Two homilies (2) Easter Day

Easter Sunday | Year A | Acts 10.34-43 | Colossians 3.1-4 | John 20.1-18


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia.

Praise the Lord.

There, that’s better.

Six weeks of not being able to say Alleluia – and here we are.

Easter Sunday.

We can say joyfully and loudly say “Praise the Lord” because Jesus Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

We will say that again during the Eucharistic prayer.

I will say “Great is the mystery of faith.”

And you will respond “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Great is the mystery of faith.

We’re gathered here today in worship and praise and rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

Christ died.

Christ is risen.

And if you are sitting thinking “resurrection is a pretty odd thing,” then you know what – that’s OK.

Great is the mystery of faith.

And strange is the resurrection of Christ.

In today’s Gospel account of the resurrection, the familiar elements are there – the empty tomb, the grave clothes, the bemused disciples and the witness of a woman.

Like the whole of John’s gospel there are images and echoes backwards and forwards internally and to scripture.

Perhaps the grave clothes are mentioned so specifically to show they are different from Lazarus’ – Lazarus, whom Jesus had already raised from the dead. But Lazarus was still wearing his grave clothes when he was raised.

Jesus, the one who had the power over life and death, was different.

And Peter.

Peter – the favourite disciple of so many of us, because he just so often gets it wrong – went home.

There’s nothing different yet about Peter.

Peter went home.

I wonder why.

I wonder if he was tired. If he was burdened with the guilt of having let down his lord, his rabbi, his Messiah.

Did his ears still ring with the sound of the cock crowing, trumpeting his failure?

Peter saw the grave clothes, but he did not understand.

The other disciple saw the grave clothes and he did believe.

Seeing and believing are strong ideas in the Gospel of John.

In John 1, in the prologue, we read “the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.”

John the Baptist says “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The first words that Jesus speaks in John’s gospel are “what are you looking for?” and his first statement is “come and see.”

But Peter, and the other disciple, go home, leaving Mary Magdalene to see Jesus.

To have him ask her practically the same question as he asked in the beginning “whom are you looking for?”

And calls her by name.

Just as Jesus in John 1 names Simon Peter.

You may all by now be familiar with my desire to highlight the things that women do or say in the Bible that are so easy to miss.

This is one of them.

This is not just a trivial conversational exchange that the gospel writer has scripted.

We are also reminded of the image of the good shepherd in John 10.

He calls his sheep by name, and they know his voice.

And I wonder why Mary Magdelene thought Jesus was the gardener.

Was that the most logical explanation for seeing someone else in the early morning?

Was Jesus tidying up the shrubs?

I don’t know.

But it’s an image worth thinking about.

Is it an echo back to that first garden, Eden?

A reminder of the creation story.

You may have heard before that the name Adam is a play on words.

The Hebrew for ‘ground’ or ‘earth’ is adama. In Genesis 2, God puts the man in the garden to tend and till it.

Perhaps we have this link with the warden of the garden.

Echoes of the creation of the world in the re-creation of the world through the resurrection.

The resurrection changes things.

Peter’s simple statement in Acts shows the change in him.

This is the post-resurrection Peter.

The Peter that has been forgiven by Jesus for his denial.

The Peter that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Peter who seen the persecution of the fledgling church and is on his way to leadership – and his own death.

The resurrection changes things.

This morning at the beginning of the service we renewed our baptism vows.

In baptism, we sign the candidate with the sign of the cross using holy oil.

When I explain this to the children visiting from schools I talk about the identity that it gives us.

I say that they wear a school uniform to show they are part of that school community.

And that even when they’re not wearing the uniform, they’re still part of the school.

And the cross is like that.

It’s the invisible mark that we died and been raised with Christ in our baptism.

Our identity in Christ.

The resurrection changes things.

The resurrection changes us.

We belong now to God’s new world.

We are a new creation.

Paul wrote to the Colossians talking about this new life in Christ.

He tells us what the implication is.

What we need to do, if we have been raised with Christ.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

What does that mean today, tomorrow, when we’re back at work in the thick of life after a holiday weekend?

In baptism we say ‘Christ claims you for his own.’

We recognise Jesus when we are called by name.

Mary recognised Jesus when he called her by name.

Peter was called by name.

I think we need to look and see for those signs of the things from above.

The things that are of God, not of the world.

And we might have to look quite hard.

Because those things of God might come disguised.

Christ might look like a gardener at first glance.

The grave clothes might just look like any other linen.

Love might look like duty or hard work.

The mystery of faith might look like something to be laughed at.

We might fear faith for not understanding, rather than welcoming a mystery to be explored.

The other disciple had a chance to take a breather after his run to the tomb.

He went second into the tomb, and he saw and believed.

Perhaps for us to see and to believe we need to take a breather from our busy lives.

Time in prayer, in study, in fellowship.

Time to hear Jesus calling our name.

Time to become a disciple.

A lifetime’s commitment.

The resurrection changes things.

Will we let it change us?

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia.


Two homilies: (1) Maundy Thursday

feet-1176612_1280Year A | Maundy Thursday | Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, John 13.1-17,31b-35

May I speak in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want to look tonight about what John’s gospel says. And why it says what it does.

That might be a short sermon, you think, possibly with relief.

Because it’s obvious, isn’t it? Thursday of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday. Passover, betrayal, arrest. We know the story.

And yes. Our familiar landmarks along the way are there in our readings.

But what does John say? Why does he say what he says?

We probably all know that the gospel writers describe the life and ministry of Jesus differently.

There is a general theory that Matthew, Mark and Luke shared some sources when writing their accounts; but had independent sources as well.

So that’s why there’s overlap and difference between the three synoptic gospels. They’re called synoptic because they take a common view. That prefix – syn – means ‘together’. We see it in words like synagogue and synchrony and synergy.

It’s also thought that the writer of the Fourth Gospel knew at least one of the others and based his material on them.

But John’s view is different.

John’s Gospel has been described as the ‘theological gospel’ as if the other three were merely narrative. A useful starting point, perhaps, to measure John’s text, but ultimately not a true distinction. Both John and the synoptics have both detail and theology.

John has been selective.

John gives us many small, significant hints at his message. All kinds of imagery that we perhaps don’t notice or don’t get in translation.

For example, the verb used when we hear of Jesus laying aside his outer robe, is the same as used in John 10 when we hear of the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. The verb τιθημι that’s used is quite specific, not normally associated with undressing, but laying aside. Echoes in the text reminding us of what has been said previously.

Or, throughout John, the words “coming from”, going to, going up, coming down; are used to describe Jesus’ origins.

John shows us the comparison with manna – the bread that come down from heaven – and the bread of life – that came down from the Father.

Water, bread, and wine are threads that run through the tapestry of John’s gospel.

What is the first sign in the fourth gospel?

Jesus turns a lot of water into a lot of wine.

The conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4  is about living water.

John 6 tells us Jesus fed more than five thousand people, with leftovers. Twelve baskets. A lot of bread. Twelve – probably not a number chosen at random.

And that sign is immediately followed by Jesus walking on water.

Which is followed by Jesus saying that he is the bread of life.

In John 15 he talks of needing to be part of the true vine.

The gospel reading this evening talks of water cleansing feet, and cleansing lives.

Wine, bread, and water. The elements of the Eucharist. John’s gospel is awash with the stuff.

But John’s description of Jesus’ last meal doesn’t include the sharing of the bread or the cup. It’s in the synoptics.

And we think the writer of the Fourth Gospel knew those other accounts. The letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest parts of the new testament, so the ritual meal was well known relatively quickly.

So why not mention it?

Perhaps because he knew that the Corinthian Christians had already corrupted it. The letter Paul was writing was to tell them off for making the shared meal a place of inequality.

And John wanted us to think more about what Jesus was like and the legacy he left us, than just a special meal.

I think he is saying that Jesus’ giving of himself was greater. That the incarnation changed everything. The implications are too great to be limited to one sacrament. That the love of God for his creation surpasses everything. Those threads of water, bread and wine in the tapestry of the gospel point to the threads of God incarnate in our world. We sometimes need hints to be able to see them.

We have signs and symbols in sacraments. An outward sign of an invisible grace. The ordinary is blessed and made holy. The oil I gave out this morning at the Cathedral was ordinary oil before it was blessed.

Those signs and symbols are ways to experience and remember God’s love for us.

But they are only signs. They cannot grasp the vastness of the encounter of the word made flesh. We can only see the back of the tapestry…not the full glorious picture on the other side.

John is far more concerned with telling us who Jesus was, than the things he did.

Only John’s Jesus washes his disciples feet.

So if John chooses what he includes for a reason, why include the washing of feet and not the institution of the Eucharist?

It is amusing, perhaps, to imagine different ways in which our faith might have evolved if footwashing was the thing we focused on.

Would our basilicas and churches have reredos and artworks not celebrating the Eucharist, but the washing of feet? Would there be whole swathes of plastic foot buckets for sale with inspirational quotes? Would it feel natural to share in the washing of one another’s feet, not something awkward that we shy away from?

Why include it?

I think because it’s an act of humble service. It puts Jesus in the role of ο διακονος – the word for servant – the root of our word ‘deacon.’ Peter’s reaction demonstrates how difficult it would have been for the disciples to have their feet washed by their teacher.

And like everything else in the gospel this private act of service points us forward to the public, ultimate service, the ultimate humiliation in Jesus’ death on the cross.

It points to Jesus’ love for his friends.

Those friends were the ones from the world. Κοσμος – the world – os another word that is used a lot in John’s gospel. Jesus loved his own. They were chosen from the world; in contrast to Jesus coming from the Father.

Note how the disciples are called Jesus’s own. The text doesn’t say “disciples” here. It says ‘his own.’ If we say yes to Jesus, we are his own.

And what does it mean to say yes to Jesus?

Love one another as I have loved you.

By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus is about to be betrayed. His friends are about to betray him. He knows what will happen. He knows he is going to the cross.

He laid aside his life for us.

He loved us to the end.