On Easter Sunday, Dean of Liverpool Cathedral and Bishop-designate of Sheffield, Pete Wilcox preached this sermon on Matthew 28.1-10.
I have been thinking and reflecting on the theological notes that Pete drew out over the intervening few days and I offer now the fruits of my reflection in the hope that they may be of use to others.
The first thing on which I would like to focus is the perhaps self-explanatory point about both the angel and then the risen Jesus both using the words, “Do not be afraid – go and tell.” We are all too often afraid of going and telling. We afraid of being seen as religious nutters or we fear not having words to say when trying to do the “tell” bit. But all that the women who were at the tomb had to tell was what they had seen – that Jesus had been risen – and what they were told – that his disciples could meet him. This is the same message that we take to the world. Jesus has been raised and people can meet him. I recently saw a tweet that said “Don’t speak about God, speak for him.” When we go and tell, if we worry about expressing theological concepts rather than simply telling people what we have seen and what we have been told, perhaps we miss the point.
Secondly, I found Pete’s focus on the passive nature of Jesus’ resurrection eye-opening. The agent, Pete contended, in Jesus’ resurrection was God the Father. This is a common theme of the accounts of Jesus’ birth and death narratives but our attention was drawn on Sunday to the fact that we often suspend the understanding of Jesus’ passivity when we get to Easter Day. There are three reasons why I think this is important, one of which was mentioned by Pete in his sermon, the other two being my own reflection. Many of us – this Monkey included – are given towards what I call an Evangelical Work Ethic. This is the sense, as Pete says, that we know that our deeds don’t make us more or less acceptable to God (though, I suspect I can’t be alone in deep down believing that they do) but that they do at least make us more or less useful to God and honoured in the church. But it is quite right that even in the case of Jesus, his fulfilling of God’s purpose is expressed though passivity and in things being done to him and not by him. Our value is not in what we do, our value is in what we are. I deliberately there have used the word what and not the word whom. What we are is that we are beloved children of God, theologically described as being descended from Adam, the human. It is helpful, I think, to ground our value there before we even consider the question of whom we are, the question of identity – precisely because we are far too inclined to define our identity, our understanding of Whom in what we do. Before Jesus begins his ministry, before he is seen as doing anything, the voice comes from from heaven that in him, Father is “well pleased.” (Matthew 3.17) This reminder also has an implication for exercising “Power Ministry”, in the sense that churches influenced by the ministry of John Wimber and the Vineyard understand the term – ministry particularly of healings. It is not what we do that is of supreme importance, the agency is God’s and God’s alone. Since it is the same power that raised Christ from the dead that lives in and works through us, when we step out in seeking to see people restored to health by that same power, remembering this principle takes the pressure off us. I and you have no power in ourselves to heal, only God does. It is always worth revisiting both Power Healing by Wimber and Come, Holy Spirit by David Pytches on this subject.
Thirdly, the linking of the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week (all too often, we refer to it taking place on the third day – the chronology relating to the crucifixion – and so miss this other chronology) as the heralding of the New Creation. This theme is picked up from N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope (and I am indebted to Pete for pointing out the reference – in the years since I read SBH, this nuance had slipped my mind). The theme of the new creation, of the coming of the Kingdom of God is a common one in Wright’s theology. It is also an oft-referred-to basis for Power Ministry. The Kingdom of God has come and is coming. It is here and it is not fully here. It is now and it is not yet. The resurrection of Jesus is the inauguration of the Kingdom that will be fully realised at the end of the present age when he comes again in all his glory.
This is the “so what” of Easter. The point is that roughly two-thousand years ago, we began to see the Kingdom of God invading our present reality and we still see that now. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in – indeed, it enlivens – us and bids us, “do not be afraid, go and tell.” That same power in us enables us to engage in Power Ministry, knowing that the agency is God’s and we get to do what we see the Father doing along with him.