Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 18 April 2021.
• First Reading: Acts 3: 12-19 (Repent then and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out and times of refreshing may come from God)
• Psalm 4
• Epistle: 1 John 3: 1-7 (When Christ appears, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is)
• Gospel: Luke 24: 36-48 (Jesus came – ‘Peace be with you’)
One of the things that the Coronavirus had reminded us of is our mortality and that of those who are close to us. This year in All Saints we have had many funerals and much-loved brothers and sisters in the Lord have been taken from us, many it is true, not taken by the pandemic itself.
But we have had to accept these losses all the same. And it is one thing to prepare for the funeral of the departed but when the funeral is over and the fellow mourners have gone then we are left with that sense of emptiness.
I was preparing these thoughts having just watched the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, and I noted especially how the armed services accompanied his body to the Saint George’s chapel but then they had to leave him there. There was nothing more that they could do for him and so they departed.
And once in the chapel, his many decorations and awards were there laid on the altar – but he would be separated also from them as his body was placed in the burial vault.
In all this there was that incredible sense of separation and of allowing him to go on his own journey into the presence of God.
But then look at the appearance of Jesus to His disciples.
It is not as if they had to revive Him – for He was busy reviving them and assuring them that He was no ghost or presence of the departed spirits. They were not getting to return to their own lives which had been interrupted by Jesus. Instead, they were going to start something quite new.
This would be no return to a cold and empty home: now this was the beginning of a new life. Jesus was back and back in a new way. No apparition or exercise by the disciples in wishful thinking. If anything, He was more real than ever before.
Instead of the doors of a burial vault clanging shut with a terrible finality, they had burst open, and Jesus was alive and free. He had died but even death could not hold Him. God had raised Him and was lord not only of life but of death itself.
Even death could not be final, and in meeting the discouraged and disillusioned disciples Jesus was presenting them with a life that they had never known and could never have imagined.
So the teaching began in earnest and Jesus had to lead them again through the scriptures of the Old Testament in order to show how they had pointed to Him and His work of atonement.
And then there was His greeting of peace.
For us it easy to regard it as an absence of war, and a pretty cold peace that can be. Those of us who remember the Cold War with the communist bloc will remember that it was very tense. The tanks might not have been rolling across Europe – although they were ready to – but there was plenty of warfare elsewhere, and even in our own lands a form of Marxist insurgency was taking place in Northern Ireland.
But Jesus was offering and pointing to a peace in all aspects of life. His peace was a peace that had been crucified but had forgiven His crucifiers. A peace that could and would forgive and would not be crippled by the faults and rebellions, the hatreds and resentments of the past.
This was a peace that would be the foundation of all new relationships, and which, when founded on Him would also grow in its strength and authority.
Jesus came to bless His disciples in every age and land with a peace that is of God, which flows from God and not themselves, and which is established on His desire to give and not their ability to earn.
This is drawn out for us by our other lessons.
Peter and John had just healed a cripple and the people wanted to know what it was all about. And so Peter showed that by means of a visual aid of a healing, the power of God in Jesus had not gone. Rather it was in the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus that Peter had performed the healing. And even in reminding the people of their role in crucifying Jesus, Peter was offering them forgiveness.
The very people who had Jesus put to death were now being offered forgiveness, peace with God and a wholly new life.
And this was Peter who at one moment had cut off the ear of a servant of the High Priest but had then later denied knowing Jesus, and had then known at first hand the power of Jesus’ forgiveness was now busy proclaiming it to Jesus’ tormentors.
There is nothing pallid or weak about Jesus’ peace.
We may represent it as being insipid and even an evasion. Maybe that is the kind of peace we imagine ourselves to be living in, when living in a world of pestilence and cold war and hybrid of grey warfare.
But for Jesus, His peace transcends even this, and has endured massive persecutions, natural disasters, global wars, and natural disasters of every kind.
But then this is not the peace of a corpse but of the living and active power of God. It is the peace of one who longs to enfold His people in His mercy and His purposes for their lives,
It is the peace of the One who has burst the gates of death, and who has stilled the storms, fed the crowds, overturned the atheisms of His day, healed the sick and above all, forgiven sinners.
Whatever peace the world offers: the peace of surrender to overwhelming coercive power, or the peace of a cold war, that which Jesus brings is indeed the peace that passes all understanding. And He longs to embrace all of us in it.