A sermon given on the Second Sunday of Easter, at the 8am BCP Eucharist and 10.30am Choral Eucharist by The Reverend Peter Jin, Assistant Priest
Today our Greek friends celebrate Easter. Let’s join with them in saying Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
There are many different interpretations of the resurrection: it’s myth, it’s a legend, a symbol, or a parable. Some theologians read Jesus through political and social lens. They see Jesus as a social reformer and a Mediterranean peasant who consistently preached in a way to undermine the structures of Roman power, and to advocate the path of non-violence, and to stand with the poor and the oppressed.
Some theologians believe that Jesus never claimed to be divine. It is his disciples’ inner subjective experiences. They made up his resurrection story. They experienced illusions and hallucinations after Jesus’ death. His disciples realized how much Jesus meant to them and how powerful his teaching was. They felt guilty for their cowardice and betrayal of Jesus, but somehow they felt they were forgiven by Jesus. This convinced them that Jesus’ spirit was still alive.
But friends, can we imagine Peter and Paul saying, I want to proclaim a dead man, but his teaching was inspiring? Can you imagine they went to their deaths just for defending — a dead Messiah. No way, no one willingly dies in order to defend a myth or a made-up story.
Everyone has an inspiring hero and guru. None of that would be the least bit convincing to anyone in the first century. What Paul says over and over again is resurrection, resurrection. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’. That was the first great Christian message.
For a first century Jew, the expectation was that the Messiah would defeat Israel’s enemies. So after Jesus was put to death by Rome, it was clear for Jews that Jesus was not the Messiah.
The four gospels consistently claim the divinity of Jesus. Let me just give you a few examples.
The temple was dwelling place of God in the imagination of ancient Israel. Jesus says in relation to himself: ‘I tell you, something greater than the temple is here’.
That is much more than a social reformer speaking.
Jesus says that before Abraham was ‘I am’. Also I am the bread of life, I am the good shepherd, all echoing “I am who I am” from the book of Exodus.
Mohammed never claimed to be God. He said: ‘I am a messenger and I have received a message from God’.
Moses never proclaimed to be divine. He received the law from God and gave it to the people.
The Buddha never told his followers he was God; what he said was ‘I have found the way’.
Then there is Jesus who didn’t say ‘I have found the way’, he said ‘I am the way’. He didn’t say ‘I have found the truth and let me tell you about it’. He said ‘I am the truth’.
He didn’t say ‘I have discovered a new life and let me share it with you’. He said ‘ I am the life’.
Friends, those claims are the unique treasure of Christianity.
Today’s Gospel tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples. They were scared, stayed inside, and locked the door. Jesus showed his wounds to them. He didn’t challenge them for denying him. Instead he says, Shalom. Peace.
These disciples were forgiven and embraced by the infinity of God’s mercy.
God’s love and forgiveness are more powerful than our greatest enemies, which are sin and death.
This is precisely why Paul, once he had experienced and seen the risen Christ, could say, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor anything else, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The resurrection is saying this world is good but it is not the final horizon of what is real. God wants to raise up and transfigure this world. The resurrection is the great indication of the truth of this.
Some atheists believe that life is meaningless beyond themselves. They enjoy things, here and there in this passing world. For them, there is no God, we all die and stay in our graves and that is the end of the story.
But for us Christians, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a powerful sign. God is up to something beyond just our ordinary experience, something beyond what we have imagined. So we don’t have to live as though death is our destiny. In light of the resurrection, we can begin to see this world differently, something more permanent, more splendid.
It is a common place in the Gospel that Jesus starts with people where they are.
He respects Thomas’s need. He knows most of us like a doubting Thomas. We are sceptical and need proof.
Jesus invites us, say to us “come, come to have a further look. There is the evidence. Let me show you”.
Yes, there is evidence to be seen, yes, God respects that, but finally we must surrender to the invitation that is made available to us. We must surrender and with Thomas, kneel down before the risen Jesus, who has come into the locked room of our fear, kneel down before him, and say ‘My Lord, and my God. You are the centre of my life. You are everything’. Amen!