Reverend Rebecca Newland
Third Sunday in Easter, 22 April 2012
Acts 3:12-20; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:15-17, 3:1-16; Luke 24:36b-48
Jesus Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! But what does that mean? For you and me? This place and the world? If doesn't actually mean anything, then there is no point at all with me being up in this pulpit and no point even reading the resurrection stories. We might as well all go to the pub and have a beer and watch the footy—and keep doing that all the time. Only boredom would compel us onto something else. There is nothing boring about the resurrection. It is the ultimate riddle and mystery.
It is also a profound source of meaning. If Christ is really raised from the dead it changes everything. This was certainly the experience of the first disciples. Something extraordinary occurred that radically changed their lives. The event was real. The change was real. But what did it mean?
The New Testament was written by various early Christians to answer this central question. It was written to explain the event and help others be captured by its transforming power and to live this new reality out in community and relationships. As you can imagine, there are quite a few explanations of the meaning of the resurrection both inside scripture and out of it. In a nutshell, however, the resurrection of Christ is God's protest against death and its many messengers—against estrangement, oppression and exploitation.
In scripture and life death is more than just physical death. It is about estrangement and disconnection. The dead cannot praise God and they cannot love and be loved by their neighbours. Every conflict we have is a type of death. When we are in conflict and confusion it is very hard to love. Imprisonment, illness, oppression are all types of death, for they cut a person away from what gives them life and hope. Even the smallest insignificant things can cause us to feel a sense estrangement and disconnection.
Over the last few days there has been a rockslide at Pooh corner on the King's Highway—the road between Canberra and Batemans Bay. Some of you may have heard about it. The road will be blocked off both ways for a number of days. Not a major issue, but now that I know the road between David and me is blocked, I have a sense of unease within me—it's not logical but it is there. Indeed death and separation are perhaps our most primal fear. Different religions and philosophies have different ways to deal with this—from getting rid of ones attachments, to the exercise of reason, amongst many others. For those who identify with the Christ story it is primarily through the grace and power of God in and through the resurrection. It is a God story. It is God's doing.
The early Christians and the church through the ages have used a number of metaphors and ideas to talk about that. What as been rent asunder by the powers of death God has brought together again.
In doing the background reading for this sermon, I came across an amazing fact—well it was amazing to me. When William Tyndale, who lived in the 15th century and was the reformation scholar who translated the bible from the Greek and Latin into English, was trying to find a proper translation for καταλλαγή, which is usually translated as 'reconciliation', he created the word atonement (at-one-ment). It meant 'making one with God'. Do you find that fascinating? Not what atonement means but that it was invented by Tyndale to translate the Greek word for reconciliation? Well these things delight me! But I digress.
This, then, is the real heart and message of the Gospel—the Good News in Jesus Christ. It is καταλλαγή—reconciliation, a restoring to favour, atonement.
What this all means is that what had belonged together had become estranged and separated but was now brought back together. By raising Jesus from the dead, God broke the ultimate threat of death and separation and established the ground of the statement that 'nothing' can separate us from the love of God.
Atonement, then, is a relational reality. Our Gospel reading is thick with relational reality. As Jesus stands with those disciples on the road to Emmaus, he builds relationship and connections. After everything that has happened to him, he says "Peace be with you." Notice how these words occur more than once in more than one Gospel. He not only says the words, he reassures the disciples, shares food with them, spends time with them and invites them to be part of this message of reconciliation, of at-one-ment with God.
Not only that, as someone pointed out to me during the week, he embodied peace in his being. He has inner peace that is compelling. We know he had inner peace because of the way he rises above every conflict, doubt, challenge and fear. Jesus after the resurrection is not the same as before. He is transformed. He is different on a fundamental level.
O to have that degree of inner peace! Yet as we are united to the Spirit of Christ it is possible to have that peace and offer that peace—not every moment of every day, but bit-by-bit as we are transformed into his likeness.
Here at St Philip's, we have our framework for vision and mission. For those who do not know about it, you can find it on the web page. Amongst other things it contains a list of articulated values and a statement of what we are aiming for as we attempt to embody God's love. What we are aiming for is healthy, enriching relationships with God, each other and the world around us. Our goal, if you like, is reconciliation, the bringing together of what is separate in any way. Our mission statement says, "to connect the disconnected into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ." It too is intrinsically about reconciliation and the fruit that grows from that.
That mission statement, "to connect the disconnected into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ", might seem a little too evangelical for the Anglo-Catholics among us. Some one from outside the parish said to me, "but Rebecca, surely you don't want to say that, emphasize Jesus too much." After I had picked myself up from the floor, I said, "Well, yes, I do."
Getting people at the point where they identify with, connect to the story of, Christ his death and resurrection and what that has done to bring us into at-one-ment with God and each other and where the person is transformed by that connection, that relationship, would seem to me to be absolutely central to what we are supposed to be doing as disciples of Christ. Ours is fundamentally a ministry of reconciliation. In this we are part of God's plan to heal broken relationships, where we build connections, where we help others to find the God revealed in Christ and where we do the work on ourselves, that must be done, so we can be those islands of inner peace and peace makers.
This is a life-long work, and you do not have to remind me that I get this work wrong occasionally, but what a mission! What a privilege to be part be part of this great story of at-one-ment.
There is wonderful verse from the Acts reading that paints a picture of what happens with this atonement. In the story, Peter has been explaining to his listeners why it is that he has been able to heal the crippled man. It is because of his faith in Jesus and the power of his resurrection. He tells the story of Jesus death and how his own people had betrayed him and sent him to his death. He makes it clear that despite this there is hope, there is forgiveness and reconciliation. He says "repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
This is what the process, the journey of at-one-ment, brings us to—the refreshing presence of God. From this place so many other things become possible—healing of our brokenness, the power to love as Christ loved, the gifts of the Spirit—but, in the end, it is about being at one with God and being eternally refreshed by his sustaining, life-giving presence.
I'd like to finish with another metaphor, or picture if you like, about this. Last week David and I had three days together at North Durras where we stayed in Helen and Hardy's caravan—thanks Helen and Hardy. They have a caravan right near Durras Lake. We stayed there a few years ago—in fact when I was looking after St Philip's. Back then, the lake was closed off from the sea. It was very full and the region was going through a dry patch. In fact there was drought throughout most of NSW.
This time, the lake was open to the sea. This is of course a whole cycle that repeats itself over and over again, century after century. The lake is cut off from the sea and then it is open and each time the ecology of the lake and the shoreline changes. I am not going to try and explain it to you although David did a good job of trying to get me to see the complexities of the cycle. But it is what happens when the lake is reconnected to the ocean that really interested me. The whole system is refreshed. It is like the lake is cleaned out and rejuvenated. The place was certainly teaming with life—including an array of leaches and mossies, marsupials, fish and fowl. It glowed with life.
The resurrection of Christ is not a cyclical event like the story of the lake. It was the one-off event where death was overcome, where what had been estranged and separated was reconciled, and where new life, life in unity with God, creation and each other was made possible. The ocean of God rushes into our lives when through the power of the forgiving, peace offering, resurrected Christ, we clear away the sand bar and let his Spirit in. We then live in times of refreshing and from there we glow with life. Peter says, "turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
May this resurrection season bring us all, and those we love, into the refreshing presence of God.
Jesus Christ is risen, Alleluia. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!