22 April 2012

Open hands, open minds, open hearts

Christ appearing to his disciples at the table, Duccio, ca 1308-1311

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 22 April 2012, The Third Sunday of Easter,

11.30: The Eucharist,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

Acts 3: 12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3: 1-7; Luke 24: 36b-48.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

If you were not a regular church-goer but went along on Easter morning and paid close attention you may have gone home with two clear impressions:

● Easter is all about chocolate and fluffy little bunnies
● Easter is over once Easter Day is over.

In conversations over the past week with full-time and part-time students, it appears that Easter is over for many of our priests and parishes. Not because the children are back at school and most Easter Vestries have met. But the special Easter greetings, preface, blessings and dismissals are gone, we have stopped singing the Easter Anthems and Easter hymns, and the readings from the Acts of the Apostles have been forgotten.

Many of our clergy seem to have forgotten – and so people in our parishes so often are not taught – that Easter is not just for Easter Day. The Risen Christ is not placed back into the tomb nor is the stone rolled back across it after Easter Day is over.

This season is a celebration of our new creation in the Risen Christ, and is a full season of 50 days. The whole season is Easter, just as the twelve days of Christmas are Christmas. Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost do not form three seasons. This Easter Season celebrates the three dimensions of the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the sending of the Spirit.

These 50 days amount to one-seventh of the year, and form our great “Sunday” of the year. Just as Sunday is the first and the eighth day, so the “great Sunday” of the 50 days of Easter begins with the day of the Resurrection and continues through eight Sundays, or an octave of Sundays, a “week of weeks.”

The Gospel reading this morning (Luke 24: 36b-48) and the collect of the day (the Third Sunday of Easter) are reminders that we are still in the Easter Season, that we ought still to be rejoicing that Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

This year, the Easter season continues until 27 May, the Day of Pentecost. But to walk in the light of the Risen Christ is a call to us not just on Easter Day, not just on Sundays, but every day, for ever and ever. And our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning (Acts 3: 12-19) shows how the Apostles lived out that life in the Risen Christ even after the Day of Pentecost.

Peter and John are on their way to the Temple when, at the gate to the Temple courtyard, they meet a man who has been lame from birth. This man, like Lazarus outside the gates of Dives (Luke 16: 19-31), or the blind man outside the gates of Jericho (Luke 18: 35-43), is forced outside the gates, outside the community, outside the social and religious community, because of his disability, marginalised and forced to beg to survive.

But Peter challenges custom and convention, and commands him “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (Acts 3: 6). The man jumps to his feet like a child filled with joy, walks into the Temple precincts with Peter and John, “leaping and praising God” to the astonishment of all the people.

And this is where our story picks up this morning, with Peter preaching to the crowd, telling them it is not by the power of Peter and John that this man has jumped up and walked, but rather by God’s power, through Christ.

The titles of God that Peter uses (verse 13) are the same titles God identifies himself by to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3: 6). And this is the God who has “glorified” or lifted up Christ. Peter says that only recently, at the crucifixion, people “acted in ignorance,” yet God’s plan is accomplished, and there is a second chance.

The Resurrection is a second chance. And that is how it is presented in our reading from Saint Luke’s Gospel this morning.

The Risen Christ has appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and has shared bread with them (Luke 24: 13-32). Instead of staying on in Emmaus, these two return to Jerusalem, and they hear from “the eleven and their companions” (verse 33) that Christ has also appeared to Peter. As they are talking, the Risen Christ comes and stands among them, and declares: “Peace be with you” (verse 36).

The peace he proclaims is the peace the angels proclaim at the birth of Christ (Luke 2: 14). Luke begins and closes his Gospel with similar promises. The appearance of the incarnate Christ at the first Christmas and the appearance of the Risen Christ at the first Easter are heralded by angels proclaiming peace (Luke 2: 9-15; 24: 4-7).

And as the shepherds, once counted out, once left in the dark and in danger, outside the city and outside the community, socially and religiously, make haste and give praise to God for what they have heard, so too in our reading in Acts the man left in physical darkness and forced into the role of an outsider is soon “walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3: 10).

The initial response to the incarnation was one of terror and fear (Luke 2: 9-10). The initial responses to the Resurrection are ones of fear and terror too, on the part of the women at the grave and on the part of the eleven hiding in the Upper Room (Luke 24: 5, 37).

With the horrors of Calvary still in their minds, it is no wonder the presence of the Risen Christ is too much to comprehend. Resurrection is not easy to grasp, and so there is this story is filled with a mixture of too much fear and too much joy for belief. Saint Luke gives us a powerful description of the disciples disbelieving for joy – “while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering” (Luke 24: 41).

But the Risen Christ calms both their fears and their disbelief by eating fish – the fact that it is broiled fish provides an earthy detail in an event beyond belief – and he begins to interpret, as he had earlier in the day on the road to Emmaus, all that is written about him in Scripture.

Fish and fear: you will recall how Christ calms the storm on the sea and the fear of the disciples earlier in this Gospel (Luke 8: 22-26). And the bread at Emmaus and the fish in the Upper Room recall the five loaves and the two fish with which Christ feeds the multitude in this Gospel (Luke 9: 12-19).

So Saint Luke is using the beautiful literary form of enclosure in his Gospel. He is linking the incarnation with the resurrection, weaving them together in so many ways. God becomes human in Christ and identifies with us. Now God in Christ is inviting us to be like him, not just in some abstract, philosophical way, but in a real, incarnate way.

In my beginning is my end …
… In my end is my beginning. (TS Eliot, East Coker)

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from … (TS Eliot, Little Gidding)

The incarnate Christ is the Risen Christ in flesh. Touch me and see (verse 39). Just as he takes the fish in his hands, we are invited to take hold of the Body of Christ. It is no accident that the Greek word here for fish, ἰχθύς (ichthus) is a common acronym in the Early Church for ησοῦς Χρειστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.”

Christ feeds us spiritually and physically, and he comes to dine with us, not just in the past, not just on one Easter Day, but now, today, this Sunday morning. And we are to be his witnesses, proclaiming his name to all nations, all ethnicities, all languages, across all divisions.

There is no room for division in the Body of Christ. Instead, there is “repentance and forgiveness” (verse 47).

With a play on words in Latin, Tertullian, one of the patristic writers, wrote: Caro cardo salutis, the flesh is the hinge of salvation (Tertullian, De resurrectione mortuorum VIII, 6-7). The Paschal Mystery, the mystery of life, and our personal and collective participation in those mysteries, “hinges” on the flesh. “Handle me,” says the Risen Christ to the startled disciples. “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself.” If touching him does not convince them, his asking for food does. He eats, this friend who came among them eating and drinking, “a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11: 19), who changed in his body this innermost reality of our flesh.

On the great day of the Resurrection, Saint Luke portrays the Risen Christ doing precisely what Christ does before the Crucifixion: he eats with us, he dispels fear, he proclaims peace, especially to those caught up in spirals of violence from which they cannot escape, he opens the meaning of the Scriptures to those who listen – just as he does at the very beginning of his public ministry when he opens the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah in the in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-19).

It is he who tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, attend to the stranger, uncover the structures that mask injustice and challenge the institutions that perpetuate suffering. Now, on the Easter morn, he commissions us to be his witnesses (Luke 24: 47-48). We are to do the same.

Today the scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing, every time we eat with him, proclaim his word and invite the world into the kingdom.

Today is the day to do that. Today is the day of salvation, the glorious day of the Lord, the day of Resurrection, the day of the coming of God’s kingdom.

Today is the day of resurrection, of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, and no regrets of yesterday or anxieties about tomorrow should keep us from it. Christ is Risen!

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread.
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Eucharist in the Institute Chapel on Sunday 22 April 2012, during a residential weekend for part-time MTh students.

No comments: