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Friday, 8 November 2013

The post that disappeared


John 21.1-10

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.

It is the set reading for the day, nothing special, except that it is the reading that dwells as close as any to the heart of all that we are – you! – are doing here. Let me though perhaps explain a bit about the lens through which I see our task: it is a lens that I would describe as the lens of core business. I fret often in church circles, not least in Anglican church circles, because it seems to me that our core business is so often displaced to the peripheries.

As it happens I have this week read the autobiography of Malala Yousoufzai, the Pakistani Muslim girl shot in the head but not killed in a Taliban assassination attempt just over a year ago. Very rarely does the biography, much less the autobiography, of a young person move me: when we are for example a closeted young person who has known nothing but a single sports obsession we know little enough about life to inform others. Malala is a rare exception … and I mention it because, though a Muslim, she has never lost sight of the simple fact that for her the justice demanded by Allah for all people is her core business.

Am I digressing? If so it is a scripted digression. I digress because our reading takes us to the core business of Christian witness. As it happens I am a universalist – not a pluralist, but that’s another matter – so I have no problem linking arms with the core business of Malala Yousoufzai. I would say though that the motivation for all our work as witnesses to Christ – which is surely what the nickname “Christian” first meant – is to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ. I am not here engaging with Malala – her God-breathed path is elsewhere, deeply profound, and deeply close to the beating heart of the triune God.

But I am not Malala. I am instead in the footsteps of those frightened men and women who first discovered not only an empty tomb but a resurrected Christ. It is from that encounter that all else that I do must stem: My re-memberance (and I explain that word elsewhere) of Christ in Eucharist and liturgy, my commitment to stewardship of God’s resources in and around my life, my proclamation of justice for all peoples and species in God’s garden, my preaching, my most of the time trying to be a half decent sort of a husband and father and citizen and Christian all begin with the encounter with the Risen Lord, the one made known to the faithful women and the less-faithful disciples in the appearances, and made known to me and subsequent struggling followers of Jesus in Eucharist and Koinonia and Canon and Liturgy and study and perhaps after that in nature.

The disciples who leave the tomb have not yet encountered the Risen Lord. Sometimes I feel contemporary Christianity has slipped back into their shoes, muttering about justice or money or sex or buildings but with no real interest in the underlying motivation, so that we sound like just one more interest lobby group in the community, and return to our homes saying nothing more. Soon, though, in the narrative, the frightened women (and then men) will begin to stutter the important words “he is not here, he is risen”. These are not words about an absent god, ironically, but about a God who is more powerfully present then they or we had ever dared to believe, the God who defeats the no of death and all “no”s of injustice, grief, and despair.

I don’t care whether we are registrars or deans or bishops or archbishops, these words and no other are the beginning of the work we do, because these words lead on to that unbelievable gauntlet cast down at the feat of Caesar and all Caesars: Jesus Christ is Lord.
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