3rd Sunday after Easter
Rev. Canon Cheryl Collins
Let’s imagine the thoughts of a puzzled bystander watching as Peter and John heal a cripple on their way to the Temple, and Peter takes the opportunity to witness to Jesus. I’ve been interested in this Jesus movement for years, but I’m no closer to understanding it now that I’m an old man than I was all those years ago in Jerusalem. It started when my uncle took me there on a business trip. Although we weren’t the most religious family in the world, I was all agog to see the Temple, the sign of the special relationship that our people have with God. So, I pestered my uncle, and that’s how we came to be there when it happened- a lame man was healed in front of our eyes. My uncle insisted it was a fraud, but he didn’t see the expression on the man’s face. He was shocked and so were the crowd.But the two men who’d healed him acted as though it was the kind of thing that happened every day. They said if we believed in Jesus, our sins would be forgiven, and we’d be able to do things like that too.
During my time in Jerusalem, I took the trouble to find out more about these Jesus people. Their Jesus had been killed by the Romans, though they seemed to blame us for it, saying that if our people had read the scriptures properly, we’d know that Jesus was the Messiah. They were causing quite a stir in the city and making quite a lot of converts. I liked them. They seemed kind, and they talked a lot about God loving us and forgiving us, if we believed in Jesus. I thought it would be good to be forgiven, in my trade you’re always breaking the law in little ways so we’ve got no hope of being righteous in that way. Even after we went home, I never entirely forgot about the Jesus people, and it wasn’t long before they spread to my part of the world, so obviously others thought they were making sense. I used to sneak out to their meetings sometimes to try and find out more. The main thing they were saying was that you can only find out about God through this Jesus. They said that Jesus showed us what God is like, and that Jesus came to die to take away our sins, and that he rose from the dead and is alive now. Apparently, some of the people had met people who’d met
Jesus after he rose again, so they knew it was true. That was all very interesting, but one question kept niggling at me. What do I have to do to know I’m right with God? Now I’m old it’s become even more important to me, I haven’t been a bad person, but I haven’t been a particularly good one either. Is it enough just to believe in Jesus? Some of these Christians say so, but others say that believing changes the way you live, so you’ll be good and loving, like Jesus. I can’t say I’ve seen much proof of that. These Christians seem to be as good at hating as everyone else. There are two lots of them in my town, not speaking to each other. How can I believe what they say about us being the children of God, free and forgiven, if they can’t even forgive each other? They’re good at blaming others, like my people, or the Romans, so some other leader who doesn’t see things their way. Perhaps they should try blaming themselves for a change. If they were to say ‘We crucified Jesus, and we keep doing it, but he still forgives us and trusts us,’ then I might be able to believe that he’ll forgive me too.
How would we, how could we respond to our puzzled seeker? Today’s readings form the background to his thoughts and challenge us to accept that it is not just ‘you’ and ‘they’ but ‘we’ and ‘us’ who must take responsibility for the death of Jesus. But just as Peter’s sermon in Acts which began as a word of judgement, became not judgement at all, but a proclamation of the healing, empowering love of God; so ,for us, judgement can truly become good news if we first accept it’s truth. Like the members of Alcoholics Anonymous who begin by admitting they are powerless, and that their lives have become unmanageable, we
have to admit that we are as much part of the problem as part of the solution. It’s called being a human being, and even the most committed church member or cleric is powerless to escape it. That’s why I always ask God to forgive us our sins and not just to forgive you yours. The grace of forgiveness belongs to God and while it is my office as a priest to declare it, I need itas much as the next person. Likewise, it’s why I always take communion myself before I share it with you. Different ministers have different practices and different theological points here, but for me the host at our feast is Jesus and I have nothing of my own to give you, unless I first receive from Him.
Our gospel from Luke shows the disciples gathered together; fearful, guilty and grieving. They have just heard the breathless story of Cleopas and his companion after running all the way back from Emmaus to Jerusalem. And the risen Christ comes to them and says, not ‘Where were you when I needed you, but ‘Peace be with you’. Along with the other disciples Peter receives peace and forgiveness in order that
he in his turn can call others to share in these gifts by repenting and turning their lives around. Salvation doesn’t ignore guilt, but it offers us a way to resolve it by inviting us to take the opportunity to renew what we have broken- our relationship with God. And in anyone’s life that invitation comes again, again and again, for in small ways and in large we keep on doing it.
But the promise of the resurrection is that God’s resources and possibilities cannot be exhausted or extinguished by the world’s destructiveness- not then, and not now. God has not finished with us yet. Which leads me to my final question: in the light of all this, what is the church and what is it called to be? Again, our passages have some helpful clues. The disciples, who failed and deserted Jesus are called to be the ones who proclaim God’s constant love and forgiveness through Jesus.So, in the same spirit, quite literally, we are called to be the community ofhonesty about ourselves, admitting our own fallibility and complicity in the failings of our world, while still proclaiming that while the gospel can never tell us we are innocent, the good news is that we are always loved. And we are called to be the community which trusts God and trusts ourselves enough to share that good news with others. That, I think, is what it means to be a community of the resurrection, may the Lord give us strength through His spirit to be such a community