Milborne St Andrew
Sunday 23rd April 2017
Acts 2.14a, 22-32; John 20.19-31
There is so much that was ordinary about those days.
For the Romans who crucified him, it was just another day of death and violence, three criminals suffering the death penalty.
For most of the crowd who had gathered to watch, it was just another crucifixion, providing some excitement and gore in otherwise fairly mundane lives.
Even for Jesus’s friends, what happened next was fairly ordinary. He died and was buried before the sabbath, as anybody would have been in those circumstances.
And for his friends and family, as for all of us when we lose someone we love, they mourned. It’s tough and extraordinary for those who experience it, but it is also a normal part of life. All sentient beings have a beginning and an ending, a birth and a death.
That’s the way our world works. Birth is celebrated, death is mourned, but it is all quite ordinary in many respects, because we cannot exist without birth and death.
All of us were born, all of us will die, and the vast majority of us will experience births and deaths of those we love and who are around us.
The actions of the women were also fairly normal. The body had had to be buried hastily, so they wanted, as soon as the sabbath was over, to take proper care of it, even if in their grief they hadn’t quite thought the practicalities through. Who would move the stone? How were they going to reach the body?
None of us feel normal when we have been bereaved, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t a normal experience.
Jesus’ life had been extraordinary in many ways, but his death, premature as it was, had been relatively normal.
Then the extraordinary happened. The body wasn’t there. Now I have conducted many burials and interments of ashes during my ministry, and I can tell you that never have I returned to grave to discover that the body or ashes weren’t there. This is something out of the ordinary.
And one can only imagine the horror and grief of anyone who did discover that their loved ones remains had been removed from where they had been laid to rest.
The women went and told the rest of the disciples of what they had discovered, but we don’t know whether they were believed or not. What we do know is that by the evening of that extraordinary day, they were still fearful rather than overcome with joy.
Until a man came and stood among them, a man who offered them peace and who then showed them his wounded hands and side.
It was then that they realised who this man was – a man whom they knew but whom they didn’t know. A man whom they recognised once he had spoken and revealed his wounds.
I think we sometimes forget that the other disciples believed after they had seen Jesus’s hands and feet. There is this idea that it was only Thomas who needed proof that this strange yet familiar person was Jesus, but we are clearly told that the disciples rejoiced once they had seen the wounds and scars – surely it was those that proved to them this was the same Jesus they had followed unto death, or to near death, since they all ran away at the end, save the beloved disciple and Mary.
Even after this encounter on the Sunday evening, we’re not told about much about what happened that first week. A week later the disciples are back in that room where Jesus first met with them. But nothing dramatic appears to have changed, and Jesus has come and gone, until he appears again. And then later John tells us he meets them in Galilee.
Interestingly we don’t know where he was a lot of the time during the 40 days between Easter and the Ascension.
We have some stories about what happened in those days, but remarkably few.
We’re not told where he lived or slept or ate or whether in fact he needed to do any of those things. We don’t know where he was in the in-between hours. There is perhaps a temptation to think that once Jesus came back from death he spent the whole of those 40 days with the disciples, but that’s just not true.
Although Jesus post-resurrection had the ability to pass through doors and appear and disappear at will, it seems that he couldn’t be in more than one place at any one time, even after his extraordinary return to life.
But once the Holy Spirit had been released on that first day of Pentecost Jesus was no longer bound by the usual parameters of this world. For the Holy Spirit is everywhere.
Look at how different Peter is in our reading from Acts this morning – he’s become an eloquent public speaker. This is entirely extraordinary when we look at what else we know about Peter – denier, who often engaged mouth before brain, fisherman, uneducated, albeit with flashes of remarkable insight at times.
The Holy Spirit can truly make us aware of extraordinary things. Think of some of what Christians have manged over the centuries: the roots of much education and health care long before states and governments provided such things, the abolition of the slave trade, people like Martin Luther King seeking justice for all human beings, and so on.
But that Holy Spirit who so inspired people of the past and through the ages is present to all of us. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, still does extraordinary things today.
The resurrected Jesus is with us all today because through the Spirit no longer is he bound by space and time.
So, why are we not seeing and doing more extraordinary things?
There are different reasons, I think.
For some of us it is fear that holds us back from allowing God’s Spirit to truly envelop us and take over our lives. We like to be in control, rather than allowing the uncontrollable Spirit to lead us where it wishes to go, like the wind blowing where it will. Do not be afraid is Jesus’s message to you.
For others, it’s because we don’t actually want to go where God leads. We like our lives as they are, thank you very much.
God gets the amount of time we’re willing to give, and we try and imprison him and fit him into our boundaries.
We think other demands on our time are more important – more fool us. The two greatest commandments are love God and love your neighbour. Loving involves a willingness to abandon oneself for the other.
Others of us just don’t know how to be filled with the Spirit. Ask – and you will receive; seek – and you will find. Have you ever asked God’s Spirit to enter your heart and life? It’s something that we can do more than once, as our hearts become vessels that have wider and wider brims. Just think of trying to fill a wine bottle from a tap and an open dish – it’s a whole load easier to get water into an open dish. How open is your heart to receiving the life of the Spirit.
John’s Gospel talks a lot about seeing – real sight is so much more than what we see with our eyes. What was it Jesus said in today’s reading: blessed are those who have not seen yet come to believe.
Perhaps we close our eyes to the extraordinary in our ordinary world. Jesus is here – perhaps we need to pray that he will open our eyes to see him and his work in our world.
And let’s think what we mean by extraordinary things. They don’t need to be grand or showy. Any act of love is extraordinary when our default settings are those of sin and selfishness.
The extraordinary life of God is all around. And if we pray for God to open our eyes to it, we will find what we are searching for.
The extraordinary love of God in the midst of the terrors of war.
The sacrifice made by a stranger to save another.
The kind word given to one who is shunned by all others.
The encouragement given by one to another.
The shaft of sunlight in the darkest blackness.
The word of hope when all around is despair.
The forgiveness offered and not deserved.
The love and life of God can never be put out. It is there all around, if only we could see it. And we, as we allow ourselves to be refined and redefined by the resurrection life given to us through the Spirit, are those who can be God’s light and life to others.
This is a message we need to hear as individuals but also as a church community. Later we will look back over the past year of our church life – I pray that God will show us where he has been at work through us and in spite of us.
I pray too that God will show us where we can go, if we allow him to lead us, if we trust, if we love, if we let go of our desire to be in charge.