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Preacher: Honorary Minor Canon Peniel Rajkumar
Title of sermon: Resurrection life
Date/time/service: Sunday 8 May 2022, 4pm, Choral Evensong
When I initially told my wife about my new association with York Minster, I was gently reminded that I had a hard example to emulate, because one Indian many would associate with Yorkshire would be the Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar. Well, no pressure there, though I have to admit that my cricketing abilities are not quite up to Tendulkar’s. But on the other hand, I learnt that Tendulkar’s link with Yorkshire lasted just a little over four and a half months, and I’m genuinely hoping to be here a bit longer, not the least because of the beauty of this place and the generous welcome I’ve received from its people. Thank you.
Narratives, narratives and more narratives! The Easter experience of Jesus’ disciples seems to be filled with narratives. Our gospel reading is set in the middle of one such narrative and begins with the words “while they were talking about this”. The disciples are talking about Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus appears in their midst.
However exciting these narratives of Jesus’s resurrection may have sounded, they nevertheless seem powerless to irrupt into the reality of the eleven disciples, who seem barricaded from the rest of the world by grief, fear and doubt. The disciples seem to be in some senses what the Indian theologian Stanley Samartha calls “the Saturday people”, squeezed between Good Friday and Easter, who inhabit that unbearable pause between death and life, to whom Easter never comes.
No wonder they are shocked when Jesus appears among them. They did not expect this because Jesus’s crucifixion was a Roman execution that was meant to be the metaphorical final nail – something so cruel, so cunning and so complete that it was meant to be a ‘full-stop’.
And into this reality of doubt, despair and disillusionment Jesus breaks in, confounding the disciples. But what happens next is even more shocking. Jesus calls the same disciples who doubt his resurrection, to a new life of witness. While they are still caught in a flux of conflicting emotions – joy, disbelief and wonder – Jesus calls them to a new life which will culminate in them receiving power from on high. They are embraced in all their vulnerability and confusion into the possibility of a transformed life.
Yet, this transformed life is not a life of quick fixes. One of the consistent features of Jesus’s resurrection stories is that they offer no quick solutions for the disciples’ fears and doubts. Jesus appears and disappears, but very little happens in their life. However, the way the disciples are transformed is through embracing Jesus’ invitation to enter into a new pattern of living.
In our reading we see that the initiation to such living begins with the sharing of food – a distinctive mark of Jesus’s earthly ministry. In this table fellowship the disciples become hosts to Jesus himself, who enters their life as a hungry guest and asks them “have you anything to eat?” and teaches them at the heart of their new life was the challenge of responding to the need of the ‘other’.
It is a pattern of living where the disciple’s minds are opened to fresh readings of the scriptures in a context where closed minds may have provided more comfort and certitude.
It is a pattern of living where the disciples are promised the power to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in a context where revenge and retaliation might have been easier and preferable.
Finally, it is a pattern of living where they are asked to wait to be clothed by that power which is not of this world, while resisting the overwhelming temptation to make this power one’s own possession.
That is the promise and possibility that the risen Christ opens to a despairing and disbelieving people. The former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams captures the significance of this dimension of the resurrection in the following words, “The Christian proclamation of the resurrection of the crucified just man, his return to his unfaithful friends and his empowering of them to forgive in his name offers a narrative structure in which we can locate our recovery of identity and human possibility”.
In Christ’s resurrection we are offered the possibility of a life that is both transformed and transforming. It is this transformed and transforming life that we may be called to live out in a turbulent global context of war, hate and greed, where it is easy to lose hope like the disciples, and – as a modern poet poignantly put it – “let the wire brush of doubt scrape from our heart, all sense of ourself and our hesitant light”.
Thankfully this life is available to us as an invitation of the risen Christ, who accompanies us through our fears, our doubts and beyond with the words – “Peace be with you. Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Amen
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