Thursday, April 4, 2013

Preaching the Collect

Sometimes, when I’m trying to figure out why three particular lessons have been stitched together for a Sunday reading, I go back and read the collect. Although it isn’t always true, more often than not I can see in the prayer a connection between the readings. If you’re preaching this week, go back and read the collect again. There are at least three sermons waiting there.

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

#1. In the Paschal mystery, God has established a new covenant of reconciliation. As I wrote about two days ago, I have a hard time preaching on Thomas and not saying the same thing each year. Usually, I read that text and think, “Disbelief is a reasonable but erroneous conclusion,” and I go on to try to build a systematic view of resurrection certainty based on Thomas’ transformation. But, as the collect suggests, is the encounter between Jesus and Thomas an example of reconciliation? Are they made one? Is the disbelief that held Thomas from giving his heart fully to Jesus a fracture in their relationship that can only be restored through the power of the resurrection? Is our own disbelief an example of brokenness in our relationship with God that can only be overcome through the Paschal mystery?

#2. We are reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s body. What is the church? Why do we gather? What do we proclaim? We are the fellowship of the resurrected body. Thomas’ encounter with Jesus reminds us that we are body-focused. It is the body of Christ that defines our community of faith. It is the body of Christ that gives us the faith that holds us together. And I don’t just mean Communion-body, but I mean that, too. Back in the early days, the Christian community was a weird society of body-obsessed people who seemed to outsiders like cannibals. Of course we’re not. But there was such an other-worldly, mystical, resurrection-centeredness that it gave the church some “street cred.” Maybe we need to get that back. Maybe we need to embrace the reality of being a church that gathers around the body of Christ—not just as a metaphor but as a physical reality.

#3. Our prayer is that we might show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. When we encounter the disciples in the upper room, they aren’t really doing it. They’re hiding out of fear. The doors are locked. What are they waiting for? What are they expecting? A week later, even after they’ve seen Jesus, heard his “go-forth” command, and received the Holy Spirit, they are still in the locked room. Again, what are they waiting for? If we claim to be Christians (and most of us do), we believe that God has sent us out to do the work he has given us to do. We are disciples. We are apostles. How many of us are still waiting behind locked doors…and for what? When is Jesus going to say something or do something that finally get us to show forth in our lives what we claim with our lips? Lives and lips—there’s an interesting dichotomy for a sermon.

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