Sermon: Third Sunday of Easter, 10th April 2016

St.Alban’s Epping, 10th April 2016

“PETER: RESTORED AND COMMISSIONED”

(Acts 9:1-6; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:6-14; John 21:1-19)

 Rev. Paul Weaver

We all know what it’s like to be let down by people: that promise someone failed to keep, that job someone never got around to doing for us, that help we expected that was never given, that expectation that was never fulfilled. We’re not impressed when someone does it to us. And we’re usually not impressed with ourselves when we do it to others.

“I’ll get it done for you,” we say. “I won’t forget. I won’t let you down.” But something comes up, or we forget, or it turns out to be more demanding that we expected. We let someone down: they know it, and we know it. And if we know that it matters, we don’t feel good about it.

But it’s not just people that we let down, is it? We let God down, too. And he knows only too well about it. It’s not always that we deliberately disobey him; it will often be because of our weaknesses or our foolishness or our misjudgements. That temptation we find difficult to deal with. That resolution we keep on breaking. Those opportunities for good that we fail to take. That attitude that was going to change. That person we were going to treat with more kindness.

But we’ve failed again. We do fail others; we fail God; and we fail ourselves. We fall short of our own expectations, as well as those of other people. We keep on sinning.

How do we respond to that unpalatable reality? Do we brush it aside? (After all, nobody’s perfect!) Do we deny it, as if we really are OK? Do we pretend to be better people than we know we really are?

Or do we go to the other extreme? “I’m useless – I’m hopeless. What’s the point in even trying? Surely God must have given up on me by now!”

I find it encouraging to read about the great heroes of the Bible: people like Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Paul, and many others. They were great servants of God, but they were also real people, with feet of clay just like us. They had real failings, and the Bible presents them to us, warts and all! But despite their shortcomings, God worked through them in wonderful ways.

And then there’s Peter – good old Peter, about whom we read in our Gospel today. Strong, enthusiastic Peter – a man of action, a born leader, even amongst Jesus’ disciples.

“Those others might let you down, they might well run away”, he had said at the Last Supper. “But you can rely on me. I will never deny you, even if I have to die with you.”

But within hours Peter had broken that promise no less than three times, just as Jesus had warned him. Three times that night, ordinary people had asked him: “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ followers?” And three times he had said: “Me? A follower of Jesus? No way: I’ve never met the bloke. I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

The cock crowed. And suddenly Peter realized what he had done. “What a coward I am! What a hypocrite! How could I have failed Jesus so badly?” Peter hurried away, and wept bitter tears. Oh yes, Peter knows what it is like to fail Jesus, and to have to acknowledge that fact to himself.

We fail Jesus too, but I wonder whether we face that fact with real honesty. Of course, we know of God’s loving forgiveness through Christ, and that gives us perspective. But it can be very easy for us to just go through the motions of confessing our sins.

Well, we know what happens after that dreadful Thursday night. Jesus dies on the cross, then rises again on Sunday, and over the next five weeks or so he appears a number of times to his disciples and also his family. Things are not the same as they were: he is not with them all the time – just on occasions. And in various ways he seems different. It is most certainly Jesus, but Jesus on the way back to his Father’s side.

What should the disciples be doing at this time, when Jesus is only sometimes with them? They have returned to Galilee, where most of them come from. It is Peter who says: “I’m going fishing.” Not a bad idea. Get some food. Perhaps sell some. It’s what they know. They’re not yet ready for those new challenges that Jesus has spoken about. So out they go.

But it’s an unsuccessful night. Nothing caught at all. Not until a man on the beach calls out to them at dawn, and tells them to put out their net on the starboard side.

Suddenly the boat is rocking as the net fills with fish. There are so many that someone later takes a count: 153 of them!

It was John, the beloved disciple, who had realized that the empty tomb pointed to a risen Jesus, and it was John who realized that the man on the beach was Jesus. As soon as Peter heard that, he put on his jacket and hitched it up, and swam ashore to meet the Master. He longed to be with Jesus, and yet he was still uncomfortable about their relationship.

After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter a very uncomfortable question. “Peter, do you love me more than these others do? That’s what you told me a few weeks ago.” I suspect that if he had been sitting at a table, Peter would have wanted to hide under it! He can’t do that, but there’s no doubt that he is squirming.

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” And Peter’s telling the truth. He does love Jesus. But he’s not going to blab on about how much better he is than the other disciples – not this time! He knows only too well that his love is very fallible.

But Jesus doesn’t argue or question his love. He doesn’t tear strips off Peter. He doesn’t say: “Come off it! After all that you’ve done, you don’t really expect me to believe that, do you?” He simply accepts Peter’s answer, and says to him: “Feed my sheep.”

That’s not the end, however. Again Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” And again Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And again Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”

Then a third time: the same question, the same answer, the same command. And that third time really hurt. Perhaps Peter felt humiliated, although it seems that by this time, he and Jesus were probably walking by themselves along the beach. Perhaps he also felt relieved. The issue was now out in the open, rather than gnawing away at his conscience, unresolved.

Why did Jesus put Peter through all that?

Firstly, reality had to be faced. Peter had to acknowledge his failure.

Reality had to be faced. And that is the way for all of us. Before we can have a healthy relationship with Jesus, we need to acknowledge that it is not as healthy as it should be! Our sins and failures need to be confessed, so that they don’t stay in the way.

Secondly, Jesus was inviting Peter to declare his love. After his threefold denial of Jesus, there was a great question mark over Peter’s claims. Here was an opportunity for Peter to reaffirm them – and to do it three times. Jesus asks us, as he asked Peter: “Do you love me?” And he asks us to demonstrate that love in our lives, by our words and actions, and our loving treatment of others.

Thirdly, Jesus wanted to assure Peter of his acceptance. Peter doubtless felt very uneasy in Christ’s presence. What did Christ think of him now? Had he lost all confidence in him now? Would he quietly drop him from the team as a failure?

Of course there was no formal confession and absolution, but Peter knew that all was well. He was forgiven, restored, accepted. The barrier was down. Peter’s failure was no longer hanging over his head. And that is part of the point of the Gospel. We let God down, but God forgives us and welcomes us, despite our own failures.

But there was one other purpose in his talk with Peter than morning on the beach. He had forgiven Peter and welcomed him back: now he had work for Peter to do.

Peter had failed Jesus, but that didn’t mean that he was getting the sack. You know the sort of thing: “Tries hard and means well, but not up to the task. Fails under pressure. Needs a job with less responsibility.” That wasn’t Jesus’ response at all. In fact, Jesus actually promoted this apparent failure. He gave Peter leadership over his people. Peter was to be shepherd over Christ’s flock, giving leadership and direction, providing spiritual food, protecting them from harm. What a huge responsibility. But Jesus gave it to this man who had promised so much, and failed so badly. Of course, it would be impossible without Christ’s help and the Spirit’s power.

Our failures don’t disqualify us from service for Christ. We are fallible human beings, just as Peter was. So even when we fail in our Christian living or our Christian service, it is not the end. Jesus is always ready to forgive us, to pick us up, and to set us back on the path. As the bumper sticker says, we need to be patient with ourselves, as well as with each other: for God is not finished with us yet! When we fail, let us confess our sins, accept Jesus’ forgiveness and help, and set ourselves to obey those simple yet challenging words that Jesus said that day to Peter, and says to us today: “Follow me!” Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: St Alban’s, Easter Day, 27 March 2016

SERMON – EASTER DAY – EPPING – 27.3.16

Rev. Catherine Eaton

Readings:  Acts 10.34-43, Ps 118.1-2,14-24, 1 Cor 15.19-26, Jn 20.1-18

On Maundy Thursday there were things Jesus told us to remember. By Friday morning they seemed like a distant blur, forgotten in the pain of our loss.

But today we’re beginning to remember, not just because we’ve recalled something from the past, but because we’ve been met from the future. Christ the risen one holds our future in himself. Our future has remembered us, and come to meet us.

On this day of resurrection Jesus calls us by name from another horizon. As the angels said to Mary from the empty tomb – you’re looking in the wrong place. You can’t piece together the future from a memory of the past. Turn around.

Jesus says to Mary, I am ascending to my Father and your Father. On Maundy Thursday we were told that Jesus knew he had come from God and was returning to God. There is a reality in God which existed before, and which continues to exist, beyond what we can see and know. It is a reality which holds us, and all there is – we’d just forgotten it was there…. but it remembers us.

Jesus comes to us on this day, from that place, to invite us into its greater reality.

Sarah Bachelard says,

……….the disciples are asked to live into an open horizon, and to receive their identity through their responsiveness to this call…Those who are in the process of receiving their identity from the future through their relationship to the risen Jesus also …understand themselves as belonging to one another in new ways… .(50)

As Jesus called Mary by name, so he calls us all beyond the flat surfaces of our lives, toward that horizon beyond the horizon, into that reality where we begin to remember who we are.

We don’t know what happened on that first Easter morning. All we know is that the tomb wasn’t as we left it, the past had disappeared with all is signs of violence and consequent grief, testament to our failures and fears.

And suddenly out of some other place, Jesus emerges from where we weren’t looking.

The past, like the empty tomb, is now peopled with angels who say – turn around, why are you looking here? You are looking for life in the wrong place.

At the empty tomb Mary turns away from the past, with all its painful memories and present emptiness, and sees one she neither recognised nor remembered.

But he remembers her, and speaks her name, calling her back to herself.

Then he tells her, do not hold onto me. You can’t find what you need by clinging to something past.  The future is already before you – waiting for you, unseen in all the clinging and fearing of life.

On Maundy Thursday, at that last meal he shared with his friends, Jesus introduced the disciples to that new reality. He told them there were things they would need to remember.

He first took a towel and washed their feet and told them to serve one another. The master became the servant, and in that act, he basically did away with the distinction altogether. (Bruteau – 59)

Then he shared with them the bread and wine, and said, in this you and I become as one – there is no separation between us, we are one in God and part of each other, not threats to one another.

Then he gave them a new commandment to love one another.

Things to remember, things to do, as if he was entrusting their future into their hands.

Then on Good Friday they not only lost Jesus, but also discovered they couldn’t hold things together. They couldn’t be trusted with their future. They couldn’t even remember the basics. On Good Friday they thought Jesus got it wrong.

Today we know he didn’t.

The risen Christ comes to meet us from a place of future wholeness, on the other side of death, and calls us to turn to him.

Bachelard goes on to say –

‘this manner of Jesus’ return….shows that there is a reality that cannot be cancelled by the violence of the world, [and] that this reality is inexhaustibly inviting and hospitable.’ ….Because Jesus returns to [the disciples] in peace, they see the full truth of themselves and their situation in the context of being already loved and forgiven……they are enabled to see clearly who they really are and what they have been part of. (43)

Remembering who we truly are is our biggest forgetting.

The Risen Christ calls us back to that place of knowing again who we are, and reminds us that we are held in a bigger reality – a reality of love. Our task is to live into that.

It doesn’t mean life will become easy, but now we have a different horizon against which to chart our course, a different framework in which to make our choices for life, a new way of imagining the world, and a lived experience of a love which remembers us.

Today Jesus tells Mary, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father. There is for Jesus a known reality beyond what we see, a horizon beyond the horizon.  And between us and there it’s only love.

If we listen deeply to ourselves, we’ll realise we’ve always known this – we will remember this in ourselves, somewhere in the depths of us.

We talk about the new reality ushered in by the resurrection. But I don’t think it’s new. It’s always been there – older than time itself.  Beyond and before us. We don’t remember it because we’ve cluttered it with all our illusions about the way the world is.

Illusions that have allowed us to dominate one another and the earth, illusions that have allowed us to think we have to compete with each other to survive, illusions which tell us it’s all up to us ……… Simply because we’ve forgotten who we are, and who it is who truly remembers us.

All that sin and judgement stuff that we’ve been living with for centuries – that’s God’s business. But, I don’t think it’s God’s focus – there’s something bigger and better going on. We’ve spent centuries trying to get it right, and slapping ourselves on the wrists when we get it wrong, or more often slapping other people’s wrists when they get it wrong.

At their last meal, Jesus gave the disciples a commandment – love one another. He had to make it as basic as that – they had enough trouble letting him wash their feet. But a commandment – you must love each other – is just another rule, and not one we’ve ever been good at keeping.

Rather, we are already in love – held in a reality which is love itself. Our task is to be open to that love which comes to meet us, as the Risen Christ met Mary. And in receiving that love, and allowing it to be present, so we can allow it to be present to, and in others.

Jesus was right too about the bread and wine – when we eat the bread and drink the cup he is alive in us and we are one in him, not separate individuals always competing for airspace and survival. We are joined in that reality of Love which has always been there.

It’s no longer about a set of commandments, but a new way of being, with him, and with one another.

This day calls us to live into the future that comes to meet us in the Risen Christ. He remembers us and calls us on to that horizon beyond the horizon. And when we start towards it we will go – yes, I remember. I do remember this. I’ve always known this love.

We cannot recreate ourselves and our world out of the judgements of the past, memories of what is gone, failures we hope not to repeat.

We can only remember who we are in the light which comes to us from the future, the Christ who remembers us in love, and who invites us to remember ourselves and one another always in the light of that same love.

Today the Risen Christ remembers you, and calls you by name from that horizon which is love itself.

 

Catherine Eaton

 

Sermon: St Alban’s, Good Friday, 25 March 2016

SERMON – GOOD FRIDAY – 25.3.16

Rev. Catherine Eaton

Readings: Is 52.13-53.12, Ps 22, 1 Cor 1.18-31, Jn 18.1-19.42

It’s been a long night. Dark. It’s hard to think back to that meal, our last meal together. How quickly things have turned…. Ugly. We didn’t see it coming. He’s dead now, or as good as.

I think he tried to warn us, but it’s hard now – hard to remember. It’s all a blur and there’s that sick feeling – you know that dull disbelieving when death has visited, that relentless ache. Makes it hard to remember.

Bits of memory come unbidden though, bursting through the fog, sharp, like the piercing of a sword, fragments of a world that’s gone.

What was it he said again? Something about the bread…….. but then there was Judas and that chill wind that came in the door when he went out. Jesus was talking about love – no that was later – but it sounded nice at the time. That’s right – he washed our feet. Crazy thing, but what does it all matter now? He’s gone. The dream’s gone. Seemed a good idea at the time – he made it seem possible.

But he’s dead and we’re in a worse place than we were before we even met him.

…..Peter said he didn’t know him…. and it was Judas that betrayed him. Some of the women stayed at the cross, but who knows where the rest of us are. Hiding, I suppose. They’ll come for us now, and what’s it all been for?

I wish I could remember. There was something he said last night – seemed important at the time. But I suppose it doesn’t matter now. Something he said we’d need. It obviously didn’t help him, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. It just hurts when the memories come – the times we travelled with him in the dusty places, and the people he healed, and that day when there was all that bread and fish which seemed to come from nowhere. And how, just last week, was it – he went into the temple and had a go at all the pigeon-sellers. Threw their tables over. We were scared. He seemed to know what he was doing. But I guess not.

What do you do with the pain? I’ve lost family members before, but the grief was never like this.

What was it he said again – just last night?

That’s right – he told us to love one another. Well that’s gone out the window. It seems it’s each man for himself now. Maybe the women have stuck together, but I don’t think they’re in as much danger as the rest of us.

Odd – one thing I do recall – when we were about to eat last night, he broke the bread and said this is my body, and then took the wine and said this is my blood. It’s coming back to me now – he said, therefore when we eat the bread and drink from the same cup he becomes part of us. We are in him and he is in us….and we’re all one, sharing the one life, his life.

Well, he’s dead. And the community’s scattered, closed in on ourselves with our grief and despair – and our guilt, I guess.

Probably we could have tried harder to save him. Peter tried to fight them off when they came to take him, but after he sliced off the guard’s ear, Jesus had a go at him and told him to back off.

I don’t get it. Perhaps Jesus was just too idealistic, not really sure what he was doing, and we all went along with it because… there was something about him.

He healed people for goodness sake, and he took on the religious heavies, and he made us feel we could make a difference. And you know what – he loved us. Really. He talked to us like we were his brothers and sisters, he laughed with us and taught us stuff and he made us feel like even God loved us, and like we were part of something bigger that God was doing.

So I suppose after this it’s back to how it used to be. I guess Andrew and Peter and some of the others will go back to fishing. But how can any of us go back to how it was. Stuck – we’re just stuck in this place – this nothing place – can’t go back, but there’s nothing to go forward to. What’s it all been for?

I wish I could remember what he said, what he told us last night. It seemed important at the time and maybe it would help now. Maybe it will come back.

I do remember the towel. I can still feel its roughness against my feet when he washed them. I remember him now wiping off the dust, making muddy streaks on my foot, and then the water as he washed it clean. Did I see his tears fall into the water as he knelt at my feet? Probably not – it’s all a blur now.

But ah, yes, he did say if I, your master, wash your feet, you need to wash one another’s. And he talked about serving each other. Well again, that’s gone out the window. Each for himself now it seems.

But Jesus called us his friends, and said the world wasn’t like we thought it was. I don’t know what he said now but something like we’re all equal in God. Tell that to Pilate and Herod and all the rest. It seems the world is exactly like I thought it was. Power always wins, and we can’t ever believe otherwise.  How stupid was I to get my hopes up, that there could be another way.

Love one another he said. I really wish we could. Really wish it was that easy.

There was the bread and the wine that he talked about last night…..and the towel – the service thing. But there was something else. I think. Or did I imagine it? Something dark – this fog in my mind – I can’t remember……..

Shadows. It just seemed a normal meal, but there were shadows. At least now we know what Judas was up to – I’d always liked him, so I don’t get what he did. Maybe it’s his fault Jesus died. But Jesus talked about the cross quite often lately, as if he knew they’d get him. Perhaps Judas just brought on the inevitable. But how can we ever forgive him? He was one of us, and look what he’s done to us. Gone, all gone. and now we’re all at risk. Will he also sell us out?

But that’s it – that’s the other thing – it was the cross – that was the other thing he said. Remember: the bread, the wine, the towel……and the cross…. He knew. Jesus knew, but why didn’t he go away, leave Jerusalem, hide? He could have – we even tried to tell him, but it’s as if he chose this. Why? What was he trying to prove? He wasn’t an idiot I don’t think. He walked into this. Walked into this and he died. Of course he was going to die. They would win. They always do. Did he really think he could achieve something by setting himself up like that? Stupid!

No the political wheels of power had turned too far. Even we could see Jesus had become a nuisance, a problem. One way or other they were going to get him.

But why did he just walk into it. Why? Makes no sense to me…….and now he’s dead. Feels like everything’s dead. Don’t know what will happen now. There’s nothing. Life will never be the same again. Just a black hole and he’s left us all in it.

But I do miss him. There’s something still we need from him.

Dear Jesus. Miss him badly. He meant well, but it seems he got it so wrong. Still – I wouldn’t have missed that time with him. Just don’t know what’ll happen now. It just hurts that he’s gone – it’s all gone.

And it’s just too painful to remember.

 

Catherine Eaton

Sermon: St Alban’s, Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016

SERMON – MAUNDY THURSDAY – 24.3.16

Rev. Catherine Eaton

Readings: Ex 12.1-4, 11-14, Ps 116.1-2, 11-18, 1 Cor 11.23-26, Jn 13.1-17,31b-35

Last night our lives and televisions were once again dominated by news of more terrorist attacks. I wondered if I should say something different tonight but then I realised that’s what they want, to change our focus. It is too easy to give all our attention to them, to let these acts shape our view of the world and distract us from what is most important.

These 3 days are the most important in the Christian year. They need our full attention. Our focus needs to remain on our journey with Jesus – let us see where he leads us in this:

Do this in remembrance of me, he said, as he took the bread.

Do this in remembrance of me, he said, as he took the cup.

Do this in remembrance of me, he said, as he took the towel.

Do this, he said, in remembrance of me, as he took up his cross.

Remember this (bread)….. Remember (wine)….. Remember (towel)..(cross).

Tonight is literally ‘a night to remember’.

Remember these things, says Jesus. You will need them to find your way into your future. Your journey will demand of you, so remember these things.

Words to his disciples, words to you as a parish, words to us all. But who knows what the disciples remembered from that night: their own inner turmoil, the familiar smells of the food, the strange behaviour of Judas, Jesus kneeling at their feet.

Who knows what was going through their minds ….?

Did they remember the unspoken fears, the whispered wonderings amongst them, the strain on Jesus’ face, yet the depths of his gaze upon them, his fingers as he held the bread……?. Did they remember the chill breeze which seeped under the door, the glimpse of a star out the window, the rough table between them, the walls enfolding them in this last place of sanctuary?

Fragments of memory.

We all know, especially those of us who are getting older, how much we rely on our memories to tell us who we are and to guide us into the future.

Joan Chittister tells the story of George and Bertha:

George and Bertha were aware they were getting on and starting to forget things. So they decided to write everything down. One night as they were watching TV, Bertha said ‘I feel like some ice-cream.’ George said he’d go and get it. Good, said Bertha, but write it down!’ ‘I won’t forget ice-cream,’ says George. ‘Write it down!’ she said, ‘because I want strawberries as well. Write it down!’ ‘Don’t worry I won’t forget that.’ ‘Write it down,’ insists Bertha, ‘because I want cream on top. Write it down’. George assured her he could remember all that, and went off to the kitchen. After a while and some banging around, George emerged from the kitchen with plates of bacon and eggs. ‘George!’ she said. ‘I told you to write it down. I knew you’d forget the toast!’

We can almost hear Jesus on this night saying, remember this (bread), and the wine, and don’t forget the towel, and this (cross). Write it down, write it down. And the disciples, saying – we won’t forget, how could we forget?

But Jesus knows – yes, you will forget – as soon as things get tough, as soon as you’re in the thick of it, as soon as the fear hits…….as soon as you leave this room. The seeds of forgetting are already being sown.

But remembering is not the same as not-forgetting.

Memories are typically 2-dimensional, flat reflections of a past that is gone.

We hold our memories in our bodies, in our muscles, our minds and hearts, filing them away often without even knowing what’s there.

Jesus is here demanding something more.

Remembering happens when we embody our memories, allow them to become fully part of us and given new life as we let them find a place in us. We literally re-member ourselves through our experiences.

Jesus wasn’t hoping the disciples would just have a memory of the evening, of his words and actions, as past history.

He wanted them to take it all into themselves, to let it to become a part of them. They would need to know these things from within themselves, if they were going to find their way into the future.

In offering himself to them, they could begin to re-member Jesus – within themselves.

So what’s this all about?

Remember this and this, and oh, yes, one more thing to remember – love one another. Love one another as I have loved you.

Even hearing the words makes us feel good. But what does this really mean and why can’t we do it?

Because I think we don’t remember the fundamentals:

  • The body must be broken (break bread) if the goodness is to be shared.
  • The wine must be poured – the cup of suffering must be drunk.
  • The towel must be taken, and the dirt wiped away.
  • And the cross needs to be embraced if we are to find our way through the darkness.

How are we to love one another except through sharing the body broken, drinking from the same cup, kneeling at each other’s feet, and facing our own realities?

Do this in remembrance of me – for love’s sake, he said.

  • Nourish each other with your lives, with your tenderness, and gentle holding of each other in respect and honour.
  • Share in the sufferings, for the more they are held together, the lighter will be the burden for each, and do not add to the cup.
  • Serve one another in humility, refuse to let your egos lord it over others, and do not demand service from others.
  • And let your lives always be ready to receive the cross which waits for you.

Remember these things said Jesus. You will need them for your future.

‘Yeah, yeah, got that’, we and the disciples both chorus – and so begins our forgetting..…

Unfortunately, sometimes our remembering of the wrong thing is so deeply ingrained that we’re not even conscious it’s operating in us. I’ve just had a problem with my neck because of my posture – I’ve remembered wrongly how to hold myself. I now need to retrain, literally to re-member myself.

Beatrice Bruteau refers to this night as the ‘Maundy Thursday Revolution’, because she says that on this night Jesus overturned 2 of our most unconscious illusions about the world and ourselves:

She says,(5) “Our ways of seeing the world are so deeply embedded in our consciousness that we do not even know they are there. We presume….that our basic way of perceiving the world is the way the world really is.”

When Jesus took the towel and the master became the servant, it’s no wonder Peter was so affronted, so threatened by this upending of his taken-for-granted world, a world made up of winners and losers, the dominant and the weak.

While Donald Trump may be a perfect caricature of this mindset, it resides in all of us – in our need to be liked, to be successful, to be right, generally to be better than others. We all know that slight sense of disdain, superiority or satisfaction which passes through us when someone else says something stupid!

There’s a fundamental equality in our humanness which we too easily forget.

Then, Jesus took bread and wine, and said ‘this is my body, this is my blood’. In identifying himself with these elements and inviting us to take them into ourselves, he’s giving himself to us in a way that says, ‘we are not separate’. My body becomes your body.

We perceive others as separate from us, a potential threat to our own sense of self. But Jesus reminds us, we all have an indwelling connection, not just with him, but with one another.

Jesus, knowing he had come from God and was going to God, took the towel…… In remembering who he was, Jesus was free to live out of a deeper and truer reality, offering us all a way to re-member who we are and our fundamental one-ness in God.

On this night the world was turned upside down in more ways than one. But Jesus says to us – remember. Make an effort to remember these things……

…But there’s far too much to remember on this night, and so, as we go out into the dark night of waiting, uncertainty and fear, for us, as for the disciples, the seeds of forgetting are already sown.

 

Catherine Eaton

Sermon: St Aidan’s, Easter Day, 27 March 2016

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 27th March 2016 (Easter Day)

“EXPERIENCING THE REALITY OF EASTER”

(Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18)

 Rev. Paul Weaver

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go back in time and actually see the events of that first Easter morning? To see the empty tomb and the risen Jesus, and the followers of Jesus as they heard of the resurrection and then saw Jesus for themselves. Of course, two thousand years later we still haven’t worked out how to do time travel, and so we still rely on the accounts of that morning in the four Gospels.

Some people automatically dismiss the Gospels as of no historical worth, but we need to remember that they were written within a generation or two of Jesus and his ministry. And they were written by people who had seen Jesus themselves, or by authors who had spoken with people who knew Jesus. These are not ancient myths retold, but accounts of events that were still in living memory for many people.

The Gospels all present the same basic story of Easter morning: the women going to the tomb very early, the empty tomb, the angelic messengers, and then the gradual process by which more and more disciples met the risen Jesus. Each of the Gospels has its own information, and together they present a fuller picture.

But when you compare the accounts, there are some details which aren’t neat and tidy when you compare them: how many women there were, how many angels were seen, and so on. If the gospel writers were making it up to persuade people, you’d think that they would make sure that there were no rough edges, that everything would be absolutely neat and consistent.

Ultimately people have to decide for themselves whether to believe the Gospels when they insist that Jesus rose from death. Some will simply say that people don’t rise from the dead, and therefore automatically the Gospels must be false.

But Jesus’ followers were perfectly aware that people don’t rise from the dead. They weren’t expecting it to happen.

And virtually none of them were convinced by just seeing the empty tomb: only the beloved disciple apparently connected that what he was seeing was the fulfilment of Jesus’ repeated insistence that he would be executed and rise again. The empty tomb by itself didn’t persuade the rest of them that Jesus had risen: it was only when they saw Jesus for themselves that they grasped the truth that “Christ is risen: he is risen indeed.” And as they not only saw him, but talked with him and touched him and ate with him and walked with him and even ate a meal cooked by him, the resurrection became a tangible reality for them.

We weren’t there. And so we have to decide for ourselves. Did Jesus really rise? Is it just a legend, or merely a story made up by dishonest or deluded people? The Easter story cannot be proved – or disproved! We have to decide whether there is reason to believe, whether it makes sense.

In this world of course we can’t have tangible proof: we have the witness of people who knew that dead people do not rise, and then had to change their thinking. Christians are people who accept their witness. I do not believe that our faith is blind or empty or foolish. I believe that our faith makes sense. Of course it is not shared by everyone, for a whole range of good or inadequate reasons. But one basic factor we all have in common: those who do not believe were not there either.

The first witness to the resurrection is a very unexpected person. We hardly notice Mary Magdalene in the gospels until the final chapters. She had been miraculously healed by Jesus from some spiritual or psychological disturbance, and became one of a group of women who travelled around with him and his disciples. She was there at Calvary; she saw where Jesus’ body is laid; and she came first thing on Sunday morning to complete the task of doing due honour to the body of her crucified Lord.

She saw the empty tomb and there seemed only one logical explanation: someone had taken Jesus’ body. It was gone. Someone must have taken it. It seems that Mary did not consider the strange fact that the strips of linen cloth had been taken off the body and left in the tomb.

But as she lingered in the garden near the tomb, Mary was the one who was the first to meet the risen Jesus. She saw a man who asked why she was weeping, and assumed he was the gardener. But when this man replied with her name “Mary”, suddenly everything came together. “Rabboni! My great one! My teacher!” she cried out. And she seems to have grasped hold of Jesus as if she would never let him go.

But Jesus tells her: “You can’t hold on to me like that! I have not yet ascended to the father, but I will do so shortly. Soon I will no longer be physically with you and the others.” You see, we might wish we could be there at that Easter event, but Mary in her different circumstances wants to hold on to that Easter event. But she too had the limitation of space and time which is part of life in this world: what eternity is like, we will discover in God’s time, but not yet.

What a strange thing that the first actual witness to the resurrection was not Peter, not John or one of the other disciples, but a woman! And that woman was not Mary the mother of Jesus, but another Mary with a dubious past – even if she was not necessarily a prostitute, as tradition has labelled her.

Once again, a concocted story would not be constructed that way: a woman would never have been chosen as the first witness in a manufactured story at that time. Women could not even bear valid witness in a court in those days. No wonder the disciples did not quickly accept Mary’s story. They had to discover the risen Lord for themselves.

So the question comes to us. Common sense tells us that dead people don’t come to life again. We rely on uncommon sense, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and by the voice of the witnesses. Our faith is not necessarily without questions. It is not necessarily without doubts. But we believe that faith in the risen Jesus is worth holding on to.

The resurrection of Jesus assures us that his crucifixion did indeed accomplish God’s purposes: that God’s forgiveness is indeed open for all people, that we who are sinners are truly reconciled to the perfect God, that God’s kingdom welcomes all who will enter, that there is eternal hope for all who believe.

And it points us to the hope that God has for us: the hope of resurrection – not the wispy harp-strumming ghostly figures imagined by some, but bodily resurrection – as of course was the resurrection of Jesus – with what Paul describes as a new spiritual body: our restoration as complete renewed people fitted for eternity, sharing in the glorious life of God’s kingdom.

We weren’t there that first Easter morning. We rely on the witness of those who saw for themselves the risen Jesus. Right now we have lives to live as Christ’s people. But the promise is that as we trust and follow Jesus, he will walk with us here and now through the Spirit, and we will share with him in the fullness of life and love in his kingdom. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Saint Aidan’s, Good Friday, 25 March 2016

St Aidan’s West Epping, 25th March 2016

 “IT IS FINISHED!” (Good Friday)

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; 1 Cor 1:18-31; John 18:1-19:42)

Rev. Paul Weaver

Up till a few decades ago, many Anglican churches had an additional special service on Good Friday. It was a three-hour service from 12 to 3, mirroring the three hours of darkness while Jesus was on the cross. I remember it during my time at Epping in the late 70’s. And we had it when I was at St.Andrew’s Cathedral in the 80’s and 90’s.

It was a simple format with seven readings and seven homilies, as well as prayers and hymns and perhaps some reflective music. Sometimes a guest preacher would give the homilies and sometimes the local clergy would preach. A respectable number rather than a large number of people were present: some people came for the whole three hours, while others would be there just for part of the service.

No doubt many of you can remember what the homilies were about. Yes, the service focused on what are usually called the “seven words from the cross”. In Matthew and Mark we find one of these sayings. Luke includes three of them, and the Gospel of John provides the other three. These seven sayings take us deep into the meaning of the cross, and provide a very appropriate framework for worship and reflection on Good Friday.

Now the question is: how many of those seven sayings can you think of? Most of you will be familiar with many or all of them, even if they don’t all come to mind in any given moment.

The first is the word of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Right from the start we see that the cross is about forgiveness: Jesus seeks forgiveness for his executors, as he seeks forgiveness for all who act as his enemy.

Then we have the word of salvation to the penitent thief – perhaps these days we could say the penitent terrorist: “Truly I tell you: today you shall be with me in paradise.” It is never too late to turn to Jesus. No one is so sinful that they are beyond Christ’s offer of forgiveness and eternal hope.

The word of affection: as we heard, Jesus tells his mother “Here is your son” and he says to the beloved disciple “Here is your mother.” Even in the midst of unimaginable suffering, Jesus is concerned for his nearest and dearest. Love is not just spiritual: it is also personal and practical.

The word of anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, which we have already shared in this morning. But these words are not just about the fulfilment of prophecy: they expose the depth of Jesus’ suffering. The sinless Son of God is forsaken by his divine Father: Jesus is going through hell itself for us.

Then we have the word of physical suffering. “I thirst”, cries Jesus. The physical agony of crucifixion was appalling: the Romans meant it to be.

It could take days, although Jesus’ time on the cross was unexpectedly brief. Perhaps it was because of the dreadful scourging he had been given: perhaps it was because the spiritual agony he endured took so much out of him.

The last saying of Jesus is the word of committal: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus has done what he needed to do in order to bring forgiveness and salvation to the world; and in confident trust he places himself in God’s hands. Jesus died to make such hope and trust possible for all people.

Now you might notice that I have mentioned only six of the seven sayings. I have omitted the sixth of the seven, which I want to focus on briefly now. No doubt some of you have already worked out the missing saying. We heard it as we read John’s Gospel. In fact I wonder whether one reason why Jesus said “I thirst”, and accepted that cheap wine, probably from the soldiers, was so that he could call out this saying strongly.

The sixth word is: “It is finished!” While the traditional translation is not incorrect, it really misses the point. “It is finished” can express relief or exhaustion: “It’s over!” or even “I’m finished!” But the words really mean more than that.

It is more than appropriate that this sixth saying is described as the word of triumph. A better translation is “It is accomplished!”

Jesus’ crucifixion was not just a terrible tragedy or a terrible act of injustice: it was at the heart of God’s plan of salvation for humanity. The God who is perfect takes sin seriously: it would be contrary to his perfect goodness to brush aside the evil that sin is, to sweep it under the carpet as if it doesn’t matter. God in his righteousness must respond in a way which takes account of the seriousness of sin.

But God’s love cries out that we, people made in God’s image, made to know and serve and love him, have the opportunity for forgiveness, despite our sins, despite our failure to do the good and loving things he calls us to do, despite our self-centredness, despite the many times we ignore God’s call.

It is on the cross that the love of God deals with the reality of sin. On the cross righteousness and love kiss each other. In Jesus, God bears in his own being the sin of the world. On the cross, Jesus who is God himself taking on human flesh, experiences the judgement of God on sin. He goes through hell that we might have the hope of heaven.

As Jesus came to the end of that time on the cross, he knew that forgiveness had indeed been won. Through that agony of the cross, he knew that he had brought forgiveness and reconciliation to humanity.

Yes, he had done it, as God his Father and he himself had willed it. The task had been fulfilled. The victory over sin and evil had been won. Yes indeed, Jesus was right to cry out in triumph: “It is accomplished!” On the cross he had achieved what needed to be accomplished for our salvation.

Today then, we remember those words of Jesus. We don’t need to add to what Jesus did for us on the cross: indeed there is nothing that we can add. Forgiveness and salvation for all has been accomplished by Jesus through his death for us. The call to us is simply to trust in Jesus, to accept God’s gracious gift of forgiveness through Christ. And then as we trust him, as we respond thankfully to his wonderful love, the call to us is to follow him in our lives, living as his beloved friends, seeking to reflect that generous and forgiving love in our own words and deeds. Amen.

Paul Weaver