As the 2017-18 Senior Student at Wycliffe College, I had the privilege of giving the sermon at the final Eucharist service of the school year. I thought I would share the message for those who weren’t able to make it 🙂
For those of you unfamiliar with Wycliffe, preaching in Founders’ Chapel is a significantly different experience and different community than where and to whom I normally preach. Each Wednesday the community gathers for Eucharist–faculty, students, families, and friends–and usually a visiting bishop or guest speaker delivers the homily. No pressure… right?
Note: the italicized text in square brackets is added just for you online readers.]
Prayer: For the Extension of the Church, Book of Common Prayer, p. 42
Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give commandment to the Apostles that they should go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: Grant to us whom thou hast called into thy Church, a ready will to obey thy Word; and fill us with a hearty desire to make thy way known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[It’s important to note that this prayer is from the BCP, an OLD prayer book that Wycliffe uses on alternating months with the Book of Alternative Services (BAS), I like the prayer, but would not ordinarily use this kind of language]
Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed, Hallelujah!)
[The “Hallelujah!” catches me off guard, as I’m used to simply “He is risen indeed!” A certain faculty member was especially exuberant about the “Hallelujah!” so I laughed with joy, and also asked everyone to be aware that I will expect a couple of responses throughout the message.]
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). [link to passage]
When Jesus calls her by her name, she immediately knows that it is her Lord.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and “calls them by name,” and his sheep “know his voice.”
In one word, spoken by the most significant person Mary Magdalene had ever known, her entire life changed. She became the first person, ever, to experience the personal presence of the Risen Lord.
Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed, Hallelujah!)
The Paschal Greeting, this call and response, that Christians share across the globe on Easter is a bold claim.
It is a declaration of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We receive these words as disciples of Christ, from disciples of Christ, who have been affirming the truth of the resurrection ever since Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”
In the words of David Yeago [here, I pause for some laughter and giggling, as this name is well known to all of the second and third year students, for reasons you’ll read below],
“[The Resurrection is], in the most direct sense of the term, a reality-defining event, comparable only to creation itself.”
I was reading those words, by Yeago, on a bright morning at the end of the Winter term in 2016 downstairs, in the day student lounge. They come from the last chapter of volume one, in the unpublished manuscript that Professor Mangina has been using for some time now in Systematic Theology. Never before have I read a chapter where on so many occasions I simply had to put the book down and pray, or praise, or meditate, and worship God with my mind.
What was slightly strange, or rather, providential, was that a non-Christian resident of the college, was sitting nearby. In a moment when I had placed that spiral-bound book down, they asked me, “What are you reading?”
I informed them that, yes, this was a Systematic Theology textbook, but thankfully, or rather, by following the Spirit, I asked them about what defines their reality.
The conversation flourished.
We agreed that creation was a reality-defining moment, but when we spoke about what defined how we go about living in the world, things were a little muddled around why humans should do good and we discussed karma. In the end, they reasoned that acting in self-interest was actually the best way to go about living.
The resurrection wasn’t something they were about to stomach. It didn’t fit with their world view.
In the wise words of Lesslie Newbigin,
“It has never at any time been possible to fit the resurrection into any world view except the world view of which it is the basis.” [Honest Religion, 53]
This world view, this reality-defining-resurrection-affirming world view, is what we espouse when we affirm he is risen indeed!
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus forms the centre of our faith and our lives.
This is precisely what Peter preaches to Cornelius’ household in our passage today from Acts 10:
You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. [link to passage]
We heard from one of those prophets today:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.
The Lord will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, that is spread over all nations, he will swallow up death forever, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.
It will be said on that day: Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him.
Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. [link to passage]
Peter speaks of himself and those who came with him that, “We are witnesses to all that Jesus did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.” That “God raised Jesus on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses.”
But, are we, or rather, how are we, like Peter, witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection?
We cannot race one another to the tomb on that Easter morning, we do not have a time machine.
Yet this is our Easter greeting:
Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed, Hallelujah!]
The disciples had physical evidence before them. And evidence invites verdicts.
John makes it clear that it was not because of the scriptures that they believed Jesus must rise from the dead. Luke makes the same point with those on the Road to Emmaus: Jesus had to explain the scriptures to those disheartened disciples, beginning with Moses and working through all the prophets, all the things concerning himself.
For the disciples on Easter morning, it was the facts, the simple evidence, linen cloths, and a rolled up linen head wrapping off to the side. The verdict is clear—He is risen indeed!
As a child, my father regularly prayed for my siblings and I before catching the bus to school. He often included, “May they be a witness to those around them.”
I remember telling this brief story with Annette Brownlee [our college chaplain] and she initially asked me about how burdensome this must have felt as a child. I expressed that, “No,” it was always an encouraging word from my father, it was always an encouragement to love.
As brothers and sisters, we will not be running to the tomb to find linen cloths as evidence.
But we will most certainly run to the scriptures, especially today to this Gospel of John, and in every way, have the faith experience of the Beloved Disciple. We are witnesses.
Not only in the scriptures, but as brothers and sisters, we will run to the Church, to the Beloved Community of Christ. The community which Jesus gave his New Commandment: As I have loved you, so you must love one another. I have received Christ’s love through his body; and because of this, I know that Jesus so deeply loves me–in all my brokenness, my faults, sin, and shame. The community of the resurrected Lord has been witness to me, and has made me a witness.
By virtue of you being in this chapel, my guess is that you too are a witness. That you have a good idea about what Jesus was up to in Judea and Jerusalem.
In John 15:16, Jesus says to his disciples:
“I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”
I will again defer to the wisdom of Lesslie Newbigin:
“To be a Christian is to be part of the chosen company – chosen, not for privilege, but for responsibility. This is the doctrine of election in mission – God sends and sends whom he will.” [The Open Secret, 19]
There is a warning here:
We risk reducing our understanding of salvation to religiosity, inwardly or outwardly, in our hearts or ceremonially, God ruling simply over our feelings or God ruling simply over church-land, rather than ruling over all the earth.
May we be continually reminded of the Feast that the Lord of Hosts is making for all people.
May we be continually reminded that we are part of the community of chosen witnesses that takes part in God’s mission. We are witnesses of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
May we, like Peter and the disciples, hear the command of Christ, to preach and testify that he is Lord of all, that he is the judge of the living and the dead, and that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep, he “calls them by name,” and his sheep “know his voice.”
May we, like Mary, hear Christ call us by name.
“Jordan,” “Jonathan,” “Christine,” “David,” Alexandra,” “Elaine,” “Peter,” “Fawna,” “Marion,” “Ruth,” “Peter,” “Matthew,” “James,”
I’m not going to call out everyone’s name in this room: Everyone, please say your name out-loud. [You can do it too right now as your read along]
Christ calls you by your name; turn, run, and cling to your Teacher.
Unlike Mary, Jesus isn’t going to tell you to let go of him, because he has ascended! We can run to the table of rich food and well-aged wine, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. [We are about to take communion after this message]
In response to all of this, I’m not expecting some explosive revival of conversions as you go from this chapel with everyone you encounter. But what are we expecting?
As some of us graduate,
As others go off into ordained ministry and church work,
As others continue to study, learn, and teach, here in this city, this college, or elsewhere:
I pray that we are known as a people whose reality is defined by the resurrection.
I pray that we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to start conversations, in our preaching, and testifying to the work of Christ in our lives and in the world; whether from pulpits, in classrooms, homes, on the street, or in this building. Especially when it makes us feel uncomfortable and awkward, or strange.
Pray daily for the Holy Spirit’s leading, power, and boldness.
I pray that this College continues to be more evangelistic by participating and leading events like “The Strange New World of Jesus” footwashing service we held two weeks ago.
That we all hear Christ call our names, and that that encounter gives us the strength and focus and invitation to do what God calls us to do.
That we can say, along with the Psalmist: “His steadfast love endures forever,”
That we can declare: “Christ is risen!” [He is risen indeed, Hallujah!] Amen.