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Title: “Creationtide and the Resurrection”
Preacher: Canon Peter Collier KC, Cathedral Reader
Date: 24 September 2023, The Fourth Sunday of Creationtide
Readings: Ezekiel 33:23,30-34:10; Acts 26:1,9-25
“By being the first to rise from the dead he would proclaim light both to our people (the Jews) and to the gentiles.”
In the three chapters that lead up to our second lesson this evening there is an extraordinary account of the first century Jewish leaders’ determination to permanently silence the apostle Paul. They planned to get him to some place where they could ambush him and kill him. We read in those chapters of riots, of periods of protective custody and of plot after plot to kill him. At the start of our reading we find Paul in custody in Caesarea – the Roman capital of Judea –situated on the Mediterranean coast roughly half way between modern Tel Aviv and Haifa
The Governor of the province was Festus – he had inherited this prisoner from his predecessor Felix – the circumstances being that Paul had appealed for his case to be heard by the emperor in Rome. Our passage tells us that Festus was enjoying a visit from King Agrippa. Although Agrippa was the king of the region, Festus was the governor with more authority. But Agrippa had local knowledge and understanding and Festus thought that he might help him get to the bottom of Paul’s case, which he wanted to do because as he explained to Agrippa “it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner to the emperor without indicating the charges against him”. So Paul was given the opportunity to explain himself.
And so he began to explain to Festus and Agrippa how for several years driven by religious zeal he himself had been trying to silence the sect of Christian believers. He had locked them up; he had voted for them to be executed; and he had literally pursued them whenever and wherever he could, chasing them from place to place even forcing them to flee abroad. He had spent his time doing to others exactly what was now being done to him. But now he found himself on the other side – locked up and possibly facing execution as a follower of Jesus Christ.
How had such a dramatic change come about? How and why had he changed sides?
The answer he said was that one day while travelling to Damascus with a mandate from the Jewish High Priest to seek out and silence Christians, he had an encounter on the road. He met the Jesus who had been the object of all his hatred and violence. He then knew in that moment that what the Christians were saying about Jesus was true – this Jesus who had been executed by the Romans, he had risen from death. And by being the first to rise from the dead he proclaimed light both to Jews and to gentiles.
And the message of the Christian gospel is that Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. Of course, there had been others who had died and had been revived or resuscitated. There are several stories in the old and new testaments about such happenings. But so far as we know, all of them died again.
But what happened on that first easter morning was a first; it had never happened before. Jesus came alive never to die again. What happened with Jesus was quite unique – and it was the start of something new. New possibilities were now in place because the kingdom of God had arrived in power.
And that resurrection of Jesus casts light on everything else you may ever want to think or talk about, because now there is hope. In earlier discussions with the Jewish Council Paul had said that he was on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection and to Felix he had said I have a hope, … a hope that there will be a resurrection. Each of us can share that hope, and as Christian people we can bring that hope to others.
By hope Paul is not speaking about wishful thinking, but of a deeply held belief, based on his meeting with Jesus Christ on that roadway. An assurance that the fulness of that resurrection is where he is headed, that that is the object of his life’s journey.
There is a pattern here that can repeat itself and that we can expect to go on repeating. Not often with blinding lights and voices from heaven. But for each of us there will have been occasions where either we may have had an experience of the presence of God or there may have been a particular meeting with another person when we have recognised the presence of someone else there. And in those moments we have seen the possibility of that hope.
So in midst of the despair, the anxiety, and the fear that affected so many of us over the last 3 ½ years. And whatever any of us may be facing today – in our family, in the workplace, in relation to health there is hope. By being the first to rise from the dead he has brought us light and hope.
But the hope of the resurrection also has a bigger context. The church is currently celebrating what it rather grandly calls Creation-tide.
The resurrection of Jesus also speaks profoundly about creation.
In the same way as resurrection speaks powerfully to the human condition of frailty and mortality, it also says something about the state of this world. All that we are increasingly aware of in relation to our climate and the fragility of the ecosystem of this world are recognised in the Bible where famine, flood, earthquake, fire are not unknown. And they are often spoken about as the consequences or humanity’s failure to be good stewards of the world in which we live.
The promise in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is there will come a time when there will be no more tears or crying or pain or death. And that is in the context of the new heaven and the new earth that God has promised will come to be.
Just as the hope of our own ultimate resurrection is something that affects us and our lives now; in a different way we also live in the light of that hope of a new heaven and a new earth. But how does that work? In our personal lives we are experiencing that new life, that resurrection life, it is a part of us and so we are, little by little, and usually not as much as we might like, but we are showing that new life and he impact it has had on us to those around us.
Whilst the world as some might say is currently going to hell in a handcart, we are able again to demonstrate that there is hope, that it will be different, and even now it can be different. Because by being the first to rise from the dead he shined a light and so we see the way God wants us to live out our resurrection lives in this ecosystem. So we will want to be responsible, we know that everything we have is gift, and we will be careful to steward well all that we have been given, we will endeavour not to waste any of God’s good gifts, we will share what we have been given with those in need. If you think that’s some sort of eco wokeness, it’s not, it’s Prayer Book language. Did you notice the introit this afternoon: “Give almes of thy goods and turn never thy face from any poor man”. We can be extremely practical as well, cutting down the use of single use plastic, recycling what we can, and speaking out, speaking out to our friends and neighbours about what it means to live as members of a different kingdom. Those who can, will speak truth to power – the bishops in the House of Lords are doing that very much at the moment, but each of us can do that too when local councillors come canvassing on our doorsteps.
And so we can live and speak of the new heaven and the new earth that are coming.
This is not pie in the sky when you die – it is about how we can live now, in this fragile world.
And all of it is rooted in the hope that comes because Jesus was the first to rise from the dead and by being the first to rise from the dead he has brought light to all.
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