One of the things I enjoy about our children`s Workshop on Good Friday morning is sending the children out into the churchyard on their Easter Egg Hunt! As you can imagine, it`s something they rather enjoy as well…..! The more serious points behind this bit of amusement and the two things I always try to teach them is that firstly, the discovery of these eggs in unusual places is a way of reminding us what these days of Easter were rather like for the first disciples… As the Gospels tell us, there was this forty-day period in which they had repeated encounters with Jesus, often in unusual ways and places.
And then, secondly, I`ve begun to tell them that once they`ve found an egg they need to remember that their task changes… So, if they are fortunate enough to find another egg they have to give it to someone else…. and if not then the very least they must do is to help others in their search.
Now, at this point (for understandable reasons) I always anticipate a bit of a groan; I mean it`s almost a matter of instinct to avoid everyone else and either say “job done” when I`ve got my egg… or go in search of more chocolate again, entirely for myself. But the serious point behind this is my attempt to say that the events of Good Friday and Easter Day are about far more than what we might term “job done” – that`s my salvation is sorted out… and neither is it about me going in search more spiritual thrills, as it were, for my own benefit. No, if Good Friday and Easter do anything then they turn us outwards… Having been grasped by the wonder of it all we turn towards others… Putting it simply, we become the kind of people who draw others into encounter an with the risen Jesus.
It was summed up for me some years ago in the title of a book I came across. It was called `Practice Resurrection`(Eugene Peterson). In other words, what I want us to get hold of this morning is this sense that Good Friday and Easter Day have the quality of a `springboard` to them. There is a great momentum about Good Friday and Easter Day. Something incredible has been set in train. Resurrection has consequences… And this is perfectly illustrated by the first of our readings this morning, (Acts 2.42-47) where we see that one of the most important consequences of resurrection is the creation of a new community; the Church.
Just as resurrection is the announcement of God re-creating his world… so this involves the calling into being of a new model humanity… a community that demonstrates what life lived under God actually looks like. Now, we can only begin to touch on these things just now… but look again at those few verses from the Acts of the Apostles… I mean, you don`t need `A` levels to see what a distinctive and uniquely attractive community emerged in the days following the resurrection… The nature, quality and depth of their common life has been and remains an encouragement, a challenge and a rebuke to the church in our day.
So, for example, whilst we can often seem timid… bound by the patterns and social conventions of our own day; what happened among them was nothing if not revolutionary. Just consider your reaction to the way they dismantled the financial differences between them … How do you react to their decision to hold `all things in common`? This is not an aberration…. this is just one of the more obvious differences; one of the radical changes that resurrection living brought about among them. It demonstrated for everyone to see that something new had begun.
You see, I think it`s far too easy… far too convenient…. to just gloss over this incident and maybe think of it as utopian or pie in the sky; as let`s be honest, many people do. Yes. we might concede that there are practical and other reasons not to go quite so far as they did…. but let me put it another way… The extent to which we are shall we say reluctant to let other people know `how much we`re worth` is probably a fair indication of whether we get the point… It really doesn`t matter- so why do we mind?
You see to practice resurrection; to live the resurrection life means taking your bearings and your understanding of yourself using entirely different categories from the likes of wealth and all the rest. And if this strikes us as difficult or it gets under our skin a bit, then we`re probably in a good place… It`s probably because the Kingdom of God has come near….
So, practising or living resurrection has consequences… We`re drawn into a community whose orientation and values (if we`re prepared to live them out) will be regarded by many as both shocking and yet curiously attractive.
This I think is one way of understanding one of the big tensions of our day… the future of the church. The word we use is `ecclesiology`…. `Church-ology` if you like. In days when we`re seeing great change in the life of the church (and huge confusion) we take our lead from passages like this one. It`s not so that we can slavishly copy it; that’s not the point. The question is “What shape of Church do you end up with when God`s people let Christ have his way with us…. When we take resurrection living seriously?”
This is where our Gospel reading this morning helps us. (John 10.1-10) Jesus tells a story about sheep stealing; and about the safe transit of the sheep from the fold to the pasture… He describes himself as the `gate` to the sheepfold. This is apparently, a reference to the way a shepherd would lie across the entrance to the fold overnight.
And because they don`t get it Jesus explains by making (to the minds of many) some outrageously exclusive claims about himself as the one who is the gateway… the bridge between heaven and earth… The one through whom the Kingdom reign of God becomes visible, accessible and real.
What`s the connection with the first reading? Well, why did the early church become the kind of community it was? Why did it assume the kind of shape described to us by St. Luke this morning? What will make Jesus Church / St. Mary`s more closely resemble the community he wants it to be? I would suggest that what makes the difference is a group of people who won`t accept any imitation. What Jesus refers to as the `thieves and bandits` (John 10.8) It takes a group of people who are not afraid to accept the incredible and frankly mind-boggling claims which Jesus made about himself…. And say yes to them with their hearts, lives and even wallets….. A people who know that they have begun to practice resurrection. That`s when you get the church that Jesus wants.
Jesus said, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. (John 10.9-10) Just take him at his word. That`s when Resurrection life begins. Just like the Easter egg…. You discover it and you share it….