Preached 15 April 2007 at Bolton St James, Bradford.
Those of you who like to watch Dr Who – and I personally wouldn’t miss it for the world – will know that last week the Doctor and his new companion Martha entered the Tardis in 2007 but stepped out of it into the London of 1599, just round the corner from the newly-built Globe Theatre. Soon they are having face-to-face encounters with Shakespeare himself … and before very long Shakespeare puts two and two together and comes up with the impossible four: “You’re from the future, aren’t you?” he says.
Nonsense of course. Entertaining nonsense – but nonsense all the same. We are all, even now, continuously moving from the past into the present and from the present into the future; but nobody can reverse that sequence, can they? Nobody can come into our present now, from the future, can they?
Well, I wonder. Let me at this point use an illustration I’ve borrowed (in essence) from Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham. It’s three o’clock in the morning and you’re fast asleep in bed. Suddenly the phone rings and you claw yourself into consciousness and pick up the phone. “Hi,” says a cheery voice. “How’ya doing? It’s your cousin Frank here in Australia. Thought I’d ring you up with the good news that our Sheila’s getting married.” You slowly find your voice. “Frank, that’s great … but do you know what time it is. It’s the middle of the night!” A pause. “Oh, woops, sorry mate, I was forgetting. It’s already half-way through the day here.”
Frank is living in and enjoying a day that for us has not yet dawned. We are still in the night. Frank’s voice is a voice from the future.
And what I want to say to you this morning is that we shall only begin to grasp the full significance of the resurrection appearances of Jesus once we start to view them in that light.
When he comes through the locked doors and stands among the disciples he is a visitor from a day that for us has not yet dawned but that he now lives in and enjoys.
To understand what I mean about Jesus coming to the disciples – and to us – from the future, we need to step into the past – the very distant past; to the very dawn of creation. Then (you’ll recall) God placed man in Eden and charged him to care for and rule the world. God’s plan was for a created order governed by human beings who were wise with God’s wisdom, bursting with God’s love, and strong in God’s power. But what happened? Man and woman rebelled and opened the floodgates to sin and sickness and dirt and thorns and wickedness and violence and death. Soon the earth was awash with evil, and Paradise was Lost.
But God was not to be thwarted. He immediately put into progress a plan for humankind and all of creation to be restored. He chose one man Abraham and through him brought into being a chosen people, Israel. From Israel he chose the tribe of Judah. From Judah, the family of David. From the seed of David, Jesus. A representative of the whole fallen human race. And that one, perfectly-obedient, unfallen, sinless human being, goes to the cross on a precise date in human history, an April day of 2000 years ago, and submits to all the filth, evil, corruption, sin, wickedness, pain, sickness and death that the devil and all his minions can pile on him. And down he goes under the weight of it. The sin-bearer. And for two days, Hell holds him fast, but on the third day, Alleluia! – up from the grave he rose. The risen, conquering Son. And there he stands, beyond death in God’s eternal future, a human being wise with God’s wisdom, bursting with God’s love, and strong in God’s power, a second Adam whom God can put back in charge of the universe and through whom the restoration of all things can come about. One with whom all those who accept his resurrection life will one day inhabit and care for the new heavens and the new earth.
You see, Easter marks the start of that future. The very word is derived from the Indo-European word for “dawn”. It marks the start of the whole created order being put right at last. And from that future – which is as real to God as our present is to us – Jesus comes to visit his disciples. Comes through the locked doors of the present and says: Peace be with you. “Shalom aleikem!” It’s a normal Jewish greeting, but now it is charged with new meaning. Because the “shalom” it bestows is the shalom of the New Day that has dawned in the realms of God from which Jesus comes. It is the health and wholeness and rightness and all-things-being-well-ness of Paradise Restored.
I don’t know about you, but back in my childhood I read both the Dandy and the Beano. In one of them there was the cartoon character of Desperate Dan. His beard was so tough he used a blowtorch to shave, if you remember. And he was so strong that he could lift up a cow with one hand. Well, Desperate Dan had an expression that he used to threaten people with, and one that we kids used to love to use with each other in the playground. “If you don’t stop it, I’ll knock you into kingdom come.”
Kingdom Come. The Future. Well it was from Kingdom Come that Jesus visited his disciples as they cowered behind locked doors. And it is from Kingdom Come that he visits us now. Listen. This is really important. Every encounter you have ever had with Jesus, every experience of his touch on your life, has been from Kingdom Come. Has been from a place, a time, in the life of God where there is no war, no terrorism, no sickness, no pain, no lies, no lust, no grief, no loss, no anger, no hate, no weariness, no sadness or depression, no regrets. A place, a time, in the life of God where all is love, all is joy, all is peace.
The future’s bright, the future’s Jesus. By his presence in our lives, Jesus brings the future into us and carries us into that future. In a moment we shall drink the wine and eat the bread of Kingdom Come. Indeed, I want to suggest that when Jesus said at the Last Supper (Matt 26.29) “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom,” he was talking about the wine of communion. When we drink the wine here, Jesus shares the cup with us, and we drink it together in the Kingdom … in Kingdom Come … as partakers of God’s Future.
Now if that is true, what incredible hope it should fill us with. What joy! What peace!
“We’re doomed!” says Frazer in Dad’s army. “Aye, doomed.” But the resurrected Jesus says, “No we are not. Far from it.” Evil is doomed. Sin is doomed. Sickness is doomed. Death is doomed. However horrendous is the stuff you see on the six o’clock news, the truth is that in God’s future all that stuff is defeated and destroyed and redeemed. It may be the middle of the night for us but Jesus calls us from the middle of his new day and tells us that all is well, all is well.
So does that mean we can just sit back and wait for it to happen? Well we can, but if we do, I’m afraid we shall be far from fulfilling the call of God upon our lives. Jesus is sent back to us from God’s future, yes; but when he arrives he doesn’t say: “Shh, go back to sleep. It’s not morning yet, but it will be soon.” No, he says: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” And then he breathes resurrection life into them – the fresh air of the New Day – the spirit of Kingdom Come. And he says now you are part of the Future as I am. Go into your present and help make the new creation happen, here and now.
If we think our job is to go round telling more and more people that if they accept Jesus they’ll go to heaven, then (true as that might be) we’ll be missing the point. For the point is that, on that first Easter Day, God began his work of restoring all things, of making all things new and he is even now waking us in the middle of the night to say “Get up, get dressed and make more bits of new creation happen within the world in which you live – your home, your workplace, your gym, your supermarket, your pub … whatever.
But let me return again to that bit where it says: “He breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.” For let’s be under no illusions about this. Bringing God’s future into our present is the work of God and the work of God alone. Men and women, acting on their own can mend a bit of the world here, repair a bit of it there; but only God can bring about new creation; only he can make his Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven. That’s why it’s him whom we ask to do that in the Lord’s Prayer. But he does it through us, by the power of his Holy Spirit – by the new life, the resurrection life, he would breathe into us, even here and now this morning. Filled with that new life, we are called to be part of God’s new creation, here and now. To be people of the New Day even though here it’s still the middle of the night.
I don’t pretend that I find this easy: I don’t. I find it very hard to keep in step with the Spirit and to learn how to be the person God made me to be and wants me to be. I forget all the time that I belong to God’s Tomorrow and I slip oh-so easily into just living as a selfish, self-centred, blinkered child of today. But part of the challenge of Easter is to wake up again. To put on the clothes of Kingdom Come, and to step out afresh into my world and make the new creation happen here and now … in my heart, in my home, in my church and in my community. That is, quite simply, what our mission statement is all about, and every one of us is called to be a part of it.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors 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 side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Let us pray. In a moment I’m going to ask you to breathe out as completely as you can. And then I’m going to say: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And when I do I want you to breathe in as fully as you can, praying, as you do, that God will fill you here and now with the resurrection life of Jesus, so that as part of God’s future you may bring his future into your world this day and every day. Are you ready? Breathe out. Hold it. Now, breathe in. Receive the Holy Spirit. Amen.