SMC – Easter Sunday 2019
The importance of a good leader must never be understated. I don’t really know much about football but I tentatively mention problems that clubs like Manchester United have had since Alex Ferguson’s departure. Harry Redknapp a great leader of Spurs, maybe? I’m equally reluctant, but for different reasons, to mention some of the political turmoil our country has experienced over the last year or so, which many believe results from a lack of leadership, from particular politicians or possibly from all politicians. You need a good leader to keep something going. As someone who attempts to lead this our church, the weight of expectation placed on leaders.
Two thousand years ago, on the first Easter Sunday morning the disciples of Jesus gathered in a room and they did not have a plan and they thought had lost their leader! They certainly weren’t gathering up new followers of Jesus, their friend and their master, who had just died. They were in a sorry state, doors locked, afraid that they were going to be killed next. Maybe even one of them, in Lance Corporal Jones fashion, was going round saying, “Don’t panic,” simply adding to the heightened atmosphere and the tension. On the one hand this disorganisation and the pathetic state of affairs might not surprise us: the disciples had failed to have sufficient faith to walk on water; they’d struggled with realising that Jesus was going to suffer and die; and had only two days earlier run away when their leader was arrested and then they started denying ever having met Him. And yet, if that had been where they’d got stuck, in that rut of disbelief and fear and closing themselves off from others, you and I would not be sitting in church now because it’s hardly likely that Christianity would have spread very far at all.
But spread it did, of course. To India through St Thomas, to Armenia through St Jude, to Greece through St Andrew, to Antioch through St Peter. Yes, this shambles were transformed in to a group so effective they could spread a faith in the face of intense persecution from the ruling authorities, the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the New Testament, records some of that spread through the missionary activities of Peter and John and, supremely, St Paul.
And this is part of the proof of our faith surely? This is part of why I am utterly convinced of what we celebrate today: the empty tomb, the man who was dead being alive once again because He is God Himself. I want to look at some of these proofs for our faith this morning so that we can be more secure in our faith but also so we can deploy these arguments when speaking with others in the great mission field of our lives. And first among them is that the empty tomb was undoubtedly believed in by the apostles and that they were transformed into this effective missionary force out of this rabble of disorganised panic. Peter, the local fisherman with all his bluntness and his failings is suddenly addressing households and great crowds (as in our first reading).
Others have argued that there must be a first cause to all that we see around us in the world and I also find this quite a convincing argument. St Paul himself in his letter to the Romans observes that the beauty of creation must surely lead us to ask the question, “Who made all this?” He writes that God’s presence is utterly obvious: “Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature … have been understood and seen through the things He has made. So they have no excuse.” (Romans 1:20) St Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) built on this most significantly and so created proofs for the existence of God that looked at how human beings, animals and plants are constantly interacting and changing and dying and being born. They do this with some sort of cohesion and along planned lines. Some-one, some-thing must have designed this while not Himself being subject to the movements of life and time and change. It’s the image of the unmoved mover, the archer launching the arrow to fly through the air and this, of course, our faith teaches us, is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There must surely be some first cause and another of the proofs for God’s existence is that the world is not simply robotic or machinal. Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri are all exciting and wonderful additions to the domestic toolkit but will never be able to replace human interaction entirely. Indeed, there is only any possibility of Artificial Intelligence replacing human beings when society has such a low view of humanity. And our Christian faith needs to assert once again how wonderful it is to be human, made a little lower than the angels as we are, to quote the psalmist (Psalm 8).
Anyway, our Psalmist rejoiced this morning, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His love has no end.” This unending love that we see in God accounts for the beauty and kindness we see in human nature. When we see people running marathons or volunteering to support children’s activities like our Boys’ Brigade; when we see people wanting to be part of communities like ours at St Mary’s with prayers said each and every day and folk putting themselves out to drive people to Mass and to support each other in tangible ways: these are signs that we are not just the product of a natural science process but there is a divine and sacrificially loving hand at work behind us, revealing the endless love of God.
This love which God shows us begins when He makes us in His image, with free will. So much pain and suffering is caused by a sinful humanity, in wars, in treating our bodies badly, in neglecting others, in selfish over-consumption. And so many lay the blame for these at the door of God. The heart of God knows no such selfishness. And as we celebrate today with the Resurrection of Jesus, even those sins are taken by the Sinless One, nailed to the Cross, thrown into Hell and humanity is restored and given fresh hope in this wonderful event of Our Lord coming back to life!
None of these proofs, I would suggest, will give folk we talk to a eureka moment, so don’t expect one! But they might get people thinking along the right track, preparing the ground for God to reveal Himself to make anew that constantly-given invitation to believe. Those first disciples must have had something about them as they went transformed by seeing Jesus. It is so often in the lives of holy people that others see the love of God at work. You may have examples in your own life of people who have inspired you. In the lives of the saints we see it, with St Edith Stein reading a life of St Theresa of Avila as being an important step on the road to her conversion. Similarly, St Ignatius of Loyola while convalescing in hospital picked up a book called “Life of Christ”, and this changed his life and he took up the invitation from the Risen Lord to be part of the community of faith. What would you give to someone to help them know Christ? a friend or relative who has no faith but who might be open to reading a book that would deepen their faith, if only out of curiosity initially? What would you give to that person? Maybe if you’re lucky enough to be having lunch with loved ones later on today, you can discuss what you’d give to someone who doesn’t yet know Christ and His Church.
We have something to share, my friends: Christ is risen! Alleluia! And there’s good sound reasons for others to come and worship the Risen Lord. And He’s promised to send us the Spirit whenever we need to give an account of our faith, so we can be confident as we water the ground of people’s lives so that God can bring forth the seed, to the praise of His name! Amen