Sunday 18 April 2021: Third Sunday of Easter
Absorbing the Resurrection
Acts 3: 12-19; Luke 24: 35-49
Context: a parish congregation, mixed both socially and culturally
Aim: to help the congregation to achieve a fuller appreciation of the Easter faith and its implications, and to ‘locate’ this Sunday celebration within its liturgical context, that is the 50 days in which we immerse ourselves in the Paschal Mystery
THE GOOD BUT DIFFICULT NEWS
We celebrate today the third Sunday of Easter, which means we continue reflecting, as the Church, upon the astonishing Good News at the heart of our faith. A human being, Jesus, after being tortured and executed, was raised to new life by God. Through this action, God showed Jesus to be more than just a man. Jesus is the Author of Life, and the channel of God’s healing and forgiving love.
This is good news … but it is difficult news. This why we have a long season – fifty days – to to get used to it, to allow it to sink in. People do not rise from the dead. Common sense tells us this, and every ‘right-thinking person’ must surely agree that these stories are fantasy, pure wish fulfilment. How can we possibly believe in them?
I wish I could make this good news less difficult. I wish I could explain to you exactly how God has brought this about and make your faith strong with solid scientific arguments. But I can’t. All I have, and all we have, are the stories told in the gospels, and in Paul’s letters. We have the eye-witness accounts of Peter and Paul, John, and the other apostles.
‘You are witnesses to this,’ says Jesus, in today’s gospel reading from Luke.
‘To this we are witnesses,’ says Peter, in his sermon in the Temple.
LUKE, THE WITNESS TO GOD’S HEALING POWER
The ‘witness’ who wrote the third gospel has traditionally been named as Luke; he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, as a two-part history. Luke is writing perhaps fifty years after the events he is telling us about, and during this time, the significance of Jesus being raised from the dead has become clearer. Jesus was raised to life by the same God who dealt blessings upon Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But this is different; Jesus is not one of the patriarchs, or prophets … he is the Author of Life!
Jesus is the ‘Author of Life’ (Acts 3:15 NRSV). Other translations of this beautiful phrase are ‘the Prince of Life’ (Jerusalem Bible), or the ‘Leader towards Life’. By the name of Jesus, Peter and John heal the cripple outside the temple, who ‘has received perfect health’. Worth noting is the ancient tradition that Luke was a doctor. If that is correct, he would have had a special interest in the stories of cures and healing which he records in his two-part work.
THE AUTHOR OF LIFE
But a second level of meaning is also important. Peter points out to the crowd that something has gone terribly wrong with their religion, that they made such an enormous mistake as to demand the execution of God’s chosen one. What spiritual ignorance could have caused them to go astray so badly? God’s healing power is shown here, too, in his forgiveness, which enables each person to start again, even after this catastrophe. In another lovely phrase, the text speaks of ‘times of refreshing’.
In the gospel reading, the disciples ‘disbelieved for joy.’ It is almost as if their love for Jesus gets in the way of them realising what has really happened. It takes time for resurrection faith to take root. But over the next 30, 40, 50 years, these witnesses enter the depths of this good but difficult news. And they write down what they had witnessed, so that we too might believe.
We have a time of grace; not of 50 years, but of 50 days, during which our grasp of what has happened will take root. It re-shapes us, as we see possibilities of change for the better. We become an ‘Easter people’. Death does not have the final say. Neither, therefore, does sickness, or disability; and neither does our ignorance, or weakness or sinfulness. If we allow this to really sink into our hearts, these 50 days will be for us a ‘time of refreshing’.
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