St Mary and St Chad and Longton
Easter Day 1992
St Luke and Easter
This week we have been hearing readings from both St John and St Luke. This morning I want to take an idea from each of them to show how it illuminates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Son John tells us that the accusation set up by Pont as pilot over the Cross of Jesus "this is the King of the Jews" was written in three languages: Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
Now there would have been nothing particular remarkable about that if Jesus Christ had just been an ordinary person.
After all, plenty of ordinary people have suffered similar fates on the course of history. Men and women have been unjustly punished, imprisoned or killed for things of which they were completely innocent.
But if we believe that Jesus Christ is God himself, taking upon himself our nature in order that he might save mankind and reconcile the world to God himself, then little details like this may contain important clues about the way in which he has chosen to work his purposes out.
For instance why did God choose that particular moment and place at which to intervene so decisively in the affairs of man?
Well, it may have been because it happened at a crossroads of history where three civilisations had, as it were, met together to provide an opportunity which would never happen again for a very long time if ever.
The Roman or Latin community in the form of the Roman Empire provided a period of peace unknown for many centuries. 30 years before the Incarnation there were wars going on everywhere are, and 30 years after the crucifixion there were wars happening again, not least in what we would call the Middle East. But for about 100 years at the most there was a quite unprecedented opportunity for people like Saint Paul and Saint Peter to travel in safety. This was helped, of course, by the Roman system of road-building, and their policy of keeping the seas clear of pirates; and as Saint Paul was to discover, being a Roman citizen could make all the difference between being lynched to death or not.
Then there were the Hebrews. It was just about at this time of the Incarnation that they had realised that there was really only one God and that if he was the Creator of heaven and earth then it was at least possible that He must have some place in his plan for the world for others beside the Jews.
Of course that was an idea which had already occurred to some of the prophets like Isaiah are and Habbakuk, but it was only around the time of the Incarnation that the idea had begun to catch on. Of course it was too novel to be widely accepted - and the view that it was only the Jews who mattered was largely taken for granted; nevertheless the old Jewish belief, that God was only "for them" was beginning to come apart at the seams. Devout Gentiles, like the Roman Centurion whose servant Jesus healed, and even perhaps Pontius Pilate's wife, were starting to take an interest in finding out more about this strange though fascinating Jewish faith.
And thirdly there were the Greeks who provided a universal language. By the time of the Incarnation more or less everyone could "get my" in Greeks: which meant of course that if you add something to communicate there had never been a better time for doing so. Two or 300 years later it wouldn't have been nearly so easy as the Roman Empire disintegrated, the Legion's went back home and darkness descended.
So the conditions were quite ideal for God's great intervention in the world which he had created. And the importance of St Luke's gospel (which we read today) lies in the fact that he tells us not only about Part One of what happened, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection, but also (in Part Two: the Acts of the Apostles) some of the things that happened afterwards during the next 30 years. And his declared intention (in the preface to Part One) is:
"as one who has gone over the whole course of these events in detail [the earthly life of Jesus] and has decided to write a connected narrative so as to give a more accurate account of what actually happened."
Luke in other words is not claiming (as Saint John does) to have been a first-hand witness to the events of Jesus' s life. He only became involved as a result of his meetings with Saint Paul some 15 years later.
But like a good researcher or historian, Luke patiently asked questions of everyone who had been involved: he noted down the answers, checked for inconsistencies, and then no doubt passed everything he had discovered on to Saint Paul. And from what we know (again from Saint Luke) the basis of Paul preaching was Jesus and the Resurrection.
It is to Saint Luke alone that we owe the account of the walk to Emmaus, the recognising of Jesus in the Breaking of Bread, his sudden disappearance; the quick dash back to Jerusalem, only to discover that Jesus had already appeared there to Simon; and whilst they were still chattering excitedly about it all suddenly – there was Jesus! They thought at first that it was a ghost. He invited them to touch him and asked to be given something to eat. That detail can surely only come from one whose medical training and discipline had taught him to observe little details like that which had become forgotten over the years but were patiently rediscovered and inserted by Saint Luke.
On the previous three days we have been dealing with an imaginary Staffordshire Secular Man, and I suggested the best way of introducing him to the Faith was to invite him to St Mary and St Chad.
Well, assuming he stuck the course I think I would next suggest that he read the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel according to St Luke's in that order. And then perhaps the first chapter of St John's Gospel.
My reason for doing so has to do with the letters we have been using to help us remember. We've had A, S and R. Today's letter is X which stands for Christ, the Greek letter Chi. Taken together they make up the Greek word SARX meaning "flesh".
For the events which John and Luke describes are not the story of a young man who came to a tragic end 2000 years ago in the Middle East. If that was all it was about it could be paralleled hundreds of times over - you've only got to pick up the newspaper.
It is, on the contrary, the account of how in the fullness of time the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; how he was crucified died and was buried; how he rose from the dead on the Third Day and was seen and handled by many (including St John); and how the news of his resurrection spread so rapidly through the known world because, at that precise juncture in history the three civilisations, Roman, Hebrew and Greek happen to have conspired together to produce exactly the ideal conditions for it to do so.
Not a coincidence, I think. Nor for that matter did St Luke or St John!
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