Sermons from St Faith's     


Revd Denise McDougall, April 23rd, 2012 

I don’t know if any of you enjoy films about ghosts, there are certainly any number around to thrill, entertain and frighten. One of my favourites called ‘Ghost’ begins with a happy couple who are walking back to their apartment after a night out at the theatre. The husband, Sam, however is murdered and finds himself trapped as a ghost; but of course he can’t be seen or heard by the living because ghosts are considered to be the disembodied presence of people who have died and considered to still be dead.

The ancient world knew all about ghosts, visions, apparitions and spooks and there were plenty of stories about people supposed to be dead coming back to haunt or chat with the living. And even apart from theatre and films in the modern world there are sculptures and even puppets that stretch the imagination and challenge our thoughts. You can’t have missed the spectacular event In Liverpool this weekend; the three Giants – a 30ft ‘Little Girl’, her 50ft uncle and her 20ft dog – all of whom have been journeying round the City Centre and North Liverpool; they look pretty startling on first sight and the imagination can play all sorts of tricks on us. I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the younger children made of them. Did they see them as real people, were they terrified by them or did they go home puzzled or confused?

In our Gospel reading today we hear of the disciples’ difficulty understanding the appearance of the risen Christ. Christ they knew had been crucified on the cross but then not only did he appear through locked doors join the disciples but he also asked for something to eat. Was he real, was he an illusion, were they imagining or misinterpreting what they saw? Yet because of the scriptures, the saints and martyrs and over 2000 years of Christianity we know that today’s Gospel reading is no ghost story and that Christ appeared as a very real presence. Unlike us though the disciples didn’t have the luxury of history and they struggle to understand the unfolding drama in their lives.

Yet they didn’t try to suggest that Jesus’ appearance was some sort of ancient phenomena and that was in fact a powerful testimony to their thoughts and understanding about Christ appearing among them. Scholars sometimes suggest that Luke and John who wrote in the 1st Century were at pains to make Jesus’ resurrection appearances more physical than they actually had been in order to combat the view that Jesus’ wasn’t truly human but only seemed to be, a heresy known as Docetism.

The disciples can’t be blamed for being puzzled and agitated and I’m sure there isn’t anyone sitting in church this morning who can honestly say that they have never had any doubts about their faith; In fact I believe it is healthy to question our beliefs and reflect carefully on our answers. Our journeys of faith would be immature and shallow if we ignored any nagging doubts or obstacles that we stumbled upon along the way. Understandably the disciples were confused and needed reassurance just as we do too.

Jesus’ gentle reassurance came when he stood among them saying, ‘Peace be with you.’ and he asked them for something to eat. They must have all eaten fish together on many occasions and the disciples offered him some grilled fish. As they watched Jesus eat they were now confronted with a new form of reality; Jesus had risen from the dead. He isn’t alive in the same way as Jairus’s daughter or Lazarus or in fact any of the numerous people who have stopped breathing and then been resuscitated over time. Jesus had passed through death and come through to the other side,  in to a world, that was a new and deathless creation. Yes, Jesus was still physical in appearance but he was somehow transformed. And it was then that  the disciples began to believe and as they began to believe they also began to understand. As St. Augustine said, ‘I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.’
Christ’s new body belongs in both the dimensions of God’s creation, heaven and earth; Christ’s body now inhibits both our space on earth and God’s space in heaven; it is the model for future mission, the future for Christianity and the source of power for life in the present. The scriptures have been fulfilled and Jesus requires that we, like the disciples understand them.  Of course fulfilment does not mean that predictions have come true but they have been made complete or brought to fullness in Christ Jesus and Jesus points the way to the whole mission of the Church. He commissions the disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, the heart of our Christian faith.

Week after week in our Church services we are called to turn away from sin and celebrate God’s forgiveness. Every Eucharist we experience the dimensions of God’s creation the divine and the human; every Eucharist, offers a down to earth sharing of a meal together in the here and now but also a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we meet the risen Lord, every breaking and sharing of bread is an invitation to give ourselves as completely as possible to God and surrender ourselves to the power of his love. With willing and believing hearts and minds we can be changed into his likeness and into the Easter mode of being.

The Easter season is a time to reflect and leave our minds open to the presence of the risen Christ in our day to day living; it is the small things, the everyday occurrences, the moments of caring and sharing and the reaching out to those in need that we are able to show the risen Christ among us. By virtue of our baptism we are part of the Easter mystery and so have a share in Christ’s dying and rising to new life. These 50 days of Easter give us a time pay close attention the Scriptures and deepen our understanding of God, is revealed to all by the cross and resurrection and I pray that we may be strengthened and sustained in our faith to continue to serve in righteousness and truth.

Ghost stories have their day and fade; and I think ghosts are supposed to fade at sunrise anyway, but we know that Jesus’ resurrection isn’t a ghost story to be readily dismissed but a story that recognises Christ as divine and human, indissolubly united in one perfect person as an eternal living presence in our lives and offering us love, joy and hope for the days ahead.


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