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The Trial of the Resurrection 2: The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Sunday, April 25, 2021:
Acts 4:1-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” [John 10:11]
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” [1 John 3:16]
“This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.” [Acts 4:11]

The Academy Awards ceremony is tonight, and one of the nominated movies this year is The Trial of the Chicago 7, about anti-war activists prosecuted by the state in the late ‘60s. There were other, similar movements, often with significant Christian involvement, sometimes called “plowshares” actions. “Our apologies, good friends,” wrote one such activist, “for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…”* And some Christians of that era made direct reference to our story from the Acts of the Apostles, about Peter and John being put on trial for… what? For proclaiming the resurrection of the dead, and bringing about healing (new life) in someone in the name of the One whom God raised from the dead. This message and act (or ‘performance’) of life was unsettling for those in authority. And Peter stands up to them, ‘are we being questioned because of a good deed done to someone who was sick???’ Maybe, he suggests, they should check their priorities, and their value system. In other words, “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…”

This witnessing to life (to use a trial-related term) will, from time-to-time, come at great cost, or at least risk — thinking of the eight (and later seven) on trial in that movie; thinking of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin; thinking of Jesus, upon the cross. “Little children,” we heard from First John, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Where there’s love, investment. Where there’s investment there’s vulnerability. And where there’s vulnerability, there’s risk. The exhortation we heard from the gospel is Jesus describing himself as the good (noble, true) shepherd of the flock. Not just a hired hand who bails at the first sign of trouble, but someone truly invested, and vulnerable to the point of death. Even in our more modest situations we will find that there is risk; the risk of opening oneself up to the person before us and seeing them as neighbour and not as stranger, stereotype, or enemy. (Remember what Jesus said in the gospel reading: there are sheep in another flock, and one day we’ll be brought together.)

This week, in many parts of the world, churches are observing this day as Vocations Sunday. A day to pray for and reflect on not just vocations to ordained positions in the Church, but to consider how every Christian has a calling; a calling that we say yes to, and commit to, in our baptism. Where, by following Jesus in his death, we find that death’s not the ultimate reality, and we claim the resurrection as the hope that we direct ourselves toward, and the starting point out of which our actions spring. Seeing and acting through the lens of the resurrection is our calling, so we’re not just hired hands, given our investment in God’s project of resurrection. This project will unsettle the existing powers that benefit from, and employ, the powers of death (and I mean more than biological death). So the life of the Christian would, I think, be marked by risk, vulnerability, and love, with some even laying down their lives for others. It’s a big call, and a difficult one. We might not be called to stand trial, or to perform a miraculous act of healing. (Though maybe we will.) But we are called to be witnesses to the resurrection. So where there is tearing, we mend. Where people are treated inhumanely, we live humanly. Where there is wastefulness and destruction, we counter with simplicity, gratitude, and sustainability. Where there is death, we strive to guide people toward life.

The resurrection (proper) may be hard to wrap our heads around. Even in our Bible the moment itself is never described. But the implications of the resurrection are manifold, and very near to us. Calling us. Calling you. Even, and maybe especially, in the world as it is today. So this week you might find yourself called to a situation of death (and again, not just biological death), and into that situation be a witness to new life.

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter