From The Acts of the Apostles
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’
14 The Lord is my strength and my song, •
and he has become my salvation.
15 Joyful shouts of salvation •
sound from the tents of the righteous:
16 ‘The right hand of the Lord does mighty deeds;
the right hand of the Lord raises up; •
the right hand of the Lord does mighty deeds.’
17 I shall not die, but live •
and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me sorely, •
but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, •
that I may enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord; •
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me •
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected •
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, •
and it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made; •
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Come, O Lord, and save us we pray. •
Come, Lord, send us now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; •
we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God; he has given us light; •
link the pilgrims with cords
right to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God and I will thank you; •
you are my God and I will exalt you.
29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; •
his mercy endures for ever.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Sermon for Sunday Easter 2
An email came to me during the week which commented on Martin Luther King by a professor of theology at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. The article was entitled, “Martin Luther King, Jr: A Theologian with a Passion for Reconciliation” and in it he points back to Christ’s passion and death.
This email sets out King’s life in terms of his uncompromising vocation “to heal and bridge communities” – ultimately he “found the courage to risk his life for the sake of others.” The professor writes “The animating centre of King’s understanding of community, often overlooked by his admirers, was God becoming human in Jesus Christ in order that the human family may learn how to be human together.” This incarnational theology has been very important in the Church’s history. The enfleshment of God is a theme of King’s theology, namely the fact that human being is the image of God. This is also, I would add, a very important strand of early church theology. – My email went on “The image of God is understood in terms of one’s relationship with God and with others, especially as this is expressed in the care for, and in the restoration of, community. Relationships mirror authentic community and witness to God’s image in us.”
So King and the early Church are at one, even though patristics had nothing to do with the Black Theology which nurtured him. King’s imagery and language is rooted in the experience of the Black Church, one which was persecuted and her people enslaved by an inhuman section of the population. This denigration of others continues even today – we need only look at the immigrant crisis, or even more tellingly when we look at what has been happening in Syria and the Middle East. It is even happening in this country today, for instance in how people feel about their employers. King says that the Beloved Community is “mediated by the divine humility of sharing in the human struggle” – that the absolute divine image was incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. The ultimate rule of judgement is how we humbly share our lives with others.
There is a transformation of this incarnation theology after the patristic period, when there was a shift toward Marian devotion, when Mary became the focus of prayer because she bore the saviour of the world. If any of you heard Wednesday’s Choral Evensong – you would have heard the right reverend Richard Chartres preaching about Mary the bearer of God – Maryθεοτοκοσ
He was speaking from the Royal Chapel at Hampton Court Palace, the first time in 450 years the latin rite of vespers had been celebrated there. The worship was a celebration of the symbols which unite the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, presided over by the roman catholic cardinal bishop and the anglican bishop of London, uniting in the music sung by the Sixteen and concluding with a Marian anthem. For beauty and meaning this act of worship could not be bettered easily.
The reason I am talking about a radio broadcast is this – through our devotion to Mary we are led to Jesus, as the bishop made clear, for we all experience the sword piercing her heart as we remember the events of salvation, namely: the incarnation, the passion and the resurrection. These events point to the absolute reality of the divine taking part in this world we know so intimately.
It is this image of God within humanity which drove the fathers of the Church and King’s theology to explore the incarnation, through Christology and the many “heresies” of the past, those conflicts which force us to re-think for ourselves the how and why of Jesus Christ’s significance for the world.
Incarnational theology focuses us on the notion of how the essence of God’s image is manifest in Jesus. And, if we take modern theology seriously, we will look at how the essence of God’s image is manifest in ourselves. Martin Luther King’s theology addresses this problem of theology and anthropology directly in his conception of the Beloved Community.
What did King see as this community? Was it his black church which had nurtured him so richly? “Throughout his life King was not concerned primarily with the survival of the Black community; he observed that this could keep segregation in place. His passion was for something beyond Black and White, mediated by the divine humility of sharing in the human struggle.” “King speaks of love for self, neighbour and God as ‘the three dimensions of the complete life.’” “King referred to this new reality of threefold love, that “complete life” as the Beloved Community.”
The “complete life” is what John speaks of in his Gospel, when he uses the phrase “life in all its fullness”. That life of three-fold love is something the christian knows from the inside, that life of absolute fullness is the life Paul describes as well – faith, hope and love. I think we could say the three-fold experience of the divine is that life lived in the grace of God.
The “complete life” is one that is given to us in a profound way, in our experience of love, the love of God and the love of one another, and even the love of self. However, this is the order of importance, God, other and self – the least of all is self.
If so, how is the self is completed? The answer seems to be – the self is perfected by God and by the other. The self is incomplete in isolation. That is what King knew from his own experience – it is what the Church has always taught. Others nurture, God draws one out of oneself. But only if one has that experience of love will that happen. By loving oneself, one opens out toward God and neighbour. One finds oneself completed by them because we know the strength we have through love.
When King turned his back on the rhetoric of Black Pride, he turned toward his neighbour in the most profound of ways. He was able to open himself to any person he met. His heart was moved by the humanity of any person within sight, of any person for whom he prayed – and we all know we pray for many whom we do not know at all, don’t we?
Fundamentally humanity and divinity meet in Jesus Christ, who is our goal in the life of realised salvation here and now.