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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter Sunday Sermon 2012

Easter Sunday 
  (Acts 10:34, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9)

God raised (Jesus) on the third day, and granted that He be visible to us.
Those words of St. Peter are the culmination of an age-long awareness and expectation in Israel, where the third day was of special significance for Jewish piety.  In the book of Genesis we are told that Abraham, in obedience to the voice of God, was taking his only son Isaac to offer him in sacrifice to the Lord on a mount the Lord would make known to them.  Sorrowing father and innocent, unknowing son, were journeying on along with some servants, when (Gen 22:4-5):
On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you."         
On that third day Abraham had seen Mount Moriah where he believed his son had to be sacrificed to the Lord; in the event, however, it turned out to be the mount where the son was not only restored unharmed to his father, but restored as the sign of God’s enduring promise of blessing for Abraham and God’s chosen people:
Because you have not withheld your only son – blessing I will bless you and multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. (Gen. 22:16-17)
Again, in the prophecy of Hosea (6:1-3) there is a message of consolation for sinful, suffering, Israel:
Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.   After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.   Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD.  His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.
You can understand what comfort and joy the disciples experienced on recalling such texts after having found the empty tomb and seen the Risen Lord:  Jesus -- the ultimate bearer of God’s promise -- whom they had Personally known and loved, had risen from the dead on the third day, had been restored to life in God’s presence; death had been unable to hold Him!  That is why Peter (Acts 10:39-42) could so confidently proclaim to Cornelius and his family whom, under the command of the Holy Spirit, he was about to baptise:
We are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.  Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.  And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 
Let us now address today’s reading from St. Paul and allow him to guide our thoughts:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.  
For Paul extends this wondrous event of Jesus’ rising from the dead to include us:
For you have died (with Christ), and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 
How can he say that we died with Christ if not because Christ died as Lord and Saviour for all mankind, and as Head of the Church which is His Body?  Though sinless, He died a sinner’s death on our behalf; and when He died on Good Friday all our hopes seemed to have died with Him, leaving us -- on Holy Saturday -- to experience only the emptiness, the helplessness, and indeed the hopelessness of our native, sinful, condition. But now, Peter and Paul, together with all the apostles, bear witness that God has raised Jesus from the dead; and, since He is risen, Paul says: you -- you who believe in Him and in the God Who raised Him -- you too are risen with Him, sharing in His new, Risen Life.  Because of your faith in Him, the Risen Lord, you are no longer subject to the frustrations and ultimate horror of earthly death, no longer bound by sin in your native pride and self-solicitude (1 Corinthians 15:55-58):
“O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?"  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.          
Indeed, Paul says that we too are seated with Christ at the right hand of God!  We do, indeed, firmly believe that Jesus -- the Holy One of God -- is seated at the right hand of the Father, and we also believe that He continually intercedes for us; but how are we seated with Him at the right hand of the Father?
The answer is that we are not, of course, physically seated with Him now in heaven; nevertheless, that is where the vital powers of our spiritual life originate and whither they are leading us.  Jesus, in His glorious humanity, is at the right  hand of the Father in heaven; but He is also, in a sacramental manner, physically with us in the Eucharist, whereby He draws us up, into, Himself through the Spirit.  Our heavenly food -- the driving force of supernatural life within us -- is the living Body of the One seated at the right hand of the Father in glory; and the more we live by that food, the more we live by His Spirit, the more He draws us closer and binds us more intimately to Himself.  For the sake of all mankind He has taken our humanity into glory and none are barred from sharing His glory because of their humanity.
But we have much surer basis for hope than the mere fact that our human nature is no longer barred from heaven: for each of us has been called -- the Father Himself has called us -- personally and individually, as Jesus said:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.  (John 6:44)
And so, being called by the Father to Jesus, we believe, and having been baptised into Jesus we are justified, by the Gift of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul tells us:
Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  (Rom 8:30-31)
Today Jesus is risen and we are glorified in Him: for we who receive the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord in true faith are now assured that we are under the guiding tutelage of the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God, Who is leading us  towards heaven, both our present destiny and our future home; because our food of life -- the Eucharist -- is, sacramentally, the very same Body which is Jesus’ in heaven; and His Spirit, bestowed on us through the Eucharist, is at work forming us in Jesus’ likeness so that we might be able to share -- as living members -- in the eternal glory of His heavenly Body before the Father: 
For your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.
The Father has received back His Beloved Son; Who, living now before the Father as Son of Man also, is the custodian of an eternal promise, that where He is, we -- who through faith and baptism are members of His mystical Body -- shall be:
Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
Such is, indeed, the Lord Jesus’ prayer today in our regard: what hope of glory and promise of fulfilment it holds out for us in the future!  Indeed, what joy and peace it can bring us now, if, praying in union with Jesus, we live in a way that witnesses to the sincerity of our prayer!
Consequently, we who entertain such hopes cannot, surely, allow ourselves to live a life of obsessive worldliness -- constantly searching for our needs and striving after our wishes -- whilst largely forgetting our heavenly calling and its future fulfilment.  Even Jesus’ prayer that we “may be with Him where He is” can only bear effect in the lives of those who are open to and in tune with such a prayer; that is, in the lives of those who seek communication and communion with Him more seriously and more lovingly than they search for earthly possessions and social acceptability.  We must never forget St. Paul’s admonition in today’s readings:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
However, let us appreciate and follow such advice in the spirit of today’s wonderful celebration, taking very much to heart the words of the prophet Nehemiah (8:10):
Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.