Church of England Diocese in Europe

Sermon in Ankara for the Third Sunday of Easter (18th April 2021) - The Revd Patrick Irwin

After following John's account of the Resurrection for two Sundays we now turn to that given by Luke. There are slight difference between them but no great inconsistency. In Luke's account women went to the tomb early on the first Easter Sunday morning, saw that the stone had been rolled away, and heard two men in dazzling white clothes tell them that Jesus had risen. The women returned and told this to the apostles, but they thought that their report was "an idle tale" and did not believe it. Peter, however, ran to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty. 

Meanwhile, two of Jesus' disciples, Cleopas and a companion, were walking to the village of Emmaus when they encountered but did not recognise Jesus. They told him how their hopes had been disappointed and Jesus explained to them how everything that had happened was necessary according to Scripture. The two invited Jesus to stay the night with them. At supper when Jesus blessed and broke the bread they recognised him, but he vanished from their sight. They rushed back to Jerusalem and told the apostles what had happened. Then they learned that Jesus had already appeared to Simon Peter. At this point today's Gospel reading begins. This year we do not hear the reading in our services of the beautiful story of the journey to Emmaus, so it is worth reminding ourselves of it, as it is interestingly similar to what follows.

Jesus stood among his disciples and said, "Peace be with you." This is exactly what he said in John's account. The disciples, however, were frightened and thought that they were seeing a ghost. To convince them that he was indeed really present Jesus showed them his hands and feet, scarred by crucifixion, as a way of proving that he was not a ghost. He then asked for something to eat. They gave him a piece of broiled fish, which he ate in their presence. Here was further proof that he was not a ghost. Ghosts don't eat. One can imagine Luke the compassionate medical doctor smiling as he wrote this part of his narrative. Doubtless he had dealt with many anxieties and unfounded fears in his patients over the years. Luke was keen to demonstrate that the risen Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood Jesus and not merely an apparition. Jesus showed the disciples his body and ate a piece of fish, sufficient evidence indeed for a medical man. Jesus was truly alive.

Jesus then explained to the disciples , as he had done to the two travellers on the road to Emmaus, that everything that had happened to him had happened in order to fulfil Scripture. The story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus and the following story of Jesus appearing to his disciples in Jerusalem are structurally similar. Both include a failure to recognise Jesus and an explanation of the Resurrection through Scripture, and Jesus eating and being recognised in so doing.

Jesus did not send Cleopas and his companion out as witnesses, but that was exactly what their encounter with Jesus caused them to become. They rushed back to Jerusalem to share the Good News. In the second story Jesus did tell his disciples that they were to be witnesses. The Spirit (in Luke's account) would be given to them later (at Pentecost) but for now Jesus told the disciples the content of their message. They were to speak of repentance and forgiveness in his name.

Our first reading today, from Luke's second book, the Acts of the Apostles, showed us the disciples in action as witnesses. Peter proclaimed what God had done and was doing in Jesus Christ. A crowd had gathered because Peter and John had healed a well-known crippled beggar, who was now walking and leaping about and praising God. Peter began by attributing the healing not to his own skill but to the God of Israel and the power of Jesus' name. The incident reminds us that Easter is not the end of the story, but a new beginning, in which we disciples have our own role to play.

In our second reading, from the first letter of John, we learn a little about our new role. The passage echoes a prominent theme in John's Gospel, what it means to be children of God. In the Prologue to the Gospel John wrote that "to all that received him, who believed in his name" God "gave power to become children of God. The writer of the letter explained to his readers that they were children of God, not by any merit of their own, but because God had shown such love for them as to call them children of God. The author reassured his community that if the world did not recognise them as God's children it was because it did not know Jesus to be God's son.

The imagery is that of adoption. God in his love for us has called us his children and that declaration makes it so. In the Roman world adoption was not about showing compassion for orphans. It was about inheritance and a family name. Often a man was adopted to carry on the name of a childless family. He would legally become a new person with a new inheritance and name. The same applies to adoption through Jesus Christ. 

It is not enough, however, simply to be called a son of God. As St Augustine observed, "for those who are called sons, and are not sons, what profit the name when the thing is not. How many are called physicians but know not how to heal! So many are called Christians and yet in their deeds are not found to be so; because they are not actually what they are called."

St Augustine's words remind us that while it is God who calls us his children more is demanded of us than assent to the name. A transformation of our lives is required so that we may indeed be loyal children of our heavenly Father.

So our readings this morning have reminded us of the glorious reality of the Resurrection of Christ and of our role as disciples in bearing witness to this Good News. We do so as children of God, called such by his love, but needing to sustain our new identity, which we do through listening to God in prayer and from fellowship one with another in Word and Sacrament. One of the joys of our faith is the message of new life given us at Easter; another is the encouragement given to us by Jesus himself to call God our Father. May we indeed live as his children!