disciples are invited first of all to look at his hands and feet, presumably since on them were the mark of the nails. Then the disciples are invited to touch their Lord ‘for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’. And finally the risen Christ asks them whether they have anything to eat, proceeding to eat a piece of broiled fish in their presence.

Luke is at pains to stress the physical nature of the resurrection in a way that seems to us not just off-putting but at odds with Saint Paul who talks about the resurrection body not being a physical body but a spiritual body, concluding his account of the resurrection in his first letter to the Corinthians by saying:

‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’

Clearly there’s no fixed way of telling the story of the resurrection – no one has attempted it before! It has to be worked on by each gospel writer, each preacher, each thinker in the early church, shaped by their beliefs about the resurrection.

So what lies behind Luke’s emphasis here on the physical nature of the risen Lord?

Luke has just told us of the story of what happened to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road and how their eyes were opened to the risen Lord when he broke the bread at table – that as soon as their eyes were opened to his presence, he vanishes from their sight. That story gives the clear impression to the reader that the spiritual presence of Jesus is what really matters – remember that in the Emmaus Road story Jesus appears as a stranger without at first being recognised.

Here, in the next story that Luke tells, he redresses the balance, stressing the physical reality of the risen Lord – he’s a real person – and refuting any suggestion that the disciples have seen a ghost by having Jesus eat a fish in their presence!

Luke is not interested in sophistications like Paul’s idea about ‘spiritual bodies’. Luke wants to stress the importance of our whole created selves. It’s a very Jewish outlook in which God’s restored creation, like the original creation, is in some sense physical and material.

And it’s an outlook that is shared by the Book of Revelation. You’ll recall that the consummation of all things at the end of time is there described in this way:

‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.’

That’s exactly what Luke is trying to tell us about Christ’s resurrection from the dead – it’s a new heaven and a new earth – a completely new order of how things are!