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Sermon: Mattins 26th April 2015

David Martin
Sunday 26th April 2015
Choral Mattins
Download Recording (MP3, 13.7M) Download

+Abide with us, for it is toward he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him...

Two of the resurrection stories have a special and luminous intimacy: they are Mary coming very early in the morning to the tomb wondering where they have laid the body of her lord, and certain disciples walking disconsolately in the late evening wondering what now remains of their hopes concerning the one who should redeem Israel. Mary does not recognise Jesus until he speaks her name and the disciples do not recognise him until he took bread and blessed it. Jesus is one who is not immediately recognised but then in a moment of insight as well as sight he is known for who he is.

The revelation of the presence of Christ in the breaking of bread at Emmaus is linked with the revelation of his presence when he appears before the disciples even later that same evening with the offer of his peace: ‘Peace be with you’. In both moments of revelation Christ restores table fellowship. The Lamb of God who bears in his body the sins of the world, grants peace to his friends, as he does also to us at the conclusion of every Eucharist when we say ‘Grant us thy peace’. When he asks for meat it is not because he is hungry but because he now restores the interrupted communion of the Last Supper. At the Last supper he promised he would be with them for a First Supper where he once more drank of the fruit of the vine in the Father’s kingdom. The Father’s kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven and moreover it arrives with the fullness of the gift of the Spirit as he breathes upon them a foretaste of Pentecost.

The disciples are once again a fellowship of reconciliation grouped around a table as well as a community of resurrection and renewed life. Exactly the same is true of the resurrection scenes in the closing chapters of Saint John’s Gospel where Jesus is initially an unrecognised presence before eating once again with his friends and restoring table fellowship. That restoration is completed with acts that reverse and heal earlier breaches of trust. The disciples are once again enjoying uninterrupted and perfect communion with their Lord just as when Jesus washed their feet in his final act of service.

This renewed communion, known in eating together and in the breaking of bread, includes a body that is the same and different. The risen body of Christ is also the broken body of Christ, as it is in every Eucharist. He asks them to behold his hands and his feet, to see that his is the same body that suffered on the tree. He still bears the marks of his suffering because God has been touched by our infirmities and has taken them into himself. The face of the divine is a scarred face like all our human faces. This is a God who knows what it is to suffer and to die. This is a God who has drunk of the bitter dregs of human experience, betrayal and humiliation, and eaten of the bread of affliction. But he has renewed them through the overflowing gifts of new bread and wine in the fellowship of the kingdom. This is Lord’s BEST wine replacing the old. We are included in the fruit of the true vine, grafted into the divine generosity. What has ‘cost not less than everything’ is offered ‘without money and without price’ to anyone who comes to the table in repentance, sincerity and truth. ‘Wherever two or three are gathered together there am I in the midst of them’. I am with you until the ending of the world’. This is an offer and a gift that converts an aching absence such as we all know and understand daily, into a presence. ‘They have taken away my Lord ‘says Mary ‘and I know not where they have laid him’. Then she discovers he is already there.

There are two other features of these stories of resurrection. One is the stubbornness of disbelief. These are not people so traumatised that they will entertain any delusion that comes their way, and desperate to believe any comforting fantasy. The rumours of resurrection seem to the disciples as mere ‘idle tales’, and more than once they have to be upbraided for hardness of heart and slowness of belief. Concerning the obdurate doubt of Thomas Jesus responds with a new benediction ‘Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed’. Rather the initial news of the resurrection comes first as a confused hubbub of hope followed by an utterly astonished ricochet of faith ‘The Lord had risen indeed and has appeared to Simon’.

The other feature takes us back to the very beginning: the bare announcement, the first angelic annunciation of the resurrection. ‘Whom do you seek in the sepulchre? ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ This is, of course, the origin of the drama of the celebration of the resurrection which also initiated the resurrection of western drama when a monk of St. Gall’s monastery first asked the question that frames the Easter liturgy: ‘Quem quaeritis in Sepulchro (‘Whom do you seek in the sepulchre?’) and received the answer ‘Non est hic  ... Nuntiate quia surrexit de Sepulchro’(‘He is not here. Go announce that he is risen’), and the acclamation ‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia’. If you seek him in the grave you are misguided because you look in the wrong place. Understand that death could not hold him because he is now to be encountered in faith, hope and love in Galilee or Jerusalem or anywhere in the wide world where people meet in his name and gather round his table. Alleluia. Christ is risen.

Let us pray in the words of the Scottish Franciscan, William Dunbar, over half a millennium ago:

Done is the battle on the dragon black,

The gates of hell are broken with a crack,

Our champion Christ confounded has his force,

The sign triumphal raised is of the cross,

The devils tremble with hideous voice,

The souls are ransomed and to the bliss can go,

Christ with his blood our ransom does endorse,

Surrexit Dominus de Sepulchro.