A sermon preached in Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday 4th April 2016 by Canon Edward Probert, Chancellor.
(Acts 5.27-32; John 20.19-end)
Last weekend, with my family home for Easter, we played a few games of Monopoly. It's a game I've always liked, with its opportunities for cutting deals, and its blend of luck and skill, which allows losers to blame their luck and winners to take pride in their skill. Moreover, contrary to popular perception, a properly played game should never, at worst, last more than an hour.
Two of our games last weekend gave me completely contrasting experiences. In one, a sequence of ill luck meant that I had gone to prison five times before I ever got all the way round the board to pick up my reward for passing 'Go', by when my children were on their third and fourth circuits. In the other game, a remarkable display of skill on my part meant that in my first turn of the game I had landed on, bought, and developed hotels on Whitechapel Road and Old Kent Road; and had also - maybe for old times' sake - even found myself back in jail. I duly lost the first and won the second game.
I thought of my repeated trips to that lighthearted prison when I read around this morning's passage from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and the other apostles had been locked up to make them stop talking; overnight they had been miraculously sprung from prison; and to add insult to the authorities' discovery that their prisoners were not where they had been put, these people turned out to have used their freedom to go straight to the Temple, the place where their preaching had had them arrested.
These apostles are startlingly different people from the frightened bunch who had run away and allowed their leader to be arrested and killed by the authorities not so long before. They are a remarkably different group from the one depicted by John on the evening of the day of resurrection, and also a week later. They know what can be done to people who cross the authorities; but they just don't care. To get out of jail for them means immediate recidivism - straight back to doing what gets them locked up.
But these people were apparently lacking that confidence in the immediate aftermath of their encounter with the news of the resurrection of their leader. On the evening of Easter Day, John has them locked in to protect themselves; (he says "for fear of the Jews", which is a pretty unhelpful phrase, for the risk it runs of stoking some kind of anti-Semitism, and it is in any case frankly meaningless because ALL the people in this drama are Jews; what the writer means is 'the Jewish authorities'). According to John it takes a while for these people to be so transformed; they encounter their resurrected Lord repeatedly, and even then - as we will hear next Sunday - go back to their old ways, fishing and not recognising Jesus. But Jesus comes again and again; they can't run away, they can't hide; they meet him because he comes to them.
That is a common theme of all the various, and often apparently contradictory, accounts of the resurrection: Jesus is not where people expect him; but they meet him because he comes to them. And in coming to them in John's gospel, the newly alive Jesus gives to the disciples, first peace, then a share in his work - being sent out, forgiving sins. There's no confrontation, no recrimination, just a profound gift and the invitation to believe and help others to do so. It's all gift, all blessing, and it comes in wave upon wave, pushing the flotsam of their frightened or doubting lives further up the shore. And so, once they have come to believe and trust, they become the people whose delight in this freedom they have been given spills over into serial offending and lives which show no fear as they express the lovingkindness of God.
Brussels airport is due to reopen today, on this second Sunday of Easter a reminder that bitterness and cruelty, and even death, have not won. The last word of life, like the first word, is spoken by the love of God who just keeps coming. We follow the apostles not only in the dullness of our perception and the limpness of our belief, but in finding ourselves sprung from jail time and again. May we each also follow them in not trying to hide or run away, but in coming to terms with all of life, good and bad, full to the brim with confidence in the victory of Jesus - the victory that proves that the love of God simply can't be stopped.