Sermon preached by the Reverend Anna Matthews
It’s a new week as the disciples huddle in the house where they’re staying in Jerusalem, the doors locked because the events of the previous week will not stay in the past, and there is still danger for those known to be associates of Jesus. That morning Mary Magdalene had run to fetch them, babbling nonsense about a missing body, and later, telling them she’d seen the Lord. And though two of them had gone with Mary to the tomb, had seen the body’s absence, it made no sense. The dead are dead. They had seen him killed, and his lifeless body manhandled down from the cross.
The death has thrown them back together, but they are nonetheless each lost in solitary thought. They recall the miracles, the healings, the teaching of hungry crowds. They remember the talk of a promise which had seemed so real in his presence, a kingdom they could almost step into. And they remembered their hopes, the way he’d fired their imaginations, shaped their desires, loved them into a new sort of life. Now their hopes are shattered, their imaginations seem foolish, and love is dead.
Theirs is a shared grief, but it is also particular. Each is sunk in their own memories – of the way he’d called them, of what it felt like to be with him, to be chosen by him. They remember the laughter and the shared meals, the walking and the learning. And the events of the past days crowd in, too: the way his beaten, bloodied body stumbled under the weight of the cross; the sound of the hammer driving nails through bone and sinew; the gawping of the crowds.
There are other things too, at the edges of their memories: things they can’t quite bring themselves to look at squarely. There’s the impotence they felt as lies and injustice and cowardice condemned him; the shame and guilt they try to push away as they remember the way they watched and then couldn’t bear to watch any more, or bear to be seen to be with him, and so had slunk away, just as he’d said they would. ‘You will all become deserters because of me’, he’d said, and how confidently they’d each believed they’d be braver, that they’d never be the one to abandon their friend. That confidence is gone now: Easter morning dawns with the knowledge of the death of their Lord and the death of the people they’d dared to hope they were, with him.
And then Jesus appears. The locked doors do not bar him and he is there, offering them his hands and side, reminders in skin and flesh of the scenes they replay each time their eyes shut, real and bodily, recognisably him. And instead of the reproaches, the judgement, the condemnation they fear and with which they torment themselves, he gives them his peace. Death has not held him, and he will not let it destroy his friends.
It’s the first day of the week when Jesus breathes on the disciples his Spirit. We’re meant to hear the echo of another first day, another sending of the Spirit when, we remember, the breath or Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters in creation. Easter is the first day of the new creation. Jesus, in a continuation of the love which led to the cross, takes on flesh once more to restore them to life, to remake them.
And Jesus’ resurrected body tells us something important about this re-creation. He still bears the scars of his passion – indeed, he will bear them always, as the reading from Revelation makes clear: the one who comes with the clouds at the end of time is still the pierced one. The risen Christ is recognisably still the Jesus who walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, the son of Mary and friend of sinners who was crucified as a nuisance to the state and a blasphemy to the Jewish authorities. And the new creations Jesus makes of Peter and James and John and the rest will still be them: Peter will still be the one who denied Jesus; the others will still have misunderstood him and deserted him. Resurrection doesn’t erase what has gone before: it heals it; it doesn’t excuse, but forgives.
The new creation is not, like the first creation, a creation out of nothing. It is a redemptive creation out of what has gone before, part of God’s ongoing creative work to bring us into the perfect relationship with him for which he made us.
And we might, at first sight, struggle to see this as good news. Behind the locked doors of our fears and shame and recriminations and trauma and guilt we might prefer a different sort resurrection, one that simply wipes the slate clean and gives us a fresh start with none of the difficult, painful, messy bits of our lives brought with us. But that sort of resurrection would not be good news, for it would tell us that parts of us are unreachable, and so unloved and unredeemed. I spent so much of my life thinking that I would be a far better Christian if only if it weren’t for this bit of my personality or that bit of my history, shoving the more unpalatable parts of myself out of the way behind firmly locked doors because I couldn’t see how they could possibly be part of what I thought risen life with Christ looked like.
I hadn’t reckoned with the scars, or with the ability of the risen Christ to appear behind my locked doors. A vision of resurrection without scars is almost certainly fantasy, and God deals in reality. On the body of the risen Christ the scars show the triumph of love and the cost of love’s struggle with the forces of sin and death. In the power of that love, the scars we bear can also become the places that witness to the mercy and grace of God. The scars remind us that we are fallible but forgivable, and so help us to forgive. They tell us that it is our whole selves God loves, and that he redeems and heals and makes new, not just the bits of ourselves we think are most presentable. And as we learn that we are loved, so we learn better to love others.
Easter Day is the first day of the new creation. And that new creation continues whenever the risen Christ appears to bless us with his peace, to breathe on us his Spirit, and to bring us out from behind locked doors into the joy and strangeness of Easter, where dead ends are made the highways of the Lord, and where friendship with Jesus is restored, lives are made new, and frightened disciples are made brave with a message that will transform the world. The first day, Easter Day, this day is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.