Homily Sunday 1 April 2018.
by Peter Lineham
[This talk preceded the baptism of Alex].
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
Could their faith have been “in vain”? What a strange expression this is. Something in vain is wasted, it produces no results and therefore it is useless – ‘A vain hope of finding work”. It has no likelihood of fulfillment. So the original word was the Latin word “vanus”, empty or without substance, and a vain person is in the end a person who has an unjustified high opinion of their own appearance, abilities or worth.
So here was good news
In the early church people prepared for baptism during Lent and were baptised on Easter Day. So it is good to employ this ancient approach.
The reason was that Christianity was more than improved Judaism and more than good example. It was a new understanding of God and humanity.
- Recall the story of the French policeman who stood in the place of the hostages, Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame. At Trebes, near Carcassone. Connection seen – “one man dies for the people”.
- We need a contemporary example of a battle and a success. [Perhaps from Chinese history?]
The Last Will and Testament
- The story of ways in which a huge and rich gift was made available by a generous donor.
- Astonishing growth from a seed buried in the ground.
- The Coffin-Shaped Baptism
- It is a picture of death and a picture of resurrection.
- Personality does not change but the basis of life does change.
- And now you need to stand. Stand for the life of Jesus and stand in the life of Jesus.
Faith in the Resurrection
The disciples were startled and shocked that the resurrection happened. They were certainly not expecting it, and although the gospel writers emphasise that it actually happened, that there actually was an empty tomb, they also emphasise that it was not a public event. Others saw the evidence of it, but they did not see Jesus. Only believers saw him, and even they found it hard to believe. Notice the comment in Acts 10 “not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses”. And notice this explains why in order to assert his authority, Paul needs to talk of his own resurrection experience, for only this gives him a right to be an apostle.(1 Cor 15:8)
But once they believed, everything made sense. And even outsiders were so astonished at the change in the disciples that they had no other satisfactory way to explain what had happened.
It is clear that what is being asserted is the animation of a corpse. The burial mentioned in 1 Cor 15:4 is partly proof of death partly proof that he was not lost, but also assertion of the empty tomb, despite claims Paul did not known this.
Do you notice the sequence in 1 Corinthians 15; witnesses, witnesses, and “so we preach and so you believed”. The declaration of the astonishing events of the resurrection transform our world and our experience. As Tom Long puts it, “Christians are on the witness stand to tell that story, not because it is a likely story or an advantageous piece of testimony, but because it is true. We know it is true because we ourselves have experienced it and witnessed its truth. That is why we are on the witness stand and have taken the oath to tell the truth “so help us God.” [In Feasting on the Word, Pastoral Perspectives by Lewis Galloway].
Really the same conviction can come to us, for although we do not see the Lord, we do have an encounter with that living person.
The Community of the Resurrection
There is a new community created as a result of the resurrection. Right at the beginning, those who saw him were transformed into a purposeful community. Notice that when Paul explains the cardinal tenets of the faith resurrection appearances are as important as the resurrection itself. And these appearances to each of the key groups, including people still alive and available when he wrote means that for him this is an event rooted in history, in real conscious and not befuddled consciousness.
For as believers we become participants in the life of the Lord.
The story that leads up to his death is a story of growing isolation, of betrayal and failure. Jesus walks the path to the cross alone, and it is his work to walk that path.
But he in his resurrection slowly draws in those who are ready and willing to move on with him to what he wants to make and do. The women, the ashamed disciples each gradually find a place back together. But now that he is there but not there, they are commissioned to do his work in the world and to build his kingdom.
Now the people who are called to build this kingdom are all those who are the witnesses of the resurrection. The apostolic mission is shared by all those who are called to be witnesses of the resurrection. There is no elite to set up to do the work. There may be people called to nurture the community life, but it is the whole community who lives and witnesses to the living Lord. There is no room for spectators.
The Baptised Believers
And they do this as they live his resurrection life. Of course unlike him they haven’t literally died. But they have died too. For baptism is in a sense their death to the old world and the old loyalties. They are to be the community of faith, and this must start with their death.
This conviction is expressed by entering the divine covenant of the baptised. The baptised are those who are convinced and those who are commissioned. “Go into all the world” says Jesus, not to the disciples before he died but to the believers after the resurrection.
So in baptism we are named anew. We are signed with the mark of Christ. Our old security in the world is gone.
But then what does God do – he sends us back to this world, empowered with the living Christ’s presence.