Sermon 15th April 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 15 APR 2018, EASTER 3

 Revd Angus MacLeod MA BD 

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-15042018

 

“Jesus himself stood among them and said to the disciples: “Peace be with you.” 

And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Luke 24:36, 40

 

On Easter Sunday, we reflected, on the then topical,

very public fall from grace of the Australian cricket captain, Steve Smith,

(following the revelation of ball-tampering/cheating.)

We gazed a little, at the image of the father’s hand

upon the wayward son’s shoulder,

when all about were hostile – an image of enduring love.

 

In the aftermath of such career full stops – however temporarily,

a sports psychologist offered this arresting statement:

“Only sportsmen die twice.”

Highlighting the struggle/the void that many top sportsmen/women face

when their time in the sun ends –

whether by injury, defeat, suspension or retirement.

 

Scottish (Tour de France) cyclist David Millar wrote:

No one’s prepared for the end and all riders struggle…

Your life’s been dictated by the race calendar

and suddenly that disappears and it’s got no ending.

It takes a good few years to stabilise and realise it’s finished,

and you’ve got to start all over again.

There are still decades left and it’s not easy.”

(“Only sportsmen die twice.”)

 

Our transitions may be less dramatic than elite sportspeople,

but there are plenty before and afters in a lifetime,

Life after school/university.

Life after redundancy/retirement.

Life after divorce/diagnosis.

Life after death.

There are various locked rooms to exit; thresholds to cross.

 

Into a locked room Jesus stood among them

and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 

 

It is still the first day of the week – Easter Day.

Into the least promising of circumstances;

a hiding place, fear-filled, rank with defeat;

the, as yet un-arrested remnant, cower;

the Master’s death, a terrible reproach to a collective failure of nerve.

 

Yet that is where it begins.

To such a place, and just such folks – Jesus comes.

Comes and gifts the greeting:

“Peace be with you.”

Echo of those pre-crucifixion words:

“Peace is what I leave with you; my peace I give you.

Not as the world gives. Be not afraid.” (John 14: 27)

Continuity of promise and blessing – a thread, unbroken.

 

Luke’s account – just like John’s gospel last week –

ss all about the physicality of the risen Jesus –

hands, feet, food, not a phantom.

The wounds of Good Friday both exist and persist.

Resurrection is not a cancellation of the Cross;

what went before is not a mistake.

The way of love and vulnerability, of strength in weakness,

remains the way.

Jesus does not return manicured and mended –

The scars are reminder that he has travelled

through his ordeal, not round it.

 

Debie Thomas a contemporary theologian and writer (Journey with Jesus website)

described an incident from her own family history.

A few years ago, she and her husband found themselves

in the wrenching position of having to hospitalize

their then, eleven-year-old daughter,

who was in danger of losing her life.

Hugely distressed on the day they were required

to check their daughter into the medical facility, and then walk away.

She remembers that morning as one of the worst of her life.

The next day, still reeling from grief and defeat,

she wandered into a Christian bookstore,

hoping, she supposed, to surround herself

with the symbols of a faith she could no longer muster.

 

After a few minutes, a soft-spoken saleswoman approached

and asked if she needed help.

All Thomas could do was cry.

The saleswoman patted her back kindly,

then walked over to a jewelry case,

rummaged around for a minute,

and came back with a crucifix on a slender silver chain.

A tiny Christ hung on his cross, his face drawn in pain.

“Wear this,” she said, pressing the necklace into Thomas’ hands. 

“Only a suffering God can help.”

 

And after the wounds – food.

In their fear and confusion, the disciples have overlooked

the most basic rules of hospitality.

Instead of offering Jesus food, water, shelter, or comfort,

they have pulled away,

keeping themselves aloof, through suspicion and fear.

So, Jesus reminds them of humanity’s fundamentals,

leading with his own vulnerability:

“Friends, I’m hungry. Please feed me”

A reminder of how our bodies shape our faith practices;

How food and hospitality are marks of resurrection.

 

Finally, back to first words of resurrection:

“Peace be with you – shalom.”

In the Bible, Shalom is not simply the absence of conflict;

it is the encompassing of wholeness, integration, justice and well-being.

Recent days have seen the twentieth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement –

that moment that marked the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Listening to those involved in the peace process, then and now,

two themes seemed to emerge.

Firstly, the repeated refrain: Peace is not an event, it is a process.

As one deal-maker said at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Ceasefire was the easy part – now the hard work really begins.”

 

And secondly there was reflection on forgiveness.

Jesus’ greeting – “Peace be with you”

Are, first and foremost, words of forgiveness.

What has gone before – like the scars he bears –

is not forgotten – it is not brushed under the table –

but it, by Jesus, forgiven and transformed.

 

What was striking about the reflections from Northern Ireland

was the honest recognition that

some have found forgiveness possible, and others haven’t.

Pastors – a Presbyterian minister and a Roman Catholic priest,

both spoke about the range of responses.

There are remarkable examples of those whose loved ones were murdered,

but have found themselves free from hatred.

There are others, who have found it impossible to forgive.

And there are probably many who lie somewhere along that spectrum.

What the clergy admitted, was that on occasion.

a too-glib message of Christian forgiveness

has actually added a weight of guilt/shame

to those already burdened by the trauma of violent loss.

 

 

Thoughts of what is possible/what is beyond us,

have taken me back to another group

who have wrestled to make peace with past violence.

The FEPOW is the Veterans’ Association of Far East Prisoners of War

those held captive by the Japanese in World War II –

in circumstances of terrible brutality.

 

There are celebrated examples of painfully won forgiveness –

Eric Lomax, the Railway Man“Sometimes the hating has to stop.”

But in 2002, at the decommissioning service of the Association,

at St Martins-in-the-Fields,

there was that same recognition of what is possible, and what is not:

 

Their Chaplain:

“Just as you find it hard, some impossible,

to forgive those who tortured you,

so, the Japanese have found it hard, some impossible,

to seek remorse and repentance.

It may not be possible in this life to get this sorted

any more than it has been.

So today, the laying-up of the association’s standard

is a way of handing it all over to God,

with thanksgiving for what has been achieved

and acceptance that we cannot do everything.”

 

Risen Christ – in the mercy and creativity of Easter –

to the resolved and the as yet unresolved –

bring your peace. Amen